The Hindu god Krishna, who was blue, worried that his love Radha, who was not blue, might not appreciate his color. His mother suggested that he ask Radha to paint his face any color she wanted. And, according to legend, that’s how the Hindu holiday Holi was born. At the spring equinox people gather to throw colored powders on each other, and lovers paint each other’s faces. The holiday is big in India and it’s also becoming popular in the U.S.
I love the idea of getting together with a big group to throw colors on each other. What fun! But then I started wondering about what is in that powder. And also thinking, as someone with lung issues, what might be the consequence of breathing it in. We all know that breathing dust and smoke is not good for us. There’s farmer’s lung and carpenter’s lung and smoker’s lung. Now there’s probably Holi lung!
So while I’m always looking for new and old ways to celebrate the turning of the seasons, Holi is not a spring equinox tradition I intend to adopt. Instead I’m sending colorful flowers to our household to remind us that the cold wet winter is over. Which right now in Santa Rosa is more of a hope than reality. It’s raining now and it’s not very warm by our standards. Two more atmospheric rivers are threatening in the next week. The whole state of California worries about where all the water from the Sierra snow melt will go.
We see some signs of spring. Plum, peach and pear trees are blooming and the magnolias are magnificent. Poppies are starting to bloom. Birds are frisky. Oaks are leafing out. Is it fair to say spring is here but winter is still hanging on?
My boots are muddy and the trails wet but, along with my hiking buddies, I go out every day that it’s not raining. Being outdoors is what has kept me sane through covid. Masks have kept us healthy. One or both of us usually gets sick sometime during the winter with a virus that lands in the chest and hangs on, but Holly and I have avoided air-borne diseases for three years now. Very often these days I’m the only one in a group wearing one, but I feel saved by the mask!
I met her as part of a couple, Anne + Judy. They were both in the first class of women to break into the San Francisco Police Department after several years of pressure from the feminist community to integrate women.
There were two sides to this story. Some feminists thought cops were unredeemable and that women should never be cops. They said women would take on the racist and repressive world view of the police; they would be sullied by the job. I was an electrician and one of those working to get more women into nontraditional jobs. I thought women deserved access to those jobs and I even suspected that women might change the culture in the PD if given the chance.
Kissing lesbians was a thing I did in June–Gay Month
Work life was tough for those first women, and they were on the front lines of the feminist movement to desegregate the workplace. They took the most shit from their male coworkers and bosses, who were almost all white back then in the 1970s. Men of color had been kept out too and the efforts of us activists to enforce affirmative action laws included all minority classes.
Being in a relationship with another woman navigating the same sexist workplace was probably a main reason Judy and Anne both stayed in the PD and made good careers. My lovers, too, were women in the trades, the only people who really understood what I was going through at work. They provided the support I needed to survive on the construction site.
I knew Judy better than Anne. She was a feminist and out on the job as a lesbian. One time when I ran into her working the gay parade, I threw my arms around her and planted a big kiss on her lips. Yeah, you’re not supposed to do that to cops when they’re working. But kissing lesbians was a thing I always did in June–gay month. I was just so happy to be out in San Francisco, I had to pass around my good cheer.
I got to know Anne better in the early 90s after she and Judy had broken up. We had a mutual friend, a mystery writer, who used us both for expert background. (What kind of electric shock will kill a person? How would a killer behave in this situation?) I think the mystery writer was hoping there would be a spark of attraction when she introduced us. She confided to me that Anne was in a secret ongoing affair with a closeted columnist who wrote for the local paper. The columnist was also in a long-term relationship with a lover who did not know about Anne.
Are you following me here?
Lesbian relationships were tangled in that era as we thrilled to new freedoms and experimented with new models. Anne was the Other Woman and I was admonished not to tell anyone. I had practiced nonmonogamy zealously but eventually came to see that being the other woman, especially if you’re in love, spells heartache. I sympathized mutely. It can’t have been easy for her.
I had never tried to romance a cop
We bonded over the internet. I had a new 512K Mac and I wanted to learn to use email. Anne, who used the internet to research crimes and criminals, set me up on AOL. It was dial up. You had to understand acronyms like POP, HTTP and some other things like hardware and software. They all confused the hell out of me, never a tech wizard. I remember receiving my very first email message from Anne. She didn’t say anything sexy, but it was exciting, world changing!
Was there an attraction? Well, sure. Anne was handsome, with shoulder-length dark hair and a muscular physique. She was handy. She had remodeled the Victorian house she owned in the Dogpatch neighborhood. I was impressed, and horny. But I had never romanced a cop. A veteran of protest marches, anti-war and anti-racism campaigns, I had been on the other side of many police barricades. I did not believe all cops were pigs as many did, but my generation of activists will never forget COINTELPRO, the police killing of Fred Hampton and so many others. Not to mention the attacks by the SFPD on our gay and lesbian bars and gathering places.
I was thinking about how I would undress her when she saw the stack of mail on my desk.
By that time I knew Anne well enough to know that we disagreed politically on just about everything. I figured she was one of those women who find it easier to not rock the boat and who identify with their male coworkers in order to survive on the job. Or maybe she’d been brought up in the 50s during the McCarthy era to hate communists. But, I reasoned, we didn’t have to talk politics. Maybe we could just have sex.
I managed to get Anne over to my house to help with AOL and I made lunch. An opening salvo. I imagined us moving into the bedroom after lunch.
I was thinking about how I would undress her when she saw the stack of mail on my desk. Right on top was a newsletter from the Committees of Correspondence, a democratic socialist group I was a member of.
“Are you a communist?” she asked, looking up.
She seemed surprised, but at that time I thought that most lesbians were leftists at least, if not communists. My friends and I were activists trying to rid the world of imperialism, racism and police violence. It wasn’t that weird.
“Well, yes,” I said. “Communist with a small c.”
“I could never be with a communist,” she sputtered.
“But,” I said, “you wouldn’t have to BE with me. We could just have sex.”
The look of horror on her face conjured the pain of the long-term other-woman relationship that I wasn’t supposed to know about. And probably she really did hate communists. She was a cop first and a lesbian second.
My disappointment didn’t last long. It never would have worked out. I hoped Anne would find the right woman, and I wondered if she would tell that woman about her own secret affair with the columnist. I never found out.
On Solstices, Equinoxes and Cross Quarter Holidays
Imbolc, the Celtic pagan holiday on February 1, and the time of the Lunar New Year really mark the advent of spring in California, at least here in Sonoma County. The daffodils I planted in November are in full bloom. Just before a series of atmospheric rivers dumped 18 inches of rain (about three times the normal rainfall), we installed a water catchment system with swales in the front yard and three 1000-gallon tanks. Our system worked well to save water for future irrigation and to direct it away from the house. The January rains filled creeks to overflowing and greened the grass, although storms also felled many trees and resulted in flooding and some deaths.
The earth is turning and the light is returning, but it’s still dark at 5 AM when I go out to look for the comet called ZTF. I haven’t been able to see it yet, but skies have been clear lately and I keep trying. The comet can be found in the north sky between the north star and the big dipper. It will be closest to Earth on February 2. It’s green! Perhaps a sign?
A bit of angst seizes me whenever I look up for the comet. I can’t help thinking about the movie Don’t Look Up. We watched it again recently and it was just as hilarious and sobering as the first time. If you haven’t seen this movie yet, you must! It’s a metaphor for climate change that hits us over the head hard, but lately I’m thinking nothing can be too subtle for us humans. (My friends, I’m not talking about you. I know you are aware and doing all you can do to avert the predicted climate disaster).
Every day, as the green comet comes closer, I’ve looked for it with binoculars, but it keeps eluding me. So we bought a telescope. I found two telescopes in town–an inexpensive one at a sporting goods store and a more expensive one at a camera store. I’m new at this so figured the cheaper one would be just fine. We brought it home and tried to figure out how to use it. It seemed so simple. We followed the spare directions but failed to make it work. We tried and tried. The manufacturer didn’t have decent assembly instructions. So we looked online for videos and found one in Spanish, but as neither of us understands the language (a failing I’ve always regretted) we didn’t really get it. Plus, to set the focus each time you have to bend over in a way that my old neck will no longer allow.
So I boxed the telescope back up and returned it. Then we bought the expensive one. This thoroughly modern telescope was made in France and must be connected to wifi and a computerized device. Directions say we can have as many as ten devices so we imagine we can host star watching parties where all the guests could see the comet, or the moon, or planets on their ipads. That’s the fantasy anyway. Still is.
We were directed to connect to the manufacturer’s wifi network, which didn’t come up on my phone. Later I was able to log on but couldn’t figure out the next step. Instructions are not terribly helpful. Are they translated? Or are we just too old to understand? Normally this tech breakdown would have me throwing up my hands in despair. But my wife Holly is kind of a tech wizard (witch?) and I depend on her to solve these problems. She couldn’t, but she is sanguine and so I haven’t lost hope that we can figure it out. Maybe I’ll see the green comet yet. It won’t be back around again for 50,000 years. I just can’t wait that long.
Aside from my unfulfilled obsession with the comet, life is good for us in Santa Rosa. We are thankful for our good fortune, but at the same time we are anguished by the growing wealth gap and the failure of our society to care for those more needy than we. The capitalist system values nothing as much as making (or stealing) money, assigning those with other priorities to the losers column.
My angst is multiplied by the recent explosion of gun violence especially in the past couple of weeks. California, with the strictest gun laws in the country, experienced some of the worst violence. We lesbian feminists laugh (and cry) about testosterone poisoning, and I do think that simple theory has some truth to it. Systems breakdowns and our society’s failure to prioritize the common good contribute. Gun violence has worsened with the proliferation of guns, but it has been going on for a long time. January 30 is the 75thanniversary of the shooting death of Mahatma Ghandi.
I support taking away the guns. That’s what Cheryl Wheeler sang. Her song, If It Were Up to Me, was written after the Stockton school shooting in 1989 and it still applies. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Op7agdIFOGY
If you don’t know Cheryl Wheeler, check her out. She writes funny songs too. My Cat’s Birthday comes to mind. We lesbians do love our cats.
I first encountered Dar on a job site. The contractor had moved me there so he could meet affirmative action requirements for females on the job. This was a popular practice. Rather than just hiring more women, the company would hire one woman and move her around from job to job so monitors would count the same woman repeatedly. The job, a low-income housing project in Chinatown, received federal funding and so had to meet federal affirmative action goals for women and minorities. This was in 1980 when some regulators actually took affirmative action laws seriously and monitored job sites. Those days are long gone.*
In those days women would often ignore each other when we were dispatched to the same job. We tried to be invisible and often, when there was only one of us, we got away with it. But as soon as two women started talking or working together, an undercurrent of anxiety rippled among the men. For a brief period on one job I got to work with a female apprentice.
“What do you two talk about?” asked one of the electricians. “Are you talking about the size of our dicks?”
This hadn’t occurred to me. Women might talk about the harassment we endured on the job or, more likely, how to work together to complete the job at hand. Dicks, drawn in profusion on the walls of the porta potties, did seem to hold a prominent place in the imaginations of some of our coworkers.
Women knew that if we spoke to each other our male coworkers would notice. Straight women didn’t want to be painted with the dyke brush, and most lesbians were still in the closet and didn’t want the brush either. Dar didn’t worry about such implications. She was a big mouthy white woman with buck teeth and a head of bleached blond hair. On the job site you couldn’t miss her. She did not melt into the woodwork. My first day on that job, the Chinatown low-income housing project, she introduced herself as we passed each other on the deck.
“So you’re the affirmative action hire,” she said. “I guess they needed another chick.”
I wasn’t wild about being called a chick, but she had a point. Federal affirmative action regulations were the only reason I was on that job. Our short conversation made me think Dar didn’t like women any more than the men on the job did. She didn’t seem like a feminist sister.
For a couple of days I was pulling Romex through holes punched in metal framing. Then they pulled me off that job and put me on another where the regulations said they needed a woman. Fine with me. It all paid the same—a good wage previously reserved for men only. Dar was likely in the same boat. The plumbing contractors had a reputation for hiring even fewer women than the electrical guys. After they could check off the number of female hours worked, they could lay us off.
A couple of years later after a couple more layoffs, I scored a full-time maintenance job with the San Francisco Water Department. I worked out of a corporation yard in the southeast industrial area of the city, looking after all the motors that ran pumps that supplied water to the city. That’s when I ran into Dar again. She had been hired for a job in the plumbing division. The crews of plumbers worked installing new services all over the city, usually in big holes in the street. Or they might be required to repair a main break. The job was wet and muddy.
I didn’t see much of Dar, as the plumbers were out of the yard working in the street all day. But I heard about her. A story in the grapevine told of Dar punching out a coworker who had harassed her while they worked in a trench. I never heard what was said. That was before the rule was imposed that fighting on the job would get you fired immediately. Dar was not the first plumber to make use of fists to manage a dispute, but she was the last to do so and avoid getting fired.
The day I saw the T-shirt was a maintenance nightmare for the water department. One of the big pump stations that housed 100 HP motors flooded. The motors sat in wells in the concrete floor and so were vulnerable to being overtaken by the quickly rising water. I could see it wouldn’t be long until the motors were under water. The team of plumbers worked fast to staunch the leak.
My only job as electrician was to cut the power to the motors and that was just a matter of disconnecting circuit breakers in a huge panel on a higher level, though if the water rose high enough that panel, too, would be in peril.
That’s when I spotted Dar, down in the pit with a cluster of men. She wore a T-shirt with a message in big print:
Feeling a little sexy?
Go fuck yourself
No one said anything aloud about the message on Dar’s shirt, but it shocked me. I couldn’t imagine wearing it myself, as much as I agreed with the sentiment. I didn’t have the guts to wear that shirt.
I had to give Dar credit. Maybe she wasn’t my kind of feminist, but she was some kind of feminist.
*Affirmative action in the construction industry really only lasted a short time before Reagan killed it. In California the death knell was dealt in 1996 when Ward Connerly put affirmative action on the ballot. In the meantime some of us were able to get a foot in the door and advocate for the hiring of more women. But women still make up only about three percent of the construction workforce. We were the forgotten recipients of affirmative action and we could benefit from a renewed commitment to it now as the Supreme Court threatens to end it entirely.
Thick Skin: Field Notes from a Sister in the Brotherhood by Hilary Peach, Anvil Press, 2022
A woman navigating the challenges of the male workplace makes a good story and Hilary Peach does the genre proud in her new book, Thick Skin. A Canadian from BC, Peach writes of working for twenty years as a boilermaker on big projects in Canada and the U.S. She has worked at coal fired power plants, the tar sands in Alberta, pulp mills, gas plants, shipyards—big industrial power generating companies of all kinds, often staying in their company towns.
I enjoy reading about the work people do, especially hard dirty jobs like construction. In this book Peach tells us about the world of boilermakers, a subculture all its own. She describes the often difficult working conditions while she schools the reader about the intricacies and art of welding.
Most stories center on the men she works with, the psychopaths as well as the nice guys.
She encounters sexism and discrimination regularly as might be expected as the only woman among hundreds of men. But Peach always finds humor in the stories and often had me laughing out loud. Tradeswomen who go through the same challenges in our workplaces will delight in her creative comebacks and her various inventive ways of responding to harassment.
“How do we know it’s sexual harassment?” asks an apprentice.
“Just stop talking about your penises. That’s 80 percent of it,” say the women in the break room.
I loved this book. It’s well written and an engaging read with truly general appeal. And, of course, it reminds me of my own experience working construction.
Electricians, too, have a subculture of travelers, boomers, tramps, journeyworkers—those who travel around to different jobs—and my sisters and I used to dream of traveling. We thought it would be the greatest thing—that is until we heard from others who were on the road, mostly because they couldn’t get work in their own union locals. Sandy said she had to wear so many layers of clothes working in the Boston winter that her arms stuck straight out at her sides. Barbara of NYC told about burning refuse in high rises to keep warm and to help the concrete set, risking the hazards of smoke inhalation. Betsy complained of the Texas heat and miles of smelly porty potties.
Maybe we didn’t want to travel after all.
Hilary Peach does it for two decades—driving hundreds of miles, often in the driving rain or snow, to get to a job. Staying in work camps whose last century accommodations have been condemned and then reopened without remodel. Working 12 hour shifts happy for the overtime, working nights, working in cramped quarters in the freezing cold and boiling hot.
As the hard hat sticker says, “If you can’t stand the heat get the fuck out of the boiler.”
Peach does indeed develop a thick skin. A favorite maxim, repeated often:
“You don’t bleed in the shark pool.”
Later, as more women begin to come on to the jobs, they tell her conditions have improved. She writes, “When other women were on the job it made a remarkable difference. One other woman and you are no longer the freak, the anomaly. You have an ally. Three or more, and everything changes. We can no longer be isolated and targeted in the same way…Someone has to organize a second bathroom.”
Thank you Hilary Peach for making women look good out there and for paving the way for more women to enter this industry. A published poet, she’s now working on a novel. As boilermakers say at the end of a job, “See you on the next one.”
Molly Martin is a retired electrician whose latest book, Wonder Woman Electric to the Rescue, is available on Amazon and Kindle.
This letter from a friend helps explain why I’m angry
With all due respect, with incidents like Proud Boy types storming the San Lorenzo library because a trans lady storyteller was holding story hour, to the latest murder of a Black man, Jason Walker, by the police with no consequences (what a surprise, not) the continuous denial from white people about the disgusting racism that has this country in its grip, mostly due to white people afraid to face the truth about America and content with it, as they talk a good game, but that’s as far as it goes. They fail to act every time. It’s with pain and disgust that I look at this country and its racism. Evil flourishes when good people do nothing. Evil is flourishing because white people have no real desire to fight against racism. Before you offer me weak words of platitude, don’t. Actions speak louder than words. If folks are not part of the solution, they are part of the problem. It is evident by the racists parked in our federal govt., yet another murder of a Black man by the racist police with no consequences that most whites are ok with how things are because it doesn’t personally affect them. As a Black woman with a Black son, I am filled with anxiety and fear every time I have to go outside. I shouldn’t have to live this way, but I do. So, that’s all I got but it is enough to keep me angry.
When my friend Carol sent me this letter, I didn’t know how to respond except to tell her I heard her anger and that she was right. Later, she called me to say it was hurting her own health to hold on to so much anger. She told me that she’s been working with a couple community organizations to reach out to neighbors to discuss the issue of racism, but her white neighbors just don’t want to hear it. They are avoiding her now because she suggested getting together to watch a video about racism.
I invited my white “friends” to take the time to watch small 15 minute videos that anyone can access on you tube. It was not so much them not being willing to watch a short film, but the total lack of compassion or empathy of the ordeals black people have suffered since being brought to this country involuntarily and still continue today.
I am trying so hard not to stay pissed off, but every time I hear about another shooting of an unarmed Black man by the police, I just want to scream. Nothing is changing because most white people (I know, a sweeping generalization) don’t see a need for it…I can’t rest knowing that this country is not yet ready to face its past and make America a better place. It seems I am always in the “minority” when expressing my viewpoint and or perspective.
So, thank you for all you do, but we need way more people who think like you before we can move forward.
Carol lives near the San Lorenzo library, which was attacked by Proud Boys during a drag queen story hour. She walked right up to them and asked them what they were doing. They told her they were there to protect children and suggested she join them. Didn’t she want children to be protected?
I watched the PBS series, The U.S. and the Holocaust, and I’m seeing undeniable parallels to Hitler’s Nazis. They demonized a population–the Jews–just as our own right wing demonizes trans people, gay people, immigrants, Blacks, people of color and Jews. They produced reams of propaganda spouting lies that the general population was oh-so-quick to believe. Then they started restricting their rights and destroying their property, humiliating and beating them and sending them to concentration camps along with other targeted groups — homosexuals, gypsies, communists.
Many of us wonder if the Proud Boys and their ilk are turning into the new SS, Hitler’s paramilitary, responsible for terrorizing and killing millions. It happened recently at the First Christian Church in Katy, Texas.
Years ago my wife Holly and I invented a solstice ritual we named the Twelve Days of Solstice, starting on the solstice, December 21, and ending with New Year’s day. We made up our own daily rituals and customs, observing the natural world and the changing of the seasons.
Our invention was aimed at supplanting the christian holiday. We are both ex-christians, she tortured by a more evangelical denomination than me by my pale protestant presbyterian sect.
My antipathy has been mostly aimed toward catholicism, a particularly misogynist, patriarchal, racist, and homophobic cult whose latest endeavor is covering up its sexual abuse of children. It is only the most powerful example of christian horror, but there are many more worldwide who hide behind religion to perpetrate evil.
We want no part of this and so we eschew the trappings of christian holidays. However, we do feel the need for tradition and ritual in our lives and so must invent our own. This year in the wake of a worldwide fascist assault on democracy I was feeling a bit depressed in mid-November and sought holiday solace.
“Let’s start celebrating solstice early!” I entreated.
The festive custom of tree decorating is not owned by the christians. It was stolen from pagan religions and so I feel very good about reclaiming this pagan tradition. The term pagan was historically used by christians to refer to everyone not christian, so it includes all of us non-christians.
I checked around and there were no trees nor boughs to be bought until the day after Thanksgiving. So, after considering and rejecting cutting our own, on the morning of November 25th we drove directly to Grandma’s tree farm a few miles out in the country. People had already stormed the farm, a magical place with a huge old barn decorated to the rafters for the season. There was hot chocolate waiting, a flocking room, a real antique sleigh for kids to play on and all the ornaments and boughs and trees of every size.
We bought evergreen boughs for the mantle, adorable bird decorations and, of course, a tree, cut and carried by an agile worker who told me he has a landscape company in other seasons.
For the next couple of days we decorated the tree, taking all the time we felt like because why should we be in a hurry? One point of invention is to overcome all the obligations that make this holiday stressful. Like shopping. We are made to feel like we will be responsible for the U.S. economy failing if we don’t spend tons of money. Retailers depend on this holiday to bring in 40 percent of their annual revenue, an unsustainable economic program that bankrupts the poor and does not fit well with our effort to consume less.
With a much longer holiday schedule than usual, we were designing rituals for a month of celebrating instead of just the 12 days of solstice. Ok but no pressure. Instead, I decided to just appreciate the revelatory events that happened to me daily.
Nov. 24 As I planted 40 daffodils in the front yard, I thought bulb planting must be added to our annual constellation of solstice rituals.
Nov. 30 It froze! Contemplating the Japanese concept of Wabi-Sabi, we acknowledged the wilting of the big flowers in our yard. The tree dahlia, which at nearly 20 feet tall had only just started blooming, died. And the huge marigold that had appeared late in the fall, maybe from a wildflower mix, froze. We appreciate that nothing is truly perfect or permanent.
Dec. 1 Then it stormed! We got an inch of rain. We invoked Tefnut, the Egyptian goddess of rain and moisture, responsible for maintaining life, as we watched the bright leaves fall from the trees.
Dec. 3 As I picked the first oranges from our tree and made juice, I called in Demeter, the Greek goddess of agriculture and the harvest. When her daughter Persephone returns to Hades each winter, the plants die, only to be reborn when she returns in spring. The orange, one plant that the gods apparently overlooked, produces fruit all winter.
Dec. 7 I’m witness to a supernatural event at 5am while I soak in the hot tub. The sheet metal cap on the chimney glows with an amazingly bright light. I feel this is like seeing the virgin Mary on a slice of toast–positively spiritual. The cap continues to glow and I wonder what the universe is trying to tell me. It was so bright I couldn’t imagine what the light source could be. Could the light be coming from inside the house? Of course, it was the setting full moon shining at a direct angle, but so otherworldly that I wanted to take a picture to let someone else in on my religious experience. Who would believe me? Will I be the Cassandra of Hylandia?
I can find no goddess of chimneys nor sheet metal nor chimney caps, so I’ll have to decide whether to check in with one of many goddesses of the hearth. Or perhaps the moon was communicating with me through the chimney cap, in which case I can consult any number of moon goddesses like Selene, the Greek personification of the moon.
The universe is definitely talking to me.
Dec. 8 We spent a lovely couple of hours walking at the ocean with Holly’s brother and wife and afterward I happily consumed the sacred molluscs, oysters. Is there a seafood goddess? Maybe not exactly, but Venus, the Roman goddess of love and beauty, was born in an oyster so she knew something about them.
Then on our way back from the ocean we hit only green lights on Guerneville Road. A total miracle! I didn’t even have to invoke Asphalta, the goddess of roads and highways, because I know that she is watching over us, especially when we look for parking. We recite the prayer “Hail Asphalta full of grace, help me find a parking place.” Then we rub the sacred crystals which are pieces of asphalt adorned with the yellow line, enclosed in an orange bag that hangs from the car’s mirror. Asphalta’s priestesses are the flag women of the highways. The goddess was invented by my friend Morgan Grey for a book called Found Goddesses and so fits right in with our effort to invent rituals.
Finding the sacred in my everyday life has definitely improved my spirits. It’s worked so well that I might have to continue this practice for the rest of the year.
Happy solstice my friends, however you choose to celebrate it.
For the past several years I’ve been meeting on zoom with a group of old women trades workers and organizers as we discuss and record our collective history. We call ourselves the OTTERS (Old Tradeswomen Talking Eating and Remembering Shit). Since the 1970s we have fought to open jobs for women and minorities that had been closed to us, like construction work. Affirmative action was our issue and for a short time during Jimmy Carter’s administration, we had support from the federal government. Our fortunes reversed after the election of Reagan, whose labor policies were crafted to push women out of the workforce and back into the kitchen. Our vision of employment equity became much harder to realize, but we didn’t stop. We’ve created training programs and tradeswomen organizations that have opened opportunities for women all over the U.S. We wanted to thank President Carter for his part in the success of our movement, so we wrote him a letter.
The Honorable Jimmy Carter The Carter Center 453 Freedom Parkway NE Atlanta, GA 30307
Dear President Carter,
We are writing to thank you for supporting Affirmative Action and Equal Employment Laws while you were in the White House and beyond. More importantly, we want to thank you for enforcing those laws. It made a difference for us and so many other women who were able to enter the construction trades because of your commitment.
We are a group of older tradeswomen from around the country. We have come together to share stories, remember old times, and to document our history.
We are the OTTERS. Old Tradeswomen Talking, Eating and Remembering Sh#*.
During several of our meetings we were trying to figure out when and what was the ‘watershed’ moment when we began working together. We had been working in our respective states but then something happened. You may wonder what it was that brought us together and allowed us to begin meeting and working on a national level to reach out to women and Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) for training in trade and technical jobs.
We agreed it was, in large part, due to you and your administration’s commitment to equality. Enforcing the laws and ensuring those enforcement agencies were properly funded and staffed.
Many of our OTTERS members started Tradeswomen organizations that provide pre-apprenticeship training for women and find partnering with Habitat for Humanity a wonderful experience for our students. Many of us are still engaged in advocacy and still working toward a more diverse workforce. You continue to be an inspiration to all of us. Thank you.
Yours in Equity,
Lisa Diehl, West Virginia
United Brotherhood of Carpenters 7 years
Co-Chair 2nd National Tradeswomen Conference
Non-Traditional Advocacy 30 years
Founder, West Virginia Women Work
Dr. Lynn Shaw, California
Miner/Steelworker/Longshoreworker/Electrician: 25 years
Founder of WINTER, Women in Non-Traditional Employment Roles Los Angeles
Ronnie Sandler, New Hampshire
First woman in any of the building trades in Michigan 1976
Carpenter and contractor for 12 years
First woman to work highway construction in the state of New Hampshire
Designed and ran trades training programs for women Michigan, Vermont, and New Hampshire
On site compliance officer for Maine Department of Transportation 3 major bridge projects
Nettie Dokes, Washington
International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Line worker 30+ years
First African American woman Line worker (high voltage electrician) in US
Seattle Women in Trades Executive Board 25+ years
Pre-apprenticeship instructor 15 years
President and CEO of Workforce Alchemist-a consulting firm for Women in Construction 5 years
Connie Ashbrook, Oregon
Elevator Constructor 17 years
Founder and Executive Director (retired) Oregon Tradeswomen Network
Dale McCormick, Maine
First woman Journeyman in US Carpenters Union, 51 years
Founder and Executive Director of Women Unlimited Maine
Northeast Women in Transportation
Elly Spicer, New York
United Brotherhood of Carpenters New York City, 35 years
Apprenticeship Training Director 3 years
Kathy Augustine, Ohio
Computer Systems Electronics Technician 15 years
Executive Director (retired) Hard Hatted Women, Cleveland 16 years
Kipp Dawson, Pennsylvania
Coal Miner 13 years
Public School teacher 23 years
Coal Miner and Activist in United Mineworkers of America 13 years
Coal Employment Project- Coal Mining Women Support Team since 1979
Betty Jean Hall, Florida
Executive Director & General Counsel
Coal Employment Project- Coal Mining Women Support Team 1977-1988
Lauren Sugerman, Illinois
Elevator Constructor 6 years
Founding Executive Director of Chicago Women in Trades 23 years
Founder and Director of the National Center for Women’s Equity in Apprenticeship and Employment
Marge Wood, Wisconsin
Plumber 12 years
United Association UA union member 35 years, Madison
Apprenticeship Consultant, WI Technical College System 24 years
Halloween might be the one pagan holiday that neither the Romans nor the catholic church could suppress or usurp, even after centuries of trying.
The Celt holiday of Samhain (pronounced sow-in) celebrated the end of summer and the start of winter. Celts believed that on the night of October 31 the ghosts of the dead returned to earth. People lit sacred bonfires and wore costumes to ward off ghosts. In some places, people doused their hearth fires on Samhain night; then each family solemnly re-lit its hearth from the communal bonfire, thus bonding the community together.
The Celts lived 2000 years ago in what later became Ireland, the UK and northern France. The 400-year occupation by the Romans left some cultural traditions. At Feralia the Romans commemorated the passing of the dead. And the festival of Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees whose symbol is the apple, was held November 1. In Celtic mythology, apples were strongly associated with the Otherworld and immortality.
Then the christians invaded. Over the centuries, a couple of popes made the effort to subsume the pagan holiday under a new Christian one on November 2, All Souls Day. As with other pagan holidays, it is widely understood that the church was attempting to replace the Celtic festival of the dead with a related, church-sanctioned holiday.
But the old customs associated with Samhain never died out entirely. Instead, the first night of Samhain, October 31, became All Hallows Day Evening, the night before the saints were venerated. That name eventually morphed into Halloween. One of the rituals adopted from the Celts waspumpkin carving, which held religious significance. The jack-o-lantern custom consisted of placing fire—which imitates the good magic of the sun—inside a hollowed out vegetable (usually a turnip), representing the harvest. The hope was that the good magic would help to preserve the harvested food through the dark half of the year, until the next growing season could replenish the community’s food stocks.
The practice of trick-or-treating began as the Celtic custom of giving token bits of the harvest to spirits wandering outside of houses on the evening of Samhain to placate them and prevent them from doing destructive things to the harvest or to homes.
Centuries later, Halloween customs were brought to the U.S. by immigrants from Ireland, Scotland and other ancient homelands of the Celts. That’s when pumpkins took over from turnips to make jack-o-lanterns, a modern advancement.
Here in Santa Rosa, Holly and I have invented new rituals and customs for Samhain.
The blessing of the flip flops. During the changing of the footwear we remove our flip flops and put them away for the winter after kissing them and telling them we appreciate their hard work of protecting our feet all summer. Then we don our winter slippers.
The beanie and toque resurrection. We bring down the box of winter hats, scarves and gloves from the top shelf of the closet where they have patiently waited all summer.
The moving of the deck furniture. All summer the outdoor couch has sat in the shade where we could be comfortable even on hot days. At this time of year we move the couch to a sunny spot on the deck near the house. The ceremony consists of grabbing the couch, saying one two three up and carefully carrying it to its new place.
The building of the ofrenda. Our little Dia de los Muertos altar sits on the fireplace mantle where we assemble pictures and clay figurines of friends and family who have died. We are reminded that many cultures remember their dead at this time of year.
The planting of the peas, the harvesting of persimmons and pomegranates. October is the time to plant sugar snap peas so we can eat them right off the vine in Spring. We also plant cover crops and colorful flowers like violas and pansies to keep us smiling through the winter. My favorite fall salad is made with persimmons, pomegranates, pecans and pears with a citrus dressing (I call it the P salad).
Wishing you, your pods and families a happy Halloween.
I’m writing this during a gentle rainstorm that has elicited delight among denizens here in Santa Rosa. Our weather station says it has brought a little less than an inch of rain. We are humbled when we think of raging floods elsewhere in the world but of course what we worry about at this time of the year is fire. Word is that the rain has dampened our biggest California fire, the Mosquito Fire, which has burned 75,000 acres in the Sierra foothills and is now 35 percent contained. This rain may not put an end to fire season, but we hope, as the fall equinox approaches, it marks the beginning of the end. This year the autumn equinox takes place on September 22, when the sun crosses the equator making night and day of equal length in all parts of the earth.
In Japan the equinox symbolizes the middle way between the seasons. This week will mark the start of Higan, a seven-day Buddhist celebration and national holiday in Japan during the fall and spring equinoxes. The origin of the holiday dates from Emperor Shomu in the 8th century. Higan means the “other shore” and refers to the spirits of the dead reaching Nirvana. It is a time to remember the dead by visiting, cleaning, and decorating their graves. The red spider lily signals shūbun, the arrival of fall.
Buddhist psychology is neither a path of denial nor of affirmation. It shows us the paradox of the universe, within and beyond the opposites. It teaches us to be in the world but not of the world. This realization is called the middle way.
If we seek happiness purely through indulgence, we are not free. If we fight against ourselves and reject the world, we are not free. It is the middle path that brings freedom. This is a universal truth discovered by all those who awaken.
The middle way describes the middle ground between attachment and aversion, between being and non-being, between form and emptiness, between free will and determinism. The more we delve into the middle way the more deeply we come to rest between the play of opposites.
When we discover the middle path, we neither remove ourselves from the world nor get lost in it. We can be with all our experience in its complexity, with our own exact thoughts and feelings and drama. We learn to embrace tension, paradox, change. Instead of seeking resolution, waiting for the chord at the end of a song, we let ourselves open and relax in the middle. In the middle we discover that the world is workable. From the book The Wise Heart by Jack Kornfield
Here in Sonoma County at fall equinox we celebrate the end of those super hot days of summer. There was a day in August when we set a heat record of 115 degrees here.
We may still get some 90 degree days, but the withering heat is behind us and the cold of winter is yet to come. No more flex alerts! We look forward to enjoying the outdoors in this mild season.
Like all Californians we are conserving water during an ongoing drought. Our vegetable garden is not as robust and productive as in wetter years, but native plants thrive. Favorites include native Epilobium in bright reds and pinks, eriogonum (wild buckwheat), and a purple native aster given to us by a neighbor, still blooming happily without water! Birds of all feathers converge on our garden to eat the seeds of spent wildflower blooms.