Ribbons

A road trip from Phoenix to Las Vegas offers the opportunity to observe and appreciate the desert’s resilience, to think about Gordon Lightfoot’s music, and to consider the persistence of good and evil, respectively.


Are we driving beside water?

Straining my neck to see the GPS device atop the dashboard, I find that the sun glare makes the screen all but unreadable from the back seat.  Certainly I can’t see whether it shows that ribbon of blue it uses to denote a body of water, still or flowing.  The Big Guy and the other big guy riding shotgun look at each other in some surprise, but check the screen to confirm what they already know.

Nope.   There’s a slight pause while they decide, with that inscrutable, silent communication between brothers, which one will pursue it.

Why do you ask?  The Big Guy has stepped up.

I gesture left, down the hill, at the ribbon of green more or less paralleling the highway.  

That’s why.   

On our road trip from Phoenix to Las Vegas, I have spotted a bright green streak in a landscape that is otherwise all sage greens and sandy browns and tans.  Previous stays in the Phoenix area have taught me that such a strip of green means water: a river, maybe, or even just a stream.  But here we have the green without the blue, as it were—a small puzzle to be shelved.

But unlike the great, intractable mysteries of life—like why CBC announcers now say ‘djunta’ for ‘hoonta’—this puzzle doesn’t stay on the shelf for long.  Monday generates the puzzle on our outbound trip; a few days after our return, Saturday solves it on my tour of an ‘engineered riparian preserve,’ a water reclamation area and bird-and-critter habitat in the Town of Gilbert.  The tour includes a walk alongside an artificial streambed—a replica of what the tour leader calls the ‘ephemeral streams’ that dot the desert.  Much like Prairie coulees, desert washes channel rain run-off and the rest is history.  Well, okay, botany.

The plants don’t seem to mind that the stream is here today, gone tomorrow.  Once established, they conserve water so well that they can hold out until the next rain brings them their next drink, even if that’s months away.  And so the washes become a tangle of growth that is lush in context.

As life’s resilience sinks in, I find myself thinking happy metaphorical thoughts every time I walk along a desert wash or see a ribbon of green through the car window.  Thoughts of the persistence of good in people and in society, and of how little it takes to keep it going.  Thoughts of the untold positive downstream results of any thoughtful supervisory intervention.  Thoughts of the lives saved by a kind word or action: the drink of water that came just in time.

Wow.  I am calmed.  I am uplifted.  I am inspired.

It can’t last.

Walking along the natural wash that is now serving as a drainage ditch for a new development near our rented Gilbert house, my subconscious pipes up.  What’s that?  I can’t always hear her the first time, but like the killdeer whose endless, piercing piping punctuates their bob-and-scamper along the edge of the wash, she won’t shut up.

Ribbon of darkness, she says cryptically, channelling Lightfoot.  Let me translate.

Sure, goodness persists in our world with what seems like very little encouragement; so does evil.  Sure, thoughtful actions as a supervisor may have a lasting impact, but what about thoughtless ones?  And if lives have been saved by a kind word at the right moment, have lives also been lost by a cruel word at the wrong moment?

Sigh.  And dagnab it.  I mean, who asked her?

So it looks as if I can’t have the free lunch, revelling in the persistence of good without acknowledging the persistence of evil.  But if I can’t deny the ribbons of darkness, I can sure appreciate the ribbons of green—the actual and the metaphorical—wherever I find them.

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10 Comments

  1. A kind word, a mean word: they can both pierce to the marrow. For a few months, I asked every person who came to the studio to draw a toilet — and
    add a brief thought: Advice for Living. I made it into a poster for sale.
    Surprisingly popular. We all want bite-sized advice — if only to laugh at it
    or to have it confirm our prejudices. My two favourites? “Be kind.” And, “Don’t wait.”

    Your post reminds me our casual words — good and bad — can leave marks on others. Still — sometimes an offhand “mean” comment can change a life, make you realize something about yourself you can fix! Happened to me …and now I am a ribbon of green!

    1. Isabel Gibson

      Barbara – “Buy low; sell high.” But I think “Be kind” beats those . . . As for turning an angry word into something good – now that’s making lemonade!

  2. Jim Taylor

    You wrote, “Sure, goodness persists in our world with what seems like very little encouragement; so does evil.” Your words evoked that line from Psalm 23: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me….” but with a different twist. If I choose my words with thought and care, then indeed goodness and mercy can follow — like a bridal train or a chorus of ducklings, or whatever. But if I choose to be spiteful or malicious, evil will follow me. Better, I think, to leave green ribbons behind….
    Jim

    1. Isabel Gibson

      Jim T – Interesting the images that come to mind, eh? (Ducklings? Waddle, waddle.) When I consider how easily even our good intentions go awry, it’s maybe a wonder that there are any green ribbons at all! Maybe that says something about how much good there actually is in the world.

  3. Your metaphor illuminates the Biblical oases and reminds me of the admonition to know a tree by the fruit it bears. Where I see growth in a person, I also have hope. Even a little. Where I see no change, I know the problem is a whole lot bigger than stasis; normal people grow and flourish. However, I think less in terms of “good” and “evil” than in terms of “fortunate and blessed” and “needing help.” Thanks for sharing the marvelous images and learning of your travels.

    1. Isabel Gibson

      Laurna – Yes, maybe “fortunate” and “needing help” are better descriptors/concepts. I worked with a psychologist once who talked about our “strengths” and our “areas for improvement.” For me, that was a new way of looking at things, but I fear it hasn’t “stuck” real well!

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