STORIES FROM 2003
Chronic readers of these mailing lists may remember that I have never been to a New Years Eve Party. The primary reason is that either I or all my friends have been somewhere else over New Years, leading to swinging parties like this:
"So, Great Aunt Alice, it's 9 o'clock! Happy 95th New Years! would you like another cookie? WOULD YOU LIKE ANOTHER COOKIE?"
Things have perked up in the last few years. One year Eileen Peters and I bought a bottle of champagne and subbed "Earplugs Not Included," the Rev. Flounder Flatfish's Lounge-Metal show. And for the past two years, we have gone to the fun Family Party at the Granada in The Dalles. This year, however, the Granada advertised an over 21 party with a jazz guitarist. My dark boatman called to me saying, "Judith, my little salmon fingerling, flow to me along that Great River, this is your big chance to party!"
I'd been to the Crystal Ballroom once before, to see the Afro-Celt Sound System. One of the characteristic historical properties of the McMennemin Empire, the battered third floor wood floor sways and gives under pressure, suggesting an imminent collapse. "Hundreds Of Young People Killed Prophetically To The Tune Of King Black Acid," read the hypothetical headlines in The Oregonian. Most of the people here are in their 20s...but over 21...and my clothes, my black KMart chenille sweater and jeans...are right in style here. But though these look like mundane people, the search at the door and the bouncers by the stage suggest that trouble might be lurking. I grabbed a spot right about three rows from the stage, if you could call these shifting layers...like the layers of light on the stage...rows.
You could call KBA acid pop. I scowled at the pop.
"Oh lighten up, idiot!" said a daemon in my brain. And fortunately, as is currently fashionable, KBA alternates syrupy but waiflike pop with industrial noise. That's my specialty at these concerts... extremely loud, multiguitar, industrial noise.
"The reason Great Aunt Judith cant hear you, dearie, is that she listened to too much loud buzzy industrial noise in her middle years."
Floater is originally a Eugene band, but has moved to Portland. I found a rare spot on the side bench at the back and waited with my McMennemin's Porter for Floater. Beside me, an overweight woman in a lowcut black goth vinyl cocktail dress bestowed red kisses on her balding partner. Two thin women in black mini skirts handed out silver paper horns that said "Jim Beam...2003." The PA system played "Ominous Nature Sounds From the Mt. Etna Eruption." High on the ballroom wall, amidst the psychedelic light motifs, a clock was projected, the dark hand counting the minutes as the great multitude blew horns and cheered, like one raging stratovolcano.
"Happy 2003!" said Floater's Rob Wynia, a pleasant man in a Beatle haircut and a nice Tshirt.
Floater is billed as "heavy art rock," but in my perception it plays progressive metal, like KBA switching back and forth from melody to noise. It is a rock band because there are few long-haired men and no black logo T-shirts in the crowd or on the stage.
As Floater played, funny little black robots, like small cement mixers, moved and shot light on the band. A bank of moving ellipsoids and fresnels shot more lights on the stage and into the audience. At the same time, moving collages were projected onto the back wall. In the audience, women in black corsets and black hair, and dreadlocked mohawked punks dotted the normalcy. Someone wore two paper hats as horns. Men in baseball caps threw horn signs to the stage. As the motif shifted to industrial noise, men in caps jostled me out of the way as a large bare spot opened a few feet from me. In it, men in caps jostled each other brutally, like bump cars in an amusement park. Why was I here? You could hypothesize that I am looking for my lost youth, but I think it is because my youth is still there; perhaps it was bottled up by a decade in hash laced private parties and murky bars, watching geology students playing pinball. You could ask, do I have my fingers on the pulse of the times, and I dont. I have my teeth, like vipers' fangs, impaled into the wrist of the times, the flesh and the pulse rotating free.
At two, I walked back 20 blocks, to the PSU lot in front of campus security. It was a safe place to park. Men lay wrapped in grey blankets in doorways, asleep. Party goers wandered the streets in pretty hats, laughing. On the campus, a black man in a grey coat asked me,
"Did you have a good time tonite?"
"Yes I had a great time. And you?"
Yes, I did!" he smiled.
HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!
HAUSKAA UUTTA VUOTTA!!!!
"Banned in Britain!" Or "German Music Party!: The Sound Of Puget"
If Portland is the Black Queen of Cascadia, then Seattle is the Dark King. Imagine driving up the Great Valley that culturally binds Vancouver with Eugene, up through the depressing grey winter drizzle and fog, past the misty lumber depots of the Columbia. At Olympia the drizzle turns to sea water and lots of it! Here you can view the change of state ghost of the Puget Lobe, which reached its maximum extent at 15,000 KYBP during the Fraser Glaciation. In this Year Of No Snow, some of us long for a readvance.
From the Mists of the Dark Regent, from the margins of the Puget Sound, a daughter of Viola Turpeinen called to me and said, "Come little salmon fingerling, to a New Years celebration! There will be music! There will be cabbage soup!"
So in Mid-January, we set out along the valley, to a New Years Party, thinking Seattlestas must be on relative time. Perhaps it is time according to the Puget Lobe of their brain!
Most of the small living room of the modest Shoreline house was filled with musicians. You could call it a music circle, the impromptu repertoire encircling polkas, schottishes, waltzes...circumscribing the world from Bern to Frankfurt to Oslo to Rovaniemi. There were two violins, but the at the helm were dual accordions, one a white mother of toilet seat piano accordion, and the other a large tin cigar box.
"Du du liebst mir ich hertzen." we sang. It was then I knew we had been invited to a German Music Party!
"Ha ha, I don't know de vords to dat vone!" mourned the woman next to me on the couch.
"What is that thing you have? It LOOKS like an accordion" someone asked the man with the cigar box.
"This IS an accordion," answered the man. "But in Europe they call this a HARMONICA." He pointed to the five rows of buttons. "I can only play in these keys." It seemed like a lot of keys to me.
"You've got quite a bass on that thing." someone said.
"Yes," he answered proudly. "This is MADE for bass! The reeds are THIS LONG! It is like playing a tuba!"
More people arrived. One man took out a bassoon.
"That looks like a cello to me," said Erin, just before taking over as the dumbek player.
"No," I said. "That is a stand-up bass!"
In the living room, we were beginning to resemble frankfurters in a can. I ate a bowl of cabbage soup, a couple rolls, a couple cookies, and then went out to the car to get Old Lucifer. Typically by the time I pick up half the tune, the song is over, but still Old Luce allows me to join the special cameraderie.
"This is the closest I've been to a bassoon," I said.
"It's just a long tube."
"A long tuba!"
The bassonist went into the bedroom and put up his bassoon. "Did you see these?" he said, removing a PVC crumhorn from his case.
"That looks like a crumhorn." I said. "Did you build it?"
"Yes, I put a bassoon reed in this one." Then he played one of his two PVC flutes. "I'm a retired machinist. This keeps me going."
I went to play fiddle on the couch. The Turpeinenesque Swiss hostess said to me:
"This one is for you, Judy. It is one of Pekka's tunes." She picked up her black monster accordion and the band played a minor key Karelian tune. My bow was silent. I was nearly in tears. But when it was over, the bodhran player next to me commented excitedly. "Hey this looks like interesting beer! I'm a real beer nut."
"That's my empty bottle. It's Shiner Bok, the Beer of Texas. My daughter sent it to me for Christmas. Would you like to try some?" He was drooling. I went out to the car and got a bottle. He took it to the kitchen and poured two small glasses, one for himself and one for the bassist, whose instrument had been taken over to an experimental violinist.
"This is a good beer! It has a really delicate flavor!" I rolled my eyes.
After a couple hours things began to die down. Erin fiddled with a recorder like instrument.
"She's good at that." said the hostess.
"What exactly is that?" I asked. "Maybe she has a future."
"It's a bombarde."
Ian and I stared at an autographed poster of a German oom-pah band.
"They stayed with us. All sorts of people have stayed with us," said the host in a slightly accented voice.
"Jarvelan Pikkupelpelimannit stayed here. They ate pancakes right at that table."
"Huh!" I said.
About a year ago, someone remarked to me, "You mean you feel SORRY for women who don't have children?"
And I said, "Yes I do. What's the point?" I also felt sorry for Cheryl Wheeler when she said on stage she hadn't had a date with a boy since 8th grade, even though I know that both men and kids spell T-R-U-B-B-L-E
"what's that pine smell?" I asked as I walked into the living room. "Oh, it must be my incense!"
"It's *my* incense." said Queen Erin smiling. Her teacher called her that this week and the name had stuck. "Here, see!"
I saw. I saw that there was a cone of burning incense on the oak secretary that I had half stripped in 1987.
"Hon, you'll want to put something underneath incense when you're burning it." I suggested. "Otherwise what is underneath it will catch on fire or melt or whatever."
"That was STUPID!" offered Ian amiably.
"Here, get a plate and slide it off onto it. See, the shellac is already starting to melt!"
Erin got a plate. "This is really HOT," she said, sliding the cone off with her bare hands.
Then it was time to got to Kung Fu. Erin stayed to watch Ian, and I went home. When I went to pick them up, Ian was standing by the reception nook, blood all over his face and a kleenex up his nose. The owner, Mei Ling Black, was standing right there by him.
"Huh! He had a nose bleed the other day, too," I commented. "He was walking around with his nose in the air."
"Well, this time it was his sister who gave it to him," she said, quick to pass the buck away from her own domain of kung fu.
"I didnt know I hit him that hard," said Erin.
By the time we got to the parking lot of the Lone Pine Restaurant and Lounge, I thought he was OK. But as I shut off the car, he pulled a huge red clot out of his nose. It reminded me of a red banana slug. "My God!" I said.
"It's SNOT!" said Ian, and then opened the door and threw the pseudo-slug on the asphalt outside the car. What would people think who saw that? Maybe it would rain. "Don't worry, I'll go straight to the restroom and wash the blood off."
"You have some on your neck," I said helpfully.
He did just that, and didnt even come to the table with toilet paper up his nose. Lucky, too because I turned and saw Trudy from the gym and her boyfriend with the big black Harley sitting right next to us. What would they think?
A Phoney Story, Part I
The only place I've lived that I've actually intended to be was Iowa. That may seem outrageous to some people, but Iowa is a pastoral idyll. On summer nights, cicadas chirp in matronly oaks along muddy creeks Rows of corn and soybeans, gastronomical soldiers for the hoggs of the world, volunteer in steady rows. They march as if to pipe and snare into that great bloody maw of the pork industry. On winter days, hills roll gently scarved in winter snow, the blue light of the plow like a strobe in the crisp, silent dawn. I have never wanted to leave Iowa.
I drove to Iowa after college, in the late autumn of '72. Thanks to my college degree, I worked at Bankers Life in Des Moines assembling group insurance booklets. In March of '73, I was hired by The Phone Company as an Outward Toll Operator, after an abortive attempt to get a job as a lineman.
"Here, for this part of your test, we'll tie this huge transformer to a thick rope and see if you can hoist it up onto this third story roof here. Watch out for that ice on the step there," said the supervisor. And so I did.
"Now let's extend this 10 foot ladder."
"How do I do that?"
"Well..." Damn! Flunked the IQ test!
Someone later told me, "There's no such examination for men."
The ancient switchboards in those days rose like black tenements in some grim city on a dark progressive metal cover. Though the direct-dial calls were automated, coin, collect and person-to-person were not. You would take a plug...like a stereo plug...and plunge it into one of the sometimes myriad jacks that were lit up on the huge obsidian wall in front of each station. The rule was "take coin calls first," but no one wanted to, because they were harder. Then you answered, "Hello, this is Judy, may I help you?" You would then take another plug and thrust it into an outgoing jack and type the number out on an ancient white keyboard. When the callee answered, you would ask, "I have a collect call from Bill Smith, will you accept the charges?" When they hung up, you would remove the plug and stamp the time on the ticket. You would do this over and over for seven or eight hours a day or night, sometimes on a split shift. I loved the work, because I got to talk to people.
During the two 15 minute breaks and lunch you could reliably talk to the other operators. You couldnt do that otherwise unless
none of the red lights were lit.
"My boyfriend Tommy came over on his motorcycle and we went out to the lake and had a picnic!" my co-worker Debbie would say excitedly.
"Now when is your baby due? I bet you are excited!" I would say.
[to be continued]
About a year ago, someone remarked to me, "You mean you feel SORRY for women who don't have children?"
And I said, "Yes I do. What's the point?" I also felt sorry for Cheryl Wheeler when she said on stage she hadn't had a date with a boy since 8th grade, even though I know that both men and kids spell T-R-U-B-B-L-E
"What's that pine smell?" I asked as I walked into the living room. "Oh, it must be my incense!"
"It's *my* incense." said Queen Erin smiling. Her teacher called her that this week and the name had stuck. "Here, see!"
I saw. I saw that there was a cone of burning incense on the oak secretary that I had half stripped in 1987.
"Hon, you'll want to put something underneath incense when you're burning it." I suggested. "Otherwise what is underneath it will catch on fire or melt or whatever."
"That was STUPID!" offered Ian amiably.
"Here, get a plate and slide it off onto it. See, the shellac is already starting to melt!"
Erin got a plate. "This is really HOT," she said, sliding the cone off with her bare hands.
Then it was time to got to Kung Fu. Erin stayed to watch Ian, and I went home. When I went to pick them up, Ian was standing by the reception nook, blood all over his face and a kleenex up his nose. The owner, Mei Ling Black, was standing right there by him.
"Huh! He had a nose bleed the other day, too," I commented. "He was walking around with his nose in the air."
"Well, this time it was his sister who gave it to him," she said, quick to pass the buck away from her own domain of kung fu.
"I didnt know I hit him that hard," said Erin.
By the time we got to the parking lot of the Lone Pine Restaurant and Lounge, I thought he was OK. But as I shut off the car, he pulled a huge red clot out of his nose. It reminded me of a red banana slug. "My God!" I said.
"It's SNOT!" said Ian, and then opened the door and threw the pseudo-slug on the asphalt outside the car. What would people think who saw that? Maybe it would rain. "Don't worry, I'll go straight to the restroom and wash the blood off."
"You have some on your neck," I said helpfully.
He did just that, and didnt even come to the table with toilet paper up his nose. Lucky, too because I turned and saw Trudy from the gym and her boyfriend with the big black Harley sitting right next to us. What would they think?
The world is a braided rope 2: bowling
On January 19th, 1973, in Des Moines, Iowa, I was sitting in my neighbor's living room, at the vintage formica table. This guy who was visiting her said to me:
"Rick Williams is having a party tonite. You might be interested in going."
"I guess I'm not," I answered. In those days I hated going to parties myself.
"Oh go ahead, go with him" said Kathy Marquardt, my neighbor, who was anxious to get rid of both of us. She was originally
from Watertown, South Dakota.
And thus I got into a 1965 black Volkswagen Beetle and was taken away, never to emerge. Happy 30th, Judith!
But isnt it odd how it led to this?
"You can have lane 5 till about 9:15," said the clerk at the Columbia Lanes. The reason we were being kicked off was that at 9:30 on Friday and Saturday they have Disco-Bowl. They lower the mirror globe and turn on the colored lights and play music.
I love to bowl, but cant really deal with the stress. As a child, I set up empty dishwashing liquid bottles in our long hallway, and bowled using a kickball. As a teenager, it seems we were *always* bowling at the Vestavia lanes on Saturdays. I remember taking a short cut to Vicki Kaiser's house one day from the bowling alley through the briars and it was hell on my hose! In college people would say:
"I hiked the Appalachian Trail before my junior year."
"I studied Russian for 4 years. Kak bve pazhavayete?"
"I played clarinet in the city orchestra at the age of 11."
but I was too embarrassed to say "I got good at getting strikes!"
A look around the alley yielded all sorts of people. On one side were 3 middle school boys. On the other were two couples, one with a toddler. One woman asked:
"When are *you* two getting married?"
And the other woman giggled.
Erin had a pink ball and I had a blue ball. In the second game, I had gotten a strike and then a spare. It was Erin's turn; she took her pink ball and made a gutter ball, the another. Then inexpicably, she picked up the ball a third time a hurled it down the alley. It headed for the right gutter and we looked away. By the time we looked back, it had curved back to the center. BONK! Erin had gotten a strike!
"Ha ha, it was my turn. I get the points!" I said.
"Oh, Mom, I did it!"
She took another turn, almost in tears.
Then I picked up the blue ball and threw it. One gutter ball. Another gutter ball.
"Pride goeth before a fall," I said, embarrassed at my greed.
In the end, I gave her the points, which to her calculations were about 30. Then we left, because it was 9:05. A sleek young Wasco County couple, dressed in black, was already queued waiting for the lane they had reserved.
On a morning in the first week in April, I looked out from my shabby attic apartment . The streets and yards of Des Moines were covered with snow, like a velvet wedding gown covering up the civic indescretions of late winter and early spring.
I got ready for work as snow continued to fall. Outside I found the street and alley deep in that pretty wedding costume! No plows were in sight. No problem, I thought, I will take the bus. I crunched down the sidewalk that followed Cottage Grove, passing the Blind Munchies and fighting a strong, chill wind. A block away, a city bus stood abandoned, like a huge mother duck with little car ducklings following behind. No problem, I thought, I will walk! At least there was no traffic on the street.
After 2 blocks of fighting the wind, a man in a big rugged International Harvester Travel-All pulled up beside me.
"Need a ride?" he asked.
I boarded the Travel-All. "Where are you going?" he asked.
"Downtown," I answered. "I'm a telephone operator and I need to get to work."
"I understand," he said. "My wife is a nurse. I just took her to work at the hospital. She needs to be there whatever the weather is!"
The man let me off across the street from the Phone Company. I started to cross the street. In the middle, I hit a patch of ice. Instead of falling, the wind blew me down the street as if I were skating. I stood big-eyed and astounded, until two dark figures appeared from the sidewalk and grabbed onto my outstretched arms. I now knew that this was no ordinary snow storm. It was the Great Blizzard of April '73.
I rode the elevator up to work. When I reached Outward Toll, my supervisors were ecstatic. It was rare to see them so happy.
"How would you like to work OVERTIME?" they asked me.
"Great!" I said. I worked from 9AM to 10PM and made a lot of money. People were calling like crazy, calling from places like Ankeny and Brooklyn and Adel to see how their relatives and friends in Des Moines were doing. Person to person, collect, coin phones, operator assistance, lighting up all over the place.
"I just saw a car go down the river embankment. I don't see anyone moving."
I plugged that one in to the red Police Department jack immediately!
At ten the snow was still blowing, but the calls had died down. The company had put the 6AM operators into hotel rooms, but had run out by the time they got to me. I grabbed a couch pillow and covered myself with my coat in the managers lounge and tried to sleep on the floor, but it was hard. In the morning I was tired and had a splitting headache. It was another working day. At one I walked home, the crunch of snow beneath my feet and a clear blue sky overhead.
Nashville, 2003....Everything had gone wrong. From the two delayed flights to the nonexistant rental car reservation to the leaky toilet in the Econolodge room to almost crashing into an outcrop of thinly bedded carbonates to the discovery that my great great grandparents house was now a used car lot near downtown Nashville. Well, not everything. I had a great time driving in from the airport in my luxury rental car with David Crabtree, a guitarist from Astoria as navigator. I had never met him before he got on the plane. He seemed like a nice guy, so I offered him a free ride.
"What I REALLY love is playing European music!" he had later confided, in hopes of not being thrown out of the car. It was snowing outside!
"Lots of Finns in Astoria," I said.
"You bet. That's why the Columbia is called The River Of Fish. There are Finns on both sides."
But the best thing that happened was finding a Waffle House. For people not knowing of the Waffle House Chain, they are identical restaurants that, like my deceased father, serve/d a limited menu.Though they feature original items such as steak, pork chops, chili, and cheeseburgers, their real specialty is...well, you would think itto be waffles. Their true rois de la maison are grits, omelets, and hashbrowns.
On Friday night, I sat in the molded yellow booth, staring at the plastic menu that doubles as a placemat.
"Those rascals come in here, I'll tell them a thing or two!" the waitress was saying to the cook. This is easy in a Waffle House, because the staff is sequestered in an aisle. First there are the booths and counter, then there is a long aisle, and then there is the cooking equipment. It's like the old Woolworths 5 and 10 back in Vestavia, where I grew up.
The waitress was a woman in her late 50s with a long grey pony tail.
"What can I get you sweetie?" she asked me.
"I'll take a cheese omelet, with grits and toast and an unsweetened tea," I answered. The tea brought to mind back in the early 80s when we were driving from College Station to a Friends of the Pleistocene trip in Vicksburg, Mississippi. A soil scientist named Jeff ordered a tea in Nacogdoches. Taking a sip, he flung open the door.
"Sweetened tea!" he yelled angrily, spitting the tea onto the parking lot in an angry torrent.
As she wrote down the order, she began to speak.
"Girl left just like that, left her glasses and cups out and everything. Said she'd stayed out till 3AM and couldnt work and went home. Damn idiot! Now I've got all her work to do. Run me ragged!"
Then she gave the order to the grill cook, a woman who also had grey hair.
"...Wouldnt be slinging hash like this!" she added to the cook in isolated, mysterious context, and went to complain to some other customers on the south side of the restaurant.
"I like it when she gets mad," the cook confided. "You get more work out of her that way."
"Gets her adrenaline up..." I drawled.
A large black woman entered the work area. My waitress returned.
"Left just like that," she began. "Left her glasses and everything. Said she called Tommy to come in. Well, Tommy called and said some guy picked him up and robbed him and then tried to get him to rob the Waffle House. Said he opened the car door and escaped. Called in from Brentwood, trying to get in. Said the guy wanted him to rob theWaffle House. I've never heard such bullshit in all my life! What doyou think of that?"
"Huh!" said the black woman.
As always, the dinner was delicious, the grits creamy, the American cheese half melted to perfection. I pulled my hand in my pocket and accidently pulled out a five. I took it as a sign and put it under my plate, hoping that it would make the day better for her.
Though the creek beside our home runs rough, grey, and rugged in this winterless winter, the Columbia is still low. The bridge over it of course is high, or it would get smacked by barges carrying refuse to the dump in Roosevelt. I drove over that great bridge in my still-smacked into car. On the roadside were two girls, walking butwith their thumbs stuck out.
"Where are you going?" I asked. Smelling lightly of cologne, the girls were pretty, big boned teenagers, immaculately dressed in black satin team jackets and jeans. They had long obsidian hair and dark skin.
"Just up here," the one in the front seat answered. "To Cloudsville."
"Cloudsville. It is just beyond Horsethief Lake."
"I'm going to Murdock to buy gas. I'll take you there." It was a mile in the wrong direction on Washington 14. I hoped my empty tank would make it.
"Thanks. It's takes a load off our feet. We walked from The Dalles. If you're in the house in front of a window, it's warm, but outside the wind is strong." I tried to get them to talk more, but they wouldn't. They sensed what I wanted and chose to remain a secret.
We drove through the barren sage and basalt, past the Dallesport Winery and Dalles Mountain Road. I slowed down and pulled to the shoulder at a cluster of houses and junk cars.
"Do you want me to pull to the drive?" I asked. It was more like a road, with the houses clustered around a wide space of dirt and gravel."
"It's the first house," said the one in front, misundersatnding me. I pulled in the drive.
"You call this Cloudsville?"
"Yes, Cloudsville." It was not unlike Murdock, but it was much smaller.
I drove up to a plywood and aspenite cube that resembled a huge ice fishing house with windows. Six or seven immobilized cars had been parked next to it for decades. In the culture of the rural Columbia, one's wealth is measured in junk cars! As I pulled up, a writhing ball of various happy dogs rolled to the car.
"Thanks!" said the girls.
"Have a good day!" I said. At the house next door, a white pickup started its engine and raced me to the highway.
In the fall of 2001, I wrote about the girls of Cloudville, riding wildly on horseback. It was a pleasure to meet them at last!
Nothing much has happened these past few days. The biggest thing was this:
"Class," said our teacher, the former Marjo Peltainen. "Now that we have our catered Easter dinner scheduled, I have an assignment for you. You will need to travel around the room and ask the other students what their hobbies are?"
"Mika sinun harrastus on?" I asked Ralph. "Harrastus" or "hobby" becomes "harrastukset" in the plural..
"Laulan kirkossa." I sing in church. Then he added: "Ja soitan hanuria. Jenkka. Schottishe."
And I play accordion.
"Iso vai pieni?"
"Iso. A big accordion." All these months and I had never known.
So I've had to pull out some memories. Sometimes it is hard, because entire countries are not as colorful as they should be. Sweden for example, may seem green, but the red, ochre, and kreme colored house paint is set by law, in accordance with oxidized pigments obtained from the ancient copper mine at Falun. Additionally, at the Falun mine, you can hear stories of Fat Eric, who became lost the night of his wedding, and was found again years later, pickled and swollen. But his bride had already married another! Fortunately, the colorful restaurants bloom with hard cider in many varieties, including my favorite, pear. It is as fine in Sweden as in the Okanagen.
In 1999, we drove north in a blue Fiesta from Arlanda. The car rental man had picked us at the airport and had taken us to an expansive and cluttered Volvo dealership and repair shop tucked away in the primevel Nordic forest. As we arrived, we saw a little station wagon being driven away by a businessman in a suit.
"I needed to give that wagon to him. He is a regular customer. But I have a great deal for you. Here, I will give you a discount on this little Fiesta. It will be much cheaper for you. You will hardly have to pay at all!" said the clerk, waving a metric crescent wrench. He had a point, jerk that he was. What an invigorating jugsaw puzzle to fit three people with camping equipment into a little blue Ford Fiesta! What gas mileage!
We stayed the night at an Arlanda motel, drinking pear cider and waiting for our luggage, and then drove north, eating lunch at a gas station/smorgasbord on the E4.
"This is the main road and it is a three lane!" I exclaimed. We had reached the fringes of the clogged world. The road itself was clogged with Dutch, German, Danish, and Swedish travel trailers...a caravan of "caravans."
Then we camped near Gavle on the Gulf Of Bosnia. Unlike American campgrounds, it contained a delicious but informal bar and restaurant.
"Lax med dill sauce och pear cider!" I ordered at the counter. "Lax" was to become my favorite word, until we boarded the party boat for Suomi. Then it would become "Lohi." In English the word is "Salmon."
We would continue to drive north the day after tomorrow. Our goal would be to reach the Arctic Circle.
In Finland, Valentines Day is called Ystavapaiva, or Friends Day. It is not very romantic, but is rather an opportunity for Friends to connect, or so we have learned in class. Today, we went with my friend Cynthia to see Aki Kaurismaki's "Man Without A Past." If you are bothering to read this story, then it is likely that you will like this award winning Finnish film!
On Thursday Erin came home. Her face was long.
"Most of the people in class are going out for Valentines. But no one likes me."
"You're in fourth grade. People are going out? Where would fourth graders go on a date? The Dollar Store? I thought you had a lot of friends who are boys!"
"No, they don't like me as a girlfriend."
I continued at dinner.
"Nine is a little young for boys and girls to be going out together, don't you think Ian?"
Ian was shoveling down the first of the Yakima asparagas crop. "I think if they want to go out that is their business," he said, sucking down a forkful of garlic and pepper fettucine.
"You get to do neat things with boys," I continued. "More fun than dates.
How about that trip up to Mount Hood?"
Erin brightened. "I can do the trip in sounds. Flapplap jackjack snowball whomp snow snow KER_WHUMP!!!! AUGHH!!!!"
On Valentines Day, Ian graduated to another belt in Kung Fu. During the ceremony, Erin saw a friend pass by.
"It's a classmate!" she said, excited. Then she was gone. What a great time they had, running around like idiots!
"Who was that boy you were hanging around with at the graduation?" I asked this evening.
"Why?" she asked.
"I am writing about you."
"Thomas. And don't you call him a boyfriend. He is JUST A FRIEND. I don't even like him."
Shaped like a long funnel, like a giant uterus, The Great Flood Plain of the Willamette extends south from Portland, perpendicular to the Great Columbia and cradled between the Coast Range and the Cascades. On a map of the western US, it is one of the few areas that is flat and moist, almost like the east. Near the cervix of this uterus, poised to give birth to California, is the City of Eugene. Saturday I went to Eugene, to be instructed in Armenian dance, but mostly to spy on Balkanophiles.
"How long has it been since you invited me here?" began Tom Bozigian. "Thirty years!" Tom was born in California 65 years ago and moves like Fred Astaire. "I created many of these dances. They're not from Armenia. But when I say I created them, I mean we created them in the 50s, the Armenian youth organizations. We made the dances, and we learned ones from older people from Armenia. Now these people are in their 80s. You ask, 'how did this dance go?' and they say 'One-two...cough cough!' That is what is left...a cough." Armenia is sort of a blank spot for me. My image comes from a Kurt Vonnegut novel, in which the hero escapes a Russian massacre by hiding in the pit of an out house. But I also remember my elementary classmate, Mary Ellen Mesajian, a kind, pretty girl with thick black hair.
One two One two hop hop cha-cha-cha. The kingpin of Armenian folk dancing is the cha-cha-cha step. It seems not so different from Balkan Dancing, fortunately in even polka tempo. But the struts, the claps, the stomps, and the cha-cha-chas came hard and fast.
"Part one...one...two...two...one...three..." Brain damaged at birth. Can't remember sequences without a caller. This is why my life is a failure. Can't remember tunes. Can't...
"Yeah, right..." the woman next to me whined and rolled her eyes.
"I'm a contra dancer," I replied shrugging. "You're from Bend?"
"Yeh. The dancers from Eugene are very experienced. That's why he's teaching so fast."
And then Tom said to everyone, "You might not get it now, but sleep on it, you'll get better!"
In the evening there was a concert. All the big Eugene dancers were there, almost more dancers than audience. First were the Veselka Ukrainian Dancers, teenagers sponsored by the Ukrainian Catholic Church in Springfield. With smiles fixed and the girls in heavy makeup, they were like happy, fluid dolls in beautiful costumes. Next, a plump dancer named Razia wearing black and gold did a Egyptian Cane Dance, with pieces of her body moving snake-like. She twirled a cane around at tremendous speeds. What if she let go? In my minds eye, I heard the Serbian engineer of the RV Powell, coring the Gulf:
"I was on a boat where one of those cables snapped. Cut the guy right in two, didnt even know what had hit him!"
Then came our teacher and his wife Shirlee, doing an Armenian dance, followed by another eastern dancer named Sabine. She wore less potentially lethal finger cymbals and did a lovely dance from Rajistan. Following came the Naslada Ethnic Dancers, who did a suite of dances from Western Bulgaria. The movements were tight and fast and perfect...and jolting. Imagine, I had been dancing in a line with these perfectly jolting people! No wonder my feet were such idiots! Then, suddenly, the feet flew out from under one of the perfect men. It was one of a number of slick floor accidents, one involving a Ukrainian teenage boy showing off a leap!
Soon the concert was over. I found myself in uke-line in with good dancers and Ukrainian parents, celebrating...celebrating something. The party had begun! Olives! cake! deviled eggs! brownies! Food item after food item was brought in. At the front was Kafana Klub from Portland, a yet unsigned, unpublished band, kaval at one side, tupan at the other. One of my favorite dances goes like this: One two three four right and in, one two three four out! all in a big line over and over.
In the morning, fog rose over I-5 like steam rising from an Icelandic diatomite plant. Fences and houses that once surrounded green fields became as charred ruins in the greyness. The tirestores and Dairy Queens of Albany became as weathered barns in the early stillness.
In the small pleasure boat harbour, you can only walk two ways, and each way you are met with a metal gate. You can't walk to the three little cabin cruisers laying with their hulls in the Columbia. You can't walk to the 43 boat houses where boats and sometimes people live, or to the tiny The Dalles Yacht Club with its white floating lawn. There is no way you can walk in and commit theft, or write graffiti, or throw a molotov cocktail. To commit mayhem on the resident boaters, you would have to come in by boat, on their terms, as if were a little Bella Bella or Juneau, or you would have to swim in through the wicked green sludge, in through the toxic waters of the Columbia. If you lived long enough, you could steal a lawn chair and swim out with it on your back. Or else you could just buy a boat house for cheaper than a double wide. Then you could sit two feet above the river and drink a molotov cocktail.
"How do we get down there?" Erin asked.
"We don't," I answered. "There are two locked gates."
"We can't even go down and walk around the boat houses? I bet John would like living in one of them. I bet he likes living on his Balalaika more. He can sail anywhere in the world."
"No," I answered. "We can't walk in the Marina. They are such exclusive jerks! But we can walk on that point of land."
We passed the pleasure harbour, the brown telephone pole stumps of breakwater, down the expensive basalt black asphalt path for a few hundred feet.
"Look, it looks like a man with a fishing pole on the top of that cement thing."
"I bet it is a bird." No man could venture there. "Let's go on this path!" I suggested. I knew what was there. The path was basalt gravel, then dirt. In its intentions it had begun as a nature trail, but soon became lost in the city's poverty and bewilderment. Soon, we stood on a little hill, verdant green grass around us, overlooking the grim Columbia beaches on what was once a brick and cement...a brick and cement something....
"There was a ferry around here somewhere," I had said on the way back. But the ferry wasnt here. It was closer to downtown. Wooden posts extended as ghosts into the drowned river.
"Look what is down there." I pointed to the buckled grey plywood suspended on trees, as if a table. On the table lay a bleached short limb bone. A green sleeping bag, soggy and full of dirt and leaves lay next to a blue tarp.
"Let's go down," suggested Erin, already five feet down over talus and bricks.
"No, I'm not going down," I answered, reluctant of the grade. I walked down the path, on a slimmer angle. Erin soon followed.
"I was afraid of being there alone." she said.
Near the shoreline, emerald scouring rushes as tall as a woman rattled like a bamboo curtain, like a glass windchime, as we passed. They call this equisetum, and it is one of the most primative vascular plants. It lives in moist places, and near our creek it is dead from winter. Why was it alive and so tall here? Radioactivity? A child's tiny rubber boot lay on the sand, a soggy blue quilted coat, a plaid shirt. Erin walked in her bare feet far out into the river on a cement pipe as I watched terrified but silent and smiling. Then she walked back, far behind her the dismal black cliffs of Washington. We turned again away from shore, on a path through the rushes and the ragged blackberries, black berries withered unpicked. Rubus.
"Look!" said Erin. "Another bum's home! And smart too. See how he lay these two branches against this horizontal tree branch! I bet he put a tarp across it to protect himself from the weather, like a lean-to." A brown felt blanket hung scrunched in the junction of vertical and horizontal, two more, one a baby blue thermal, lay wet on the ground. Here was a makeshift bench, a campfire ring, two black tennis shoes laid out as if for the next day, a trailing path and pile of large gatoraid bottles. There was trash all over.
"Let's move on," suggested Erin. "Our tour of hoboes homes!"
The path led through dense shrubs, now beginning to show spring leaves, and blackberry brambles, overgrowth. My hair caught in the thorns. Finally we came to a clearing. Three dark red metal pipes stuck up and a metal sign warning against digging faced into a tall tree trunk, most of its message unreadable. "WarningUnderground...what?"
"I've never seen anything like this! This sign must be much older than the tree!" I said. This is how a geologist thinks.
On our left was another fire ring, a rusted folding chair, a watterlogged sleeping bag, waterlogged clothing. What had happened? It was like a soggy Pompei.
"OK, let's wrap up our tour of hobo homes," I announced.
At the boat slip, a white conversion van backed a battered yellow motorboat into the river. Two Indians got into the boat. They waited for a third to park the van. Then they started the motor and headed downriver, finally disappearing as tiny men near the bend at Murdock,Washington. Above, a small airplane descended to land at the Dallesport airport. Above that, a jet trail pierced the sky.
You can see a couple photos here http//www.columbiagypsy.net/ruotsi.htm
Sweden, 1999, part two
As we drove northward, the grey asphalt took longer and longer to merge with the fields as universal blacktop. Night became shorter and shorter. At Sundsvall, looking for recreation, we drove off the 3 lane interstate and up up up to the ski resort they call Sodra Berget, after the mountain that holds it. Driving past the great elegant Best Western, we noticed there was no snow! But there were cross country ski trails, lined with large conifers and powerful traillights. Fine for walking and free, too! Afterwards, we ate dessert in the dining room of the Best Western. It was an elegant place, with real table cloths, reached by following a circular ramp from the lobby.
We camped that night near Rundvik, between Ornskoldsvik and Umea, just south of the 64th parallel. We pitched our REI tent at the edge of the field...these dull fields are common in Europe, and frustrating to those used to pitches and picnic tables. Then I hung the Texas flag across the top. But no one came by to comment. That is how Sweden is, and why I forget most of what happened there.
Here is a common interchange
Traveler [in unintelligible Swedish]Do you have a cottage available?
And the travellers would drive on. Most Scandinavian campsites have little cabins with beds and maybe a table, and most important of all, a heater. Later, in Evijarvi near Kaustinen, Finland, we would cross the "cabin" line. But here on the Swedish Coast of Bothnia, the weather was yet mild, and our rates were close to 100 kr or about $13.
There was a little lake with a slide and and an empty beach. There was a huge hot tub that wasnt turned on. There was a warm kitchen and dining area, and a TV room, and a laundromat. It is the way of Scandinavia.
"These video games are in Swedish! I can't get them to work!" complained Ian.
Outside the regulation Falun red utility buildings was a sign with a schedule. It said "DANS I NATT" or something like that in unintelligible Swedish. I sat down on a plastic chair on the patio. A few Swedish couples chattered to each other. A couple on a big black motorcycle that read "FIN" drove up. The host gingerly set down a boombox on a picnic table and put in a tape. The couples immediately began to two-stepped to country hits from America!
It was here that I first saw children running around in grey light until midnite. The next year, when we camped north of Mo I Rana in Norway, there would be phantom light all night, and the younger people would act accordingly.
It is not often I have an opportunity to be a demonstration shape note singer. But on Friday, at the The Dalles School District In-Service, opportunity knocked for Erin and myself. Unfortunately it knocked at 830am!
"I think I'll just sit here at the computer and work on my book report," said Ian, knocking out a couple of Genghis Khan's regiments. Book report my eye!
"Well, I've got MY book,"said the prescient Erin. It was to be her day of musical glory!
"When is your baby due?" I asked Erin's music teacher, Mrs. Kohl, a truly beautiful blonde woman.
"Sunday." She answered.
"I bet you're excited!"
"Mom told me the best thing she liked about being pregnant with me was that she lost a lot of weight!" said Erin.
"I've gained 30 pounds."
I looked it her. "Yeah, but I bet it's all baby." It sounds illogical, but women know what it means.
There were only three demonstrators. The consultant and Erin sang Tenor. The local advocate and coincidentally host of the Annual Winter Solstice Party sang Alto. I sang, as always, Treble. What an effort for five music teachers! Fortunately, the teachers had no concept of shape note singing. They seemed totally perplexed.
"Odd harmony," commented the high school band teacher. "No third fifths!"
"Can you give me a higher pitch?" I asked. Usually I ask for a LOWER pitch.
The middle school choir teacher, Mr Wellworth, responded. "Let's use the piano!"
"Well," said the Pagan Celebration Hostess,"They just have the notes in this key like this so they won't dangle down into the verses. It's all relative pitch. The piano won't do you any good!"
This really flumoxed the music teachers. But they smiled. They realized that they had real authentic Folk Music aboriginals right here in the band room, right by the marimbas and congo drums. What an honor!
At 1030, we all performed for the elementary teachers in the new cafetorium. That's what they called lunch rooms when I was a child.
"Who is a singer here?" asked the consultant loudly. No one raised their hands. They were thinking of the Albertson's doughnut they wanted to ensnare on the next break.
"In Sacred Harp, we are all singers." Uh huh. "Come on, you guys, move to the front!" Reluctantly the teachers moved to the front of the cafetorium. Then we, the Sacred Harp Singers and the Music Teachers, sang "Amazing Grace," or as we know it, "New Britain," with the audience joining in mildly.
"Now," said the consultant with hair the color of a burning bush, "I want you ALL to sing as LOUD as you can! If you want, you can come up and sing with US!"
Several teachers joined us in front, but all the teachers sang as loud as they could. As they did, a Spirit moved through the audience.
"Now," asked the consultant, "who is a Singer?" Everyone raised their hands, happy and enthusiastic!
"Now see, Erin here, who goes to YOUR SCHOOL DISTRICT is up here with us singing! What school do you go to Erin?"
Several teachers yelled out, outraged by the Consultant's ignorance, "COLONEL WRIGHT!" Not coincidentally, they were teachers at Colonel Wright whom Erin had just hugged copiously.
"If Erin can do it, ANY student can!" From the earlier workshop, we knew this was due to the mosaic theory of education. There is no left or Wright, only a temporally shifting continuum of competence. Luckily, Erin has a really pretty voice, and has done solos on stage. Luckily the consultant didnt know this.
Then the teachers gave Erin a standing ovation!!
"I like singing more when people I know are there," said Queen Erin in the car. There and Clapping!!!
"Mrs. Hawkey, and Miss Leonard..."
"She got married. She's got a new name now..."
"Mr. Way and Miss Cole..."
"But not our regular principal. Our old principal is in the Army. They shipped him out to Iraq."
"Probably in the National Guard or Reserves," I countered calmly.
What a big party! 80 people and one Beagle on the Wasco County Courthouse steps, spilling out onto the sidewalk. That's about .66% of the inhabitants of The Dalles, Oregon. Maybe 75 candles, three bikes, one nun, and a big cherry colored Christmas light peace symbol. Cars honked as they passed on Court Street, and the inhabitants shot us the peace sign. And this was a county that went for B--h in the election! But their hearts were with the Pope. You wonder what it looked like on the South Park Squares...
In the late dawn, along the grassy trail, the dew licked against my jeans like the tiny tongues of elongated grasshoppers. Damn! I thought, my shoes will be wet all day, not to mention my legs! I walked on throught the birches, the white wet sun shooting like shamanistic hunters knives through the cold steamy ritual veil of morning. In front of me arose a meadow, and in this clearing was a Falun red farmhouse and an old barn. Beyond that was the lake. The clearing reminded of the Old Days, when my in-laws lived in a pink cabin on the shores of Little Mantrap. In those days, I would try and sleep as long as possible, since nothing ever happened anyway. I walked back to the tent, because the day before me, though it lay shrowded in the mist of my foggy brain, had a clear purpose. This was the day we would cross the Arctic Circle.
We drove north, past Umea, turning left at Pitea. Why, with all this land, did the Swedes have so many apartment buildings in these port cities? Soon, though, there would be few farms and no apartment buildings, there would only be trees. We would stop at a large town, which may have been Alvsbyn, which was on a river, and got gas. Why did this town, in the middle of nowhere, look so regal?
There was no place of interest to stop, though we must have eaten somewhere.
"I'm bored," said Erin. Ian read.
It *was* boring.
At Vajmat, on route 45, I begin to scan the sides of the road for a sign. It sure didn't look like the Arctic Circle that I would have imagined. A decade ago we had gone from Winnepeg to Churchill on the train, with miles and miles of boreal forest giving way to tundra way below this latitude. Here it could have been Northern Minnesota. Then I saw the sign and I saw the building with the parking lot.
The sign was white and blue and said, in indeciperable Swedish, "Polcirkeln." Beside it was a flat metal clown with an ice cream cone. There was a white Lapp teepee by the parking lot that you could walk into, and a life size characature of a white-bearded man in a white fur parka and pants. Maybe he was Father Polar. We went inside the immaculate log building., immaculate like every other tourist building in Sweden. They had for sale reindeer horn knives and expensive but amazing native Lapp clothing. They had sandwiches in special arctic bread. They had Tshirts and little characturistic guys that you could buy.
"When does this vegetation type end?" I asked the clerk.
"You will have to go some distance toward the Arctic Ocean to see anything different."
Unless you went to the west, into the mountains and the strange Norwegian tundra...
There was hardly anyone there. I wondered how they could stay in business. We bought some shirts and Erin took pictures, of the teepee, Father Arctic, the ice cream freezer, and of Ian and myself. This has been a classic picture of me, achieving a goal. I have not achieved that goal since, only come very close in Iceland and in Norway.
Then we drove back, turning south at Jokkmokk and driving back through Lulea. When we again arrived at our campground, the gate was shut. It was still light, and we parked the blue Fiesta by the gate and walked back to our tent.
Coming up soon: Hawaii
I had sworn ten years earlier, no, I would never take another course, never another exam. But here I was, in the 1st floor lounge of Cramer, waiting for Godot.
"No, I don't think I am ready for it!" said a young oriental woman to a passing friend.
Bored, I asked, "What is your test in?"
"Human anatomy. I am in chemistry," she answered.
"Wow, I bet that's harder than Finnish!"
She looked blank. "I'm sorry what?"
"Finnish. The Finnish language. Finland."
She shook her head, puzzled.
"It's a country. You know Sweden?"
"Yes, okay! How many people are there in your class?"
"Eight. It's a difficult language."
"We have 200. They don't know I exist!" Sort of like a little Finland.
"Where are you from?" I asked.
"I'm from Viet Nam."
"Then you had to learn English...but you still have the same letters."
"Yes, it wasn't that hard. We used to have different letters, but the French changed that. My grandfather speaks French, too."
Viet Nam is not what it used to be.
Waiting for the test, some classmates discussed the war. The new British virologist we had picked up as an audit said:
"They're going to have a general strike in Britain."
"What's the point of that?" asked Javier. At 69, his best days were in the Navy of the '50s, where he met his Finnish bride.
Michael went on with the flair of a man who spends most of his time writing grant proposals. "No one wants the war. It's just Tony Blair."
"Well," answered Javier pivotally, "I'm not looking forward to it, but it has to be done. We had the chance to stop Germany when it invaded Poland and we didn't. Look what happened.
"It's not the same thing," answered Michael. "The rest of the world is seeing Americans as uncouth and overbearing brutes."
"No, just Bush."
"No, all Americans." Their eyes locked.
What a surprise in such a harmonius classroom! Two audits, one bound to a new blonde girlfriend, the other to the memories of a dead wife, bookends on the hill of life (Elaman maki), going at it like a pair of pit bulls!
Then our teacher, the former Marjo Peltainen, said, "Well, I wish they had waited until all diplomatic efforts were exhausted!" But the boys were oblivious to her Euro pacifist hopohopa. They had locked their fangs into each others knees. "Polvi, knee" I repeated to myself. "Laskettelusukset, downhill skiis. Lumilauta, snowboard. Rauhassa, in peace..." The trouble with audits is that they take the exams with a grain of salt.
There was a pause.
"Never discuss politics or religion before an exam," I said loudly.
My tablemate, a former opera singer, agreed. "I don't have all the facts. It's hard for me to make a real judgement without knowing all the facts."
March 2003, Cascadia
In the morning, I stopped to get a chai in Cascade Locks. I asked the owner,
"Did you ever get any snow here."
"We got THIS MUCH!" She showed me with her thumb and forefinger. "A half an inch. I measured it. But last year there were TWO snowstorms in March. We're hoping!"
The man walking on the gravel shoulder of Washington 14 by Mother's Spiritual Health Food Store and Cafe in Bingen could have been a marketing student at Portland State. But he wasn't. To prove it he stuck out his thumb.
I pulled over.
"Where are you going?" I asked. I had only 20 miles left before the Dallesport bridge.
"Ten miles? Fine, " I said. I will take you there."
He got in the car and began to speak.
"More like nine. I would walk, but some of these hills...one day I was over on Mount Hood and I walked home."
"You were on Mount Hood and you walked all the way here?"
"Well, Mount Hood Meadows. It was a pretty day." I wondered if he had a snow board with him.
"Are you from Lyle, then?"
"Yeah, lived there 23 years. Well, I lived in other places, California, the East Coast. But I've always come back. It always seems better."
"I live in The Dalles," I offered.
"The Dalles. You know, that's how I found out the economic difference between Washington and Oregon. I got a job over in The Dalles a while ago. I worked for two weeks, for the City, and then they laid me off."
"Doing what?" I asked nosily.
"Well, ha! I was collecting garbage. Smelliest job I ever had. The benefits were good, though, health insurance. But they had some budget cut. I worked for Fred Shultzen Ford there...I'm a diesel mechanic. But now no one's getting their trucks fixed. It used to be you got good wages doing that, but not any more. They've got this book with the hours in it, and if you go over, you don't get paid for that time, and if they bring it back and you got it wrong, you don't get paid.
The black basalt cliffs and the green grass passed along beside us for a second.
"So you like Lyle."
"Well, except for the gas station that doesnt stay open on Sunday.
"You only have the one gas station?"
"Yeah. A gas station, a car wash, a bar, a grocery store,and the Lyle Hotel."
"I've never eaten there. I keep meaning to." I do.
"It's pretty good. It's just regular food. I had their fettucine alfredo the other night."
"Looks like some bad weather."
"Yeah, it's trying to do *something.* I was just up at Trout Lake, up on Mount Adams. They still have some snow there."
The I left him off at in front of the Lyle Car Wash, grey clouds frowning over the grey Columbia.
THE COLUMBIA RIVER=====I======I===================I=======I
Portland-Troutdale-Cascade Locks-Hood River-Rowena-The Dalles-------Biggs
Hawai'i March 2003
The mercurial Hawaiian Islands are quite a hot spot. As the Pacific Plate moves west across a volcano forming hot spot, new islands are sequentially formed. For instance Midway in the evanescent Leeward Islands spewed out lava about 25 million years ago. The Big Island of Hawaii, conversely, spewed out hot lava just today. Enough basalt has been spewed to make The Big Island the size of Connecticut. Imagine Connecticut cut adrift from the pale body of New England, unable to drive their SUVs into Massachusetts or New York by the rocky waves of the North Atlantic!
"Look at that!" I exclaimed happily. "This looks like Washington to me! Look how many cars they have in their yard!" Winds...enough to turn a battalion of wind generators, rising like white bone arms to blue heaven...more than rustled the dry straw grasses, but the cows remained fixed upright. The southern tip of the island, which doubles as the southern tip of the United States, has almost no rainfall, being in the rain shadow of the Great Volcanoes. You can drive all the way to that tip, following a basalt black road through increasingly desiccated territory. You can find a green sand beach down there as well.
"I hate this beach," said Erin. "It's mostly rocks. I am always afraid a wave will come and knock me over!" So we drove back north, through telescoped bands of desert and savanna.
Just north of this, on the Hawaii 11 ring road, lies the Wa Malo'o Acres Retreat, Organic Orchard, and Espresso Stand. It is perhaps the farthest south espresso stand in the United States! Imagine a blue striped tarp, an batik shirted Afro-man standing at the helm of an espresso machine, flanked by organic mangos, oranges, apples, macadamia,and Ala hele mix. A husky blond customer lazed nearby on a chair, clutching a plastic bag of organic grapefruit.
"I wish they'd just go ahead and find an alternative energy source so they wouldnt have to fool around like this," he was telling the owner. Who needs Iraq when you have Hawai'i?
"You guys want coffee?" The owner asked us.
"Hot chocolate," we answered. I was a freak on this Island Of Coffee. It is like not smoking in North Carolina.
The next customer approached.
"I bet you need coffee!"
"I need coffee!" said the aging New Age blonde, seething with desire.
He puttered with the espresso machine. "Hey, I just remembered! I was at the Macadamia Festival on Maui last weekend. You gotta taste this flourless cake. Instead of flour, it has macadamia butter. It'll just be sitting in the refrigerator if I don't get rid of it." He pulled a fudgelike circle from the mini fridge and passed it around to the customers. We all took a wedge. It did taste like fudge, not cake.
The captain rested his arms on the helm of the fruit stand.
"They can't back out of that drive. With that hill, you could get killed, the cars speed so bad."
The other customers shook their heads in awe as he bolted out to intercept a blue SUV.
"It was around Milepost 98, I saw a pickup yesterday passing right on top of a hill, doing about 80," said the grapefruit man.
"They've got memorials all over the roadsides over there," agreed the returned skipper.
"My partner was killed in a motorcycle accident two years ago at Milepost 99," injected the blonde calmly. "They put beer cans all around his, which I think is really trashy. He hadn't even been drinking. It really upset me. It was like he was some drunk."
We all stared in grim sympathy.
"I'm trying to place that wreck," said the grapefruit man. "I live right around there."
"It was Thanksgiving of that year. He lost control and went over the center line and flew off the road."
"Oh, was that the one where he hit the wire and ended up in the tree?"
"Yeah!" exclaimed the blonde calmly. "The police showed me. He hit the gravel and that was it, never got control again. It wasn't raining or anything. They never figured out why."
"Huh!" said the grapefruit man.
"It was a great bike. I loved riding on it," she said wistfully, but maybe not for the bike.
"You grow any pineapples here?" asked the grapefruit man.
"No, I'm just trying to get control of what I have already," answered the Espresso King.
"They have white pineapples now. I have some of those," commented the blonde. "I live over in Volcano Village." That's around milepost 25.
"I have eleven of those by my house," said the grapefruit man. "But everytime one of them gets a pineapple, I'm out of town."
In class, Ralph whispered to me, "I saw your high school on the TV last nite!"
I answered, "The Dalles?"
He said, "Yes. They were discussing the war. They showed Downtown and the High School. They didn't like it. Sixth graders."
I said, "That was the Middle School. Was anyone for the war?"
He said, "No. Not anyone they talked to."
Every year, the State Of Oregon tests certain grades en masse to see how cognitative they are. Imagine your self in The Dalles, Oregon, in the eighth grade english class of Miss Short. She is a pretty blonde, and like most of the people in The Dalles, she always wears a smile. This general state of euphoria is from the stuff they spray on the cherries out in the orchards.
"Now class, here are your exams! Don't worry, you will do fine. If you don't have time to finish, you can work on it tomorrow. But whatever you do, mark your answer on the scantron very lightly, because with this paper and your pencil erasers it will be impossible to get the marks out. Wait until you check over your work to really darken in the blanks."
"So why are there two tests?" asks someone. In The Dalles, you don't have to raise your hand as long as you are polite.
"One has bigger words. If you have English as your second language or you have had a little trouble with your English classes, you will get version A. But you have to get more right if you have version A."
A pretty student passed out the tests. Then I passed out juice and cookies. Most of the children said "Thank you!" I set to work on the morning tests, checking for blank answers on the information side and trying to erase mismarked blanks with a better eraser. Some, I never did get erased well, due to the paper. This gave me a chance to look at who had gotten which version of the test, but I feel I cannot print the results in public.
"Did you get the dogs or the planets?" I had asked Ian the day before.
"I got the wolf," he answered. "But there arent many questions. You can't miss many."
"Yesterday, before I got home, my brother hid in the f---g closet and then when I came home, he jumped out at me. Scared me to death!" recounted one student during break. He looked a lot like a college student. Where had time gone?
On the second day, I finally saw the wolves of version C. There was a whole cluster of wolves. I started reading from "The Call of the Wild" on the first page. "Pretty sharp writing!" I thought.
Afterwards I drove across the river to get gas, at the Double Dalles Campground. Radio reception was poor, so I took what I could get.
"The Antichrist will be revealed!" said an Australian voice as I pulled up to the pump.
"She told me she would be raptured up before the plagues," said an American man as I drove back onto the bridge. "But she had not read the Bible correctly. God wants to test us all through the Tribulations. People envision horrible things, planes crashing because pilots have been raptured. But this will not happen!"
I flipped for another station, but got only Golden Oldies.
"Let's go on to Nikki in Scottsdale."
"Yes, I was wondering, if we must obey the leader appointed by God, doesn't that mean the Iraqis must obey Saddam Hussein?"
"Well, what can I say? Only that...uh...ummm...when you have a people that defy The Lord, sometimes He send them a leader like that as punishment, who also defies The Lord. When we have a leader like Bush who is a Christian and prays with his staff in the White House, we should obey him. Those people who are protesting out in the streets, defying George W. Bush, that in my view is treason. These people, they say they want Life. They say the are for Life, but do you know what, Nikki, they are the same people who are pro-abortion, pro-choice. They are the same people who support the death of innocent children!"
The green spring hills and the eternal river passed by on either side of the freeway.
"My spirit looks to God alone
My rock and refuge is His throne."
Some people associate Tim Eriksen with the weird folk-punk of Cordelia's Dad. But the Portland shape note singers, not being plugged in to the status quo of alternative folk, think of him as a sort of vagabond guru of shape note singing. You'll hear comments such as "TIM is an ethnomusicologist!" or "TIM says it doesn't matter if you get exactly the right note, as long as you go up a notch." It's on a par with "In THE SOUTH, they sing this FAST!"
A woman was sitting in the back of the classroom when I came in to sing treble. It is rare to see a Sacred Harp singer with a cocktail, but she had picked one up at the McMennemin's bar. The sweet smell of alcohol drifted like moist gardenias through the dry world of coffee and water.
"Where do I sit?" she asked. "I don't understand this." she asked, gazing out at the room top heavy with altos and tenors. Imagine five treble canaries and thirty mousy alto drones. What a job for the brilliant aviary!
"This is the treble section, sopranos, high voices. You can sit here," I said. Someone had told me it was because of better nutrition that women didnt have high voices anymore.
"Can I sing it an octave lower."
"You can. Men sing treble and octave lower."
"I can read music. I sing Celtic music with a friend of mine from England...harmonies like the Watersons." My ears perked up.
TIM stood in the middle and explained why shapes existed. He had with him an ancient library of experimental singing texts.
"Around 1700, many churches had only the texts for songs. And in some churches only one person could read the text. Others added notes." He held up a book cut in half. "Here's one where you could sing the verse of one song and the tune of another, anyone you wanted."
We moved on quickly. Unlike most shape note singers, Tim has a shaved head, at least one earring, and wears black. That is his hardcore punk heritage. In THE SOUTH, they would not shoot you for looking like this. They would welcome you with open arms, as a fellow SINGER. It's just that in THE SOUTH, very few octagenarians dress this way or even know what hardcore punk is.
I scanned the little canaries and with my glasses off to read the RED BOOK, the woman to my right came into focus. She looked just like my deceased Aunt Hazel did when I was a child, though her black hair was cut into a wedge. My nerves tensed. I remembered this woman from singing with the Sacred Cow Harmogenizers at Northwest Folklife in 2001. I was sitting next to THE TREBLE FROM HELL!!!
"Lunch is a very important part of singing. The speed picks up after lunch. I don't have much use for people who don't like to eat!" opined TIM.
After the usual introduction, we sang a few songs slowly, with each part covered. Then we began to sing faster. "Number 152, Hallelujah" was called. We sang it slow and then we sang it at a very fast clip. My lungs began to collapse, my vocal chords stuck into a permanent hole at the top with the monumental effort of being heard over the 60 altos and tenors. (if you remember, altos sing the drone and tenors sing the melody, but trebles sing like angels...) "And let this feeble body fail, And let it faint or die."
"Number 107, Russia" "Russia" is what they call a fuguing tune, in that the chorus has staggered parts. "You could sing it this way." We sang it at a clip. Then TIM's eyes lit up. "Or you could have THIS!!!" The addicts, the Methodist choir divas squeeled with glee as quarter notes were replaced with 128th notes. My tongue began to abrade like grains of sand at Waikiki. But this was nothing! At the chorus, TIM began to whirl like a dervish, like the turret of commando tank, dark clouds, thunder and lightning of the apocalypse poised and crashing over his head, pointing at each part in wildly rapid turn, bass, tenor, alto, canaries, the silver studs on his black dog-collar belt glowing in the fluorescent light. I had seen equally dynamic teachers from THE SOUTH do this, but they more closely resembled used car dealers pointing out bargain vehicles in a 30 second TV commercial.
But this was nothing! Beside me arose a wail of incomparable magnitude. Not only was Aunt Hazel singing in some weird piercing tone, but she wasn't singing what was in the book. She was singing the Seattle Diva Descant. I held my hand to my ear like the Watersons do, not only to protect it but to be able to hear myself sing the treble line. I had never heard anything like this!
"You looked like you were in pain!" several people commented, laughing. It was like passing prelims.
And as we lounged in the corner, someone suggested, "Let's sing this." And so on closing, of our own accord, "36 Bottom, Ninety-fifth," was presented slowly and melodiously by the Singers of Portland. We always close on that song. This is the way I like to sing.
As a young child, I read an article in American Heritage about the 1902 eruption in Martinique and it planted terror in my heart as much as did "On the Beach." Somehow I was able to study Geology despite the crippling fear of St. Pierre reappearing in rural Indiana. Somehow I was able to fly to Hawai'i last month despite an orange altert... ;-)
Hawai'i, March 2003
Still near the edge of the Ka'u Desert trail, on the eastern edge of the island, the blocky volcanics give way to pahoehoe, ropy lava, chocolaty cow pies of rock. The asphalt path yields way to footprints in the sand. Sand moves through swales and ridges like fields of rye in the wind, threshed like rye flour, like dark sand moving along the bottom of the Pahala surf, like spilled cocoa mix taking wing. Still not a mile from the edge, a shelter contains foot prints of 18th century Hawai'ian warriors, overcome by lethal fumes, like the children of Martinique inhaling the lethal hot fumes of Pelee. In the soft russet dusk, you can only turn and look inland towards the ancient glows of hot lava. At dusk, you can only turn and walk back towards the ghost sounds of cars on the road, before the footprints disappear in darkness. Would you do this, return, if you were in a Hummer?
Washington, April 2003
I have had a selfish dream for years, and that is to have my own beautiful home. For years, I sought that dream by participating in family home buying. I carried that dream in my head even as I saw it slip always beyond my grasp.
I would say, "Could you PLEASE pick your junk up off your floor?"
I would ask, "Why did you buy a bright blue Rubbermaid wastebasket for the living room?"
And then, in 1996, Heidi at my old radio station said, "You've never lived alone? You should do that at least once, even if it is
just a vacation cabin."
"Hey, Erin," I said. Erin was home for Pre-Good Friday Vacation. "Let's go look at cabins on Northwestern Lake!" Usually just looking feeds my hunger.
"What?" She asked...
In my minds eye, I saw the rustic pine floors with no clothes or stuffed animals dressed like Russian peasants laying on them. I saw a world with no plastic, no plywood, no refrigerator magnets. Just my indesputably good taste from wall to wall, and the windows looking out on lovely Northwestern Lake.
Northestern Lake was formed by the Power Company damming up the White Salmon River. It isnt as big as the dammed Columbia, but it is more intimate, with no barges carrying Yang Sung containers to run you over. Intimate indeed, just a drive over the great The Dalles bridge, then twenty miles west on Washington 14 behind a behemouth camper home, and 4 or 5 miles up 141 towards BZ Corner.
"How was your nap Erin?"
There were two signs out. I followed a gravel road to one.
"Wow, $399,000 and no lakefront!" Obviously a weekend home for one of Sadaam's wealthy doubles.
The other was indeed a cabin. Someone was putting masonite siding on it.
All you had to do was walk down the road aways and you were at the public access park. I just drove into the park without buying the cabin. It was cheaper, but carried its own problems.
"Why in the middle of nowhere like this does a garbage truck want to back down the road we're parked on?" I asked.
"They could just as well drive through the mud as us." agreed Erin.
On the shore were four fat grey-brown geese, two males and two females. At the parks in The Dalles and in Cascade Locks, there were huge flocks, maybe 48 or 50 geese, but in this little park there were only four. The boys walked along honking, only a few feet from us. One of the girls stayed apart, swimming in the water. Finally, all waded into the little lake, relocating at a little island. Erin followed them in. It was only a few inches deep, but cold.
Finally we got bored with the geese and drove down the road. There were cabins here, just like I wanted, but their owners had a tight reign on them. We got into the windstar and drove to the other side. No one wanted to sell these either. They would, though, eventually, if I would just diligently watch. Then I pulled over to the trail sign.
"Huh! I didnt know they had trails here!"
I drove along Buck Creek on asphalt, past small properties with barns and pastures and no trespassing signs. Then I turned on gravel and went up and up.
"Private Road! Sawmill ahead! Use County Road!" said the sign. I turned and drove up and up, the road twisting and rutting. There is a sense of adventure in driving a 110K Windstar in The Cascades without a cell phone. Lucky that SUVs are agents of Satan!
"I should get my oil changed," I pondered, remembering my dead battery several months earlier in front of Chung King Gung Fu.
"Trailhead 1! Turn here!" said Erin.
Trailhead 1 consisted of a picnic table, a modern latrine, and half a dozen corrals. "Please limit your stay to 14 Days" said the Forest Service Sign."Not For Human Consumption, Stock Use Only" said the red water tank.
"Hey, look, I'm stuck in this corral!" said Erin.
"Oh, you poor horsie!" I answered. "Let's walk a ways."
We walked downhill. I was delighted to find a few squashed Aquafina bottles and Pepsi cans to pick up. It was an eerie forest....in particular an eerie Abies grandis-Pseudotsuga menzesii (fir-douglas fir) forest. The Cascadian forest is, as many know, a clever mosaic of trees and clearcut devastation. Any particular mountain may look like a guys crewcut head shaved for brain surgery. But this area was a mature clearcut. A look to either side of the trail showed a huge trunk of something, tall young doug firs, and surgically cut stumps.
"Oh don't throw that into the trash can, even though this is Washington, the aluminum can be recycled," I chastised on the way back.
Erin was silent.
"Look, out past the corrals! You can see the Columbia and the tiny buildings of Hood River."
"I'm sad now," answered Erin. "I feel icky."
"Because you yelled at me."
"I know. I hate people to yell at me too. I don't know why I did that," I said.
Imagine this. The Rough Guide To The Pacific Northwest describes The Dalles in a couple brief paragraphs as "ugly" and "industrial." Fortunately, we are taking care of that. Another lay off at the Aluminum Plant suggests that they have actually shut down permanently. Insulfoam shut its doors a few weeks ago. Now we're just ugly. It's hard to look out from my the street by my house into the soft green hills of Washington State and back the other way onto the white magicians cap of Mount Hood and think of The Dalles as ugly, but perhaps the Rough Guide people came in the dry heat of summer or the grey of winter.
You can see an aerial view at http//www.wizardpub.com/bigisland/brshirakawa.html
You can see our room at http//www.shirakawamotel.com/rooms.html
You can see a room at the Royal Hawaiian at http//www.royal-hawaiian.com/acc_flash.htm
Hawaii is like The Dalles in the southern localities, but both the Lonely Planet Guide, and the Aloha flight magazine are much kinder. The Guide mentions that the dry southern part is the only chunk left unscathed by resorts, and that might be a clue! That's where we stayed, at the Shirakawa Motel, at Naalehu, which The Guide calls "Weather beaten" and perhaps it has been so since Mid-Century. Incepted in 1921, it is the southernmost motel in the US. From the Hawai'i Ring Road, the approach is uncertain, with only a small sign set far back from the road. The overgrown asphalt drive is lined with banana and mango trees.
"Starts at $30 a night! Let's check this one out!" I said. In a world of resorts and beds and breakfasts, this motel was Delightfully Alternative. I chose a room with a kitchenette. Our room featured two random styles of vinyl tile on the floor. There were splotches on the ceiling and walls where the white paint had been touched up. The bathroom had been painted a bright blue, and the paint was bubbled around the faded fiberglass shower. Some of the vertical blinds didn't work. But the ants were fun to watch and we all three had a single bed!.
I walked out back, which had appeared as a jungle forest out the louvered windows above the microwave.
"Look, Erin, there's a dieffenbachia just GROWING there." But the palm and fern-rich back yard proved to be almost impenetrable.
In the evenings, you could go to the 76 station. Not much was open. You could get smoked marlin and rice crackers and cokes, Aloha Eggs and Aloha Tea from the shelves and cases. You could listen to the local high school kids, some Native Hawaiian, maybe some Filipino, yell and pull off in their cars noisily in the evening. In the day, you could be reminded of your father's wartime photos of Okinawa, of your mothers photos of Hawai'i in '47, when she went to visit Cousin Virginia Jones in Honolulu. Cousin Virginia was a nurse at the University of Hawaii and lived with a woman named Thetis.
The guys next door had a TV and boombox, which they played loud late into the night. They appeared to be working as an exchange for their room. The guys and another guy three doors down would sit out front in the evening, though not together, and drink Budweiser at spool tables, sometimes staring into space. They would have pals in as well.
One day, a tanned man with a cross hanging off one ear said to me
"Sorry if we're making so much noise. They got me clearing out brush, some of those big trees in the back. But I got some bananas for you from back there." He handed me a huge bunch of tiny greenish bananas. "Just put 'em in a cupboard and they'll ripen up."
I looked back through the window. Most of the jungle was now gone, a sweaty neighbor perched in a huge tree holding a chainsaw.
One night it rained, and they had to stay beneath the overhang. The chainsaw lay rusting on a stump.
"We gotta full house here tonite," a suave, thin man with an unplaceable accent told me. He waved his cigarette. "It is like zis place is a condo!"
"Don't pet him, he rolls in stuff you don't want to know about!" they told Erin, and laughed heartily. She threw stuff for the friendly yellow dog to fetch, finally coming in drenched.
Erin said, "I named him Moonstar, but they probably called him Garbage."
I went over to check out, bananas not withstanding. There was a Japanese kid on the couch watching TV. The green house resembled one of the Texas pioneer homes, with a central hallway all the way through front to back and a large room on either side.
"Anyone here older than you?"
"My grandmother," He led me to the kitchen on the other side. There was cooking stuff...muffins, jam...all over the huge long table.
The older Japanese woman whom had seen at the beginning of the week appeared and took my money....no credit cards! I walked out into the hallway.
"Wait!" she said. "Here is a jar of mango jam that I just made that you can have. The mango is from our trees."
"Yes, I've seen smashed ones on the driveway."
"We try and get them before they get smashed. There is pineapple in there as well. The jar isn't sealed, so you'll have to be careful."
On the plane, Erin pointed to a picture of the Marriott Lotta Rahaa Surf on Maui. The pool complex featured a bunch of sparkling waterfalls.
"Can we stay there next time?" she asked.
"I wouldn't have minded that one we passed on Waikiki, The Royal Hawaiian," said Ian.
"You will have to wait for your honeymoon." I answered.
But I would have liked a hot tub. Or even a bath tub.
930 AM, Sunday
Mosier, Oregon is not only the western edge of the West, but the western edge of Wasco County. It is here that the Cascades give way to the Columbia Basin. It is here that the firs and doug firs give way to ponderosa woodland. It is here that the democrats give way to republicans.
It is rare that I pick up a hitchhiker that looks like me. Most of them are men. But this morning, passing Mosier on I-84, a woman appeared at the on-ramp. At first she looked like a college student. But as she approached the car, I could see that her long hair was grey and her face was weathered.
"Where are you going?" I asked.
"Hood River," she answered, as if she had told me before.
"You could almost walk to Hood River." You could, because there was a segment of the old Columbia River Highway from Mosier to Hood River, and it is very popular with tree hugger hikers and bicyclist. Also, you can almost see Hood River from Mosier. You can see the edge of Bingen, Washington, and from Bingen you can easily see Hood River.
"I could in my younger years."
"You don't see many women hitchhikers."
She stopped to think. "No. I only do it when I have to. But when I was younger, I hitchhiked all over the place. I hitchhiked to California and Idaho."
"Do you live in Mosier?" I asked.
"No, I was just there visiting my granddaughter. I like to visit my grandchildren. I live in The Dalles."
"We live in The Dalles too." Then she began to brighten.
"I just moved there this winter. I live at Crescent Lakes. We have a one and a half bedroom trailer. I live there with my son. He's in a wheel chair. Two years ago he was in an accident and broke his back. He gets some money for that. The grandchild I was visiting just there in Mosier was his daughter."
"I've always wanted to live by one of those lakes they have there."
"Yeah, I don't shee no lakesh...." She had begun to slur her words, and the vapors had begun to embalm the dead mice in the back seat. What's the point of drinking when it is so early?
"I dont see the lakes. I just see trailers. I've always lived in the country. When I lived in Hood River, I would look one way and see Mount Adams, and the other Mount Hood. Yesterday the little kid next door just runs across my driveway." Lucky we were approaching Hood River. She had started to seriously ramble and it was hard to understand her. I let her out at the Amoco Station by the White Salmon Bridge.
"It's nice to hear about other people's lives," I said.
Ian looked confused. "I had wondered why you stopped."
Then I realized that this was the first time I had picked up a hitchhiker with a child in the car since 1998. We were in the area of Ukiah, California in a rental car, and Eureka! a guy appeared in the middle of a coniferous forest in the middle of nowhere. He was too young to drive.
"What's your name," we asked.
"Ian," he answered.
I've always wondered why folk singers cut their hair. I've always wondered why anyone cuts their hair. So I've put my money where my mouth is.
The Roseland Theatre is named so because Portland, Oregon is The City Of Roses. It's not like you see roses all over the place, but at one time this must have been the case. You might remember a cartoon of a dance hall bursting at the seams with music. This is what the Roseland looked like last night. It was heavy music, so it was the juncture between the floor and the walls that seemed most in danger of rupturing.
Boom! Boom! Boom! I could hear the booms all the way across the street. Heavy booms. I walked inside. You may wonder why metalheads dont complain about the new airplane security. That's because every time they go to a concert, they pass through a metal detector and are further searched by hand.
"Are you going to the concert?" He seemed dubious.
And so I was searched. But not much.
In the Roseland, as in most Oregonian all-ages venues, there are two choices of where to be, but only if you are over 21. This determines your behaviour. If you are under 21, you are restricted to the lower floor, to stand in the mosh pit or sit blankly against the wall on the sticky carpet. If you are over 21 you can go anywhere you want, except in this case past the bouncers and onto the stage to be tossed off like an airplane. You are allowed to buy beer or wine or even cocktails in the balcony, or you can just go sit in the balcony. Briefly, you must be at least 21 to sit in a chair. Since the distance from stage determines overt involvement at a metal concert, many older people are isolated far behind the limit of horn signs.
I showed my ID to the chunky man in black and then went up to get a Porter. Then I sat on the third row of three, on the side. I had just missed the jazz metal band because of my class, having got to the Roseland just in time to see the gold sax wave goodbye. Now we were watching Lacuna Coil, a female-fronted quasi-Gothic band from Italy. The guys all wear black clerical robes.
"That jazz band was sort of a novel idea," commented one of my neighbors. "But I didn't like it."
"That's why I started dating older women," another was saying. "She's actually my mom's age. Yeah, she LOOKS 35, but..."
My immediate neighbor muttered something to me. I drew closer.
"What?" I asked.
"I spilled my whole beer right down there!"
"ACK!" I said.
Welcome to the world of metal conversations.
The point, though, was to see the Swedish black/death band Opeth. The Portland Mercury has called Opeth something like death metal meets Dylan, because they alternate buzzy death with progressive folk jams. "No band makes such extreme switches so fast," they say. Really, it's more like stoner rock they're switching, but what does the Mercury know. What do I know? I walked down and stood in the pit.
"O-PETH! O-PETH!!" chanted the audience.
The Swedish boys were so handsome. Their soft, long, Northern hair floated quickly in the jewel colored lights as they drew their heads up down side to side as metal boys do. Singer Mikael Akerfeldt looked wise and tall in his beard and black polo shirt.
"Now we will continue in a mellow mood with sing-alongs and all that s--t," he told the audience. The guitars crunched. How can someone switch from a death growl to progressive folk at the drop of a chord? It is like jumping from a scalding hot tub into a snow bank.
"Are you tired? No? How about THE PEOPLE SITTING DOWN UP THERE? Are YOU tired?" asked Mikael gingerly with that special Swedish lilt. I knew one thing. My FEET were tired.
On the way home, I played my new Kocani Orchestra album. The rhythmic drone of Kocani's brass, the humming crunches of Opeth's guitars, the blinding light of the train to my rightthe demons in my head reminded me "It is all rock and roll."
Let's try it again, I said to my self, standing in the dining room of a palatial Lake Oswego home. Kahvia ja pullaa, and the movie "Two Old Lumberjacks." I dumped a quarter cup of organic milk and a tablespoon of sugar into my cup. But the coffee taste persisted.
"Ian," I said. "You've put half a loaf of pullaa on your plate!"
The Kona Coast is another name for the western coast of the Isle Of Hawai'i. You may have heard of Kona Coffee. In the middle of the island, there are tall volcanic mountains, which block the trade winds, sort of like the Cascades. These big retirees from the igneous military absorb heat during the day, resulting in updrafts. As air is drafted upward from the coast, it condenses, resulting in clouds and often rain. Since coffee bushes love shade, the west coast is a great place to grow them.
"Here are some of our coffee trees," said our private tour guide, an employee of the Greenwell Coffee Company. Ian and Erin examined the bony tree wide-eyed, high on two or three cups of high octane coffee samples. "On Maui they have machines that pick the coffee and they take all the beans off at one time, even the ones that arent ripe. But here we hand pick the ripe beans, which we call cherry beans." Along this part of the curving ring road, there are signs that say "Buying Cherry." She then led us to the drying shed. Coffee beans are dumped here and then spread to dry. That was it for the tour; Greenwell was hardly the Celestial Seasonings of the Coffee Industry. My mind drifted back to 1989, to the Gerber Baby Food Plant in Michigan, where we wore hairnets for the tour. Ian, not yet two months, was forced to wear a beard net on his head. My mind drifted to the mid-1990s, to Boulder and Celestial Seasonings.
"No children under six on tour," read the sign.
"You two go ahead," I said to Emma and Ian. "I'll stay here with Erin." We fooled around in the parking lot while everyone else watched how upscale tea is made.
How time flies. My children are the oldest they have been. My eyes drifted downhill to the eternal sea.
"Can I get a package to take back to Mr. Smutz?"asked Ian. Mr Smutz is not only Ian's Social Studies Teacher, but more importantly, the Sponsor of the Chess Club. It was through his forsight, and that of Ernie of Ernie's Lock and Key, that the Chess Club was able to travel to Portland for the Spring Tournament.
"Can I get some of this chocolate?" asked Erin.
"Where are you from?" asked a woman from the dutch window of the building.
"We're from The Dalles, Oregon."
"From WHERE?" she asked.
This isnt an uncommon question.
"The Dalles, Oregon."
"Wow! I'm from The Dalles! My family lives up on 14th Street, near the hospital! Did you ever get any snow?"
Why would anyone move from The Dalles to Hawai'i?
"My dad moved here and I came to visit one summer and I just stayed."
We drove down to The City Of Refuge and poked around. It is here that you learn about the tyrannical and warlike structure of pre-colonial Hawai'ian society. Then we drove back up to the road. A colorful building said, "Trail Rides."
"Let's go on a trail ride!" said Erin. All she had really wanted to do was to ride and snorkel.
I went inside and asked. All I had wanted to do was look at rocks and plants.
"We have a three hour ride tomorrow. We ride an hour, snorkel in the bay, and then ride back up," said the woman at the desk. She was surrounded by souvenirs, bridles, and bits.
I felt the ropes of molten lava on the east side of the Island slip from my futile grasp.
"Be here tomorrow by 930. Shirakawa Motel? How did you find out about that place? We stay there when we go to rodeos they have down there!"
Back at the Shirakawa Motel, I looked up from reading "Hawai'iA Natural History."
"How much coffee did you dump in that coffee maker?" I asked Ian. "That stuff is REALLY expensive! Save some for Mr. Smutz!"
You can see extensive illustrations here.
Along the Kona Coast of Hawai'i, habitation is scattered, with towns and houses and farms alternating. While this is the norm for much of the world, it is a shock to a Columbia Gorgette. Here by the great river, farms, towns and dams alternate with long wild expanses of vertical cliffs, landslides, and trees.
Kealakekua is one amorphous, informal town on the Kona Coast, and that is where the Kona Cowboy and his wife have their Mom & Pop shop, if not their pastures and barns. We pulled our night blue jeep into the lot and dismounted. A day of riding fun had begun! Along with us were three other customers...a couple and their daughter in college...also from Cascadia, from the false coastal villages of Seattle. It was not a trip for wimps. We signed a disclaimer that said we knew the ride was dangerous and that the business was not responsible for us being thrown, kicked, or drowned.
"I don't usually do this," said Sally, the Kona Cowboy's wife, opening the back doors of the trailer. "I don't generally drive the horses out like this. But this has been a strange year. One thing, half our house burned down. My son...he's in the airforce in Saudi Arabia...was home on leave and he was romancing some TWIT in the bedroom and they lit a candle and knocked it over and it burned half the house down." Then she began to bring the horses out.
"These saddles are really unusual," commented the man from Seattle, an expert horseman.
"Well, they didnt have metal here, so they had to make do with wood and leather." Almost everything was wood and leather.
Unusual indeed. It was all coming back to me. Pull back on the right rein to turn right.
"Here," said the Cowboy. The reins were joined. "Move them to the right to turn right." Or rather, pull back on the left reign to turn right.
"Yeah, I know," said the Kona Cowboy. "But cowboys dont have two hands to use. They have to use their other hand to rope cows."
"Lean back now! Keep your heels back in the stirrups" he told the group. "If you don't lean back, your horse will stumble!" And thus we began our hour long descent to the Pacific Ocean, past coffee orchards and native ekoa trees.
" See this tree? See the pods? This is a tamarind. You can take off the pods and see how good they taste." He handed pods to Ian and Erin and the girl from Seattle.
"You kids look great! I can tell you're natural born horsemen!" he told them.
"I am going to die right here!" I said to myself everytime the large milk-chocolate Babooz hopped over basaltic rocks. Below us hung the azure sea, glittering like copper sulfate in the sun.
"Lean back. I can see daylight between your foot and the stirrup!" said the cowboy.
[to be continued]
"Students!" said our teacher the former Marjo Peltainen. "Here is a dance next Monday! Scandinavian dancing!"
"No partner needed, huh!" said Ralph. "I take a woman to a dance there and the next moment there are five men asking her to dance and I never see her again."
"We should go out and have a drink after class and then go!" said Michael, the British virologist, taking a break from SARS.
"Great idea!" said Cynthia, the former opera star.
But come Monday, where was everyone?
I dropped down Broadway and over to Burnside, past the great Powell's Bookstore, to cross the Willamette, then continued on to the junction of Burnside with Sandy near 20th. I turned left and saw the crisp curved Neon sign. It read in bright neon letters
You would think it would look weathered, but the sign was as new and perky as if it had been constructed yesterday.
On the steps, someone said "Hi!"
I said Hello back, and went in the door, checking to see if it was actually someone I knew.
I looked down at my clogs, coincidentally bought in a gas station off a freeway in southern Sweden.
"I guess I am a non-dancer. I wore the wrong shoes. So it is three dollars."
"You're not dancing?" said the elderly woman at the table.
Inside the Norse Hall was a big, crisp auditorium. There were many people on the dance floor, and few observers. Most people were dressed in crisp native Scandinavian costumes and moved effortlessly on the dance floor, like tiny birds fluttering in the air. This was the birthday ball, what the Finns might call a syntymapaiva tansi. There was a $2 incentive for people wearing native costumes. On the stage was a small band, with a fiddle, clarinet, bass, and something else. The band played lightly and effortlessly like a flock of small birds.
I leaned against what could be called a bar, grabbed a gingerbread cookie, and watched the dancers twirl in a polska. My mind drifted back to Sweden, first to Stockholm and then to Falun, and one of my favorite bands, Hoven Droven. At the entrance to The Tundra Club, Kjell-Eric Erikkson greeted me with a handshake and an English hello. In the white room, the audience stood from their chairs as Hoven Droven soldered perky dance music to heavy, jazz-flavored rock. Couples in street dress, some of them women, twirled just as each couple twirled here in Portland in their aprons and vests. Ahead of us stood Michele Delfino, in a not-so-brief moment of heaven. Behind me stood Arto Jarvela.
"I was dancing right next to Martyn Bennett!!!" commented Michelle with a smile.
At Falun, I stood in a huge tent on a summers night, in what could be called the stage wings, behind the speakers. Erin crawled right out of the tent and into the night with a young Swedish friend who wore hot pink and knew no English. Ian lay next to some electrical wires reading.
"How can he read with all this noise?" a woman with an accent asked. It is not unusual for Swedes to have a slight accent.
"I may have been reading," he later told me, "but I was also listening." We speak about that still.
It was one of the loudest concerts I have ever been to, saxophone and electric guitar alternating with folk fiddle.
I grabbed an unwrapped heath bar and looked around and then I saw him. Near the stage stood a slight man with orange hair to his waist and a red beard. He was wearing a KILT! It was an unusual russet color and came with the traditional sash and other regalia. What clan is that? I wondered. Shades of Rogers Rangers!
All too soon a break appeared. I looked at the tables at the end of the huge wood floor, set neatly with pieces of cake and pitchers of punch. Then I turned and walked out the door.
This morning, the snow level was down to 3000 feet and I could see the snow above Cascade Locks as I drove in. There are frost Warnings for the Hood River Valley, with 27 expected for Parkdale. Winter is finally here!
Don leaned back on his stool at the Historic Hi-way House.
"You mean you don't listen to Prairie Home Companion? Do you listen to PBS?" The husky couple on the other side of the oval bar seemed friendly enough...
"What's PBS?" the man asked. "We listen to Paul Harvey..."
"Paul Harvey, is he still alive? You should listen to Garrison Keillor. He's great!" Oh well. There was a pause in the conversation. He looked around. Transparent stemware shone above the black shiny bartop. Out the window, the Columbia sparkled behind the vast stacks of golden lumber, waiting like lost lovers for a train.
A woman in the adjacent dining room was sitting with two children. Smoke was coming out of her ears and she was saying to the waitress, "Could I have some ranch dressing instead? I don't think I have ever had anything hotter in my life than this wasabi-ginger dressing."
"Yes, it's really spicy!"
There was nothing to do but continue the previous line.
"Hawaii, yes, if you go there you will find it a tropical paradise, just go off to one of the smaller islands. Never gets over 95 degrees," began Don.
"Huh. I usta live in Wisconsin, and once it snowed in June," answered the stout man. "Didn't stick for very long, but it snowed in June."
In Portland, you can just be walking down Broadway, and some good looking guy will come up to you and start a conversation!
"Do you have some spare change I can have? I need to get back to Vancouver." Maybe so, since he was hanging around the Vancouver bus stop. My hand dug into my pocket aquifer for some fluid change.
"Thanks. You dont know what its like to be old like me, and alone."
"I'm probably older than you. How old ARE you?" I questioned.
"49. I'm almost fifty."
"I AM older than you! And once you hit fifty, you won't have to fool with it again!"
He stopped and opened his backpack. "Here, I'll show you something." He pulled out an etching of a man alone. "A friend of mine makes these. I always pick the one with the guy alone, because I always feel like I am alone."
"That's a really nice etching," I said. He reminded me of the boys I knew in college. Maybe had had smoked a lot of dope in those days.
"I'm almost fifty," he said. "Don't you feel like death is just around the corner, like death is just a footstep behind you? Doesn't it scare you?"
"No," I said.
Hawaii, 2003 [continued].
"Maybe something's wrong with your stirrup," said Rags. "Maybe that's your problem."
"I think one is shorter than the other." I said. I've always felt, though, that one of my legs is shorter than the other. It was especially evident in the days of bell bottoms.
"Yeah, there you go!" he said. Then he continued with his narrative.
"This trail was first built in the old days to transport goods. There were 30,000 Hawaiians living up there and 30,000 down here. Here's that wide place...see how wide it once was. And they built this with no metal tools, just human power. Then they used it when the cowboys came, they brought in cowboys from Portugal..."
At last we reached Kealakeukua Bay and the famous Captain Cook Monument. What a joy to be at last on British Soil! We dismounted, and Rags pulled snorkels out of his pack. Erin was the first to appear in her pink and orange bikini, surprising everyone who had placed her as a boy.
"Don't you want a snorkel?" Rags asked Ian.
"No," said Ian. Children are a continuing enigma.
The whole family from Seattle was snorkeling with Erin. In fact, the bay was moderately bulging with snorkelers, some jumping off a chartered boat into the turquoise ocean. We had to jump off a chunk of cement! And so I sat with Ian on the cement chunk while everyone else had great fun.
"Look at all these fishes!" Erin said wide-eyed.
"I've never wanted to do anything but be a cowboy," began Rags. Rags had come here from California, where he'd been a dairy cowboy, in the seventies. "But now I'm getting old. This is hard work for being sixty-three. One month I did this 30 days straight without a break."
"Maybe you could retire." I said.
"I AM retired! Ha ha!!!"
"Huh." I said.
"But in a couple weeks, I'm going to Tonga on vacation."
"Why Tonga?" answered the expert horseman from Seattle, dripping seawater.
"My very best friend in the world is from Tonga and he invited me there. This is the chance of a lifetime."
"Where IS Tonga?" someone asked.
No one really knew. But it was somewhere around New Zealand.
"Oh no!' shouted the girl from Seattle. "Where is my gold ring! It slid off my finger!"
"I thought I saw a ring somewhere down there," said her father.
Erin jumped back in the water in her bikini and snorkel and began to scan the bottom. Then she dove straight down and came up with a little ring.
"Thank you so much!" said the girl. "I've had this ring ever since I was a little girl. It's my favorite ring."
Then the mother turned white. "Where is my diamond?"
"I didnt see any more rings," said Erin.
"I think I took it off at the motel when I put hand cream on, but I dont know, I cant remember..."
We all looked out at the vast aqua of the Pacific. It was crystal clear, like a good memory, but there was so much of it.
It seemed like only a few days ago that my older daughter Emma Dilemma called. "I need a break. Can I come to Oregon? I can look up the airfare for you!" And now she is gone again, back to the chemical phantasmagoria of Pasadena, Texas. We all miss her. She reminded me of a life now so far away for me and still so close for her. For instance,
"Guess who is married and has a baby and has put on a lot of weight and is living in Vidor?"
"Who in their right mind would live in VIDOR, Texas?'
And once she told me I pondered how someone with a grade school education in the finest Episcopal academy in Bryan-College Station could end up in Vidor, while others had the luck to end up as a shift manager in a Pasadena Pizza Hut.
"What are you majoring in recently?" I asked.
"Marketing, Mother, dont you remember?" All those Friends of the Pleistocene field trips into posh Louisiana geomorphology sites...how could she major in Marketing? My mind reflected back to the time we examined Pingos at the Strategic Oil Field in the flat fields of Outagatcha Parish. I remembered how the FBI showed up waving their guns, busses ready to convey us all to Guantanamo Bay. "56 Noted Southern Geologists and Soil Scientists Killed in Fiery Pileup of Caravaning Vehicles near Outagatcha Parish Cemetery," the dishonest headlines would read. Luckily some of us were Aggies...oh well, Marketing...the marketing course I had started in Duluth sent me bolting back into geology and a little job looking at Mediterranean pollen. If it hadnt been for Marketing, I would never have discovered the first rise of olive (Olea) pollen on Crete.
"Hey, what's that thing in the Albertson's parking lot?"
"Oh my gosh, it's the Oscar Meyer WienerMobile!" said Emma. A huge orange fiberglass vehicle in the shape of a wiener and bun was right there where old men played harmonicas and seagulls scrounged for half-eaten Burger King Burgers.
"Let me take a picture of that for Fred." The delivery drivers, she said, all had a thing for her. In absence of visuals, I got them all confused.
On Sunday, we drove up to Seattle for American folklife. I had chosen a nearby posh hotel by the docks, and as we drove up, Emma shouted,
"Look, Mother! It's The Oscar Meyer Wiener Mobile!"
"Huh!" I said. There it was, parked out front. You couldn't miss it! What a coincidence!
"It's got a flat tire too!...Oh no, it looks like it ran into something!" The drivers side window was smashed, the mirror was gone, and the tire had been replaced by a jack.
Leaving Ian in the living room of our posh AAA discount suite to watch television, Emma, Erin, and I ascended the hill nine blocks to the Seattle center. As usual, there was a great array of buskers, including a glittering man pretending to be an interactive video game. There is a raw brilliance to Seattle that seems to dissipate by the time you get to The Columbia Gorge. For instance, we had gone to Pioneer Days at Lyle Washington the day before in the parking lot of Lyle Mercantile....
[to be continued]
Finnish American Culture Part 96
I stared at the sink of dishes, and the many pots that had been used to cook the quaint Finnish dish known as "spaghettia."
"I think you are supposed to use that," said the blonde woman in the black Clark College T shirt. Or, as the Finns say, the "Musta T-Paita." She pointed at the dishwasher.
"Where are you supposed to add the soap?"
"I don't know. I have no idea how to work that thing."
Then, one of the American husbands walked up. There is nothing that excites a man more than suggesting a complex machine be used for a task easily done by hand, than figuring out how to use one of those silly machines. I knew what he would say
"Well," he said,"If I remember, you just pour it right here on the door. Let me do that for you. Now I think what you do is push that red button...go ahead and push it...and then wait for the temperature on the thermometer to rise...see it go up, and then you...." He began to load a rack of glasses. I turned my attention to the pot with the burnt on spaghetti sauce. "...There we go, let's put another load of plates in! Easy job!" I gouged at the hardened spaghetti starch with my fingernails."
"That does it! All the plates done and put away!" he said, and walked away.
I dug with the squngie at the hardened meatball grease....
As those of you who remember the kantopallo story from last year know, it was again time for the Finnish school http//home.attbi.com/~portlandinsuomikoulu/pictures.htmlcamp and picnic. This time it was held near Portland at a Presbyterian retreat called Menucha, http//www.menucha.org/photos.html, over looking the Columbia River at Corbett. There was no kanto pallo, but it was still a great place to witness NokiaFinnish-American culture. Not many people get to do this.
"Kaustinen! You have a Kaustinen T-shirt!" exclaimed the minister. The Lutheran minister is present at all events and gives an impromptu service at every one. "How many times have you been?"
"Twice," said Ian reluctantly..
"Kaks kertaa..." someone corrected.
"I myself have been to Kaustinen many times, playing my hanuri," she answered, motioning to the huge, battered, black 5 row that gleamed in the light of the electric stove.
"Come on, Ian. Let's go shoot some more baskets," said Timo. Timo was a handsome blond teenager with the presence of a hockey player. He was bored out of his mind. It was a great opportunity for Ian to escape the minister's accordion.
After scrubbing pots for about an hour I was free to wonder. I wandered over vast green lawns to the large, ancient, but still populated swimming pool, beneath which were ancient dressing rooms. The view from there was astounding, downriver to Gresham, upriver to Avalon in the half-light of the afternoon east. Then I walked down to the trails to look at the flora. Along the road, I entered a glade, narrowly missing my daughter's group pounding nails into stumps. In the glade were a number of ancient barbecue pits and tables. Up popped another American husband.
"This place is really weird." he said. "For instance, there's that little overgrown shed there. Why would there be a shed here?"
"I bet its a cabin. Maybe they've renovated the camp." I said.
We climbed down the hill to check it out. The husband scrambled up a couple rocks and looked inside the broken window.
"It's a BATHROOM!" he said, grimacing. "It's an ancient BATHROOM!"
"You know what I think," I said. "I think since we are so close to the Scenic Highway, that this was an old campground."
And then I followed the damp trail, through the columbines, the oxalis, and the moss-covered cedars and hemlocks and douglas firs.
When I got back, the husband was sitting on the sofa with his blond wife, who had come over from the motherland as a small child.
"You are lucky to have traveled on your own. I go back, I have so many relatives to visit that all I do is eat! And get drunk..."
"Hey, this maintenance guy told me the story of the bathroom," said the husband. "This rich guy, Julius Meier from Meier Frank used to own this place a long time ago. He used to have parties down there and that's why all that stuff is there. First this guy from Hawai'i bought it for his wife because she had leprosy! He didnt want to put her in a leper colony so he bought this place. She probably never left the property. They had about 200 dogs...they had dogs...in one of the buildings here. Then this Meier guy bought it. Then the church bought it for $60,000."
"Wow!" I said.
At 830, an hour late, we gathered at the ancient fireplace for campfire. Built into the fireplace was an ancient disused sink, and an antique waterheater lurked in the back.
"The pastor has to go now, but first she will teach us a few songs." said a blond woman. The minister picked up her five row...
The skits went well, as did the awards.
Then I wandered off, up the hill, to see the main house. Though large, it was no mansion, more of a summer lodge. I tiptoed past stern Presbyterians balancing budgets. None of these ministers pulled out accordions, but if they had, they would have been piano accordions! The splendor was dimmed by restroom signs and folding chairs, but I could still stand on the pine floor of the balcony and imagine dancing under these grand arches and dead deer heads during the twenties.
On the first floor, by the office and gift shop, I read the story. The buildings and lawns had actually been assembled by Julius Meier on one hundred acres, not the leprous Hawaiians from whom they had bought much of the property. During prohibition, he had held liquor parties in the basement. They had had grand times here, but his heirs were barely interested, and so they sold it to the church.
I walked off, down the hill, pop machines on the service porch lighting my way.
I met Ian and Erin walking with Timo. Most of the children had been sent off to become snug in their bunks. Erin was holding a huge radially compound leaf from the genus Aesculus (or horse chestnut). Timo was carrying a volleyball.
"Does this mean we're not playing basketball?" Timo asked regretfully.
In the car Ian said, "It was sort of a half click. He was into the dating routine. He saw this girl in a bikini and kept saying, "Let's get her number."
I figured Timo wasnt in the chess club like Ian, but you never know.
"Well, he's a little older than you," I said. Fifteen? Sixteen?
This morning, as I was driving across the Albertson's parking lot, I saw someone I knew and smiled and waved. He did the same! I guessed that he recognized the car from Wednesday. Here is the story.
He appeared as I was pulling onto the The Dalles West on-ramp, a thin, greying man with a mustache, a baseball cap, and a sign that said MOSIER. He lifted himself and the bag he was carrying into the front seat, as I reached to move my books and CDs. Then he introduced himself.
"I'm Crazy Henry. I'm the local Viet Nam vet who's dying of cancer."
"Oh dear, that's too bad!" I said. "Are you going to Mosier then?"
"No, actually, I only need a ride to the Memaloose Rest Area. I got a hooch across the road there. You traveling or you local?"
"I live in The Dalles," I said.
"I got a nice place up there. I got a stove I carried all the way from Mosier...got a stove from this guy there...I carried it in a wheel barrow. I got a bed and a cooking stove, that's what I got here, usually I fill up a propane tank but I didnt so I had to buy one of those little tanks."
"Camping propane. I know about those," I said. I use a propane stove to cook ramen for breakfast in fair weather. It and the trees in the yard kid me into thinking I am camping. "They just let you camp up there?"
"What can they do? I got a purple heart and a silver star in Viet Nam. There's a guy up at Hood River Community College that's interviewing me and videotaping me. You know him? Maybe he can sell it and I can get rich."
I didnt. He seemed to think I knew everyone. I dont.
"My wife died two years ago from cancer. I owe about two hundred fifty thousand dollars to various medical centers around here. I got about three dollars in my bank account at Wells Fargo.
I-84 is like no other. When Andrew Kerr drove to The Dalles in a snow storm, he commented on this
"It was a nightmare with all those curves. And all those trucks. And with the water all over the road..." He shuddered.
Everyone just shrugged their shoulders and smiled. He should have have rented a 4 wheel drive.
There is no median strip on the I-84 east of Corbett, just cement barricades, and, taboo as this may seem, there are little dirt roads informally heading off into nowhere. People pull off of the shoulder onto gravel and dirt areas to fish.
" Hey, look, someone's trying to get my trout!" He pointed to a pond carved from the Columbia proper by the building of the freeway. "There's a couple good trout there. I got my lines out!"
"And someone's parked there, fishing," I said.
"There's good fishing over there, too. The land here was part of the Snyder Farm (it's not Snyder, but I cant remember the name.) They bought it off the Indians. Emily, the one that died on me, was one-a' those Indians."
"I would have liked to seen this without the dam and freeway."
"I can remember when the dam was built. Let's see, I was born in '46...the river wasnt nothing them. Yeah, without the dam. All this is wrong. The way things are going, everything is gonna blow. Just pull up there before you get into the rest area." The trip was only about 9 miles.
"Everything is going to blow if we don't get rid of Bush." he stared me straight in the eye "I got a purple heart and a silver star, and I tell you, there aint no excuse for people going around shooting at each other like that! They tell you different but the war's about oil."
"You think they're lying?"
"You're asking me, is the president of the United States lying to us?"
"Yeah," I said.
He paused "Well, yeah, to tell you the truth, he is lying." He seemed to think I might not agreee.
Then he took his propane and got out of the car. I drove off, my now anachronistic Attack Iraq sticker now visible to him. I watched him cross the freeway in the mirror.
Guinea Pig! It is said that when two unneutered male guinea pigs encounter each other, a brutal volley to the death ensues. Imagine a Abyssinian Satin locked in mortal combat with a rosette decked White Crested piggie! It is also said that a pig will play dead when intensely threatened. Imagine a huge dead rodent in your living room.
It took five of them...Erin, Heather, Trace, Ty and Mr Way...to carry Oreo, his cage, his food, and a 25 pound bag labeled "Corn Cobs" out of Colonel Wright Elementary and into the battered but externally clean Windstar.
"Thank you!" said Mr Way, in a state of relief. "And when July 6th rolls around, I will start calling to see if I can find someone else to take him."
But even bigger things were happening.
"Mom! They won't let me graduate unless you pay $30 for these two books I lost!" said Ian when I picked him up at The Dalles Middle School. So I followed him into the office.
"You need to pay this bill now!" said a woman dressed entirely in black and resembling Morticia Addams grimly.
I had only seen the bill a couple days earlier and had spent hours digging books out from underneath beds and dressers with no luck, desperately muttering a Finnish translation as I went. Hearing her, I snapped and the confident presence of Dr. Gennett came to the fore. This is why I got a PhD.
"I made a special run up here at 1 o'clock and paid the fine. You will find it noted on the list," I said.
When I returned home, Erin was crying and holding a soggy shivering pig in her arms. "He ran under the hedge, so Heather washed him because she was so mad at him! She WASHED him!"
"From now on, could you please keep that pig in the house," I demanded, pulling out the hair dryer.
"Mom, how do you like this outfit?" asked Ian, who was wearing two Hawaiian shirts purchased at Imamoto's Store on the Kona Coast. "I always thought this would make a great jacket!"
"Ian, according to these rules, you will need to take off those shorts and put on a pair of dress pants. And you will need to wear shoes that match. This is a serious ceremony and you will need to show more respect!"
"OK," he said. "Where are my kung fu pants?"
"That's right, you're missing kung fu again," I answered. Dollar signs appeared in my imagination.
The children in the gym astounded me. When I was in eighth grade, we were governed by a precise code. All girls wore Villager shirtwaists and ratted hair. All boys wore madras Gant shirts with loops that one's girlfriend removed at the earliest convenience.
"Hey," someone would say, "Did you see Steve and Lurleen making out in the closet at the party at Davor's house last night?" Davor was our communist refugee from Yugoslavia. His dad was a doctor at the medical center in downtown Birmingham. The boy was well accepted, indicated by the fact that one day someone yelled, "Hey Davor, you old whore," in the hallway.
The gym was packed. Ahead of us lay ten zillion rows of future high school students bound for a hot dance.
"You must go directly to the dance," the rules read. "You can not return to the dance once you exit the building." How did they know? By picking out whatever oddly dressed people appeared on the front lawn.
Ian was not far off base in his costume. Several boys wore Hawaiian shirts. Some girls wore evening gowns and some wore nice dresses. Some had spiked hair sprayed green and some wore suspenders hanging beneath their waist. One boy wore a Navy uniform.
"At the end of the civil war," I remembered, "In the Confederate army grandfathers lie dead in trenches along with thirteen year old boys."
"This was my grandfather's from World War II," the sailor would later tell someone.
They walked across the stage, white Euro-oregonians laced with multiple Garcias and Ramirezes. There was a Chinese boy whose family was very strict. A Samoan boy and his family all wore golden leis, and when he graduated, Nico draped the lei on the principles neck. Rocky,, a defiant boy from the Warm Springs Nation, wore a braid to his waist and received an award for athletics. Twin Indian princesses, pencil thin, received multiple awards as punjabi scholars and socialites. The lone black boy received no special treatment. The boys I knew as Ian's friends graduated too. Lee, a foot taller than the last time I had seen him and mangled when a car hit his bike earlier in the year, walked perfectly. Derek, from a family of six adopted and foster children and dressed in a polo shirt, shot a horn sign after receiving his certificate. The horn was the sign of the day. After each student, the audience would clap, the volume like a cruel contest. Why did my weird loner son get such an ovation? Perhaps he was a legend. I was a lucky mom.
It was a rite of passage. Do what you want, the administration said, smiling. This one night is yours. You are teenagers now. Saturday night Ian, his white boy afro now shaved into a cross between a mohawk and a coonskin cap, cut in on his dad just before the contras turned to square dances. I looked up at his face beside me.
"The Dalles, huh? Yep, The Columbia. Musta flooded hundreds of times. This whole area up to the pass was covered in GLACIERS! See that rock wall there? A glacier made it like that!"
Innocently situated on mountainous US 97 between Ellensburg and Wenatchee, The Moose Wallow Lodge is a long log building with a cafe and rooms...you can tell this because a handwritten sign advertises "Special...King Size Bed 2 Nites $95." The Lodge is a one man show, with one husky middle aged gent employed as waiter, cook, and encyclopedia. From the minute he greeted us with,
"Son, this is WASHINGTON! Where are your SHOES? WASHINGTON LAW requires that you wear shoes in an eating establishment!"
We had his full attention, partly because there were no other diners for the noon meal. The food at the Moose Wallow was actually pretty good, and my home-made German Vegetable Soup and grilled cheese special was excellent. He explained, "Yep, we're in a DEPRESSION! No one's got any money! They're all making payments on their big vehicles. Yep, I've been to places in Alaska where it's been -75 degrees with a 45 mile an hour wind and to Death Valley at 135 degrees! At that temperature the air against your face hurts. You folks on vacation? Yep, vacation."
"Yeah," I said. "A two day vacation. We were at Leavenworth. There is an accordion festival there."
"Leavenworth...you all become little Nazis?" We stared at him. "Yep, Leavenworth, great town, got a lotta German friends up there! More Bavarian than Bavaria! Germans, Austrians, Swiss, they all move there because it reminds them of home."
Leavenworth is a jewel in the diadem of the Washington Cascades. The desk clerk at the Icicle Best Western explained to a balding tourist
"It was a dying logging and railroad town in the fifties, so someone came up with the idea to make everything Bavarian to save the town."
The clerk at Mocha Java explained independently to me
"It is one of the top ten tourist destinations in the country! I'd try the mandarin orange dreamsicle smoothie, it tastes great!"
In Leavenworth, folks love to tell the story of their town.
Up on stage, 13 year old Brian Schmidt positioned his black monster piano accordion. His grandmother stood beside him confidently with her little red 42 bass.
"I've been playing almost 2 years," said Brian to the audience. "I'm from Wenatchee, but I'm studying with Ed Petracek here in Leavenworth."
"Ed Petracek here in Leavenworth!" announced the announcer, beaming,and the audience clapped.
"I bet you and your grandmother have practiced a lot!" chatted the MC.
"No, we havent practiced at all since we decided to do this," answered Brain.
The duo let loose on "The Beer Barrel Polka." By the end, they were beginning to get the cadence. Brian was too busy with the tunes to look at the three judges. On the left was the accordionist for the Seattle band, The Smilin' Scandinavians. On the right was the Irishman Joe Smiell. In the middle was the now balding Tony...er...Gary Blair, UK Accordion Champion in 1978. I had had the pleasure of witnessing Tony in concert the night before. What a wizard!
Gary, dressed modestly in a royal blue sportshirt that couldnt possibly offend anyone, positioned his giant blue mother of toilet seat Cooperativa. Back again in Leavenworth! He began his sets, like he always did, with a smile and a flourish and a lot of tricks. Boil Them Cabbage Down, A Man Shouldnt Cry, Hen's March To the Midden...
"One of the woman from Seattle had a Canadian teacher, and she went to go across. The border guard asked her 'What's that in the case beside you?'"
"'An accordion!' she answered."
"Do you have any other weapons?"
March to the Minsch, Crazy Accordion, Estonian Waltz, Mrs. Ryan Davis, Lavier Waltz...
"When we were driving up from California, such beautiful trees, we drove right through one redwood. Too bad it wasnt one of those with a hole in it!"
"Why doesn't the sound man fix that buzz?" a white-haired woman in the third row asked her husband loudly. I wondered that myself.
The Flying Scotsman, The Cafe, Magic Fingers, Helen Sisera...got this one on my tour of Icelandic Accordion Clubs! A lotta accordion players in Iceland....Casachak and Minka, Calvary, Blue Bell Polka...this from my father...
Flik Flak. Flik Flak indeed, and a standing ovation. "Listening to Gary play sure makes you want to practice!" said the MC, his lederhosen shining in the bright stage lights.
What makes one man become a Phil Cunningham or a Sandy Brechin, another a Gary Blair? What puts one man on Thistle and Shamrock and another on a judging panel in rural Bavaria?
See MidSummer Hex Burning in Astoria at http//www.columbiagypsy.net/hex.htm Myself at Top DeHexing
Juhanus! Hex burning! They walked into the growing darkness of the Pacific dusk, men two abreast. Each of them...costumed and pedigreed as Finn, Swede, Dane, Norwegian, and Icelander...carried and crossed a burning torch, a flame that enchanted our eyes. In each flame there was an eye, as if of a hurricane, and within that eye was a path that led to the ancient mysticism, the timelessness that we can all hear in old Garmana albums...
"You want one of these?" I asked Erin.
"No," she said, turning her nose up at the little bundles of straw that the Scandinavian maidens were holding in a burlap bag.
"Well, I do." I sure wanted the opportunity to have all my hexes torched to smithereens. "If you throw one of these in, then maybe Leonardo won't want to beat you up anymore."
We followed the country men down to the barrel placed in the center of the fair grounds parking lot. One man lit the bonfire with his torch, and then the next tossed torch in, then the next, then the next. We began to throw in our bundles of weeds.
"Clan Donnachaidh is HERE!" I whispered as I tossed mine in. The moon on one side, the street lights on the other against the wispy mottled greying sky, the ghosts of Rogers Rangers danced in the flames. So should it be!
Traveling with my husband is an expensive proposition. Neither hot tubs nor bear hunting will entice him from home. But there is one thing...one thing that will make him travel.
"Richard," I said, "I have reserved a[n expensive] bed and breakfast in Astoria for us, where you can imagine you can live a life where someone will clean and cook for you and you will never have to fix anything ever again." I would never have done that, but the ad had said "Finnish Bed and Breakfast."
"Look at all these books!" said Ian.
"What is this? Is this Finnish? These here are all in Finnish," chuckled my husband.
Indeed, the Finnish bed and breakfast was just what I hoped for. There is nothing finer for a man to do but lay in a kingsize bed propped up against 14 pillows and read an enticing English language spy novel, while women two floors below him toil away preparing tomorrow's vegetable quiche. There is no act more luxurious than shutting the door solidly while two children fight viciously over the double bed and the roll away in the other room.
"Well, I wouldn't be caught dead sleeping in the same bed as you, you never wash your hair and it STINKS!" yelled Erin. Thank Ilmatar for the roll-away!
"Why is there a gold tennis shoe hanging on the wall?" asked Ian as we sat in the living room..
"Well, that really IS one of Michael Jordan's tennis shoes," said our hostess, who had told the story many times. "Jaakko, my husband, worked for Nike...he used to be an Olympic hurdler. They had a number of these tennis shoes and they gave them to Nike employees." Suddenly, I remembered a newspaper article that Ralph Tuoli had brought to Finnish class. "Some of the momentum will go out of the community now that Jaakko has died," someone mourned as Ralph passed the article around. What a surprise...now I had suddenly been dropped in the middle of that newspaper article! Here was yet one more omen that...that what?
I went back up and looked at the golden shoe on the staircase wall. In addition, Jaakko Tuolilinen's life souvenirs hung on the walls and lay on the shelves of the bookcases of our attic suite. From Tokyo and Mexico City and Finland, there were medals and letters and pictures of Jaakko as a young man.
Hex burning! On Saturday afternoon, the hills behind The Dalles began to burn in the torrid one hundred one degree summer. I drove down ninth and then up along fourteenth. Near the middle school, I could see the dry grass burning in the distance, cherry red and yellow against black, as if Pele had opened her mouth for another basaltic hot spot, as if the great Wy'East who looms over us like Pele had opened his mouth at last. I turned around a block north of the roadblock, meant mostly to turn away people like me, as there are no real roads through the hills. Near the middle school, a big red tanker barrelled by. In the end it would be as one big party; Odell and Hood River, Lyle, High Prairie, Pine Hollow, the Forest Service and the Scenic Area firefighters would all be reunited.
"I guess they know their way around from last year," said Erin.
She was standing against concrete at the Hood River City Center entrance to I-84. I saw her too late, so I doubled back at the Country Club Road exit, the one you take to get to the dances at Rockford Grange. By the time I got back to her, her boyfriend had joined her. I pulled up and made faces at them. I did that because they seemed to think maybe I was stopping to change my fender or something.
"Where are you going?" she asked first.
"Portland," I said.
"Great!" she said. "I'm Jessica," she said, extending her hand for an upscale touch.
"Are you from Portland?" I asked when we were rolling along the Big C.
"I am. Sean is from California. We've been standing out here for two hours." Then her translucent cell phone rang and she began to speak to it in muffled tones. She was in her twenties, with short black hair and blue eyes. Sean had short cropped brown hair and leaned against the window in the far back, already dozing in the summer sun. The sweet aroma of alcohol infused from the back seat. How can anyone drink anything but caffeine in the morning and survive?
Then she began to speak again. "We were camping in Mosier and our car died. We've been up since sunrise. They towed it off to The Dalles."
"Huh! What's wrong with it?"
"Something with the radiator. It's an old car...like a '62."
"Huh! Where do you camp then in Mosier?" There wasnt anywhere for tent campers.
"We have some friends who have some land. We were just out there on the land camping...You're from The Dalles...I lived there for a year. I went to Chenoweth High School. There were good things and bad things."
"There is something like a 50% poverty level at Chenoweth," I said.
"I believe it." She said. Then her cell phone rang again.
"Can you take us to Southeast Portland?" she asked. Was I a taxi? But I did that.
"Is that an ax you have with you?" I asked as I let them off at a seedy Korean convenience store.
"Yes. All our camping equipment!" she answered.
You can see a roaming view of the rock pool here http//www.chenahotsprings.com/tour.html
The Raven's face in the airport bar was framed by the dimming subpolar midnight light, the color of outwash on a braided floodplain. Leaning against the table, he stared momentarily at the bright colors on the shirt he'd bought last year in Maui.
"Yeah," he told the waiter, a slight, dark man in dreadlocks,"Can you get me one of the 32 ounce Samuel Adams?" He explained to the woman sitting across from him, "It's a beer that comes from New England."
"Yeah, they had that on the Finnish party ferry," she said.
He'd known her for almost thirty years, and knew how to talk to her so she would like him. It was easy, because it was the same way he talked to his wife.
"Chena Hot Springs? Up by Fairbanks? I've actually never been there. You know, though, and this is an interesting fact, they're not volcanic. They come from water circulating through cracks in a deep-seated granitic pluton."
"At those depths, the rocks are much hotter than at the surface, creating a never-ending source of hot water." she said.
"As with most granites, there is a considerable amount of radium in the rocks, emitting heat as well," he replied.
Alaska is a hodge podge of what has been called suspect terrains, referred to on some menus in dialect as suspect tureens. Due to shifting plates, these tureens have slowly made their way from places like the south Pacific and the Oregon Coast only to be scraped off by subduction or casually dropped off by faulting. This has led to a hodgepodge of quilty land ranging from Vancouver Island to the High Arctic. Chena Hot Springs is located in one of the oldest of these blocks, the metamorphosed Precambrian Yukon-Tanana terrain, originally formed somewhere along the west coast of the North American...it's hard to get a real handle on things when you're talking 2 billion years. The pluton itself is of Tertiary age, like maybe only 50 million years old. Now tourists come to Chena Hot Springs, both Alaskans lured by the word "HOT" and outsiders who've read the Lonely Planet guide to Alaska and are looking for a HOT time.
"I'll have a margarita on the ROCKS, with salt, please," she said.
Chena Hot springs has a number of pools and tubs, some indoors, some out, and most the same unbearably HOT temperature. I sat sitting on the edge of the outdoor hot tub.
"Where are you from?" a trim middle aged woman with blonde hair inquired.
"Oregon. Where are you from?"
"Massachusetts. I've been kayaking so this feels great, but it is SO HOT! I've only known one person from Oregon and that was the former governor. She was a great woman with a lot of courage. She was there in the spotted owl days, 1990. I met her at two social functions. At the first, she was introduced to me by Representative Tim Fletcher....
Duh! "I've only lived there three years, so I'm not really to familiar with all this," I said panicking.
"Where did you come from?" she asked.
"Oh God!" she exclaimed.
Three oriental tourists entered the pool, speaking some unintelligible language.
"Where are you from?" the kayaker asked the woman, who was also about our age.
"Anchorage," she answered. "My husband owns a gas station there."
"It's affiliated with an A&W Root Beer franchise," her husband answered.
"I love A&W's!" said my colleague.
"Stop by and we will get you one free! Just tell them Rocky sent you!"
"This is my sister, who is visiting from Korea," said the oriental woman.
"Do you speak English?" asked my colleague. The sister smiled and nodded.
The other woman laughed. "She is only agreeing because she doesnt speak English."
The kayaker pressed on through friendship. "How long have you been here? Have you been back to Korea?"
"I've lived here 30 years. I had a sister in Houston who helped me move, and it was easy as I am in a medical field. Yes, I have been back. It has changed so much." She wrinkled her nose. "The smells, the disorder..."
"So you like it here?"
"No, I hate living in Anchorage. I think...I think I would like to retire in Seattle."
I wandered over to the large "rock pool." All over the pool, Alaskans were making new friends. Three men sat under the fountain.
"I was up on the Yukon River. I shot once!" one said. "I shot twice! Three times, three hundred mag! Then it ran into the bush. I tell you, you don't go after a wounded bear!"
I circled the pool and returned.
"Caribou! Nothing to it!" another man was saying. I recalled the lanky brown moose I'd just seen standing in a little cool pond, drinking. At first I thought it was a mule.
"Hey sugar!" I said softly, as if to a cat. Unlike an Oregon deer, it did not spring away. It just lumbered it's big head around clumsily and stared at me.
In a corner, two young men were chatting.
"It's usually even hotter than this. You into sports? Soccer?" asked the one who resembled Mr Clean, shaved head with a big gold earring.
"No, but baskeetball," said the other.
"You go to the bars a lot?"
"No," said the other.
"I can't drink," said Mr Clean. "I got a DUII, cant even drive for a year."
"Vat ees a DUII?" asked the German.
"Drunk driving," said Mr. Clean
I walked back to the Hunters. One was admiring the chain tattoo on another's arm under the light grey night sky.
"I should get one of those! I got this skin condition where I cant wear jewelry because I get this real bad rash when I sweat. But I love gold jewelry. I should get a tattoo that says Debbie. All three of my ex-wives were named Debbie. Debbie, Diane...not Doug or Dan!!! Ha ha!!!"
The Raven sipped at his second beer. "I was down around Homer, on a BP field trip. Everyone else went to bed, but I went into a bar and sat down, ordered a drink. This guy comes in, rough guy in a plaid shirt. The bartender says, 'What's the matter, Sam? You look really down. Bear get into your house again?' The guys says 'Yep, tore the place to pieces.' It was so weird, because it was just like he was asking something like, "Girlfriend giving you problems again??'"
The Raven leaned back in his Early American bar chair and said, "You came down the Glenn Highway. What kind of weather did you have at Glenallen?"
"Well," she answered, "It was really clear in the evening, but by morning it had become hazy. Why?"
"Well, I was just going to say that if you looked over to the south, you would have seen one of Alaska's few active volcanoes."
"Right, the rim of the Pacific Plate..."
"Prior to the big earthquake, it seemed dormant. But that shifted things around. Now it puffs. If you look closely, you can see little puffs come out of it. That's all it does. PUFF! PUFF!" He made little puffing noises similar to his description of the baby moose decapitating his petunias. "It's best seen with binoculars."
I'd rolled in the night before to the Northern Lights Campground. Only tent sites were still available, I smugly thought.
"This campsite here is probably more buggy," said the attendant, a chunky man with a beard.
"Buggy?" You build a campground on black spruce, you're bound to have "hyttiset," the Finnish word for "mosquitoes."
"This is ALASKA!" he said smugly. "We have MOSQUITOS here!"
"Don't have them where I live," I said very quietly.
I began to erect my little orange pup tent, Siggi. A blond woman bicyclista came rushing from the neighboring site.
"You cant put your tent up here!" she warned. "There is a man here at this site, but he sleeps on the table!" I would later learn that the man, dressed in hunting garb, did sleep on the table, and that the woman was from somewhere between Frankfurt and Heidelburg.
I left early in the morning, sick of smacking bugs. As I drove west on the Glenn Highway, I suddenly saw a man on the shoulder, thumb out. Tall and young, with blond hair to his shoulders, I had only seen one cuter hitch-hiker and he was the one who had removed his leg halfway to HoodRiver. This one had a sign that said "Anchorage."
I put my bag in the back seat and said, "Hop in. I'm going through Anchorage!" And then he began to tell his sad story.
"I'm not really FROM Alaska, I'm from Texas!"
"Where from in Texas?" I said excitedly.
"Beaumont. This spring, my girlfriend said, "Let's go to Alaska!" So I sold my car, and we bought plane tickets to Fairbanks, where her sister lives. I got a job working at a gas station. Then...THEN! I found out she was a SPEED FREAK!"
"Wow!" I said.
"My mother told me later she could tell all along. The people up in Fairbanks are crazy. First thing I see, I get to North Pole...you know where North Pole is? I saw some guy dressed as Santa Claus out in the parking lot smoking a joint! They all do whippets up there! Thirty and forty year old people doing whippets."
I misunderstood. "Rivets?" I said.
"Whippets. These are little gas cylinders they sell in the bars and its like laughing gas, it kills your brain cells!"
"Wow, this is not my world!" I said.
"Mine neither! So I notice our joint bank account is going down to NOTHING. I said, 'I'm getting out of here!' So I grab my stuff and start to hitchike back to Texas, down the Alaska Highway. But when I got to the Canadian border, I didnt have $300, so they wouldnt let me into Canada! So I thought, I'll just go down into this creek here and they'll never know. But then this state trooper comes up behind me and says, 'Dont even think about it! When they catch you they'll send you right back and then we'll take you straight to the penitentiary.' That was 2 days ago. So now I'm just trying to get to Anchorage and find a shelter and get a job so I can take the ferry to Seattle."
"Bellingham," I corrected.
"And also I want to find my grandmother in Anchorage."
"Will she help you?"
"Not on your life! When my real father committed suicide in '91, lets see, when I was eleven, she claimed that I didnt exist. I just want to confront her and say, You have grandchildren, I do exist."
And then he fell asleep.
As we went westward, the mountains climbed higher and higher. Finally, in the rugged highlands, we found roadwork.
"Where are YOU from?" asked the flagger, a cute perky young woman with short hair, as she waved her cigarette.
"Oregon. How do you like this job?"
"I love it! I get to just stand here in all this scenery. I've been doing this four years, in the summer. I live in a camper during the week, and go home to Eagle River on the Weekends!"
"Just the summer?"
"Pretty much. But one fall there was flooding around Homer and we had to fix the roads there. Rain and snow and slush! What a mess!"
The eastbound vehicles began to arrive. I watched a man from Ontario park his pop-top to use the porta-potty, and then the girl in the pilot car led us on our tortuous depaved route through the mountains.
I woke the man from Beaumont and asked "Do you want to see a glacier?"
"Sure," he said. So at a rest area, we looked at the magnificent Matanuska Glacier, which runs for miles parallel to the highway.
"How fast does a glacier move?" he asked, waving his cigarette.
"I dont know. But many are receding, due to global warming."
"I'm not so sure about this global warming," he said. "It's all cycles. For instance there was a little ice age around 1400. Once the ice caps begin to melt, oceanic circulation will change and that will trigger a new cooling cycle."
He went back to sleep. At Anchorage I stopped at the regional headquarters for the Salvation Army. They had no shelter, but the receptionist gave the Beaumont boy a blue sheet of paper with a list of resources.
"Well, I can get there on my own now, I guess," he said.
"What do you want me to do?" I said.
"I'd like you to give me a ride," he said.
For anyone's information, you can get a free meal at 1100 Third in Anchorage.
But I didnt. I ate at a Japanese restaurant and drove south, by myself, eventually ending up as far south as I could on that road, the Seward Highway. I stopped at a Tesoro station and filled up, and then started to wash the mosquitos off my windows. Then I heard a HORRENDOUS Texas accent, so unlike the amiable neutral voice of the man I had just forsaken at an Anchorage shelter.
"Could you pa-leez calose yaur dawer!" I looked way up. A woman with a helmet instead of hair was talking to me in a rather insistent way from a behemouth motor home. Not saying anything, I finished my swipe, placed the squeegee in the bucket, and moved around the front of my little Ford Focus.
"I said, could you calose yaur dawer!" she repeated, now exasperated.
Unless the door were closed, the motor home would not be able to get by, though perhaps something small like a cement mixer could make it.
I shut the dawer and drove northward.
Just north of town, I saw a man in shorts with greying close cropped hair, huge feet, and a waving thumb. I stopped.
"Can you give me a ride to Strawberry Campground, just 10 miles!" he said in the perfect accent of southern England.
"Where are you from?" I asked.
"I'm from London, in the United Kingdom. I've just been on a three day hike into the back country. I spent the night a few nights ago near Exaglahssier..."
"Right. Marvelous country. Living in London is so dangerous, you feel like you're always going to get mugged. It's so stressful! Several days ago I was hiking up around Skagway, up through the Canadian border into the Yukon! Most of us aren't here JUST for the scenery though, it's also the mystique...the mystique of Alaska!"
Portland, August 2003-Big motorcycles spread along winged lines as far as the eye could see. Almost all were Harley Davidsons, but a few sheepish Triumphs and Hondas spread their feathers as well. In the beer enclosure mandated by the State of Oregon, situated across from the Portland Museum of Art, husky men competed to see who could hit a slide the highest using a mammoth hammer. But the main event was touring hundreds of motorcycles.
They'd been lovingly shined for the event by men wearing patterned gypsy scarves close to their skulls. Chrome shone like a sharpened knife in a barroom brawl. The colored bodies, some air-brushed with eagles and coyotes, shone like Lexuses from Boise.
I watched as a couple rode by on their bike, he in leather, she in tight black spaghetti straps. Unlike the vile group called Road Kill/ Huittunen whom I'd met on the ferry fromTurku/Abo, both were free of salmon tatoos. I wondered what they did in real life, the pretty blonde and the well-groomed man.
Helsinki, July, 2003-My children safely watching Eurovision's "Wild Sex Trip to Barcelona," I stepped out onto the sparkling streets of Friday night Helsinki, so reminiscent of a Lexus from Boise in their sophistication. Gypsy women in their black satin gowns drank at sidewalk tables. A man dressed as Elvis was wearing a sign that sang "My penis is best"; he accosted a pair of men, but they just laughed at him. Overweight blondes low-cut black stared with beers into the greying night. A young man busked with a golden jazz saxophone. A greying man sat in a doorway and played classic humppas and tangoes on a five row. I imagined myself twirling on the dance floor with Astor. I wished that I had brought some euroa so I could pay him for this dream...
I looked up. Across the street, a black and white police van had arrived! On the steps of the Amarillo Coffee Shop and Bar, a muscular man in a white t shirt had a smaller man in a black t shirt in a vicious headlock! Well-schooled in mortal combat, the two polissi each in unison grabbed thelarger man by one arm and drew him away. The man in black crept off to one side to comment to bystanders. The police began a dialog with the man in white. He nodded his head mournfully. The polissi began to walk back to their vehicle, but the man grabbed one by the arm and began to shake his head and weep....
On the next street, two women in spaghetti straps played a chamber duet on violins. A man drew a square on the mall by and lit a torch. "Watch my show! Stop and watch me!" he said in English. Men and women, wandering for the evening, and the odd family on holiday from Kuusamo lingered to watch the animated German.
"Here, I will juggle these three things...a ball, a toilet plunger, and a lit torch!" he explained in English. He threw the bright torch into the summer air.
The children from Kuusamo gaped in wonder.
She stood with her back to the house and surveyed the japanese garden devised by the former owner, Mrs. Lewis. In six weeks, it had metamorphosed into a forest. Mulleins with fur like a little possum waited patiently to biennually pop their basketball player-like flower stalks. Composites had long ago sent up milky shoots and were now distributing cotton. Young corylacea shrubs were already waist high.
"Did your parents garden?" he asked.
"Sure they did. My father collected iris and daffodils!" Decades old colorslides of long decomposed iris smouldered in the big grey metal slide case, each identified by variety.
"My parents had a garden. That's what they made me do as a child. I had to weed. I had to plant vegetables. I had to mow the lawn. That's why I didn't do anything; that's why I let it go. I guess I just don't want to do anything my parents told me to do."
They'd had three acres on Shades Mountain, a few miles south of Birmingham, two in lawn and house in front, and one in back in woods and maybe an iris patch or two. A vision arose of a the huge steel drum they'd used as a trash barrel, and behind that steel drum arose Bernie, a thin mild greying black man in a white T shirt, hunched over a hoe.
"Bernie," said her mother, "When you get done mowing the lawn, could you spray the trees in the side yard?"
"Yes Mayam," said Bernie.
"I may keep those mulleins. They only flower after two years and shoot up big stalks," she said. Then you pull them up and throw them in the creek.
"I don't care what you get rid of, as long as you get rid of the blackberries. They have stickers on them, "he answered.
She started with the blackberries, hacking at them with her German clippers and dragging them to the creek using the clippers. Then she in the Japanese garden, on the basalt and bark chips and pine needles beneath the Oregon sky. She pulled up composites, grasses, English ivy, and shrubs, and clipped off a Russian olive. She left the mulleins. "What a lot of biomass there is on the sidewalk now!" she exclaimed.
She thought of the little rock gardens at their third home in Vestavia. The rocks were already there, smoothly rounded Pottsville sandstone half covered with pale mullein green lichen. Around the rocks, the former owner had planted alyssum and cannas, and succulents with little leaves she liked to squeeze. The little gardens stayed like that year after year. Behind the house, under the pine trees where nothing would grow, she scraped out small roads and constructed log houses from pine twigs. She wondered whether a little log cabin would be appropriate beside Mrs. Lewis' dwarf Japanese maple.
Balkanalia! Corbett, Oregon, August 2003
She leaned against the wall and talked into the pay phone. She said, "I thought it was going to hit tonite."
I'd met her in the dinner line...the end of the dinner line. Why jump at the food when the music would be jumping later? She was an older woman, in no-nonsense short hair and polysester....anything goes at Balkanalia. She looked like she was from the mid-west.
"There are several of us from Hawaii, trying to get into dancing," she said. "Now there's supposed to be a hurricane coming through, and I'm worried. I'm from north of Kona, on the Big Island, and it's not supposed to hit us."
Two days later, the hurricane hadnt hit yet. She sat with us at breakfast.
"I told my husband to put the sheep in the garage and the cats in the house, if it hits."
"You raise sheep?"
"It's more as a technicality...we used to have 5 sheep, but now we only have 3. When we signed up for the subdivision, they required us to have livestock so we could be classified as agricultural. The Hawaiian tax laws are a farce. We have free range cattle wandering all over our subdivision, so we can be classified as agricultural.
"We should get some sheep to eat up the English Ivy down by the creek," said Ian.
"I read somewhere that it was actually somewhat toxic," said the woman from Hawaii. "Check before you buy a sheep or goat."
The Hawaiian asked me where we lived before.
"Texas, East Texas," said Ian.
"HUH!" she said, raising her eyebrows.
"Ian shook the president's hand when he was governor."
"HUH!" she said, disapprovingly.
Ian said, "It was in the 1998 I think. He was visiting our school. We gave him a T-Shirt."
"A T-shirt?" she asked. You wonder what George would want with a T-shirt that said "Fannin Falcons" on the Front.
Which reminded me of another conversation. I had accidently sat at an occupied table the night before, though when I put my plate down, the table was empty. Two Greek-American women let me listen to their conversation.
"You're lucky to be from Canada! I love Canada!" the younger one told me.
"I'm not from Canada, I'm from The Dalles," I answered. They gave me a blank look.
"I'd like to move to Canada," said the older one, "if Bush is reelected."
"Good luck! I'd say there's a bunch of competition," said the other.
"What if my parents were married there? They were married in Vancouver. It was during the 40s. My grandfather knew someone who knew someone and voila! They went up to Vancouver and met each other and got married."
"Your parents had an arranged marriage? I hear they don't work any worse than any other."
"No, they seem to work better than a lot of others," said the older.
That very evening at midnite, I would sit next to a white haired woman waiting for the last set. She would tell me, nonchalantly, though with glittering coffee eyes
"We left Vancouver at about 6 in the morning yesterday. This afternoon I managed to get a LITTLE sleep, but I'm just dead tired. My mind is bright but my body is just WORN OUT. I'm just staying up to see Pangeo." Even though white haired, Balkan dancers usually have a lot of pep.
"How was the border?" I wanted to ask as small talk, but I knew she had no trouble getting through.
"What I want to do," said the older Greek lady, "is to get my EU passport. I applied at the consulate, and they said, "We have no record of your mother's birth." and I said, "Well, she was born, so you must have something.""
The younger one said, "They're not hiring anyone in Greece now, unless you have an EU passport. I had everything set up, a job, an apartment, and they called me up and said, we're sorry, everything's changed, we can only hire people with an EUu passport."
The older one said, "When I get my EU passport, I'm going to apply for Canadian citizenship."
MAP! Towns e-w at 20 mile intervals
Vancouver-----Camus-------Stevenson-----Bingen/White Salmon----Dallesport WA 14
=========I===============I============I==================I==== Columbia River
Portland--------Troutdale---Cascade Locks--Hood River----------------The Dalles I84
I Mt ^Hood I OR 35
Cascade Locks! In the early days, when the Oregon trailers were whisking along the Columbia, the Cascade Rapids must have seemed like a blender churning up a margarita. They'd have to go around, first on foot or horse and then on cute wee steam trains. Later the locks were devised for boats to pass Finally Bonneville Dam put an end to the rapids and turned darkness to dawn in the process. Today, you can take a sternwheeler ride where the rapids once were, and the gelatin smooth surface will pose no more of a threat than a margarita without its rocks. However, the heavy dark Indians on wood platforms on either side dip netting salmon princes from the Mighty Columbia might seem menacing to some.
You can see history recreated here each summer, when the reinactors move in and set up their tents. They come from all over the Northwest, because this is what they live for. On the island beside the disused lock, you might see a battered, stuffed suburu with a top carrier streamlined like a diving shark, bearing Alaska plates. You might see it parked outside a battered canvas tent that's made it all the way from The Last Frontier, along with its occupants, a stocky bearded man in a calico shirt, a willowy woman, and a lovely blonde toddler.
It was a hazy day, but the evening brought in a steel grey sky, like the basalt that forms The Dalles. I volunteered to go check things out. I drove the darkness, but my perception kept moving. First I drove to Petersburg School, but the slippery sky became bright. Then I drove south, doubling back to Highway 197. I looked straight across at Mount Hood, visible only as a steel blue sharks tooth.
"Damn!" I said. "That's not haze, that's SMOKE!"
I went home to look up what was on fire. There was nothing closer than Sisters. The smoke from Sisters had come all the way up to the Columbia, and crossed into Washington.
On the Tuesday after Labor Day, my husband decided to stay home. Staying at home is his idea of a vacation, especially since he had just bought a NEW battered '92 suburu all wheel drive wagon with an oil leak.
"Let's go on a HIKE!" I said, thwarting his intentions. We drove the suburu west ten miles to the Tom McCall Preserve, which at this time of year is mostly preserving dead grass. Only a few blue Ligulifloroid composites were blooming.
"Here, where the oaks are, down here is a pond. In winter it is much deeper." There was mud all around the pond.
"Look," he said, "here are some animal tracks! I wonder if animals come here to drink."
We looked up. To the right of us were three brown deer with huge ears, like big liquid eyes. They watched us, but then we moved. They bounced away, one by one, like antelope with bedsprings to their hooves.
I test drove the suburu by taking it ten more miles to Hood River for lunch. I turned off the freeway on Oregon 35, the road that goes along the Hood River, entering right by the Chevron Station and the big green bridge with steel grating that crosses the Columbia. A line of vehicles waited to pay the bridgetoll to White Salmon, but an Albertson truck let me through to go the other way, into Hood River.
I ordered Thai iced tea and Pad Thai from the Thai Trailer, and sat down at one of the plastic tables, framed in the haze by painted aluminum. Then a sweaty, muscular man walked up to order at the window, the verbose walkie-talkie dangling by his waist chattering away.
"Wunna those, wunna those," he said, indicating beef with pea pods and sticky rice with mango. Then he said
"Gotta FIRE...the bridge...slowin things down."
Huh! I imagined a steamy car fire in one lane.
"Well, I guess we shouldnt go that way again if there's a fire on the bridge!" We swung on to the freeway from downtown Hood River. I couldnt see any fire on the bridge. But ahead of us, on the eastbound right exit lane of I-85, hundreds of cars and trucks glistened in the haze, attempting to exit on the road that led to the White Salmon bridge.
"Looks like the fire must be on The Bridge Of the Gods, up at Cascade Locks!" said my husband. A white semi from Tacoma let us through to the left land.
FIRE indeed. While we were watching deer on the Rowena Plateau, a limb had hit a powerline just east of Cascade Locks. WHAM! FIRE! It quickly spread in the tall golden dead grass, enveloping the freeway in SMOKE! Cars were being routed to WA 14, over the White Salmon Bridge! Trucks were routed over OR 35 and US 26, around Mt. Hood, by where my car was smacked by a jeep last winter! East Cascade Locks was being evacuated! The fish in Herman Creek Hatchery were at peril! And Northwesterners were given an opportunity to be strong and brave. Workmen at the wood pellet factory, facing WILDFIRE 100 yards away, refused to evacuate, rather continuing to valiantly hose down their pellets.
"Escape route? That's our escape route!" one told the reporters from Portland. "It's the Columbia River!"
It brought tears to my eyes to read it, but perhaps it was because it was so smoky in The Dalles. The sun overhead looked like a scoop of orange sherbert plopped onto moldy wonderbread.
Then Friday morning, I thought I might see the remnants of flames as I drove by, but the sun refused to rise that early. All I could do was smell the charrred flesh of Douglas Fir.
Atlanta, September 2003
Margaret Mitchell wrote "Gone With the Wind" when she was living on Peachtree Street with her second husband. Her first husband was a nogood violent bootlegger, and she had divorced him after a few months. The second she had kept, until the day she was killed by an automobile barreling through Dead Man's Curve. She called the tiny apartment "The Dump" and it wasn't so much of a dump as it was tiny. It still is.
"We acquired this building in the nineties,and it has been set on fire twice!" the guide related. "Do you know why? Atlanta is about money,and the lot was worth more with a high rise on it. You look up and down Peachtree, everything is new." I knew this because the morning before, on Saturday, a huge wrecking ball had been eating with huge chomps on a colonial style brick building similar to the perfectly useable ones I could remember on the University of Alabama campus. Only the facade was left the next day, the steel beam skeleton exposed prematurely to the muggy Georgia atmosphere.
The guide was from Mobile. "After seven generations in Mobile, you either live with it or get out." So she had gotten out. Now she was 67 and looked 55, just like Atlanta, burning so brightly with the cool flame of constant renovation.
Mitchell's four rooms were on the ground floor of a building that had once been a single family dwelling. The kitchen was the size of a closet, off the bedroom, and had been refurbished with a depression vintage gas stove and a sink; the ice box was on the porch. The bedroom itself, and the bath,were not remarkable. The living room was small and stuffed with furniture. There was an alcove with decorative, small paned windows, and it was in this alcove that she had written "Gone With the Wind." Her husband had become weary of bringing books home from the library for her, so one day he brought home a typewriter for her. "Here,"he said, "You can write your own novel!"
"I remember," I said to Ian, my eyes glazed, "in 5th grade our class took the schoolbus to The Alabama Theatre (thee'-ay-ter) to see 'Gone With the Wind.'" It was a big place, not like a regular movie theater. The Miss Alabama Pageant was held there annually.
Ian looked at me blankly.
"You didnt ever read 'Gone With the Wind,' did you?" I had. I had done a Book Report on it. It was the only book I had ever used my Speed Reading skills on, ruthlessly skipping all the places where my mind had wandered or wearied. "Have you ever heard of it?"
"Yeah, I've heard of it."
Margaret had said when the movie was made, "I dont care you you cast as who, just dont change my Atlanta history." I thought perhaps if Ian were to read it, he would like the romance and the history.
College is starting again soon. I've made a decision to take a course sequence (probably Swedish) and keep my show, but I need to make a resolve to work on the quality, to try and make every song the best I can find and to keep track of events more. In the summer I have a tendency to let things slide. But one of my problems is an uneven input of new perky music from the various regions.
A woman in the studio today said she had just done her last show.
"Did you graduate?" I asked.
"I was a constant uphill battle!" she said.
At KPSU some shows go like that, and some just kick around forever. Mine will probably go after Swedish 103 is done.
The advantages of living on a creek are many. A child can...in this case, a child can find a buddy, inflate a 2 person Chinese zodiac style boat, and attempt to float down in 2 feet of autumn low water water into a quartermile conduit and therefrom into the Columbia River,also at a precipitous low. Thanks heavens for vigilante neighbors!
"The guy across the street called me a son-of-a-bitch!" said Erin as she and her friend Wee Heather emerged like wet skunks from amongst the dry grass and basaltic rip rap. She was in tears!
"They yell at each other over there all the time," I explained. Just the day before, his wife had screamed out the window at one of the teenage kids, 'Where the f--k do you think you're going?' The kid had mumbled something and driven off in his Jeep.
"He yelled at us to get off his property. He asked how we got there. I said we floated there. He told us to float right back, to get off his property, it was a STEELHEAD stream." A steelhead is actually not a salmon, but a salmonoid trout.
"He isn't a happy person," I said, holding her sobbing, soggy body. "And besides, it's only half his property." The senior apartments own the other half of the creek, split down the middle.
"And besides," she brightened, "steelhead aren't even spawning now!"
I looked up the solution on the internet. It took only a few minutes.
"Next time this happens, you tell him 'The Oregon Supreme Court recognizes a common law floatage easement for recreational boaters and anglers, even if the stream is not considered navigable, up to the average high water line.'"
"We stayed pretty much on the other side of the creek, too," she replied.
Friday morning, the three fifth grade classes at Colonel Wright visited the fish hatchery at Bingen, Washington. Due to budget constraints, each child had to pay $7 unless their parents needed the money for groceries. I, however, paid nothing due to a desperate need for chaperones. The sign in front of the hatchery said SALMON SPAWNING TODAY!
Ranger Jim from Fish and Wildlife met us at the oyster tanks and explained, "These are the purification tanks. Our water comes from pure pure springs, but only makes up ten percent of the total. Ninety percent of the water is recycled, but due to waste in the form of toxic ammonia, it must be purified. Those bacteria you see here on these oyster shells change the ammonia to harmless nitrates. Then the water is aerated in the column you see there. Any questions?"
A hispanic girl in a pink fleece vest raised her hand. "Yes!" said Ranger Jim.
"Um..." she said, "My uncle bought a salmon from a guy for twenty dollars and it had eggs in it, EE-yew!!!!"
"Hmm..." said Ranger Jim. "Anyone know what kind of salmon we have here?"
Someone else answered, "Chinook."
"Correct! And this is a special local variety, the Tule Chinook!" The Tule Chinook swim immediately from the ocean up to the area of the White Salmon River, rapidly converting all their muscle and fat into eggs and sperm. They spawn, and then, like all salmon, they drop dead. Their flesh is very light, hence the name "White Salmon."
In the Columbia, salmon princes and princesses were jostling like pigs to the slaughter to get into the entrances of Spring Creek. "That's not rocks out there, that's chinook!" explained Ranger Jim. The 23 children lined up along the fish ladder. Dark salmon torpedos, half a yard or more long and averaging about 23 pounds, continually shot up the slots in the steel ladder, waiting a while like black rice in soup, in a constant jostle with their colleagues before shooting the next metal rapid. Some looked like hell; some die and float belly up in the process. At the top of the steel ladder, they were in for more synthetic trickery. At the top of the steel ladder was a truck partially loaded with plastic bins that say "Food Bank." Some of the fish were diverted to a holding tank, but the rest ran head-on into college age men and women wearing rubber overalls. Some workers hoisted fish after fish onto the pavement. Then other workers speared the fish with long poles and tossed them into an iced bin.
"We can't use all the fish for spawning, so we send the rest to the prison system food bank," said Ranger Jim.
"Yuck," said Erin. "Imagine being in jail in Washington and having to eat FISH!!!"
I went over to take a photo. "Watch out for squirting blood!" a worker laughed.
This is how salmon spawn in Spring Creek. Each fish is anesthetized so it wont flop around. It slides down a stainless steel chute, where it is sorted for readiness and gender. "Ready" females are sliced open and the eggs, like garnets mined from schist, are removed, rinsed in a collander, and placed in a steel bucket. Male semen is squirted out directly. One male's milt is used to fertilize three female's eggs. Some fish are passed on to a man at a desk, who decapitates it and looks for the tag that has been placed in its snout as a youngster. Then the salmon prince is sent to a fertilizer factory. Very romantic!
"They die in two days anyway,"assured a teacher. There is no escape for a salmon. In the wild, it would spawn in a stream, die, and be eaten by a huge bear or bird of prey.
In the incubation room, I tried to snap an art photo of caviar with my kodak disposible camera. The next step belonged to these eggs, who would hatch and next year be released. They would swim into the Pacific and into the Gulf of Alaska. Then they would come back to Washington and die.
The children ate lunch, and then climbed back into the bus. We drove back through the twin tunnels at Lyle, Washington.
"AUGHHHHHHH!!!" they all screamed in mock panic.
The glum bus driver picked up the microphone. "Keep your voices down! There is no need for this!" Then she passed the kleenex box back to a red haired boy whose bloody nose was dripping all over the seat.
One child looked out the window and commented, "The river looks really low."
The bus driver passed back a plastic bag and a roll of towels.
I'd caught Erin up on tenth street. I knew she was up the creek with Wee Heather along, because I'd heard giggles and voices under the 10th Street bridge.
"Get in the car NOW!" I growled, relieved. "Where is Heather?" Half an hour late to the big fete, The Columbia Gorge Community College Annual Picnic! If we didn't leave NOW, I would miss the delicious hamburgers and hot dogs! Oh, I didnt really care. It would be like the Annual Baby Back-Rib Dinner at the Mid-Columbia Senior Center.
"No, I don't need a bib, I'm not a vegetarian for nothing!" I'd said to the perky activities director, pointing to my plate of potatoes, rolls, and corn on the cob.
"Mom," said Erin, now in the back seat. "Heather and I helped a big fish up the creek with a stick."
"Was it a steelhead?" I asked.
"No," said Wee Heather, "It was a salmon!"
The lawn of CGCC is easier to roll down than to climb up, matching the opinion of some of the students who enter the programs there. I grabbed a plate and 4 side dishes, one of them mine, and looked around.
"Mom, I found some friends from Gung-Fu!" said Ian. So I did too!
Here, by the way, is my side dish
3 tomatoes, cut up by Wee Heather
1 English cucumber, cut up by Erin
1/2 purple onion, cut up by me
1/2 container pitted greek olives, whole
!/2 huge container Nanci's Natural Eugene Yoghurt
3 minced cloves of salad garlic bought in Toppenish, WA in June
Some fresh dill
I write this because it tasted good!
On stage, a woman with an American Flag Tshirt and scarf was giving an unusual speech. She recounted the years when she had protested the Viet Nam War. When her son had joined the Navy, she was devestated. A big portrait of a thin kid in uniform was in front of the podium and the cake with red white and blue stripes. "But now that my son is in uniform," she said, "I'm proud as heck of what he's doing on that submarine." She then invited everyone to pick up a US Navy mousepad at the raffle table. Cake, how about the cake?
Suddenly most of the people at the table left! I was left alone with one person, Ian's friend Thomas from Gung-Fu. He looked like he was about 12.
"What did you say happened to your leg?" I asked, pointing at his cast and aluminum crutches.
He was thrilled to talk about it. His braces glittered in the sun as he made a bright smile.
"I wath up here at The Dalleth High Thcool playing football, and thith guy ran into me and tripped my leg and STHNAP! I thought it wath jutht thprained, my ankle, but I got to the emergenthy room...the guyth all know me there...they thaid it was broke! I thought they were kidding! 'You're kidding,' I thaid.
"What grade are you in?" I asked.
"Tenth," he answered. He went to high school in Lyle, Washington.
"What other accidents have you had?"
"I had a concuththion onthe. We were playing Wathhington Thcool for the Deaf in Vancouver. I ran into thith guy and WHAM! He came up to me and thaid, "Thorry man, about that!" and I just shook my head becauth I didnt know WHAT wath going on, I was thtunned, and said "Wha???" He was like parthially deaf and had that way of talking, but you could underthand what he thaid. Tho they took me to the hothpital. I wath OK though, I jutht had a minor concuthion."
"What's it like to play a deaf team?" I asked.
"Itth about the thame, but they can't hear anything and they're real quiet. Like when they go one two three HUT! they dont thay anything. [lisp off] The guy moves his hand up. One false move they're in trouble. And when they're in a huddle they're doing hand signals all over the place. Once they blew the whistle for everyone to stop, and they just kept on going! We understood, though, because they couldnt hear the whistle.
"And they had cheerleaders too! They looked OK, but they were deaf so they sounded funny. But we understood because they were deaf and they were doing their best....Once I clotheslined myself. I was going off the sidelines and ran into this wire fence. ACK!" He grabbed his throat and fell back. "The next day in school my throat closed up and I started to hyperventilate. The paramedics...."
Finally, Thomas' mother returned.
"It sounds like Thomas has had a lot of problems with accidents!" I said.
"Yeah," she answered. "He's quite a handful!" She opened her mouth and laughed, showing two missing front teeth.
The next evening, Mill Creek below the 9th Street Bridge was swarming with black torpedoes, salmon princes and princesses. Maybe our vigilante neighbor had gotten the gun out and shot these sons of bitches trespassers, because two of them lay dead in the water, two huge white fish belly up. It would be a wild night for raccoons!
Troutdale, Oregon, October 2003. He stood at the eastbound entrance ramp to I-84, a sturdy blond man with a grey pack on his back and a dog-leash in one hand. I put on my turn-signal immediately! He opened the sliding door of the Windstar and the dog jumped in and laid down. He threw in his pack and then opened the passenger door and got in.
"Where are you going?" I asked?
"As far as I can this way."
"I'm going to The Dalles, but I'm crossing the bridge to Stevenson to get gas. You can get out at Cascade Locks or you can stay on Washington 14 with me."
"I believe I will stay in," he answered. Then he began his story. "I'm originally from Lincoln, Nebraska, but I've been living in Redding, California. It gets hot as hell there...like once it got to 120 degrees. Sold my car because I needed the money. I came up here to visit, but now I'm going all the way to Detroit. My girlfriend and my son moved to Detroit."
"How old is your son?" I asked.
"They're cute at that age!"
"Yeah. I got another son, too, in Nebraska. He's two."
There was a pause while I rolled my eyes. "They're cute at that age, too."
"If you call little monsters cute!" He laughed. His thick silver earring glittered in the setting sun.
"Your dog is so well behaved! Is it a mutt?"
"No," he answered proudly. "It is a fullbred pibble."
"A pibble. I never heard of a pibble"
"A pibble terrier."
"A PIT BULL!" Oh gosh, I had picked up a man with a PIT BULL!"
"Is there a buffet restaurant in The Dalles? I was out this way once with about 15 people once and we couldn't find one," he added.
Iceland, August 2003. I stared idly at the matte finish of my rental...small red Opel. Sandblasted! A previous tourist had chosen to drive the vehicle on the vast pepper grey volcanic outwash plain called the Skeidararsandur when the wind was blowing. Now the little Opel was doomed forever to be tossed from rental firm to rental firm as a Special Offer.
To the west of us lay the town of Hafnafordur with its charming harbour and the occasional quaint police car hoping to trap a speeder on their way to the airport from Reykjavik. But we had forsaken the world of cars and boats. We were in the primitive land of horses!
Horses are one of Iceland's biggest tourist traps. They are unique animals, ponies really, and they, like reindeer, run wild in the wild, barren interior. The Icelanders are protective of these ponies, whose breed is even purer than that of the Scando-Celtic Icelandic humans. They say that once an Icelandic pony leaves, it can never return. It probably doesnt matter a Flicka to the pony, since it is likely to be warmer in Astoria or Odense than it ever would have been in Iceland. Last summer I had seen them run in packs on long treks, along the long strand near Borgarnes and Motel Venus, and in the north as well, always running like a Slinky wave with more horses than sturdy windswept riders...and a dog or two at their heels. But here, on a two hour trip, we would have just the one pony apiece.
We waited in the corral with people from all over the world. A strong Icelandic woman would ask in a glacial voice"Have you ridden before?"
And a twelve year old German girl would answer, "Yes, I have been riding for eight years!"
"Have you ridden before?" she asked.
And a white haired German woman would answer, "Yes, quite a lot actually."
"Have you ridden before?" she asked.
"Uh...not in a long time!" I answered. 'I jumped,' I claimed to myself. 'I used to jump horses over big white barriers when I was in college.' But I wasnt stupid enough to say it out loud. If you say 'I was a prom queen,' then they *expect* you to look pretty!
She swiveled her neck. "Alright then, take that one," she said and pointed at a little brown pony. Then after they swore that they had ridden 'a bit' before ('once' I said to myself), the guide gave Thrasher and Vixen to my children.
"Have you ridden before?" she asked.
Two distinguished British gentlemen, one grey and one blond, said
"Not in a long time!" they laughed.
Now mounted on our horses, we thirty mosied on to a dirt road that would take us onto the desolate rocky green volcanic expanse that is Iceland! [to be continued]
Iceland, 2003. The town of Hafnarfjordur is in fact suburban Reykjavik. Suburban Rekjavik is a deceptive entity, with stern Soviet style concrete apartment buildings jutting out from short-cropped lava hills. Gentle Reykjavik marches on sternly, conquering the countryside, an apocalyptic army of affluent concrete. But like the Wal-Mart fueled Octopus of Anchorage, one wrong turn and you are face to face with the concept that humans are a black fly speck in the Great Universe. That's why there are so many ephemeral tourists at the cultured margin of the human world. To your left is a vast expanse of geology. To your right is a vast expanse of Viking and Alaskan Amber on tap!
A dirt pasture road led us through an expansive mosaic of Postglacial and Upper Pleistocene basic lavas, none younger than 11,000ybp; Reykjavik and its breweries are just to the North American side of the volatile Mid- Atlantic Rift. Dark volcanic hills loomed above us, like the backs of wild brown ponies. Our own ponies followed along the trail like Washington cattle filing homeward in the evening, like salmon crowding a hatchery fish ladder. Lucky me, this time I pulled RIGHT on the reins and the little white pony turned RIGHT! There were no steep descents to the ocean here, as there were in Hawaii, but when the path turned downhill, the ponies began a strange trot through the close cropped hills. I could feel it coming and began automatically to post, but I do not think I ever got the rhythm right. I could feel my legs fail, slipping, my skull pierced by jagged basalt, crushed by the hooves of my spirited pony. I was torn emotionally between the danger of an even faster, smoother gait and just wanting to do the whole silly trip on a walk. I felt the same way last evening, rain spitting on the interstate, two semis passing in front of me, and Libby Kirkpatrick wailing through the speakers in the Cascadian night, pushing 65 miles an hour in spite of the slosh!
A German woman turned around and said, "This one was happy to stay in place until yours took off like that!" We both smiled. Little white Icicle was always in the passing lane!
The glacial-voiced Icelandic guide said, "Some of you would like to go faster! So we will split into two groups. The people who want to go fast, go with that group. The people who want to go slow like this, please stay with this group." I could just imagine! Ian and I stayed with the more viscous group. But wait!
"My ten year old is racing up that hill with the fast group!" I told the guides. They gave me a quizical look. Then Erin was beholden to turn around on little Vixen.
"MOTHER!" she snarled. "I dont want to stay with that dumb old slow group!" But I knew that none of us could manage the wild ride in the sharp basaltic rubble, none of could compete one inch with those fluid hills and ponies. For once, I KNEW I was right, that there was no conciliatory kindness. We each stood our ground.
"According to the contract I signed," I said, "all riders under the age of 14 must remain with their parents if the group is split up!" I knew I was right.
Then the icy guide said to Erin, "Sit back in your saddle a little more please!"
"Sit back in my saddle! This trip isnt any fun!" whined Erin.
We stopped to rest in a little glen surrounded by short willow shrubs. The early explorers described Iceland as wooded; some think the land was deforested, but others think the gaunt mountains were just covered by these little willows. The guide said,
"To dismount, you need to take both feet out of your stirrups and hang for a moment, then drop to the ground." Why?
My horse grazed aggressively amongst the lupines. I looked over and Erin was talking to the middle-aged British gents.
"Where are you from?" asked the cute blond one.
"I am from America," she answered.
"We are from Sweden," said the Brit.
Har ar du!
I was sad to see this trip end. I wished that I could ride better! But soon we thirty were back in the corral, the groups merging like field trip sections on Wight, dreaming of Cream Tea. We dismounted and riders began taking off the saddles and hanging them on the steel fencing.
"Here,wait a minute, lets get this off..." the guide said to me. The saddle was held onto the horses' tails by a braided strip of leather!
After their saddles were off, the little ponies would dive into the gravel and roll like big dogs! Soon my own white pony was rolling in the dirt as well.
"My butt hurts from bouncing around," said Erin.
"My legs hurt," I said. Maybe we should have rolled around in the dirt as well!
Finland, July 2003. [In Finland this summer, most people felt compelled to speak English to us. I found that the most useful and friendly people spoke "a little" or no English.]
Where is the oldest motel in Finland? I'm not sure, but we stayed there! It is east of the town of Luumaki and west of the town of Lapeenranta, next to the Esso station. We were headed up the road from the Baltic seaport town of Kotka (or "Eagle"), known for its Fish of Finland Museum, and I just got tired. Sometimes I'll just do that, get tired of driving. In Finland, you sometimes see these older, blah looking "motelli"s, and it is no doubt that it is from these that places like Hakkala's Big Trout Motel just south of Wadena, Minnesota are derived, the concept brought across by frugal Finnish emigrants.
I just got tired and we pulled in and I went into the restaurant. On the right hand side of the Karhu I tap, behind the racks of Akku Anka (Finnish for Donald Duck) comic books, there was a counter that said "Registration." The room prices were written on a piece of cardboard in ball point pen.
"Puhutko englantia?" I asked the cashier.
"No!" She dove into the door that went back into the bar where they sold hard liquor and Karhu III. The Finns have numerals they attach to beer names that indicate how easy it is to get drunk on it. The numerals determine in what part of a building you can buy the beer, or in the case of retail, whether you can buy it on a buffet or grocery store or you need to get it at the ALKO, the State Store. A younger woman appeared.
"Minun suomi ei ole hyvaa." I said. The young woman shook her head and left the older woman to deal with my Finnish.
I took the room key out to my kids, who were waiting in our upgraded Mondeo Wagon. (A Mondeo is a midsize European Ford.) They raced into the motelli. The long halls, though well kept, were musty and I began to get depressed. I opened the curtains to air out the room. Beyond the curtains, across a little patio and down a hill, lay the shimmering evening waters of Kivijarvi, or "Rock Lake."
"Oh boy, a TV!" someone said as I moved from the realm of their perception onto the little patio. Shoving aside a huge smelly coffee can of cigarette butts, I sat down for a moment. Then I got up and put on my swim suit, and walked down the hill. Along the row of rooms behind me, Finlanders sat on their patios smoking, drinking, talking and staring at Aiti Kivijarvi. I passed a large sauna on the right, with its huge brick chimney. Finns were sitting outside the sauna as well, gazing out onto the lake. Then I walked into the cold waters of the lake. The ooze rose between my toes. I walked around the dock and at the end of the dock the water was deep so that I had to stand on my toes and hold onto the steel bars.
I walked back to the room and put my clothes back on. Then I went to the cashier and bought a Karhu II.
"Saanko lassi olutta." I said.
I sat down at a table at the big patio behind of the bar. Beside me was a table of 3 Brits and a Finn, drinking pints and speaking English. The Finn was giving his friends a rundown of the great things they would see the next day.
Then I went back into the room and we drove to the Harbour at Lapeenranta. The town is on a big lake Salmaa, and if you make reservations ahead of time, you can ride on a canal boat to Vyborg, Russia and get off and shop without a visa. But we didnt know that. The kioski restaurants were beginning to close. We bought some ice cream.
In the morning I passed a sunbrowned man on the bar patio drinking a pint of beer. He had dark blond hair and his face drooped like his mustache. The man said something as I passed, like,
"Aha! Sinulla on tytto!"
Inside I said, "Maybe he was talking to me..."
"You didnt know that Aiti?" said Erin.
I could hear him telling the bartender loudly, "Vikkonlopuna olin Kotkassa... Martime Festival." Over the weekend I was at the maritime festival in Kotka.
"Huh," said the bartender, who was mopping up tables.
Later, I saw him sitting on the curb with a small bottle of Lapin Kulta IV wrapped in a brown bag.
"I speak a little English" he said. So I spoke to him in Finnish and he spoke to me in English. But I cant remember what we said. It is like trying to remember the melodies at a contra dance.
Then we packed up and drove away. Less than one km down the road we stopped at an Asema, or station. During the Winter War, the Finns built a system of ditches and bunkers all the way from the Baltic to the Arctic Ocean, as the big line of defense against the Russians. In this concrete bunker, the walls were wet even though Finland was apocalyptically dry.
Northern Minnesota, July 2003. I'd pitched the tent at Bemidji and then went and picked up the kids. Pretending to be guests, we ate lunch at the old resort hotel [http//www.ruttger.com/index.htm] on Lake Bemidji and then drove down to Park Rapids to visit my mother-in-law. She and my father-in-law had moved two times in ten years. First they couldn't take care of the lake property. Then they couldn't take care of the house. Now, at ninety, she didn't have the stamina to take care of Lyle, and he had been moved to the nursing home attached to the apartments.
The apartments were an obstacle I wasn't used to. My in-laws had always left the lake house unlocked when they went to town. Now, at the apartments, visitors had to push a buzzer and talk through a speaker! I'd grabbed a couple massive suitcases of tshirts and shorts from the little red car and had just rung the buzzer.
"Huh?" answered Erin electro-voice. "How am I supposed to work this?"
Fortunately a woman with tightly curled white hair came by with a walker and opened the inner glass door.
A walker and a suspicious eye. "Who are you here to visit?"
"Annabelle," I said, struggling with the supersize red suitcase we call "Big Red."
"Annabelle. Who ARE YOU?" She growled.
"I'm her daughter-in-law," I said.
"Her daughter? What's in those bags?"
"My laundry. I'm doing my laundry here."
"You're using our machines to do your laundry?" She was now livid.
"No, I'm using Annabelle's washing machine." I pushed past her, careful not to knock over her and her Silver Walker with Orange Blob, now draped over my right shoulder. It wasn't just the mass, but also the toxic fumes of sox and shirts worn for 3 days straight by a teenage boy.
In my mind's eye, I stood in the grey basement with Annabelle, between the Maytag with Suds Saver and the sauna door paneled with half logs. The sauna was neatly filled with cardboard boxes in traditional German fashion. It was minus twenty outside and Little Mantrap stretched for miles like a pancake covered with shaving cream.
"No, I rather you let me do the wash," she was saying. "We're having a lot of trouble with the drains, because the septic field is frozen."
Toxic fumes of spit up orange juice and diapers rose from the pile of baby clothes in the basket.
Annabelle laughed. "We're told to not let just anyone in, to ask questions. Next time I'll give you the key."
The TV crescendoed in the living room. Bam! Wham! Clunk!
"So you all are really coming for Christmas this year? Hallelujah!"
I eyed the photo albums in the bookcase and dreamed about my scanner. "That's what I hear." She had five children to decide these things; too many concerned cooks spoil the pot.
"Have you made a lot of new friends here?" I asked. At the lake, she had always been doing things with her neighbors. Like Haaven and Arvilla, who had a daughter that had been murdered in Florida or something equally weird and tragic. They used to go to the Sportsman's Club and cook blueberry pancake breakfasts, walleye and wild rice soup benefit dinners and raffle off snowmobiles.
"No, everyone here has their own lives. They have families in town they do things with. Some of them still have houses and they are always worried about how their pipes might burst in the winter. You know that gal I was talking to in the hall, who brought the doughnuts. A lot of people don't like her because she's too loud. But I always talk to her."
"She seemed pretty friendly to me," I said.
"But I don't mind. I've always been alone alot."
"Like at the lake...."
"No, just in general. But I read a lot, and I go play chess with Lyle. And I work puzzles."
In my ghost of Christmas future eye, I thought of myself, alone at ninety. "Time to turn in, Eocenia," I'd say to my Irish wolfhound, as we lay together in the old Chinook. "We still have a ways to go before we reach Christchurch."
"Arent we driving in the wrong direction?" Ian asked.
"Where did you think....oh gosh, you thought I was going to the gym!" What a fowl trick! Instead of taking the road past the F.O.E.Eagles Lodge to the gym, with its gleaming TV tuned to the Ducks game, we were going downtown to the former BPOE Elks Lodge, to watch The Foghorn String Band!
"I've got my boy with me tonite," I told the cashier, and we ascended the grand staircase. The huge ballroom looked almost empty, though there were actually about 50 people assembled on the huge floor with the 2 foot circular Elks motif painted near the stage.
"Your dance floor doesnt have springs in it?" a customer asked the ponytailed bartender/host.
"Yes, indeed it is, spring loaded!" he answered.
"Earplugs? You dont sell many of those!" the customer said, desperately extending the conversation.
The bartender laughed. "We do at some of our concerts...." Punk nite at the Elks Club.
Then the Portlandese Foggies abruptly assembled on stage. We assembled in theatre seats coyly assembled by the renovator in fours around cocktail tables. Four of the band sat in chairs in a three quarter square around a microphone, holding a guitar, a mandoline, a fiddle, and a banjo. A bass player leaned behind the fiddle player. See why the call them a string band? They had played in the former season at the Rockford Grange. I knew they were good, but having 2 left contra dance feet, I wasnt paying too much attention. A couple tunes into the first set, the commenced upon the murder ballad, "Pretty Polly." The dark haired guitar player was singing, but he was well back from the single black mike, and sounded like he was crooning into a megaphone, like....16 Horsepower. Right there you could see the roots of Alt-Country!
But it wasn't just 16 Horsepower. The monotonous verses, the mesmeric tone caused me to contemplate upon the strange slices through the musical cheese. It was Roscoe Holcomb himself. It was a Breton Line Dance, a shapenote Idumea, an Estonian rock band emulating a karelian shaman chanting the Kalevala. It was blackmetal, Lamb Of God, Evergrey, In Flames. You could just imagine the Foghorn SB unfurled, buzzing their guitar strings and tossing their heads mesmerically, like a death train ascending towards White Salmon.
"I hear that you had a guy run over by a train here," I'd asked my hitchiker on WA14 the week before. I'd picked him up in Stevenson, where he was in the midst of traveling from Vancouver to his home in Lyle.
"Yeah, that was really stupid! Right there where the police car passed us with their lights flashing. 37 year old tourist from New Jersey, standing on the tracks taking a PICTURE of MOUNT HOOD! His friends were shouting and honking at him and everything. How could you MISS hearing a train!"
"What a waste," I'd commented.
"Our next one here is a Civil War protest song." said the band. "'Came Back Dead.'"
Near me, an older man in a polyester shirt with pearl buttons was tapping his knuckles on the table. A couple in a cowboy hat was two stepping. Some nuevohippies fromTrout Lake were hopping around. A tiny girl was step dancing. All I could think of to do was to rock back and forth autistically. But I didnt.
"Look, they got Tshirts," said Ian at intermission. We bought a black one from the bass player, with a skull on it, and two banjoes exxed like CrossBones. Then I went out and stood on the chilly night balcony. "Live Music Tonite" read a sign suspended from the railing. I gazed out at Third Street and downtown The Dalles. At nine PM, it was almost deserted, despite the presence of the Windy River Bar across the street. I looked on to the ribbon of moving light that was the Great Freeway, I-84. As if by magic, the Four Great Stuffed Elkheads mounted on Each of the Four Walls of the Ballroom came to life. They slowly flashed their watery brown eyes and opened their dark mouths. From each Cavernous Mouth came the roar of "Blackberry Blossom (Western Version)" and the sound coalesced to form a Great Bright Stream as mighty as the Columbia. The stream passed over the balcony and split, the ends attaching themselves to the lanes of the freeway. Just as the Greyhound from Spokane with its waving passengers had been trapped in the Cherry Festival Parade, the white lights from cars, pickups, hummers, and semis were trapped in the stream of "Blackberry Blossom." The sparkling stream brought them one by one down 3rd Street, to the door of the old ballroom.
Her mother was sitting beside her, in the passenger set. She pulled the grey Mitsubishi into the parking lot. She, and hence the Lancer, was driven by an anger that cut like a sharp silver knife through a sirloin, the wheels sizzling through the rough, wet pavement. She told the story to her mother again as she clipped twice around the lot. Then driven by the thin, indifferent edge of angry numbness, she took the turn too wide. As a consequence, she hit a knife-thin numbered stone post that resembled an ancient gravestone. It had been marking one of the numbered parking spots.
"Oh darn!" she shrieked. "State Farm will have a fit! The fender is crumpled in the very same place as on the Windstar!" She though of the time she'd numbly driven the green Aerostar off the I-35 exit ramp south of Conroe on the way back from the SEPM/TSOP joint meeting in Lexington. Luckily, she'd stopped in the mud just shy of the knifelike "SPEED LIMIT 35" sign. What had she been so angry about then? Probably that she was no longer looking at the sequence stratigraphy in Kentucky black shales! What great anoxic basins! What a great time the participants had in the bar on the way back from the field trip!!!
The woman from the car rental office was making her way out to the car in the steamy cold night....
Then a light flashed!
"IAN!" her husband's voice said sternly from the hallway. "TIME TO SHUT YOUR LIGHT OUT! Put your book away, it's really late! Whatever you are doing can be resumed in the morning." Then a door closed.
She turned over. As the years passed there were so many ghosts. Where was her mother now, with her pretty red hair? Heaven? Where was the green Aerostar? Mexico? She knew where the red Windstar was...Sky's Collision Repair, and she guessed the steel grey Mitsubishi was still parked in the cold, wet driveway.
"Gosh, California is burning up, and I was too busy to notice," the pretty, petite woman from the rental company had told her on the drive downtown from Sky's. "We have a Harley accessory dealership and I sell all sorts of fun Harley gifts on the internet. Business has just been booming! I havent even had time to watch television!"
She turned over again, and stared the grim reaper in the face. As usual he seemed indifferent.
"What?" he said.
"Let me do at least just one thing before you take me," she said.
"Let me see Children of Bodom at the Roseland on the 29th."
"Huh!" he said, indifferently.
St Johns lies in the north of Portland, in the last reclining arm-stretch of the Mighty Willamette. To get there from the far east, you cross the high St John's bridge. From the bridge now at five thirty, you can see the tall white moon over the grim ships and warehouses. Or, in this case, St Johnin Siltasta korkea valkoinen kuu nähdään ankarojen laivojen ja varastojen ylla. At the end of the bridge is the old village with its quaint Burgerville, and the Lutheran Church in the basement of which I am now studying Finnish once week, sandwiched between two days of university Swedish. And so it has come to this, books slid onto tables covered with thin pastel plastic tablecloths stained with pulla.
I slid my books into the back seat of the Mitsubishi Lancer and, shivering in my bra Scots sweater, said to Cynthia, "I guess it's too cold to talk tonight." I meant it.
Cynthia MacKenzie crossed her broad arms, leaned against the blue and white flag decal on her red sedan and said, "What?"
I told her about my Swedish midterm.
"Well, most of the genealogical records *are* in Swedish." she conceded. For many Finnish-Americans, this is a quandry.
"You wonder since they were Swedish so long, if they ever thought they were Swedish?" I pondered.
She was visibly distressed. "No, they never did. They were always Finnish. Under the control of Sweden for 500 years and by Russia for a hundred!" She launched into a historical document. "They were always very popular though, on ships, with the Swedes and Norwegians because they were so strong. Those are the people you see rowing! But the Norwegians were always scared of them. They thought the Finns had the evil eye!"
Were the Finns really like Siberians to begin with? I thought of the old Karelian photo of the slant-eyed shaman at his kantele, invoking spells.
"Are you familiar with Aida?"
"I guess not..."
"Aida was the second opera in which I performed professionally. Someone told me, "I am glad that you are just playing a role. I can tell from your eyes that you are full of wrath. I would hate to be at the other end of that!" Everyone told me that my eyes were very expressive. But now I've learned to mask it somewhat." She shot me a glance. I shuddered! "Grim Finns! I have a picture of my grandmother and she looks just like that. Grim." I guessed that was what happened when you were stuck rowing Viking boats for Swedes and Norwegians.
I opened the door of the Mitsubishi, retrieved my jacket and threw it over my shoulders.
"My aunt...my aunt can read and write Finnish, and speak it somewhat. But it's the old Finnish that she learned from her parents..." Cynthia was saying. "In the churches, not this kind where the minister comes direct from Finland, but the Evangelical Lutheran Churches, they speak the old Finnish."
"So she and Ralph would be able to talk!" Our fellow student, Ralph Tuoli, had grown up in Northern Minnesota during the war years. He could still speak his grandmother's Finnish, learnt in the late 1800s.
"Sure! The woman who used to teach the course in Astoria...oh what was her name?...she said she always loved to hear my aunt talk because she could hear Finnish the way it was before it changed, before all the American words came in." Like sturgeons, like the Swedes in the Ukraine, Ralph and Aunt Dorothy were evanescent links with the ancient past.
Two pencils fell out of my coat pocket. I shivered and put my arms in my sleeves.
"I just want to learn enough so when I retire I can buy a little mökki in the North," Cynthia was saying.
"Oh yeah, you're part Finnish, you can do that!" I accused. I wondered if Scotland would welcome her so warmly.
"Actually, they've relaxed the regulations now so that anyone can buy property now. But I know it would be pretty easy for me to get dual citizenship."
"You're not cold at all?" I asked, ready to make a dive for the auto.
"Actually, now I am feeling it in my fingers now." Her fingers moved along her ample bare arm to her brown jungle print nylon blouse; her arm reclining across her body like the Torne River above Pajala. "My ancestors all came from the far north. They were used to the cold, herding reindeer in Lappland."
"You were bred for this, eh?" I commented.
In my dusky youth, I watched a sci fi show on television. It was about a society in which medical science preserved people perfectly until they reached 30. Then they were immediately bumped off. "Don't trust anyone over thirty. They're lying!" But a group of renegades escaped and...
The Red Hat Society is one of the fastest growing organizations in the country. You give them ten dollars, then you get your pin which identifies you as a red hatter and allows you to go out and eat lunch once a month. If you're a woman over fifty, you have to wear a flamboyant red hat and a purple dress to the luncheons. If you are under fifty, you have to wear a pink hat and a lavender dress. The rules are the same if you are a man. So far, in The Dalles, this has scared all the men off, though in some cities, this may not be effective. That's what red handguns are for...ha ha, that's a joke.
I've been able to infiltrate the Society twice, the first time at The Windsurfer, where I had a salmon sandwich ingeniously encased in a giant biscuit and sauteed; and at The Casa Rojo, where I ordered a shrimp cocktail, a sort of a shrimp soup with avocado. I shall now report what I learned
1) What is the secret password? "What a cute hat!" This is often followed up with "Where did you get it?" A variation of this is "I like your dress! Velvet is so elegant"
2) How are you seated? You must sit sequentially on either end of a long table. If you want to sit with a special friend, you must arrive with them.
3) How is progress in the organization measured? By the number of pins and other silly things you have won in raffles and are now wearing, like bead earrings in the shape of hats, scarves with hats printed on them...
4) What are some examples of conversation openers
a) "My Studebaker is in Portland having it's shocks worked on. They always want a convertible for the Cherry Festival Parade. I thought we would only be carrying one Queen, but they just kept piling in!"
b) "We're going to Australia in February. We're looking at cherry orchards and at the company that manufactured our equipment. We went before, but that was a general agricultural group. We looked at old fashioned dairy farms...manure all over the place! They still do it like that in Australia."
c) "Gosh, I hope it doesn't snow, there'll be power outage repairs all over the place to coordinate. I got my beeper with me!"
This is how you know you are finally in with the Old Elite of Historic The Dalles!
"My grandson is in the play up at the high school," mentioned the cherry grower."The word to spread is that's is REALLY GOOD!"
"Huh!" I asked. "Who did he play?"
"He played the Russian ballet teacher."
"Wow! *He* was really good."
Someone down at the other end of the table heard.
"You know I donated that costume! And then I saw it in the photo in The Chronicle and got SOOO excited. I made it originally to wear as a Greek sailor back in the seventies."
"Why, it is a LOVELY costume!" someone said.
"It was made with love. I used to be into Greek dancing." She pulled out a faded color photo and passed it around. "That's when I did belly dancing. I'm about 27 in the photo." She looked very different now. "I used to travel all around the country with my boyfriend, who was a Greek musician. That photo is very special to me. It was in his wallet when he died."
Everyone was silent for a moment.
After lunch, I drove to Washington to fill up my tank. On Old 30,down by the Hi-Way House, a construction flagger waved me through smiling, grey hair under her hardhat. Then I drove back and picked up some prints at Big River Photo.
"Not too cold today," I said to the clerk.
"It was pretty cold late late last night!" she answered.
"Out hitting the bars?"
"Ha! As a matter of fact I was out dancing at the Eagles. It's a great place to go because it's safe...you know there won't be any fights. I'm too old for that!"
I pressed on. "Can anyone just go there and dance?" I'd always wondered. You often heard someone talking about going to the Eagles.
"Are you talking about tonite? Find me and I'll sign you in as a guest!"
I told her no, just in general. Maybe she figured if you took photos, then you were an OK person...
"Well, you can just ask at the desk about joining. If you're a woman, it's just $114!"
These Immigrants! Messengers of Satan, coming and taking scary jobs Americans don't want...
I sat in the office of The Dalles High School, across the desk from Mr. Jump.
"Jolly Good now! We just need your permission to observe Ian and intervene. What do you think the problem might be?"
"Um...we don't know. Maybe he has a short term memory problem. One of my friends who was a grad student in psychology gave him a test for aclass assignment and he said that Ian has a really short short term memory. On the other hand, maybe he's bored. I guess he just doesn't turn his homework in in math. I see you put him in Integrated 2 even though he failed Integrated 1 in Middle School."
"Right-O." Mr. Jump's manner became stern. I looked around the small room. In my day there would have been a gigantic paddle on the vice-principal's wall and perhaps an electroshock device. "He's failing math right now and he's doing it to himself! And that's the subject in which he is identified as a TIPS student, which is perplexing. Right, then, I'll instruct the teachers go ahead and take up his fantasy novels!"
"Where are you from?" I asked.
Mr. Jump brightened. "England," he said. "From a small town in Surrey, the nearest place is Guildford. Great geology, you'd like it! They call the area, 'The Devil's Punchbowl.'"
I had an interesting discussion with the program director...
"I wish I could get the late night people to shape up," he said. "They're not doing the station ID right."
"Yeah, I come in and everything's a mess. The faders are pushed up and there are Cds and there's trash all over."
He became defensive. "They're artists, that's why they do that."
Welcome to Portland.
July 2003...Imagine the V of your fingers as the events of the iraqi war...
Imagine your life as an open book, for instance "Geology of Wisconsin and Upper Michigan." Imagine it opened to the geologic maps on page 26-27. The open paperback mimics the syncline of your life, going downhill until the center, and then uphill again until you can retire and travel to see the PreCambrian in more detail. But more interestingly, the V-shaped The Superior Syncline bends the Keewenawan age rocks to cradle Great Lake Superior. Then, to the south of modern Superior, along the North Shore of Wisconsin, the clays of Wisconsinan age Glacial Lake Superior overlie these Pre-Cambrian sediments that tip here to the north.
I swung south from Duluth, across the High Bridge into Wisconsin, past the dead hematite-red lakers on display for tourists and past the dreary asbestos Belgian Club in Allouez. There was one word in my mind, one goal and it was MICHIGAN. I had one and a half days to touch tag Michigan and drive west to the glaring reality of the Bemidji. I was out for blood across Wisconsin in a red Mitsubishi Lancer with unlimited mileage.
As I spun across the old glacial lake, on township roads lined with scruffy trees, I spotted the sign "Oulu Glassworks. --->" But I was stopped dead before the glassworks by a sign that said "Oulu Cemetary." I pulled the Mitsubishi along the soggy gravel and got out. I could recognize the names, both from the nearby farms and from remembrance...Tikkanen, Kangas, Rantala. My husband's cousin from Superior's first husband was a Rantala! And Uusimaa...the Uusimaas left three infants here before they translated their name to Newland.
I drove north to the lake, past Port Wing, disembarking at the town of Cornucopia and staring out at the amiable waters of the inland sea. On the beach the town had displayed two decomposing wooden fishing boats, so I took a picture. Later, I stopped to eat at an upscale bar in Bayfield, near the Apostle Islands. People at the bar were drinking beer.
"I'll have the walleye tacos," I told the waiter,and stared at the middle-aged couple near the window who had ordered chowder and a pint of Leinenkugel.
I walked two blocks back to my car and closed the door. The man at the window table banged on the Mitsubishi window.
"You left your credit car at the bar," he said. I thanked him and walked back to the bar.
I turned south and passed through Ashland, Saxon, and Hurley, and then silently across the border into Ironwood, Michigan. Some of the motels were running $29 a night with sauna in the low season, but it was too early to stop. I drove north again through pines towards the elusive Superior, past ski chalets and the dim asbestos Hautala's Bar. Inside, a stout young woman stared at an upright cooler. I stopped at a park, where I hiked the trail and eyed the red, iron-rich conglomerates in the canyon. then at the lakeshore, a campground, seemed too full and windy. That was my excuse.
I drove back south again and made a V into Wisconsin, stopping for the night at Ashland at a motel where curry permeated the walls. I crossed the highway, took a photo of the fiberglass pike, and walked along the bike path that rimmed the lake. I turned back at the ore dock as it was now too dark to see.
In the morning, I toured a huge visitor center that told me the story of the south shore. In the latter part of the 19th century, Euro-American loggers and fishers arrived. Cheap farm lots were also sold. But the farmers found out that they could not really make a living in this severe land. An outdoor ecology trail said "This hay meadow is being converted to a marsh habitat. It is a much better use of this harsh land." Nonetheless, farms and towns persist in these northern counties.
On nights like this, with the sky a wet grey, you could drive along I-84 approaching Portland and the sky would fume a dark peach red, as if the town were in flames,and the Mighty Columbia alongside would flow a blood red like molten lava. But the steady stream of headlights oncoming as if in a sparklers wake suggested that the only disaster ahead would be the over-consumption of electric power by an overpopulated metropolis. Well, that and my Swedish class getting its midterm back. Last week, ahead in the glowing town, students had rushed Gunilla, our teacher, with Requests For Pass/Fail Grading After the Official Deadline. But tonite, my eyes were fixed straight ahead at the fine grey spray from the sky, and from the semis ahead. It was very wet outside!
Suddenly, my Windstar crossed the Sandy River and broke out from the darkness of the Columbia Gorge into the City of Troutdale. On either side of the freeway, it looked like the Organic Yogurt Case at Fred Meyer had exploded all over the shoulders!
"That's not the moonlight," I exclaimed to myself. "That's SNOW!!!"
It hardly ever snows in Portland, especially in November.
You might wonder what an acceptable conversation in a Swedish I class at Portland State consists of. Here:
"SHWOOSH-ena! Hur mor du?" I greeted the Over 65 Tuition Free Audits at the back of the room, Chris and Leonard, who are taking the course to speak to their cousins in Jakobstad, Finland. They are smilingly immune from the surprises the reportedly easy language has held, like the tornado-like consonants at the beginning of the greeting "Tjena!"
"Bara bra! I dag det snoar!" Pretty good, Today it snows. "We had three inches where we live! Our power was out for hours!"
"Det regnar i The Dalles och Hood River." I said. That word is pronounced "rainyar."
Blonde Gunilla, strange blue tattoos flashing out from her sleeveless tanktop, instructed us to circulate and ask number questions. I asked Vernon, who was wearing a bla (blue) Silverton Fire Department TShirt
"Vad ar dit telefonummer?" Then I asked "Vad ar dit skunummer?"
"Mit skunummer ar tolv!" Big feet! He wears a twelve!
"Hey," said Ron, who had been asking Debbie "Vad ar din portkode" (what is your door code?), "do you work for the Silverton Fire Department?"
"Yeah, I'm a *fireman* there," explained Vernon.
"You know Wayne Sutherland? He's a volunteer there."
"Haven't seen him around for two years!"
I asked Debbie, "Snoar det i Lake Oswego!"
"Yeah!" said Debbie. "We have a whole lot of snow out there!"
I worried. I worried about getting home. Maybe if I left now...but I stuck it out to the end of class, and then walked out the door. So did Ron, who was also parked in the ramp. Ron is a "99" or cut-rate no credit community member. He has some letters from his great-uncle written in the 1930s he wants to translate. Even at that rate, it would be cheaper to pay a translater.
"Yeah, it snowed out at Mount Angel, too. How long have you lived here?" Ron manages an ag-coop way down in Mount Angel and eats a sandwich as he drives to class.
And then he began to speak at length
"I've lived here femtio tvo ar, all my life. My mother, though, is from California, but my father is from, of all places, way over in Illinois!....."
This is known as "Nordic Language Syndrome" where you think everyone taking Finnish or Swedish or whatever with you is a long lost relative and needs genealogical information. Twenty minutes later I stood at the 7th floor door in the parking ramp stairwell, looked past the damp concrete to the angry white sky and decided I really had to go.
"Wow! I need to get home! I dont have my studded tires on yet!" I said.
But it never did snow on me. I arrived safely, then swung into Albertson's for a Diet Rite Cream Soda and some apples. No one was at the checkouts.
"We get this stuff free then?" a can picker said loudly. He was about my age. A clerk who was stacking boxes of Cocoa Krispees immediately smiled and stepped behind the counter. The bum handed him a quart of Hamm's and then selected a package of M&M's.
"You want a couple apples?" I asked him later, on other side of the door.
"No, I'm OK," he said. It's common for can pickers to say this. They have their pride.
"They'll just rot, I've got too many. Do you have a place to put them?"
"Yeah, right here in the bag..." he answered.
Portland, Nov 29, 2003Children of Bodom
The tall guard stood just beyond the electronic gate. She held her arms out like a crucifix. This meant she wanted to frisk me me for knives, guns, pyroclastics and bottles of Aquafina. You never knew when two middle aged women would get into a deadly cat fight over their favorite band in the ice cream parlour of the Roseland. I smiled and held my arms out, and then went to buy a ticket. I climbed the stairs and then went for another flight to the over 21 balcony. In Oregon, you must be over 21 to sit down at concerts where alcohol is served, unless, as in Arlene Schnitzer, it is served in the lobby or it is served with dinner. Imagine eating a four course dinner standing up! I gave the woman by the stairs my drivers license. She examined it and then stamped my arm with a black light insignia. The Roseland wants no trouble!
I walked up to the bar, neon-lit against the black walls, ceiling, and furnishings.
"Could I get a chardonnay, please?"
The bar tender, who like many of the Roseland's male employees, looked like Mr. Clean, answered, "gosh, Idont have any wine up here at all tonight." and shifted his gaze to the man next to me.
"Black Butte Porter," I said quickly.
"Black Butte," said the tall man.
I took my Black Butte and sat in one of the theatre chairs, a couple seats down from a 30ish gent in a Hawaiian shirt and a tiny mustache. Immediately the first band came to the fore, called...uh...it's a metal convention that you don't have to remember who the first band is. They are arranged in some expert's gage of importance. In folk parliance, you might have the Mill Creek String Band followed by Balkanarama, followed by Lucy Kaplansky, followed by Fairport Convention, but on the other hand you might not like all these artists in the same order as the expert. The MCSB equivalent was a death metal band. Imagine these vocals, a crabby troll in a conversation with a snarly ogre, and this all done by one young man!
I had come,of course to see the legendary folk-influenced melodic death metal Children of Bodom, from Espoo, Finland, a suburb of Helsinki. Legend has it that they were named CoB because at Lake Bodom occured the worst crime of all time, where a whole bunch of boy scouts on a campout were found murdered. Legend has it that Alexi, the vocalist, recorded his first sweet, brutal album at the age of 14. Hence after Mill Creek, I wandered down into the main floor. The best place to be at a metal concert is standing up down there, to get the full, sometimes mesmeric effect...modern metal can be really mesmeric. About 4/5 of the people on the floor at this concert were guys wearing black. Most of them wore horrendous deathy Tshirts, but behind me someone was wearing a shirt that said "Dream Theatre." That meant he likes progressive, not death metal, and maybe even Adrian Legg. It was a good sign. Even a better sign was a man wearing a kilt and a Guiness shirt.
Soon the CoB Hate Crew arrived on stage. Their new CD is "Hate Crew Death Roll." You could tell a mile away they were Finns, all blonde with those strange broad faces, except for Janne(?), the keyboardist. Alexi looked interesting, with a lot of eye make up. I don't know why he spit so much onto the stage; perhaps he had marbles in his mouth. What a band, mixing incredible musicianship and memorable northern melodies, a lot of white noise, and of course, those death vocals! Did the audience realize how good they were? What turn of events turned them away from playing suomi rock or even kansanmusiiki? Did the American audience recognize how closely the grandiose fantasy filmscore-affinitive melodies were related to those of Timo Rautianen and Nightwish? Suddenly the band fell silent, and Janne, setting his keyboards to "harpsichord" began to play a Celtic harp melody. The crowd roared and cheered and aimed their horn signs to the key board. So, for once did I. "Wow!" I said. All too soon, however, Alexi shouted, "Now we will have to f----g leave, they f----g only gave us a f----g half hour to play." I was so sad. I wandered off to the little shop and said, "Can I get a Children of Bodom tour shirt?"
The clerk sold it to me.
"I'll have the same thing!" said the man behind me.
I showed the guard woman my arm and ascended the stairs again.
I was pleased to find that the sub-headliner, Nevermore, is a progressive power metal band. They appear to be from Seattle, of all places, and the singer, whose first name is...you'll never guess...Warrel (correct me if I'm wrong), used wonderfully powerful "clear" vocals (ie, think Freddy Mercury). The acme of their repertoire is white noise fronted with Arclike, Shoenbergesque chaotic tonal relationships. But Warrel seemed like a good, cheerful guy. He'd grin out into the audience and...when you looked down from the balcony you could see it swirling in the middle with testosterone-driven young men bouncing off each other brutally. This is known as "moshing" and every so often you will read some story in Readers Digest about how some woman's son was trampled while moshing and due to brain injury is no longer able to fly defective helicopters in Iraq. Blond Warrel would make a stirring motion and laugh, "You guys out there aren't TIRED, are you?" Then my ears pricked up. He announced,
"Now we're gonna massacre a folk rock classic!!"
But since the instrumental part was just white noise and the acoustics were so bad that the lyrics were Shoenberg mush, I never figured out which one.. Massacre indeed! Darn!
Finally came the headline band, Dimmu Borgir, named after a unique grim volcanic feature near Myvatin in Iceland that I have written about previously. Dimmu is a Norwegian Black metal band. They wear make-up so they look like they're dead, sort of like Kiss, only creepier. They've got a great light show...at times you think they're burning, but fortunately bands seem to have given up on pyroclastics! Amongst some serious critics of extreme metal, they dont have a very good reputation. Dimmu isn't my cup of tea either, except for the keyboards, which show a classical influence. But the moshers loved them!
I left before it ended. Down at the ice cream parlour, one of the Mr Clean guys was walking concertedly toward a doughy blond teenaged girl wearing lowcut, tight black clothes. "No, no, no," he said. "This way, this way!" He shook his head and indicated the front door, instead of the hallway that led backstage. I exited that way as well.
I drove my Windstar, now sitting at 128K, across the bridge and over the dim scablands to Murdock Washington. Actually, the scablands werent as dim as you'd think from the name and my opener. Here east of the mountains, when the apple and grape leaves turn brown, the grass turns green. It is a paradox. Another paradoxis that in a lucky year, it also turns white!
At The Murdock 66, I filled my tank and bought a 32 ounce fountain diet coke for 99c. Then I turned south into Dallesport proper, past the diner turned junkyard (http//w3.gorge.net/judith/tavern.jpg) that was now being renovated by sticking a Spanish door from Lumbermans on to it. But the road appeared to be blocked by a ribbon of darkness.
Ahead of me a large, brown herd of cattle...thick sturdy cows, not buffalo or llamas or emu, was being herded across the road like a gaggle of geese. Resembling a shriners parade, two escorts followed the herd in off-road motorcyles, then one followed in a white one-man utility vehicle, and finally two men brought up the rear on bubbly ATVs. All that was missing were horses. And queens.
I resumed driving, past fall dead vineyards and orchards mesmerized by autumn, the grass beneath shining like emeralds in the afternoon sun. The trailers so common in Washington gleamed like windfall apples, the plethora of disabled vehicles lay around each like sleeping kittens around their battered mamma cat. Was that a '53 Pontiac? Gazing toward the south, the Great White Mount Hood towered protectively over the Columbia like a Prudential ad. Below that (by many thousands of feet) lay The Dalles Court and Fitness Club. I allowed my memory to wander.
"Guy flew off one of the treadmills in the cardio room, wasnt watching what he was doing. And, boy, did he get hurt!" the woman at the desk had announced Friday.
A couple months ago, I had jacked the orbital machine up as far as I could handle, and proceeded to read The Oregonian. At the time California was burning, and there were a lot of solar magnetic storms. What a time for news! I looked up from an account of the firefighter from Northern California who had valiantly given his life and CNN was showing the exact same thing on one of the two TVs, in flaming red and orange! Wow!
"That's the lazy way to do it!" a woman dressed entirely in pastel wash and wear commented cheerfully.
Right-O, you rolly polly old scumbag! Only for the upper half of my body. My legs were climbing Mt Shasta!
"It's the only way I can read," I said pleasantly.
"Well, I do it that way sometimes, too!" she said with condescension, and moved towards the TV. "The news gets so depressing these days!" she said, fiddling with 'Channel Select.' A large man in a suit and tie appeared on the screen, carrying a microphone and weaving his way through the audience,
"And did you realize at that time that your daughter had been dating your stepfather and was pregnant?" asked the man.
Then she stepped on one of the lethal treadmills and commenced to stroll sensibly and perkily. I returned to The Oregonian, perusing the earthquakes in the weekly natural disaster map, and climbed ever upward to the summit.
As I crossed the river again, the Columbia was the color of new blue jeans. Fishnet ripples covering the mirror surface were cobwebs, breaking the flat reflections of the platforms where Indians dip net for salmon.
There are dark days and then there are bright days to pull one back into the sublime. Tonight I will write about the day from the sludge, from the cesspool. Then soon to follow will come a day from the fountain of joy.
Part one: Sewage Disaster!
Imagine yourself in late evening with not just an overflowing toilet or two, but a bathtub full of sewage as well! This is what happened to us after returning fom the Col. Wright Elementary School Christmas Concert! To top things off, the hot tub at TDF&CC had already shut down for the evening!
In the morning, Big Ed and his Assistant...the one with the interesting huge spider tattoos on each forearm...had arrived in their white Zippy Rooter van. How prompt!
"I'm Big Ed. Where's your outdoor cleanout?" asked Ed, rubbing his goatee. Um...
There wasn't one. So Big Ed dove valiantly into the crawl space via the access in the furnace room. Soon you could hear all sorts of noises. Had Big Ed been attacked by a raccoon, skunk or mountain lion?
"Are you OK down there, Ed?" asked Spider.
"Yeah!" said Ed. When he come up, he explained, "There ain't much room down there for a big guy like me! Well, I think you got root problems. We'll take the toilet off and fix you right up."
But when he took the toilet off, all hell broke loose. "Get some towels quick!" he barked at poor Spider. "Get a mop!"
The next thing I knew, there was a huge City of The Dalles tank truck outside. Big Ed explained:
"See what happened was that..I finally figured it out..that all your neighbors decided to do their laundry and stuff. That's "grey water" comin' out. Those roots are on the main city line. You're darn lucky! You see some of these people with finished basements come back from vacation and the city sewer's backed up. There's sewage squirting out the cracks between the doors and windows, but it don't burst 'em open, it fills the basement up. Antique furniture, books, everything, gone! Ruined! You're lucky you only got 14 people on your line!
Two more trucks arrived from the City of The Dalles. A bearded man in a white glowing vest introduced him self.
"Hello," he said, shaking my hand. "I'm Randy, Chief of Sewer Operations for The City of The Dalles. You're down here by the creek and so we're having tree root problems. Trees are great for shade and seclusion, but they create havoc on sewers. The roots go straight for the moisture!" He shook his head. Trees are to Waste Engineers as wayward backhoes are to Internet Providers. "I'm contacting one of these firms here and they'll be here as soon as possible to clean up your bathroom carpet."
"The City'll do you right, they'll fix you up. They'll pay for everything but the outside clean-out. See, if you'd had an outside clean-out..." began Big Ed. Spider had begun digging the hole in the Japanese garden. "See this? This is your sewer pipe. Boy are youlucky! This iron pipe will last another fifty years. But see around 1950 they started using this tarpaper pipe on some houses. I see that stuff, I just tell the homeowner to put in all new sewer pipe."
The phone rang. "Hello! I'm Sven from Disaster Reconstruction, Inc. We'll have a truck there as soon as possible...we're based in Hood River...to tear up the carpet and the underlayment and get everything dried and disinfected!" And soon the Big Green Disaster trucks were in the driveway of our Contaminated Home as well!
"The powerful disinfectant we're spraying kills everything including typhoid, HIV, and hepatitis germs!" explained Sven.
"Have you seen my cats around?" I asked.
Part-2 Music Party Time
Here is that great dip into the gilded sky, after emerging from the sewer!
The next day, Saturday, was the monthly meeting of the Red Hat Society, in which crochety old ladies like me go out and have lunch together, this month at the palatial Rommel's Italian Cafe and Wine Bar in downtown The Dalles. I wore my purple velvet concert-length skirt, topped by the black chenille shirt that I wore to the Floater concert last New Years and a Deep Purple shawl with beaded border that my husband picked up in Singapore, held together with....anyway, though I myself wore a simple beret, many of the hats this month were just simply astounding!
"How is your Studebaker?" I asked the woman next to me.
"It's still in the shop in Portland getting new shocks, the ones that make it rock side to side. I think he's used to working on Camaros and doesnt quite know what he's doing!"
After the door prize raffle...I won one of the potpourree jars with hand crocheted cover instead of the Mary Kay perfume...I ordered a seafood salad off the menu and began my long wait. I was already starving!
"Yes, I worked all morning determining the financial aid amounts of all the eligible students at the college," the woman across from me was saying. "I deserve this glass of Reisling." Everyone else was drinking ice tea.
All of a sudden Rommel himself appeared and said "I have a special treat for you beautiful ladies. Our accordionist from Portland is here early to entertain you!"
Like magic, Mike Mucci all the way from PDX appeared at our long table wearing a stunning black Excelsior Piano Accordion! I couldnt even count all the bases! He said, "Look at the mural on the wall behind you! That's TUSCANY! This restaurant is just like a restaurant in TUSCANY! This is the finest cafe in town!"
What amazing fingers this old Italian boy had! And what a voice!
"VOLARE-OH-HO CONSARE WHOA..." His songs were splattered with little jokes like romano on marinara sauce, "Garlic! I eat garlic every day, went to the doctor and he said 'you are in perfect health for a man of 39. What do you eat?' 'Garlic, lots of garlic' I said. 'But I do have one big problem!' 'What's that?' he said. 'I don't have any friends!' Ha ha ha ha ha!'"
I just rolled my eyes. My ears were only interested in his rich baritone that spoke of rich maquis and olive trees and those fast keyboard rolls that spoke of running through sundrenched vineyards.
"That was 'Lara's theme' from Dr Zhivago! And this...remember the great Bing Crosby?" Tears began to well in his eyes! Mostly *I* remembered Crosby Stills & Nash.
Immediately after returning home with my potpouree and my fat teddy ball from the ornament exchange, my husband said, "Everyone! Time to go to the party in Tigard!" Tigard is a southern suburb of Portland. The party was sort of an engagement event for a colleague who'd got a job in Vancouver this year. We all climbed into the miniature pick-up he'd borrowed from a friend in White Salmon and off we went!
A couple hours later we were in Yuppie suburbia, a concept not quite realized yet in The Dalles, where nowhere is really safe from hippies, immigrants, and unemployed aluminum workers. Once inside, we found that most of the guests were friends of the bride, worked for a software firm, and were all dressed as L.L. Bean fashionplates. No kidding, almost everyone was dressed like...like I am now, in blue jeans and tasteful sweaters! I was wearing a long velvet skirt, a black fuzzy top and a purple shawl, but it's not the first time I'd been cast as a social pariah. I poured a glass of chablis and went to sit in the living room.
"This is my sister." introduced the proposed groom. She was wearing a black chiffon dress that was decorated like a Christmas tree. "Sis teaches at Portland State."
"I'm in the English Department," she said. "I have three other parties to go to." That gave me a few minutes of conversation. But then she had to leave.
A man sat down at the piano and began to play Christmas carols. I was surprised at how good he was.
"Let's do sing-alongs!" he suggested. Most people just stared. But after singing sacred harp, I have no pride. A woman wearing a tasteful white alpine sweater (cat. no. 52374) said,
"I know the harmony section to 'Joy To the World,' if you can sing the other part."
So we requested "Joy To the World." The song was oddly syncopated and a little tricky.
"I teach music at Portland State. I'm a jazz musican," said the man.
The jazz musician tried "Partridge In A Pear Tree" but no one could think of all the gifts. He stopped playing and began to talk to Erin.
As we left, I asked Erin what the jazz musician had said to her.
"He said I had a good voice and wondered if I'd taken lessons on the piano. I said no, that I didnt like having people tell me do things a certain way and he said that was how he had learned to play piano, by ear, and that it had taken him longer to do it that way without someone to show him how," Erin said.
"Judith! Good to see you!" At many concerts you're lucky if the singer even speaks to you. But here, no one escaped from Tom May. What a great idea!
Above me rose the sinuous roof arch of The Artichoke-On-Hawthorne. The brown wood ceiling structure was laid bare, but the little windows and doors on the wall below were painted a sunny white. I sat down at my little table, which bore a sign calligraphed "Judith Gypsy" and eyed the bar, which bore three bottles of wine and two plates of cookies. Then I arose and poured half a plastic holiday glass of Shiraz. I walked over to the doorwoman.
"Do you knit for a living?" She'd asked me what I did, so I was getting back.
"Actually, I sort of do," the wiry woman answered. "I weave I knit I sew. I'm in the same boat you are! I closed my studio near Mount Ranier and moved to Vancouver to be with Tom."
"Ja' väver o' syr." I said. "I weave and sew in Swedish." Oh no! I forgot "sticker" (knit)!
"Jag väver och...what? That's my name, or at least how I changed it."
"Ha ha...no...to Weaver."
Tom was making rounds again and I couldn't escape from the large man with the blond beard. "Did you hear about Johnny Cunningham?" he asked.
"Yeah, I did," I said. "That's really too bad."
Scottish musicians have been dropping like midges recently. First Davy Steele, whom I'd interviewed, then Tony Cuffe, whom I'd eaten with at Swannanoa. But all I could remember of Johnny was him playing at McGonigel's with Bill Morrissey. He had held his cigarette in his hand like a gypsy as he swept the bow across his fiddle strings. Then he'd stood at the back drinking and talking, but not to me.
"I didnt know him, but I remember him playing with Bill Morrissey," I said.
"It's awful. He was out here in Portland a lot...with the Celtic Fiddle Festival and Nightnoise." I pondered Kevin Burke. "Played with him up in Alaska." Tom shook his balding blond head.
"And just like that too!" I snapped my fingers.
"Well, he'd been having health problems for some time..."
"...but the heart attack was unexpected. He had such a sense of humor. He was as well known for his humor as he was for his music."
"I hate to see a fiddler go."
"Ha ha! Well, Johnny sure lived his life to the fullest while he was here!"
Then the band went on, Tom, a man from the valley who played guitar too, and a bassist.
"There's a woman in the audience who does a world music show on KPSU, and she likes Stan Rogers! So here is a Stan Rogers song for her!"
Oh gosh, I about slid under the table. Here is the paradox, though, if you do that, you are even more conspicuous!
Tom May actually sounds a lot like Stan Rogers, and that's why he did this to me. The band had actually played the only one that they all knew, the one about the tiny fish for Japan. I breathed a sigh of relief, because I dont like the mushy ones so much and this one isn't mushy. I like Northwest Passage and Canol Road. "And they watched for him in Carmack, Haines, and Carcross. With Teslin blocked there's nowhere else to go!" The little fish song is on "From Fresh Water," about lakes far from Carcross. Many years ago the LP slid out of its jacket and went BANG! CRACK! on the floor. Then I bought a tape, but I dont play tapes much.
"Hands Up! Throw down that sack of mail!" played the band. They were picking on me yet! I just love songs about stagecoach robbers!
"Now, there's a guy in the front row here who used to sing with The New Christy Minstrels! You remember the Riverboat Club in Toronto? Ever play there? There was one ventilation fan and that was right behind the singer! It was the sixties and seventies then, and everyone smoked!" Yuck! But I breathed a sigh of relieve. Tom had moved on!
Blue Christmas Indeed! At Sacred Harp last week, the organist for the Blue Christmas Service bailed out of practising so he could sing bass with us. "What a fun lucky find!" he must have thought. "What a voice!' I thought. Happily, despite or do to a rise to an Orange Alert, Parties and Fun seem to be on the increase. Mandarin Oranges in Honey Sauce, Orange Peel Cake, and Ducfu A L'Orange are great favorites at the Potlucks...
Today's Party was the Finnish and Finnish Minded Womens Party, held at an upscale dwelling in Tulatin, a southern suburb of Portland. The table was piled high with such treats as pulla, salmon, lasagna and meat pies, and in the kitchen was rice porridge and fruit sauce. The Finns really eat this sort of stuff right up! "And here is some glogg!" announced the hostess in both Finnish and English. "It is a Swedish drink!"
I'd rebelled and made some scottish shortbread with rum icing. Not even one person tasted it, but I had snuck a cookie in the car before hand and it didnt bother me in the least to take my Caledonian treats back home! This is how you make shortbread. Find an easy recipe on the internet and make the cookies. Then mix powdered sugar with rum and ice the cookies. Splendid!
Over in the corner of the living room, an extremely elderly woman relaxed behind her silver walker. Her eyes glittered. "Yes, I've been to 17 countries in Europe," she was saying in Finnish. The hostess translated. Then in perfect English she said, "I've been to every continent...by myself!"
"Have you been to Africa?" someone asked.
"Only North Africa. I don't want to be in Sub-Saharan Africa...."
"Have you driven on the autobahn? In the outer lane, those Mercedes and BMWs go so fast you can't even see them!" All the Finns shook their heads.
"I sure have! I went to rent a car and the man said 'You're HOW old? Are you going to drive on the autobahn? ' I said sure! Nothing bothers me! In Sweden I rented a car and people yelled at me as they drove past, 'Go FASTER' I always drive the same speed...S-L-O-W!!!" She cackled in delight.
A tall, graceful older woman was seated beside me. She had perfectly coifed short blond hair and wore a gold lame blouse in a swirl pattern. She had lived in America fifty years.
"How old were you when you came over?" I asked.
"I was 19!"
"Why did you come?" I pursued.
"Because I was young! A lot of Finns were coming over after the war.
I had two aunts in Windsor, and my mother had five children. 'Send us one!' they said. So I went in '52. Then I got married. Then we moved over to Detroit."
"Was he Canadian?" I asked.
"No, he was Finnish. There were so many of us then and we had so much fun and did so many things together. In Windsor, they would shut down the clubs and bars at midnite on Saturday and wouldnt open them again till midnite on Sunday! Nothing! It didnt bother us in summer though. There were beaches and we'd go swimming! It's not the same today."
Everone nodded in agreement.
"...Then we moved out to Seattle. The first year it rained so much we moved back to Detroit! But it was so muggy in the east, we moved back to Seattle!"
"Do you ever go back to Finland?" someone asked.
"Not enough. Three years ago...but I may go this fall. I have so many relatives I have to go for a month! You visit one, you have to visit them all."
My thoughts flew back to my first trip on Icelandair in '02. The woman sitting next to me was going back to visit her brothers near
Reykjavik. She'd met her husband, a master of southern dipthongs seated on the other side of her, during the early 50's at the
American Airbase. She got married and moved to North Carolina.
"I remember when Hekla erupted in '47. It was really something to see!" I seethed with jealousy.
Just then the stewardess came by with drinks. The Volcano Watcher said a few hesitant words in Icelandic.
"Here you are!" answered the stewardess in English, handing her a bloody mary.
But my thoughts were broken like a tossed highball glass. The woman in the Scottish kilt ..."I got this in Scotland!"...moved to the
piano and the hostess was passing out small booklets.
"It is time for us to SING!" announced the hostess, as the Minister strapped on her black five row Gialietti.
Minnesota, December 25, 2003
The afternoon spread before us like the old fallen snow. We were headed North on 71 to Itasca State Park , four adults with PhDs and three smart ass kids in a grey Plymouth Voyageur, to again view the Headwaters of the Mississippi. You can never see it too many times. We'd intended to arrive the same time as my older daughter Emma and her boyfriend, who had chosen of their own free will to drive alone in his little Texas car...
I myself was lodged in the left rear, sharing the seat with Uncle Roger and his 5 year old stepdaughter. The stepdaughter came with a car seat, an especially unyielding object. In the middle seat sat Erin and her new step-cousin Avery. You have to wonder how these things happen.
"Why don't you kids sit in the back and let the adults have that seat?" someone had asked. But like many good ideas it's presence was lost to the vast expanse of the Minnesota Woods. And hence it was that ten miles down the road, my left leg went completely numb.
"What was that buzzer?" Uncle Roger asked his sister, Aunt Donna. Aunt Donna is an epidemiologist, but in her first life studied voles. These are little mouse like animals similar to the first mammals who rose to greater prominence following the asteroid hit at the end of the Cretaceous.
"Oh! I think it's a gas level warning! I hadn't even thought to look!"
"It was right here I rolled the pick-up!" said Uncle Roger. "Back when I was in high school!"
The world had changed. Thirty years ago most of the people attending a Christmas at my in-laws would have been pale Methodists. The family would go to Candlelight Church en mass. But in the intervening years, Aunt Donna had adopted a black son and my previously non-existant older daughter had moved in with a brown man with parents from El Salvador and Venezuela. Even more surprising was the way Uncle Roger and his new wife made lattkes and had their children try and explain why we fry potatoes in oil on Christmas Eve!
Donna turned left into the park and drove until we reached the Headwaters. There was that pretty red Texas car! We all walked down to the headwaters together. Actually my beautiful older daughter had been there already.
"I forgot my camera!" she said.
Though Itasca was frozen, the little Mississippi was fluid. At this spot it is perhaps ten feet wide, too fat to leap across. You have to cross on cobbles sized rocks or on a split log. Now the log was ice covered and treacherous! We crossed it then returned.
"Avery, let's get out of the water please! Your boots arent tall enough!" said Aunt Tami. I didnt say anything to Erin. Her boots looked tall enough to me!
"By the way," someone asked Emma, "would you like a couple kids in your car?"
The purpose of the second stop was to walk on the frozen lake. Someone earlier had dredged a huge pie wheel in the lake snow and some of our party played tag for a while using the wheel. Then people began to go in different directions, like hands on a clock. Erin and Avery set off across the lake. I walked 20 feet behind them. Doug and Emma walked 20 feet behind me. The late afternoon sun parted the clouds above the pines and winked at us.
"There's a crack in the ice!" yelled Avery.
As we walked, as we played, time disappeared, swallowed by some giant crevass in the snow.
I sat in the front on the way back, eyeing the gas gauge. Donna talked to her brother.
"I remember the vacation we took to Canada, Roger, before you were born. It was the only vacation we ever took."
"What do you mean the only vacation?" asked Tami, astounded.
"It was the only time we actually went somewhere and stayed in a motel," she answered.
"I bet the purpose was to fish," said Roger. "We went on a vacation once when I was in high school. They drove out to the end of some road in Manitoba."
"Did you sleep in the truck? All three of you?" asked Donna.
December 29, 2003, The Dalles, Oregon
Finally the bird has come home to roost! Outside the kitchen window, a bluejay has landed and is eating seeds. It is a good twin to the bluejay painted on the feeder. Again, I was reminded of how my grandfather used to wave his BB gun and swear, "Damn jaybirds!" In the flash of an eyelid the bird was gone. Perhaps he saw my memories.
Sunday night, it began to snow, first big wet splats against the windshield, then big surrealistic streams of dots in front of the headlights, like something psychedelic from 2001A Space Odyssey. When I woke Monday, our wet green winter had crystalized and polarized into black and white. That meant it was time to visit The Nelson Tire Company. I pulled right up, third in line in line two.
"It's the lull after the storm," said an employee.
"...Hear they closed off that road...."the man with the Harley Davidson sticker on his back windshield was telling someone. OH NO! HOW WILL I GET TO PORTLAND!
"That one with all the car repair places and junkyards?" replied an old mountain man with a foot long beard and green rubber boots.
I left the Windstar and went inside where it was warm.
"Dis vetter is schumtin," a middle aged woman said to me. "Vee are trying to get to Schpokane. In Portland der isnt no schnow."
What kind of accent was this? "You came from Portland?" I asked. "What is the road like? What is the weather at Hood River?"
"De road to Portland is fine, you wont have no trouble." She continued. "Der is snow at Hood River, and ve tought it vould schtop when we got here, but at de gas station they told us de vetter was awful to de east and dere vas four inches at se Tri Cities---- now ve gotta get chains. Ve dont need dis stuff, dese snow tires and chains in Portland....Ve gotta get our daughter back to collech!" The woman pleaded with me as if I had just caught her going 90 in a 55 zone. "But offischer, ve gotta get to Schpokane!"
The man in front of them in line began to speak.
"I need to get some new snow tires for my jeep right out there."
"Do you have a gravel drive? Do you feel you have a need for a 6-ply?" asked the clerk.
"No." said the man.
The daughter, a pretty teenager with dishwater blond hair, smiled and rolled her eyes in her mother's direction.
"Dey dont have studded tires in Germany,do dey?" her mother asked the tall man with them.
"No, I guess they don't. They do salt the roads alot," he said calmly smiling.
"Where are you from?" I asked.
"Stuttgart," she said. So that was a Stuttgart accent!
Then my car was ready, my wheels exchanged. Now I had tires with tiny brutal spikes embedded in them. I went to get gas in Washington. There were no llamas, no cows, no buffalos ahead of me, just white sky and white flat land. Later, when the sun came out, the Columbia Hills would be as white soft pillows on the bed of the Great Columbia Valley.
Haluan tänä kesänä matkustaa maailman ympäri. Haluan mennä yksin joten voin tehdä mitä haluan. Ilman lapsia voin löytää hyviä pubeja ja komeita miehiä.. Matkustaisin näkemaan kiviä ja kasvia. Aivan ensiksi ajan The Dallesista lentoasemalle Portlandissa. Sitten lentäisin Costa Ricaan, koska se on turvallinen paikka Keski-Amerikassa. Nyt kuvitelen matkaa.
Costa Ricasta lähten laivalla Argentinaan. Minun täytyy katsella pampaa. Mutta myös menen näkemään ja kuuntemaan tangoa! Minun miehen serkku Don ja hänen vaimo West Linnista matkustivat Argentinaan ja näkivat paljon tangoa Argentinassa. He löysivat uusien ystäviä Argentinasta. Joten ehkä jään Argentinaan vähäksi aikaa. Buenos Airesista matkustan seuraavaksi etelaiselle hapapiinille lentokoneella. Jos olisin onnekas, löytäisin sielle tiedemiehia jotka näyttävät minulle jäätä ja jäätikköitä. Etelänavan jälkeen, matkustan uudelleen pohjoiseen, Uutan-Seelantiin ja Australiaan. Australiassa on paljon mielenkiintoisia elämiä, esimerkiksi kenguruita ja vombateja. Tämä ryhmä on pussieläimet.
Tietysti pysyähtyn kahdeksi päiväksi Istanbuliin. Tällä hetkellä tykkän turkkilaisesta musiikista, mutta myös opiskellin kauan sitten vanhaa turkilaista siitepöllyä, joten voin nyt nähdä turkkilaisia kasvia, esimerkiksi tammia ja mäntyjä.
Lopuksi matkustelen Suomessa, ja vuokraan kesämökin. Nyt lapset tulevat Amerikasta lentokoneella Vantaalle! Toivon että jo olen löytänut hyvän pubin Australiasta. Suomessa yritän puhua suomeksi, mutta joka päivä kun olen Suomessa voin lukea enemmän sanoja. Sen jälkeen menemme kotiin Islannin kautta, koska Islannissa on kivoja kylpylätä, ja myös tulivuoria.
I am: gennett at gorge dot net