Some of the homes in our neighborhood post poetry near the sidewalk that I like to read on our dog walks, and though I detested poetry when I was young a couple of them have really caught my eye and made me want to start exploring it. I loved this short poem from a few hundred years ago by samurai and poet Mizuta Masahide, who is quoted in this translation as:
My barn having burned to the ground
I can now see the moon.
There are several translations available, translation is tricky in general but I would guess especially so for poetry, another version is:
Barn’s burnt down –
now I can see the moon.
I was unfamiliar with the poem but loved it immediately, there are many layers in those few words. And I think this translation, though not as poetic, hints at that:
My storehouse having been burnt down,
nothing obstructs my view of the bright moon.
It’s important to stay positive in the face of tragedy, to see opportunity in change, to seek the beauty of the world that surrounds us but that we hide from ourselves, to see how easily our love of wealth harms the spirit. But to remember too, that barn may have stored food for the winter, and if people are suffering, they need more than “thoughts and prayers”, they need help. That they are us. Let us break bread together and wonder at the moon.
My walk home from the train varies a bit depending on how I catch the lights as I pass the busier streets, but sometimes I walk past this mural at the Davita Dialysis treatment center in our neighborhood, part of the MIKE program for underserved youth. It always makes me happy to see Pepper smiling so, that’s one happy pup. I wish more buildings had murals, it’s a little bright spot on the way home.
Years ago TriMet started the Westside MAX Public Art Program to install art at the MAX light rail stations on the Blue Line’s west side and I’d like to take a moment to celebrate the art at my stop near work, Millikan Way, where the art reflects technology and nature. Millikan Way is named after a famous scientist like many of the area streets, in this case for Nobel prize winning physicist Robert Millikan who measured the charge of an electron. I included my shoes in most of these pictures since I spend about a third of my commute walking and the other two-thirds on the train. This shot of some signal artwork shows off an older pair of blue New Balance running shoes, I bought these several years ago during a stretch when I was driving to work instead of taking the MAX and they’re still in good enough shape that they haven’t been relegated to dog-walking status. I tend to wear the other shoes in this post more often when I’m walking instead of driving, leading to their long life.
My favorite art pieces are the many bronze plaques containing sonograms of songs of local birds, plots showing the different frequencies the birds make over time as they sing their song. I especially like this art as it combines two important parts of my life, you probably know my love for wildlife if you’ve spent much time here, but you wouldn’t know I’ve spent most of the past twenty years of my work life working with signals in the frequency and time domain. The equipment we design (like my last project or the one before it) is usually used in very different applications, like analyzing wireless communications or radar systems, and at much higher frequencies and bandwidths than birdsong, and with many different types of plots, yet many of the fundamental principles are the same. This sonogram is for the American goldfinch, I took the picture on a day when it poured rain, which is why I’m wearing my waterproof Merrell shoes. Like my orange running shoes, this is a pair I wish I had bought a handful of once I realized how much I liked them. They are great for keeping my feet dry when I have to walk through puddles but are still quite breathable, they’re wet in the picture but my feet were not.
This sonogram is for the little Bewick’s wren, you can see how different it is from the goldfinch, especially the trill at the end where the song bounces between two frequencies. Birds have multiple vocalizations even though only one is shown in the plaques for each bird, and the songs can change with geography so that a bird on the east coast may have a different song from a similar bird in our area, but you can get a sense of how varied the songs are from one species to the next. The shoes are my blue New Balance trail running shoes that are the newer version of my beloved black shoes that finally fell apart, and are a favorite for days when it might rain some but not enough that I want to risk wearing out the more expensive waterproof shoes. These are my favorite shoes and the only thing keeping me from wearing them every day is that they weren’t available in brighter colors, although I do love this color of blue.
This sonogram is for the great blue heron, full of lots of frequencies and not exactly the prettiest of songs. They’re squawkers, the herons. Shown too are my new yellow New Balance sneaks which replaced the orange ones which were wearing out, I wear them on dry days to make me more visible, plus I love colors. I don’t wear them on wet days as if they get dirty they’ll lose some of that eye-catching color. A clever photographer would have photographed his yellow shoes with the yellow goldfinch and his blue shoes with the blue heron, but you’re stuck with me.
Even the utility building gets in on the art action, with brick patterns suggesting trees of the small wetland behind. There’s a little creek that runs past the other side of the parking lot that I walk over to get to work, and while it’s not the prettiest thing, I do see beavers in there at times (I believe they live at the nearby Nike campus). Occasionally a muskrat too, but nutria are much more common as is true of many of Oregon’s waterways. And a few varieties of ducks, and the occasional great blue heron too.
There are lots of other little art pieces around, from mathematical symbols to pine cones and leaves and the like. I love that TriMet did this and over the years I’ve thought about getting off at each stop on my commute to take pictures as the art varies from station to station, but so far I’ve only done it for the stop where I normally get off. I do have a small camera now that would be perfect for the task, but I’m eager to either get to work or get home to the pup who is waiting for her walk.
I’ve seen this painting on a door many times but was never sure what it was supposed to represent. Regardless I love photographing the artwork in our neighborhood and finally one day had my camera with me as I walked past, only to discover I was unable to approach the entrance as it was guarded by the most fearsome hound. Only a Jedi could get past to approach the door, I thought to myself, and then I noticed the sign that said ‘Women’. And suddenly I understood, right here in our sleepy little neighborhood is a little enclave of female Jedi, fighting the good fight, while the rest of us go about our lives. Each time they vanquish a foe, another little lightsaber gets painted on the door.
Just so there’s no confusion, now when I walk past I say out loud how much I admire Obi-Wan Kenobi and how that Darth Vader is a real jerk (and upon hearing that the pup even let me move in for a nice close-up of the painting).
There’s more than a little truth to that.
I was eight years old when Star Wars came out. There was my life before Star Wars, and my life after. If there’s been a day since that I haven’t thought about something from that world, there haven’t been many. I don’t recall if I saw it more than once in the theaters, but it didn’t matter, it filled my imagination. All of it. Jedi, the Force, lightsabers, Wookiees, stormtroopers, X-wings, TIE Fighters, the Falcon, the Death Star. Han and Chewie. R2 and C-3PO. Luke and Leia. Obi-Wan and Vader.
Obi-Wan. Obi-Wan changed my life.
As I came of age, I enjoyed a good righteous anger and seeing people get what was coming to them, and wondered why in the gospels we were told to turn the other cheek if the other was struck, why we were to pray for our enemies. About vengeance not being ours to take. I didn’t see that in the national policy of our supposedly Christian country, or in many people I knew. These were central teachings, why were they ignored? What was I missing? And what was their point?
“There are alternatives to fighting.” You mystified me, Obi-Wan. I loved you and needed to understand you.
I was eleven when The Empire Strikes Back came out. Obi-Wan was gone (spoilers!) after sacrificing himself in the first movie, but now I had Yoda. A tiny little kid had a tiny little hero. There’s a scene where Yoda is teaching Luke to become a Jedi and Luke senses his friends are in trouble far away and rushes off to save them, before his training has completed. I had seen enough shows and movies on TV to know how the movie would play out, that Yoda would shake his head at his eager apprentice, with a knowing grin and maybe even a wink to the camera, and then Luke would go and save his friends.
He was the good guy. Right beats might.
Except it didn’t. Yoda was depressed when Luke left. Luke didn’t save his friends, they had to save him. Han got captured anyway.
For years Empire made me think about life more than any movie before or since. I knew Obi-Wan and Yoda were fictional characters but I thought often of what they did, and why. About not giving in to anger, even righteous anger that I felt was mine to hold, about how it would harden you. Forgiveness wasn’t just for the benefit of those you forgave, but for yourself. Anger, even righteous anger, maybe especially righteous anger, could destroy you, slowly, without you noticing. Forgive. Seventy times seven. And again.
Stand up for what’s right. Don’t give in to anger. Forgive, forgive, forgive.
I was a quiet kid who kept too much inside, tried too hard to figure things out on my own, and perhaps it’s a little ridiculous that two fictional characters would make it so much easier for me to take messages from the gospels that I loved and apply them in my own life, but so it was.
So it delighted me to no end to see in the new Star Wars movies, The Force Awakens and Rogue One, women and people of color in central roles, unapologetically strong. Representation is important. I love that more people can look up on the screen and see people that look like them, and want to be like them too.