I had planned to write something else for my blog post today, but decided after participating in today’s Climate March that I needed to write about this instead. I, and about 750 other Bellinghamsters, gathered in chilly 30 degree weather this morning in Maritime Heritage Park to show our support, along with marchers in 2,000 other cities throughout the country, for the United Nations’ Conference on Climate Change which begins tomorrow, November 30.
After a moment of silence for all the victims of recent terrorist actions in Paris and elsewhere, the group was rallied with signs bearing environmental slogans and set out on a short march through downtown Bellingham. The mood was not exactly festive but determined as people made their way en masse to a downtown building that currently serves as the Salish Sea Marine Sanctuary space.
People poured into the building to the lively beat of drummers positioned at the front doors. Shortly afterwards, Lummi Nation elder Darrell Hillaire introduced the guest speakers who took to the stage and spoke about the importance of taking care of our environment as one day we will all meet our creator and have to account for our actions. They instructed us to ‘listen with our hearts, instead of our ears,’ when it comes to climate matters because if we do, it will stay with us.
The Lummi Nation will send an Indigenous Delegation to Paris later this week to participate in the conference and to present the video, “The Earth is Alive” which has been made especially for the big event. The Lummi Nation has taken center stage in the environmental arena locally as they work together with other environmental groups such as ReSources, Climate Solutions, 350 Seattle and the Sierra Club to block the construction of a shipping terminal that would threaten and likely destroy their fishing waters.
Treaties made back with President Ulysses S. Grant gave the Lummi Nation protection of its natural resources, salmon being among them. They argue that building the proposed shipping terminal, intended to ship coal from here to China, would jeopardize and break that that treaty.
No decision has yet been made regarding the terminal but it has bonded, and in some cases, divided the entire county and the state. At stake is the environmental well-being of the entire corridor that runs the length of the Salish Sea as increased train traffic, up to 25 trains per day, would run to and from the terminal carrying loads of coal destined for export.
Today’s march, while part of the larger worldwide effort to show solidarity for climate justice, was much more personal to those in Bellingham.
More of my photos from Bellingham’s Climate March can be seen on my Portfolio page.
I must be an optimist. What else could explain why, every year about this time I spend hours in my garden planting hundreds (yes, hundreds) of tulip bulbs? I do this every autumn despite the fact that I know I will need to do battle with the voracious tulip-devouring deer that frequent my neighborhood.
Every autumn, I gather my gardening tools, my bulb food, my bags of newly purchased tulip bulbs and head out to my flower beds to spend an hour or two. I pull on my gloves and strap on my knee pads and begin punching holes into the ground with a clever little cone-shaped tool designed to do exactly that.
After years of performing this annual ritual, I have finally developed a system. It may not work for everyone, but it works for me. Punch the holes, place the individual bulbs over each one, then twist and lift out a cylinder of dirt using my bulb planter. Next, I sprinkle a little bulb food or bone meal into the hole, stir it up a bit to mix it into the dirt, drop the bulb into place, then empty out the dirt from my tool back into the hole. I do this for no less than 15 bulbs at a time as it seems to make the process go more quickly. Once I’ve covered over the planted bulbs, I poke a little red marker into the perimeter of the area I’ve just worked so that I don’t mistakenly repeat it later. (Took me a few years to figure that one out.)
Usually, I have fairly good luck with this method. Doesn’t even matter if I accidentally slice in half an old bulb buried deep in the ground from last season because tulips left over from the year before rarely produce good flowers the second or third year. (Unless, of course, you go to the trouble of digging them all up and separate off all the baby bulbs.)
For that reason, I quit wasting my money on the fancier breed of tulips from the nearby tulip farms or ordering the tempting delights found on the pages of the full-color catalogs that arrived in the mail. Now, I settle for inexpensive bags of 90 sold at a big box store because, as my husband never ceases to remind me, I’m just buying food for the deer.
If I am diligent and start in February to discourage the deer from having dinner on me, I wind up with a pretty lovely display of color in the spring. If I plan carefully, this springtime show will last for a couple of months. I try not to leave home too much during late March and April, when the flowers are in full bloom, so that I can literally enjoy the ‘flowers of my labor.’ I still like to make trips to the local tulip fields, but I find my own much more gratifying.
So, today I once again don my gardener’s gear, collect my tools and spend some time digging in the soil, performing the exercise of the optimist. Let me know if you’re an optimist too.
My Dad, like so many other veterans of war, didn’t talk about his experiences as a soldier in World War II when I was kid growing up. My brother Richard and I played ‘army’ with his canteen, his backpack and some of his hats, but we never asked him, nor did he volunteer, to tell us how he had carried or worn those things during his four years of service with the 2nd Chemical Mortar Battalion. He kept those stories to himself until my younger brother, Brad, when writing a paper for his eighth grade American history class, coaxed some out of him. Until then, we knew little about those years of his life.
But I remember as a kid, stumbling across some small black and white prints that had been stuffed away into a drawer. I quietly leafed through the pictures. The images were unreal. I couldn’t quite understand what I was seeing but it made my stomach turn. What were these? Where did they come from? And why were they tucked back into a drawer that was rarely opened? Feeling as if I had accidentally come upon someone’s dark secret, I carefully placed the photos back into the drawer just as I found so as not to reveal that they had been disturbed.
As far as I know, those photos remained there for a very long time, long after I had gone off to college and moved away. Frankly, I didn’t care if I ever saw them again but it didn’t matter because those stark, unedited black and whites were stamped indelibly into my mind. Only after my brother started the conversation with my Dad about his service during the War did we begin to learn the full details of those pictures and how they came to be.
My father’s unit was a special unit, assigned to many different divisions during the course of the War, depending where they were needed. When other units would finish up a mission and be sent home for some R&R or discharge, my father’s would move on to the next. By the end of the War, his outfit had seen 511 days of combat, more than any other, except for one, in the European theatre. His introduction to war started in North Africa, moved up through Sicily and Italy, into France and finally into Germany during the final days of the War. There, shortly after Munich fell (where my Dad also was), he and some men of his unit walked into the nightmare we now know as Dachau.
What they saw could not be described, or, if it was, would not be believed. Perhaps realizing that this would be the case, my Dad reached for the camera he carried and took as many photos as he could probably handle before stashing it safely back into his pack. If anyone doubted his eyewitness account to this camp of death, my Dad would have something to prove what he was saying was true. Those were the photos I found.
Who knows how long those photos remained as negatives or when he finally brought himself to turn them into prints. My Dad finally did begin to share that experience, especially during his later years with my sons.
Coincidentally, just hours before my Dad was in Dachau, another American soldier and his men were in a jeep pulling up to the gates on the opposite side of the camp. He saw before him a German officer wearing an armband with the Red Cross on it and carrying a white flag. The American in the jeep was Lt. William Cowling, who, like my Dad was from Kansas. Although the two did not know each other then, Cowling later married a girl from my Dad’s hometown and became the father of one of my best friends from high school. Like myself, she knew only a little about her father’s wartime career until the later years of his life. Her father had written an emotional letter home to his family the day after the liberation of the concentration camp recounting the details of that day. Cowling also had filed an official report for the Army, but it was detached and distant, devoid of the emotions he revealed to his parents. After he returned home, he seldom spoke about that day until, as my friend said, late in his life.
There are many more stories like this one, of old soldiers keeping their terrible memories of the War to themselves, or putting them on paper only to be put away somewhere until years later. I was reminded of all this, and of my Dad’s own story about Dachau, just recently by the teacher of my French class. She began the class that evening telling us, in French, how she had just been given a letter written by her father from the War. It was something she had never seen before, she said. In it, he detailed how his unit had been positioned outside Dachau and told what that had been like. I followed her story as closely as I could (my French isn’t yet fluent) but when she began to talk about Dachau, I listened even more intently. After she concluded her story, I recalled to her my own Dad’s experience at Dachau and then also told the group about my friend’s father, Lt. Cowling.
It seemed so random to me, that we could be sitting in the same room, after both our father’s had passed on, and discover that we were in some way linked by the history of our respective fathers’ military service. Just like that between my high school friend and myself. (Or my husband and myself as I wrote in my November, 2013 post) I suspect that happens more often than many of us know. It points out to me that war brings people together in strange ways, long after the shooting has ended and for generations to come. But the stories disappear as those who know them pass on. That’s one reason why it’s important, on Veteran’s Day or any other day, to honor these people, to listen while you can to their stories, to ask about the photo and to thank them for surviving.
To read more about my Dad’s military service click here. This one was built by my brother, Brad. You can create a tribute ”shadow box’ for your own family member here. You can also learn more about the ‘Red Dragons’ of World War II in the book ‘Finding My Father’s War’ by Walt Eldridge.