Storm Warnings

My friend and I go to the mountains this weekend and he pays 3.95 per gallon for gasoline on the trip up and 4.04 per gallon on the way back just two days later.  Interesting how fast the emerging nations being blamed for the high prices are increasing their use of gasoline.  I mean, it isn’t that the gas has ratcheted up over a period of ten years.  It is going up all at once and in perfect alignment with our presidential election.  I wonder if anyone in the middle east that controls most of the world’s oil has a reason to want to influence our elections?  Just a thought.  I suppose it is just as plausible that suddenly everyone in India and China are lining up at the local Honda dealer for a 36 month lease.  I wonder how they are doing that while earning $3 per hour?

The interesting part of gasoline rising is the fear that it has put into the economic hearts of us Americans.  Couple gas prices with the mortgage meltdown and the falling value of the housing market in general and many people are downright pessimistic about our economic future. 

I visited with a friend over the weekend who owns an expensive home in an exclusive development in the Lake Tahoe area.  This development is full of multi-million dollar homes and a Ritz Carlton hotel is being built on one of the ski runs.  She told me that a friend of theirs is the top selling real estate agent in that development.  This man told her that he has shown two homes this year so far, yes shown two, not sold two, not taken offers on two, simply shown.

The interesting part of the real estate market being slow at that income level is that this development caters to the very, very wealthy.  There are 3.5-6 million dollar condos under construction there!  Not for the average slob like me who gets excited about a 1 cent per gallon difference in the price of gas.  The people buying these homes are still driving luxury SUV’s in wedgie haircuts.  Their SUV’s use more gas in a month than my car uses in six.  So why aren’t these wealthy people buying vacation homes?  Is it that they are nervous too, or that they are already feeling the pinch on their incomes?

So if the rich people, the people who have money and understand how to make it are already hunkering down, when will it become painfully obvious to the rest of us that the problem extends beyond a gallon of gas?  What event will tip the first domino and create a run on the banks?  When will we begin to stuff our mattresses and empty our accounts?  Are the rich already taking steps to shelter their assets from a coming crisis.  Is this the calm before the storm?  Are we average schmoes simply too far away from the inner-circle of financial knowledge to hear the sirens?

I wonder at times about the press and their veracity in times like this.  I am uneducated about their responsibilities.  I do recall reading about the broadcast in 1938 when Orson Wells directed “War of the Worlds” which presented a fictionalized invasion by murderous “Martians”.  It created a minor panic.  Would the decision makers and the power brokers withhold information from the general public about a financial crisis if they thought that the truth would create a panic?  I wonder.  Is that why the government imposed single day limits on the movement of the stock markets a few years ago?  Is our free market so regulated now that only a truly uncontrolled financial emergency will ever be felt?  Have we so regulated the natural corrections that we are bound to have a collapse?

My education in the fundamentals of economics is lacking so please take my musings with a grain or two of salt.  If you can better illuminate the topic, please comment!

A Walk Among Touchstones and Sidewalks

I’m stepping along a cracked and randomly tilted sidewalk enjoying the sycamores that stretch to form a green lush canopy atop smooth white trunks.  The leaves are swooshing and whooshing in the sharp north wind that knocks down blackened twigs crunching under my feet.  I’m thinking about the importance of Touchstone people in my life.  I pray you have known them in your life, the people you trust your heart to, the ones who don’t go away.  I’ve been blessed, I’ve always known who mine are. Those people who see the best in me when acquaintances are buttoning their coats to take their leave.  Touchstones tell you your truth when the mirror lies.

Some of my Touchstones have died.  Two died young, one died well mature – but each too young, all taken by cancer.  I miss them.  Their unique wisdom, their honesty, and their deep faith in me kept me from searching for guidance or acceptance in life.

I pass a poorly dressed man with a bicycle. He is searching in blue and green trash cans.  I guess at what he’s looking for.  Maybe its bottles to recycle or food discarded from bountiful tables.  He stops when he sees me, he straightens his bicycle to a dignified angle and he comments to me pleasantly about the day. He shares his appreciation for the beautiful cool that has overcome the previous day’s heat.  I smile and agree with him then walk on.  That man knows about heat.  He has an intimate appreciation for the cool moving air of this day.  I wonder if he ever had a Touchstone in his life, or if he has one now.  I wonder if the lack of one led him to that green plastic trash can in the land of plenty.

Some of my Touchstones share life with me now thank goodness. Others are yet to come into view and I’m comforted by my certainty of it.  They may not know who they are, but I’ll know them when they appear.  Touchstones represent an unmistakable truth, they are evidence in my life that God loves me. 

I hope my Touchstones know who they are.  I don’t write emails to them addressing them as “Dear Touchstone”.  I’m ashamed to say that I am hesitant about describing people’s meaning in my life. 

A four story office building is being built on a corner.  Bare angled steel criss-crosses skyward forming a skeleton that heavy glass will encase.  My Touchstones can see steel beneath my veneer and unpolished façade.  They see empty spaces hidden deeply from view. They long to see them filled with people and meaning and love.

An unseen dog behind a decaying redwood fence barks fiercely as I pass.  A tiger-striped cat crouches down on a narrow lawn, its green eyes assess my passing.  Someone plays piano in an upstairs apartment while young men crowd a smoky kettle BBQ across the street.  The cooking beef smells like summer.  Another man on a porch above hoots and waves a beer at his friends.  A group of kids on bikes zip past gleefully pushed on by the wind.

The wind swirls under bushes and flowers breathing life into the scene I’m part of.  I walk on the blessings of my Touchstones.  My life’s path has been paved by them.  Though cracked and random my path is made beautiful and shaded by the canopy of their faith that I shelter beneath.  They should know they uplift me, and how their faith in my goodness makes my step light and joyful.

Perhaps I will write to them.

Peaceful Mountain Retreat

Everyone should have a place they can retreat to now and then to mend tears in their souls that living can rend in them.  For me that place is the mountains and I’m about to go there for a weekend away at a friend’s cabin.  The Sierra Nevada is a place where life energy flows to me instead of away.  I won’t be writing to the blog there mostly because I am not taking a computer, but also because I’d have to try to be cranky there.  It’s a place where I can completely relax and recharge.   The phone rarely rings and almost never for me.  The mail arrives in a box nearly a mile from the cabin and it’s never for me.  There’s nobody knocking at the door to sell anything.  Everyone who walks or rides along the street in front looks happy to be there.  When I am on the front deck I am waved at by smiling neighbors who call out “hello!”  Even the grinning dogs wag at me and plod along the street contentedly.

The first thing I notice is the smell of pine and fresh air, the sounds of wind whooshing in the trees and tinkling of the wind chimes behind the cabin.  The stream behind the meadow in back will be running and splashing happily now and the skunk cabbage should be sprouting although I doubt it’ll be flowering just yet.  Our mountains in California are glorious all year but when winter breaks and everything springs to life, every living thing transmits the feeling of a merry jig. 

My friend’s dog also loves going to the mountains.  On Sunday when it is time to leave she’ll look forlorn and depressed about returning to the city.  She’ll sit on the couch looking sulky and accusing.  Perhaps I am only projecting those feelings on her or maybe she is just a mirror of my feelings but she definitely does not want to leave that place.

One of my favorite places to walk is a meadow that is split north to south by a cold, crystal stream.  The water runs high in spring filling a lake at the north end of the meadow.  Small trout scurry across its gravel bed as my reflection appears on the ripples.  I usually surprise a pair of paddling mallards who take flight upstream through the willows.  There’s fragrant sage growing low and silver on the hills around the meadow and my jeans retain the scent for days after I’ve hiked there.  The dog runs for miles to and fro across the meadow chasing jack-in-the-box ground squirrels and hide-and-go-seek birds in the bushes.  But they’re wild and have no real fear of being caught by a city dog.

Anyway, I need to pack my bag, fill it with clean clothes and a toothbrush.   I’m filled with joyful anticipation of the trip ahead and the peaceful healing of those mountains.