Stories for 2002 Stories begin
Along the Sandy River, just to the east of Portland, I pass the cozy picnic restaurants, the Chicken and Dumpling, like flying fishes along side the stream. The grass and ferns glow emerald green against the winter grey damp, I could be in the East, back in Tennessee, North Carolina, Alabama, left face against the mountains. Images swarm from ancient Alabama, of damp green moss on rotting black pine logs. The fluid Sandy, the muddy Cahaba, on the last night of camp, each girl would take a piece of pine bark and drill a hole with it with her green scout knife. We would put a birthday candle in the hole and in the early warm night we all would send our bark ships down the Cahaba, past the towns of our imaginings.
The Job Corps site just west of Corbett has a Chinese dragon at its gate, carved from wood. The dragon follows me down again into the valley of the Columbia, where in the late afternoon the sun hits the mountains as in a Thomas Cole painting. The dragon breathes fire, and out of that stream of fire emerges the cloud princess. She pivots, and her strands of hair leaves smoke trails across the porcelian bluesky and musty cliffs. The landscape becomes a Chinese painting, the pines and snow-topped mountains with each line defined, junks sailed with the currents of the Yangtze.
To the north in Washington, snow lies deep in Snoqualmie Pass. Along the road it is layered like agate, the trees above pattern it like a green tweed coat. Above treeline there is only snow, like whip cream in the freezer. At the parks near the road, children driven from the false villages and dark chasms of Seattle ride down the heaps and hills on their sleds.
School started up today again at Portland State University and so did my Finnish 102. When I got to class, there were only four students there, which made me very sad. But since as always Marjo had started the class half an hour early, students filtered in for the next half hour, while the timely folk were subjected to prying questions:
"Miten sinun joulu on?" Or something like that, whatever "How was your Christmas?" is. Everyone just stared; they were in shock. What was this gibberish?
But then Ralph showed up with his Ducks hat on and told his story about taking his whole family to Tempe for the big
"78 degrees and sunny," he gloated.
Ralph, originally from Hibbing, is close to retirement and wants to visit his friend or cousin the neurosurgeon in Helskinki. Cynthia is a legal secretary and wants to visit her family in Lappland again. Ted is an industrial designer, has visited his relatives as well, and wants to go live for a "long time." Ken's grandfather was Finnish, but he is just now learning who he should visit. Bess is a linguist of Norwegian ancestry. The closest I can get is some Scottish ancestors named Stinson, but it doesnt matter, because I lived in Duluth for a while and got genes through cold osmosis.
A new student walked in, a young neo-hippie with a long pony tail and a little goatee. Since this was 102, Marjo asked:
"Do you know any Finnish?"
"I lived in Finland for a year. I was a rotary club exchange student," he answered. Everyone gasped. Then Marjo made him go to a map and point to where he had lived.
Ralph, Cynthia, and I sit at the back table. Ralph told us:
"I was eating lunch with the vice-president today,"
"He's going to help you with your parking problems?" asked Cynthia.
"No, I told him we need a second year. It's shameful only having one year."
We hope Ralph can pull his strings.
Carlene came in. "I kept rattling the doorknob, but no one would answer," she said. Carlene has been to Finland already even at her young age.
Two new students showed up, two men with dark hair. Marjo asked:
"Do you know any Finnish?"
"My mother is Finnish," answered the robust man in the Hawaiian shirt. Then we had to go around and introduce ourselves again.
"Mina olen Onekas,." said the man in the Hawaiian shirt.
"Mina olen Xavier," answered the older man with the white socks.
"Xavier doesnt sound Finnish," said Marjo.
"My wife is Finnish. This is my son. We named him "Onekas" for good luck..
"Class, do you know what Onekas means?" asked Marjo. No one did.
"It means Lucky," she said.
"Some people cant pronounce the "h" or the "r" so they just call me "Avie."
Lucky and Avie. That has more color than "Ted and Ken."
"Well," laughed Marjo, "Finns have no trouble pronouncing r's." Then she demonstrated. "Rrrrrrrrrr."
Then everyone in class who could roll their "rrrrrrrr's" started commenting and demonstrating as well. The new students chattered excitedly as we read our dialogues.
"Occasionally, a fiddler or folkloric singers come aboard to provide impromptu entertainment. But mostly the entertainment consists of the scenery, and hours can pass by very swiftly while gazing at it. The ships slow down for the waterfalls, enabling passengers to take photos and watch the fluffy sheep and Icelandic ponies grazing on the ledges. "
We crossed the Gulf of Bothnia at Vaasa on the Wasa Queen, which kindly features a Lapin Kulta dispenser on its dinner buffet. In the line a handsome blond ferryman came to us and asked for our passports, looked at them and in disbelief returned to the office for a stamp. He then asked "Can I see the papers for your car?" The ferryman looked long and hard at the papers. Landing at Mariehamn, we had driven past barren grey customs bunkers in the constant grey light. But now leaving Suomi, we were suspicious. It was not unlike our arrival in Newcastle behind a battered VW bus full of Lithuanians.
We arrived in Umeå and the next day drove northwest through Sweden in the grey drizzle, behind caravans and campers. Signs said "Lappland Souvenirs." Slowly the highway rose, slowly the conifers gave way to alder, and alder to krumholz. It is not unlike the trip from Prince George Town to Skagway, but mercifully it is about 10 times shorter. At an undistinguished point in this subtundra, a sign said "Norge," which meant not only that the terrain was refrigerated, but that we were now in Norway. The sign is very modest, much simpler than the sign that says "Welcome To Alaska," but perhaps the spirit, though different, is the same. Shortly, a cowshed appeared on the left, and two officials in yellow fluorescent slickers appeared in the middle of the road with the orange cones..
"Where are you going in Norway?" They asked. As we were driving a German Ford, this was truly proof of English as lingua franca. Another proof was that after three weeks without speaking to a native English-speaking adult, I could not speak to a European with an American accent any longer.
"We are taking a big trip," I explained. "We are going south to Kristiansand to catch a big boat to take us to England, and then we are going back to Germany." The site of wizened alders makes one crazy. I imagined them on lookout for Swedish cars stolen by the immigrant Serbian mafia.
In Norge there are "fjells" created by peneplanation and uplift. Millions of years ago, the land was leveled by erosion to a
gentle plain. Then, because the Earth is a harsh mistress, the plain was thrust far upwards to lie disjointed as desolate cairn
and snow laden tundra near the tops of high brutal mountains. A month out of warm Jena with its American pollen guru
Bob Thompson, we crossed the fjell at the highest pass in northern Europe, and then descended to a village beneath. We
went into the community center-library-cafeteria so I could check my e-mail. My son immediately disappeared into the
library. I stood in the line with my plate of lefse and half percent beer and it was then that I heard:
"Lori, that soup looks good."
She stood there, perhaps a little older than me, greying hair clipped to ear length, white windbreaker, sky blue T-shirt and draw string polyester pants. Her companion, Lori, looked the same but way stockier.
I turned in excitement. "Where are you from?" I asked.
"The United States," she answered in all honesty.
Right "Where from in the United States?"
"We're from Oregon. We're from The Willamette Valley."
"Really?" I answered. "We just moved to The Dalles from Texas."
"Up the Gorge," she commented, with what I recognized as supreme tolerance for pushy domestic alcoholics. "Lovely country isn't?" she asked, but turned hastily and picked up her tray to sit with her companion.
I sat down at my own table, buttered my lefse, and watched the young blonde at the computer with measured patience.
I took Freddie up to Colonel Wright Elementary for Show and Tell. In the large old room with high ceilings, almost all the children, brown and white, raised their hands for comments or questions. They waited their turn until called upon.
"We used to have two cats, but we backed the car into the driveway and the cat was in the driveway."
"We had a cat named after Bart Simpson, but he got parvo and died."
"There are two cats, one from the people next door to the people next door to the people net door named Tony, and the one from the people next door on the other side named Sparky and they would run out in the tall grass and try to catch mice, but there weren't any, but then one time there were lots of mice and Sparky caught one and then he put it in the swimming pool."
"We had a white kitten named Tiny but it isnt Tiny anymore."
"Does your cat crawl under the dryer like ours does?
---No, there isnt any room under our dryer.
Into the dryer. Ours crawls into the dryer.
---No, Freddie doesn't."
And then we went home, in the background the hills and orchards and pines and oaks, Mount Hood's white wizard cap obscured by grey mist.
Horses. Horses are the majestic gods of wasco county. Not even beyond the city limits, wherever a landowner can put a barn, there are horses. You can sit waiting to have your snow tires put on, and the woman sitting next will say to her companion: "That colt wanted out the door. He wanted to go where the hay was."
Two weeks ago, there was constant rain, and because it was so warm, snow melted in the hills, so that the creek by our house was the highest it had been, boiling thrashing past the dead equisetum and walnuts on the lower terrace. I drove up Mill Creek Road, to see how far the fury extended, past orchards and then past ranches, with now useless irrigation wheels on terrace meadows, and past the Mill Creek Grange, past the old homes whose intent had changed with the slow walk of history. Half the ranches had horses on their meadows, hay and horses. It was hard to tell which ranchers were serious. Then the pavement stopped and the valley narrowed, but I drove on up, finally with patches of white beside the road, and then there were fallen rocks on the gravel. On the streamplain to the left there was a pink log cabin, with a pink plywood addition, a no tresspassing sign, and horses grazing. There was only one lane through the rocks and the banks closed in, with pines and fir and solid snow. Then I drove into a clearing, with a yellow backhoe, a pile of tree length longs, and a battered brown and white Road Forger travel trailer. The road in the clearing was mud, it was all mud and it led upward to a narrow curved grade. Was this private property? What kind of people lived here? Would they shoot me? Would my red car get stuck in the mud and then would I starve or freeze? I turned and drove back. I do this often, but someday I will drive on and I will stay.
In college, I took Horseback Riding as PE. I took hockey and fencing as well, but those I hated. In my senior year I learned to jump, first over pieces of wood, but later we took the horses on trail rides. That year I lost my glasses galloping in the snow on trails along clear creek, in the Indiana woods.. If there was a log, we would jump it. People were in that class, both women and men, who had been riding since they were babies. They always gave me the gentlest horse, a greyish white gelding named Tony. On one ride we were cantoring at a clip and Kathleen, a thin shy woman fell and lay breathless on the muddy cold ground. Ugly terror was in her eyes because she could not breathe. "Had the wind knocked out of her," they said. She struggled to her feet and got back on the horse. Once I was jumping a small log and I lost my grip in mid-flight. I hit the ground broken by thorny shrubs, breaking open my upper lip.
"Are you all right?" asked Chip, who later became a rich doctor.
"I guess so," I said. But I wasnt. I could taste the salty blood in my mouth and I felt like I would faint. I felt like I would throw up.
"Do you want me to go back and get my truck?" he asked.
He galloped off on his spirited brown mare. Then he came back with his blue Scout. He drove me back and I went to the student health service.
"Well," said the nurse, "I don't think you need stitches. I'll put this adhesive tape on, so you will still be pretty. You might not care, but your mother will."
I finished the term, but I don't believe I ever rode again after the spring. The bubble had burst.
At first I thought it was from a smokestack, dirty cotton greyer than the grey Portland sky, but traffic slowed at the I-84 switchoff. The sooty cotton puffs came from a old blocky multi-story building, and as I drew closer, flames licked at the timbers as if a campfire. How could anything in Portland be dry enough to burn? Thin parabolic strands of water resembling stretched saliva were aimed at the building. At the OMSI exit on the east bank of the Willamette, I thought of getting off and looking, but did not. I gazed down through the road at the exit and the street was bright red a hundred feet high, like a great heated ingot. Bracketed as it was the street seemed to lead into the gates of hell. I wondered if someone had crashed an Alaskan Air jet into the Portland Ballet. Not in Cascadia!
I tuned off of Kaja Brown's Christian hip-hop show, to which I was dutifully listening, and scanned the FM spectrum. A friendly dj obliged me. "Now you were wondering where all that smoke was coming from!" Not me, I knew where it was coming from, the gates of hell. But he assured me that it was a 4 alarm fire in an abandoned produce warehouse. "They've got the roads blocked off, so don't bother to go look. KSEL has got it covered!"
I decided to go back on 26, south of Wy'east. And then at ZigZag, I saw the blond by the side of the road, thumb out. "Herrenjestas!" I exclaimed and pulled immediately through the slush of the right lane and stopped.
"Where you going?" I asked.
"Just to the Sun Bowl. Government Camp." he said. A strawberry blond with a clipped beard and a rust ski jacket, he was not shy in sharing the details of his life. "I'm sick of this hitching. I've been out here too long. Gotta get my car fixed. I'd fix it but the weather is too bad. But I will tomorrow."
He worked at the Sun Bowl restaurant as "kitchen manager," but did a lot of cleaning to get his 40 hours in. He was 26 and had come up over a year ago from San Antonio with a friend. "It's not like Texas," he said. His friend had called to make sure they could get paid well, since they had to move all the way up to Oregon.
"They offered us $7.10 an hour, so we thought that was pretty good." Not like Texas I guess.
The slush turned to snow, and people pulled off to put on chains and on the other side take them off. 26 was packed with skiers. We pulled into the lot. To my right, the lift glowed with stars against the darkening snow, white as the sky. I let him off and reemerged onto 26.
The road ahead was relatively clear of traffic, but the lane to Portland was stalled for three miles with skiers. A double flammable liquid tanker had stopped in the "middle lane," just stopped with the driver inside, deciding it was just a bad day to drive up from Bend. After my red car passed the end, we hit near-blizzard conditions. I followed in the tracks of a grey SUV at 20 miles an hour. After ten miles, a plough and its yellow lights came through, a string of ten cars behind it. Our own plough was invisible and ineffective, white as everything else. We turned on 35 and passed Mt Hood Meadows and Copper Spur. The snow turned again to slush. At the side of the road, there were 11 buses taking their chains off. Finally it began to rain. I leaned back in my seat. I had had my thrill for the week!
Yorkshire, 2000--Imagine the rustic indoor pool at the Akbar Campground in Wensleydale, famous for its cheeses. Outside the ephemeral drizzle cuts the view of grazing cows. Here there is night.
I walked over to the snack bar, ordered a thing of chips, and then went over to the bar, and ordered a pint of strongbow cider. "You from America?" asked the bartender, who looked like a weightlifter. "Yep." "I was in America for 10 months...my sister lives in Denver." "Where are you from?" I asked. "New Zealand. I really liked the skiing in Denver. I'd like to go back there and live. Hey!" he yelled animatedly. "No running!" He dashed to the pool, "What the bloody hell do you think youre doing?" he screamed at a kid, and then cam back and poured out my cider. I picked up my gargantuan greasy fries at the window, put a lot of vinegar on them and poured out a little pile of salt.
There was a little lounge area where I sat in peace, listening to the people at the next table talk about....my mind fails. But not for long. Ian came over dripping. "I'm getting out. That place is like a mine field. That one girl keeps jumping in on people intentionally. She tried to crack my head open. I'm hungry." "But at least they speak English," I said, giving him a five pound note. I sipped my cider and dragged sour potatoes across salt. He returned with a lot of sausage and fat greasy chips.
Sitting across from us were two wet boys about 10 or so, resembling young raptors, eating greasy chips. One asked me: "Are you from America? Are you here on holiday? Does he carry a gun?" "No gun," I said. "Where are you from?" "Dollington." "Oh, Dollington." Darlington. "Does he carry a knife?" Ian grinned and reached into his backpack. He pulled out the light wood handled knife I had bought him in Finland. The merchant had said, "This knife is good for if you have to meet up with the big animal on the handle." One boy had bought a knife with a fish on the handle. I personally thought Ian would be more likely to need a filet knife. Ian flashed the huge steel blade of Slayer of Reindeer In the Taiga. The raptors stared. Ian said nothing.. "His name is Bobby," the small one continued. He's my cousin. We're here with our grandparents."
The next day, we bought a small inflatable boat for ten pounds, I blew it up and Ian took it to the little pond. When I went to find him, Bobby was pushing the wee boat around with Ian and his cousin in it. "I've lost my bleedin' shoe. My grandad's gonna kill me!" The bottom of the pond is a gooey muck.
At night you can lay in your tent and the flashes of light and bass booms will seem just like fireworks or an approaching storm. If you drive North from Leyburn to Richmond, over the moor, however, you will see signs that say "Military Range."
At Oregon Employment the clerk asked a woman, "What was it you were interested in doing? I need to put something down here." Clerks always smile here in The Dalles. The woman is in her forties and is wearing a blue cotton velvet vest with gold trim. She has brown hair. "I don't know. Maybe working with animals." "Veterinary assistant? What have you done before?" "I've never had a job before. Just done volunteer work." The clerk smiled, "Why don't you take this form and sit down and list some things you would like to do?" Stand for hours at a check out counter. Clean motel rooms.
1994 was a good year to travel. I had with me two children, one and five and we went to Scotland. It was the last year we went cheap and spare. It was my first year with the new version of my family.
At Perth, we turned left, and stopped at a campground in Crieff, flat and littered with dull olive striped stationary caravans and with European tourists. There was no room for us. We drove on, and ten miles along saw a tent sign...and pulled in to a tan stone farm house. Then we drove up the narrow gravel road. Unlike most UK campgrounds, this one was formed along a winding stream gully, with the sites terraced. The large, flat sites were taken by an international conference of Pentecostalists, whom I would know to sing all nite. I drove the blue Vauxhall up farther, steeper, as if in the interior of a tree branch. Cars from the UK were clustered at the end, with their big house tents. At the very end, though, I stopped in a site that was difficult to pitch with one of those villas. Obscured by trees on the down side, it was the tip of the branch, bounded on two sides by wire fence and cow pasture that ran up great hills.
It was here that I first let Ian walk to the bathroom himself, at age five a victim of sibling displacement. The bathrooms themselves were world war II surplus steel, with floors that had real linoleum and a terrifying give. You could imagine the thrifty owners saying "Ach, lets buy these for ten pounds apiece, start a campground in that useless wee burn." We felt the same way about opening cans for meals and eating cold; let's pretend we're really camping here. Who needs a fire when there are distilleries nearby?
"You could just drive down to the toilets," said my neighbor in the huge villa, a battered black Peugeot overlapping the lane.
"I hate to back this thing. I can never get used to the steering wheel on the right," I said.
"You from America?" he said. "I could back it up for you."
"Yes, no, but thank you. Where are you people from?"
"Newcastle." He stopped to correct one of his boys whom Ian had been playing with. Boys trip a lot over their own feet. "Come in and sit awhile."
So we did. They gave me Newcastle Ale and they wore Newcastle jackets. There were beds and a stove, built in, and things were unpacked nicely, like a real house. You could look out over the east pasture through the plastic windows.
The night was long to come, and when it did, I lay in my down bag and listened the sound of a lone Highland Piper coming over the dark hills.
Group I is at a restaurant. One of us, Carlene, has to be the waitress.
"Mina olen kasvisyoja." I say. "Mike on hyva?" I'm a vegetarian. What is good?
"Ei taalla!" Says Carlene. "Not here!" and pulls the menu away.
"Halutan olutta." I say. "Niin, saan vain vetta." I'm angry now. There is no beer ("olutta") on the menu, so I am stuck with "vetta," or water. Carlene, the author, is underage and can't serve alcohol.
Group II fares better. Onie has prepared a menu called "Ravintola Rasvainen Hirvi" The Greasy Moose Restaurant. He serves olutta, punaviinia, and valkoviinia...and greasy moose.
Kalakeitto--fish soup. "That's the stuff you put the fish heads in, huh, Ralph," I asked.
"That's what gramma always did.. See the flavor's in the glands around the gills."
"You cook it long enough, it all turns to gelatin anyway. What kind of fish did you use?" offered Ted.
"Pojoinenpaukki," said Ralph, in the slur he learned from his childhood.
"What's that?" I asked.
"It's a kind of pike...northern pike..." I could feel the skin sliding away under the knife.
I rolled my eyes. "I know that. Was that up in Hibbing?"
"Hibbing, Ely...we were in the logging camps."
The he said, "I'm the oldest living Tuoli...it used to be Tuoliainen, but they shortened it. There were four of us."
Carlene said "That's nothing. I'm the oldest of eleven. The youngest is six months."
Ted had been thinking about death. "All my grandparents died of heart attacks. It is like you know your fate."
"Grandpa died of kidney failure, but it was from drinking too much," said Ralph. "In northern Minnesota you either die from alcoholism or from being shot by a jealous husband."
I bought a whole case of your cookies from my neighbor.
They're not worth $4.
I already spent $200 on groceries.
Is that your grandmother helping you?
Erin and I sat by the subfreezing automatic door of Fred Meyer. Hypothermia was closing in. On our table lay stacks of Campfire Candy:
At first I thought the man in the suit and cane was just a smart ass. He kept hanging around, not an ordinary transient looking for a warm place, but very different, like an English gentleman. He'd say things like:
"I like that hat. How long have you had it?"
And being the Dalles, folks would smile and say,
"I like it too. I've had it since 1967."
"Find everything OK?"
"Yes, certainly! Thank you!"
Then I noticed the Fred Meyer badge on his coat.
"What is your position at the store?" I asked.
"I'm on light duty," he paused. "I'm in the meat department."
"The meet department?" I said.
He was nonplussed. "I'm the head meat cutter. I had an accident a couple weeks ago on the job, so the doctor said I cant turn my head. So they gave me this job.and I get my usual wage. I get $16 an hour to do this. I'm the highest paid employee...the highest paid wage employee in the store. This really bothers them. They don't mind so much if the bottle clerk is on light duty."
"You seem to have a sort of knack for this. Sort of a savoir faire."
He walked up to me. "You see what it says on this badge?"
"It says "Since 1982. I've had this job for 20 years. Before that I worked at Safeway for ten. I'm used to meeting the public."
"You certainly dress for it."
"I have about 10 sport coats. They're worth about a dollar at Goodwill, so I keep 'em hanging. These white shirts...always wear white shirt and a tie on the job. A while back I bought some black Tshirts, had pockets in them so I could put a pen in them, then they said I couldnt wear black, had to wear grey, so I went back to wearing white shirts and a tie.
"Hmm!" I said.
"It bothers them that I get four weeks vacation. But I'm retiring next year. Got two houses here, I'm selling one of them...moving to a retirement place in Arizona.
"Its pretty hot there in Phoenix," I said.
He continued, "Not in Pheonix, in Tucson. Its further south but higher up, so it's cooler. It's a gated community, two gates you have to get through. Just senior citizens, 55 years and older. No kids."
"No kids, hear that Erin!"
"You can have your grandchildren there, but no kids living there, no bikes and stuff. By the time you're my age you're ready for it."
He didnt look much older than me. I wondered if I would ever not want other kids around.
Later, a man walked by and gave us a dollar. "It's a donation," he said.
Then Larry came by and said "That guy's from New Zealand. That was a Superbowl bet. He didnt know anything about the Superbowl so I said, "I bet you a dollar, you want a west or east coast team? And he said "West Coast."
"You look like a floozy in that dress."
When I was in high school, my father, who was almost 60, would buy me an outfit every month. An observer would think, how lucky! First we would go to Yieldings in the tiny mall in Vestavia. My father liked Yieldings. Then I tried on outfits until my father saw something he liked. Sometimes my mother would say:
"I like the tailored look."
I tried to find a balance between my parents and the kids at school. Luckily in the mid-60s, both preferred a conservative look. The voice of contemporary disfunctionality analysis whispers "Your parents loved you, Judy." But I think not here, I think they loved the tailored look.
I learned to drive the second summer I tried, when I was 17 and had graduated from high school. I was restricted to driving for 2 weeks per each attempt with a AAA instructor, my father's thoughts being that I could not be trusted to practice until I actually had a license. He let me drive his car, a powder blue Thunderbird, only once, descending the Green Springs Highway down Shades Mountain. It was pretty scary and he never did it again. So when I got my license, he set out to buy a car. He drove all sorts of cars...fords, chevys, renaults, volvos. One day we were in a chevy show room on the Southside and he saw a shiny gold camaro with turbo-glide. He gasped:
"What do you think of that one?"
I thought it had 4 wheels and an engine and he might buy it.
"Oh its beautiful!" I exclaimed.
And that was how I came to "own" my 1968 Camaro, Alma LuVerne.
One day, my friend Cathy and I drove down the Montgomery Highway to Montevallo to check out the college. Returning we pulled into a Dari-Freez in ALabaster and picked up a couple shakes. Cathy was driving and took the turn out too sharp and Alma LuVerne hit the drainage ditch.. It was as if the bottom had dropped out of the road. A thick liquid ran down my face. Were we still alive?
"God, Judy, you have milkshake all over your face!!" She couldn't stop laughing.
I wiped off my face. We got out and scrambled up the bank. How do we get out of this one?
No difficulty. We stood by the side of the road, a blonde and a dyed redhead in bell bottoms. A Holsum bread van pulled over real quick.
"You ladies in some difficulty?" the driver asked. "Let me get this chain out of my van."
He put the chains on Alma and pulled with the bread truck. She came to the road surface like a cat at the vet.
"Thank you so MUCH!!!" Cathy exclaimed. We got in the car and she lit up a Cigarette. I drove.
I slowed down at Pelham for the speed sign. There was so much mud on the tires that Alma didnt stop, she just skidded completely around on that cement four-lane. My heart jumped into my throat. But no one was behind us. The skids left big clods of blood red mud all over the road.
The white minivan ahead of me in the Mayport Ferry queue has Georgia plates and two fluttering American flags on its roof supports. The owner comes back to check the cooler and she also has a vest made from an American flag. The ferryman, a black gent, resembles the statue boy on the lawns of my childhood. Unlike the white men, his arms move in huge sweeping gestures and he bows and tips his hat as he assigns lanes. His huge teeth shine like oysters, like shells on the white sand beach, as he grins. "Have a good weekend!" he greets in parting.
On the right, you can eat a blackened grouper sandwich for lunch at the Sand Dollar. While you drink your ice tea, you can see the small ferry, ragged shrimp boats, the Happy Dollar Casino boat, and a huge saltie from Singapore moving out to sea with containerized cargo. There is not much more here human, shrimp stores, a couple bars, sport fisherman. Over the bridge to Talbot Island there is the road and the ocean and the land.
The land far below is Eocene, 50 million years old, in gentle coastal plain tilt, but more immediately below are the sands and clays of the Miocene Hawthorne Formation. On the ridge tops are Quaternary coquinas...carbonate rocks made almost entirely of shells...from some high stand of sea level. The sands here on this barrier are white as the snow on the clearcuts of the Cascades.
The trail is to Black Rock Point. Across the road is salt marsh...a wildlife preserve...but this land is dry because the clean sand does not hold water. Along the sides are pines...pond pines perhaps, live oak, a few streaks of Spanish moss, magnolias, ericaceous shrubs, in dense thickets. Sometimes there are palms, towards the ocean there are broad thickets of sabal pametto, fans in the February breezes. The air is a song of birds, there are so many and they move so often.
By the ocean is a cold winter beach. Live oaks and palms lie dead like whales on the beach, perpendicular to the ocean, stripped branches like schools of smelt. The black rock is four inches thick and if it is wet, you can kick it and pieces will come off. This little layer of pitted peat is from a time when this beach was salt marsh, the shore was farther out and perhaps sea level was lower. In the cut bank that separates the beach from the woods, there is a lense of large shells, perhaps what they call a "storm deposit." Now on the beach there are only a few scattered oyster shells. The shell beds are similar to the walls of slave quarters across the bridge, slowly falling to ruin with time.
The ocean extends for thousands of miles. It is the grey-brown color of The Hood and though you cannot readily see it, it is moving sand particles down the coast.
Bracketed by my class Wednesday nite and my little radio show on Sunday at noon, and by 3000 miles of air travel between secondary airports, I had less time than I ever had at folk alliance. The $198rt 11:55pm flight out of Portland didn't do much for my mental alertness, and the wonderful field trip...nothing to see in Jacksonville, Ha!....took some time.
I came back with about twelve usable CDs, the other 8 mostly compulsory I am taking in to the s/s dj at KPSU who says he's gotten about 15 promos so far. This has been my first year as a dj doing what you folks call "world" music. My target was European, however, I was willing to pick up angloceltic and amer traditional as well. I did one session at the exhibithall. Many of the label and regional booths...realWorld, Shanachie, Quebec, Appleseed...were unmanned. I went past the German Profolk booth and found there were no performers this time, they just had the wonderful sampler. Northside obviously wasnt there. The Swedish concert dude gave me ONE additional Swedish album...and even though I attended the entire small nordic showcase I only got a CD from one of the bands, Zar, from the unmanned Danish booth. I heard Toolie (Irish-nautical) jamming in the hall and that was about my only "contact" CD.
The official showcases were for the most part not along my official lines, so most of the stuff I was really interested in started at 11:30. In fact most of the stuff actually took place at 11:30 sharp. This meant that I couldn't just drop by and pick something up because there were a limited number of places to be at one time. Like maybe 3 or 4 showcases at one time.
Having gone to NW Folklife in Seattle last summer, I know there are zillions of American ethnic folk performers. Very few were at FA, however, and those were the ones that always come and I already have their CDs.
Cleveland was sort of the apex for that sort of thing. To be fair, though, most of 'em don't give a &^& about radio anyway. Well, the upshot of all this is that being in a "minority" genre it would be great if I could at least have some way of picking up whatever few CDs that are available. I think having a "box" that shouts "POLKA!!! CELTIC!!! FOLK DANCE!!!" would be enough to scare off most singersongwriters. I cant IMAGINE getting too many promos!
So maybe I try to go to Essen for WOMEX this fall, cut class and come back with a better selection of CDs for not much more $$$$ investment, richtig?
Well, I actually had a great time. I did see a lot of music, Vance Gilbert sure must do weird house concerts! Loretta and her hardanger, the Swedish accordionist, the aquavit. Keelaghan. Welsh cow horns. Sitting in the mosh pit for sacred steel, "Praise the Lord!" Listening to Deb Cowan do backup vocals. The trip to the beach was great (I am, after all, a paleoecologist), the free food on the "Concorde" floor was great even though the new girl accused me of stealing a diet coke (they were free), the long chat with the good looking s/s in the hot tub was great, nice room with no kids was great. But I did feel for the first time that this was not really "my" conference. When thingf trim down to manageable size for the mainstream, the little genres get cut accordionly.
A couple other "complaints" though that I have:
1) Dancing...where were the dance classes? I've had a great time learning Morris and Eastern European dances...and the evening dances with the hotbands?
2) Singing...well, I know where the SH wasn't. In Toronto Ed Miller and someone else did a public singing in one of the rooms. Where did these go?
In the autumn of 1972, after I graduated and with no where to go, I drove to Iowa. My last roommate, Joan, was studying poetry with Kurt Vonnegut at Iowa Writer's Workshop. Like myself and many of my best friends, she looked about 14. Her constant companion a rum and coke, she read poems about running, dyinrses, the blood and eyes popping like sweat from their bridled faces.
One day, we decided to drive to Wisconsin. Joan had a friend from the English department at Earlham named Barb who lived near Sun Prairie. The trip upwards was sunny and uneventful. Barbara lived with her boyfriend and a Beagle named Petey in a small modern rental house, on a farm near Madison. We sat on the long lawn and watched the unnamed river. A silver boat appeared with men inside, the men with camouflage suits and long guns, a sudden invasion.
Barbara rose up and yelled, "Petey come here!"
The men did not move.
"Don't shoot! Those ducks are pets!"
"This is a public waterway. If they are pets, you keep them in!" said one of the men sternly. But he did not raise his rifle. Barbara stood and watched until they had gone downier.
We drove back to Iowa early in the morning. Near Dodgeville, with the sun rising in my face, I went to pass the slow car in front. Swinging into the left lane, I came face to face with a ford pickup. Brainless, I kept going onto the left shoulder but could not brake fast enough. Alma Luverne came fatally face to face with the Carboniferous.
"Are you OK?" I asked Joan. Neither of us were wearing our seatbelts.
"Yes," she answered in her usually mild manner. "Are you?"
I really was not, because I had slammed my elbow against the black steel of the door. But it was a secret.
I got out and stared at Alma. There was limestone and grass in the radiator, which had earlier been mildly crunched at a fast stop of a black '54 Buick on National Road in Richmond. The owner had just shrugged when he saw his bumper. But now, Alma's left front fender was crunched, preventing wheel from moving.
"Are you OK?"What happened?" asked a woman. She had been in the pickup and had called the police. In a moment the Dodge County Deputy arrived.
"Are you OK?" He asked. Then he asked me for my drivers license.
"I don't have it," I said. He had one leg that was strait at the knee. He did not walk well. I figured he'd been shot in the war.
"You don't have it or you don't have one?"
"I don't have it. It was a paper license and I washed it so it fell apart. I applied for a copy and my father was going to send it to me..."
He looked at me. And then I said,
"They just have paper licenses in Alabama. It's kinda backwards."
"You know where I'm from? Mississippi! You think Mississippi is backwards?"
That's when we got to ride in a patrol car to the Dodgeville, Wisconsin jail, myself to be held in custody for not having a drivers license in my immediate possession.
"Hey, I have a AAA card!" What luck! "Will this $50 bail bond here on the back work?"
I guess so. I guess I was sure to jump bail and they would get the $50 from AAA.
They had towed poor Alma somewhere. Joan and I walked out onto the highway and there we were, two 14 year olds in bellbottoms, hitching. A car stopped immediately, the first of three lone men, kind men who liked young women and whom we would tell giggling the story of our wreck, in that sad still morning. And then I waited in Iowa City for two days.
My father called, "You sure totaled that car! You are lucky you are ALIVE!!! But they gave me $300 in trade on trade for a '67 Dodge Charger. They say it's a real nice car for a girl. You can drive back to Alabama now, your fun is over"
"It didn't look that bad to me," I said. I figured it would drive if they straitened the fender a little, but maybe the axle was bent.
So I rode the bus to the Chevrolet Dealership in Dodge Chargerville and picked up the car. It was hideous, but the wheels worked.
In February, he called me in Des Moines. "They want me to send the title on the Camaro so they can sell it. They got a racket going up there. I sure got gypped on that one." Bunch of slick guys up in Wisconsin.
-Did you actually see written Finnish words when you were growing up, I asked.
-Oh yeah, Gramma read the newpaper in Finnish. She got The Communist Worker...Työmies. It came from Vancouver, answered Ralph.
What do you remember, grandmother?
"RURAL" is stamped on my birth certificate. In those days, there was no municipality where we lived on the middle mountain. Shades Mountain looked down over the valley to Red Mountain, where Great Vulcan, God of the Forge, looked down on the Valley of Birmingham, the Magic City. We had three acres at the crest, looking both ways, like Janus.
In the back yard, which faced Vulcan, we had a grey cement block barbecue and a bed of gravel. I ran along the cement blocks at the side, full tilt fell into the smooth quartz pebbles. WHAM!
"You were almost three then," said my mother.
"It was what they call a 'greenstick fracture,'" said my father.
There were mysterious words written on the plaster of paris on my left arm. The gauze around my fingers was hot and sweaty, and grew grey and dirty.
They shot off fireworks from the TV stations on Red Mountain on the 4th of July. We sat in our backyard on metal chairs and watched, my parents and Nana and Georgie, my mother's parents. The sparklers in my hand patterned light through the air. In the early evening, you could see lightening bugs, and catch them in jars. Now, my younger daughter draws lines with sparklers and sets off fireworks in the basalt gravel driveway. Where are the little bugs?
Would you like to swing on a star, carry moonbeams home in a jar? I put a thick plastic sheet on the small screen of our televison. Then I drew a line in crayon so that Winky-Dink, cartoon Star, could cross the chasm.
The cocker spaniel T-bone that I got for my birthday had a coat the color of a caramel apple. One day I asked where he was,
"T-bone ran off to New York," my mother said.
It grieved my parents so much that he'd been run over on Shades Crest Road that they did not buy another for years, but it did not bother me much. It was my grandfather's dog, not mine, and followed him everywhere.
I had black velvet pumps with gold braid around the foothole. I stood on the lawn at Junie Garza's and watched while the other children played. Her father was a dentist.
I stood in the dusty playground at Mrs Honea's school on Diaper Row, near the boundary of Homewood and Birmingham. It was called Diaper Row because the returning vets from the war lived there with their young families. My mother and grandfather...my mother never learned to drive...talked with Mrs. Honea.
"You could leave her in kindergarten another year, but she would just be bored." Mrs. Honea's private first grade depended on Scorpios like me who missed the September deadline for public school. Such fools. White or nigra, there was no way to beat the boredom of the Jefferson County School System.
I spun around again on the Merry-go-whirler.
All this has passed through these cold fingers, one more round bartender, make it a double if you can.
Evijärvi, Finland, 2000. At Evijärvi, you can rent a small cabin and you can sit on the porch while your hand-washed clothes dry. There is almost no difference between sitting on a porch outside Evijärvi and a porch outside Nevis or Menahga, except when someone tries to talk to you.
A couple without a car was staying at a middle cabin in the loop. The woman was a gaunt blonde and the man had black hair. I thought they were maybe Russians. They looked Russian. One day the man came up and asked me:
"Are you going to the meat market?" He didnt speak very good English, ususual for someone his age.
"No," I answered distinctly, "today I am just driving to Kaustinen." I couldnt imagine going to a meat market. The term made my skin crawl.
Three minutes later I realized he meant "grocery store." There were no longer meat markets here. What a fool I had been. What stories would he have told during the five minute drive into Evijärvi proper?
In the morning my son Ian would sit on the beach and stage battles amongst the green plastic soldiers he had bought at a gas station in Sweden. Every so often, he would sit on the porch with Slayer of Reindeer in the Taiga and whack off a bayonet.
In the afternoon, we would drive for 20 minutes into Kaustinen. Why is there an album called Kaustinen, Texas? Because, despite its mystique, Kaustinen looks very much like Caldwell, Texas. There is a homey feel of cruising the Kolache Fest without the compelling heat of September in Texas. There was never a problem parking. People parked along Highway 21, but also you could park on the dirt lot. On the last day we returned to our silver German ford. Nearby was parked a brown 1981 Volvo in poor condition. Both the owner, with dirty ash blond hair and snaggly yellow teeth, and the vehicle stood out against the Finnish Welfare State that surrounded them. Whenever someone walked close, the shabby man would ask for money, and the passerby, being Finnish, would seem confused and concerned. I talked loudly in English to Ian, and the man left me alone. But now I could say "Mene pois...en viitsi!"
The year before, I'd walked up to the food kiosks...raukakioskille...which look very similar to food booths at the North Texas Irish Festival or Cropredy.
"What is this?" I asked.
"It's a BURRR-Ritto," said the vendor. "Want a taste?"
But this year, I stopped at a fish place. Tiny silver fish sizzled blackened in a giant wok.
"What are those?" I asked.
The vendor, a hansome wiry blond, answered, "We call them "muikku."
"What?" I asked."
"We call them 'little fish,'" answered the man.
So I bought little fish, and then another day I bought a salmon plate (lohi is the Finnish word for salmon). The lohi plate on yellow styrofoam cost about $5, the fish was very thick, and the potatoes ("perunat") were very good.
One evening we stood in line in the main Kansanmusiikii building, waiting for the special kantele concert in the auditorium. It had stalled because one of the players had stalled somewhere on the highway. We were right by the café area, where attendees of a buffet were sampling several types of potatoes and makkara. A polka band was playing for the buffeteers, while a Turkish band on the main stage played above close circuit.
Then two blond people walked up. The man next to us, who looked to much an ethno- hippie to be a native, said very distinctly:
"yes, hello, how are you?" Damn, a Brit, right next to us in line!
The woman answered him cooly, the way Nordic women speak.
"I'm camping," he explained distinctly.
"Oh?" said the woman.
"I've got back problems. So now I have a new air mattress. It is very comfortable," he said distinctly.
"This is my friend Risto," introduced the woman. Risto was a tall robust blond and his English was not good. The Englishman spoke even more loudly distinctly.
"I am moving to Finland now. My wife has a job in Turku."
"Oh?" said the woman.
"I am going to write about Finland. I am going to write about the everyday things Finns do from the viewpoint of a foreigner."
We saw the Briton later, sitting alone with a glass of wine.
"I was going to ask him about his back," Ian commented.
I would stay out later, into the white night, but Ian always got bored at 11pm. We would drive home to our little warm cabin with the dim twilight guiding our path on black pavement through the metsä, our headlights superfluous. Always, though, the sun would set and at 2am it would be dark. As you go north, the night becomes brighter and later. When we would later drive into subarctic Norge, this would not be the case, it would be grey all night.
The old man sat on the retaining wall outside Fred Meyer. Weatherbeaten face, long grey matted locks, ragged clothes, everything spoke of the open road.
"Hey," he asked slyly when he saw me, "you need an old man?"
I shook my head, smiled, and walked on past the bottle and can redemption machine. Oregon imposes a 5c deposit on fizzy drinks, and the Fred Meyer machines are a popular place for bums to gather. At last I had found a great way to meet men in The Dalles: picking up litter. I dumped my shopping bags in the trash can at the front of the store and then went in, avoiding Larry from the meet department.
Picking up trash as a service project began in a selfish way. One day there was an unusual amount of trash on the other side of the creek we live on, property owned by the Mid-Columbia Senior Center, known for its hopping Bingo games on Thursday and Saturday nights. I scrambled over rocks and slid down embankments, finding more than I had bargained for. The thrill became addictive and now I have picked up litter all over the Mid-Columbia region..
Cascadian ecoterrorists and treesitters in Salem and Olympia mandate recycling opportunities which half the population welcomes with open arms, but the other half makes up for this legistlation by generating huge amounts of litter. Perhaps organized recycling and pristine landscapes are just not part of the Mexican ethnic tradition, nor part of the tradition of the American West. And picking up the litter is a good way to excercise, work outdoors, and see the sites. Sometimes, when the shoulder is narrow up against a basalt escarpment, it is dangerous work. Oregon would not have to scramble over assisted suicide laws if terminally ill patients would just go and pick up litter along the Historic Highway.
One day I was over to a Klickitat County pull-off near where I buy gas at Jim's Dallesport RV Campground and Store. I have not bought gas in Oregon since I drove the second U-Haul in during August of 2000. In Washington I can still be self-sufficient and ram the nozzle into the gas tank myself. In Oregon buying gas is just a passive act of paying to have some guy shove the nozzle in. At the pulloff the cigarette butts were as think as winter wheat in the fields of the Tygh Valley. I gave up on them and went for the big stuff: cardboard cups, styrofoam cups and popcorn, Camel packs...one with squashed new cigarettes still in it, plastic shopping bags, a broken license plate holder reading "Hood River," chip bags, nacho containers. Then my toe hit something in the weeds by some basic igneous rip rap. "Damn, " I said. "An entire jack!" It was a blue metal tire jack. I hoisted it into the Windstar. Maybe someone recycled iron. A minute later I looked behind more rocks. In the crevice was a metal pipe and on top of the pipe laye a couple of plastic tubes, like the tubes you use to core soft sediments in a lake. I picked up the clear pink pastel tube. It had a bulb on it which read "Happy Hookah Water Pipe!" "Well," I reasoned, "Someone has stashed their hash pipes here." So I put back the pink tube. Bouzoukis, rembetika and narghiles danced through my head. Suddently I was in the backstreets of Athens.
But on that day, I'd just been in the little triangular park on the way to Fred Meyer. The park wasn't so fertile, though the plastic Coke bottle I'd left lie on Monday was still there. Over against the building, the abandoned former home of Dave's Pizza,.someone had left an entire box of used fluorescent bulbs and then someone else had smashed them against the bark chips into tiny thin white shards. I sighed in resignation. The broken glass I always leave.
Sidney, BC, 2002
Through the grey fogbound straits where the Cedars Stand watching...
It is a three hour ride from Anacortes to Sidney through the San Juan Islands. The boat slips pasttall forested islands, most rimmed by vacation homes like oranges beginning to mold It stops at Orcas and Friday Harbour and Haines to load and unload. On the final island of the San Juans, the white moldy spot is very large, and here we disembark.
The customs line is 45 minutes long, cars twisting in a semi-circle during the wait. Near us, a hoser agent beckons the opening of a Uhaul towing a battered silver suburu hatchback with Washington plates. He shifts a few packing cloths and then the Uhaul pulls out for Victoria or points to the North. The north end of vancouver Island is farther than the distance we have driven from Oregon. But it is only about a quarter of the height of British Columbia.
Ahead and to the side, Canadian customs opens the hatches of two small cars driven by men. Ahead of us, however, the two white teenager-laden rental vans ahead of us go through quickly.
"Where are you going? Where are you from?" asks the agent. "Are you carrying any fire arms?"
"No," I say.
"Carrying any food?"
"I think I have a Mexican pastry left." You can get these at either Albertson's or Fred Meyer. "Popcorn and jellybeans," added Erin from the back seat.
"Are you carrying any firearms? Any mace?" the agent asks again.
"No," I answered.
"You don't have a hand gun under your seat?"
"No," I answered and then burst out laughing. The agent smiled.
"What's that on the seat beside you?"
"It's a computer." I lifted the pillow. My HP Pavilion was cradled between a comforter and a pillow. One bump and it would blow up and I would have to load Windows again.
He waved us on.
One night I ate in the Impressions restaurant at the base of the Harbour Towers hotel. I ordered eggplant-spinach ravioli and select fresh vegetables and a pint of Homer.
"They have two Filipino women who do it. They get paid $50 an hour." said a woman by the window."
"She was a daughter of a billionaire, so she did things in her own way," said a man by the next window.
I listened to the women behind me.
"She married a poor Dutch painter. She is part royal in descent..."
"She was Russian, then..."
"Yes, she was. They've been married 50 years...50 years of misery. He's been on oxygen for two years...."
"Now there's a case of being nice to someone and then they bite your hand right off."
My mind drifted. My memories were drawn by a nice young man on the deck of the Washington State Ferry. His strawberry blond pony tail blew with the wind in the light grey March Sky of the Juan de Fuca. I like the impish look of men with strawberry blond hair. Then my thoughts drifted to my screen idle Orlando Bloom, with his cute, impish ears. I would rather be eating with either of these men than by myself.
The woman behind me said, "The younger Jim McNeal seems like such a good family man. He goes to soccer games and things like that all the time, but he is SUCH a womanizer."
I took a bite of my half baby carrot, slushing it down with a sip from the dark pint.
Ocean Beach, Washington, 2002: I thrust the Travel Coupon Book at the clerk and asked, "Will this work?" and she said yes. Paradise was again ours. Free continental breakfast, hot tub and pool, plus miniature golf in the second floor conference room.
"Hey, lets make our own configurations!" said Ian, pulling two rectangles of floor carpet into one.
"Hey, look, try not and hit any of those balls towards the windows!"
When Erin and I went out in the morning, it was pouring rain. We set out over the vegetated dunes. Here there were no trees, no palms, just grasses and a few scattered ericaceous shrubs on the tumultuous ground. We dodged the lakes in the swells.
"There's a duck." Erin pointed at a lone green mallard head.
The rain had lessened to a drizzle. The land became level, bare, and damp, sloping so slowly to the Pacific that each wave would roll in for 20 feet. The beach was dark like the wallpaper in a Portland restaurant, the sand patterned and tricolored. The chocolate-colored silt and clays are lighter and are held longer by the waves than the white quartz. The mafics...the dark minerals, a legacy of Pacific rim subduction and vulcanism...have a higher specific gravity, and are left behind to form patterns, sometimes rippled, sometimes herringbone, like the snow...like snow on the branches of rainforest cedars. On the coast of the Olympic peninsula., the herringbone patterns of young hemlock and Sitka spruce are wallpaper on the mausoleum of clearcut carnage.
That early in the day, there were no other people, just birds. Gulls patrolled the intertidal areas waddling like obese security guards, tiny snipes skittered like little raptors. Half sand dollars and crabs lay like chicken bones at KFC.
"Look. This crabs loved ones would see nothing recognizable when they found these remains," said Erin in disapproval. "Those gulls pick these sand dollars up and drop them to break them open," she added, suggesting a future in zoology.
"Look," said Erin. "A fort." Someone had dug into the sand and built a cottage like the tree forts we had as children. They had used drift logs on the sides and top. Erin found more, and fortified the roof, lashing the edges with a length of found rope.
To the west, there was nothing between ourselves and Japan but the silty chai latte waves and a white fishing boat.
.Horse With No Name" holds a dear place in my life, as it is a memory marker. When I visited my friend Joan in Iowa City in 1972, shortly before we crashed the car in Dodgeville, Wisconsin, we visited a bar called The Deadwood with some of her friends from Iowa Writers Workshop. At the time, The Deadwood was in an old building on Dubuque Street. Someone in the bar had put a dime in the jukebox and started up Horse With No Name. One of the poets asked "Who is that by?"
And I said, using an assumption, "Neil Young."
Everyone believed me. Like horrible mistakes often are, it is the only memory I have of the early Deadwood.
The Deadwood was soon to meet the same fate as my Camaro. In the winter, the roof collapsedwith the weight of snow. No one was in the building at the time, but that goes to show what bad shape the bar was in in the first place. The Iowa City Government replaced that whole block, which stood long afterward like vacant ghosts, with Portable Modulars placed dead in the middle of the street. By the time I got back, The Deadwood was a portable modular mainstay. When I was in grad school at Iowa, there were three places we would go to drink: Nickelodeon, Joe's and The Deadwood. The Nickelodeon was painted entirely black inside, except for some fluorescent squiggles. Nothing went on there, but there wasnt much smoke. Joe's was crowded and popular. Brian Witzke and John Swade often played the pinball machines there; this was inthe days before electronic games. The trick was to manhandle the machines so your balls would get a lot of points. Witzke at 23 was tall and built like a 14 year old, all angles and bones, big teeth. A pretty goofy guy, smart too, once I saw a pastel green pop test that he'd screwed up on hanging around the paleo lab. He'd written his name "Brain Kerwitz." Why? Actually it hung around and gathered carbonate fossil dust for months, so I saw it a bunch. He had a certain lanky grace as he shoved and jerked the ball track back and forth after 3 or 4 beers.
But once I was sitting with the boys in The Modular Deadwood. With us as well were a couple ofolder guys (like maybe late 20s) who'd been to Viet Nam. One whom we called Stork, because he liked the girls, was from Cedar Rapids, and had been in the infantry. The other was called Raven, in place of an unpronouncable Danish surname. He was from Cedar Falls and had been an army journalist because of his English degree from UNI. Later he would be known as Bob from Anchorage, but that is another story. Both were to later get high paying oil jobs. Brian Witzke would later stay and work at the Iowa Geological Survey all his life. John Swade would die in a few years of cancer from using tetrabromoethane to pick conodonts, which are tiny microfossils from the Paleozoic. I would end up in rural Oregon studying Finnish 103.
One evening, we all sat in the Deadwood at a wooded table coated with an inch of polyurethane. In those days you could get a beer for 40c in a plastic cup, like those used today at Raquet Club keggers. Witzke was onto something. He was smiling, like always, and said "Dammit, that's a bunch of bulls t." He pounded his fist on the table. A full plastic cup of beer flew into the air, hit the table on its side. All the Miller ended up on the lap of my ragged bell- bottoms.
"Thank you," I said.
Strollers stop at our bridge to watch the churning grey waters of Mill Creek, though the latter carry this spring only a fraction of the power they have in the past. Mill Creek arises in the east foothills of the Cascades, in two forks which join, their collective waters tumbling past fir and hemlock, past ponderosa, past meadows and double wide manufactured homes of weird hermits. Then The City Of The Dalles traps them in a municipal water reservoir, ignoring the pesticide rich Columbia that Snakes at its feet. Released, the waters pass meadows with mares and cows and llamas, upscale homes, and orchards. Finally, Mill Creek passes our house, 20 feet and 2 terraces below our back door.
The Dalles means "ledges of rock," in our case the Plateau Basalts. They all look about the same. Our town is filled with them; one minute you could be walking down a street and the next WHAM! you've stepped 40 feet off A Dalle onto the Church of Christ Scientist. After it leaves our yard and the 9th Street Bridge, it is not long until Mill Creek becomes a miniature Columbia, with a Dalle 20 feet up on each side and little green flood plain flanking it. In order to take the shortcut to the Columbia Photo Studio and the adjacent Don's Carpet and Espresso, as well as the Safeway, you have to cross this abyss. Luckily, at the end of Jordan Street, there is a 4' pipeline with a grate and railing on it to guide your crossing.
You can stand on this little bridge and look at the glade below, through which winds Mill Creek and a little paved road the color of basalt. There are also two little green sheds in the glade, falling apart. When I first saw the property in 2000, a shell of a travel trailer was huddled on one side of the pipe. Now it is just a heap of rusty sheet metal.
Last week I was crossing to bridge to take my pictures from Victoria to CPS, where they have the two big dumb labradors lying on the floor...I guess you could call them "Photo Labs"...and I noticed the electric hook ups. Random poles held grey boxes. Despite several NO TRESPASSING signs, I went down the metal steps that go off the bridge. Maybe I'd get shot, but it would be death in the search of knowledge. The two little houses were former restrooms and smelled like sewage. Beadboard still separated the two compartments but the harvest gold toilets were smashed. There were no showers. Then I walked the asphalt road. Off to one side lay another corpse of a travel trailer, and a shed, collapsed beyond reconition, but still hooked to an electrical box. The road was like a needle with an eye, ending in a circle in the glen. There were three poles with electrical boxes in the eye, but no trailer remains, just mud and debris. On the outside of the road were additional poles, all numbered. I followed the road along Mill Creek under the pipe bridge. There were more poles and boxes and numbers along the basalt wall. Electrical wires dragged on the ground. At the trailer I had seen from the bridge, there was nothing left recognizable but a white Frigidaire, like the one we had in our basement when I was a kid. My dad would call it an icebox, but it was electric. Purposeless debris was scattered around the green and black glen.
Why the demise of this Garden Of Eden? Was it an increase of property taxes? War? Pestilence? In my opinion, the answer lies instead in the incredible Flood Of 1996, when they sandbagged the Senior Center and water rose almost up to Ian's window. Mt Hood had erupted enough snowmelt to bury the little trailers under 17 feet of churning water.
This was some weekend! Erin and I began driving to a kantele workshop in Portland at 6:50 AM on Saturday. This included a concert on Saturday night at the Sons of Norway in Vancouver, Washington. It was an opportunity to learn air strumming during the mass ensemble! On Sunday, I took Erin back to the workshop and went to my show. At 11AM I recorded an interview with Pat Kilbride, who was in Hawaii, on equipment I was not sure of. At noon I did my show, my special fund drive guest being my fellow SH singer Peter Irvine. I was thinking it was an imposition.
"Look!" said Peter, "I grabbed a whole box of stuff to play!"
"I guess you've been on radio before."
"Oh, yeah," said Peter excitedly. "I did a show for four years in college on a station just like this."
It was nostalgia time plus. I let him load the CD machines. Then I went back and picked up Erin. We went and hung around downtown a while, then went and sang Sacred Harp. There was a friend of a tenor there named Connie who had grown up in Alabama, near Tuskeegee, who sang treble with me for a while. We were all supposed to go eat dinner and then go see Northern Harmony, but Erin and I were sure about musiced out. We went home.
Portland has been called, at least by the local Kantele players, the Kantele Capitol of Amerika. They say its because there are more kantele players in the area than anywhere else. In Feburary, I heard of a kantele workshop during a talk by Christine Perala on the Kalevala. A month later, I tracked down the workshop by e-mailing Gerry Henkel in Duluth, who found a reference on an events site in Canada called "CanadaFinn."
The workshop was held in the Worldview Conference Center in Portland. It is part of an Christian seminary which has impoverished students from around the world. Erin and I went. I am not really a Kantele Player, I merely started play tunes on the 5 string that I bought in Finland. I tune it minor and play things like "Wayfaring Stranger." The 10 string allows a person to play a wide variety of fiddle tunes, for example, "Farewell To Nigg" and "Sheebeg Sheemor" and "Ashokan Farewell." Going to a workshop allows a person to find out what one should be doing instead of using the kantele as a Celtic fiddle.
Our teachers included Merja Soria from California, Arja Kastinen from Finland, and Wilho Saari from Washington. Erin was unusually well behaved and became the obvious star of our duo. She thought all the teachers were wonderful. But I enjoyed learning from Wilho Saari, who taught fingering instead of chords and strumming. Saari, by the way, is the word for"Island."
"Kiitos," I thanked Wilho.
"Are you Finnish?" he replied.
"No." I said.
"I'm not either. My wife is, though."
"You have an accent," I defended.
"That's the way people talk in Naselle," he explained.
One of Wilho's phrases was "Here, take this." He handed us two xeroxed booklets of his compositions, each with a title like X-51 or XIII-34.
"Where do you get these titles?" asked a woman with a ten string. She had been inspired to take the workshop because she had used a kantele player on her last CD.
Wilho pulled out a thick book, XXX. "I put my compositions in books like these. I just finished my 30th book." Then he added," I use a computer program to write them down. But this winter my computer crashed. It just made me sick. I had backups for the first half, but...I'm hoping to find someone to retrieve them off the hard disc.
"Hey, what's this "Sea Gypsy Motel---Lincoln City"?" asked the singer.
"I guess that's where I wrote it," said Wilho. Another tune is noted "Banquet In Vancouver."
Wilho is a retired school teacher. His maple ten string was made for him by his son in law when he retired in '93. Now he is one of the best known kantele players in the Northwest. The other kantele he plays is a 35 string model made in 1948 in Finland by Paul Salminen. It belonged to his father, Wilho Saari, who not only played every day after work in Nasellebut traveled Cascadia playing at various celebrations. Our Wilho did not learn to play until 1982 on the big one his father had left.
"I am going to give you some homework," Wilho told Erin.
Later someone would tell Erin, "I will make a kantele for you." It was a fine place for children.
Yesterday, I drove to Goldendale the back way, over the Columbia Hills. All you have to do to go this way is turn left at the winery at Dallesport, and drive up past the sign that says "Primitive Road No Warning Signs Next 10 Miles." Then you climb up on gravel, passing the Dalles Mountain Ranch preserve set forth by the State Of Washington. Now in April there is water, and the green fescue and wheatgrass ripple and shimmer like the waves on Beto Vasquez' web page. Here there are patches of bluebonnets lupines and yellow eyed susans, like a Texas roadside. You can look down over the Columbia, and its dry brown and black banks that mask the wheat fields of the Oregon interior, up to Biggs, down to The Dalles.
Near the top, though, the blues and yellows yield to the faint whites and yellows of small flowers and rubble. I did not allow the time to get out and check the genus. At the very top of the hill there is a radio tower; yesterday men and trucks reading High Mountain Cable were digging ditches there. Then coming off the other side you can see the rolling green Klickitat Valley, with its green grass and wheat farms. I drove past sheep and cows, a black horse standing and a white horse rising, through Centerville, Washington. Many fine old vehicles lie here, trapping time, Packards, Chevys, Studebakers. Only an old school remains open and a woman and child walk Centerville Road, stopping long before Goldendale.
Above Goldendale, close on the horizon, rises the white of Mount Adams , and Satus Pass, which cradles US97 to Yakima. Below these leviathons and by the Chevron Station lies the Arroyo Family Mexican Restarant. The lunch buffet, for which I had come, was no longer in service. I ate the special, one cheese enchilada, beans and rice, and paid the bill.
"This has been a long day," the small dark woman at the register told me.
"How long have you been here?" I asked.
"Only since 10:30. But the food service people didnt come this morning."
"No dinner huh?"
"We are about to run out of some things in the kitchen now. And I just got into a fight with two of the guys back there." She laughed. Her accent was thick, but she was very articulate. "I think I am going to go into cash and carry, this is too much."
The boy looked startled when he saw Erin in the black shirt and hat. Joseph explained. "Every team has to have a girl." Erin grinned. So it is in The Intermediate League. In the Juniors, there are more girls, so every team gets a kid named Austin. Joseph, larger than his nine years would justify, has his own problems. Last week, his powerful arms hit the ball far into left field. Then, his great body lumbered deliberately into second.
"He would have made it into home if he could just run," commented Erin.
This was the second time Mountain Fir Construction had played Hattenhauer Fuel Oil Distribution. Erin was at bat in the black Hattenhauer shirt, head like a huge cherry in her helmet. She can run but cannot hit. The women in the bleachers yelled "Go Erin!" After two strikes and three balls, the Mountain Fir boy threw the ball right at her feet. The players were tired. It was 9:30, forty degrees, and the sky was as black as the players shirts with maybe some cookie crums on them.
Treyvon was up next. "He's a good hitter," said someone. "Go Treyvon!" screamed the mothers in the bleachers. But darned if the little grey Mountain Fir boy didnt walk him as well. Man on first and second, Dakota Redcloud swung. Treyvon Mann started to steal second, but Erin Day didnt budge.
"That guy better watch what's goin' on. That other guy had to go back," commented a stocky grandfather in a cowboy hat."
"That ain't a boy, that's a girl," corrected his twin.
"Don't care if it's a boy or a girl, that guy's still gotta watch the game."
Then Dakota Redcloud hit the ball into the outfield. Erin ran to third, and then into home. She ran like the great Gorge winds that were giving us frostbite. The Fir Boys were after her. One second later, the ball and the catcher hit home as well. "Safe!" yelled the umpire.
"Why don't you go with your mother and pick up trash?" suggested my husband the next day. Ian had to do one half hour of environmental service for Earth Day. It was a science assignment.
"The ball field was full of trash at the last game," he continued. I prefer the interstate, as there is a certain challenge to not getting killed or frisked. But it was no longer my decision. Erin decided to ride her bike. My son, for all his twelve years, could not ride a bike.
"I didn't learn to ride a bike until I was 19," I said for the zillionth time in his defense.
After the de-trashing. I looked over by the dugout.
"I'll hold it up while you start peddling," Erin was saying.
Twenty minutes and one Fred Meyer bag of trash later, Ian had ridden all the way to the concession stand.
Usually I leave the glass alone, but I saw the big chunk on the ground and said "Oh what the heck."
Victoria, BC, March 2002: There is nothing better than relaxing in a hot tub. Well, maybe almost nothing. But the silence of my pleasure was broken by one of my fellow dippers.
"Excuse me," he said. "I noticed you were here yesterday too. Are you on vacation? Where are you from?"
"Yes, we live in Oregon." I answered. "Yesterday I could hardly stand it because it was like a blender in here.
" Yesterday I'd felt like an ice cube in a boiling margarita blender.
"There was something wrong with the pump. I'm here on business. I had a glass of wine now I am about to fall asleep." Maybe more than one, as far as I could see.
"What do you do?" He looked about 30, with slick dark hair.
"I'm a broker."
"A stock broker? Where are you from?"
"Vancouver." That was all the way across Tierra del Fuego. "We have a young company. It's one of the few like it in Canada. We don't give people advice. We go through the web and our clients give us instructions." This was highly condensed; he talked at length against the power of the surf. You could tell he loved his business. "I used to work for a bank, but there, you have to do things you don't believe in just to keep your job. We hire bright young people."
"Why young people? " I asked with no hint of malice.
"Because they arent afraid to take risks. I could lose my job and live in my car and it wouldn't bother me, I could just get another job. You have kids, you're afraid. Your heart is in your children. Younger people aren't afraid, you haven't been rejected yet."
"I guess so," I said.
"You know why I decided to talk to you? Because you look like you're an old hippie. You should see me on weekends. People I work with say they don't even recognize me."
"Oh?" I said. "There's nothing wrong with running against the culture," he said. "But you have to know how things work or you drown."
"You dabble quite a bit..."
Yesterday when I went to sing, Connie said: "I sang with the Wiregrass singers." She had gone all the way to Ozark, Alabama, to do nothing more than sing with the Wiregrass Sacred Harp.
"How many are there?" someone asked.
"Fewer were singing than we have here in this room," she said. "The age range was from about 78 to 82." She was exaggerating, later she would admit there was someone there in their 50s. She went on to explain that they had these singings after family reunions, and that though many younger people there, they were not singing.
"What is different?" someone asked.
"A lot! They use the red book, but they also sing from the Colored Sacred Harp. But I don't know what else. I'm not a musician."
I was covertly dressed for a Jag Panzer/In Flames/Iced Earth Concert at 8pm, at which I would be frisked and carded. I like that contrast; it is like flying from Sweden to Morocco, but actually living in neither place. Where I actually live is a hippie commune in Northumberland with a bunch of wizards flying around on brooms with moons and stars on their hats.
That evening, between JP and IF at the Roseland, I was washing my hands in the restroom. A woman asked:
"You here because the kids dragged you?"
"No, I'm here because I like metal."
"Me too," she said. She had the same 3 inches of grey grown out from the last dye job, but had been able to keep the red color going. Mine had turned a medium peach brown. She was wearing a pink shirt and jeans.
"My husband and I come to all of these. The kids tease me about it."
"What kind do you like? Everything?"
"Yeah, everything." She hestitated. "Try Floater. They just play up from California to here. Sound like Pink Floyd."
"Floater," I repeated.
"Mom, if someone does something illegal, and I know about it, will you turn me in?"
I thought, Oh no. They make TV movies about this stuff. "What was it that was illegal?"
"Well, see here's my new game, and it's a copy Dan gave me. He burned it off a copy someone burned for him."
"Well," I said, "I can't say much, since I bootleg CDs." I'd just burned this great Viola Turpeinen CD off an LP Ralph from class had loaned me. It belonged to his grandmother. The family ran logging camps in fin de siecle northern Minnesota and you had to be tough. She would get special tobacco sent from Helsinki and spit long distances, just to intimidate loggers.
"Dan's family has an orchard," said Ian.
When the trees bloom, The Dalles has the Cherry Festival Parade, with a path from Albertson's past Safeway, across Mill Creek, and downtown on second which is a one way. Leading off was about 100 motorcyclists, ranging from Dreadful Seepage on Harleys to an elderly woman on a 500cc Honda with her Llaso Apso in a cat carrier behind her on the seat. We are all friends here.
Following like a metaphor drove the Three Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Unkown to many, "The Dalles" is Klickitat for "speed trap." Beware! The Horsemen were, in wing formation, The City Of the Dalles Police Department in a white sedan, The Wasco County Sherrif in a jaunty white SUV, and bringing up the rear most terrifying of all in its black darth vader cars, The Oregon State Patrol.
Just a few days later, in May, I walked across the Albertson parking lot. I try not to drive in The Dalles unless I have to. A City Of the Dalles officer had an elderly man in a silver Pinto cornered.
"Can I see your license? Do you have a license?"
The old man was slow to pull it out. Perhaps the charge was driving too slow as well.
"Eighty four years old, that's really something. Whose car is this?"
Conversely, the Sherriff's Department mostly breaks up underage drinking parties at isolated lakes in the mountains. That's why they have SUVs, because some of the roads are close to impassible.
There were many types of vehicles in the parade. The Corps of Engineers from the dam was hauling a huge search and rescue boat. Al's Propane, Bob's Well-Drilling and Jim's Septic Service had their trucks all polished. There were nice backhoes, tractors, and The Dallesport, Washington Volunteer Fire District's engine. Washington is a free country, no income tax. Recently, Dallesport residents almost defeated the placement of streetlights on some streets, claiming it violated their rights. But socialism had come with new residents in upscale triple wides. People also had polished their semis to pull floats. On one float, the Latin Social Club had a mariachi band. On another that read "I'd rather be squaredancing," people danced non-stop. A religious float read "Cherry Festival---Jesus will save you from the pits!" Guys from the Federated Tribes of the Kay-Kee Ta Casino handed out decks of cards.
Then there were the Queens. The Cherry Festival Queens rode in sleek cars.The Queen of the Federated Tribes of Warm Springs rode on the HOOD ofa SUV, wrapped in a figured blanket, and with a lovely headdress. The ugly Drag Queens from the Dallesport [Washington] Demolition Club danced in short red sequined gowns and black wigs around a composite 1967 Impala. But most of the Queens rode horses. The Goldendale Queen rode a palimino [sp]. Queens came from The Dalles, from Cascade Locks, from Carson, even from Pendleton. But the prettiest of all was the Sherman County Rodeo Queen. Her horse had purple glitter on its hooves, to match her cowgirl costume.
"What an unusual gait!" said the woman standing next to me.
"Struttin'," commented her Partner, an obese man with a chihuahua in the bib of his overalls. "Only one kinda horse they can train to strut like that and that's the Tennessee walking horse."
Trout Lake, Washington, is the end of the line, before the road rises into the deep primeval forests of Cascadia. KD's Bear Creek Café is the smaller of the two restaurants in Trout Lake. Attached to Joe's Valley Service Station, the kitchen is splattered in plain view on the far wall. The diner reminds me in miniature of a Waffle House somewhere between Charlotte and Asheville, where everyone was required to smoke in order to boost the state economy. When I was there in '94, I had to pull out my Texas drivers license to be declared exempt. But at Bear Creek, no one is allowed to smoke.
We sat along the counter, because the six tables were full, even at two in the afternoon.
"What's 'with veggies' mean?" the waitress asked.
"I don't know, it's your menu," I replied.
"What's 'with veggies' mean?" she asked the cook. "Is that with lettuce?"
"Onions and tomatoes," answered the cook, a perky middle aged tree hugger who was slapping burgers on the grill It was six feet from the counter to the back kitchen wall, so it was easy for them to converse. I ordered the sandwich on wheat with veggies. As a vegetarian, I am a conoisseur of grilled cheeses and this one got 9 stars.
Our aim was to visit the ice caves, part of the Indian Heaven volcanic field. During the early days, the caves had been the main source of ice for Hood River and The Dalles. After lunch, we drove on up Washington 141, up past the flanks of Mt Adams. At the last Snow Parc, though, Snow blocked the road. The sign said:
"Road Not Maintained Between November 1st and April 1st."
What a cold reception! Maybe the gas money for the May ploughing had been rerouted to give Navy Fighter Pilots a sense of purpose. And hence we were rerouted back 20 miles, back through BZ Corner and Husum, back to the Columbia, to try the road on the other side of the White Salmon River.
Again now, from Cook, we drove north through Mill A and ----, back into the Gifford Pinchot. Just north of the Big Lava Bed, downed trees lounged across one lane, fat acid volcanic boulders, and patches of snow made the road a near-impossible maze. It was the snow on the road that soon made it impassible.
The Big Lava Bed is the diadem of the Indian Heaven Volcanic Field. Spewed out in ca. 8500 YBP by a cinder cone in the north part of the field, it is not the naked lava you would expect. The Big Lava Bed is rather covered with dry forest: Douglas Fir, huckleberry, maple, ponderosa pine. On the open ground grow xerophilic mosses and lichens. Big rubbly blocks of the dark bubbly lava rock they call pahoihoi, tall as a small tree, are the result of the lava flow having cracked as it moved and cooled, to shifts when lava tried to flow into blocked tubes. There are no paths here in the Big Lava Bed, it is a greater maze than the road itself. Compasses cannot even be trusted, because of the iron in the rocks. And because we are in the Pacific Northwest, the sun that day was only a hazy dream in the sky. Ian and Erin plunged forward, climbing up and down over the blocks. I kept my eye on the red car, on the grade of the forest service road. A grey SUV rumbled past. I dreamed and saw the arches of Archean pillow basalts on flat rocks in forest, up on the Minnesota Iron Range at 2.7 BYBP. I thought of Joe Sisko and Barb and Julie pushing through raspberry thorns and the snow patches of late autumn '78, clear as the crunch of feet on snow and lichens. [you can see a current picture of our professor and the pillow basalts at http://www.d.umn.edu/geology/main/oj.html .]
"These lichens represent a symbiotic relationship between algae and fungus," I said.
"I know, " answered Ian. "In a devastated world, only lichens would be able to survive."
Past two ravines, they found a snow field.
"Be careful," said Ian. "You don't know what's ahead."
"I have this stick I'll use," said Erin.
I turned and contemplated the Douglas fir cones. Erin had told me, "During a forest fire, the mice had no where to go, so the trees said, 'come into my cones and tou will be safe.' And that is why you see the tails and two feet sticking out of the cones."
"I'm stuck, Ian, get me out. It's not funny," wailed Erin.
Erin's right leg was stuck in snow to her hip. Who knew how deep the gully really was? I thought of one of them falling through ten feet into a snowfilled chasm and suffocating.
"Dig me out," she commanded. "I cant move. I can't move my foot." Ian dug a little with the stick. They had no gloves; it was May. I wasn't about to climb down there unless I had to. I had no cell phone.
"You'll both have to dig. There's no other way to get out," I said. They stood there for a few minutes and nothing happened. Then they shoveled with bare hands to the point she could get her foot out of her rubber boot.
I thought of Shackelton crossing South Georgia.
There is something about geology that inevitably lures the appropriate people into its sinkholes and calderas, in hopes of not having to dress up for conferences.
They were all there. Brachiopod Lophophores. Suspect Terrain. Unstable slopes and rotational movement. Dike swarms. Cross bedding...all here at the Cordilleran Section Of the Geological Society of America Meeting. The theme was "Where Plates Collide!" Perhaps in the Skamania Lodge dining room, as scientists debate the abatement of landslides over lunch.
"Bob Stanton!" I yelled. Straight ahead of me, I saw one of my old committee members. He was now retired. Why had they let him out of Texas?
"We were going to stay, but I said to myself, if Judy could get out, so could we....ha ha, we were in one of those heat waves and we said, no, we'd leave. But we took a beating on the house."
"You had a lovely house," I commented.
"But no one wanted it. You know Texas, there were fields all over the place, they just put up more and more new houses." His ID tag was from a museum in Los Angeles. Thirty years, a textbook in paleontology, children grown up in Texas and moved away, solid existance vanished. "I was from California originally."
"You hear from my advisor?"
"Not really. They keep me on e-mail. They're interviewing for my old job and they seem to be hiring someone who's into big theories."
"I havent seen many people I know," I commented.
"Me either...you know you have two milestones. First your professors don't show up anymore. Then your collegues don't."
It was like we were arms of a spider, and the arms had been cut off by the Great Cordillera, yet we were shaking hands. It was as if we were rivers placidly flowing into the Gulf, and the channels had been blocked by lava flows at the new plate boundary, and we were both forced to flow into the Pacific. Everything to the East was sinking into the Atlantic rapidly.
In the evening, I drove to Newport, 40 miles over the Coast Range. I walked out at Agate Point, the sun and clouds through haze like white sheets slept on too long, the grey of the Pacific and the white of the long sand, cold wind from the north blowing sand out of swales low over the muted dunes, patterned like rippled snow in a blizzard, as fast as time lapse photography.
The Dalles, Oregon, April 2002: [cherry festival parade, cont.] Then there were the Queens. The Cherry Festival Queens rode in sleek cars. The Queen of the Federated Tribes of Warm Springs rode on the HOOD of a SUV, wrapped in a figured blanket, and with a lovely headdress. The ugly Drag Queens from the Dallesport [Washington] Demolition Club danced in short red sequined gowns and black wigs around a composite 1967 Impala. But most of the Queens rode horses. The Goldendale Queen rode a palimino [sp].
Queens came from The Dalles, from Cascade Locks, from Carson, even from Pendleton. But the prettiest of all was the Sherman County Rodeo Queen. Her horse had purple glitter on its hooves, to match her cowgirl costume.
"What an unusual gait!" said the woman standing next to me.
"Struttin'," commented her Partner, an obese man with a chihuahua in the bib of his
overalls. "Only one kinda horse they can train to strut like that and that's the Tennessee walking horse."
Imagine your self walking up to the great Northwest Folklife festival. A handsome beggar stands near the entrance. "Can you spare some change for a cold beer?" he asks. The festival begins to shut down about 8pm, just about when I begin waking up. First it's the merchants and the food, then it's the music. Slowly choices narrow down to a couple events and the plethora of increasingly blind buskers.
I grabbed a vente cold chai and sat at a table in the main building. It was a monumental watch. Druzhba ("Bulgarian Village Music") Damir and Friends ("Hot Croatian And Serbian") and Orkestar RTW ("East European Dance Music"). As with those weird segregated beer areas which so endear to me the Pacific Northwest, you have to show an ID to dance. You must be 18 or older to dance Balkan, or sit on someones shoulders. I didnt have my ID with me, but others did. "Here's a ruchenitsa!" There were one or two huge circles going, fifty or more people; I marvel at how people do those complex steps over and over without a caller.
The last band was Balkanarama, from Seattle. Left with even fewer choices, orphaned children of euro-swing and tango-fusion,orphaned children of the night, began to filter in, loitering at theback of the dance floor, refusing the circles. The mood changed, the dancers, the band, with its hot sax and quasi-electricity. I slid the few Cds I'd bought beneath my chair (damned if I'm paying $17 for garageceltic) and stood on the floor, waiting a moment. The trick is to standbehind the line moving, faking the steps for a while. Now, though, there were so many step fakers that we formed lines ourselves. One two three layers of lines, to my right they changed, a middle aged man with expert footwork who bolted inward after the tune, two giggling hispanic girls, no one...oh god, I was at the head of the line. On my left, a boy in blackhung on my hand, like I was his mom. "Is this right?" "I have no idea." One two three, one two three four...how many people? A hundred, hundred fifty?
"Balkanarama!" said the MC in that mechanical way festival people queue performers. It was eleven, end of the show. "BALKANARAMA!!" chanted the dancers, clapping. "No, really we have to shut this down. The volunteers have been here all day," whined the MC. And so the dancers in black were left to move on to PolyEsther's, so close and yet so far.
The OMSI camp near Astoria lies between Long Lake and a swampy place. The reason it's beside a long lake is that it is on a old forested beach ridge of the Pacific Ocean. If you listen at night, when the birds are silent, you can hear what you think is an interstate, but rather it is the Pacific.
Every year the Portland Finnish School goes to the OMSI camp for Memorial Day Weekend. Because Finns are so quiet, it is little known that these Saturday schools for culture and language exist; there is even one in Dallas. We were invited because of my class, and because I too have children. The mothers, all but me, were Finnish, and the fathers were all American. They had all married beautiful, blonde women.
Much of the time, the children and the fathers played an ancient Karelian game called kontupallo. Everyone...except one or two players...had a square cardboard base and a cricket paddle. In the center, one or two players, depending on the size of the group, were "it"and had tennis or rubber softballs. Their goal was to hit one of the players on base with a ball, so that the second player would become "it" and they would get the base and paddle. The paddle was for defense, a player could bat the ball away. A secondary theme was to keep the ball in motion with bats so that the "it" [oddly appropriate as there is no gender in Finnish pronouns] would not be able to throw it at anyone. In addition, if an "it" saw a base unattended as a player dived to bat a ball, or swapped bases out of ennui, then they would also get a base and a paddle. Why would someone do this for six hours straight? Miksi? Koska tanaan lapset ovat heidan ystavien kanssa.
I helped baked Finnish rolls. What you do is take a chunk of dough, make it into a long cylinder, cut it into slices, and put the protorolls on cookie sheets. Then you let someone else bake them.
For dinner, the American men built a huge bonfire, which attracted a number of small children. The custom is to take a burning stick out of the fire, wave it around, and push it into someone else's eye, while your dad isnt watching. But a superceding unusual custom is to roast hot dogs (kuumat koirat), marshmallows, carrots, rolls, pickles, whatever is handy on sticks over the fire. "Great buns," said someone. "Kiitos," said a Finnish roll-maker, who winked at me. "We could have made them long instead of round," I commented. "That is true," she said, thinking. "But you know the Finnish way is to slit the hotdog into 2 parts, and then put it on a round bun with cheese, no mustard or catchup."
In the morning, an American husband stood with a couple buckets of mollusks. "Went down and got these on the beach this morning. Razor clams, these are great."
"Oooh," said Erin, looking at a clam with his doomed head hanging out.
"We got these plastic clam tubes, you see a clam popping its head up, you push the tube down before he gets away. I haven't done this before. Tommy uses a shovel. Gotta wait on Tommy to show me how to do this." Next time we passed, Tommy was there with his knife. I'd met him on the dock, a quiet man who swore there were catfish in Long Lake. "You slit it open like this. This stuff here it doesn't matter so much, but you need to get the guts out." He washed the guts out under running water.
As you go east from the Pacific, water vapor changes to rain with the lowered pressures at increasing elevations, causing the depletion of available water for more rain. You get high enough, it turns to snow. Several weeks ago, I was driving past Cascade Locks (for which the Cascades are named) in pouring rain, looked up, and it was snowing above me, on the great hills of mountains that flank the freeway. The change of state phenomenon explains how in the morning, you can be in doug fir and ferns at the Starvation Creek Trailhead with a bunch of third graders and then at noon drive east for 25 miles, get in a The Dalles School District bus with a bunch of 7th graders, drive over the bridge to Washington, and be in a dismal dead grassland steppe, all at the very same elevation. The atmospheric systems usually run out of steam before they reach Dallesport.
Starvation Creek is named for an event in the winter of....sometime early in the 1900s...where a Christmas train bound for Portland rammed into a 25 foot snowbank and was stuck for weeks. Passengers were reduced to eating several cases of oysters, two sides of beef, and some rabbits that the conductor found in the baggage car, and they had to gather wood when the coal ran out. Eventually someone came from Hood River on skis, brought them a hog, and paid passengers to dig their way out.
"Hey look!" I said to Keenan.
"Wow!" said Keenan. "A millipede!"
Children clustered around. Joseph, the star hitter from Hattenhauer Dist., pulled out his disposable camera.
"I saw it first!" said Keenan.
"Joseph, stand back or it will blur," warned Joseph's dad, his "Born To Raise Hell" and serpent tattoos glowing in the morning grey haze.
"Hey there's a bird down there. Will it fly again?"
"No, " answered a mother. "It will probably die. Leave it alone."
A local bearded tree hugger called Blue Heron and Ranger John from the Army Corps of Engineers met us at the entrance to Hess Lake Park. The lake is clear and natural, formed by rising water levels due to persistent damming of the Columbia and by a railroad grade being put at its east end. The Corps brought in the willows and hand watered them, but the cottonwoods came in on their own.
"You never know what you will find at this lake."
"Did someone really get a 4 pound bass?" someone asked.
"Indeed they did. I got a picture of it." Ranger John went on. "Someone stole a car once, stripped it down, dumped what was left in this lake. Secluded here. Someone found it while they were fishing, sheriff came and pulled it out."
We split into groups and looked for interesting ecology.
"Found a rattlesnake here, little one, cute as can be, all rolled up," he said, passing a pine grove planted by the Corps. "Aaron, you need to not move those rocks, you never know what might be behind them.
"I go deer hunting with my dad, we see a lot of rattlesnakes," answered Aaron. Aaron, thin and blond and with two earrings on his left ear, his baseball cap on sideways, was at the crossroads of culture.
"There's a dead bird," said Heather.
"How observant!" John praised. "Yes, it looks like a hawk got its kill there. I'd say a pigeon."
We moved on up to the dry basalt ledges, or "dalles."
"Here is something! See all those bones in this cave?"
The children, now as tall as me, fingered the bones.
"Hawk. Something caught him, brought him up to his den. I'd say a porcupine."
In relatively wet weather, even when dry, there was a little waterway between our house and the split level next door. The first people, quite literally, who lived there were the Williams. The second people were the Schlesingers, who were from Wisconsin. "He was transferred here," went the story. No one in their right mind would have moved for any other reason from Wisconsin to Alabama. The Schlesingers had older teenagers, one named Mark played football. But the Williams had a boy my age named Lennox, whom they called "Len." For a while, he was my pal. We could step right over the tiny brook.
We boys lived in the woods. You could get to the woods by crossing Mountain View Drive from my house, and going into the vacant lot by the house where the people whose name I forget who had the Spitz lived. The word "acres" was an understatement. The woods were owned by the Alabama Power Company, at in our vicinity, and went on down to Rocky Ridge Road. Then it continued south over Double Oak Mountain, where there was a state park, which at the time still had its WPA charm. The woods, in fact, extended continuously, though cut by roads, through most of mountainous northern Alabama, surrounding towns and cities which cowered and simpered in its greatness. For most people regarding Alabama in the '50s and '60s, it is not hard to imagine towns cowering and simpering for political and social reasons, so perhaps this vision will be all the easier. But we boys did not cower, because we were the woods, as much as the pine and the oaks and the maples of the great southern mixed forest, as much as the sandstones and shales on which nurtured the trees.
An intricate, unmarked trail system pierced the forest like the burn patterns which are undeniable evidence of a UFO. Often a clearing held a tree fort, made of branches and plywood. Who had built the trails, the forts, the bridges over creeks? No one knew. It could have been the Cherokees. I was interested in history and urban planning...I watched westerns and cut plans out of Better Homes and Gardens, glueing them on posterboard to make an island village. Every clearing, every thin lichen covered outcrop on the shallow mountain soil, was a town, the trails were great roads, the tiny creeks were huge rivers.
I heard on the news how in the Rockies they were searching for a boy lost in the woods. "How could a boy get lost in the woods?" I asked my parents, confused. You just walked back the way you came.
Even families walked in the woods. In my highschool days, I'd walk in bass weejuns, careful not to tear my hose. When I got to college, I saw my first pair of hiking boots. "Why would anyone have hiking boots?" I would ask silently. What was wrong with Bass weejuns?
When I moved out of Alabama at seventeen, life would turn and fade from the mountains until then always on the horizon. After the college Christmases and summers, I would illogically turn northeast to Chatanooga instead of Nashville, driving at dawn on the freeway past Valley Head and Mentone, with the early mist and the sun eastward over the same great woods. Once, I stopped to get gas in Tennessee, lingering by the pumps in the wind.
"Ma'am," the attendant said grinning, "The wind sure is playin' the devil with your hair."
Now, I hear great commemoration of the strife in Alabama, but I remember so little of it.
"She loved cooking and her Jeep"
---Obituary of a Sherman County woman killed in an accident.
At eleven this morning, I lounged against the side of the Eastwind Drive Inn on in Cascade Locks, waiting for three milkshakes: chocolate, cherry, and butterscotch. A big man walked up, perhaps in his late 50s with a weathered face and a turquoise and black plaid 100% Cotton shirt.
"Can I get three bacon cheeseburgers?" he asked.
"Can I get your name?" answered the waitress, a thin young woman with short hair, coal black like a burnt snag and 6 silver earrings. She was wearing an orange T-shirt that read "Stevenson Pump Repair."
"Jack," said Jack, and walked off towards the single restroom.
I picked up the shakes and walked past Jack's maroon Chevy. A young blonde sat aloof in the front seat, wearing the lowest cut black top I had ever seen in public. At first I thought Jack was a shameful old lech, but then I saw another person in black in back, a young man from the Portland Underground, rocking back and forth. BOOM BOOM!!! went the car speakers.
As I drove off I looked at the bumper. On one side of the Oregon license was an American flag. On the other was a sticker that read "Don't honk, I'm reloading."
Now, my children faithfully turn on the oldies station when they enter the red Windstar.
"Not your children's station!" is the slogan. How true. It's difficult, but not impossible, to find eight year olds with children.
And Windy has stormy eyes
That flash at the sound of lies...
And Windy has wings to fly
Across the clouds....
"The Oregon Fruit Growers Association is now hiring," goes the ad. "$7.10 an hour, great pay and a chance to work with a great bunch of people."
"When I'm 14," says Ian, "I'm going to get a job with them."
The pickers are in town. They are moving into the tiny cottages that the growers have, setting up tents in the backyards of the friends and relatives who stayed, swamping Albertsons, which has moved the now 6 foot high Mexican pastry rack to the front of the store. Pickers must buy curved silver buckets and harnesses to put on their fronts, and the display is also in the front of the store. A group of four men try them on.
"Aqui es un bueno cubo...."
Eleven men squeeze into a red Toyota pickup with California plates, the topper like a stream culvert.
"Lunchtime?" laughs an Albertson's employee leaving work.
In the gym, two muscular college students recognized each other. The woman was smaller.
"How was your first year? Doing anything this summer?," he asked.
"Great. Not much. But I've got a job with the cherries doing quality control."
"I did that last summer, but I had a job driving them in on a truck. Quality control, you never even see the trees."
"What are you doing?"
"I have a job at a Christian camp up in Washington. I get to take my guitar up and sing, too! Talk about getting paid for a vacation! It's beautiful up there. I'll be here on weekends, so let me know, we can hang out," he added hopefully.
The AAA wrecker gleamed seagull white in the early Tacoma morning at the The Park N Fly Motel.
"I came back from Alaska, and found this tire here as flat as a pancake," I explained to the driver, a crusty man with grey hair. He smiled.
"Where were you in Alaska?"
"Juneau," I answered.
"I lived in Wrangell for ten years. Wrangell and Ketchikan. You'll need to change this doughnut. Dont get a new tire. Go down to 180th here turn left, they got a Les Schwab there. They'll patch it for you, wont charge."
At the Fir Meadow RV park, the camp assistant had driven my plastic stakes into the hard metamorphic gravel with the back of an axe. If I'd done that, my head would have been split open by now.
"Where you from in Texas?" I asked the assistant. The accent was as familiar as the patrol cars on highway 6.
"Well, I lived more of my life in Montana and Colorado, but East Texas...we owned a RV place on the border of Texas and Louisiana. But I'm staying put here. Houses may cost a lot here, but see that fifth wheel rig over there? Cost me almost nothing to register it. It'd cost me a couple hundred dollars in Texas.
Southeastern Alaska is a land of terraines, lands slammed very slowly...WHAM...into our North American continent. It is like the end of a submarine sandwich, with blobs of mayonaisse for sea channels. A few steps and you're off onto a new terraine, an onion instead of tofu salami.
Glaciers perch above the green warmth and drizzle of Juneau and its cruise ships, bringing sediment down for upscale homes to languish on. The land rebounds and terraces hang hundreds of feet up, where sea beaches and children once collected sea lettuce and limpets. We drove out with JohnPalmes (what better payola?) to where the earth and road ran out and looked at where people had once lived, under the high boughs of spruce and hemlock next to the beach of the Lynn Canal.
"People have lived here for many years. These sticks were probably put up to catch fish. The pools here may have been dug to hold fresh water."
"See this bench? This was the shoreline about 1910. See how the alders have their branches out toward what was then open beach? But then here's another row of alders. We cored these and found they coincide with the Alaska earthquake, 1960."
Two men were milling around a tent on the 1910 beach. It was covered with a mix of yellow, green, and mottled camaflague tarps, and behind it was a midden of pint Coors cans. Alder smoke infused the air. One man looked at us. He asked, "Just what is the story on the alder branches growing one way?"
John Palmes lives in Harris Harbor in a boat named The Balalaika. It is a little larger than a camper van and is neighbor to canal boats, gill netters, and purple house boats. Tuesday, he steered The Balalaika out into the Gastineau Channel to catch crabs, more as ademonstration, but also because crabs are good to eat. As we passedon the lea of the "Star Of Trondheim," Ian commented,
"No tugs---what does that sign mean?"
"That tugs aren't supposed to dock there," answered John.
"Hey look, there's a garbage tug!" I said. A garbage boat was removing a whole big container of garbage from the larger boat. Larger is an understatement. The Star Of Trondheim is something like a floating Las Vegas Hilton. Each day this season, four or so cruise ships like this will inject 5,000 tourists into downtown Juneau.
We docked at the fish processing plant to get some halibut heads. I stayed on the dock to look at the boats there, shiny three story boats, lutefisk white, from exotic places like Billings, Montana, and Minneapolis, places with obscure hydro connections to the Inner Passage. I dreamed of traveling by boat to Minneapolis. Then John, Ian, and Erin came back with the free heads. About the size of a backpack, they are amongst the ugliest items in the world.
"Where is his other eye?" asked Erin.
"Right there. They are bottom fish, so this side is up and both eyes are on it."
"Why was the floor so slippery up there?"
"Because there were fish guts all over it."
The Balalaika pushed off from Juneau proper and into the channel, in the wake of the Huge Cruise Ship "X." You may recall the fate of David Guterson's German gill netter in "Snow Falling On Cedars." The sheriff found him underwater, dead, tangled in the net. In the end, it turned out that a big ship passed as he crossed the shipping channel in the fog, the wake throwing him off of the mast. But before they found out the cause, it was discovered that there were a bunch of rascist jerks in town. In this case, the victim was to be the oil stove. Five minutes after the floating hotel passed, the Balalaika began to pitch.
"Oh, I get it, it's the wake from the cruise ship," said John, quicker than than a whole town in Washington. "I guess I'll have to turn the boat."
Even so, the boat pitched down so that the deck was at water level, at some angle.
John hung hideous halibut heads, reminiscent of human heads stuck on a pike in Fairport songs, in the crab traps. A crab pot works by shutting a door so that the crab cannot exit, like the in door at Albertson's. A crab ring...well, you pull up on a crab ring. We set two crab pots and a crab ring, while either Ian or I or more frequently the autopilot steered. Ian and I just got to steer us so we'd be scared into respect for the autopilot. This is just a little mechanical electronic device set to a course and is attached to a peg in the wood tiller. Erin's job was to roam to deck and scare her mom by looking like she was about to fall off.
"My oil stove is out," said John. He uses the stove to cook, boil water, and heat the boat. Juneau temperatures are not what they are back in Texas, and a grey drizzle is common. "I guess what happened is that when that wake hit us, it mixed up water that had gotten in with the oil." Hence our captain ferried us out past the mine tailing beaches of Douglas, the ghost piers, the avalanche zone near Thane, the great mountains and Taku Terraine decapitated by grey clouds, with a thick rubber glove on his hand, sporadically trying to get the stove to work. He would say: "They were forced to unload toxic chemicals at Dupont." And then: "It looks like the stove is out again."
But he was lucky not be be stuck in a net somewhere in the San Juan Islands.
Finally, we turned and returned to the spot where we'd cast the crab ring and pulled it up. Inside was an ill fortuned Dungeness crab, of legal size, who would that evening become a pile of exoskeleton cast into the algaed brine of the harbor. And the next day, we would pull two from one pot, one crab encased in the warm dark hollow of the halibut head. The other pot would contain a limp starfish, in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Steve Smith from Collision Central ("Good Service Is No Accident") slumped his long body in a chair in the Wasco County DPS. Why had he chosen today to register his new three car hauler? Normally almost empty, the room now oozed with migrants come up from California to pick cherries. They all wanted Oregon licenses and they all had lower numbers than him. They'd all brought a friend who spoke better English and they all clutched tattered envelopes. Some sat waiting, others sat at a table taking the Spanish version of the knowledge test.
"Buenas dias!" One of the clerks would say.
Then the applicant would say something in Spanish.
"This is fine what you have here, but....this consulate card is fine for ID but you need something with your address on it, see what I'm saying?"
Steve's cell phone rang. His expert car artistes back at Collision Central were asking for advice.
"Yeah, I'm still stuck here," he whined.
The pretty woman next to him discussed her child support with her overweight blond companion. She'd gotten a letter from the DPS but he couldnt see what it was.
"Number 52," read the clerk. That was Steve's.
"OK, how do you want to register this? What weight do you want on this?"
"I don't know," said Steve. "It doesn't say."
"Well, I can't tell you how to register it. But look, you've got your tow truck. How much does that weigh? Say two cars and a pickup. And the hauler. Oregon law says you have to stop at the weigh stations for anything over 20,000 gross. The state patrol's right out there and they'll pick up anyone who looks suspicious. See what I'm saying?
Number 53. That was me.
"I need to get an Oregon license," I said. The white haired clerk wore a suit and spoke excellent Spanish. I figured he was an administrator forced into action.
"Lemme see. What part of Texas are you from?" he asked
"Bryan," I said.
"That's the Yankee part. I'm from Pecos. Around Midland. Woman in Hood River got fined $800, this Texas license in useless. You got a car?
"That's why I need the license, to renew the car."
"Good Lord, two years, they'd fine you a lot more than $800."
Yeah, but I didn't want to move here in the first place. "I always thought I'd go back," I said.
"That's what my mother thought, too."
I took the touch screen English test, scoring 28/28. How great to know now the legal limit is .08%! I took the vision test, got my picture, got my license. Then I got a new sticker for the Windstar.
"$30 for two years. That's cheap. In California, it costs $900 to register some cars. They're bringing cars up from California, all over the country up here register cars illegally. Arrested a bunch of them. You see a '59 Impala from Maine, they're all stolen."
"You know a lot," I said.
"I have a computer in the back, I get it all on e-mail."
"Juan Munoz," he called.
"Otro mas," he said ripping up the Spanish test.
"Hey, you wanna go over the ones you missed?" he offered, but Juan was out the door.
The great Willamette River flows north through Eugene, through Corvallis, Salem, and Portland, to finally meet the Columbia. If the Columbia is a crusty old man weary from cutting through the Cascades, the Wilammette is a jolly fat old woman, its floodplain spreading out for miles. From Salem, the mountains are so far across the valley, flat as a skating rink, that they are only faint blue on the horizon.
My husband tells me with some relief, "The mountains don't look like they're ready to attack here."
A geologist might gush, "There is a fantastic gravel deposit there in that meander loop."
There is something to be said for subtlety, but this is not my dream.
In the evening, they shoot off fireworks at the ball park, in rapid fire, blue red yellw, and swizzles. Afterwards, the four of them, my children, my husband, and his friend, set off smaller fireworks. Erin sends a handfull of poppers onto the sidewalk, a jack in the box sends out bouncing torches. But I am out of place here, it is money up in smoke to me. My place is to walk the streets and see what is out there. On the block behind there is nothing, but four college students on bikes ride by.
"People should give up their smelly cars and rides bikes!" one says.
But back on the bigger street, there is more action. Smoke from spent Chinese fire devices litters the street.
"Hey, I want to light that chicken!" says a boy on the corner.
At the Timbers motel, I doze off in the morning and dream I have come home. From Chenowith, I can see central The Dalles as a puff of smoke, black as the basalt beneath it.
I walk up to a bike display in KMart. Newspaper headlines read
HUGE PLANE CRASH IN THE DALLES. 2,000 THOUGHT DEAD!
I panic. My older daughter is at the highschool.
"No," I tell a little girl. "That's not the list of the dead, it's a list of the merchants in the Downtown SuperSale."
According to the paper, the crash is centered at the Post Office at First and Washington. Smoke belches out as if from a pre-teen male volcano.
"See," someone tells me. "It was a German cargo plane, and it was loaded with mail."
I drove home the long way, through Silverton and Sandy. Just before Silverton, I asked my husband to buy gas.
"No, you drive over and I'll pay for it."
"I dont mind paying for it, but I cant buy it. I havent bought gas for this car in Oregon in two years. I dont want to spoil my record.
I was ready to change direction and drive towards Washougal, Washington. My hand gripped the imaginery pump at the ARCO. Its been as low as 99.9 there, but you can't use a credit card. But he gave in. I drove on with the new gas, up through the foothills, and finally on 26 south of Mount Hood and over to the wheat fields of Dufur on FS 44, coming into The Dalles from the east. There was no smoke, only black basalt.
Just south of the junction of I-84 and US 97, two City Of The Dalles Police vehicles had apprehended a white Ford sedan. The trunk was open. An open blue cooler with three bottles of hard liquor was displayed prominently. Was it open bottle? Underage? DUII???
Grindavik, Iceland, July 2002
The town of Grindavik, on the southern coast of Iceland, is built on bumpy recent volcanics, somewhat like our big lava bed near Trout Lake, except there are no trees growing, just mosses and lichens and low vascular plants, lfor instance grass. To the south there is the sea, and to the north, there is a weird, charred landscape of lava broken only by telephone and power poles, strange lakes, and white clouds of steam from geothermal power plants. One of these plants hosts the Blue Lagoon pool. where tourists can bathe in a giant hot tub lake formed from the discharge; it is a blue lagoon because it is salt water and blue-green algae and silica color the water a powder blue.
I pulled into the Bar Grill Restaurant parking lot for my last meal in Iceland. Next to the BG Restaurant is the black cement Hafner Harley Davidson store, which I did not visit. The Restaurant itself has vertical wood siding painted brown, like they used to have in Iowa in the '70s, but when you go in, it is set up as an English pub. Unlike the sterile scando bars that curse most of Iceland, this one looked like mushrooms could be growing in the beer stained kitchen carpet, and the green and harvest gold walls had been sponge painted to simulate the smoke stains on the walls of the Come On Inn on the Door Peninsula.
I walked up to the bar, like you do in England, and ordered a seafood soup and a "small" Tuborg on tap. At the bar sat a husky German tourist in a green plaid flannel shirt, the kind of man that drives a huge 4WD monster truck into the interior. He had a full "large" glass of Tuborg, and he spoke English to the bartender. Then I went and sat in an English style booth, drank my half and waited half an hour for my bowl of soup. On the wall hung old photos of fishing boats stuck in the ice. I wandered over and leafed through a stack of tabloid newspapers, all of which were at least 4 days old. The biggest story was about a car that went down an embankment on its way to Akureyri, at 15,000 the third largest city in Iceland. A half page color picture showed the white sedan being hauled up the cliff. Both of the occupants had color portraits and had been interviewed for their views on the accident. Since I dont read Old Norse, I couldnt really get the gist of what had happened. The German slowly sipped on his Tuborg, smoked a cigarette, and stared into space. If there were bears in Iceland, he would be hunting them. A couple at a table behind me got their pizza.
The bartender brought my soup and bread, which seemed to be a bunch of shrimp and scallops dumped into tomato soup. Then I paid and left, thinking about describing this bar where I finally felt at home. Suddenly I felt a pressure on my right side. Not even thinking, I went with the flow, like lava, like the great glaciers, like the tide of the North Atlantic beyond. I didnt even know what hit me. "Augh!" I yelped. Then the pressure stopped.
It was the back of a blue sedan. The woman inside was dressed in a navy blue jacket.
"I'm ok," I assured her.
"I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry," she said in an Icelandic accent, more scared then me. "I didnt even see where you came from. I'm so sorry."
I started laughing. My hip bone smarted. "I guess I wasn't looking where I was going."
"I'm so sorry," she said.
I walked off, got into my silver Corolla liftback, and said to myself, "WWI, they'll get me for drunk walking." I drove off slowly to the Oel Gas Station, and mistakenly stopped at the diesel pump.
Ever wonder what it's like to live in one of those town right next to a forest fire?
We came east on I-84 from Hood River, over the hill, where a view of The Dalles spreads like an arc between the river and the sky, clouds billowing south in a blue cloudless sky.
"That's not clouds, that's SMOKE," I exclaimed. It looked like maybe the fire south of Mosier had spread a little.
We went inside, ate dinner, sweet corn from Yakima, and then thought I'd fire chase. I didn;t get very far. Three blocks south of my house on Cherry Heights, there was a roadblock. Cherry Heights goes up the hill to the west, and then descends as Browns Ferry to Chenowith Road, the road along Chenowith Creek. Stunned, I turned westward along 10th, driving to Chenowith, as close to a suburb of The Dalles as it gets. Vehicles crowded the lot of Wahtonka High School, where "Fire School" was being held. Then I drove south along Chenowith.Half a mile into agricultural land, I saw the blue and red lights. I didn't have time to turn before the Wasco Sheriiff caught me.
"If you don't live in this area, you will have to turn around," he said. You might consider Barney Fife.
"No, I am just here to see where this roadblock is," I said honestly.
"The Fire is coming down Wells Road. They're evacuating Cherry Heights and Wells Road. It's Out Of Control!!" he said officially.
"Oh my God!" I said, dutifully and turned home.
Mill Creek Road runs south, initially close and parallel to Cherry Heights, but then cuts south along a canyon along Mill Creek, the creek beside our house. Erin's best friend lives at 6700 Mill Creek Road; she comes here often because her grandmother lives next door. You could see smoke all over the ridge above, she said over the phone. So we drove south on this road. Barely out of town, where the orchards began, and before the houses stopped, the smoke began as well, first thin smoke, then dense enough that you could see only a few colors between cream and brown and pink. It covered the now-barren cherry trees and the orchard signs, the hills and basalt and scrub oak, the brown cows grazing in the green bottom land, the hay and barns and empty pastures and the horses. Everyone had their irrigation systems going, whether they needed it or not. It was a deceptively pleasant scent of woodsmoke. At Mill Creek Grange, 3 or 4 miles south, a brown man stood with brown binoculars in the brown parking lot. Then the air began to clear. By the time we reached Erin's friends house, you could see smoke over the hill.
"I've got the photographs here. That's all I'm taking," said Susan. But wee Heather had already packed her bag.
"It can't get to The Dalles. It'd hit the orchards and there's nothing to burn. It's pretty wet down here in the canyon," said Jim.
A helicopter flew north, suspending a bucket.
"They hold 1,500 gallons of water in that bucket," said Jim. "They take it right out of the river, nothing to hit." They'd lived here all their lives, and had seen several fires. One had come within about 400 feet of the house. The worst was the School Marm Fire. "There were bombers all around. It was pretty weird."
Sue's brother Steve called. He lived up on the hill, but not so far south to be evacuated. "He says they're doing full scale evacuation. People riding their horses out down the road and everything." I could imagine whole herds of animals moving down 10th St. It sounded like they'd leave the cows be, and take the horses out.
A pick-up drove by with two pieces of furniture. Sue laughed. "Let's hope they're just getting new stuff."
"The horses are nervous," said Jim. Actually they're the neighbor's horses.
On Q104, I heard that the water reservoir had been taken off line because of the danger of chlorine tanks exploding, leaving us with wells...no one would drink water from the Columbia!
I walked up to the roadblock in the dark. A station wagon came down the hill packed solid, a pick-up carried antique furniture. There were motorhomes, trailers with off-road bikes. Other cars came down with only the driver. A white horse trailer went up empty. People milled around at the evecuation center at St Mary's, but few stayed. Lights flickered in the houses in the small subdivision at the top of the hill. There was a greater darkness of smoke, but no lightness of flame, just the last of the sunset towards Portland.
There is a recommended evacuation now for 4400-6600 Mill Creek Road and Q104 reports that the fire has been seen at the junction of Wells Road and Browns Creek. It is running due east, up the ridge that separates Wells Road from Mill Creek. I have driven there often, mostly people up there have ranches. Some people just have houses. Now, even here in my room I can smell smoke...
Saturday, on a fire escape: At Skamokawa, on the north shore in Washington, the Columbia is more like the ocean inlet than a river, with its vast grey beach and low, powerful waves, and white seagulls. But even here, within the tidal influence, the water is not salt, and there is no seaweed.
On a late, cool summer evening, a photographer could follow ripples and childrens footprints out past the dune that is tall as a whale, to the beach by the cedars and spruce. The grey silhouettes of the mountains, the trigonometric curves and shadows of dunes speckled like the counter in the Multnomah County Library, the smooth grey ghost bones of driftwood, the steel grey of the cool Columbia water, the mist grey of the fading sky and the arctic white sun would all be there for the photographer. A photographer could strip away thought and character into form, into pure landscape, much like a photographer would strip down a model into landscape for a make-up ad.
The dunes, the matted ghost logs of beach huts, and the smooth vertebrate bones would be what a geologist would find, metamorphosing them into tricky numbers in a complex attempt to recreate the chaos of green Cedars, river currents, flapping birds looking for fish, dune buggies, and children's defiant lives.
The huge grey whale silhouette of a ocean ship took us by surprise, coming as it did from behind the huge grey whale of a dune.
"Mom, I'll get a picture of it!" Erin said and ran with the camera.
It was like the big salties that went through the canal in Duluth and you standing right next to it on the sidewalk. But the salties in Duluth couldn't creep up on you. The man in the blue pickup camper with California plates had binoculars and I asked him where it was from.
"Ankara. Morovia," he answered.
"Monrovia is in Liberia," I told Ian. "People register their ships there because there are few rules."
"It's a rainy day in July before you catch me going to Austin Powers."
I'd left them there at the Cascade Cinema , greedily retaining the change from the $20. You can go through the change pretty fast at the concession stand. At 8:50 I got back into the Windstar to pick them up. Turning onto Cherry Heights, I looked down towards Fred Meyer, and the huge puff of smoke.
"WOW! Another fire. Maybe Fred Meyer is on fire!" I said, suddenly turning left instead of right.
Fires are not uncommon here. Just last week, a 1978 Winnebago with old yellow Oregon plates caught fire in the KMart parking lot, right next to the Cascade Cinema. It was left a black skeleton except for part of the rear siding, and the occupants were left stuck in the KMart lot. You can now see it on display across Snipes at AFD Auto Salvage.
Quite soon, I learned that it wasnt Fred Meyer burning, but something on the other side of I-84. I joined a string of deceptively purposeful cars headed under the underpass to check it out. But the line began to move slowly, with good reason. The fire was located right there by the The Dalles West To Portland on-ramp, a huge sharp fluid hot blur. Fireman were putting on their special suits on the shoulder of the road. As we passed to look, this roaring inferno, this scion of hell, began to shoot fist-size sparks into our lane. Behind us, a The City Of the Dalles officer put up orange cones. No more spectators could get through. Spectacular though it was, I was confident that with 58 fire engines in town and the Sheldon Ridge Fire dying down, someone would be able to put this one out. In the morning haze, an observer on foot would find that the dead cheat grass was burnt clear up the embankment to I-84. A group of Oregon grape bushes were permanently damaged, their leaves a sickly firejacket yellow, berries still as blue as the Columbia. Most important economically, however, a large stand of ornamental Juniperus had been severely charred, with only their trunks and branches left as blackened skeletons.
I walked into Fred Meyer, and stared a bag of baby red potatoes. A produce clerk approached the deli counter.
"I was just out there at the on-ramp about 10 minutes ago. Can't tell what it is."
"I thought it might be the Oriental Diner," said the deli clerk. I could imagine the mint green concrete block walls of the Oriental Diner singed with black.
"No, it's not the Oriental Diner," answered the produce clerk.
"Good," said the deli clerk.
The road blocks are gone now. I drove out Mill Creek Road again, driving a mile or so from the ghost of police cars before I saw evidence of spent oxidation. It had been confined behind the fire line on Mill Creek Road, so that only the west side was burnt, not the east where most of the houses and pastures are. On the west side, however, the fire had come right up to the fence of an orchard and a vinyard, the grapevines and cherry trees smiling obliviously. These were the first in the band of orchards that wraps around our little city. Down by the Grange, which became a fire staging area, and across from Heather's house, the fire had burnt all the way to the road, but leaving Heather's home gleaming in untouched pastoral tranquility. The burnt area looked more like a huge grass fire than a forest fire. The trees: scrub oaks and ponderosas were still standing, with singed bark at the base. On the hill I would see some oaks with brown, drooping leaves, but I would never see them as black skeletons like the ornamental junipers. But who knew what fire secrets the backcountry holds? I drove on past the pavement onto gravel. Seeing ahead a group of National Guardsmen in fire clothes, I backed up and turned around.
Fire update: The little fire last week was arson, caused by atransient from Florida who was angry that the Oregon Liquor Store would not see him anything. They found him a couple blocks away in a sleeping bag and arrested him.
The new one started yesterday as a small grass fire at the west end of town. Then it spread to Mountain Fir Wood Chip Co., engulfing the pile of chips and yesterday night 20% of their seasoned timber stock.It's still burning. Last night one of the Bonneville Power poles burnt so they shut power off to many places in town before hand, including the traffic lights. Chunks of cinders blew across the Columbia River and started a grass fire in Dallesport, Washington. There were 110 firefighters at the fires last night, from Dufur, Moro, Wishram, Dallesport, "Mid-Columbia" (in The Dalles...the regional fire station), Lyle, Bingen, White Salmon, Hood River, Odell, and the US Forest Service. Right now, the Mountain Fir fire is still going. It looked last nite like a gigantic version of the aggie bonfire, or from a distance in Washington like a great rift exuding volcanic lava.
Iceland, 2002: Akureyri, at 15,000 souls, is the oasis of the north. It is located at the end of the long and lovely Eyjafyorthur and temperatues here reach 15C in the summer. Because of its sheltered locations, it hosts a lovely botanical garden with tree species that grow as far south as Oslo. It also hosts a bunch of places to buy the same gentile tourist stuff you could find anywhere else in Iceland.
I'd spent the night in an agricultural guesthouse on the fjord. It was here I ran into my first Americans, a tour bus full of upper middle aged New Jerseyians who had lived their lives as their parentsand grandparents did, oblivious to the Revolution. Two women sat in the lounge watching TV. A woman with grey hollow cheeks and bright auburn teased hair dragged on a cigarette and held a glass of cheap French wine. She and her companion were watching a video entitled "Iceland: Land of Fire and Ice."
"They should go to year-round school," she commented. Who would pick the cherries in July? Who would herd the cows and fillet the cod?
A bald man walked out the front door, not even bothering to hold the door for me as a Texan surely would.
"An American, eh?" I commented.
"Yes, indeed," he answered and walked away with his wife. They were so unlike the couple from Ontario in Egilsstathir, who were drawn to the muddy "Victoria, Canada" fleece I was wearing.
"You aren't from Canada, are you?" they asked hopefully. Close, but no hockey stick.
The Backstreet Boyz stood near the road to Siglufjorthur, thumbs out. I brake for blonds, even if it is tipped. Their ice blue eyes burnt through my skull.
"Where are you going?" I asked.
"Dalvik," the brunette answered. So I let them in. The blond started speaking Old Norse.
"You're not Icelandic?" he asked, surprised. Only Icelanders pick up hitchhikers.
"No, I am from the US. I am from Oregon."
"Well, thanks for picking us up. Most people wont pick up teenagers, they think they're running away. But we want to visit some
people in Dalvik, and no one is home to take us." They were 16. They talked all the way to Dalvik.
"You been to Myvatin? To Dimmu Bollgill? That's really neat." He pronounced his r's like the Welsh "ll", like someone catching drool.
"Dimmu Borgir? The black castles? Yes, you could get lost in there. You know the metal band Dimmu Borgir?" Dimmu Borgir is a series of basaltic towers that solidified in an odd way, which is where Dimmu got its name.
"Sure! I love all kinds of metal. As well as Pink Floyd and Eric Clapton. Some people say I got weird taste in music, but I don't care. Eric Clapton is supposed to be in Iceland now, to fish, but no one can find him, the press cant find where he is."
"Hey," said the blond, "I've been to the top of all those mountains there."
"You have camped there?"
"No, it's too cold up there to camp. I just walk."
"My dad works a fishing boat. We hardly ever see him," said the brunette.
I dropped them off 38 km away, at a convenience store in Dalvik. It seemed like only a few minutes in transit. I left them with huge black legs flapping in the wind. Then I went on to Olafsfjorthur through a great Icelandic invention, a 3km one lane tunnel.
What is the Icelandic equivalent of a freeway?
A paved road.
British Columbia, August 2002: Around Qualicum Beach, the new freewaycuts through conifer forest, though a right turn will still bring you to the thin commercial headache of coastal overpopulation. Going north, in the trees, then, I saw it. Thick black smoke, like a cotton ball having wiped off a sooty face...
"Damn, I am a medusa of fire. Everything I see catches on fire."
Around the bend, the traffic on BC19 slowed to an abrupt halt. There was a van of Native Canadian teens from Victoria, a volunteer driven Cancer Treatment van, several RVs, with maybe kayaks or canoes on top, and some cars, all carrying British Columbians. Lynch that foreigner from The States, eh?, with the fire in her eyes.
On the right shoulder ten sparse vehicles ahead was a violently flaming fireball. Across the median there was a medical vehicle. Canadians started getting out of their cars and walking toward the flames.
"I hope that's a hood up, I hate seeing dead bodies," laughed one nerdy hoser.
I'd got about halfway there when someone said "It looks like maybe we can get by." No joke, the flames were shooting strait up and the burning vehicle, vixen of hell, was on the shoulder. "Yeh, it looks like they are starting to move up there," said another. Everyone started running back to their vehicles.
Passing by, you couldn't tell what kind of vehicle it was. It had a van cab, but you couldn't say if it was a camper or a commercial vehicle it was so engulfed in flames, and you couldn't say if it was from BC or even Alberta. A couple husky guys stood off on the grass frowning but complacent. Behind us, on the median shoulder, two white police cars circumvented the mob. In the other direction, a fire truck arrived.
At Porteau Beach Campground near Vancouver, a man requested, "We'd like a spot by the ocean. We're from Alberta."
Malcolm Island, BC, August 2002. It is easy to see why a farm colony would fail on the island. The Mateoja trail cuts across dense forest of hemlock and cedar, the young hemlock taking flight on stumps and logs , on the bodies of their fallen comrades. Some of the stumps top 6 feet in diameter. These compound trees make large hummocks, and the trail itself had to be painstakingly built by cutting through logs, in some places building wood walkways over the roots and hummocks. It had been no easy undertaking to clear fields, and it was no surprise that the Finns had stopped pulling up stumps. Instead, they cut down the trees and sold them. Instead of stumps, they pulled up fish from the ocean.
The trail passes first an area burnt in 1923. Silver and black snags, a hundred and a half feet high, smooth totems of the boring life of vegetables, towering over pioneer shrubs and small conifers. It is forests like this that inspire the warning, "Don't go into Hopeapuumetsa at night, or the Isokuolipuu monsters will get you." Then it winds to the clearing of the Mateoja farm, lost except for the brush, and the rusty saws, and the dark well. Then it returns to Deep Forest. At 1.8 km, I sat down on a cute log seat. I'd been there only a pieni hetki when a husky teenage with a walkman appeared, dressed in a red sweatsuit. She looked more Native Canadian than Finnish.
"People keep creeping up on me and scaring me," she said grinning.
"Have you been on this trail before," I asked.
"Yes, I live here. I walk back and forth between the lake and my house and town. I was trying to relax by the lake and these birds kept bothering me. They're too noisy." They were BIG NOISY birds, I'd agree. "I'm going to see if my friend is on the ferry. Her mother brings her up from Victoria, but her mother won't come on the island. She used to live all year with her mother, but she likes it here better. She's spent 6, 7, 8, and 9 here. But she might move back for 10, because her father got married and she and her stepmother hate each other.
"Well," I said.
"My dad and my sister and brother are up in Prince Rupert fishing. Me and my mom are the only ones here. They say they don't take me because I have a job here, but my mom says its because I don't like fishing, but that's because they don't ask me to go."
"Is this commercial fishing?" I asked.
"Yeah, they're salmon fishing."
"How do you catch them?"
"Not a fisherman, eh? They're seining for sockeye. That's about all you can catch. My sister and brother braille [?] the fish. They bring fish up in the net, and some you can't have and you can only have a couple coho, so a lot of the fish they throw back, but they throw the sockeye in the hatch. They fish all day and then they have to take them in and sell them, so they only get about three hours sleep.
"How old is your sister?"
"Two years younger than me. My uncle went food fishing and brought us some sockeye yesterday. He smoked some of it and we're canning some. There are three types of smoked fish he makes." One was Indian candy, which she didnt like, and I forget the other two. I finally cut off the conversation since my head was set to explode from fishing information.
"Bye!" she said cheerfully.
That night I spent the night at a bed and breakfast, the first one I'd ever been at in North America. I was drawn by the hot tub. The host, a former outfitter and bush pilot in Prince George, served a salmon dinner. He'd smoked the salmonand the clams for the hors d'oerves himself in the backyard.
"We'll put you here between the boys," he said.
"So you used to have a Beaver?" asked a boy, actually in his late thirties.
"No," said our host. "A Beaver is too expensive. I had a Cessna something or other." I should write these numbers down. We were stuffed by the time we'd finished the salads.
"Let me top off that wine," said the host.
"When we moved from Holland," the Boy was explaining, "I was about thirteen. The schools in The Netherlands were very liberal. But in Belgium, they were very authoritarian. They were a bunch of bastards. But in India you must have had an authoritarian system as well."
"Yes," said the other Boy. "We wore ties and coats. But I didn't mind it."
"Exactly. It was part of the British system, which emphasizes respect for authority. But the Belgians just did it to be mean."
After dinner, I sat in the hot tub. Then I went to bed in the fireside room, actually the basement rumpus room with a pull out sofa. Because of the island's incline the room opened onto the hot tub deck. This was heaven. In the morning, I went back in the hot tub. Because it was morning, though, the chickens were out and kept hopping up onto the rim. I walked to town, came back, and then ate breakfast with a woman and her daughter from Qualicum Beach. Last night, the girl had loaned me a rubber band for my dip in the tub.
"What brings you here?" I asked.
"I've lived here since 1979," said the hostess. "I married a man who lived here." She was making Finnish pancakes. They have a lot of egg in them and are baked as a coating on a cake pan. The Finns use skillets, but this woman is not Finnish.
"I am from here," said the other guest. "There arent too many people to visit anymore, but I have a friend who has horses. We've been riding. It's an OK place to live if you have small children, or are retired, but once they get a little older, there's no opportunities. For instance, Heather is on the champion swim team. She does the triathalon. That's what she DOES, she swims.
After she left to phone in about some real estate trasnactions, I was left alone with the girl, plump and blond.
"What grade are you in?" I asked.
"I'm going into seventh," she grinned.
"I thought you were older. I have a son going into 8th but he's at astronomy camp. I guess you don't like astronomy, you like swimming."
"No, I like riding. I don't really like swimming, she just wants me do it."
To get back on the ferry, you line up along the street, in front of houses, making it hard for occupants to park there. The ferry is always 20 minutes late and people talk. A rotund man in an old Datsun pickup said, "I was down fishing at Port Alberni eh, and one guy had a boat full 'a fish eh and he heard a noise and went back to look eh and there was a bear!"
I skidded to a halt at the I-84 The Dalles Industrial Area exit, near the Gorge Discovery Center. Too far away! I honked, then got out of the car and opened the back. "Come on Buddy," I muttered. The HOOD RIVER sign was a dead give away. What thief, mugger, rapist or murderer would be holding up a HOOD RIVER sign? More likely a wind surfer who'd lost his board.
He was relatively good looking, ice blue eyes, clipped mustache, but when he smiled a couple front teeth were missing. "The reason I'm going to Hood River is that I got this appointment with a guy to fix my leg." He bent down and removed the lower portion of his leg, which was bright blue and resembled the tubing of my Motobecane racing bike. "See here, this needs adjusting and I need a new gasket." He propped his leg against the door. "Boy that electric pole looks like it's gonna fall over any minute."
At the western boundary of The Dalles, we were passing the devastation wreaked by the Mountain Fir Chip Company Wildfire of two weeks ago. No only was the grass a charry carbon black, but many of the poles along the railroad tracks resembled multiply severed, charred lodgepole pines (Pinus contorta), with the electric wires holding suspended charcoal.
"You can say that again. Were you here during the fire?"
"No, I was in Goldendale. I was helping a guy there build a pole barn. He tears down old barns and then he builds covered wagons out of them. So he needed this barn to store his lumber."
"He needed a barn to store his barns, ha!"I laughed.
"This is my stomping ground, The Dalles. The Dalles and Tygh Valley. My sister lives in Sandy, though. I'm visiting her after I get done in Hood River. She works in the hospital in Portland." He mentioned a bunch of people in Tygh Valley.
"I dont know who they are," I said. "I only moved here from Texas a couple years ago."
"Texas. Oh. I lived in Dallas back in '84. There was a recession then, and you could only get work in Texas. Too much crime. I was married at the time. I told my wife, "Cheryl, they're killing people here left and right, every day." So we moved back to Kansas.We were living in Kansas then."
There was a silence. "I didn't get up too long ago. My mind isnt too quick."
"I got up at 4:30. We had a party last nite...I must smell like beer...but this morning a deer woke me up. It got so close it almost licked me, didn't even
know I was there."
"Where were you sleeping?" I asked.
I remembered the hut made of plastic sheeting and branches by Chenoweth Creek. There was a good chance I had not picked up a derelict, but rather a local legend. He must have gotten his hair cut.
"There are more deer than ever before," he went on." Because of the fire, they've been driven down to find food. They either have to graze high or low,
because the middle elevations are gone. But the deer hunting won't be good,and do you know why? Because it's gotten so much warmer now in
September, the meat goes bad. But elk hunting is OK, because in November, its cool enough to hang the meat a couple days and let it cure."
We were approaching Hood River.
"Now I'm home free. I can relax on the beach and read my book. You can let me out at MacDonalds. Let me buy you an egg MacMuffin for the ride. I
really appreciate it."
"No," I answered. "I REALLY need to get to Portland. But thank you for riding with ME," I answered.
He put his leg back on and got out.
People dont know this usually, but Wasco County used to encompass most of Oregon, Idaho, and even some of Wyoming. But through the years it has shrunk to its present size. Wasco County is where the Pacific Northwest meets the American West, just east of Mosier, Oregon. At the Hood River County fair, you see Yuppies and people born in Mexico. At the Wasco County Fair, you see cowboys.
The Wasco County Fair is held not in The Dalles or Mosier, but in Tygh Valley, named after the phrase "After the cowboy ropes the calf, he tyghs up its feet." To get there, you leave the Ponderosas and scrub oak of western The Dalles (east and west are inverted in Cascadia) the walnuts and poplar of the Valley of Mill Creek, and drive down 10th Street, till you get to US197. The vegetation here is dead cheat grass, the color of golden harvested wheat, and Artemisia tridentata. You turn right, and cruise past the Bonneville Power Celilo Converter Station, and the obsidian blackness of the 500 acre dead cheat grass fire of two weekends ago. The black ashes merge with the vast wheat fields, the dust of plowing blowing like smoke in front of your car. On the day we went to the Wasco County Fair, smoke from Central Washington hung over the Valley of the Columbia like smog in Portland.
The new The Dalles Middle School was dedicated last Wednesday. The school was the first in Oregon to win an award Leadership In Energy and Environmental Design Progam, and bigwigs came from as far away as the DOE in Seattle. The former school had been built as a temporary structure in the 1950s.It had been condemned because irrigation water from the orchards had run down an impermeable layer and floated the foundation, causing the city to in turn float a bond issue. The Honorable Tom Fettucini from the Oregon State Senate spoke. He said, to paraphrase:
"Look at the setbacks the community has had. The closing of the aluminum plants. 9-11. The fire. But look at how many people are here for this
dedication! Look at the great sense of community you have. You will forget the aluminum plant, 9-11, the fire....no,you probably won't forget the fire. You
will remember this as a marker, the year we had the fire. But you will still have this great community. And this school will last a hundred years, not just
50. Isn't 50 years great for a temporary building!"
Everyone hoped it would last 100 years, so they wouldnt have to float another bond issue. And what a great sense of community! Neighbors know each other here in The Dalles.
"Hey Wayne," a man asked the leader during the tour. "These light sensors here. They're supposed to turn the lights off after 10 minutes. What if a teacher was in here alone preparing a lesson? Wouldn't the lights turn off?"
"Well," said Wayne. "If they moved their pencil, that would be some sort of movement, and the lights would stay on. And there's a switch on the wall anyway, they could just turn them back on."
I'd already forgot about 7-11, but those fires I don't think I will ever forget. They made me realize that everything I really wanted to keep could be put in my Windstar if I cleaned out the trash first. Except for the 9 foot walnut corner cupboard with the hand dove-tailing. How do you move something like that quickly?
[to be continued]
Iceland, 2002: "Few western nations have lost as much of their cultural heritage in such a short time as the Icelanders."
In the old days of settlement, wheat was grown in Iceland, but now it is too cold. Imagined drawings depict South Icelanders fleeing the wrath of Holocene volcanic eruptions, clutching their children and running through fields of corn, cows and pyroclasts.
I found two American archaeologists near a museum in the north, digging out a midden. "The roofs lasted a hundred years, then they would move," one said. "The farms you see are always up farther from the water than the old farmsteads."
Farmers and their employees would spend the dark arctic winter in bermed and grass roofed homes. Beds lined the long room, the farm family itself it its own room. Each person would be responsible for making their own bed covers. It was during the long winter darkness that the families and hands sang stories.
A small flat coastal plain, pastureland, lies between Skogur and the South Sea, the Atlantic and a bluff; the town is backed up against the bluff and at the top you can just see the great ice cap Myrdalsjokull rolling over like a white horse's ass, its tail the great waterfall Skogfoss. At the east of town, you will find the folk museum with many old structures on exhibit.
Hanging on the wall I found an instrument called the langspil, and then another on a table. It is a long wooden instrument resembling a lap harp, with three strings and keys. For one, there is a fingerboard with frets. The others I thought must be drones. A bow, like an archery bow, hung beside the langspil on the wall.
"Does anyone still make these?" I asked. I could put one on my wall too!
"No, answered the clerk. "They are just in museums. But the curator sometimes plays for a demonstration."
"This looks similar to a lap harp."
"Yes," she answered. "like a dulcimer, some people tell us."
"I play Finnish lap harp, and it looks like that as well." Luckily I didnt have to demonstrate on a kantele.
"Well, then, you can try playing this one!" she offered. So I did.
You can see, with any luck, photos of the langspil and of Iceland here:
The Dalles, August 2002 :
"My daughter is taking the adult class," she explained. "She has a bad back, and it hurts her now she's going for the blue belt. People tell her she should just do Yoga."
"Oh dear! " I said. I was sitting next to a woman in jeans and a sleeveless grey sweatshirt. She could be a ranch wife or a truck driver. Like a Texas Woman, her voice spoke softly of tobacco.
"I've got a bad back too. When I had the twins back in 1960, everyone told me not to get a saddle block, but they slipped one to me. Ever since then sometimes my leg goes out from under me. And that's been since 1960. My husband had us picking beans one summer, after ten minutes, AEEEE!!!!" She showed me a weird angle with her fingers. "My vertebrae are like this."
"Yikes!" I said. The class, including Ian, was practicing Gung Fu chopping motions.
"And when he says, 'Break their wrist' He means it. My daughter comes back black and blue from the tournaments."
."Is that why there are so many girls in this class, for self defense?"
"You better believe it. If those two little girls in Oregon City knew Martial Arts, they wouldn't be dead now. And..." she looked at me in sincerity, "what gets me is that he had their trust, they spent the night in his house. I hope he fries! I hope they do ten times over to him what he did to those girls before they let him die!"
"I don't have much respect for him," I agreed.
Erin said, "Mom, you see the guy with the blond hair? He was captain of the fourth grade soccer team last year."
Balkanalia! Corbett, Oregon, August 31 2002
"Romani Singing" was taught by Carol Silverman. We were a little late, and everyone else had introduced themselves. I had to give my name blindly.
"Do you sing?" our teacher asked.
"I sing Sacred Harp in Portland," I answered.
"Oh!" she said.
"The Roma language," she began, "comes from Sanskrit..."
Later, a woman in the class stopped me and said: "We are so glad to have you and you son singing with us."
I said: "The ornament, the keys [hi-jazz in this case], everything is so different." No joke. At Portland Sacred Harp, people will become wide eyed and exclaim "That song is so MINOR!!!" at "Idumea." That byzantine song alone is enough to have them diving for the Blue book, flipping for "Give Me That Old Time Religion."
"You don't sing Balkan at all? Do you dance?
"No. Most of my experience is in American and British Isles music. So do you sing?"
"Yes, I sing in Seattle with a band. But this new band plays a little of everything: Scandinavian, Russian...I am used to singing a lot of Balkan and it is frustrating."
Who else was in the class, can you guess?
June, 2002, Alaska: I said:"I like to drive to the very end of roads." I wish I had a 4 wheel drive.
So many universal truths manifest themselves in The Dalles. So many items show up in the newspaper and it is so hard to present them in a meaningful way in these stories. So many residents here read the police report.
"No, you can have this paper, I was just reading the police report," I told the librarian, Sue Ann.
"Looking for friends, relatives?" she said with a smirk.
The obituaries are three columns wide. This week one read, "He was in the Coast Guard for many years until he moved to Vancouver to work for Alcoa. Then he moved to rural The Dalles and raised pigs. He enjoyed collecting pigs and visiting his many friends. A donation is requested to pay burial expenses." There is a story in that obituary. And there is a story in the simplicty of this police report: "A Chenowith resident reported a piece of statuary was stolen from his residence. It was described as a stone Buddah holding a rake." And there is story in the pathos and helplessness of this report. "A man from Des Moines, Washington, hitchhiking with his wife on I-84, called 911 on his cell phone to report he felt like jumping in front of a car and killing himself. Police arrived at the scene, and he repeated this statement. Police handcuffed him and took him for psychiatric examination, where it was determined he was not suicidal. They then took the couple to the The Dalles bus station." There are stories here, but for me they are best situated in the Suuret Lehtet of the The Dalles Chronical. I've tried to use them, but they wither and fade when uprooted and isolated. Maybe there is a course at The Columbia Gorge Community College on expanding police reports and obits. "His pigs sizzled and popped during the Sheldon Ridge Fire, despite his Coast Guard Search and Rescue training. He could no longer stand living and threw himself in front of a car on I-84, leaving by the side of the road as if a memorial cairn an unusual stone Buddah...."
"Ian," I said, "according to this list of rules, it is a type II offense to have a permanent marker at school."
"Oh really? I better get rid of this sharpie."
"It is one step less than possessing an incendiary device."
"Maybe they think you might ignite the fumes."
You can drive south on US 97, past smooth wheat fields like the velvet coats of does, past Dufur, known for its days as a Maharishiesque commune accused of poisoning local salad bars, and for its present day Threshing Bee. Then you descend into a void of dead cheat grass and skeletons of scrub oak, into the valley of the Tygh. The Tygh is only a creek, but like Mill Creek, it is a large valley of life. If you want a real river, you can drive farther south, across the White River and Juniper Flats,to Maupin and the valley of the wild dark Deschutes. After Maupin, 97 ascends again on a long grade, and finally you will cross the Wasco County Line. Just to the west on 26, you will find the town of Warm Springs, home of the Federated Tribes of the Ute, Paiute, and Warm Springs, and, doubling back, the fabulous Wasco County casino resort of Kahneeta Hot Springs. At the Cherry Festival Parade, Warm Springs Indians handed out decks of Kah-nee-ta cards like candy to children.
But in late August you and we both can stop at the Wasco County Fairgrounds, just out of Tygh Valley. My mission that night was not to attend the livestock show, nor the great country band, but to go to the rodeo. There are two options. You can sit in the grandstand for $1.50 or you can sit in the far bleachers for free. We chose the bleachers. Behind us sat an elderly Indian couple. Wearing sweat clothes, braids and a beaded necklace, the woman reminded me of my mother-in-law, a German-American woman with hair (originally) the black of midnite on 3rd Crow Wing Lake. In front of us were a group of Hood River Yuppies with miniature shits-tsus and yorkies in their laps.
"Run little calf, run for your life!" the woman in front of me would laugh.
The rodeo began with a small parade. First, a Warm Springs SUV displayed several tribe members in blankets. A couple sat on the hood and waved. Then a bigger hay truck displayed an honored Tygh Valley couple. They had come from Illinois in 1927, and he had attended OSU on a football scholarship. They excelled in swine production. Their sons had all gone to OSU and had excelled in swine production. Several of their grandchildren had prize hogs here at the fair. After this the Queens rode out on their horses. They had come from all over, from Arlington, from Goldendale, from Rufus. The reigning Queen was Ashley FitzSwensen, a student at The Dalles High School and a member of the dressage team. The mark of a good Queen is to ride around the ring at a full gallop waving and smiling without ever losing her balance. The real purpose of a Queen, though, is to distract mad bulls and seething wild broncos from kicking and trampling Cowboys they have just dismounted.
The contestants also had come from all over: The Dalles, Moro, Redmond, Madras, even one barrel racer had come from Bellingham so she could compete in every rodeo. But there were not enough contestants, and bad luck was common. The children were bored.
"Mom, can I have some money for food?"
And Ian came back with a corn dog.
"Mom, can I have some more money?
And Ian came back with a cheeseburger.
"Mom, can I get a ride bracelet?"
And I didnt see Erin again.
"I'm going to the bathroom."
And I didn't see Ian again either.
The only teams racing were Indians. They were collegues of the couple behind us. I have never seen men ride horses like that. In quarter mile, in relay, thin dark young men in shiny dark gym clothes moved like streams of mercury, not stopping like ordinary people, but flying with winged feet on to new winged horses, not needing to hold on because they were in synchronized flight themselves, the muscles of the walnut brown quarter horses in line with the blue muscles of the laughing boys of the Ute, Paiute and Warm Springs. But in the barrel racing, the lone Indian woman, with a long braid black as obsidian and a feather in her hat, wiped out on the third barrel, fell to the ground. She got up and walked back, hoping for better luck at Toppenish.
We walked through the sheep and cow barn, the only one open. The entries were all from 4H clubs,and the animals were now in the semi-darkness alone.
"Isn't that name familiar, Ian?" It belonged to the boy who gave Ian a bootleg of "Star Battleship X." We walked on.
"Wanna pet my sheep?" asked a boy, too young for elementary school.
"We call these chalk rocks 'The Chalk'."
Though clearly above sea level now, the Isle of Wight was at times during the Cretaceous under a gentle, shallow sea, far from land. Like the White Cliffs of Dover, the rocks from this period are made up largely of tiny calcium carbonate plates from planktonic algae, called coccoliths. In the Chalk are fossils other tiny marine organisms, such as dinocysts, but as for pollen there is only a conifer grain here and there. It is hypothesized that at the time Britain consisted of some of Wales and the Scottish Highlands, and some think it was better that way. The conifer pollen may have come from as far away as Norway.
For an American to see these exciting snowy slabs of coccoliths, it is necessary to swim into the cave of one of two globally warmed hire minibuses with 11 or 12 other geologists and drive through the incomparable traffic marmalade that is southern England. At Portsmouth, it is only a short ferry ride to Ryde, and then a wild evening getting roaring drunk at a nice hotel next to a disco. Not all geologists feel compelled to get roaring drunk and stay at nice hotels, but being excused to do so is one of the perks of the profession. Ours is a life of sociability and luxury juxtaposed with isolation and endurance, an existance of passionate contrast.
"Stay off the green stuff," said Iain, our leader. "If you fall and break a leg, it's a helicopter ride out."
We'd walked briskly along the almost deserted beach, ignoring the drab clastics of the Albian. On the strand, a golden lab had appeared and beckoned me with a branch. I threw it. An older woman appeared. Three geologists, two Americans and an Albertan, clustered around her.
"We're geologists from America. What is the present climate like here?" they asked.
"Absolutely delightful," she answered. "It seldom frosts, and you will see palm trees and pineapples cultivated in some parts of the island," she answered.
I bet I threw that branch 20 times. The dog always brought it back.
Sand gave way to cobbles and we hopped across cobbly, seaweed covered boulders; some were draped in Fucus, others with the fine slimy green stuff. Finally, the safe rounded boulders disappeared. Before us was a massive pile of talus, gleaming like chalky sharks teeth above the indifferent grey green ocean.
"S-t," exclaimed Jane, my roommate. "The last time these guys gave a field trip, we went to cow pastures, tea shops and souvenir stores."
We climbed, leaped, slipped. By the time the slow end of the party...everyone over 40...had arrived, the lecture was over. Ian, the other leader, was engaged in a discussion on hard grounds, condensed sections, the current theory of the formation of chert nodules as burrow fills during times of slow deposition, and correlation with North Sea Wells. Then we walked back, the tide at our heels. I walked far up the slope, and found myself on small jagged rolling cobbles. Slowly, foot by foot, I inched myself to safety. Lucky I was not wearing clogs. One more step to safety, and a tall, thin man with dark hair held his hand out.
"Let me help you," he said.
"Thank you," I answered to be polite, grateful I was not a bloody pulp at the foot of the slope. "Are you from Italy?" I queried. He was the man they called "The Italian Guy."
"Yes, I am from Milan, in the north of Italy. I work for the Italian oil company. Domestic production is only 5% of our petroleum use, but still it is psychologically very important for our economy.
"I am from Oregon. We have had many fires this year. They say it is due to a build up of litter on the forest floor because of fire suppression," I countered.
"It is not something we have in Italy. Only in the northern portion do we have real forests. Because of the summer-dry climate, we have an open mediterranean vegetation in most of the country," he answered.
This is the way geologists make small talk.
There is a calender on the wall above our board in our studio, and on the 4th and 13th someone has written, "My birthday," in different handwriting. On the 11th, someone has written "The CIA did it." And then someone has written, "No, it was done by a bunch of radical religious extremists who have no concern for human life, you f---kd--khead. And then someone has written, "You f--king naive nationalistic idiot..."
I love this station!!!!
"I breakfast with blonds"
Look on the balcony for the breakfast room: http://www.clydehotel.com/clyde.asp
Oregon is a great place to party while you read. In a state of ongoing renovation, The Clyde Hotel is a place you can stay and be only a block away from Powell's famous City Of Books, as well as a bunch of bars. It was built in the early 1900s, and the beautifully wooded lobby showcases by-gone elegance. From here it is only a short elevator ride up to the rooms, which are situated along long hallways, populated by antique tables with "People" and "Town and Country" on their surfaces. Unlike most hotels downtown, The Clyde's intention is to keep the same layout as in the early days, to recreate that environment.
My room at The Clyde seemed incongruent. It was painted an earthy Harvest Gold and the management had retained the original battered sink and cabinet in the room, and the old footed tub in the bath. But the furniture was veneered modern castoffs from the 50s. I unlocked a door in the bathroom. Behind it was a room in the process of being sheetrocked, plaster splattered on the floor and a coke can laying derelict. It was then I began to wonder how many of the rooms had actually been refurbished. I closed the door, and watched a woman across the street at the Marks Spencer unpack. Neon lights flashed and brakes squealed, as they would continue to do all night.
The breakfast room was tiny, with only two real tables and a sofa, hardly large enough for a hotel this big. One table was occupied by a trio of older Americans and the sofa by misc Japanese. I was almost done with my almond bearclaw when a middle aged man asked,
"Where did you get that fork?" He had a lilt to his voice.
I walked over feet and showed him, picking up a bowl of muesli in the process. He sat down in the chair opposite me.
"How do you like this hotel?" he asked.
"It's different." Last time I subbed DJ Unity, I had only got a lone muffin for breakfast at the Econolodge. But I'd been intrigued by the "Hot Tub Show" advertised across the street.
"I was talking to someone and they said it was almost a complete wreck when they got it," he explained.
"I believe it," i answered. "Where are you from?"
"Scotland. I'm from Inverness. That's in the north."
I pressed on. "What are you doing here?"
"I'm traveling around the world," he answered. "Where are you from?"
"The Dalles," I repeated. "80 miles from here, up the Columbia River. I needed to be at the university last night and this morning."
One of the older women stopped at the table. She said,"I hope I am not interrupting you. I just wanted to tell you how beautiful your country is!" Obviously she meant Scotland, not The Dalles.
"So where have you been?" I asked.
"I started out in Canada, in Toronto, then up to Timmins in Northern Ontario. It's a mining town; I have a friend there. Then to Vancouver. I rented a car and drove up onto Vancouver Island."
"Where?" I asked.
"Not too far up. I went to Port Alberni, not much of a town, but rode the mail boat down the river; it stopped at all the small towns. I love boats. Then I rode the train down to Seattle and then here. I'm going next to Los Angeles, and then flying to Polynesia. Then I'm flying to Cambodia, then home."
"Cambodia?" I asked. No one goes to Cambodia.
"Yes. Usually I stick with the non-English speaking places, but not oddly not this time, except Cambodia. I'm fascinated by languages. You said you were studying Finnish, that's a difficult one, isn't it, with those suffixes. It's not Indo-European.
"You don't speak Finnish do you?"
"No, but I do speak Gaelic, and that is very hard as well. They actually teach it in Vancouver. I almost went to Finland once, I was just over the border in Norway, in Saamiland, but decided to go to a party instead. My grandfather was Norwegian."
He went and got more food. I followed and drew an orange juice from the pitcher on the ornate sideboard.
"I went to Iceland this summer."
"I stopped in Iceland for a few hours," he countered. "Did you go to the Blue Lagoon?"
"Yes, that's pretty neat! But I actually drove around the perimeter of the island."
"So is there any way of getting out of town without a car?"
"Not really," I said. "There are tour buses up the gorge, and a sternwheeler. It's a boat, you would like it."
"What would you recommend in town?"
"If you go up a few blocks here, there are a lot of museums. The Art Museum, The Oregon Historical Society." He pulled out a map and took off his glasses. It was then I noticed how good looking he was. "This looks like a good bet, I'm really interested in history."
"So am I. They have a lot of nice displays there. There's one on the Willamette Valley."
"You're not going to be here another night are you?" he asked.
"No," I answered. "By tonight I will be long gone."
"You might as well be addicted to cheesecake, for all you drink."-Dr. G. Varner
Most people don't know this, but I am an alcoholic. I myself know it because everytime I take a test entitled "Are You An Alcoholic?" I pass it. This last week, I passed another test, sent home with my children from school, so I am current. In order to pass, you must answer yes to three or more of the questions.
1. Do you ever have a drink as an answer to a stressful situation? Yes. Just yesterday, after returning from Nordfest, I'd felt I'd been lost in Lake Wobegon all day, so I drank one of the pints of "Scrumpy" cider I bought back from the UK.
2. Have you ever passed out or cant remember what happened the night before? Yes. I often cant remember what happened the previous evening without even drinking. But I remember that one night quite well. It was in 1969, in college in Indiana. My friends from the dorm were invited to a party in Barrett Basement, hosted by 2 Quaker roomates named Ben and Willie. Also there were a couple of Mennonites originally from Bluffton, Ohio named Phil and Rick and whose last names both started with a "Y," Yost and Yoder. They served rum 'n coke in a sort of a bucket. I don't know what happened, but I remember the next morning pretty well.
3. Does your family ever criticize your drinking? Yes. Especially my nine year old. "Mom, why is your hair so frizzy? I'm glad this didn't turn out like your first pulla. People laugh at you when you wear that heavy metal T shirt with those guys on the back. How can you drink that awful stuff? Do you remember backing into that shrub in the Casa Tequila parking lot after they served you that Grande margarita?"
4. Have you ever tried to quit drinking? Yes. But I miss comparing margaritas and porters, and fine Cascadian wines. So I go back to drinking again.
I often think I could meet more people if I joined AA. But when I said something like "It only took me 3 days to get through this bottle of Forest Grove Montinore 2001 Semi-Dry Riesling, I can go through a six pack of Black Butte Porter in only a week," they would just tell me, "Judith, grow up, go away and let us help real people with real problems."
5. Do you find yourself denying that you have a drinking problem?
Last Sunday I sat in the McMennemin's pub by Portland State, eating a smoked cheese Sandwich and drinking a pint of house porter. This is the one in the bottom of the apartment building with the fountain someone filled with Lux Liquid last fall. 6. My firm rule is not to drink before dinner, but this allowed me to 7. cover up my drinking and having fun from my family who was home playing soccer. It also allowed me to ponder how beautiful Portland is, at least Park Street, so much so that I was almost moved to tears.
"Want another beer?" asked the waitress.
"No," I said.
It also allowed me to painlessly walk all the way to EDM to check out the promotional CDs that were on sale, in the wooden clogs I bought at the gas station in Sweden. But after the porter wore off, I had to take the shoes off. It was quite a hike to Shape Note Singing.
Portland Sacred Harp meets most often now in the basement of the grey church at Park and Madison. I don't really belong here, because so many of the people here are devoted church goers and choir singers. But still I come, and even more mysteriously sing treble, which only one other regular singer will do. My partner in crime is a choir director with a baroque tenor named Ed; Ed has long blond hair and a gold stud in one ear. I try to follow Ed, but sometimes he stumbles as well. Conversely, the groups to either side, tenor and alto, flood with more and more people, all hoping to sing inconspicuously. But Ed sings well, and I have no pride.
That Sunday, someone came in who had been to The South. They had traveled to Texas. For northern Sacred Harp Singers, going to The South is like going to Mecca.
"What part of Texas?" I asked, inappropriately breaking into the description.
"A town called Henderson. Texas has four sectors, and this is the one called The Piney Woods."
"Texas never ends," said someone.
"She used to live in Texas," defended Tom, one of the many Tenors. He was raised in the Mennonite Church.
But the man went on oblivious to me and the fact that Texas is not some strange form of Zion.
"What is unusual is that in Texas, people think nothing of driving 40 or 50 miles to a Singing on 2 lane roads at 70 miles an hour," he said.
At break, I talked to a bass. I said I had been to England.
"I studied musicology in England. But it is one of those fields of study that doesn't get you a job. But I have been trying to get my congregation to take up Shape Note Singing." I rolled my eyes. One is called to the Sacred Harp. Everyone else thinks it is gibberish.
Later he led a slow hymn. He wanted it done a certain way.
"Stop! Stop!" he cried. "Watch what I am doing! This is such a beautiful song, I dont want you to rush through it! Notice I am putting a retard on certain notes!"
"I just want you to know that if you lead in any way that isn't standard, I am totally lost," countered a bass.
At the end, I closed my Red Book. Our unofficial leader, a bass named Peter, said,
"Hey, you guys were doing a good job this time!"
He giggled, "You were getting those high notes pretty good this time!" No joke, high notes! I peeled them off my jeans, which is where they'd jumped during the last pitching, and returned them to the Red Book.
Iceland, July 2002
I picked up whatever companions I could. I picked up 2 groups of French people, each consisting of one woman and two men. They spoke French amongst themselves. One young French woman, carrying skis from Dimmu Borgir, The Dark Castles, commented,
"How sad you are traveling alone."
I told her, "It is good to travel without my children for a change. I have no responsibility."
South of Sauðakrokur, a gas station rose from the cold green pastures backed by cold grey Tertiary volcanics. I picked up a hitchhiker with wavy, shoulder-length hair in a olive army jacket. I asked him where he was from.
"Germany. Right by the Polish border, on the level of Leipzig. In school, when I was growing up, we had a choice of learning Polish or Russian. So I chose Polish. I've hitchiked in Poland a lot, because I know Polish. The best place to go is in the middle. Near the border with Germany, there are many criminals. On the eastern border is the Russian mafia...Where are you from?"
"I am from the US, from Oregon."
"Oh, no wonder your English is so good!"
He had been in Iceland for 3 weeks and wanted to be back in Rekjavik because he needed to fly back soon.
"What do you do in Germany?" I asked.
"I am trained as an industrial engineer. I work for a company that designs big turbines for dams. Most of what we design we sell to countries like the US or Canada, not Germany."
"Have you met any other Americans?" I asked.
"No, mostly Icelanders pick me up. That is one reason I am hitchhiking, to meet Icelanders. They tell you things, like in winter, it is hard for restaurants to keep open, because they cant get the local people to eat out. In summer, they stay up late into the night, because it is light, and no one gets enough sleep. And they are starting to lock their doors. You are the second tourist in 23 rides to pick me up. The other was a Spaniard, here, down here on the South Coast." He pointed at the map.
"But if you are going this way, go up to the Northwest fjords. If you stop right there," he pointed to the map, "you can walk in for three days along this trail and not see anyone." The rest of my morning was a race to the Stykkishulmur ferry, to the white night of the northwest fjords.
"What do they mean by this?" asked the clerk. "Toyota Corolla Liftback. What is a liftback? Is it taller than two meters?"
I rolled my eyes, bought my ticket, and queued into the ferry lane. The trip back on mud roads around long grey fjords would prove so tortuous that it would take longer than the ferry trip.
"It was the most beautiful country I've even been in, even Finland," I said to my teacher.
The former Marjo Peltainen frowned. "I suppose that depends on what you're looking for." She stared at the photos of treeless landscapes and mud roads. There went my A for 201.
I settled in a cozy blue recliner in the ferry lounge, only to find that the resident Icelanders, hungry for television and/or sleep, had pulled down all the shades. No matter, we were on the west side of the boat and the only view was of Danish Greenland and its accordionists, safe below the horizon. I stared a while, then I started to roam.
The surface of the small ferry was littered with Eastern accented-Americans, who, like all Americans in Iceland, weren't interested in chatting with me. These, dressed in Velcro, were interested in watching marine mammals and birds. When finally the brilliant grey seas of wide Breiðaforður opened to the small isle of Flatey, they and their cameras and binocs went berserk. "Hey Tom, there's some of your puffins!" They weren't actually puffins, famous for having their eggs eaten by Icelanders, but being Antiornitological, in my book there were 2 types of birds in Iceland, seagulls and puffins. They werent seagulls, famous for their presence in the parking lot of the local Albertson's. We unloaded some people and cargo, notably an electric drop-in stove, and pushed on.
I pushed on into the east lounge with the tables and ashtrays. Seated at the next plastic table was a kid in his 20s, with his daypack.
"Hello!" He said. I knew right then he wasnt an American.
"Hi." I said.
He was thin, with short hair the color of a sunflower in August. "Where are you from?" he asked.
"The US," I answered. "From Oregon. Where are you from?"
I asked him if he was hitchiking and he said yes. In America he would be taken for a Bible College Student on the way home, and would be picked up immediately. I asked if he were camping he said no, he was staying at guesthouses. We talked about where we had been in Iceland. I told him I had no time left, and was driving back south along the mud road. I was just on the boat because I like ferries. Then we landed in Brjanstaecus. I went down to the car deck and got into my Toyota Corolla Liftback. Then I drove off into the Norðwest Fjords.
But my progress was stopped by the Swiss boy, who waved frantically. I pulled over and stopped.
"OK, get in," I said.
"I was just waving goodbye," he said. "I thought you were going south."
"I think there's somewhere to stay up here," I answered, covering my mistake. The immediate point of his trip was to Latrabjarg, the western most point in Iceland, the end of the road so to speak.
"There's nothing out there," I told him. "There's no place to spend the night." The days in Iceland peaked at most at 14 C. The nights were colder.
"I'll be alright," he assured me.
I took him part of the way. Talking to him, I realized that though on the surface he was nutty as a fruitcake, he had a logical soul.
"So you live in the German part, I bet," I said.
"No, I live near Italy." He worked as a house parent for "Mongoloids" and at the same time, was taking courses in social work. He loved his job. He got enough pay and vacation to come here.
He was from the steep mountains. "My father used to work at a factory, but now he raises sheeps, not for money, for a hobby. He has a name for all his sheeps, too. He raises grapes and makes wine, not for money, just to drink with his friends. He's happy now he is retired. What's your favorite kind of tree?"
I left him off on a mud road that went nowhere. I worried about him, but if he didn't freeze, he'd be OK, and he probably wouldnt freeze because he was so animated. If in doubt he could talk his way into a night at a farmhouse. I started the silver Toyota again and drove north.
"It looks like Scotland to me." ---German hitchhiker.
"It looks like Norway to me."---me
Imagine a big convoluted sponge laid on the handle of an easterly shopping cart. This is the relationship of the Northwest Fjords to the great Atlantic Rift basket of Iceland. In the Northwester Fjords, like many places in Iceland, fish-scented towns rust along the long grey fjords, dwarfed by the lonely snowpocked treeless expanses of the mountains. Unlike the main body of Iceland, due to the Tertiary bedrock there is no weird volatile hotpot in the interior ready to erupt capriciously. Here, there is just rubbly rocks, alpine vegetation, and sheep. The one small icecap is called Drangajokull.
Like several others of the Crossflag, the Ristolippu lands, Iceland floats on a raft of temporal prosperity and 3% unemployment on a vast and relatively recent northern ocean of poverty, subsistence farming, and emigration. In these harbour towns, you can still feel it in the old disrepaired houses and the rust, in the emigration to Rekjavik. In *Patreksfjorður I rang at the door of the sole bleached black guesthouse. An old woman answered, then called in Old Norse for her grandaughter, whose ears, kept in place by many silver rings, held English well. But there was no room; evidenced by tour bus parked below. I drove on a mud road across the brown camels hump of tundra to Talknafjorður, where there was no room, and then across the other hump to Bildudalur, where there was no place to stay at all. Looking at the closed gas stations, I retreated to the fjorth between the humps and found a school with a room sign, a "summer hotel." The doors to the school were locked, even though it was still light. A tour bus parked beside the school indicated futility. I pulled into the adjoining campground.
"Is there a camping office?" I asked a sturdy Icelander, alone with his chunky blue SUV and his wee pop out trailer.
"Yes, but it closes at eight."
"I supposed I will camp anyway. There is nothing else to do," I commented.
"No," he answered. "There is nothing else to do."
I popped out the bright orange promotional pup tent I'd bought in a computer store in Akureyri. I popped it up in a flash behind my Corolla, and covered the top with my blue rain poncho. I threw my old down bag inside. Then I headed on foot towards downtown Talknafjorthur.
*Note: Patreksfjorður. I dont know where this place got its name, but Iceland is reputed to be the least Nordic of the Ristolipput (a name I made up from the Finnish risto-cross + lipput-flags). The Westman Islands in fact are named for Irish slaves or "Westmen" who escaped there. Some claim that all sorts of Celtic people settled Iceland, either dragged there by Vikings or escaping from Vikings, some coming up through the ferry route from Shetland to the Faeroes to Iceland.
Talknafjorður is a wide place in the road, spread out along the end of the narrow Fjoth. The big shopping place is the gas
station they call "Esso" in Old Norse, and it is similar to the old "Exxon-Bait" stations you find in Small Texas Towns. But
the gas stations here shut down around seven or eight. The only place open at ten o five was the Viola Cafe & Bar, a new
metal building with new manufactured homey decor. As in an English pubs, you order at the bar. Sideswiping the
light-flooded oak pool table, I approached the shiny oak and formica counter.
"Can I get something to eat?" I asked.
"No," the clerk said sadly, concerned. "The kitchen closes at ten. We close at 10:30."
"Can I get a pint of Viking, then? This is pronounced "Vick-ing."
She brightened. "Sure!" she exclaimed and pulled the tap.
The room was almost empty. I sat at a table by the street...or rather gravel road...window, at a new table made of black steel and oak formica and started to drink the Viking. It was like drinking cardboard...not only in comparison to the intoxicating scenery in Iceland which made drinking unnecessary, but because in Iceland, most beer is similar to Budweiser. "HiTax Cardvorth Svill Öl" is the long name for it...öl for short... in Old Norse.
At 10:15, the Icelanders began to arrive at the Viola, each clique in their own hi clearance 4WD. There are almost as many people in Iceland as there are SUVs and there is a reason for it, at least here in the rural areas, for the Icelandic landscape and climate makes the country the Yukon of Europe. Some came to get a package of potato chips or a coke and left, but others came to order beer and mixed drinks. A party of seven settled by the opposite window. I looked up from my Viking Ol to see the little blonde clerk.
"If you want,"she said enthusiastically, "I can bring you some soup. Or I could make you a hamporker."
And so I swallowed my pride, ordered chicken noodle soup, homemade in tomato broth., and watched Icelanders eat soup and hamporkers and drink Viking and Tuborg Öl by the table load. Outside the landscape of HiLuxes, Rams, and the occasional mud splattered white sedan gleamed in the approaching dusk.
"Do you want another beer?" asked the clerk.
"Sure,"I answered. What else was there to do?
I left close to sunset, which must have been around midnite, walking back in a drizzle along the sidewalk many blocks in the direction of the fish processing plant. I crawled inside my tent ,threw my open sleeping bag over the two KMart inflatable camping pads I'd brought and went to sleep. But at 2:30, I awoke freezing and could not back to sleep. Emerging into the white half light of darkest night, I rose up to walk in the little forest park. Almost all the forests in Iceland are planted. During settlement, Iceland was described as covered with forest. Some think deforestation combined with harsh climate denuded the landscape, others think that the what the voyagers saw were the willow and birch shrubs that are still seen today in sheep-free sites. The island, however, is being "reforested," in tiny dots, with conifers...spruces and pines...from Siberia and Alaska. Some think this is immoral and that it should be planted with more additional scruffy shrubs. I climbed the wood chip path, which went on and on towards the fish factory. In a clearing a bench faced a sign which thanked the late Eric Siggissen for his role in establishing this site. Below me, the lights of a few houses glowed. Then I walked back, zipped my bag around me, and fell asleep.
I woke up at eight. The management wanted its 800 kronas before I skipped town, and I was hungry. I took my ramen noodles and my camp pot into the kitchen of the community center, which was crawling with perhaps 15 people about my age.
"Har ar het vatn," a man told me in so many words. The evil tour bus had been filled with Rekjavikians. They sat eating their communal breakfast of bread and cold cuts and cheese, whacking off slices with a large knife. I poured het vatn over my ramen and sat at the place they had cleared. I was too stupid in the early morning to talk, and they said nothing I could understand. So I cannot tell any more stories about them.
"This is very unusual. Finns usually commit suicide in private."
Memories wafted through my head like the exotic fragrances from the plastic bag. A room divided horizontally into purple and yellow walls. A light green plate. Cold brown tea smothered in half and half. Ginger, mushrooms, onions, tofu heaped on the plate with blood-red hot peppers. A lunge towards the evanescent greyness of the water glass. AUGH!!! Outside the coffee shop below, a Russian man explained, "I was living in a dream."
"Onko sinulla kinalainen ruokaa?" asked the former Marjo Peltainen, standing at the front of the class. Do you have Chinese food, or rather "Is? you-on chinese food-some."
"Ei, se on thailainen ruokaa," I answered.
"Ei, se on thaiMAAlainen ruokaa," corrected Marjo. The word "maa" means "land."
After five sessions, the review goes on. It's not that I know everything, as the classroom exercises have pointed out, but in the next few chapters the book covers three useful forms of the past tense, the simple past, as it is euphemistically called, the conditional, and the other one. I would like a command of the past.
"Lenotokone [flying machine]???" Grandma used to always call it "Ilmalaiva [Air ship]." They called it "Ilmalaiva" in Northern Minnesota," argued Ralph Tuoli.
"That's an American term," explained Marjo. "The immigrants came over in ships, so everything was a ship to them. Remember, class, something has to be BIG to be a "laiva." Otherwise it's a "vene."
"In the Navy," said Javier, "Anything that could be put on a ship was called a 'boat.' It would have been a 'vene,' then."
My hopes of getting to the past perfect any time soon were set adrift. I held my pen in one hand and flipped the tip with the other. That's how you can tell I'm impatient. My grip slipped and the pen took flight halfway across the room.
"That's too far for me to reach," said Ken Korvalainen.
"I was doing that one day in a restaurant with a ketchup package," said Ralph. "But the container was defective. Ketchup squirted all the way across the room!"
"Punainen!" I said. Red.
"Well, let's put it this way. I offered to pay to have the guy's suit cleaned."
In the parking garage, I said to Cynthia, the legal secretary, "Maybe next year I will take Swedish."
"Me too," she answered. "A lot of the genealogical records I go through are in Swedish."
"I miss you. Why did you have to go to find work in Sweden? I wait for you here by the manure pile..."
Four mature women, spiritual daughters of Viola Turpeinen, formed an arc at the front of the room, monster piano accordions on their chests. Three were from Seattle, and one from Sointula, British Columbia and they represented three visible disasporic bands. The rest of us sat behind and to the side, two mando players, a guitarist (the only male), and myself, with Old Lucifer. For the women in front, the goal was to pick up tricks from the teacher, Pekka Pentikäinen. You many remember Pekka from Pirnales and Mr Mäläskä; he plays both a two row C/G and a 5 row button accordion. Pekka had only studied violin a couple years, and, though he knew enough to arrange tunes, he was leaving me and everyone but the accordionists alone. That was fine with me. My own goal was just to keep up with the tune no matter how flat...my fingers are short... so I could get a feel of playing with real suomalainen magicians.
"I dont hear much from you over there," commented one of the mando girls.
"Two reasons," I laughed. "The four accordions are so loud you cant hear. And second, I dont play very well so if I played louder, someone might turn around and bonk me on the head with one of those big accordions!"
These Finnish bands are a haven for people who like to read music. This is great because you can cover more tunes and take home a ream of sheet music. One of the pieces of sheet music we played was from Karelia.
"These tunes from the east are very old. They can be played on a five string kantele. They have a small...um...," said Pekka.
"Range," answered the guitarist, who had spent all his life speaking to Fenno-Canadian parents.
"Yes, and because of the small range they have a lot of ornament. In the west, there is a Swedish influence, in the east a Russian influence. The Russian ornaments are very elaborate...and very difficult. He picked up his huge black 5 row. As if for inspiration, the accordion was covered in a layer of clear plastic, bent into ornamental shapes that made the accordion resemble an evening gown.
"I will play this one for you now," said Pekka.
I have never been so close to someone who played like that. The monta kielta...the many reeds...spoke like the rolling tongues in the Asian cafes along KingsWay. His tunes on the little wooden Castagnari were like bare tree on a early spring hillside. On the 5 row, he played like waves rolling onto the long Pacific beach in the grey mist, like the grey fog rolling in before my car rolling along Canada One, one with the rolling wheels of a steam engine, one with the rolling hills of my heart.
Later, we practiced one of his own 4 page compositions, "Kontra."
"I forgot to xerox the last page. It will be good for you to learn it by ear." So Pekka played 2 sets of four bars and we tried to imitate.
"Looks like you got it! I almost got it," the guitarist told me. I smirked.
"It's no use," complained a Seattle woman. "I can't remember anything. It's in one ear out the other." One of the mando girls slipped her an impromptu transcription cheat sheet.
"You could do it that way," said Pekka, mildly launching into a soliloquy. "But unless you learn the song, you cannot improvise. You cannot play from your heart!" He patiently picked up his huge black 5 row.
"Here, here is how you play this. It's in the bellows. You have to remember the lift! Ahhh WHOOSH a Whaa da!! You can't just play it a da da da da! You have to make the dancers WANT to dance. Ahhhhh ROOMP a Whaa da!!"
I imagined my bow pressing down and going A WHUMP, just like John Turner taught me. When I got home, I would do that. Slowly. They call it "The Scottish Lift."
"Mandolines and wiolin, play the melody line!!! Guitar, could you give me rhythm chords!!!"
On Saturday afternoon, we performed another Pentakainen composition, "Purpurivalssi" or "Potpourri Waltz," special because the workshop was sponsored by the dance group Purpurit. It was to prove a disaster for me because I couldn't convince myself to play the line marked "clarinent."
"Just looking at those dancers makes me tired," said the guitarist.
"Well, it must be heavy carrying that big guitar around," I joked.
"It's nothing compared to my electric guitar."
"You played in a rock band?"
"No," he said. "I played in a Finnish dance band. That thing weighed a ton! I've done all sorts of things. I played in lounges in Alberta..."
"It must have been a metal guitar if it weighed a ton," I jested.
"It was wood. I played Irish music. Familiar songs to get drunk by."
"Oh, heck no. Stuff like 'The Wild Gypsy Rover....'"
"I know all those songs," I said.
"That's pretty optmistic," I said, looking at the five chairs.
"You should have been here last weekend. You have a lot of troubles," said the bass
"I have a lot of troubles?" I suddenly realized I felt perfectly happy and contented.
"No," he laughed. "Last weekend we had a lot of TREBLES. They all came in for the Convention from Seattle."
On the black asphalt intersection of Cherry Heights and 6th Street, a half turned moon white semi with a double trailer hauling great wooden fruit crates is stranded against the cloud grey sky. The truck dwarfs the helpful moon white City Of the Dalles Police SUV behind it, flashing lights yellow as the middle stripe, yellower than a golden delicious. Beside the cab are a few smoking flares, sputtering pink as a fuji hit by a rifle shot in Tacoma backyard. This is one of the busier intersections in The Dalles, but at 8:30 pm, there isn't enough traffic to be bothered by it. The straggling vehicles just go around.
I know this because I walked down to Albertson's to buy a bottle of surplus Hood River Flerchinger 2001 Oregon White Reisling, a head of leaf lettuce, and a package of day old discounted Mexican pastries. I had made it all day in Portland with no desire to drink, but when I got home, I was faced with this problem:
"If a company makes a series of boxes with the dimensions 6X, 8X, and X, write and simpllify an equation that gives the volume of the boxes. Use this equation to calculate the volume of boxes where x=2,3,and 5."
"6X times 8X? That's 48X."
My heart ached for Ian, but I felt angry as well. "Give that whole sheet and let me do it and turn it in!" I wanted to say. Children don't appreciate the gifts they are given by the school system. I'd loved geometry and got an A in it. It had inspired me to go on and take geohydrology and well logging so I could calculate porosity of aquifers, of oil bearing sandstones. This is not the same as permeability. Consequently there I was with the intention of picking out a bottle of wine to dull my mine against the invasion of equations and gamma rays.
I have several stories in my head, but they've gotten knocked out by the many small events on my trip to Portland. First there were the guys by the side of the I-84 near Corbett with rifles and camaflague clothing. Sometimes you see trailer loads of llamas, or horse trailers labeled "The Mulemanship School," or Indian red junks sailing the Columbia. But these Soldiers Against Invading Deer Terrorists appear over and over. Two weeks ago as I drove down the rocky Iceland-like rubble of Vensel Road, down past burnt hills that remained asphalt black, seven deer with backs like wheat fields and ears like spoons were invading a flat grass farm meadow on the right.
"What they do is hide behind barns and wait for a deer to show up and then they shoot," someone said in the oil change line at Oil Can Harrys.
"The hunters? Aw, that isn't fair," answered the mechanic who hands out Oregonians left over from Day's Inn to waiting customers.
This is as far as I can write tonight. My memory is in Portland, but my heart is not.
Aga alimxulkilxa! Build a fire!
Lars Knutsen's long blond locks hugged his brawny shoulders. "Judith Robertsdottir, captive from the Land Of the Blue Men, I have long seen thee herding thy cattle in the high fjells, and wondered at thy beauty. Come let me marry thee and take thee away through the fjords!" Lars touched my shoulder gently....
"Mom, I'm leaving!" yelled Erin.
I awoke with a start. There went my chance to get back to Thurso! Furthermore, I'd intended to ride with her on the bus on the field trip to the Maryhill Museum, but now it was too late.
It was eleven before I sailed along with the Great Road Ships down Washington 14, the Columbia Hills on my left and the Columbia River on my right. There are lots of semis on this road, forsaking the smoothness of Oregon's I-84. Both the weight limit...I think Washington has one of the highest weight limits in the nation...and the truck speed limit are higher on Washington 14. It is certainly the more interesting route for drivers. In winter you may hear on the Radio Y-104 Morning Weather Disaster Hour:
"Got a caller who says a semi overturned on the Wishram Curves!!!"
But still these great ships sail on past the deer brown bluffs of cheat grass and sage, many now coming in with fruit crates from Yakima, going south through Dallesport to Bend and beyond.
The Maryhill Museum is a mansion built in the wilderness over looking the Great River by Sam Hill, lawyer, road builder and Quaker. Sam built it for his wife, who no longer liked him and certainly didnt want to live with him in the middle of a barren steppe. It was turned into an art museum, an intellectual haven for the greying tourists who cruise the gorge highways even in October.
The last event for the children...the only one I was in time for...was "a guy with a flute." James E. Greeley, spiritual advocate and Native American flutist, had come up from Warm Springs with his collection of flutes, and , suitcase of CDs in front and his dad sitting behind him, was giving a concert. James was a robust young man in a sleeveless jacket. His heritage is the Wasco, Warm Springs, and Hopi Nations. Ten years ago, he was in a motorcycle accident. When he awoke he saw the three stars above him, the stars of Orion. The stars said to him: "Make Music."
"This music is ancient, it comes from the Hopi. When I go down there, I am so amazed, because all we have up here is our language. The Hopi have their traditions. But all that is changing there too. They have satellite dishes and cell phones."
James turned on his CD piano accompaniment and began to play flute. He never playes the same song twice, and the key to the tunes is in the pentatonic...or is it hexatonic...key of the instrument. Children sat on the floor in slipshod rows, like keys on a smashed typewriter, like kernals on an ear of country gentlemen corn. There were the blond heads of northern european children, and the black heads of hispanic children, and almost none in between but my daughter. Children had come in a yellow bus from The Dalles, and in two yellow busses from Goldendale, from both sides of the Columbia. They were all turned in the same direction, watching as James played. The music sang to me Two Words...."Windham Hill."
"Here are two flutes in different keys. They said that these keys, the flutes could not be played together. But when I play them, they are in harmony." He lifted the flutes to his mouth and played, in harmony. I walked back into the exhibit gallery, where contemporary artists had depicted rivers. Here were the ugly power dams of the great Columbia on canvas and the flowing rivers of California in stained glass. Here Wasco women gathered roots in watercolors along the river. It was here that the flutes would speak to me and they would say, "We flow like a river." Returning, I wished for a giant knife to slice the power lines of the great dams, and let the two wooden flutes play in peace.
The phrase at the beginning is in the Wasco Language. You can find James Greeley at http://www.warmsprings.com/flutist
The woman washing dishes told my husband: "They sure were digging into that salmon! What was it stuffed with?"
The White Salmon Grange is a modest frame building on the road from White Salmon to nowhere...literally, north to nowhere. The grange was the end of the line for the citizens of Mid-Columbia who had come to the annual folklore society potluck and concert. The potluck was in the drab basement, and most of the main dishes contained meat. You would think a bunch of Old Hippies would be vegetarians, but the only vegetarian main dish was an eggplant-potato casserole with a menacing sign: SPICY HOT!!! Many of the dishes were treehugger versions of Mexican food. My dish, however, was truly ethnic...I had taken the recipe right off the Virtual Finland web page (http://virtual.finland.fi/). At $1.99 a pound, it was a bargain to make stuffed salmon. I guess it wasnt vegetarian either.
The upstairs is a huge room with a stage and dance floor and faded mint green walls. The first act in the concert was Danforth Pogue, a bigwig in the Society. Danforth honestly sings well and boasted of having actually gotten paid to sing recently. First he sang "The Times Are A Changin'" and we all sang along, myself in my newly acquired treble descant. This is a very meaningful song for the desperate tree-hugging audience, because the times are a changing. We no longer have a president who just screws his staff, we have one who seems ready to screw the world in a downward spiral to cold nothingness. Even I as an anarchist wonder if I should cast my usual libertarian vote for senator!
"How's come everyone knows his song?"asked Ian.
"This is an old classic by Bob Dylan," I answered.
"How about this one he's singing now?" he asked.
"That's just one he picked up recently from Gillian Welch," I answered.
"What's the difference?"
"I'll explain it to you later." I rolled my eyes.
The second act was a lady who sings jazz standards beautifully. You may wonder why every year the traditional music society invites a different Cascadian version of Susan Werner to be the main act. I think it is just the way they are, and to be fair, "she" always wears nondescript cotton clothes instead of a sequined evening gown to sing her jazz. Staring blankly at the dance floor, I started to doze, having played 4 hours of heavy metal on KPSU the night before, resulting in 3 hours sleep.I half dreamed, half remembered the evening mixer during my trip to Vancouver 2 weeks earlier.
"Hey, that's great! We're almost out of the pale ale!" exclaimed the guitar player in our little band. He was in charge of the beer and didnt want to return a half full keg.
I walked over and stared out at the dance floor of the Scandinavian Heritage Society. The CD player was playing a hummppa. A tall, thin man with long white hair walked up to me. I would later discover that some of it was just really blond and that he was learning to play kantele and it was a theraputic experience.
"Would you care to dance?" he asked.
"I dont know how to dance like this," I answered. There was no caller.
"I'll show you!" he said.
I took off my new Bass black mini-clogs and we danced. As I expected, I was a disaster. This was a couples hummppa and as far as I knew was actually a fox trot. Most boys would give up, but this komea kanadalainen poika continued with me through a tango. What a mess! But he smiled. "Most people think a woman must follow a man when they dance, but it doesnt matter, as long as they can move together. There are more elaborate steps in a real tango, but the Finns have made it simpler. As long as you put this little jump in, you are fine....."
I awoke and stared again onto the rural Washington dance floor. The closest thing I could see to a dance was the fiddler for the Mill Creek String Band, sitting in a brown folding chair. Summertime and the living is easy...
Erin, however, was missing from all this because she had met a young man from Portland named Chris. Before she went home, she wrote his phone number down on a napkin.
"I go into Portland because I am taking a class and doing a radio show. I do European folk music."
"In addition to Heavy Metal?" answered his mom, a woman with long grey hair and a Pakistani skirt. "I once worked at a Whitesnake Concert, when I lived in the Bay Area. I had to work those to work what I wanted, like the Grateful Dead. I hated the metal concerts. I hated cleaning up vomit. I hated having people lying in my lap with alcohol poisoning."
This would never have happened with the current Oregon liquor laws.
Childhood Meals 1: Why I am a vegetarian.
My father was born into the Hoosier Aristocracy. One grandfather manufactured pianos,the other manufactured fencing, and his father manufactured 78s for the Ku Klux Klan. A walking encyclopedia, he majored in political science and chemisty and then completed almost two years at Harvard Law School. Then he found his true calling, wholesale refrigeration. He also found the Magic City of his heart, downtown Birmingham, where for forty years he did what he loved best. His true delight was switching around compressor parts so an appropriate machine could be shipped on Trailways to Piggly Wigglys in exotic places like Andalusia, Opelika, Pensacola, and Pascagoula. He sold other merchandise too, like copper tubing and fittings, V belts, and freon. Wholesale.
It might be midnite on a Saturday night, Bob Gennett would get a call and exclaim in passionate seriousness, "I gotta go down to The Store, the Winn Dixie in Sylacauga called and the compressor on their freezer is BUSTED." Once I was present at an on-air with Pierce Pettis. I told him my father sold compressors in Birmingham.
"Wow," exclaimed Pierce. "My father owned the Western Auto in Fort Payne. They probably KNEW each other!"
Bob was rarely home for dinner during the week, and to make up for it, he always cooked dinner on Sunday. The same menu was in place for the ten years of my memory. Sometimes if he were barbecuing on the battered aluminum grill in the driveway, he would make barbecued ribs or barbecued chicken. There were four vegetables: broccoli, asparagus, corn on the cob, and brussel sprouts. There was always a baked potato and a green salad with iceberg lettuce, tomatoes,and green onions. On a very special, exotic day, we might have suey-yaki, a recipe Bob learned from Cousin Virginia Jones when she came to visit from Honolulu.
"Got this from Cousin Virginia," he'd say, slicing up a huge STEAK. "This is what the Japanese eat."
But mostly we had STEAK. There were two types of STEAK, Tbone and sirloin. My father would cook it until RARE and then bring it up the basement steps into the kitchen and put it on a platter, where the table was set with the Poppy Trail dishes with roosters on them. The table was a circular maple Early American table from Ethan Allen, one of the things my mother had won in moving to this smaller house in Vestavia and sending her parents packing back to Indiana. No more chrome and mother of pearl formica for Mom! My father always sat in the middle, my mother on his right and I on his left. Seated, he would lift his huge knife and began to carve the sizzling semi-raw STEAK.
"Here's the tenderloin!" Bob would exclaim. "This is for my two girls, because I love them. During THE DEPRESSION, we couldnt afford STEAK!" He would then forcefully impale a piece of raw cow with his huge fork and flop it on my mother's plate. "I remember back in '36 when the farmers would come into Downtown Birmingham and sell eggs for 3c a dozen," my mother would comment.
Then he would say, "This is for my Punkin' Head!" and flop a piece of raw cow on my plate. He would then take a tougher and crisper piece. "Time for some hair tonic!" he would exclaim, as the Worcestershire sauce catapulted out. In the same manner, he then thrust out Wishbone Eye-Talian dressing onto his salad.
At an ASHRE (American Society of Heating and Refrigeration Engineers) Christmas party in my teenage years, I was allowed to order my own STEAK.
"Can I get that well-done?" I asked, eying the Heinz 57 sauce.
"I dont see why you had to buy that grey dress. People your age shouldn't wear grey. You look like a floozie!" my father commented.
Bob Gennett always embarrassed me, wearing sport shirts and white sox in a suburb where fathers wore suits. But now I am grateful that he was a character in "My Big Fat Hoosier Wedding" and not "Ordinary People." I am grateful that I can write about him with such a smile on my face.
A lot of girls dont ask themselves this question, but I do. Where do you go to find the most guys with ponytails? And I know the answer. Contra dances! One day early this year I said my usual line:
"This is Oregon. Your boss doesn't care if you grow your hair. It is just your own notion of what seems proper from your small-town childhood in southern Minnesota."
And after 28 years of bait and switch, my own boy answered, "You're probably right."
Now I am able to make my own contribution to the pool! Now I must dance with my son, known presently as "AT&T." My spouse is long gone with some hippie treeplanter from Trout Lake or a greying divorcee from Parkdale in a tie die shirt.
Rockford Grange, Saturday night. The band is the Mill Creek String Band, a little off pitch but right on tempo. The caller is Wendy from Walla Walla, Washington. She is a calm woman with straight shoulder length brown hair. She is wearing black knit bell bottoms and a mustard sleeveless tunic.
"OK, you down there, the guy in the yellow t-shirt! And you, AT&T shirt! The other direction!"
The reason I like the contra is that to some extent the dances level the dancers, even knock them over. It has been said in Balkan dances,once you get through the horrendous memory feat of learning the dance, you've got it. But who wants to memorize dances? Why not just have a caller come in from Yakima or Walla Walla and tell you exactly what to do? Do-si-do the second man across on your right, balance and swing, hold onto each other in reverse, crawl under a line of chairs, stand on your head,and then gypsy while flapping your arms like a chicken. In some places it is the mark of a defective dance author when they come up with this gibberish, but in Cascadia, it is the norm. Say you are in Portland at the Masonic Hall, there are dedicated dancers who can do something like this with utmost grace.
"You're new aren't you?" they will say, flapping away like a phoenix. "You'll get the hang of this soon!"
In Hood River, however, the response is different.
"Pass to the left! Pass to the right. Third couple, you should be at the THIRD COUPLE. Balance and swing!" calls Wendy.
I force my daughter and parttime boyfriend off to the LEFT, drag her to the RIGHT, then swing the THIRD GUY, a white haired rancher wearing a polyester cowboy shirt and pointy boots.
"Why are there four couples there standing alone? This is the twelfth time we've done this!"
"It's these kids at the end! They're not old enough to count! You can't tell who the guy is!" whines someone. But the cluster of pre-school girls is just an easy target...
The men are up from Kent, and out of Essex too...
After my show, I walked down Park, over a block to Broadway. Approaching Yamhill, I spied a restaurant I'd not eaten at:
East Timor. "Wow I'll have to try that," I exclaimed mentally.
Approaching Yamhill I could hear the roar of a great whale in an ocean:
"NO WAR NO WAR NO WAR"
People were assembled in Pioneer Square, by the Portland Courthouse. Estimates of the last rally were around ten thousand people; this one was projected to be larger. Good humored Portland police milled around in Darth Vader costumes; others wore yellow and tooled around in bikes. Some ralliers carried signs. No war in Iraq. Capitalism kills. F**K Bush. An older man and woman, her hair sprayed into a helmet, were representing Pro-Life Against War. (This would seem an obvious connection.) Northwest Veterans Against War carried a huge green and white cloth banner between two grey men. The Unitarians carried an embroidered banner, economically feasible from many campaigns. A pedigreed pooch carried a paper sign---Dogs Against War.
I picked a comfortable spot next to a man with a sign that said "Libertarians Against War." I liked the motif, the statue of liberty cringing at the sight of a desecrated constitution, so I settled in, making two Libertarians Against War. On the stage, The School of the Americas Watch told of many terrorist acts, and of the valiant Oregonians arrested in Georgia for going beyond the fence. Then the Multnomah Monthly Meeting lady began to speak. That was us.
"This rally is not against a war starting against Iraq. There is already a war in Iraq. This is World War III. It has already begun."
"Hear hear!!!" shouted the Libertarian, waving his fist. Unity is the word.
At 2 o'clock, we began to move out. I thought it would take time to even begin to roll, but I followed a moving wave. In 3 minutes we were on blacktop in the middle of Broadway. We were a rag tag lot, anarchists in black, punks with rings, and an amazingly huge number of Ordinary People. There were many young people, many children and babies in carriages. There were men in wheelchairs. Many of us had gray hair, and whether dressed in jeans and llama sweaters or velcro windbreakers, we had been through these "wars" too many times. We walked up Broadway and turned...somewhere. My comrades kept changing...a yuppie couple with a child between, emos, a white haired tattooed and ringed man in black carrying a gas can with a dolls head on the spout, friends from Hood River, a Boston Terrier straining at his leash (another Dog Against the War!). At the government buildings, the troops began to open up. A chopper dangled above our heads and we cheered. Some groups turned into side streets.
"Oh, I see what's happening," an Ordinary Man told his Partner. "That's the jail. The inmates are yelling stuff to us! And the more radical groups are turning off to do adventurous things."
But we Ordinary People walked on forward like little sheep. In the fleece I'd bought in Victoria, I was afraid I'd be deported as an outside agitator if I raised a ruckus...no good taking it off since my Tshirt said "Yukon!" Imagine being deported to set up shop in Jake's on the Alaska Highway! On either side of the streets, people were doing mini skits, like floats in a parade in reverse. A couple had set up black umbrellas with peace signs painted on in white. People would start chants from a stationary position. And it was along the shores of the Willamette that the cheerleaders appeared. Amongst the forced observers, people in SUVs flashed peace signs. An elderly woman in a stalled bus came to the front and flashed a peace sign. No one countered us.
"I can't see the back of the line," another Ordinary Man commented as we walked the Willamette.
A minute later I pulled aside, off onto a little grassy area. There was no beginning to the line, no end to the people on the blacktop. We stretched the distance of the long Willamette, as far as we could see.
An hour later, I watched the cheerleaders dance off in front of a smiling motorcycle policeman, and turned back up Broadway, the third time today I had been at this point. Inside the little East Timor, I ordered vegetables over rice in coconut sauce and a Malaysian tea.
"You can get a free refill on that tea," said the owner in an oriental accent. I drank a second glass and pondered coming here from Southeast Asia and working your ass off while Ordinary Americans were going berserk on foot a few blacks away. But he was working so hard he couldn't see.
A couple walked by outside carrying signs and stared in to the window. I flashed them a V-sign. They smiled, and flashed back. We were all three trapped in a flash back.
The Finnish word for November is Marraskuu, the Dead Month, the moon that sheds its dead layers. On this beach beside
the Mouth of the Hood River, death was all around. Yellow leaves of maples, a small mammal skull and open halves of
clam shells bleached white lay in the brown and black volcanic sands. Grey Pacific chimneys sent their wet smoke out into
the late afternoon sky. The reflection turned the waters of the Columbia the white of old milk spilled onto rain puddles in a
parking lot, fading to a the forest green of an old pine building near the bridge to Bingen. Cars crossed into Washington and
back, sending out the grim strident hum of a cyclone. Then in the turn of a head away, the blink of an eye, headlights above
steel grates cut the water like laser beams, like Christmas lights.
An angler stood at the point, becoming black against the clouds. Far out into the river, seagulls stood like fat swans, black and grey and white. In a turn of the head, my daughter appeared as well, walking on the chalky water far out onto the Columbia.
Returning, she picked up her chocolate bar and put on her shoes. "It looks like my snickers found my sneakers," she said.
In Portland streets, the fine dead leaves of Japanese maples now lie against the dead leaves of native bigleaf maples.
I Pause For Paiutes...
A loud boom tore across the sullen western sky and, like the waiting for a child hours late coming home from school, the horror threatened never to cease. Seconds crept on. Portland was at last under nuclear attack!
I rushed cautiously outside, into the dull grey half light of noon The sounds of hell stopped, then thundered again and again. Damn! It WAS thunder!!! Today was the day of The Dalles' annual thunderstorm!!!
I drove through the cold grey rain down to the Post Office, and then crossed the river. A fine grey vale hung across the Columbia so that nothing was visible of the Dalles, nothing visible beyond the dalles. At last the orange ball of the Murdock 76 station appeared. It was here that I once drove off without taking the nozzle from my gas tank, pulling the bottom part of the hose completely off. It was here I learned that gas hoses are made to pull off easily and undamaged!
I turned again east with a full tank. The damp green of new cheat grass finely rose from the black charred earth of Murdock, Washington. On the left, a herd of basalt black buffalo grazed on the flank of a dalle, on the east flank a herd of asphalt black yaks. On the right, more typical, a herd of black and white cattle milled.
I braked for the figure at the junction of 14 and US196. He was a small dark man with a long, unruly crew cut and a NYY satin jacket. His name was Jamie. We shook hands.
"I'm just going across the bridge," I said.
"That's fine. I'm going to Cascade Locks because my son has a basketball game there. I can't drive until I pay the State Of Washington $4000 to cover my fines." The fine aroma of hard liquor arose above the usual Windstar stench of dirty socks and half drunk butterscotch sodas. He continued:
"We have this new trailer in Wishram. It's hard raising two children..ten and twelve...on my own." He paused.
"Sounds like you have a hard life," I answered.
"Ha, ha, yes, maybe. I'm a commercial fisherman. We aren't getting anything for salmon this year on the Columbia. So this year we've been packing more, and selling that."
"Where?" I asked.
"Right down there." He pointed off the great salmon-colored Dalles bridge we were crossing. "Right by the Chevron station there. They've got two pound a piece in them, and we sell them for $2 a pound. That's more than we get from the fish buyer. In a day, I'll get a ton, two or three thousand pounds of fish. My brother will get three thousand, and my other brother too. That's a lot of fish. But we're not getting anything for them."
" Do you want off on the West exit? You've got a ways to hitchhike."
"If you could go one more exit, maybe it would be easier to get a ride...at least to Hood River...I was raised in The Dalles. Right by the high school. I would jump out of bed when the bell rang! But no, it's not a long way. I've hitchhiked all over the country. And I've lived in Seattle, went to college a couple years in Pullman, you know where that is? Lived over in Idaho. I've got an hour and a half and its only 40 miles."
Then I pulled off at the port of the Dalles exit, the one with the leaping sturgeons on the bridge.
"Hope you catch up with that school bus!" I encouraged.
I was walking out of KPSU Sunday after my show when I ran into the Music Director Angelo. Imagine a young man with big black glasses in a mid 60s rock band and you have Angelo. This is just one of the popular styles in Portland today. He was carrying a grey plastic crate full of CDs.
"This is the CDs no one will review. I'm taking them home. I'm trying to get together little parties at my house to take care of them." Angelo is one for parties.
"Well, it's mostly college rock."
"Hey look, here's a Metal Blade CD. Cannibal Corpse and Cattle Decapitation."
"You know, Cattle Decapitation is pretty well thought of...you can have this promo, we had a couple copies. See if there's any other metal in there."
I looked. You can tell by the cover usually. Some of them have great graphics. I picked out a few. You get about an hours credit for FCC review and leveling a concise opinion, stay or go.
"I like the ones from Sweden," I said grimacing at my Kittie album.
"There's a new one that came in by a hair band, but they're really good. I'll put it in your box."
"Do they have face paint?"
"Yeah," Angelo winced. "but they're good."
I went through Lolipopvomitsquad in the morning, thinking maybe I heard "uck" a couple times, but with those vocals, who could say. They had some good moments, some real head banging opportunities, but the vocals really sucked. Then I listened to Eightmile in my car. It turned out to be an uninspired generic vaguely country rock band with Michigan accented vocals. Upon arrival at Portland State, I returned the two CDs.
Both Angelo and Dave, the station manager, were there. Dave is looking sleek and smart now in his black clothes, silver studs and short, newly partially blond hair. I think that's him on the website before he metamorphosed into high fashion.
"No good huh?" asked Dave immediately.
"Well...this one here has its moments," I answered.
"Oh yuck, these guys here look pretty cheesy!" commented Dave. The Michigan band was wearing Hawaiian shirts.
"No good, huh?" asked Angelo. "Yeh, you can just tell by the name, Lollipopvomitsquad."
These Cds were doomed before I ever got them. It would have taken the Coast Guard to save them.
"Be sure you sign in your hours," commented Dave.
About one I decided to make muffins. I took the now three-piece paperback copy of "The Joy Of Cooking" from behind the
leaded glass doors of the secretary. Then I began to measure the flour.
"Can I help?" asked Erin.
"Well, you will need to add two teaspoons of baking powder," I answered. It was good she had offered. My enthusiasm had begun to wane when I found no corn meal in the cupbords. I don't cook as much as I used to, because I no longer have a gas stove. In fact, I rarely cook at all unless I go outdoors and use the camp stove. But it is too cold now to do that.
I cut up the broccoli head and then set it aside to microwave. Then I set the table. If I waited, then someone might bring out the chipped corelle and the threadbare placemats used for packing in the last move. I took out the red and green and gold tablecloth from KMart, and...
"I think I'm gonna make that cake now," said Ian. He started to rummage in the cabinets for molasses and chocolate, to make his signature cake.
...and my greatgrandmother Reid's Bavarian wedding china, blue on white. The plates are only mid-sized, but there are a lot of them! Then I went into the foyer, to theglass case, and took out four harvest gold Fostoria goblets, heavy horses of glassware, bought at an estate sale in Bryan. I took out four small thick pink molded glass bowls that I'd bought at a boot sale in England....
"Why does that batter look like cookie dough?" I asked Erin. "How much milk did you put in?"
"Here, it says 3/4 cup. You will have to put more milk in."
....the Chinese blue handled silverware that I forgot we had, that was in the kitchen drawer and they all matched. This is how I set the table. In Alabama, we had held annual Christmas parties for the employees at Refrigeration Supplies Distributor (RSD). My job would be to set up the card tables and then set them with nice tablecloths. I would lay out our three sets of silverware (silver, silverplate, and kitchen leftovers), with a Chianti bottle holding a candle in each center.. The food was served buffet style, and my mother did all the cooking. On the maple table were things like olives and smoked clams, food before dinner. Also in the breakfast room, my father held his open bar, housed by the matching Ethan Allen colonial dry sink. But it was to the Duncan Pfyfe dining room table, laid with a Christmas cloth, I would carry my mother's main courses. These might vary from year to year, but she always made scalloped oysters. That was my mother's trademark, scalloped oysters.
I put Erin's muffins in the oven and skidded on some chocolate batter Ian had dropped.
"Can you get a pan down there for me down there while you're on the floor, Erin?" I requested.
"A pan? Do you mean a pot?" she asked.
I cut off a chunk of butter, and sauteed four green onions. I slid in 2 cup jars of raw oysters. Then I added a cup of half and half and a cup of milk. I shook in dried chervil and salt. This is what I make for thanksgiving instead of turkey.
By the time it all got to the table, Erin had added a dresser scarf and a Christmas angel candle. My husband added the glass he had been drinking from. I rolled my eyes, glad I had thought to set the table, and said nothing. I thought the stew was the best I had ever made. It was the chervil.
Someone asked me recently where I had as a child imagined I would be at this age and I said "Hosting dinner parties." They may have rolled their eyes!
"There seems to be a duality in all our lives."--Tom May
Kell's Pub is located on second street in downtown PDX. PDX, directly derived from the airport code, is the cool word for Portland. Kells is a big place, lined on the inside with bare brick walls. The ceiling is wood and has rolled up dollar bills randomly tacked on . Along one side of the room is an ornate bar backed by mirrored storage of hundreds of liquor bottles. At the back is a little stage.
I had come here to see Tom May, for one because I identified with the duality. Unlike some people met during my college years, I have never searched for myself. I have always known who I am, and like Sybil, I have always had multiple personalities. My problem instead has been to prevent myself from inventing yet another personality, a so-called "synthetic social personality," one that would prevent me from putting my foot in my mouth and thus theoretically be invited to hundreds of great parties, a glib person able to generate fascinating and acceptable festivity conversation like this:
"I work as a dental technician in Stevenson. Last week I had a cold so I took sick leave for three days and stayed in bed and watched "Friends" reruns and ate Big Macs. It was the most fun I've had in a long time!"
But also it was an easy gig. After Finnish class I stashed my books in the Windstar. When I saw my classmate Cynthia's car coming down the ramp, I stuck out my thumb.
"Can you give me a ride to Kell's downtown?" I asked.
I stepped inside. The tape player was spitting out humppa vocals.
"My gosh!" I said. Maybe the tapes came with the car, inherited from Uncle Eino in Astoria.
Back in the presency of Kells, the waiter came with a menu.
"What do you have on tap?" I asked.
"It's all here on the menu."
"Can I get a half of guinness?"
"Yes, a small pint." I liked the word "half," but for 12 ounces, it was inaccurate..
Tom May was dressed all in black, Portlandista style. I would have been too, if I'd taken my sweater, but I was too cold. He'd made it through "Wild Mountain Thyme," Whiskey In the Jar," and "Come Out Ye Black and Tans" by the time I'd got my half. The conversations in the room blared and the speakers blared even louder. Duality had ensnared the audience. Straight back, a table of grey, bearded men listened in rapt silence, as did a couple on the front end of the bar and four people at a table beside me. A football game spurted out from a TV nestled near the shelves of bourbon and kahlua. "Rahhyw!!!" yelled a number of the men whenever the *Ducks made a touchdown. It was a scene right out of your Irish dreams! I reminisced on a Paddy O'Brien gig like this at the Waterloo Icehouse, but the audience was paying $8 a head for the ambience. That's why the accordion was invented, to cut through the rabble!
Tom, alone with his guitars and whistle, sang on. I love these Stan Rogers voices...Stan, his brother Garnet, Keelaghan, whatever. "Gypsy Rover," "Edmund Fitzgerald," The Water Is Wide," some post-beatle song, "Star Of the County Down," "The Lovers Heart," "Diamond and Rust," and "Walk In the Irish Rain." What a set list! Here were many of my favorites, songs I play myself every week or so, or even sing.
"From Banbridge Town in the County Down
One morning last July..."
If I'd 'a got a pint, I would have been in tears. After each song, Tom would give a little talk, and everyone would clap. It is the ambience of the voice that sinks in, the ambience of Nebraskan Mother Eire, without the confusing clutter of doubtful songs.
At the end of the set, I walked up and introduced myself.
"I thought that might be you," he said.
"Who else would be writing down song titles on a napkin?" I answered
"Were you here when I played "Hands UP!?""he asked.
Then I walked back, up the fourteen blocks of dark Portland, past the brick of upscale streets, past Portlandista blackgarbed perfect couples, past the Christmas lights on Pioneer Square, past the immaculate white MAX train to the airport, gateway to the world, up to Portland State University and my red Windstar in the ramp.
*It wasnt the Ducks, I just said Ducks for literary effect.
You can find these recipes at http://virtual.finland.fi/finfo/english/joulreng.htmlrealize your
In December, the Cascades, the vessel which holds and routes the Columbia and its gentle tugs, rise grey in the evening sky. Clouds smolder a warlike hot pink and orange, glowing cheese curds in the azure sky above the Willamette. Here to the east, in The Dalles, the Columbia Hills are iced in white.
Actualize your visualization of making your own cheese. Pour three liters of whole milk into a huge pot, rapu-size...."rapu" is Finnish for "crawdad." Let it come almost to a boil and add 1 liter of sour cream and four eggs. Then cook this at low heat until it curdles. Strain through a tea towel in a sieve. Squeeze the remaining water out. Now, taste the cheese and exclaim, "Oh crap, screw this electric stove, I singed the milk!" Then go back to Albertsons and buy more milk and sour cream.
On my second try, between taking Ian to Kung Fu and the Colonel Wright Elementary Winter Concert, the recipe worked out fine, except that the curds were mushy and stuck to the towel. I added salt and parsley and then scraped the white goo into a Corning Ware pan. I put the pan in the refrigerator overnite and in the morning I baked the cheese at 250F for 25 minutes. Then I baked it at 250C for 15 minutes! Tama on kuinka teen "muunajuustoa." This is how you make Munajuustoa, or egg cheese. You could call it a "home cheese." It is great for pot lucks! In fact, this is what I was supposed to stuff my salmon with, instead of ricotta.
At Finnish class in Portland, there were many good dishes. Our teacher had brought gingerbread men and prune tarts. Onnie brought carrot casserole. Ken brought rice porridge to go with Javier's fruit soup. Cynthia brought lox like salmon (the swedish for salmon is "lax" and in Finnish "lohi" or "lohta" in the partitive singular...) and liver pate and crackers. Ralph brought 2 types of bread he had made. A mutual friend of our teacher and Philip Page had come by to drop off illegal Glog to drink. We thought of the food as we reviewed for an hour. "What is the plural partitive of lohi?" she asked. Lohia. Lohien. Lohten. Lohiin. Lohissa. Lohista, Lohilta....it is a wonder that Finns have any brain space left after learning to speak! It is a wonder they have any stomach space left after these little Christmas buffets, the linguistic predecessor for "little lunch." Luckily I had brought my children to cut the leftovers.
Ian was wolfing down a platefull of carrot casserole as I asked Ken, "What's the drinking age in Finland?" Ken is 19, and had hit the Helsinki bars with his dad this summer.
"Eighteen. But where we were, there were a lot of 16 year olds. No one cards you."
"Wow," I said.
"They stop selling beer in stores at nine, lock it up. So people buy it then, and if they want more, they go to the bars. The clubs close at 2 or three, and then people drink outside. In the mornings, there's glass all over the streets. But they have it all cleaned up by the afternoon.
My thoughts drifted back to the music festival in Falun, Sweden in 1999. A girl, maybe 16 or 17, was standing alone in the middle of the main street of town, in the beginning dark of night. She stood on the center line, swaying, holding onto her backpack and staring at the pavement. I had hurried on, dragging Erin to the car as fast as I could, so we could change her clothes before Hoven Droven. Then I thought of how good the pear cider is in Sweden, as good as in the Okanagan. I thought of the one step from laughter to lonely pathos, the young doe in the headlights of a Volvo bent for hell or Finland.
Fred Meyer...that may seem an unfamilar name to people in the East, but in truth Fred Meyer is just the Cascadian word for Kroger. The name is known as Kroyur's in some of the Dew Drop Inns in the Fargo area. This mutates as such in the polygamous regions of Utah, where an ex-Dakotan convert may have enough families to support his own shopping center. Hence, a reformed drinker may say, "I just came from "My Kroyurs" with a gift of Diet Rite for my 6th wife, Doreen." This furrther mutates in the mountainous areas of Idaho long settled by Scotch-Irish to "fra' McRaiers." or sometimes "fra' M'Raiers." Finally, in Oregon, the name has become "Fred Meyer."
I'd pulled my wee cart into the checkout at about 10:30...Freddie's stays open til eleven in The Dalles.
"Here, get up in front and unload this stuff," I commanded. You have to jump start these boys. "I remember when you were young, Ian, you would stand and whine for a candy bar."
"Huh," said Ian as he threw a pack of gum onto the belt and left.
"What does this stuff taste like?" asked the clerk, dangling a package of Oregon Chai, my transliteration of "good coffee."
"Uh...oh what's the word?" I answered. The words were in the tip of my tongue. "You must be very sheltered. Have you lived here all your life?"
"No,actually I'm from Lyle." Lyle is a little town on the Great River, at the mouth of the Klickitat, in the State of Washington. "But now I live on High Prairie."
"I've never been to High Prairie," I said. High Prairie is behind the Columbia Hills, and there is no good reason to go there. Most of what is there is dry grass.
She continued, "Lyle isnt the same. It's not the same people who used to live there, but its the same old dirt and wind. So we moved even further out. The wind is so strong there that at night, it keeps you awake. If you leave something out, it will blow all the way to Centerville."
"Constant Comment," I said. "That's what it tastes like."
"Oh, that's good stuff! My mother used to drink it all the time. Press the enter key to say it's the right price."
"No it's not. It should cost half that much." Indeed.
The clerk laughed.
This month, the caller at the Rockford Grange was from Portland. He resembled a little pudgy sea captain.
"All right, I think we have enough people to dance now!" he exclaimed. Let's start out with the Virginia Reel. In the Northeast, they would call this a CONTRA dance, but in the South it would be a SQUARE dance. Now I will assume none of you know how to contra dance..."
No one said a word. Most of the 12 Gorgista on the floor...at least the ones over 12...had been dancing for many years, but a majority still felt adequately inept not to admit ever having previously put their toes to the floor. What if he asked someone to demonstrate?
"This," he instructed, grabbing a beautiful woman in Indian fabric clothes, "is how you ALLEMANDE. The secret is to pull back. You must do this quickly, like you are holding up your partner! Or you will NEVER get done in time."
The Virginia Reel was going smoothly. Then my Corner stuck out his foot and I tripped. I fell backward and though I can usually recover from a trip, this time I flew backwards, bracing myself for indignity. Lucky I was wearing Portlandista black jeans! I hit my hip, and then the back of my head. You could hear the back of my head against the wood floor. KABONKA!
I thought, "Roll over Judith, immediately, so people will know you're OK...." So I did.
"I'll get your glasses, Mom," said Ian. "Boy, you were FLYING!!!!"
I sat out for the rest of the reel.
"Are you OK? You should lie down," suggested the cashier, an Old Hippie from Mt. Hood.
I didn't feel bad. But parading before my eyes were my childrens' bumps. The time Emma fell on her head in nursery school
and spoke gibberish. The time Emma fell off a horse and spoke gibberish. The time Ian slipped out of his unfastened car
seat at a fast stop and couldn't stand up. The time Erin fell down at nursery school and had a huge goose egg...I knew the
signs! I went downstairs, looked at my pupils, and then lined up for the next dance.
"We got enough people for a contra dance here now!" said Kaptain Kontra. "Hey, two people have fallen now, maybe we better move over a little." My Corner had mysteriously slipped on a fast turn. "Maybe they waxed the floor! Are you OK? Are you seeing any any stars?"
"Yes I am," I said, pointing at the many tiny white Christmas lights.
"And up on the stage too!" he exclaimed. The Mill Creek String Band beamed down at us.
October 31st, 2002, The Dalles.
The Barbecue Restaurant & Bar is located across from Don's Carpet and Espresso. In the later evening, you will be deceived by the lotful of SUVs and pickups into thinking a lot of people are eating there, but you'll go in and only one other table will be occupied. That's because most of the people are in the bar.
On Halloween, I sat at a table at The Barbecue, dressed as usual in my jeans and Victoria, Canada fleece jacket, contemplating a second margarita. Ian, dressed in a number of clothes...black sweat pants, shiny red soccer outfit, a down vest, and a beret, finished off a burger. Erin, dressed as a court scribe, snored at an empty bowl of soup. Trick or Treating in shirt sleeves in 40 degree weather had taken it's toll.
"Oh I guess not," I said, like I usually do. The ghostly spectre of one of my husband's aunts stood over me, threatening to hit me with a dead loon if I ordered another drink. Then I went up to pay the bill.
"Where's your husband?" asked the waitress.
Ian and Erin arose magically when they sensed a conversation arising like the aroma of pickled kidney beans from the salad bar.
"He's teaching a class."
"No," I corrected, "tonight he is taking a class."
"Well," said the waitress, dangling the bill. "I knew I had seen him up at the college. I take a lot of classes up at the college..."
"What in?" I asked.
"Oh about everything. I just love taking classes. I was in nursing for a while but decided I didn't like it. But I'm about to run out of classes. Maybe I should get a bachelors degree." I could see her smiling obliviously through "Principles of Metaphysics."
"Don't they transfer?"
"I guess they do! You know, my son finally graduated from high school this year and left home. I'm free! I'd love to move somewhere. Some people like living here, you know, it's small and..."
"Safe," I completed.
"Yes, safe. But it's limiting. My boyfriend...he lives with me...my boyfriend is head of the Produce Department at Albertson's and he LOVES his job. I would have to convince him to move."
"Where would you move?"
"Well, not Portland. They have Road Rage in Portland. I'll tell you where I'd like to go...Boise!
"Yes, it's a really beautiful town. They have a green belt and a lot of things going on! And Albertson's has a big headquarters there..."
And he hit the four wheel drive at Johnson's Crossing.
Found him 38 miles up the Canol Road.
In this part of the world, the progression to studded snow tires progresses like spitting snow for a while, with people wishing to go up above the snow line spitting into the store early. Then when the first snow arrives around the first of December, it is a blizzard rather than a flurry at the two tire stores here in The Dalles. At Nelson Tire Factory, just on the other side of the freeway, people normally wait in the four lines for hours at a time, because without those tires, they are stuck right here in The Dalles, unable to make it to the basketball game in Dufur, or to Gramma's wheat farm on Eightmile Road. They can make it down I-84 to Rowena, but towards Hood River the snow becomes more determined. And even with the tires, once they get to Cascade Locks they wish they had four wheel drive as well, for just beyond lie the Bonneville Curves, where they could easily land right on the roof of the Eagle Creek Fish Hatchery.
This year there has been no snow and the tire changings have continued to spit. But on Thursday, Erin received a phone call.
"Mom," she demanded, "Can you take us to Government Camp on Saturday? We would like to have a little celebration." Govenment Camp lies on US26, at the base of the Great Volcano Wy'East. You may recall Government camp from last January, when I almost got stuck near there delivering a hitchhiker to the SkiBowl. It was at Government Camp where the blizzard started in the story.
"Who is we? Who has PERMISSION to go?"
"Keenan and Trace," she answered. Guys. Erin is One of the Guys."
Today, I went to Oil Can Harrys to get my oil changed. An Oregon State Trooper pulled in behind me, always in need of more oil for his busy day. The I went home, because Erin had only a half day at school.
"Wee Heather is mad at me," she said. "Loreena got my present for gift exchange, and Heather said she was really upset."
"What did you give her?" I asked. Actually, the presents are all up for grabs.
"A bar of soap."
"A bar of soap."
"It was under five dollars. Loreena's Chinese...um, Mexican. They don't forgive people easily. It's not my problem. She picked it."
I went out in the garage and loaded up my snow tires.
"Erin, do you want to come with me to get these tires changed?"
"Do you want to go with me to Government Camp?"
There was almost no one at Nelson Tire Factory, but the few cars there were all having their snow tires put on. 1-2-3-4, off came my summer tires, my Toyos and my Uniroyals. The Uniroyals I had purchased at Northern Tire in Prince Rupert. Near Williams Lake, Emma had said,
"Mother, the car veers to the right. Look what happens when I take my hands off the wheel. Your tires are bad."
The Windstar veered to the right. By the time we got to The Hazeltons, it was veering quite a bit, threatening to hit a bear or an elk or a canoe or a logging truck or something.
"No wonder!" said the man at Northern Tire. You can find the Northern Tire Store in Prince Rupert right across from the Moby Dick Hotel with its great Swirlpool. This is where Erin left her book below the bathroom sink. "There's almost no tread left on these front tires! We'll get you fixed right up with Uniroyals!"
"You can just put them in the side door," I told the tire boy, a middle aged man with slick hair.
A chunk of margarine hung from the inside of the door. Someone had smeared the windows of the car with margarine Tuesday when we were at the Holiday Concert at the high school, and I'd thought I'd got it all off Wednesday at the gas station in Bingen. How embarrassing to have margerine hanging there.
"Sure," he said and then looked at Erin. "You want me to pile two of these in that way so you'll be stuck forever in the back seat?"
"NOOO!!!" said Erin.
"I'll pay for this tonite," he moaned. His leg hurt from all this work.
"Snowtire work picking up?" I asked.
"It has been today," he answered ominously.
"A trip to Wy'East!"
The Finnish word for snow is "lumi." Valkotaivas, the snow white sky above the Great Volcano Wy'east, has erupted luminescent snow instead of rhyolitic ash. And so it was that four children came to ride with me into the vast whiteness of the Oregon wilderness. Ja niin neljä asta ajavat minun kanssa Oregonalaisiin metsään, isossa punaisessa Fordissa, they would say in Finland.
The moment the Big Red Windstar dragged out from my driveway, I knew something was wrong. Two blocks later, the grim looking Fred Meyer handyman motioned me to roll down my window. I touched the electronic trigger.
"Yeah, I know, I have a flat tire," I said, planning to call Triple A again.
"Pull over there, I'll fix it for you!" he growled with a sigh.
"This jack you have isn't worth a cent!" he cursed. "I usually have a GOOD jack in the pickup! Lucky I was already wet!"
His workmate drove by in his Gold '71 Impala. "Hey! I'll have to tell everyone you have a softspot!" he teased.
Back again at Nelson Tire Factory, we pulled into a bay immediately, parallel with a little tireless Tracker.
"Oh boy!" bragged Erin. "They're going to jack us up!"
"This tire is ruined!" explained the tire man, concerned. "We're trying to find a used one. But if we can't, this is covered as "road hazard," in your warranty!"
With a new discounted tire and four complementary hot chocolates made with water from the bathroom tap, we pulled out for Hood River only an hour and a half late. We drove South on Oregon 35, along the snow lined Hood River Valley, past apple trees that in their stark blackness resembled Iraqi troops from the Gulf War. A little past Odell, snow appeared in ragged patches along the side of the road. We stopped at the Ranger Station in the town of Mount Hood for a Sno-Parc Pass.
"Ian," I asked my sidekick in the front. "Go check and see if they're open."
I turned around to an empty car. Three fourth graders were already lunging for the snow in the yard of the ranger station. Ian tried the locked door, then lunged too. Then they all began throwing snow. Someone was rolling the torso for a snow man! Where were their gloves? Why was everyone wearing dirty socks on their hands?
Twenty minutes later, we pulled out, tearing up the road with our studded tires progressively south, curling around Mount Hood. The legions of spruce and fir, warriors in training in the great battle for more office paper and two by fours, looked to be sprayed by giant cans of whipped cream, by the Lumitaivas above Mount Hood. In fact, the many whipped cream
cans were as much in service then as the yellow plows plying the white cream road of slush. Then the slush gave way to white packed snow.
The lot at Government Camp was packed with cars, most of them from Portland. There was a ski slope here, and a slope for kids. But the kid slope was crowded with the required rental fat black inner tubes.
"Go to Teacup," the clerk at the Chevron said. "They have a hill there, and it is unmanned."
Two hours and a lot of Chevron candy later, we drove east again through white paper confetti to Teacup Sno-Parc, a long pulloff by the side of the road. I missed the turn, so found a sideroad and turned around in the middle of the highway, driving again east. I pulled in behind the row of cars to back in, driving past ten cars and zeroed in on an empty spot to back into.
That is when I became aware of the little grey jeep, coming towards us sideways through the whiteness, like a dolphin on the tide. I stopped. Should I back up? WHUMP!!! THUD!!!!
"Wow!" exclaimed Keenan. "I've never been in a wreck before!"
[to be continued]
Government Camp, Oregon, December 2002 , snow falling like pieces of a letter from a lover who has finally left forever...[continued]
Whump! Thump! Hence ploughed the little grey jeep through the snow into the merry red Windstar! Imagine a science fiction movie where orbs in the ether float past, and the faces of other doomed wanderers are momentarily exposed. Imagine moving towards another United Air liner, seeing the terror on the faces of the pilot and passengers! That is the terror we saw on the faces of Jason Lee Grey and his passenger, Sean Ryan Badger as they bounced past.
I looked around. The Jeep was now parked across the highway. Jason Lee was climbing out the door, and soon, from experience, he would come over and ask me, "Are you OK?" I started up the car and moved it back and forth a few feet. It still ran.
"Is everyone OK," Jason asked. I would later discover that he was 21, worked at the Seven Eleven in Beaverton, and he and his buddy were here to do a little snowboarding. They were just heading back to their warm hotel room to relax and ponder where to pick up a couple girls.
I didn't know. There was no one in the back seat. As soon as the car was solidly stopped, the people in the back had jumped out with their sleds and discs.
I got out and looked at the damage. Fender bender indeed! The front right marker light had taken the head on; the plastic and smashed bulb lay on the ground. But the bumper was shot as well, as was the right fender. I moved around to the back. The Jeep had hit again right on my Brave Combo sticker, leaving an ugly black ring. Then my feet flew out from under me. Ice!
"Here, let me help you up!" offered a Nordic skier, nonchalant.
Ian picked up the snap off left rear window and handed it to Jason.
"What do we do now? I've never been in a wreck before. Not call the police. I don't even want to see the police."
We exchanged some info.
"This is a rental car," he said. "Fortunately I got every coverage they had."
"A rental car." I said. "Oh God." Every coverage but no chains or traction tires!
We looked around to the smiling face of red haired Amy Williams and her huge white four wheel drive Oregon State Trooper pickup. Darn! She asked a bunch of questions. I was sure to point out my tracks in the parking lot.
"I need to get the names and date of birth of all your passengers," she said.
"I dont know them.Two of them aren't mine." In truth, I didn't even know Keenan's last name. "Ian," I commanded, "go find them!"
Amy...how did I know her name? Balkanalia!? Contra dancing? Fred Meyer?
"12-22-92! that's when I was born! Tomorrow is my birthday!" laughed Keenan, excited.
"Wow! Happy Birthday Tomorrow, Keenan!" answered Amy. I truly believe an accident like this must be a relief for State Troopers. No injuries. No DUI. No uninsured, unlicensed driver. No parole violations. No out of season reindeer. No Christian Longo or Ward Weaver. Just disappearing victims.
"Can we go now?" asked Keenan. And then the happy victims... the wee snow kittens Erin, Ian, Keenan, and Trace...disappeared down a logging road.
"Oh wait," said Amy. "I need the addresses and phone numbers as well."
I backed the windstar into the ill-fated parking place, then started out on foot along the logging road. I had walked maybe three "blocks," when I saw Ian in the middle of the road.
"Go fetch those guys!" I commanded.
They appeared fifteen minutes later, dragging their sleds.
"Jeez, we found a great TRAIL! Do we HAVE TO GO?"
"Well, it's also getting dark. You would have to go home anyway."
We looked up again, and there was the white truck of Amy Williams on the logging road.
The Windstar, despite it's ragged looks, made it back to The Dalles fine, which was lucky because it was the night of the annual Winter Solstice Party. We took Keenan with us.
"We'll tell everyone he is your date!" I told Erin.
"Ooooh!!!" she screwed up her face.
He was quick to catch on. "Wow, Happy Birthday Tomorrow, Keenan!" exclaimed the hostess.
"What's that weird name for Halloween?" someone asked.
"Why don't you ask Brad there next to you; he's a REAL PAGAN!" suggested the hostess. Most of the other guests were Unitarians.
"Do you live here in The Dalles? You must keep a low profile!" asked someone.
"I do keep a low profile! There are people here who think that Harry Potter is a handmaiden of Satan!"
Again this year, we stood by the fire and burned pieces of paper on which we had written the bad things from last year. Brad had even brought a cauldron to throw them into. Apparently you have the fire in the cauldron itself!
"I'm throwing away 'War and Car Wrecks'" I said.
And what did we wish for on 2003?
"I wish I could stop harboring all these unfair ill feelings for my ex-husband," said the speech therapist.
"I wish my Dad would stop drinking so I could see him again. I haven't seen him in three years," said Keenan.
Here in the Northwest, the Indians have historically kept records of their lives on pieces of twine using knots and beads. Each day is represented as a knot, then a yellow bead may mark a Sunday, then a green bead a month. Other beads or objects might represent an event, like an illness or death. As the record becomes longer, it is wound into a ball. When finished, the ball is buried with the author. I would not think of a life as a single strand, but rather as a fabric that is loomed.
"Look at that!" I exclaimed as I pulled into the Fred Meyer lot. "Police cars!" Three white City Of the Dalles vehicles were pulled in around a green SUV. Several policemen and civilians were standing beside it, and the car didn't seem to be dented. "What a mystery. I'll have to look at the police report," I commented.
The next day, Trace called Erin.
"Mom!" she said. "There is a sleep over at the museum tonight! Trace will be there! Keenan will be there!"
We left Erin off at the museum at seven. She walked straighter than the igneoust course of the Columbia along the bricks beneath her feet. At the end of the cavernous Gorge Discovery Center foyer stood Keenan, with his lush bedroll and thick foam pad.
"Um...this is sorta the boy's side..." began Ranger Tom.
"She's our FRIEND!" explained Keenan. And so Ranger Tom let her stay.
"Well, with Erin gone to sleep with her friends, what is there to do? I think I'll go to the gym and sit in the hot tub!" I pondered out loud.
"Me too," echoed Ian.
"I'm here principally to sit in the hot tub," I explained to Trudy at the desk. I'd first met Trudy when she was cleaning off the racketball court window.
"Just washing off the splattered brains," she had said.
Once, I asked where she'd been for a week."
"My boyfriend and I rode his Harley out to the big gathering in South Dakota. You have to do things while you can. You could be dead tomorrow." Trudy is younger than me, but has grandchildren.
"So with that Harley, did you still look like normal folks?"
"After three days on the road, no! We were filthy and wearing leather. In truckstops mothers would run to pick up their children!" She laughed. "You'd never believe we were old elementary school teachers!"
Now I have noticed, when I leave late, that a bearded man in black leather on a huge black Harley is waiting in the lot.
But tonite she just said, "I always do that when I get home. It's really relaxing!"
"You have that new tub out on your deck don't you?" I snarled in envy.
In the lounge by the racketball court, I opened up the paper and read the police report. "Employees at Fred Meyer reported a stop sign missing from the parking lot. They detained two 16 year old males and a 37 year old female and called police. The female denied knowing that the sign was in the car. The males are in custody at the juvenile facility."
In the morning, we watched skits at the Discovery Center. A long blue tarp represented the Columbia River. Erin and seven boys played the churning interior of the earth. Two girls held fake Fiesta ware plates, and as the earth churned, the plates were slid black and forth, one beneath the other. This caused a landslide which formed the dam across the Columbia called Bridge of the Gods. Erin had a special role as a drowning tree. A second skit portrayed frogs in a shrinking habitat being saved by eating some fishing worms out of a discarded refrigerator. A third recounted the legend of Wy' East (which became Mount Hood) and Klickitat (which became Mount Adams).
"Two of these are about the Bridge of the Gods. What is the other about?" asked "Flicker," the adult narrator.
No one knew.
"the Fridge of the Frogs."
I drifted through the cultural exhibits and saw the ball of twine. "This string was started by Betty Anderson of the Yakama Nation upon the death of her husband and continued for twenty years." It lay now, not in her grave, but in a plexiglass display cabinet.