Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Only Children Weep

Ferguson, Missouri - November 24, 2014 after the Grand Jury declined to indict Officer Darren Wilson for shooting and killing
18-year-old Michael Brown

"They've done it before and they did it tonight and they'll do it again, and when they do it seems that only children weep."  —Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

I do not know what happened in Ferguson, Missouri
August 9th, 2014

I only know it was the product of the same


That have lead to
Led to black teens
lying dead on America's streets

Mothers screaming

And Ferguson now burns with anger

Justice not an ideal
but a jewel saved

The insiders
The ones with the right addresses
The diplomas
And suits
And skin as white
and "pure" as snow

I do not know what happened
on the street of Ferguson, Missouri
August 9, 2014

But I know the decision to ignore it
feeds a story
that has not yet found its end

Naseem Rakha - November 25, 2014

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Everything of Everything

Me at the top of Abiqua Falls in 1994, in the midst of a battle to save the surrounding trees from being clear cut

It is my fifty-fifth birthday today. And for my fifty-fifth birthday, I plan to hike to the  base of Abiqua Falls. I plan to stand naked in its spray—I plan to pray.

And on this day, I will pray to find the strength I have been lacking. The focus. The patience.

Prayer, for me, is an honest reflection on the discrepancy between who I am, and who I believe I can be. It is the open acceptance of both my power, and powerlessness. It is gratefulness, expressed to no one but myself. It is the reminder to show that gratefulness in all my actions, everyday to everyone.

To live my gratefulness for the everything within every-single-thing.

-Naseem Rakha - November 19, 2014

Friday, November 14, 2014

Daring Adventure or Nothing

Oregon's first winter storm was predicted to hit yesterday, and I swear you'd think the sky was falling. Portland metro newscasters pulled out all their doomsday-ware: "Up to the minute Doppler Radar," webcams of soon-to-be-snow covered streets, lists of school closures and delays, and a scroll of Tweets about the storm. Their overall message: Don't panic. Stay home. Everything will be all right.

But I had my doubts about their predictions. My thermometer had settled at 37 degrees. This rain was not going to morph to snow, not where I lived at least, and probably not in Portland either. (It didn't.) So my dog Waldo and I got in my car and headed up to the mountains where I was certain I would actually see snow, not just hear rowdy rumors of its coming. I had promised myself early this fall that I would get out into the wild every week, no matter the weather. I find that there is no better cleansing then a good hike, and my goal is explore a new place each time. A new path, a new river, a new refuge. A new challenge. After a day out, I come home feeling ready to take on another fraught week of dealing the double whammy of menopause coupled with raising a hormonal teen.

So, I got in my car, and headed east up towards the Cascade mountains, and there, not far up the Santiam canyon, I found what I was looking for. Big fat flakes falling from a felt-gray sky. Pillowy clouds nestled on the shoulders of the foothills. Douglas-firs dusted like Christmas cookies. I followed the North Santiam River up to Detroit Lake, a summertime recreation area, where sailboats and jet skis slice wakes in a deep green reservoir created when the Corp of Engineers dammed the North Santiam in 1953. 

In winter, though, the 455,000 acre-foot lake is drained to make room for snow melt and runoff. In other words, instead of a reservoir, what one can see at Detroit Lake now is the old channel of the North Santiam river, and the remnants of a forest that once stood at its side. It's a surreal landscape of still water and old growth stumps poking through the freezing earth like tombstones. 

Waldo and I got out from the car and hiked down to this former forest, big, wind-driven flakes flattening themselves to the ground. We watched a White Tailed Kite skim the shoreline, deers huddle in a protected cove, a solitary coyote dart into the woods. After a while, the snow changed to sleet and ice began to seal our footprints. Back at the car, I poured myself tea from my battered old Stanley Thermos, gave Waldo a biscuit and we sat in the steamy vehicle listening to sleet pelt the roof: warm, comfortable, satisfied.

The day had not all gone perfectly. Before the lake hike, Waldo and I tried to get to the Stahlman Trailhead. It's located three and a half miles up Blowout Road, which is two and a half miles east of the town of Detroit. The road had not been plowed, and I did not bother putting on my chains, counting on my 4WD to get me through the six inches of wet snow. When I got to the trailhead, I tried to turn the car around so that it would be easier to leave after my hike, but my car lost its footing and began to slide sideways toward a ditch. Now I was blocking the one-lane road, and no matter what I did to try to go forward, I only made my situation worse. Finally, I got out the chains and was in the process of trying to get them on my back tires when two pick ups pulled up and out popped what I have to describe as two rather sketchy looking characters: middle aged men with long oily hair, battered beards, battered trucks, each one with a well equipped gun rack.

They approached my car and sized up the situation. Me. My over friendly dog. My sideways car. All of us far from anywhere. And then they told me to forget about the chains. "Get in the car," one of them said. "We'll get you out." And they did, each one planting themselves in the snowy ditch and pushing the rear end of my vehicle while I gingerly touched the gas and slowly moved forward. Their names were Rick and Rich, and afterwards we talked about the weather and the hills and the hike they'd just been on. I offered them tea, and they said sure, and we shared the cup from my thermos. "We saw a gray fox," Rick said. Their hair not oily but wet from being out in this storm. Out in this snow and cold. Out in this world. 

It's true, I know, I would have been safer if I stayed home. I could have worked on my novel. Washed some clothes. Read. I passed a jack-knifed semi on the way back home, and two cars planted deep in a ditch. I certainly would have been safer had I not gone up that road, and into that snow and ice—no doubt about it. But there is no way I would ever have been as satisfied. 

Helen Keller once said, "Life is either a daring adventure, or it's nothing." And while my adventures may not be all that daring compared the things you see on Youtube, or read about in one of Jon Krakauer's book, they are a hell of a lot better than nothing. 

-Naseem Rakha - November 14, 2014

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Surviving the Election

It was election night. Early results were coming in from Rhode Island, South Carolina, New York. I woke up my dog and we went to the pond and sat, watching a storm roll in and listening to redwing blackbirds shout out warning. It was warm out. Too warm for early November. My memories of previous election nights are mainly of cold rain and wind slapping me hard while running from one political party to another trying to get in interviews and record speeches for a story for public radio.

Democrats typically would gather at some unadorned union hotel, often the Hilton, where there'd be dip with chips, veggies, squares of cheese, and a free bar with cheap wine and beer. Republicans would be blocks away, nestled in some Grand Barron of a place, dim lights, arched ceilings, filigreed pillars, and, of course, a cash bar with the hard stuff. At the parties, I would poke at balloons and phone in updates, while speaking with politicians and their supporters. When the results finally came in, I would tape the oh-so-predictable platitudes, while watching red, white, and blue clad people spout red, white, and blue clad tears or victory and defeat.

Now, no longer a reporter, I just stay home and give half an ear to NPR while they talk exit polls, approval ratings, and the death of the democratic party. This too will pass, I tell myself. This republican wave. This handing over power to a group of bullies who seem to have far more ideas on how to take down a country than build it up.

This too will pass. 

But it's hard, even for this former geologist—who still takes comfort in human's miniscule imprint on geologic time—to accept. We have given the reigns of Congress over to people, many of whom who do not believe in the science of global warming or evolution, people who wait eagerly to sell off our natural resources, who believe corporations are as human as the people they supposedly represent. These are politicians who work to make it harder to vote, not easier, harder to get a college degree, harder to drink clean water, or get health care, or earn a living wage. People who measure the character of a person by their commitment to guns and god, not intellect, nor compassion nor logic. These are individuals who serve the rich, and eschew the poor; and eat three square meals of fear every day, then fart it out all over the country on radio, on TV, in magazines, over the internet. They tell us it is not disparity of wealth we should crusade against, but immigrants, Muslims, Hispanics, the homeless, the disabled, single moms, Planned Parenthood and young black boys. Don't fear fracking, fear hoodies, fear Ebola, fear taxes, fear liberals, fear liberation. Don't vote Democratic—it is too close to the word demon.

It was during Iowa Senator-elect, Jodi Ernst's acceptance speech that I finally gave up my half-hearted election night vigil, and went to bed. My, this too will pass, mantra falling flat against her shrill words. "We are heading to Washington and we are going to make them squeal." The words lifted straight from the 1972 Academy Award winning film, DELIVERANCE, where deep in the hills of Georgia, toothless attackers force Bobby Tippie, played by Ned Beatty, to "squeal like a pig" while being raped. Of course, I am sure Jodi Ernst, who grew up castrating pigs and presumably making them squeal in the process, would say she was not referring to that movie at all. Not that that would make her statement any more acceptable. 

This too will pass, I tell myself. This woman. This partisan bullying. This unhealthy way we have of treating elections like gladiator games where the goal is to make the other team squeal, rather than reach out and cooperate to help the people in the stands, millions of us, waiting there, shouting out, hoping we will be heard.

-Naseem Rakha

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Fall Has Come

Woke to a pacific wind bringing a pacific scent of golden leaves and rain and sea, and a wide pacific sense that the season has turned to its autumnal frame, and dark will fold us into it bare arms and
tell us to hush, hush, hush...

Thursday, September 4, 2014

What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

I am posting the 911 call from "Last Stop Bullets and Burgers," a shooting range/restaurant/tourist attraction in the far corner of NW Arizona, 60 miles from Las Vegas. There, on August 25th, a nine-year-old girl accidentally shot her "instructor" in the head after her parents payed for her to play with an Uzi.

I post it with some reservation. It's difficult to listen to Last Stop staff desperately trying to save 39-year-old Charles Vacca's life as they wait for emergency assistance to come to their remote section of the desert. Frustrating to hear their clear lack of preparation, training, or even forethought should something go wrong at the shooting range. Still, I think it is something we should hear as we continue to consider our country's relationship with guns.

Tape of the 911 call

Last Stop Bullets and Burgers is one of a growing number businesses cropping up in the fledgling "gun tourism" industry. Genghis Cohen (got to love the name) the owner of Machine Guns Vegas, another place inexperienced shooters can play with automatic weapons, says upwards of 90 percent of his customers are tourists. "People see guns as a big part of American culture, and they want to experience American culture," he told reporters after the shooting.

What visitors to Last Stop Burgers and Bullets get when they arrive by helicopter or a souped up Humvee from Las Vegas is a carnival-setting offering visitors a chance to shoot machine guns in a "Desert Storm atmosphere," with "bunkers, sniper classes, plus helicopter rides over the Grand Canyon." People, apparently lots of them, pay anywhere from $50.00 to $1800.00 for their, "All American Adventure." For a thousand bucks they can even have the "Ultimate Bachelor or Bachelorette Party."

What could possibly go wrong in that scenario?

Perhaps the same thing that went wrong after putting an Uzi in a nine year old's hands. And that little girl's parents are not anomalies, as we may like to think. Last Stop offers, "fun for the whole family" as shown in this video from Last Stop's own web site.

My question, as I watch this, is why? Why put that gun in that little boy's hands? What good comes from it? Fun? Yeah, sure. Thrill? That too, probably. But what lesson does that experience teach? I've worked on farms and ranches, and I know kids who've learned to use their mom and dad's rifle or shotgun early. For them, it is a tool, and they are taught to be responsible, careful, and to never treat those tools like toys. Ever. That, I get.

What they do at Last Stop—I do not get, and neither do I get parents that would somehow think putting a machine gun in their child's hands is a good idea. A part of me, the cynical dark part, thinks of Darwin, and says, 'what the hell? Let them play with guns.' But the bigger part of me understands that places like Bullets and Burgers are a symptom of disease we refuse to confront.

The owner of Last Stop Burgers and Bullets, Sam Scarmardo (another great name,) calls what happened at his shooting range "tragic." But, according to him, that does not mean he needs to change anything. Kids, from age eight, will still be allowed to shoot automatic weapons at his place.

After all, what could possibly go wrong?

I took the first and last picture in October, 2014 while on my way to the Grand Canyon. I pulled over to take the photos but quickly got back in my car when I heard the report of a machine gun very, very close by. 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Keema - Easy Indian Dish

Yesterday, on Facebook, after posting a picture of my garlic crusher - a castaway cobble from the streets of Antigua. I received several private messages asking me what I was cooking. So here you go, a step by step pictorial recipe of the traditional Indian dish called Keema.

It is easy, tasty, warm and comforting . You can use ground beef, lamb or turkey. My favorite is lamb because I prefer the taste over beef, and can get it locally grown, and hormone free. (I can with beef too, but not turkey.) I usually use about 4 pounds of meat so that I have leftovers for Elijah's lunch for the next few days

Here you go.

This is what you need:
4 pounds yellow onion
1/4 cup oil (coconut preferred)
two (or more) green chiles
4 large tomatoes
1 1/2 heads of garlic
2 inches (1 inch radius) ginger
7 cloves
4-5 cardamom pods
1 stick cinnamon
4 pounds meat (lamb, turkey or beef)
Up to 2 cups broth (chicken, beef or veg)
1/3 cup almond or cashew butter

Step one, clean about a a head and a half of garlic and peel about two inches (one inch wide of ginger)
I use a heavy stone to crush and skin my garlic. The stone is a cobble from the streets of Antigua. It is heavy and fits my hand nicely.

After you have skinned your garlic and ginger, chop it finely. I use a food processor for this step. You should end up with about a third of a cup of aromatics.

Now finely slice about 4 pounds of onions. Again, I use a food processor. My Breville slices them beautifully. After they are sliced, heat about a quarter cup of coconut oil to a nice deep pot, and once nice and hot, add the onions. You can use other oil, but I like the sweet flavor of this oil, and it is very healthy. Your goal is to cook the onions down and brown them. This takes a while - 30 to 40 minutes. So stick around and stir frequently so they do not burn

10 minutes later

Twenty minutes into cooking the onion add about a tablespoon of black mustard seed, 5 cardamom pods, 7 whole cloves and a two inch stick of cinnamon.

Keep cooking and stirring

While the onions are cooking dice two hot green chiles (use less or more to your taste) and add them to the onions.

Still, while the onions are cooking, peel and dice four fresh tomatoes. I peel tomatoes by cutting a shallow cross into the fruit's skin, then sinking the tomato in boiling water for about 30 seconds, then running cold water over the tomato. The flesh comes off easy.

By now your onions should be almost ready for spice. 

In one small bowl put about 3 Tablespoons of Turmeric (a wonder herb - great for reducing inflammation). In another bowl put 4 Tablespoons of ground cumin, 4 Tablespoons of ground cardamom, 1 Teaspoon (more or less) of ground cayenne pepper, 1/8 teaspoon of ground nutmeg.

Onions are finally done! Add the garlic ginger combo and cook for a minute or two.

Now add your spice to the mix. At this point the spice/onion/ginger/garlic mix will start sticking, so begin adding a bit of broth (veg, chicken or beef). Cook this mixture, adding broth as needed for about 3 minutes. 

Now add your meat and mix spices in well, then add your diced tomatoes. Cook for as long as you like (the longer the better) adding broth to keep the mixture moist. About a half hour before you are finished add about a third of a cup of almond or cashew butter, and two tablespoons of Garam Masala and salt and pepper to taste. 

You can add peas to the mixture, or diced potatoes or edamame. When serving I put cilantro on top, and make a mixture of yoghurt, diced cucumber and onion, salt and cayenne to top the dish with. I also like to serve this with tomato chutney and for those of you who are not wheat free, the Indian bread called Naan. 

Here is Elijah and Jack enjoying dinner.