The Bottom

When you step off a city bus

In Sellwood
on a bright October day
leave the sidewalk
pass through upright poles
stand in sunlight
gulp water from a fountain

that’s when you know you’ve stepped
out of the world you know
off the grid
out of the race

And into stability
into connectedness
back to the Earth

A world living
growing
whole.
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The Chickens and the Half-wild Heart

A group of chickens in the shade of a tree It’s been a few short months since the half-wild years ended. For two years Annie, Niamh, our dog Gunnar and I lived in the Scappoose/St. Helens area, a rural cluster of towns an hour’s drive out of Portland. We moved there to live on land; we moved there to raise a daughter away from the stress and grime and danger of the city; we moved there to raise animals and grow food; we moved there to know deep peace and let our souls drink deep of the song of stars and trees and hawks and dragonflies.

And after two years at two farms, we’re back in the city, having traded a field for a yard, a wild space for a domesticated grid. We didn’t make this decision lightly, and we made it for positive, proactive reasons: to finish school, both of us, and to partner with relatives in caring for Niamh. This is a step forward, not a retreat. But we did leave the wild place, which upon our departure Annie named the Big Green. It wasn’t that wild, honestly. We were just off the highway, and the second farm was bounded by a row of housing developments. But it was wild enough, wild enough to be alive, to speak to us, to breathe its breath through us, to make us feel that we were living on planet earth and sharing that life with other furred, feathered and leafy neighbors.

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Local Christmas, Local Joy

It’s Black Friday, and the season of consumerism will be upon us, and the race to Christmas Day will dominate our lives. The holidays are a time of giving, a time of faith and tradition, a time of family and togetherness and celebration. But with the mad shopping dash to buy Christmas gifts, it’ll also be a season of stress, financial anxiety, and even debt. It’ll be the most significant contribution of the year to the coffers of huge retail conglomerates who hoard wealth, monopolize markets, and prey on consumers and their workers.

This line of thinking is nothing novel or new, but it’s especially on my mind with my involvement with the Occupy Movement. And whether you’re bothered by billionaires or not, I hope there’s something we can all more or less agree on, which is:

It’s a really wonderful thing to shop local.

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Occupy Story

Sam Adams, the Mayor of Portland, had given the Occupy Portland encampment at Chapman and Lownsdale parks three days’ notice of eviction. “At 12:01 am on Sunday, November 13, all persons and property in Lownsdale and Chapman Squares will again be subject to enforcement of all laws including the laws against being in a park after midnight (PCC 20.12.210), and erecting structures in a park (PCC 20.12.080),” Adams said, and added that “on or after November 13” the parks would close for repair.

Occupy Portland was torn. Some seemed to agree with Adams’ reasons—that the camp had become unsafe, unsanitary, a mire of squabbles and drug use. They advocated abandoning the camp and leaving camps behind, to focus on other strategies. Others thought the eviction would at least be an opportunity to “clean house” and make a fresh start with a new encampment. And many were determined to hold the camp at all costs, seeing eviction as a quashing of the movement.

As I studied all these viewpoints, I was torn myself. Processing with my head and not my heart, I could see logic in all perspectives, and having only slight, surface experience with the encampments I didn’t have a lot of hard data on how well it functioned and whether or not it served a purpose for the movement. Occupy Portland put out a call for all citizens of Portland, as well as brother and sister protesters in Seattle, to come rally at the midnight deadline to stand together against the eviction. My head was torn, but my heart was telling me to be there.

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Occupy Emotions

Ever since my initial exposure to Occupy Wall Street, I’ve longed to participate. The Occupy Portland branch has been thriving, but living outside the city on a St Helens farm, and temporarily without transportation, there was little I could do but watch.

So watch I did! I followed the #OccupyPortland and #OccupyWallStreet Twitter streams, read dozens of articles as they popped up daily, viewed scores of Youtube clips, and watched demonstrations on Livestream when I could. When protesters chose to sit down and be arrested in Portland’s Jamison Square, my heart longed to be with them. So I held vigil, watching until the last protester was arrested at 3:30 in the morning, livetweeting quotes from the Occupy Portland Livestream. I spread links across Twitter, Facebook and Google+. I traded thoughtful Tweets with Portland Mayor Sam Adams. But I had not set foot in the Occupy Portland encampment, or walked bodily among them in their numerous marches.

I felt a desperate, emotional need to be there.

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The World Behind

Poetry time! A reflection on our recent move, from a wild farm to a tamer one a few miles away.

I’ve left a world behind me

Like so many before

But this one

Was a world my heart loved

A world

That shone joy onto my face

That breathed peace into my lungs.

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Commodore Dreams

When I was young my brothers and I had a Commodore 64 Personal Computer. We all three of us sat enthralled for many hours by the vast trove of video games available for the machine, but I wanted more. I wanted to create. I wanted to get under the hood of this 64K, 16 color processor that could display 8 sprites—8! onscreen at any given time. I wanted to unlock its secrets and make games myself.

I had no teacher. I didn’t know any computer programmers, and there was no school curriculum for it. All I had to guide me was my Commodore 64 User Manual and my own determination. I started writing simple programs in BASIC, gradually increasing the complexity until I could build something that almost resembled a playable computer game.

But there was always an obstacle. The documentation was spotty; there were several BASIC commands in the manual that simply did not work when I input them as shown. I checked out books from the library, but they were unclear on some key concepts; I could input a mass of command lines and they would function as the book described, but I couldn’t pluck out the principle behind them that would enable me to use the techniques myself, spontaneously.

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Solidarity on the Brooklyn Bridge

I’m sitting in my farmhouse home in Warren, Oregon, and watching live feed of the Occupy Wall Street protesters facing off against police on the Brooklyn Bridge. They’re crammed onto the bridge shoulder to shoulder, calling out slogans and standing peacefully, and the police are arresting them…one by one. One by one they’re cuffing the protesters and walking them over to a paddy wagon. Someone is filming all this from above, and I can see it all clearly. There’s no struggle, just an endless parade of quiet, unresisting arrests, while the crowd chants “Let us move!” and “We’re fighting for your pensions!”

The citizen media crew call out to each detainee, Hey you, guy being arrested, what’s your name?” Some respond, some don’t, some can be heard clearly, some can’t.  A man named Michael Burton takes his arrest calmly, his eyes seeming to meet mine as the camera zooms in, radiating quiet determination and strength. A young woman wearing an Invader Zim “GIR” hat, just a teenager by the look of her, is arrested, and someone shouts “How old is she, officer?” and “Oh, sure, arrest a child; see how THAT goes!”

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Midsummer

I had a sudden realization the other day: I write poems, and those poems have a place on Story by the Throat! I posted one here once, but I generally share them elsewhere on the web. I’m going to start sharing them here as well, when I feel they’ll enrich the mysterious and wonderful cloud of what SbtT! is all about.

I wrote this one a couple months ago:

It began at Midsummer.

Midsummer week the labor ended

Midsummer eve the cars stopped dead

Midsummer day the laptop overheated

And time slowed

The universe paused

And I exhaled

And found I could breathe

For the first time in years.

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Just a Girl Robot: Adventures in Fatherhood and Feminism

My daughter Niamh is 2 1/2 years old. Her life, I admit with some embarrassment and resignation, is inundated with mass-marketed media: Disney movies, children’s TV shows, picture books, and so on—to say nothing of the books, comics, movies and TV that Mom and Dad read and watch. From the very first my mind has been pondering and anticipating all the wealth of beloved stories I’ll be able to share with her as she grows up. Some I’m waiting until she’s older and can appreciate them better, and some I’ve started already: The Iron Giant. The Hobbit. The Muppets. Star Wars. Winnie-the-Pooh. Whatever she seems ready for, whatever she responds to, and whatever I watch for my own enjoyment that she just happens to be around for.

It was the latter case when Niamh became obsessed with Mega Man. I have a passing fondness for the old video game series, and stumbled on the 1995 cartoon adaption while poking around Youtube. Niamh, playing on the floor at my feet, perked up and said “wanna watch!” So I plopped her on my lap and we watched the episode together.

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