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10 december 2004

I saw a suicide happen today.

When I do the banking for the law office, I walk two blocks down Broadway in Oakland, from 14th Street to 12th Street. This afternoon, when I reached 13th I saw fire engines and police cars blocking the intersection, and many people staring down 13th. I turned and looked down the street, in time to see a woman plummeting from the top of the Tribune building toward the ground.

In the first fraction of a second I thought she was jumping to escape a fire, but there were no flames and no smoke. In the second fraction of a second I saw memory flashes of people falling from the World Trade Center on 9/11, save that she did not fall that far. In the last fraction of a second, as her figure disappeared beyond a fire truck, my hands flew to my face and I turned away into the tide of shocked gasps and cries from the others on the street. People wept, people cursed in distress. The woman next to me kept repeating, angrily, “they should have had a net. They should have had a net.” The younger people began running toward the place where she fell; us older people stood rooted by shock. The angry woman beside me started crying and crossing herself and I recognized her as one of our resident street people.

When I could move, I wrapped my arms around myself and walked to the bank because I needed to distract myself and could not stand there staring with the others, murmuring or shouting or weeping our distress. And we were distressed, even the avid children running toward the site and stopping, and milling, and approaching, and drawing back, until the cops shooed them away. I stood at the ATM and  made the office deposits very slowly, paying a lot of attention to what I was doing. When I walked back the crowds were still there, as were the emergency vehicles and the cops and the firefighters. I paused by a patrol officer and said, “She didn’t make it, did she?” and he shook his head, matter-of-factly, and I walked on across the street. As I did so, I saw a woman who works on my floor, walking down 13th to see what the commotion was about. I caught up with her, touched her shoulder, and said, “Don’t. You don’t want to see that.”I told her what I had seen, and we held each other.

I keep seeing her, a dark figure against the sky and street, coming calmly down feet-first. She didn’t flail her arms or legs: the motion seemed almost too simple, too workmanlike,  to be what it was. I heard a firefighter remark that she bounced against something on the way down. I did not see that. I’m glad that I didn’t.

Like many other feeling and thinking women, I have been in those dark places where dying seems like a reasonable option. I have known people who killed themselves and have felt the shock and assault that suicide leaves behind, the guilt and bafflement. But I have never seen it before, never been part of a crowd who shared, all of us, for those terrible seconds, an identical horror. I never knew what that was like, never knew that witnessing that did to other people.

I am wrenchingly sorry for that unknown woman. I am wrenchingly sorry for myself and the other witnesses, that this memory is forced upon us. There may, at some point, be anger that she should have done this to us, or a suspicion that she needed this publicity, but always pity that one of the most intimate choices a person can make had to be made, by her, in such a public place.

T.S. Eliot said that April is the cruellest month. Perhaps, but December is the month that births that cruelty.

Woman commits suicide by jumping off the Tribune Tower.




More opportunities to get involved:
6 november 2004

The Planned Parenthood Action Network
The National Organization for Women
NORML.org
NARAL Pro-Choice America
Greenpeace

Earthshare: Get Involved
Tolerance.org from the Southern Poverty Law Center
The NAACP

Human Rights Campaign

Human Rights Watch

Amnesty International

Poverty USA: Catholic Campaign for Human Development

Community Action Partnership

VoteHealth.net

Rock the Vote
Womens Policy
info about women's issues in Congress
V.O.T.E. Action
concerned about hazardous waste in farmlands
The Coalition to Protect America's Elders

PunkVoter.com

Fight back! Be strong, be active and be heard.

The ACLU, one of our best defenses
The League of Conservation Voters
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee
MoreOn.org
The Green Party of the U.S.
(I was going to link to the Democratic National Committee, but all they have up today is the thank-you letter from John Kerry. It's nice, but nice ain't gonna do it.)
The Sierra Club
The League of Women Voters
Peace Action
For those of you in California, Senator Diane Feinstein's website. Her seat's up in 2006 and we can't let this seat go to a Republican.
United States Senate Democrats.
House Democrats and additionally, links to the websites of every Democrat in the House.

3 november 2004

I am not PollyAnna, I swear I'm not. But having spent the evening and night weeping, and the morning furious, I have come to this realization:

We've been here before. We were here in the '50s in the fight against discrimination; we were here in the '60s in the anti-Vietnam movement; we were here before even those, and we'll be here for the next ones coming.

Each time, the odds looked overwhelming, it looked like us against the entire rest of the population. It wasn't easy and it wasn't clean; blood was spilled, hearts were broken, but you know what?

We won. We didn't win perfectly (it isn't a perfect world) but we did win. We'll win this one, too. Focus on 2006. Fight for local candidates and to take back municipal, county, and state governments. Work hard in the mid-term elections. Keep talking. Keep yelling. Keep working.

Keep hope.


"My wife and I are both filmmakers .... We’d been all over New York shooting for the past week, and we’d basically wrapped up the scripted scenes and were just floating around the city, shooting as many protests as possible for background. ... We were getting as close to the protests as we safely could, but the thought of any of us getting arrested had seemed pretty remote.  Until now."
4 october 2004

Joel Viertel is a filmmaker who was documenting the protests during the recent Republican National Convention when he and his colleagues were arrested.

Viertel wrote a long, precise, cool, and often funny report on what happened to him. I asked if I could publish it, and was told to ""do what you want with it." What I want to do is publish it here, and put links to it all over. I urge you to read it:

Here is a downloadable copy, in RFT format:







Sunset the first night of the cruise.



Glacier Bay links

Glacier Bay National Park & Reserve

A Multi-Media History of Glacier Bay, Alaska

PBS: The Living Edens: Glacier Bay

Glacier Bay, Alaska 2000

27 september 2004

We're back from the Inside Passage cruise, having had a tremendous time.



That's north from Vancouver as sunset is beginning. The ship sailed at 5:00 pm, so one of the first things we saw, after the busy-ness of the harbor and the prettiness of the city itself, was that astonishing coast bathed in pretty colors.

We were expecting rainy weather throughout the trip, but the first two days were clear and beautiful, which means that I have no excuse for my lousy camera work.



What impressed me here were the chains of mountains, starting far in the east before marching down the slope of the continent and right out into the Pacific Ocean. There is little in the way of beach along these shores: the islands are mountain tops, thickly wooded and precipitous.



The second day out: my first glacier. It's an interesting indication of just how big British Columbia and Alaska are, that not only could I not find on maps the names of the glaciers and islands we passed, I couldn't find the names of the tremendous mountains.



C at the Mendenhall Glacier, near Juneau. This is, they claim, the most visited glacier in the world. Not surprising: it's just a blink outside of town. I wanted to get up close and personal with this ice mass, but the bus broke down on the way there, shaving 10 minutes off a stay that, in any event, was scheduled to be only 50 minutes long. Remember the old cartoon about the Smithsonian? Man says to woman: "You take the inside, I'll take the outside, meet me here in 15 minutes."

But to make up for it, we spent the rest of the day in a small boat on the water, doing what the on-board naturalist called "whale waiting," except that we saw at least eight humback whales, and a large number of Stellar sea lions, and many bald eagles, and porpoises, and all sorts of good stuff. Very satisfactory.

The next day, the cold rain we had been expecting arrived and the skies shut down, giving me an excuse for my lousy camera work. What a relief! There are lots of websites with really great photos of Glacier Bay (see the links, left and above) and I urge you to check them out. I'm putting up some of my own (despite the quality) because they show things that I want to talk about.



The dark arm of land to the left is, according to the Ranger who came aboard early on the third morning, Jaw Point. We came around it and saw the Lamplugh Glacier. This was indeed a jaw-dropping moment: we had sailed into Glacier Bay through a wide, steep-sided gorge that looked very much like the rest of the Northwest coastline: precipitous, rocky, grey and green. Then the ship came around an elbow of land to reveal a tremendous surprise, one of the best I've ever had.

The Ranger kept calling this "the pretty blue Lamplugh" and indeed it is. Check it out:



The ice is under such pressure that it forms peculiar crystals that trap every color of light except blue, hence the amazing colors. Moraine is the ground-up rock that glaciers carry on their edges: the large dark streaks on top of Lamplugh are made of this terminal moraine and caused when two or more glaciers meet and join (think of it as streams joining together, except frozen). Within the blue, the kinda-diagonal lines represent the snowfalls of winter and the dirtfalls of summer -- a glacier can be dated this way, just as a tree can be dated by its rings.



This is an image of one section of Tarr Inlet: we have left Lamplugh behind and are headed for the Grand Pacific and Margarie glaciers, and the skies have cleared a little bit. There are four interesting things here. First, note the scrubbed rock with thick lichen growth on it: these slopes were carved by the Grand Pacific glacier and revealed sometime between 1892 and 1907 (the Grand Pacific is retreating). Lichens are the first plants to colonize the rocks, followed by scrub, then trees. Second, there's a small glacier visible in the middle of the shot, about a third of the way down -- it's that bright white patch. Melt from this glacier goes around the dark rock mass just below it, then trickles in a silver line down to the water. Waterfalls and streams are everywhere in this landscape (said the seasonally parched Californian). The third thing to notice is the dark line in the water. This is not the ship's wake: this is a line dividing the green salt water of the Pacific from the silty fresh water melting off the surrounding glaciers. The fresh water is lighter than the sea water, and rests atop it. At this angle it's a little hard to see the difference, but believe me, it's there.

The fourth interesting thing has to do with the steepness of the rock faces. Because the inlets are troughs ground out by the glaciers, the rock plunges deep into the water at precipitous angles. This is the reason that something as large as a cruise ship could get as close to the inlet sides, and as close to the glaciers, as ours did.



Another unnamed glacier, coming down to the water, with streams emerging from it. The Ranger said that water (sometimes streams, sometimes rivers) runs underneath the glaciers: these streams are not merely the result of melting at the ice's edge.

The deeper into Tarr Inlet we sailed, the more we saw tiny white and blue icebergs. Their size caught me in a dumb, unvoiced assumption that all icebergs are tremendous, towering, ship-eating monsters. I was, however, smart enough to keep my mouth shut about this.

The weather now became miserable: a penetrating rain, wind, and an iciness that I have heard called the glacier's breath. Nonetheless, I couldn't go inside, and prowled the decks bundled to my nose and eyebrows, shivering, trying to take photos, and mostly just staring in amazement. This was what I came to see. Eventually I had to duck back inside and drink hot chocolate and try not to climb into the mug itself.



This is a really terrible shot of the Grand Pacific glacier. The noteworthy thing here is the black patch on the glacier's face. The Ranger said that it showed up in the spring, gradually enlarging as the ice calved from in front of it, and that nobody could figure out what it was. A glaciologist finally suggested an answer.

Remember those streams running under the glaciers? The water carries with it the fine silt that the glacier has ground off the underlying rock. This is called "glacier flour" because it has that same consistency. The glaciologist suggested that for some reason, the glacier's river plugged up and the water, no longer running, froze together with its load of glacier flour: a great grey and black mass within the blue ice. Eventually the dark mass came to the glacier's face and was revealed. The Ranger said that the black spot would probably be gone in a few months, calved away into the water.




This is the eastern coast of Vancouver Island, taken on the penultimate day of the cruise. In between this and Glacier Bay, we had a miserable two days of rough seas and squally weather in the open Pacific that redefined the word "bilious" for me; we also stopped at Sitka and Ketchikan. Then the weather cleared, which I both appreciated and resented for not having happened while we were in Glacier Bay. But I really can't complain: I wanted to see big and cold and beautiful, and I was given all of that.

To end on a more personal note, you need to know that my beloved husband believes that "formal clothing" consists of pants with zippers and shirts with buttons. He nonetheless arranged to rent a tuxedo for the two formal nights onboard. Nobody had ever seen him in such attire hereabouts and lively interest was expressed, and bets taken as to whether he'd really wear the monkey suit or not, and how he'd look if he did. Well, he did, and he looked damned good if I do say so myself:



We docked in Vancouver and got our rental car and drove to New Westminster to begin four days of fun and exploration. Vancouver is a beautiful city and Canadians are great people, but the next morning I said, "What do you want to do today?" and C said, "I want to go home" and I said "So do I" and so we did.

I want to go back to Glacier Bay, but I think that next time, I will fly into Juneau and find a smaller boat to take me into the bay. I still want to get up close and personal with a river of ice. My obsession with cold has not ended.





15 september 2004

I'm feeling remarkably smug at the moment.

25 years ago (April of 1978, to be exact) my novel Journey was published, and did okay, and eventually went out of print (it's back in print now, as a POD version, with a great cover by DG Strong).

Today, out of the blue, I got an email from someone who fell in love with the book back in '78 and reads it once a year and pushes it on friends and Googled my name and found this website and discovered that there's a sequel (Dangerous Games) and expressed delight thereat and wrote to me to let me know. This is like Christmas in September. I've been wandering around with a silly grin on my face all day long.

In other news: Friday C and I leave for a well-deserved vacation: a one-week cruise along the Inside Passage in Alaska, followed by a bunch of days in Vancouver BC.

Are we looking forward to this? 

Oh yeah.



Apple tree in blossom
23 august 2004

The old apple tree in my backyard came down, thunderously, on Saturday afternoon. I heard it from the kitchen and rushed out the backdoor to see what was going on, and found two-thirds of the tree’s canopy smashed onto the patio and back deck, and a zillion apples everywhere.    It missed the rose garden and missed the house; it even missed the large metal sculpture on the deck (when I dove into the tree I found the sculpture undamaged, in a clearing between two limbs).

It never produced very good apples: even when red they were extremely sour, a sourness that even overcame the sugars in pie filling. But because of that sourness, they were loaded with pectin, so that when I canned I could harvest a couple of apples, peel and core and chop them and toss them in with the fruit, and know that everything would jell up just fine.

When K was very young, her swing hung from a branch of the tree.

I felt guilty, standing there with apples rolling around my feet, that I had not shaken the tree more to lessen the weight of the fruit, then I noticed that the trunk behind the fallen branch was mostly hollow. The dead trunk above it was riddled with woodpecker holes, and I remembered the years of woodpecker nests. When the woodpeckers moved on, the holes were used by Western Bluejays and other birds, who also feasted on the apples themselves or on the wasps that were attracted to fallen fruit. Smaller birds sometimes nested in the branches. In the spring, when the tree bloomed, the air around it was heavy with the sound of bees. The house finches and sparrows liked it and sent up choruses from within the canopy.

We’ll have to take the rest of the tree down; it is left with only one live branch, which leans over the fence into the neighbor’s yard and drops sour apples into his lawn. And the wound where the larger branch fell will be too easily subject to disease. I’ll miss the tree, but I won’t miss it as much as the birds will, and the wasps, and the bees. And, come to think of it, I will miss them too.

In other news, C continues to improve. The Prednisone dose is down to 5mg/day, which I am assured is a "miniscule" amount, and as a result he is happy and feels no anxiety except for the behavior of his fantasy league baseball team. He is moving his business to new offices in town, in one of the refurbished old hatchery  buildings along the Boulevard, and associating with another tax preparer. This means that his commute will no longer be out the back door and a couple of yards to the back building, but it still won't be as hair-raising as mine. My ulcers may or may not be gone but in any event they are not bothering me. K still likes her job, and they still like her.

And in a few weeks, we go to Alaska. Life is good.





The way the kitchen looks now. This is looking through the ex-laundry toward the sink.



The stove was my 40th birthday present, and I love it more than it is healthy to love an appliance.
10 july 2004

It's been an interesting month.

C no longer looks as though he borrowed Frankenstein's belly. The staples came out three weeks ago and the scar is already fading. The lowered dose of Prednisone is something of an issue, though: he was on tremendously high dosages of the stuff at the hospital; when we came home on June 6th the dose was about 40mg daily. This gave him great bursts of energy and elation. As the dose has gone down, the good feelings have been replaced by some anxiety and depression, and easy fatigue. This is par for the course, but it's a huge difference from the way he felt four weeks ago, and I think we're both somewhat bummed by this even though we know it's not supposed to stay this way. This Monday the Prednisone dose decreases to 5mg daily, and is supposed to stay at that level, perhaps for the rest of his life. Supposedly, this will be enough of the drug to counteract any rejection, but not enough to promote the continued depression. If it isn't, the doctors will fiddle with the immunosuppressants to make him feel better.

Up until last week, I took him to a local lab two mornings a week for his blood work, but he's now on a weekly schedule. For the first two weeks we went into UCSF every Tuesday, then they had us skip a week, and this time it will be three weeks before he goes into the clinic again. The doctor says that his blood test results are "perfect" and that there is no sign of rejection. Physically, he's healing very well indeed, but the fatigue is a real issue. We're both eager for this part of the process to be done.

He's been cleared to drive, which makes him happy and which allows me to go back to work full time, except for the days when we go into San Francisco for clinic visits. My boss, who is a saint (can there be a Jewish saint?) has been more than understanding over the past month. I don't know what we would have done without his kindness and support.

One of the most difficult parts of this recuperation, at least for me, was writing a thank-you letter to the family of the young man whose death gave C, and many others, a new lease on life. We don't know who this was, except that he was in his early 20s and died in an auto accident. It must have taken great courage and compassion for his family to make the decision to donate; we will always be grateful.

And me, I been diagnosed with ulcers and every "itis" that it's possible to have from the throat on down. Everything I've read tells me that stress does not cause ulcers, an assertion I believe to be balderdash. In any event, next week I start on the antibiotics that are supposed to knock out the bacteria that causes the ulcers; I'm looking forward to this because I haven't been allowed caffeine or chocolate or alcohol since June 27, (not even de-caff), and I miss my morning lattes something fierce. Further, I have an expensive bottle of Zinfandel sitting here waiting for a good excuse to be consumed, and I'm gonna do it as soon as I'm cleared to do so.

On the bright side, the kitchen's finished and the laundry room's done, and K has a job, her first real, full-time, out in the world job. She likes it and her employers apparently are nuts about her. She's working here.

All in all, not too shabby.

copyright 2004 by Marta Randall