Travel Log: Sundown at Yosemite

I spent the evening down on the valley floor by the Merced River and Tenaya Creek, past the lingering tourists snapping pictures in the last remaining hours of daylight.

I can’t say what I was looking for–maybe something extraordinary, since extraordinary was all that I had seen so far, and I had little indication that anything about that would change. 

The sun faded from view, leaving the sky cast in a pink-purple glow.  The air had cooled quickly, and I heard the sounds of the river somewhere through the trees. 

I approached a small tunnel where footprints led through to the other end.  It was actually more like a pile of rocks, and it formed what looked like a cave at first glance. Maybe it was my imagination running away with me, or some childlike adventurous impulse breaking free that I made no effort to resist. 

Yosemite Valley - Mirror Lake Trail - National Parks - Yosemite National Park - Yosemite - Jude Moonlight - Tenaya Creek - Quinby & Co.
On the Mirror Lake Trail heading toward Tenaya Creek; Yosemite National Park, CA

I crawled through it like some lost boy in his bedroom fort, made from chairs and bedsheets.  Only this was the genuine article, made from boulders and chunks of earth that had probably fallen many years ago.

I reached the other end and heard the sounds of the river growing louder.  I could see it flowing in between the trees.  I glanced up and noticed two birds flying playfully overhead.  I followed them to the water, flowing gently northeast.  I sat there on the bank, quietly upon the rocks and I listened.  The ‘river’ was actually Tenaya Creek, which had broken off from the Merced River at Curry Village. 

I sat there for a while and wrote about the creek whispering secrets, dispatches from the rest of the world with news on where we were all going from here.  The river seemed to know it all.  The river, swift and wise, the great shaper of mountainsides and treacherous canyons–shaping even the grandest and most mammoth caves in America. 

Yosemite Valley - National Parks - Yosemite National Park - Yosemite - Jude Moonlight - Tenaya Creek - Quinby & Co.
Tenaya Creek; Yosemite National Park, CA

The last rays of daylight had gone down as I left the valley and made my way out the west entrance of the park toward El Portal.  I camped for the night at an RV park, perched on a cliff overlooking the Merced River. 

This site was a cool alternative to camping in the park where campsites had been booked for months in advance.  I slept in something that wasn’t quite a tent, but not quite a cabin either.  It was a wide canvas tent the size of a small bedroom, equipped with a bed and nightstand and even a ceiling fan.  I guess it could qualify as ‘glamping,’ though I hadn’t heard that word at the time.  It didn’t have an AC or heating system, but I didn’t need one.  In those first days of August, the air outside was perfect.    

I enjoyed all the sounds of nature I would have enjoyed in a conventional tent, as well as most of the comforts of a cabin.  And I fell asleep to the sound of the river rushing below and the many creatures of the night, unknown and unseen. 

I slept like a rock.

Travel Log: General Sherman

I stopped in one of the last towns to fill up on gas and get supplies–which consisted mainly of sandwich bread, two cans of tuna, some fruit and peanut butter–before starting into the mountains, into Sequoia National Park, where I’d sleep for two nights.

Desert Town - California - Central Valley - Quinby & Co
Small town in the desert, where I got a quick breakfast.

 

After getting to my campground and setting up my tent, I set out to see General Sherman, the largest tree in the world.  I reached the trailhead and made my way into the grove, warm and stuffed with tourists wandering and laughing and taking pictures. I heard babies and toddlers crying and whining, and kids sprinting up and down the trail playing tag and accidentally photobombing the pictures of strangers. I continued and noticed the larger crowds gathering to snap a picture of something in the distance, still obstructed from my view, but something I knew could only be the General Sherman Tree.

It stood mightily at the center, surrounded by excited onlookers who looked like ants by comparison.  It was crowded with admirers and yet it seemed strangely alone. A silent sage. A wise man who’d seen generations come and go, had witnessed all the great moments of human history from the very spot upon which it stood. I even pictured some legend of the silver screen, growing old though still appearing ageless, encountering a crowd of photographers or tourists taking their picture, but just taking it in stride like a professional. They’re no stranger to the attention, after all.  They’ve seen it all before.

General Sherman Tree - Sequoia National Park - Sequoia - California - National Park - Quinby & Co.
General Sherman Tree, and the ants at its feet; Sequoia National Park, CA

I understood and appreciated the truth that trees, like all other plants on earth, are living breathing organisms. And the more I looked at General Sherman, a tree more than 3,000 years old, the more I appreciated the relevance of these truths which concern all living things on the planet. The more I looked at it, the more I connected with it.

Still I felt like it was looking way past me, somewhere far beyond where I stood; and that despite its age and wisdom and experience far superior to my own, it too was still something of a lost soul searching and still unsatisfied with everything it had so far understood its purpose to be on this earth. It was the king of these mountains, but it was still subservient to a higher order it didn’t fully understand.

A soft rain fell, more like a mist than a rain. It probably only lasted a minute, but it seemed longer, as if the rain had slowed down time. In that moment the surrounding tourists vanished from sight and left the two of us alone, facing eachother.

The rays of the sun beamed in through the forest, shining down on us both, revealing the tree in all its eternal youth and ancient power, as the reclusive angel, having kept its vigil for centuries way up here in this shadowy grove, high up in the mountains.

We were pilgrims, old and young. Angel and man. Man and angel. Guardian angel, maybe. Brothers.  In that moment, we were no longer separate from each other.  We never had been.  There I stood, once again remembering something I seemed to know long ago.

General Sherman - General Sherman Tree - Sequoia National Park - Sequoia - California - National Park - Quinby & Co.
General Sherman; Sequoia National Park, CA

It was the first time in a long time that I’d felt this way about anything in nature. It wouldn’t be the last. Unbeknownst to me, an entire network existed, scattered far across the wilderness of America, and farther still, across the Atlantic Ocean and out to the far eastern reaches of Europe.  It took the form of people I’d meet, and the many beautiful things I’d see along the way.

It was ocean and sky, woman and man, living and passed on.  With them I felt connected in common cause: that each of us might reach the realization of love and respect for all living things.  An understanding of our ongoing, unfailing connection to one another.

I remembered something from my early days in the church that made more sense to me now than it did before.  As it was in the beginning, it is now and ever shall be.  United in one breath, one beating heart.

Kaweah River - Lodgepole Campground - Sequoia National Park - California - Sequoia - Quinby & Co.
Kaweah River at Lodgepole Campground; Sequoia National Park, CA

The thought didn’t occur to me at the time, standing in the shadow of General Sherman and the mighty sequoia.  It only does now, as I recall the story and wonder how it might sound to someone reading this. Truth be told, prior to this experience, I wasn’t much of an outdoors person.  I liked to be outside as much as the next guy, but I’d never really camped before at all, and I’d never done much hiking beyond the typical neighborhood hikes in and around LA.

I’d never spent much time in the mountains, amongst the trees whispering at night.  I’d never lay quiet, listening for melodies beside the creek in the early evening.  I’d never breathed in the rush of the river beneath the new morning and the slow, rising sun. 

Now, that was all about to change.

General Sherman - General Sherman Tree - Sequoia National Park - Sequoia - California - National Park - Ren Michael - Quinby & Co.
The tree is my brother. Me and General Sherman; Sequoia National Park, CA

In-Brief: On Parks and Wildness

Save Our Home, Save Ourselves

I recently applied to a job that asked me to select the best pic of myself in the outdoors. It sounds like it could be an exciting one, a job where I’d be spending time in some of my favorite places, or one place depending on how you look at it. That is, the National Parks or in the broader sense, in nature.

To that point, I’ve come to see them less as individual places and it more as one larger whole.  Our planet.  I like that approach more.    

It’s hard to say which picture could ever be the best, but this is the one I felt like posting–taken almost exactly four years ago.

Ren Michael - South Kaibob Trail - Grand Canyon - Grand Canyon National Park - Arizona - National Park - Quinby & Co.
Ren Michael on the South Kaibob Trail, Grand Canyon National Park, AZ

Much has happened since then both in my life and throughout the world, and I’ve been fortunate to have gone on many adventures in the time in between. Hopefully I’m a strong sum of those experiences, as each was its own unique reminder of my connection to both land and people.

I’m not unique in that respect, since I know many who have turned to the outdoors and felt a similar way. Restored, replenished, readjusted to the point that their day-to-day ambitions either suddenly feel silly, or are just given renewed purpose in light of the bigger realization that they are a part of something bigger than themselves and their possessions.

While I can only hope it’s enough to help us recognize the importance of preserving these places—since all of us deserve to experience the land in equal measure—above all, I hope we each begin doing our part in preserving the integrity of our environment, for the health of our planet, our one true home, for our physical health, and ultimately for our sanity.

I look back on recent years and I think about people marching against gun violence, or against corporate greed on Wall Street.  I think about people marching for Black lives and for our government’s full recognition of their humanity. 

And I think about two weeks ago, when everyday I stepped out and saw a smoke-filled sky blotting out the sun due to devastating regional wildfires.  In the back of my mind, the fire’s reach had far exceeded the limits of the west coast where I make my home.  Indeed, the larger symbolism was hard to miss.      

The issues of violence, racial justice, environmental justice and economic inequality are, I believe, inter-related.  The dangers of climate change for example pose the most immediate threat to Black and Brown communities, a disproportionate number of which fall below the poverty line in the United States and throughout the world–a reality most clearly demonstrated in food and water shortages not just in third-world countries, but here at home.  

Tackling the threat of climate change will not automatically close the gap on income inequality or accomplish comprehensive racial justice.  Still you cannot adequately address problems in your house when your house is, quite literally, on fire; and truly, the fight for a healthy planet has the power to bring people of different backgrounds and beliefs together, likely more so than any movement we’ve ever witnessed.  More to the point, it’s the understanding of our interconnectedness that will ultimately save us in virtually every domestic and global conflict we experience; and nowhere is that realization more critical than in the necessary global effort to mitigate climate change by cultivating a cleaner and more sustainable world for all people.  

The act of getting outdoors, spending time in our public lands and in the broader wilderness of the world has the unique power to reinforce the fundamental reality of our interdependence and dependence on the land.  It’s just one of many reasons why it’s so important they stay preserved and protected.    

I often reflect on whether it will just be an ongoing battle for every generation between people committed to preserving our wilderness for the public benefit, and the people who seek to exploit the land for their own profit. 

I hope that it won’t.  Maybe the dual threats of climate change and a global pandemic will convince people of their stake in each other’s health and the health of our planet, and the influence will carry over through generations to come.      

I only know that the need for such a realization has never been so urgent.      

As for our wilderness, and it’s unmatched beauty and healing power, for now there’s little more I can say, other than to simply go, as soon as you can, and experience it for yourself.

Let’s please take care of our home.  I am committed to doing my part and I hope you will join me.  The Sierra Club is one of our nation’s most enduring and influential forces for environmental action and awareness.  I’ve been a member for a couple years now and I urge you to consider joining and lending your support as well. 

Let’s get to work.   

 

*Take Action –> www.sierraclub.org

Friends of the Earth Action https://foeaction.org/

Natural Resources Defense Council https://www.nrdc.org/

National Parks Foundation https://www.nationalparks.org/

Talking About Political Correctness

I used to complain about political correctness, even though I’d never actually met anyone who shamed me or embarrassed me due to my incorrectness. I wonder then whether most of the people who complain about it are just insecure people?  

The growing consensus seems to be that everybody everywhere takes everything so personal all the time, which may yet be true.

For starters, the complaint seems far more warranted, say, with respect to professional comedy where part of what makes a joke funny at all is it’s irreverence, its breach of political correctness. If a comedian were constantly wanting to avoid offending people, that comedian would likely lose inspiration and give up the whole thing. 

Comedy thrives on irreverence. Even so, the best comedians still grasp the basic concept of knowing how to read a room.

When people look at their life and really think about the number of times they’ve been slapped on the wrist by a friend, family member or acquaintance for using the wrong word or making an insensitive remark, is that number actually few and far between, if at all?

The way I see it, political correctness is a fact of life and always has been, no different from any other form of etiquette that will change depending on where you are in the world. The only difference now is that it’s been given a name, and stigmatized in the one sphere of public life where it’s probably essential–politics.   

I wonder then whether people who complain about having their head bitten off for breaching that etiquette, who yearn for some comprehensive, universally agreed upon rubric for what’s ok and what’s not, and who then further expect it to never change, ever again—at least while they’re alive—are simply operating in some other reality; as if anything like that ever existed at all within the long span of human history and the diversity of cultures that make up this planet, let alone the ones that make up this country.   

They’ll mention how it used to be different years ago, how somethings were ok and others were not—as if the ideal sort of history of language and expression is a static one.

People once used words like ‘thee’ and ‘thou’, words like ‘colored’, just as men once wore stockings and wigs out in public. And yet if you spoke or dressed that way today, you’d look like a jackass. Why? Because things eventually fall out of fashion. And yes, it might be a phenomenon but if we can’t accept it, then we might want to find ourselves another planet.

The complaint ignores the fundamental truth that language changes because people change.  It ignores the fact that larger, free-thinking societies are quite naturally heterogenous.  The bigger they are, the more diverse they will likely become, with each community and sub-community developing their own customs and standards of decorum. Political correctness, then, at the very least seems to represent that basic truth in the matter of how we converse with one another, when each of us comes from a different background and our own sphere of personal experience.  

I’ve noticed that people who travel a lot typically have no problem understanding this, because they’ve spent a good amount of time in communities other than their own. They learned to adapt, and often a part of them even enjoys navigating the complexities of different cultures.

They don’t get upset over the fact that they have to learn a new language, they embrace it as an opportunity. If something changes in the country or community they visit and they have to adapt yet again, they don’t dismiss the people as petty and refuse to budge any further.

They are often driven by an appetite for learning new things, and a wonder before all the intricacies of the world and its many points of view.

They don’t get hung up on the possibility of making a mistake here and there, because they’ve already accepted the high possibility that they will make one sooner or later.

However, that leads to another point of discussion.

Could those who are hip to the changing tides of fashion be more polite about it? Do they have to be such a dick about it? Is being woke, for example, nothing more than a matter of bragging rights, one that ultimately involves shaming all those who are out of the loop?

I’ve never encountered anyone like that, but if and when I do, I don’t think it will surprise me. I used to complain about political correctness because I’d automatically bought into the notion that these types of people were everywhere and running absolutely wild…even though I never met one.

I think it had to do with insecurity. My own fear of making a fool of myself led to a defense mechanism against the enemy I had never actually seen. If these woke people exist–and I do think there are a few out there–then I imagine they are likely motivated by the same fear. Fear of not being hip, fear of looking like an idiot, or just someone out of step with the times. An outsider.

I don’t think there’s anything necessarily wrong with being ignorant. I think the real pity is either burrowing yourself in your ignorance, or over-compensating in the direction of righteousness or enlightenment, all for the sake of never being wrong and being some kind of insider.

Personally I think it’s more fun being a little bit of both, having one foot on the inside and another on the out.

It’s one reason I like to travel.  I like knowing that I can adapt easily enough to changing surroundings, and I know doing that involves a flexibility of perspective, a willingness to listen and an actual openness to being wrong every once in a while.

It’s something I’d forgotten about myself, but I think it’s a good lesson for all of us to remember. It might make life a little more complicated now and then, but with the slightest tweak in perspective, if we can set aside our ego, it might also make life a whole lot more enriching.

In Focus: What is the Green New Deal?

These days we’re hearing more and more about the Green New Deal and rightfully so.  Given the devastating wildfires along the west coast, which only seem to grow in number and intensity each year in proportion to rising global temperatures, we think that a Green New Deal sounds great right about now. 

But what exactly is it?  What does it entail and is it practical?  We did a little research and were able to iron out some nuts and bolts, say, for your added consideration when casting your vote this year.  So let’s take a look.

The Green New Deal is a congressional resolution, essentially the most comprehensive plan for mitigating climate change and reducing income inequality put to paper by our government so far. 

You can read the official document here.

It was drafted last year by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Sen. Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts, both Democrats, and it takes its name from the New Deal of the 1930s, a series of programs and regulations enacted by President Roosevelt as a means to help the United States recover from the Great Depression. 

It emphasizes that climate change and income inequality are inextricably linked, and that the proposals would cultivate a cleaner environment and create new jobs. 

These proposals include a sweeping national mobilization effort that would be implemented over a ten-year period, one that includes sourcing 100 percent of our power demand from renewable energy and zero-emission resources (e.g. wind, water, solar). 

It calls for the overhaul of our transportation system to remove pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector as much as possible–by investing in zero-emission vehicle infrastructure and manufacturing, in affordable and accessible public transit, and in a high-speed rail system.

Additionally, the resolution says it’s the duty of the federal government to provide job training for new workers, particularly those families and communities who currently rely on their jobs in fossil fuels.

 

The Details

But is it feasible?  Can it actually work?  That’s where things seem to get a little tricky.  

Almost 80 percent of America’s power still comes from fossil fuels, a resource that is relatively cheap and plentiful.  Another problem is that the cost of these new initiatives would indeed be expensive, though supporters argue that it’s a cost that would pay for itself in the long run.    

Additionally, as Republicans are equally quick to point out, the Green New Deal would involve a greater government presence in many facets of public life to adequately implement the standards necessary for curbing our greenhouse gas emissions.  In short, it would go against the common instincts and virtues intimately linked with modern American industry, namely less federal regulation and more privatization.  

Now to that point, one might hope that a global pandemic might shift the collective consciousness enough to translate into policy that actually reflects the popular sentiment that we’re all in this together.  After all, when it comes to climate change, that sentiment has never been so true.

The logistical obstacles most often mentioned are the costs and the ten-year timeline.  While the cost of reaching the goals outlined in the resolution would amount in the trillions, the cost of continued inaction would almost certainly amount to trillions more.

While technological experts agree that ten years might be too short a time to achieve the zero-carbon infrastructure outlined, they do agree that 20-25 years is more viable if we get to work now.  

 

Our Take

Something is better than nothing.  While the logistical dilemmas might be valid, specifically whether ten years is too short a time, the simple truth is that we need to try.  

Every time we hear about the threat of climate change–a threat, by the way, that is already here–we naturally begin talking about solutions.  And the solution is basically the same every time, involving each of us making individual sacrifices for a greater more common good.  The Green New Deal is essentially that very realization put to paper and hopefully, ultimately national policy.   

If the fundamental ideas of the Green New Deal seem far-fetched, then it says an awful lot more about us then it does about the ideas themselves.  To throw up our hands and say it’s all a fantasy is to say that we’re incapable of working together to promote the general welfare.

Of course any such notion is nonsense, and a person only needs to look at history to understand why. 

It’s very appropriate that the resolution borrows its name from the New Deal of the Depression.  Then as now, Americans were facing a cataclysmic event that had upended public life for several years, not to mention the looming threat of a second world war.  It begs the question of just how catastrophic things need to get here and now before ordinary people across this land recognize a similar sense of investment in one another.

Despite the logistical issues this new new deal, it’s still the most tangible form of action we have yet realized in addressing climate change through legislation. 

If we cannot succeed in every aspect of it, we might succeed with some if not most of it–and some is most certainly better than none. 

It’s a blueprint, at the very least, a guideline we can follow in the years to come for enacting policy that would provide for a more sustainable environment and equitable society.  Of course that’s no small thing, and we personally put more trust in those who see its value versus those who outrightly dismiss it.

Apocalyptic skies in San Francisco, CA. The lights are still on along the Bay Bridge, which are supposed to turn off after sunrise. Photo by Jessica Christian, San Francisco Chronicle

In Focus: The John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act of 2020

 

John Lewis has received a great deal of praise over the last several weeks following his passing in July. 

Everyone from former presidents and congressional leaders to the innumerable voices in social media have highlighted his legacy fighting for Civil Rights both on the streets as he marched with Martin Luther King and in the halls of Congress where he served as a Georgia Representative for over 30 years.

We’ve heard about his near-death encounter with Alabama State Troopers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge while peacefully marching for the equal right to vote, and his multiple arrests in the name of what he called getting into good, necessary trouble.

What few people may realize is how the very thing for which he fought has been jeopardized these last seven years, and how its restoration formed a driving cause to which he dedicated his remaining years as a legislator and citizen.  

In 2013, the Supreme Court removed a key component of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, one that required districts with a history of voter suppression to get federal approval, or preclearance, before making any changes to their election laws.  

The Court ruled that the provision as it stood was based on antiquated data, essentially stating that the barriers which once disenfranchised Black voters in those districts no longer exist. If the Federal Government wanted to reclaim its oversight, the Court ruled, it would have to do so based on contemporary data.

So while the preclearance provision still exists, it’s no longer being applied, since the specific districts once required to get the federal approval are no longer required to do so.  Many of these districts are comprised of southern Black communities. 

“Today the Supreme Court stuck a dagger in the heart of the Voting Rights Act of 1965,” said Lewis at the time of the ruling. “They’re saying, in effect that history cannot repeat itself.  But I say come and walk in my shoes.”

While it’s true that the more overt forms of voter suppression are gone–such as poll taxes and literacy tests–many others still remain such as the restricting of early voting, the arbitrary re-drawing of district maps, strict voter identification laws, and the closing of over 1,600 polling places between 2012 and 2018 in those same districts once required to get federal approval before making any of these changes.  In Texas, 750 polling places closed following the Court ruling.  Most of these closures took place between the 2014 and 2018 mid-term elections.     

In December, the House passed a bill to restore the Voting Rights Act.  Congressman Lewis led the drafting of the bill, which was based on the updated data the Court had ruled necessary.  After the congressman’s passing in July, the bill was renamed in his honor–The John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act of 2020.    

It has yet to be passed in the Senate.  It currently sits on Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s desk, as it has for well over 200 days. 

Without a Democratic majority in the Senate, and while President Trump remains in office with his power to veto, it is unlikely the bill will be signed into law.  

Note: Election Day has yet to be declared a federal holiday, though it consistently falls on work days in which many Americans don’t have the time to get to their polling place and vote.  Colombus Day, meanwhile, is still a federal holiday.  Let’s all vote this year, yes?

 

Here are resources to take action.

https://support.naacp.org/a/john-lewis-voting-rights-act-passes-house”>https://support.naacp.org/a/john-lewis-voting-rights-act-passes-house

*The following data was compiled by the Leadership Conference Education Fund, a research arm of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights: http://civilrightsdocs.info/pdf/reports/Democracy-Diverted.pdf

 

 

Portraits of American Music: Bob Dylan

Outside of the various nightclubs in which he’d played throughout the south, few had heard of Robert Johnson in those immediate years following his death.  But that began to change in 1961.   

John Hammond was the head of Columbia Records—the same man who had tried to book Johnson years ago for a bill at Carnegie Hall, only to discover that he’d died just weeks before.  By this time, Hammond already had a few feathers in his cap, having signed the likes of Duke Ellington, Bessie Smith and Billie Holiday to the label.  Now he was overseeing the production and release of King of the Delta Blues Singers, the compilation album featuring those original songs which Johnson recorded inauspiciously some 25 years ago in San Antonio. 

The album would prove to be a monumental influence in the oncoming wave of rock and roll set to sweep the cultural landscape in a couple years. 

One of the first people to hear the record before it was even released was a young artist Hammond had just signed to the label, an unassuming folk-singer mostly known in the Greenwich Village folk revival scene.  

People knew him as the kid who sang Woody Guthrie songs, who talked and dressed like Guthrie, but whatever else John Hammond saw in Bob Dylan seems a bit of a mystery since there were other artists in the neighborhood arguably making a bigger splash at the time. 

Nobody had any real indication that he wrote his own songs.  Not John Hammond nor perhaps even Dylan himself. 

His debut album, Bob Dylan, featured mostly traditional songs—some obscure, others well-known—songs that had been covered and performed various times in the clubs and cafes of Greenwich Village, not least of which included House of the Rising Sun, soon to be cemented as a classic by Eric Burdon and the Animals a few years later. 

Even so, the album made very few waves.  Personnel at Columbia were already regarding the kid as Hammond’s folly, as though he were some pet project everybody could overlook in light of Hammond’s already proven success. 

When he listened to his album for the first time, Dylan later confessed, he was highly disturbed and he immediately felt the need to go out and make another record. 

By this time, Hammond had given Dylan a preview of the Robert Johnson album set to be released by Columbia.  And when Dylan heard it, like so many of his contemporaries to follow, he was greatly affected by the sound.  Yet perhaps unlike his contemporaries—especially those blues-obsessed musicians gearing up in the U.K. who were more entranced by Johnson’s guitar playing—Dylan found that he was particularly drawn to the lyrics. 

He describes it best in his 2004 memoir Chronicles Volume One:

I copied Johnson’s words down on scraps of paper so I could more closely examine the lyrics and patterns, the construction of his old-style lines and the free association that he used, the sparkling allegories, big-ass truths wrapped in the hard shell of nonsensical abstraction—themes that flew through the air with the greatest of ease.  I didn’t have any of these dreams or thoughts but I was going to acquire them.  I thought about Johnson a lot, wondered who his audience could have been.  It’s hard to imagine sharecroppers or plantation field hands at hop joints, relating to songs like these.  You have to wonder if Johnson was playing for an audience that only he could see, one off in the future.


-Bob Dylan, Chronicles: Volume 1 (2004)

Just how much hearing Johnson’s music influenced the making of Dylan’s next record, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, can only be guessed; but given Dylan’s own words on hearing the music, it seems at the very least that it might have inspired him to start heading in a more authentic and personal direction, that realizing Johnson’s profound originality might have further encouraged him to veer from covering the old folk standards and start getting serious about finding his own voice.

If so, then authenticity began with staying true to the times in which he lived, when the Cold War was at its peak and the Civil Rights Movement was in full swing.

Unlike his previous record, Freewheelin’ would mostly feature original songs, songs that would quickly establish Dylan as an early voice in the underground folk revival now spreading across America as part of the emerging 1960s counter-culture.

Blowin In the Wind, the album’s anthemic first track would prove to be one of the most celebrated and recognizable songs in Dylan repertoire, and the number of times it was covered in the ensuing months and years would bear testimony to its cultural and social relevance.

Bob Dylan - Columbia Records - New York City - 1963 - The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan in the Studio, New York City 1963 by Don Hunstein, © Don Hunstein

Now, for those readers looking to take their first dive into Dylan’s work, it’s difficult to pinpoint any one song or album to start, but I think one place that’s as good as any is The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, because in many ways, it’s his true first album.  Though his previous self-titled debut did feature two original songs including Song for Woody, a tribute to his hero Woody Guthrie; I think Freewheelin’ marks the beginning of Dylan making his own path, taking those real first steps to becoming the artist he was looking to be.

Now of course, as is the case with Robert Johnson and so many of the artists we’ll be talking about in this series, it’s impossible to capture the scope and influence in an artist’s work in one article, so you can be sure we’ll be revisiting Dylan’s music in many more articles to come.

But in closing, for now, and in honor of these two giants of American Music and on that subtle art of conveying strong emotion and images through seemingly subtle means, here’s the opening verse of one of Dylan’s early songs off Freewheelin’, called Don’t Think Twice It’s All Right.

It’s one of my personal favorites, and one in which I think the spirit of Robert Johnson looms quite heavily.

Well it ain’t no use to sit and wonder why, babe
If you don’t know by now
Well it ain’t no use to sit and wonder why, babe
It’ll never do anyhow
When your rooster crows at the break of dawn
Look out your window and I’ll be gone
You’re the reason I’ll be travelin’ on
But don’t think twice it’s all right.

Bob Dylan, ‘Don’t Think Twice It’s All Right’

 

 

Fresh Hibiscus Lemonade

After casually posting a video to my IG stories of a batch of Hibiscus Lemonade I made last week, I was so surprised at all the messages I got asking for the recipe. This was the easiest “no recipe” recipe I’ve made in a long time and it was inspired by the Jamaica Agua Frescas I love to order whenever I go to my local taco stand here in LA.

I wasn’t necessarily planning on making this delicious drink but I happened to find the dried hibiscus flower in bulk on my first visit to Tare Grocery and immediately had to have some. I love hibiscus, it’s so tasty and so good for you too.

When I got home I remembered all the lemons in my fridge and got to making some lemonade with my newly purchased flower. I brewed the tea, added raw honey for sweetness, some freshly squeezed lemons and a lonely orange I found hiding out in my fruit drawer. It came out wonderful for just throwing a few things together unplanned.

If you can find some dried hibiscus flower, I highly recommend making this in bulk and keeping a pitcher in the fridge for a refreshing drink all summer long. I’ve already made a second batch. Enjoy friends! Recipe Below

Fresh - Hibiscus - Lemonade - Hibiscus Lemonade - Andrea Pavlov - Quinby & Co.
Fresh Hibiscus Lemonade by Andrea Pavlov

Recipe:

-2 Tbsp dried hibiscus flower
-4 cups water
-¼ cup raw honey (more or less depending how sweet you want it)
-4-5 lemons
-1-2 oranges

-Bring water to a boil and steep the hibiscus for 15-20 minutes
-Meanwhile, squeeze your lemons and oranges (it should yield 1½ – 2 cups juice)
-Remove hibiscus and mix in your honey while the tea is hot so it melts
-Add the lemon/orange juice and mix
-Pour in a pitcher and let cool to room temperature before storing in your fridge
-Can be enjoyed hot or cold!

Penetrating the Aether: Are We Listening?

Has social media made us better communicators?

No! Ok I’m not exactly sure, but I’m inclined to think not since it’s removed face-to-face confrontation, a core component of meaningful conversation, from our everyday lives. That’s not to say we were generally good communicators anyway, even before ten or twelve years ago.

Still, I do think social media has aggravated many of our common weaknesses, such as vulnerability to ego, an unwillingness to be wrong, and not listening.

The same can be said for texting but I’ll get into that, as well as social media, some other time. What’s more interesting to me, and likely more important for the sake of cultivating a more prosperous society, are those weaknesses I just mentioned. Besides let’s face it, social media isn’t going anywhere. It’s prevalence in our daily lives is unlikely to change anytime soon. Nor should it.

No, what I think ought to change more immediately is our handling of it, so that it’s presence in our lives isn’t quite as relevant, or at least so it’s less damaging.

To do that we’re going to have to get a better handling on how we have conversations with each other, independent of the platform we use to do it.

All anyone needs to do these days is go on YouTube, and look at the arguments people have with one another in the comments section following any political post. If just the thought of doing that made you cringe just now, you’re not alone. I feel the same way. “Who are these people?!”

That’s just it. They’re us.

While YouTube in particular can seem like a cesspool for vitriol and hate, we can’t be so quick to righteously distance ourselves from them, because at the core of those forums, I think, lie the same fundamental problems that dog even the most diplomatic among us. Ego.

That my friends, is one pesky son of a bitch.

Now let’s just imagine, for a moment, that ego didn’t exist in the world. What would it look like?

Are you smiling yet? Keep trying.

Alright that’s enough. Maybe you didn’t smile. Maybe you’re not the smiling type, and that’s ok. We still love you.

The point I’m trying to make is that most of us go into our conversations and arguments as though it’s a contest. But that’s just it. It’s not a contest. That’s an illusion perpetuated over the last thirty years, with the rise of cable news and programs that pit one person against another like two swordsman representing their warring tribes.

The greatest deception men suffer is from their own opinions.
-Leonardo Da Vinci

We don’t owe our allegiance to our ideology. We owe it to the truth. Granted, the truth is something more abstract if not multi-dimensional, but it’s universal. Thus, the aim for each participant in a conversation cannot be winning, which naturally pits one against the other. The aim must be to arrive at a common truth, which requires working together.

When that happens, we no longer care about being wrong. We’re no longer terrified at the prospect of losing an argument, and why should we be? Really, we don’t lose at all. If you find that you’ve come around to embracing another person’s point of view, you didn’t lose, you just discovered something that you’d overlooked before. You’re a wiser person for it.

There’s nothing to be bitter about. You’ve simply worked together with someone else at uncovering a broader truth. That’s something to celebrate, not scorn.

Finally, when we lose the unfounded fear of being wrong, a third thing happens. We are more able to listen. We’ve removed ego, fear, insecurity, bias and judgement from our point of view; and so we can more adequately listen to the person in front of us, with respect and a clear devotion to something bigger than ourselves.

This might sound like an oversimplification, but it’s really just a small change, a slight shift in our thinking that can make a monumental difference in our society–let alone in our personal relationships–the more people follow through with it. If we remove our ego from the equation, and step out of our own way, we no longer have one hand tied behind our back in how we communicate with one another.

This, I’m convinced, is the essential core of a healthy country and a truly self-sustaining democracy.

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P.S. for those of you who made it this far, thanks for listening! Here’s a token of our appreciation.

My (Latina) White Privilege

I am Latina.  I am a Woman.  I’m a child of immigrants.  But I am also white facing, meaning I have benefited from white privilege all my life.  While this isn’t news to me, I never really understood the true gravity of such privilege until a few months ago. 

Our Black and Brown communities have been on the receiving end of violence, terror, extreme injustice and racism for hundreds of years.  I have grown up in a system that continues to oppress and quiet BIPOC, along with their respective histories, their achievements, their beauty and most importantly their humanity.

I’ve always considered myself lucky to be a free American.  I was equally lucky to have been raised speaking Spanish at home with family while spending my childhood summers in Colombia, experiencing another culture in a country that is home to vast populations of Black and Indigenous communities. 

I felt like I was part of a diverse and open-minded community.  I still feel that way.  However, the privilege of being white was never addressed, so I was oblivious to how it positively affected my life and, more importantly, how it negatively affected the Black and Brown lives around me. 

While racism runs deep in Colombia–as it does for much of Latin America and the Caribbean–what’s more specifically common is colorism, which is the preferential treatment of those who are lighter-skinned compared to those who are darker, even though both are of the same race.  In Latin communities then, it’s especially common to hear things like, “you’re not Black, you’re [insert country here], or even comments about the type of hair you have, “at least you have good hair,” etc.

As children, we are essentially taught that having lighter skin is more beautiful and that darker skin is less preferred. If you do have darker skin, you are constantly warned, not quite half-jokingly, to stay out of the sun so that you don’t get any darker. 

Even the telenovelas we are so used to watching are filled with light-skinned actors taking up the major roles, while the darker-skinned actors usually portray the ‘help.’ 

And so while I never grew up around any overt displays of racism, I also did not grow up with any understanding of what it meant to be anti-racist, or much less why it is vital.

As detailed above, the society we live in and the system by which this world functions is inherently racist, and built to mainly benefit white people while simultaneously oppressing BIPOC.  As it’s embedded within everything around us, it becomes more natural for us to grow up harboring certain prejudices about people and their skin color without even realizing it.

Salento, Colombia - Quinby & Co.
Andrea Pavlov in the Valle de Cocora; Quindío, Colombia

It’s imperative for us to acknowledge this fact and then get to work on changing it. As Ijeoma Oluo, NYT Best Selling Author of ‘So You Want To Talk About Race’ (@ijeomaoluo) so eloquently puts it:

“The beauty of anti-racism is that you don’t have to pretend to be free of racism to be an anti-racist. Anti-racism is the commitment to fight racism wherever you find it, including in yourself. And it’s the only way forward.” 

I have engaged in behavior that I regret, making excuses for family members who “don’t know better” because they’re of an older generation, staying quiet when someone has made an offensive “joke” or has said something ignorant or offensive because “they probably didn’t really mean it.” Colorism was very much a part of being raised Latina.

I now realize the dangers of staying silent and I am committed to actively participating in unlearning the harmful ideologies to which we’ve grown accustomed.  We are talking about racism at home regularly, and addressing our own white privilege. I have addressed these topics with family and we’ve talked about the ways we can be better and change and eliminate colorism from our vocabulary. I have done a “clean up” of my social media feeds, getting rid of accounts that do not serve in uplifting BIPOC and subscribing to new voices I’d never heard before whether they’re in the arts or civic action.  

I recently found Rachel Cargle (@rachel.cargle) who offers a wealth of knowledge and resources for anyone looking to be an ally to BIPOC and specifically Black women, who are the most affected. She founded The Loveland Foundation (@thelovelandfoundation) which provides free therapy for Black women and girls, and she curates a monthly self-paced syllabi at The Great Unlearn (@thegreatunlearn) where she currently has a free 30-day course called #DoTheWork.  I began the course earlier this week, and I’m now on day three.

I really encourage you to do more research, ask questions, learn and unlearn, and when you know better, do better. It is perfectly ok to change your mind when you’ve learned more about a subject. That is how we grow and evolve. These are small steps we must begin taking in order to begin dismantling the systems, institutions and ideologies that continue to negatively affect BIPOC and their communities. 

Black lives matter.  All black lives matter and are beautiful and worthy and deserving. 

We are in this together, friends.  As white people and Latinxs, we must step forward and stand with our Black and Brown family. 

And above all, we must no longer stay quiet.