Harriet Martineau

Being that March is Women’s History Month, I leafed through my book The Underside of History by Elise Boulding. I did one of those exercises where you open the book to any page and whatever catches your eye first, you go with it. My finger landed on a photo of Harriet Martineau. I had never heard of her before which isn’t surprising as most of women’s history did not land in our history books.

According to Wikipedia, Harriet was born on June 12, 1802 and died on June 27, 1876. Wikipedia states that she “was an English social theorist often seen as the first female sociologist. She wrote from a sociological, holistic, religious and feminine” perspective. She earned enough money to support herself and, as you can imagine, that was rare for a woman writer (or any profession occupied by a woman) in those times.

Martineau advised “a focus on all [society’s] aspects, including key political, religious, and social institutions.” She thoroughly reviewed the status of women as being under men. The novelist, Margaret Oliphant, called her “a born lecturer and politician… less distinctively affected by her sex than perhaps any other, male or female, of her generation.” The young Princess Victoria appreciated Harriet’s work and invited her to her coronation in 1838.

In the years 1834-1836, Martineau traveled to the United States to study the political economy and the moral structure of the young nation.  She took a strong stand with the Abolitionists against slavery. While in the United States, she observed the stance on education for girls and women. She wrote about her findings in a few books, two of which are:  Society in America (1837) and Retrospect of western Travel (1838).

“The publication of Harriet Martineau’s Illustrations of Political Economy (in nine volumes) found public success…By 1834, the monthly sales . . . had reached 10,000 in a decade in which a sale of 2,000 or 3,000 copies of a work of fiction was considered highly successful.”

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I’ve wondered about this before and it bears repeating now–if women had grown up learning about the amazing women who preceded us, we might have developed a better esteem of ourselves. When students are taught that it was mostly men who made history worth telling, then women recede into the back pages of history, playing a subservient less distinct role as influencers of humanity unfolding. Boys grow up thinking that they have more value and girls less impact on positive evolutionary changes.

If I had known about, say Harriet Martineau, I might have understood that as a writer, there are many possibilities for me. I might have grown up knowing that I wasn’t limited, by virtue of my gender, to what I could accomplish in the world. The spirit of adventure, curiosity and daring that Harriet lived might have opened other doors for me. I might have realized that I could oppose the conventions of what a woman could do as Harriet did. Noting that Harriet is only one of many women who slipped through history unannounced, I can only wonder what other astonishing women once lived.

She didn’t seem to doubt that the world was her oyster. Standing outside the constraints of her culture, gender and times, Harriet showed great courage in spite of ridicule for being a single woman, having a contrary opinion and some physical infirmities. She affirmed her right to be and to become. There was a period of five years where she retreated from society to heal a very large and painful ovarian cyst. When she recovered, she returned to pursue her public life with vigor.

An excerpt from Harriet Martineau’s writing:

“The intellect of women is confined by an unjustifiable restriction of… education… As women have none of the objects in life for which an enlarged education is considered requisite, the education is not given… The choice is to either be ‘ill-educated, passive, and subservient, or well-educated, vigorous, and free only upon sufferance.”

What do Women Want?

My ex-boyfriend and I occasionally discussed the age-old question “What do women want?” He believed (as did my ex-husband) that women want to have power over men. Freud thought that women wanted to be men! And others have said that women want to be desired by men. For more years than I can remember, I have wanted to have sovereignty over my own life–even within the establishment of a marriage. I didn’t care to compete with men in the marketplace. Although, I would expect equal pay for equal work. My time is valuable, my job qualifications and experience have spoken for themselves when I worked in the fields of business or education. What I really want is to be able to freely choose and direct the course of my own life. That with respect towards all men, women, beings and subservient to nothing but my woman’s soul.

Within a marriage, I wanted an equal partnership. I wanted both my husband and myself to feel free to express our love for one another. I didn’t want to have to earn love and affection. My ex-husband was stifled in the way he expressed love and care. Although those were his limitations, I took it personally and tried harder for too many years. He was from a culture steeped in machismo. Therefore, he had to dominate in some way. His anger was an accessible emotion (along with his physical strength) to keep the woman (me) in her place!

This is one of those microcosm-macrocosm models. My relationship patterns are reflected in the larger world. The insecure male ego has to dominate the female. That power-over inequality is built into our cultures, religions, politics, the governing laws, etc.

My ex-husband used to believe that I wanted to control him. He brought this perception from his childhood forward into our marriage without examining it. He acted as if it were true. His behaviors towards me from the start proved his belief…I don’t think he understood this until many years later–after we’d been divorced for awhile. I think he got it before he died in 2019. However, those early embedded beliefs are so difficult to release.

In the world today, the opinions and input of approximately 50% of the world’s population, women, goes unheard, unappreciated and not included in decisions that are affecting the whole. That’s astonishing to me! Fifty per-cent of the population isn’t weighing in on how we use the world, whether or not we go to war, decisions about growing and distributing food, healthcare, economics, and every other element of living in this human-made world.

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The third month of every year is Women’s History Month, celebrated in America. International Women’s Day is March 8th this year. As I retrace the scant history that we have of women heroines as compared to men, I recover part of my ancestry. Revaluing women’s contributions throughout history is a powerful exercise for women in present time. As women, it’s important that we reclaim our roots and remember that they go deeper than our immediate family. Studying these roots, we also reclaim our self-esteem and our personal power.

We can’t wait for men to elevate our status. Individually, we have to claim it daily in how we lead our lives. We have to decide what is acceptable in our relationships, in our jobs, in how we show up in the world. We have to value the work that we do, not just the jobs we hold. We have to value ourselves.

I came across this three-minute animated film and thought that it was worth sharing.


The Inferior Sex

Women are often portrayed as the weaker sex, the dependents, the victims. Generally, women unconsciously, and consciously, assent to these designated classifications. While I have come to realize that the ascribed descriptives are false, it is the framework within which we live our lives. We thereby, allow our partners, the presumed-to-be stronger or wiser ones, to get away with things they should be called on. We allow them to remain immature and therefore irresponsible or not responsible for their actions. Women have a huge part to play in the maturation of human life on this planet. One way that we can do this is by holding men accountable for their behaviors. We must stop being the sweepers and fixers–sweeping it under the carpet and trying to make it all better. I want this to be a better world for our daughters and our sons than it was for me or my mother.

As women who are the awakeners of men, we need to begin to conduct ourselves as the goddesses that we are. I use this word to elevate us to our own authentic stature. Within this awareness is total equality. What does a goddess look like? How does she behave? How does she walk in the world when she has been disrespected for eons? This woman has unerring values and speaks her non-negotiable truth. She serves no man–she serves wisdom’s truth acquired through her lived experience. Within a relationship, she can choose to make a compromise without compromising her truth or values. For example, if you are with a partner who does not value monogamy and you do, and he isn’t ready to re-evaluate his position, you don’t belong together. What you value is not negotiable.

There is a sacredness in the womanly arts. Women’s work, while portrayed as mundane, is an art. I know about the womanly arts. Throughout history, women who were oppressed found ways to express through craft, cooking, gardening, quilting, embroidery, weaving textiles, dressing their family and more. Some things were done out of necessity, others were done from a deeper place–the need to express her own experience in some unique-to-her way. There was never a problem with women’s work aside from the fact that it is constant. That very constancy allows a woman to deepen her innate wisdom. The problem is that a dysfunctional patriarchal paradigm minimizes and devalues her work. Yet, it is the very backbone that consistently supports all of life. I don’t want to be a woman doing a man’s job. I don’t want to compete with men in a male-constructed market place. I want what I do to be properly respected, valued, elevated…and compensated. HA!

I believe that women should be included at any political bargaining table where war is being discussed. Women who are mothers and grandmothers should be adequately represented. Traditionally, there is and has been an imbalance in their representation. In some indigenous cultures, it is the women who determine whether or not their tribe is to go to battle.

Last evening, I viewed a film celebrating Women’s History Month. It’s called Barbara Lee: Speaking Truth to Power. Congresswoman Barbara Lee is a model of a woman staying true to her values even under duress.

Said Eleanor…

I was considering writing an essay addressed to women based on Eleanor Roosevelt’s oft-stated observation “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Then, I waivered for a few reasons. The main one being, I personally know how hard it is to rise above the belief of one’s own inferior status when you are surrounded by a culture, religion or family system that operates from a built-in gender inequality model. And, when your finances are tied in with your male counterpart this compounds the situation.

How does a woman activate within herself the powerful being that has been in dormancy for eons? How does she, despite everything that is pushing against this, rise into her own (uncomfortable) power? How does she source her power in a male-dominated world where “might makes right” and she is hostage to her fears? And as a woman, how does she safely proclaim her feminine prowess when what she brings to the table is unappreciated, minimized and even ridiculed?

At the time that I wrote the following, my mother was eighty-two years old, born in 1920. She married my father in 1941. He won the grand prize, her. She quit her secretarial job, as was expected, bore nine children and lived a life of absolute servitude to him. I heard from one of my sister’s a few days ago. She said that our mom was sitting in a chair in our parents’ house. She just keeled over, fell to the floor and laid their conscious but shocked. Somehow, she got herself up. Shortly thereafter, she went outside to tell my father. He wanted to take her to the hospital. She declined.

My mother runs a household for my father the same as she has since 1941, except that she no longer has her children to help with all of the household tasks. My father does not lift a finger. In his letter to me, he said they eat two meals a day. This preparation is hard on my mom. She doesn’t just throw a porkchop in the broiler. He requires labor-intensive meals and my mom complies. They have two refrigerators stocked with food that she has prepared and other staple ingredients. This is her job, her role–I once asked her “Mom, when do you get to retire?” She answered sheepishly, “I never thought of that.” In questioning her daily routine, I asked her “Do you ever stop, take a bath with bath salts or essential oils and just relax.” She said “I don’t have time for that.” When the facts of his physical and other abuses came to light, I asked her, “Mom, didn’t you get angry?” Her response was “I can’t be bothered with that.”

Where did her anger go? Years later, I realized that part of her anger went into guilt and shame because she didn’t protect her children or herself so well.

Contrary to an enduring belief–men are not intended to be the kings in their castles with women serfs out in the field doing the labor, birthing the children and caring for all things that revolve around home. And in this model, she is also excluded from the decision-making even with things that directly affect her.

So, while I agree in theory with Eleanor’s quote…in practice, after years of ongoing spousal abuse and mental manipulations, my mom had lost the power to make healthy choices for herself when it came to this long-endured relationship. She had been made to feel inferior, probably from birth. And this sense of inferiority carried on right through her marriage to a narcistic man.

Looking at the world at large, I do think that there are some narcistic male leaders making decisions for all of us. As a woman, how does my voice even get heard to affect change in a system that is intent with keeping her in her place? Until a woman can break the ties that bind her to a false sense of herself and comes to realize her personal power, the same games are going to play out. Men continue to dominate. Women continue to take a back seat. We’ve seen a few models of powerful women, but not enough. A surge of woman’s power has to happen en masse to affect real change for the better.

Ecofeminism

Ecofeminism is viewed as a philosophical and political movement. It is the wedding of environmentalism and feminism. It is considered a branch of feminism that recognizes the intimate relationship between women and the earth as foundational to its analysis and practice. “Ecofeminist thinkers draw on the concept of gender to analyze the relationships between humans and the natural world.” Wikipedia

I am infatuated. I have been for most of my life but I didn’t realize it had a name. I have been intrigued by the relationship between women and nature. I have lived into it. I have written poetry and essays about it. I have desired and designed it. And, sadly, I have seen how this relationship, its components and unity, continues to be disregarded and maligned.

My mind cannot comprehend the separation of the human race from their environment. Friends explain it to me as “greed.” Ah, that’s what it is. And the lack of foresight in regards to if we continue to do, as we are doing, there is an end in sight. We are creating an uninhabitable planet for many species, including humans, of this place in the universe that we call our home.

We witness the extinction of companion species. “More recently, scientists at the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity concluded that: “Every day, up to 150 species are lost.” That could be as much as 10 percent a decade.”

What? Really? Wow! That seems ridiculous. I guess that someone is out there cataloguing this. And it’s upsetting…why do humans think that they are untouchable. That they are an exception, or somehow exempt? Are we too protected and coddled by our society, living our lives vicariously through media entertainment? I don’t want me, my family or friends (or anyone really) to live in anxiety…but…don’t we need to face into the truth and make some changes, yesterday?

Ecofeminism, reweaving the human race into the world, on this planet, with all of the other life forms has become an imperative. As John Muir said “Nature includes us.” There is wisdom in realizing this.

She was made to give
© by Christine O’Brien

The earth she says
I was made to give
take from my abundant larder.

and they took and returned to her
in intimate ways
and each was happy.

The earth she says
I was made to give
take from my abundant larder.

and they plowed and sowed her
to feed the many
who had set up villages
and put down roots
and they took and returned to her
in amenable ways
and each was content.

The earth she says
I was made to give
take from my abundant larder.

and they came with their heavy equipment
and modern ways
scavenged in her very bowels
polluted her waters
bound her up in asphalt and concrete
rumbled heavy machinery over her bare breast
constructed factories and buildings
increased their numbers
to populate these structures.

They said “We will make her subject to us.”
They worked the many to support the few
–a masked feudal system.
And they took
and they took
and they took from her
and it was never enough.
It was her nature to give
and though she felt dishonored
she complied.

The earth she says
I was made to give.
take from my…
however her larder was less abundant
and she felt a certain exhaustion.
To continue giving
to those who showed no appreciation
nor reciprocity
seemed a betrayal.

How much longer could she sustain them,
sustain herself?
Where she had once given
from her abundance,
now she was giving
from her personal storehouse.

“Ah, I am tired,” she said.
“I’ll shake these ungratefuls
from my empty breast.
I’ve nothing left to give.”

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I hope and pray that this is not the story of humankind.
What are you and I going to do? What does your activism look like?

Was there ever equality between men and women?

“There can be no doubt that in the very earliest ages of human history the magical force and wonder of the female was no less a marvel than the universe itself; and this gave to woman a prodigious power, which it has been one of the chief concerns of the masculine part of the population to break, control and employ to its own ends. It is, in fact, most remarkable how many primitive hunting races have the legend of a still more primitive age than their own, in which the women were the sole possessors of the magical art.”

Joseph Campbell, The Masks of God: Primitive Mythology

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Daniel: I want to define clearly the intrinsic role as opposed to a superficial role. In so doing, what is being created and what we’re moving towards is what we call equality and equilibrium.

Me: That was in the video on the Nature of Sex. The first one was talking about the Egyptian era and they were saying at that point in time it seemed like there was some equality between male and female (before the Romans came in).

Daniel: Yes, there was respect for the woman.

Me: So then, something happened and it all fell apart and there seemed to be a gap because there was the Egyptian era. Then, the Greek society was very male-dominated and then the Judeo Christian…

Daniel: Then it was all gone. The rise of the patriarchy.

Me: Why do you think that it shifted? If there was an equality or even a matriarchal society at some point, I wonder what it was that created that dramatic shift.

Daniel: I think that there are a few obvious reasons: 1) Cycles and 2) Rise of the male power…

Me: Exhibited as physical strength?

Daniel: Acquisition, power, conquering, religions, priesthoods, etc. When Christianity came into power, they reversed the whole thing. They made our salvation “out there.” They externalized it. The took the focus away from personal development and put it outside of oneself.

“Why is this?” Daniel continued. According to his spiritual teacher, it was necessary to bring into being other faculties like rationale (logic). The age of reasoning.

Me: The rationale? Priests were intermediaries between humans and a higher power (God) wanting to keep people mostly ignorant and dependent.

Daniel: It’s a power trip.

Me: So even though we have more people who are literate now, on the other hand people aren’t encouraged to think for themselves or outside the box of either religion or culture or family of origin.

Daniel: Religion doesn’t have such a dominant force today. (And then Daniel pauses) It still does because its bred into us. We’re hardwired. The power of reason has been developed and is crucial to our existence. Like all things again, there was the pendulum swing. In the 20th century it was all rationale as opposed to the heart.

Me: Rationale, logic which is related to the masculine energy.

Daniel: The mental, which has to be kept in balance, moderation. But it wasn’t totally rational or you can rationalize everything. Well, you can’t! I feel there’s a swing back towards the middle. It’s necessary to human evolution. The darkness eclipsed the light…

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I decided to post this conversation which was a continuation of conversations with Daniel because I continue to be curious about what prompted the shift from either a matriarchal system or an egalitarian system to a male-dominated, colonizing mentality–whether the colonizing of women, other countries or species–largely, the entire world/planet.

A Woman’s Voice–

This is one of her super powers! That is, when she knows how and dares to use it. Most of my life, I haven’t used my voice effectively.

We are known by our words and actions.
When we don’t speak our truth in the moment,
it can be assumed that we agree or acquiesce.
We are witnesses to our own responses in any given situation.
We betray ourselves (often unknowingly) by not speaking up on our own behalf.
It can be scary to state an opinion or belief that is contrary to someone else.
Especially if we’ve imbued that someone else with some type of authority.

christine o’brien

Yet, you are the best authority of yourself.

I have experienced the vibrato of my voice through poetry.
The hollow of my words
when I would push the feelings aside
minimized or unacknowledged.

I have felt, in my chest,
the familiar caving in
when I was called upon
to stand in and up
for myself
and didn’t.

I have known the retreats
too well
and the inner subversion
because to speak felt dangerous,
was dangerous.

I have felt the outrage–
at odd times,
seemingly out of context–
when something old
surfaced
from a time
when I did not
or could not
act (or speak) on my own behalf.
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Poetry has been an avenue for the voice that was mute.
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Yesterday, sitting on the back deck sharing Earl Grey Iced Tea and Pineapple Meringue Pie, a woman friend and I discussed, among other things, how we notice that too often, men don’t listen to us when we are conducting our business transactions in the world. Now, we are women of a certain age where men no longer perceive us as objects of desire. We won’t be easily teased or flirted with.

We both gave recent examples of how we’ve noted this. She is doing some remodeling in her house. She is the sole owner, the one spending the money and has designed the remodel plans. There are things she doesn’t have expertise in so she bows to the experience of the contractor or tile man or floor man. One carpenter, too old to do the labor himself hired a man off-the-street who was obviously slacking and making a mess of things. She brought this to the head carpenter’s attention (he wasn’t on the job to supervise) and he minimized it. Yet, she was paying for the work to be done in an expert way and without damage to what was already in place.

Where we live, there is a dearth of good and reliable workers. That is, people who know what they are doing and actually show up to do the job for which they’ve been hired. Three years ago, I remodeled an enclosed back porch. I ordered a six-foot wide sliding glass door for the little space. I placed the order and left a hefty deposit. I was told three weeks for this custom-made door. In three weeks, I had the floor man come to replace the old flooring and simultaneously, a sheetrock guy to frame in the door, etc. I find out that the order for the door was never placed! The shop owner then says that the order has to come from my contractor, a man! I was my own contractor on this small job. So I got a contractor, a man, to order the door. I specified a six-foot wide sliding glass door to both the shop owner and the contractor. Three weeks later, all of the necessary people lined up again to complete the project, and I received a five-foot wide, not six-foot, sliding glass door! At that point (this dance had been going on for three months), I accepted the five-foot wide door just to be complete with the project.

In my daily experience, there are other men with whom I feel unseen and unheard. The market of single women over fifty has grown here. It would be lucrative for men who offer building, landscaping, car maintenance and other services to learn how to listen and talk to women. Doctors too!

As a woman, I practice using my voice, my super power more and more.

What about you?


Panoply

Sometimes I hear a word and I put it in a holding place if I don’t look it up immediately. Panoply was one of those words. I liked the sound of it…how it looks and yet I had no idea what it meant. If I were to conjecture a meaning I might say it’s an abbreviated way of saying piano play perhaps? There are many words that have become archaic…we hardly ever hear them and they go to the ancient graveyard for rarely used words. I had a boyfriend once who used archaic words regularly. He had been an early reader. Both of his parents were deaf. He got his amazing vocabulary from the classics and other books that he encountered at an early age. And, sadly, most people wouldn’t have an understanding for some of what he was saying.

Panoply: pa-ne-plea/noun/Greek panoplia, fr. pan-+hopla arms, armor, pl. of hoplon tool, weapon–more at Hoplite. (1632) 1. a: a full suit of armor b: ceremonial attire 2. something forming a protective covering 3. a: magnificent or impressive array (the full-of a military funeral) b: a display of all appropriate appurtenances (has the – of science fiction…but it is not true science fiction–Isaac Asimov)

Pan…Greek from pan, neut of pant-, pas all, every; akin to Toch B pont-all) 1. all: completely (panchromatic) 2a: Involving all of a specified group b: advocating or involving the union of a specified group 3: whole: general.

Hoplite: A heavily armed infantry soldier of ancient Greece.

Merriam-Webster

How many of us remember, if we were even taught, how to translate a dictionary definition? Reading the above definition, there are parts I can relate to and other parts that I really don’t understand the reference. My father was a wordsmith–he loved looking up words in one of those huge dictionaries that was placed upon a wooden lectern-like stand, accessible and for quick reference…though not as quick as Google. He loved thumbing through the dictionary pages to find the word of choice and then to study the etymology of that word. The definition of etymology being “the study of the origin of words and the way in which their meanings have changed throughout history.” He believed that a deep understanding of a word was a clue to a deeper meaning to whatever he was reading. An understanding of a word’s origin could tell him so much more than what the author of the book might have intended. It could also take him on a vicarious journey as to where that word had traveled from originally.

Do we take words for granted? If we are avid readers, and especially women, we shouldn’t take words or literacy for granted. And, if we are women who write, we should have a devout relationship to words. There was a time, not so distant, when women were not allowed to learn how to read or write. A literate woman was an exception. It’s hard for me to comprehend this. If it wasn’t for me being able to read and write, would I find another way to express the feelings and thoughts that well up in me begging to be scripted? My answer to that question would be “yes.” However, what I expressed through art, embroidery, sewing, quilting, tatting and other womanly arts might not be so translatable by the highly lauded logical mind. It wouldn’t be so credited in the male-oriented versions of history.

Honestly, in my life, when I get caught in a circular pattern of words and thoughts, I toss the mighty pen aside and look for another way to express what is inside of me. I look for an escape route from the tyranny of thoughts that go nowhere! There are countless ways to quiet the mind–knitting, quilting, gardening, drawing, painting, etc. Staring out of a window on a snowy day in the mountains, like today–there are no words…

She’s on her own

You pay more for a room with a view. This is a commonly known fact. As if the view would not exist without the room faceted just so. This enables the proprietor of the Crest Motel to charge $50.00 more per night than for a view-less room facing the parking lot and highway. I begrudgingly admit that it is special. A tanker or barge or a large vessel, not know by name to a landlubber like myself, passes through the channel. Three black crows preceded by their barking caws swoop down, fanning their wings with a sudden shudder and then pulling them in tight to their shiny black bodies.

I like vistas such as this; they make me want to cry. The view is accompanied by the soothing sound effects of the constant ocean. I know the ocean mostly from the shore. I called her mother when I was in the womb. I grew up five blocks above the Great Highway in San Francisco, beyond which the ocean stretched as far you could see.

An impatience lays upon me as I sit in the chair in this room with a view, writing. I must go down and sit outside in a chair overlooking the sea–the chair the three crows occupy. My coming chases the raggedy crows away as their calls remain overhead. A bridge stretches across a broad expanse of bay. From this distance the glint of a car crosses from one side of the bridge to the other. The manmade landmarks are foreign to me, but not the sea.

It is both sad and strange to travel alone. And, I have to admit, I feel slightly depressed. Most of my life, I held someone’s hand–a sibling’s, rarely a parent’s; infrequently, a spouse’s hand, often, my daughters’; sometimes a boyfriend’s, now my own. Keeping my own company. The bird chatter sounding like a slightly squeaking brake, the wind rustling the coastal trees, the silent bay and the noisy highway together create an oddly restful ambience.

I could explore. I could go to the office and get directions to a path which would take me onto the beach or out to the breakwater wall, perhaps. Movement, physical movement, often helps to shift sadness. I’m curious. It looks like one could walk down there and be right beside the water. I have a plan.

The desk clerk in the office tells me that there is no trail down to the beach. She directs me to the river trail. I can catch it behind the Safeway parking lot. “It’s really nice,” she says, “it’s all paved.” She doesn’t know that I prefer the feel of the cushy earth to unyielding pavement. I thank her.

The fog begins to roll inland with a certainty, hiding the small mountain range on the opposite shore and the longest bridge. I must go before I disappear as well.

Later: Everything is an adventure or at least something to write about. Like the discovery that this is not the ocean that I’ve been looking at and writing about. This is the Columbia River! And it’s huge, like an ocean! The fountain in the center of the courtyard below has colored lights in the bottom of a scant pool which splashes colors up though the now-dribbling water. The river trail was paved as foretold, a small trolley ran beside it for those who didn’t want to walk, jog or bike ride. It’s 7:35 in the evening now. The sun is making a slow descent in the west. It hasn’t reached the fog bank yet which is going to surely douse the sun and send me inside.

Sitting on the upper balcony outside of my room, I’m aware of how much I live inside myself. There are five neighboring sliding glass doors opening onto this balcony. The deck streams from one end to the other without dividers. It’s a narrow deck; no one else is out here and I’m glad. I’m not in a sharing mood. I’d nod and go inside if someone emerged.

I distract myself. The Astoria Pier runs ramps down to the vessels below. Small dinghies, moderate-sized fishing boats and a hulking steel fishing boat, orange and rusting–these line the pier.

And the seals, there are signs on every ramp–“Danger, Seals on Pier!” Their mossy green-brown bodies have taken the sun into their hides and claimed it. They have an air of “don’t mess with me.” Their barking. Unlike the crows, they won’t be scared off–if someone gets too close, their echoing barks intensify. Are they complaining? Staking territory? Merely chatting?

I wonder if I’ll always be alone. When do I stop feeling like a stranger to myself? Omigod! A huge tanker like a floating gray whale passes in this very wide river. Spontaneously, I wave, shouting “I’m here, over here!” A small, less significant boat scuttles past the tanker, lost beside its bulk. The fog interferes with the sun’s warmth but not it’s light. The tanker moves slowly but steadily. Watching it is better than watching television; the mind is not assaulted. I learned today that each blast of a ship’s horn has a meaning. One blast means passing on starboard, two means passing on the left. Five short blasts is an alert “If we don’t change course, we’re going to crash!”

This woman, myself with wild golden brown hair sits in the setting sun on a green plastic chair clutching a fat blue Dr. Grip pen as if my life depended on it. The hot tub invites but two young women are filling it up with their high esteem
–no room for me. Now the sun is flirting with the fog and the air has a sudden nip. I’m going inside.