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That's what history's all about
My sister and nephew visited me and my husband recently here in Half Moon Bay, California. In the photo, we are standing in front of an old-growth redwood tree named Methuselah that’s over 1,800 years old. Ancient things in nature always make me imagine what changes they have seen over the vast span of their lives.
Born in 217 AD, the Methuselah tree was already a couple of hundred years old when the Roman empire fell. From its vantage point on a high ridge of the Santa Cruz mountains, it saw the first Europeans sail by in 1542, when they missed the entrance to San Francisco Bay because of the fog. At that time, the area had been densely populated for tens of thousands of years with indigenous groups engaged in active trade networks.
Shellmounds created by these groups used to dot the landscape—and bay-scape. Layers of soil, shell, and rock, sometimes 30 feet high, served as burial sites, meeting places, and focal points for navigating the bay. Countless generations watched them rise. Now, they have mostly disappeared. In 1909, archaeologist Nels Nelson documented over 400 mounds although there had once likely been many more. They were quickly being destroyed—in one case, to make way for a paint factory.
This past winter, relentlessly violent storms changed the landscape around where I live. Cliffs along the beach eroded, dropping huge chunks of earth covered with ice plants and birds’ nests into the ocean. Trails and bridges were washed out. Trees were downed everywhere. There were mud slides in the burn scars from the destructive wildfires of 2020. The blackened skeletons of burned trees still disturb me despite green carpets of new growth beneath them.
Seeing the area for the first time, my visiting sister and nephew didn’t see the changes that sadden me. They only saw spectacular beauty. It made me realize that different is disturbing primarily because it is unfamiliar and so generates worry and fear in some of us (and excitement in the people I envy). But we should remember that we do that to ourselves. Difference and change are not inherently bad. In fact, nothing is certain in life except change. The certainty that things will certainly change has comforted me during hard times and weighed me down in good times.
History is the deliberate study of change. Perhaps it can help us to become familiar with the inevitability of change in a way that helps us to appreciate the constant change going on around us. Take a moment to look around at your familiar environment—imagine what it once was like, how it is now, and what it might become. Make friends with history, make friends with change.
Meet the Young Democrats Waging War on MAGA From Behind Enemy Lines
In politics, change is constant—a group pushes for change and an opposing group resists. This article by Washington Post op-ed writers Greg Sargent and Paul Waldman, describes how major events in US history have a tendency to shape generations of public officials. Think: Prohibition and the Depression, racial repression, the Vietnam War, Watergate. Those events energized lawmakers and compelled new people to run for Congress. Today, the reactionary efforts in many red states are starting to shape a new generation of young Democratic officials who want to push back, many of whom will one day be the party’s leaders. Read the article.
What I’m Reading
The Only Woman in the Room by Marie Benedict is a historical fiction novel about Hedy Lamarr, one of Hollywood’s leading ladies in the 1930s and ‘40s. Born in Austria as Hedwig Keisler to Jewish parents in Vienna, she gained early fame in Europe in film and on the stage, where she attracted the attention of a powerful munitions manufacturer whom she married. Privy to his business dealings with Mussolini and Hitler, she left and made her way to the US. The book depicts how the educated and cultured urbanites of Vienna, who identified first as “Viennese,” were taken by surprise when Austria devolved into fascism. By the time the country unified with Germany, it was too late for the Viennese Jews.
NOTE: The book is interesting, but it avoids the less flattering aspects of Lamarr’s life.
In honor of this month’s Independent Bookstore Day…
It warmed my heart to see an email from an old friend with the subject line: “Folly Park is now in my local bookstore!” I was happy to hear that it had found its way onto the shelf of an independent bookstore in Massachusetts. In another heartwarming moment, my mother told me she had recently talked with a stranger about my book while volunteering at her library; he immediately went off to her local bookstore, bought a copy, and came back and asked her to sign it as the “mother of the author”!
Left photo: Sisters Gay, Sharon, and Bonnie Wind (Oct. 20, 1946).
Right photo, from left to right: back row—Jack Grace, Sharon Wind Grace holding Michelle Grace; Edwin Wind, Bonnie Wind; James Wind, Amelta Wind, David Cambell holding Todd Campbell. Front row—Holly Wind, Gay Wind Campbell, Diane Wind. Boys in front: Timothy Grace (left), Michael Grace (right) (Easter, April 18, 1965).
Nothing says “change” more than family photos. Nineteen years saw three more siblings and two of the three girls on the left married with children. My mother, Bonnie, would soon follow, along with more children. A 2019 family reunion of three generations included more than 70 people.
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