Imagine Mid-Cycle El Nino....Imagine a consistently white sky....
"Mom, can I help you put your skis on?" said Erin.
Hence it was that on the ninth street bridge, Wee Erin opened the metal bindings,and I clamped them shut with my poles. I waved to another skier and we set out for Fred Meyer. The Dalles is now a winter paradise for cross-country skiers!!!
Helsinki, Finland, January 2004
The Vanha Maestro as the guidebooks know it closed in Spring of '03.
You can find Petri Munck at www.petrimunck.net. His self-titled album is released on Sony Finland, his favorite color is blue, and he is a Helsinki native.
Lonely Planet Finland: Vanha Maestra is the place to go to experience first-hand the Finnish National Passion for tango dancing. Live Finnish tango and humppa bands accompany the dancing.
Tango! Just the mention of the word transforms one's heart to rubies and amber in this cold white capital. Could one be so lucky? I took a bite of deep fried salmon pita and made immediate tango plans...
The heavy blocks of brass doors of the Maestro are inconspicuous from the outside, but portray clearly its presence. The posters on the doors on Friday night looked more like The Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears, but this was FINNISH tango. All the Finnish tango stars sport the Top 40 look!
The Vanha Maestro is even larger than the Roseland, and much more sophisticated too. The interior could be compared in style to a modern art museum, to the lobby of a Marriott, to the photos in Metropolitan Home, or, in a pinch, to a gigantic Starbuck's. In the simple lobby is a box office and a coat check. At the Roseland, you just have to leave your coat on the floor by your feet, but here, you actually pay to have it hung up, just like in the movies. Up the stairs lies the main body of the chic club. As you walk in, there is a large room with small tables and , most importantly, a bar.
"Haluan lassi valkovinnia, kiitos," I said.
"Iso tai pienni?" asked the bartender, a large man who resembled Mr Clean.
"Iso," I said.
I took my big glass of white wine and sat in the second rectangular area. Here long tables were arranged curiously in rows behind the dance floor, as they would be at the Central North Dakota ScanFest. Several miles behind me and up the steps lay another huge bar, glowing transluscent turquoise. Further to my left were tables with table cloths on them. Since the club was billed as a "Show Ravintola" (show restaurant), perhaps these tables were for diners. Who knows? All I knew was that this was the third most chic joint I had ever been in.
Couples and groups of every age...about fifty people...were scattered around drinking beer and cocktails, like passengers waiting in the Portland airport for the redeye to Houston. Was this really tango? I didn't know. On stage, a young cover band fronted by a happy young redhead in bellbottoms sang the hits of the nineties
"All I want to do is have some fun.
And I don't think I'm the only one."
I rolled my eyes, sipped at my valkovinnia, and looked at the guitar player. He was wearing a beige linen sport jacket and had blond dreadlocks. What a looker!
Slowly, people rose to two step in front of the stage. I wondered if singles met each other here and danced and then who knew what?
More people came in during intermission...maybe fifty or seventy five new arrivals. The redeye for Minneapolis was checking in! I wandered up to the next level with my glass and read a gabbro placard listing some casualties of the Continuation War.
"Muuka tukka valoinen pahaksi, ussia vaiva pikalla lihaa," said a voice. I didnt understand a word of it. I looked up...way up...at a balding businessman wearing wire rimmed glasses.
"My Finnish isn't that good!" I answered.
"You're not Finnish?" he asked. Fooled you! I had intentionally lost 30 pounds, let my dye job fade to yellow, and was garbed completely in black....Or maybe it was just that no one that wasnt Finnish would be here.
The businessman must have had a story, but he wasnt much of a conversationalist. I walked over and ordered another valkoviniia.
"Kuiva?" asked Mr Clean. "Kahdeksan euroa!" The price was awful, but this was a double and where else could I go? I counted out 8 euros for dry wine. You wonder how much wet wine cost.
The star band had set up and in a few minutes launched its rocket voice into the vast stratosphere of the hall. It was evident that this was not a tango band. It was, rather, what is known as SuomiPop. Fortunately, it really rocked! The singer, a man in his twenties with erect blond tipped black hair, gazed cheerfully out at the small audience.
"Suomalaisia! Tulle tanne!"
Finns! Come here! And so people...half the audience...began to grab each other by the hand and move to the dance floor, most just moving to the music. Some, like the row of six minimalist boys at the back , stood cool and aloof.
Pete, as I would later call him, smiled buoyantly and his eyes twinkled exuberently. With such a small crowd, he carried a grace beyond his years. I sipped my wine as his pretty voice sang song after song, backed by an expert team that could have by fate been Northern Minnesota farmers.
Then as if by magic, a middle aged couple dressed in black moved onto the dance floor. They began to tango, moving synchronized as one to the rock chords and rhythm. I couldnt keep my eyes off of them.
For the last few songs, I carried my drink and stood against the polished stage. The guitar player,a slight man with mouse brown hair, moved the chrome lever of his instrument as if it were a violin bow. Then the music stopped, and I set my empty glass with the others, with the liter Lapin Kulta glasses on the lip of the stage. I went into the restroom and found myself face to face with the dancer in the black chiffon. Her face was wrinkled and mottled with liver spots. She could have been seventy.
"You were wonderful dancing out there," I said. "I couldnt keep my eyes off of you!"
She laughed and said in heavily accented English, "Thank you...it's...how do you say it? It's therapy!"
The town of Helsinki is not so wild in the snow as it is in the summer. But walking home, you can still hear them playing for coins. That night I heard saxophones, guitars, mandolines, and a keyboard in the cold clear air.
Tallinn, Estonia, January 2004
The monolithic slab of the Finnish Sokos hotel cut into the medieval Tallinn skyline like a horizontal pukka knife. According to the Lonely Planet guide, only Finns stay here. My classmate Cynthia, however, had gotten a good deal from Tallink ferry people due to her genetic background of shamanistic reindeer herders! In the morning, the sumptuous breakfast room would be filled with blond business men wearing slitlike eyeglasses and slitlike cellphones.
"Sell that Nokia Stock and pick up a couple hundred of Fiskars," they would direct into the air like well-healed schizophrenics, silently multitasking a fantasy-like takeover of the Baltic states in their second mind.
Outside, snow flew in the air like small wet pancakes. I stared at the grey towers of Medieval Tallinn on the skyline, and at the sparse traffic below the window. I picked up the phone to call Ants Johanson, Estonian music festival magnate. He answered
"I'm in the middle of a recording project right now. You might find it interesting. It is only a few blocks from where you are. I will pick you up in 45 minutes."
"OK," I said. The last time I seen a recording project was when I went to interview Maggie Drennon in Houston. I pictured a group of humble Estonian folksingers in ethnic garb sequestered in a former garage singing old Ceili's Muse hits gleaned from archaic Estonian farmers. What a great opportunity!
"You will know me by the fact I am wearing a blue sweater that says "Canada" on it," I said.
"Alright," he said, "but I already know what you look like." Oh Gosh, where had I met him before?
Tallinn, Estonia, January 2004
I was whisked along a few snowy white streets of Tallinn in an aging Volkswagen. Imagine emerging from Ellis Island and VOILA! being asked to attend a recording session! In this case, if you read the opening essay, Ellis Island was the palatial Finnish Colony, the Sokos Viru Hotel.
...whisked into an ample parking lot several blocks away and into a spacious, clean modern building. "This is the Music School!" said Ants Johanson, as he signed my name at the desk and handed me a badge. THE Music School!
Downstairs, I met two other Johanson brothers and a blonde woman.
"She runs The Music School single-handed," said Ants. The blonde woman shook her head and smiled.
The recording studio itself was hidden behind two big doors. I recalled the words of Maggie Drennon at the last recording session I last attended, I cant remember if this was Ceili's Muse III or Six Mile Bridge...
"He thinks he's Freddy Mercury," she said, grinning at the singer behind the glass.
But there was no glass here, just disembodied folksong voices and a computer hooked up to a board with faders. Ants began to explain
"There is an Estonian composer, Veljo Tormis, who wrote a score for the Olympics when it was here years ago...arranged folk music. Now he is 80 and this is an anniversary year. He is the one composer whom I believe to have captured the soul of Estonia. When he recorded the music, he used classical singers. But now we are re-recording this music with folksingers." Later, he and his brother Jack would use the term "singing white," words I had not heard used in relation to American and British music, but had first read on a Polish Kapela Ze Wsi Warsawa album. I supposed it was something like the flat non-professional voices that many shape note singers use.
"Here," he said handing me a fat xeroxed handwritten score, "this is what they are singing."
The engineer was recording what I thought were a number of takes of lovely vocals; you could see the waveform of each on the computer. With such beautiful, pristine performances you would think that the record would be made in a few hours. The simple performances were tastefully accompanied by sparse piano chords.
"No, no, no..." said Johanson. "These are just auditions! He's just testing these women...women who are active in the Estonian folk music revival...to see how well they sing and if their voices are in the correct range. And the piano is just there as a marker. There will be a full symphonic accompaniment. Right now we're just making a CD recording so that the man in charge can decide who is best for the parts."
"Oh..." I said. "Are there a number of parts?" I hoped all these women would get parts.
"Yes!" he said. There were a number of songs to be sung. Then he introduced me to a man who had just entered the room.
"He's probably the best known conductor in Estonia!" said Johanson.
I waved and said hi. Out of the steerage hold and on to the Waldorf Astoria...
A young woman paced nervously in the computer room. I picked up the score and leafed through it. The fog was beginning to clear I could see the minimalistic piano blips as they cut through the words that looked so deceptively like Finnish. Then I found the line that the singer was auditioning. The music was in my hand and it was in my ear and I could even see it on the computer screen. The singer wasn't even in the room...How different from Pre-Literate Society!
After my show, I was sitting in the station sticking genre dots onto selected titles from the station library. That's my usual volunteer job to get my 10 hours a term in. KEOS burned me out on anything more complex. Something says "twee pop" or "emo" or "singer-songwriter" on the publicity blurb sticker, I throw the orange indie sticker right on the spine.
"I'm taking second year Swahili and I love it," said DJ Unity.
"Are there any similarities with English?" I asked.
"Not really, but there are a lot of words that come from English as it is used in the former English colonies of east Africa. For example, "Bussi" is bus..."
"Just like Finnish!" I said.
"And car is "Gata" [or something like that...]"
Suddenly Ras, host of "Bollywood Music Box," appeared. "That's HINDI!" Ras is actually not from India, but rather originally from Fiji.
"Huh!" said DJ Unity. "Another Hindi word is "Chai" for "Tea."
"Right! I keep ordering chai and they ask me 'chai tea?' and I laugh, because they're saying "tea" twice."
Estonia! Imagine taking a little nibble from the homestyle tofu at Wong Chow's Lunch Buffet and believing you know Chinese cuisine. But that little nibble is a start and sometimes an unexplained fortune cookie is thrown at you.
"I could take another white wine!" I said to the trim blonde attendant on the palatial SAS aircraft. This was the best international flight I'd been on since we'd flown on the British Air Roughneck Express from Houston to London in 1990. We'd got cream tea, and also unlimited booze. I was sitting there weighted down by my lapchild (who, as fate will have it, is now 5'10 and still growing...but for a $600 August fare I would still hold him in my lap!) and the guy in the next seat began to speak
"Yep, I'm a tool pusher, fly out on this plane every three weeks, two weeks offshore of Aberdeen, then I fly back...yeah, sure, I'll have another bloody Mary!...wife don't like livin' by herself so she moved back in with her parents in Waco..."
Suddenly man in overalls with a huge beer gut lurched down the aisle and collapsed into his seat in the Smoking Section. A minute later a flight attendent queried,
"Mildred, we have a bloke back here about to pass out who wants another bottle of red wine, should I give it to him or not?"
First, on this January flight from brown Copenhagen to grey Seattle, I'd ordered a lo-cal Scotch and Soda.
"I think one glass will do.." I said confused.
"You're going to mix them?" asked the Danish gent in the blue apron.
Then I got a white wine with my special hindu vegetarian entree. Vegetarians get a leg-up on being served, so when the cart came by with the boiled pot roast, I asked for another wine. After dinner I hung around the restrooms so I could stand up instead of sitting down. People who do Trans-Atlantic flights are familiar with this ploy. A man in a brown ponytail also stood in the aisle, holding a toddler.
"Are you going to Portland?" I asked. I thought I'd heard his wife had tell someone this during the long wait at the gate.
"No Seattle." He paused. "We just adopted him from Estonia."
"There cant be many children from Estonia up for adoption!" Because they are all adopted already by Finns.
"No only about 2 dozen a year. And they're mostly adopted into Finland.".
" Do you know his story?"
"Well, his mother wasnt married and couldnt take care of him." He looked away for a moment. "Well, one thing, he was really low birthweight and his mother freaked out and left him alone in the hospital. We're lucky we found out about him. We've known people who adopted children from Khazakstan. What they do there is take you to an orphanage and parade kid after kid out in front of you and you have to choose. And they always show you the older kids...the needier ones...first. But him, he was with foster parents and they were so unhappy to see him go! They were great." He looked lovingly at his new son.
"Huh! I know someone who adopted two kids from Khazakstan...I think if I were going to adopt a child, I would adopt an older child, but I have three kids already."
Why did I say this? Suddenly I felt embarrassed that I had had three drinks and wasnt thinking clearly.
"Good luck!" I said cheerfully, and returned to my seat. The bald German next to me was suspended in sleep, his mouth hanging open. The businessmen behind me began to speak.
"Where you from, then, eh?"
"Burnaby, British Columbia."
"No kidding, another Canadian! I'm from Victoria. Usually fly from Seattle, though!"
The stewardess was coming down the aisle again.
"Would you like drambue or cognac?" she asked. Neither one seemed lo-cal to me.
"What would you like to give me?" I asked. Aw, no...tell her what you want you drunken fool. I had never had either one of them and cant even spell drambue. "Oh, drambue," I laughed. I poured out the orange liqueur and settled back to watch "Second Hand Lion."
"Hey, I found another Canadian!" said one of the gents behind me, returning to his seat with a new pal from Kamloops.
Louise pointed a finger at the car in front of us. "There's a car from California! I'm from California, too. I was born in San Jose. Every year we go back to San Diego to see my grandparents. Then we moved to Oregon. But it's not so great here either."
"Louise, you're just ranting on and on as usual," said Erin.
"Yes, I am ranting," said Louise cheerfully. At eleven, she was in training for a leading role in Legally Blonde 8. "But so what? Is someone going to shoot me for it? Does someone in this car have a gun?"
"No," Erin laughed genially, "we wont shoot you."
"I brought my hairbrush with me somewhere," wondered Louise.
"You're lips are really red and shiny, Louise," said Brihanna. "Are you wearing lipgloss?"
How did I come to be driving west on I-84 towards Hood River with four fifth grade girls in the red Windstar? A month or so Erin brought this note home from school
"It is time for our annual ski trip! Due to huge budget cuts by the State Of Oregon, we are asking Parents to provide transportation. You will need to provide evidence of $500,000 worth of insurance and fill out a criminal investigation form."
Your Child's Teacher,
Every year I confess to having skipped bail in 1972 in the State of Wisconsin for having been apprehended without my drivers license in my posession because it had gone through the wash and disintegrated but this never lets me off the hook.
I turned south onto Oregon 35 at Hood River. The drizzle that began on the freeway turned to rain there, then to splatter in Odell, and finally into snow at Parkdale. At Little John Sno-Park, the road turned to snow as well, and our happy parent caravan of 6 minivans, suvs and extended cabs..."Oregon cars" we call them... slowed to 40 long before we stopped at Mount Hood Meadows. I pulled into the lot and a kid with an orange tool box sold me a Sno-Parc permit. We put our lunches down in the palatial lodge and the children got their rental equipment of skis or snowboards.
"This is a really good deal...$20 for the whole package," Mr Lucky had explained in the classroom. "They used to do this for 5th grade and middle school. But a couple of years ago, a class from The Dalles Middle School went berserk roughhousing and trashed the lodge, so they said 'We're not fooling with that again!' So its just the 5th grade now. Younger than that, they're too young, older than that, they're too crazy."
Then we all went to the towrope area. The children had an hour to fool around in the fluffy white and ever-increasing snow before their lesson.
"Look at me!" said Wee Heather to her parents, pirouetting perfectly down the hill on her first attempt.
"Look at me!" said Brihanna to the tow rope operator, pirouetting down the hill perfectly... SPLAT!... But having some problems stopping.
But Erin, tears as well as snowflakes in her eyes, never made it more than ten feet without going SPLAT! Neither did a kid they called Dylan, who had big glasses and a big grin and was ALWAYS on the ground and was ALWAYS trying to talk to Erin and Heather.
"You just shut up!" Erin snarled at Dylan. "Who told you to butt into our conversation?" She was obviously in a bad mood.
"Does she always talk to you like that?" I asked Dylan.
"You mean does she ALWAYS treat me like a turd?" asked Dylan, grinning. "Yeah."
"What do you think makes people do better or worse on their first attempt?" I asked a parent on skis.
"It's fear," she said. But I would find out later it was more likely correlated to ballet lessons.
"Class!" announced Mr. Lucky during lunch. "we will all be going back to the Buttercup Lift area, except for the hot shot boys who want to try Death Shute II." After the lesson, most of the class had gone on to the beginners hill. But Erin and Heather and Dylan had stayed on the towrope. "And you snowboarders, I want you to pay particular attention to your stops!" He went into a detailed description of how to stop a snowboard correctly. An avid skier, he was finally getting to teach what he was interested in.
"Now some of you have said you want to stay inside the rest of the time. Can I ask for an adult to stay with them?"
I immediately volunteered. My feet were freezing in thin rubber boots and I was no use helping children to downhill ski. For the rest of the afternoon, I attempted to keep track of the students who did not go out again. They were all girls, and mostly ex-snowboarders.
"Hey, is that a bar there? Let's go inside!"
But Heather and Brihanna...and Erin...went back on skis to face the slopes and the Buttercup lift. After an hour, the brother of one boy did come back in...an older teenaged lad...and he told me
"I couldnt take it anymore. The snow was like pins hitting my face. If I'd had goggles I would have stayed. And with the wind like that, though, the cold goes right through your jacket."
The children, however, stayed until the end.
Erin told me, "Mom, I did finally go around those cones on my skis."
"Good girl," I said.
And then I drove out again through the thick fluffy snow of the parking lot, to face my own Armageddon.
She sat alone at the Bankok Resaurant on Southeast Burnside, pondering the remains of her pad thai.
When she ordered, the black haired waitress had explained
"We have it for you with just the tofu if you want, some of our customers object."
"That's OK," she said, "I eat seafood."
"And eggs...are you alright with eggs? We like to ask our customers...." Must be a vegan neighborhood!
But now the waitress came to her with her check.
"Have you been here before? If you havent, we like to offer our new customers a sample of our coconut flan. Would you like one?"
No, she wouldnt. Just one flan would set her back a month on her diet, blow her up like a volleyball. "Sure!" she answered.
She opened her fortune cookie. It said, "The value is not in the gift, but in the thought."
The flan was covered with a delicious honey sauce. She ate the custard slowly in small bites, but left the honey that had settled on the plate.
Hanko, Finland, January 2004
She sat staring through the window of the dining room of the Hotel Regatta. The one o'clock sky hung over them like sheets in a darkened bedroom. She was there with her friend, who had once been an opera singer in New York City. Her friend's plate was piled high with native Finnish delicacies, like sauteed reindeer and boiled potatoes. Her own plate was piled with The Vegetarian Special, three interesting dishes manufactured from rutabaga.
They'd taken the eight thirty inter city train from Helsinki to Karjaa, whipping at 140 kph past trees, blue snowy fields, saunas, and high voltage wires, so fast that they blurred like a blizzard in her eyes. The train itself offered an array of amenities...ski racks, cell phone booths, handicapped lavatories, childrens playrooms...to amuse the passengers. At Karjaa, they had switched to a local, reminding her of the train she'd taken on a field trip in 1956 to Gardendale from downtown Birmingham, vivid with the memory of throwing up on a bottle of Orangico due to too much bouncing. Then they had disembarked at the little station at Hanko, the Finnish word for the Swedish Hangö. In this part of Finland, passengers leave behind papers that advertise mjölk, ost, och spinat.
When you hear the word "Hanko," what do you think of? A snotty rag? Hardly. Hanko is the southernmost town in Finland. During the last part of the 19th century, the Russian rulers had palatial villas here. Russia later occupied Hanko for a while during World War II. (Did you know that Britain declared war on Finland for skiing around with bottles full of gasoline and throwing them at Russian tanks, hence avoiding conquest and genocide? What a crazy war!). It is a charming town indeed.
They walked up the main street, faced with old wood buildings the color of fresh cream. Then they walked up the hill.
"Look at that water tower! I've never seen anything like it!" The red water tower, of Finnish design, resembled a cross between R2D2 and a mailbox.
Crunching on bare snow, they descended the hill. Before them lay beautiful, palatial Victorian villa after villa. She wondered if the Russians had stayed here in winter too. They took pictures of the houses, the thermopane windows, and the old volvos.
"Look," said her friend, "See how low the sun is in the sky, even at noon!" They passed a huge old gingerbread wood pavilion, which they later found to be a casino. Ahead of them lay the bathing beach, instead like Shackleton's Antarctic quarters in this cold winter. She thought of the beautiful fells of Norway, where snow stayed even in summer. She looked out to sea and thought of the summer shores and about Ansel Adams and the way light hit rocks.
They walked on past the hotel. Her feet were cold. They watched a group of senior citizens walk in, one by one greeting each other, and decided to eat. Afterwards, she waited in line behind the citizens to pay the bill.
"Did you leave a tip?" her friend asked.
"No," she said. Finland is not a tipping culture. She remembered in rural Scotland, in 1990, when a pubtender had followed her, running, out the door.
"Here, you left this on the table!" he said, handing her they pound she'd left to him for bringing her lasagne with mayonaisse and ignoring her children's rowdiness.
Her friend shot her an evil glance and left euros on the table. She said nothing.
They walked out into the pleasure harbor and she looked at the cream wood buildings. Hanko was the main point of emigration in the old days. Millions of Finns left on steam boats to England...the heros in the two books she'd read took steamships from here...travelled across that island by train, and set off from Liverpool in the steerage holds of ocean boats. Then, in Canada and the United States, they dug up copper and cut down trees. She looked out to the grim curtains of the western sky and the land moved beneath her.
"I dunno, it must be left over from the rough trip back from Tallinn!" she said. Whump! the chunks of sea ice had gone as they hit the hull of the seedy ferry.
Here feet were freezing in her thin shoes; she was freezing in her fleece, sweater, and coat as the wind dug into her. They exchanged their tickets at the station for earlier ones. They they rode back on the local, and on the smooth, fast train they call Pendolino, back to Helsinki. But she would have liked to have stayed at one of the big wooden Russian villas for the night instead.
February, 2004...patchy fog predicted for the morning
He stood at the Dalles East freeway exit, two packs at his side, two packs in his pocket, and his ponytail blowing in the wind. Now that even the piles of snow in the car parks were decimated, the long Season Of the Drifter had begun.
"I can only take you to Biggs," I said. Only twenty miles. But he was desperate.
"I was stuck here in The Dalles all night," he said.
"Ha ha, I've been stuck here for four years...." He didn't hear my warning.
"But you know, the geology professor at the university here picked me up and he has an interesting theory about the formation of the Columbia Gorge...a huge flood! Usually it's truck drivers and stuff who pick me up and I get the same old old conversation, but he was really interesting!"
"Rokovoy? Rokovoy picked you up?" I asked. Professor my eye, Mr Rokovoy is a community college instructor. But who cared?
"Where are you going?" I asked. And so he began to tell the entire story of his life in twenty minutes. He was raised in the Seattle area and was coming from NORTHERN California.
"I never go south of Berkeley. Too many people. Like, I'm interested in a simple life, too much stress. Those your bumper stickers on the back of the car?"
"Yeah." Everyone else had taken off their Attack Iraq No stickers off, but I've been pretty adamant.
"You'd like it there. Lotsa redwoods and nature, pacifists, organic food. Simplelife no stress...."
He was on the way to Missouri...slowly.
"I'm in no hurry. I got some friends in Salt Lake who'll give me a job. Like you know out here in the west, you can hitchhike anywhere as long as you dont bother anyone. But in Nebraska, you can't hitchhike anywhere, it's illegal. I do agricultural work,and sometimes they'll just trade room and board, but if they got enough money, they'll pay me, and then I can take the bus..."
"Through Nebraska," I said.
"Say, where are you from?"
"Alabama," I said. He opened his big doe-brown eyes at me.
"Wow! I been to Alabama. It was in the 80s, and I was just 19. Back then the economy was good, and you could get a job in Florida easy...I was going to the west coast where there arent so many people. There was this minister who picked me up in Mississippi. He preached the gospel and gave me $5. So I was in this park in Mobile, Alabama, and this guy came up and said 'I saw your pack there, you want to come to a party for my grandmother...?'"
"Huh!" I said.
"I thought she musta been 65 or so, but she turned out to be 103! That gave me a lot of inspiration, that I could live that long if I lived right....too much stress. Too many people worry about politics and stuff, I just take it easy...."
I left him off near Biggs Junction, where I-84 meets US 97 at the Great Columbia River. I crossed the Columbia on 97 and proceed North into the Great StressFree State Of Washington. My purpose was to visit the Grave of my 3rd Great Grandmother's little brother, the Rev. John Jordan. My 3rd great grandmother, the former Susannah Jordan, had married in West Virginia, gone to Indiana, and died relatively young. But Rev. John had traveled to Missouri and Michigan, and hence to Klickitat County, Washington, dying old and apparently within the Company of the Lord. He was reportedly buried in the Cleveland Cemetery near Bickelston. Finding his grave had been a low priority, but now I felt I wanted to visit relatives in the area.
I proceeded north past the Columbia Hills, into Goldendale in the Klickitat Valley, filled the tank of the red Windstar, and began to drive the 35 miles further east to Cleveland. To my left and right were grim brown winter farms, grim grey snow in patches on little northern slopes, grey green sagebrush on buff volcanic rubble. To my left and right was...white! Oh no...FOG! All the seedy manufactured homes, decrepit fence posts, and ancient one room schools were gone. All the malnurished sheep and horses were gone! All I could see was 10 feet of grey asphalt highway. But at last the Windstar climbed a hill and I looked down at free puffs of cotton. That wasnt fog...it was clouds!
It was soon clear, however, that I'd taken the wrong road. I surmised that this route, according to The Delorme Atlas Of Oregon, would take me back to Washington 14 and the Columbia. I knew it when I descended into the Rock Creek Valley. Washington Cows of various colors, perhaps unknowingly infected with Mad Cow Disease, were standing almost parallel with the steep, rubbly sage and cheat grass infested slopes. "$100 Reward for Arrest and Conviction of Cow Shooters" read a sign. I'd be a mad cow too! Then I saw semis and water. "Oh shite," I muttered.
I turned east on the two-lane highway and followed the semis into Roosevelt, famous for its Landfill. "Who in their right mind would move from Michigan to this forsaken wasteland?" I pondered. I backtracked and drove North on Old Route 8. The road forked and I took the tine that said "Bickleston." Good sign! Then I exclaimed, "Gravel! Oh shite!" But the slow road led on north, through rubbly hills, to desolate farms, and finally to the margins of the snowy Horse Heaven Hills. It was here that I found the Cleveland Cemetery and my great great great great uncle Reverend John, beneath tall Ponderosa Pines and short snowy peaks. Washington had changed its colors in such a short distance.
I turned west again, driving the short route to Goldendale through tall Ponderosas. I stopped to take a picture. "Jager Hunting Farm" said a sign. "Shooting By Lease Only." Below, three brown deer stared with big brown eyes, and bounded off down the hill through the snow.
"How To Succeed In Business Without Trying"!If ever was there a show without a redeeming feature, except for a few bars of "I Believe In You." But no...the redeeming features were the high school students, so bright and energetic. And also the announcer voices of the local radio weatherman, and the oh-so-British Vice Principal Mr Jump. And the strange video of pirates dancing.
We sat on the second row, staring at the faded art deco art of the The Dalles High School Stage.
"Ian, who is this guy Kuzak Imoviev?"
"Oh. he must be the exchange student from Tajikistan."
"Kyrgastan?" I asked. It's hard to keep all the exchange students and their countries' spellings straight.
"Oh yeah. He was in my concert choir class, but they bumped him up to Bel Canto."
One moment you're riding horses in the rich vales of Kyrgystan, the next, you're flirting with Hedy LaRue in the last gasp of the Cascades.
&&&"Here," said traditional singer Deborah Cowan, holding a beer up by her face like some calypso chick. "Will this appear on The Raggle Taggle Gypsy?"
I rolled my eyes and snapped the photo. "Art...I'm looking for art photos."
Folk Alliance, San Diego, networking with a camera....
Most people don't really think folks who use disposable cameras are crack photographers. They think to themselves, "Ansel Adams would not have used a $2.99 EZ Flash." But in Ansel's day, there were no Budji-Fuji's. In my day either...back in 1992, dynamically coupled with a $110 Ricoh SLR and Kodak Fast B&W, I could freeze any musician aesthetically without a flash and splatter them tastefully and wittily onto the side of a Dirty Linen Concert Review. Yeah, and I used to jump horses too....
It was seven PM, the traditional lull at Folk Alliance. I'd removed all my CDs from their jewel cases and chattered with my fellow dj The Roving Fox on how people are fated to die.
"Our fate is sealed by our genes," she had said."Look at Dave Carter, he did everything right. He was a Buddhist and a vegetarian." Fair enough.
"And Johnny Cunningham..."
"Johnny lived a thousand times in the years he was alive..." She shook her head. Apparently everyone knew Johnny but me.
But then she had gone to look for dinner and I was left to ponder the photos of Bob Dylan and Jackson Browne displayed tastefully in the lobby...more tastefully than the decor of the lobby, I might add. Voila!came the plan.
"I will take photos!!!" Not just photos, but Art Photos that prove the abilities of the Sav On Osco Single Use. Spying a blond gentleman with a huge chunk of heavy metal in his lap making blues sounds, I approached him gently, making sure he saw me. But he just looked up, and gave a big grin. I snapped.
"What is that thing he has?" asked a woman carrying an instrument case.
It looked like a National to me, but the layout was all wrong. "Looks like some sort of steel guitar to me," said.
"That's a guitar?" she asked. I went up and looked. It was.
"Yep," I said. "Some sort of resonator."
Not far away, two men were changing strings on guitar and fiddle. Must be an old time band...but do old timers actually change their strings?
("Those guys use the harsher strings that mellow with age," the fiddler would tell me in only a few minutes.)
I am partial to fiddlers, so I snapped the hands of the man rejuvenating his Stratovarius.
"Where you from, Judy?"
"I do a radio show at KPSU in Portland," I said.
"Huh. I'm Billy and I live in Corbett, have a recording studio there. You ever get stereo on your AM? Hey, let me look up the phone numbers of all the famous Irish musicians in Portland, Kevin Burke, you know Kevin? on my PDA for you. By the way, did you hear the Foghorn String Band? They recorded at my studio. They're great and will be internationally famous."
"No, but they were in The Dalles recently, and at our contra dance at Rockford Grange as well and they were pretty good." In case you remember, they performed at the Former Elks Club and drew a ribbon of light around the interstate.
People were beginning to mill around in the lobby. I decided to snap a photo of Peter Irvine...but he was talking to someone. I waited, aiming my trusty Sav On Osco.
"This is my collegue from Bloomington," he said.
"I know you. We talked about the Reptile Palace Orchestra five years ago."
"I know you," said the collegue, "But also because I do a radio show in Bloomington."
"I used to sing Sacred Harp with Peter in Portland," I said.
"You still do!" he said. "Singers" will know what he meant.
I walked off then, leaving them in placid peace. I saw a familiar face with a fiddle. I wasnt sure I KNEW him, but he's one of those guys you ALWAYS see playing in the lobby. I aimed, trying to take advantage of the mirror behind him. There were a lot of mirrors in this tacky hotel! I looked at his name tag.
"Ryan Thomson from New Hampshire...why, I reviewed your tape in 1990 for Dirty Linen!"
"Yes!! That CD...um..tape...it used to be a tape! It was actually just an instructional tape.
"Oh!" I said.
"I'm just sitting here waiting waiting to jam. When do they let us start jamming? That's what I'm here for!"
Ryan earns his living in several ways. He teaches, he plays for contra dances, and he writes books about fiddling. I showed him my broken finger. "I shut it in the car door last may and it was December before I could play."
"Wow...THAT finger, too!" But he had a better story. "I had a shoulder injury and began to play LEFT HAND FIDDLE!!!" Ryan is the author of two left hand fiddle books. "...and I had to get my fiddle completely redone. In those days, you couldnt buy a left hand fiddle. I had to buy one from a sculptor, but it still wasnt what I wanted. This was the best of my right hand fiddles before my injury."
"Wow," I said.
"I guess you dont know the workings of the insides of fiddles...that's why making fiddles is such an art. What they say is that this string here---the E string---has the most tension, so the soundpost is modified to take care of the tension on that side, and then there is a piece of wood here on this side of the violin too for support. And of course the bridge (easy!). All this has to be moved. The only thing on this fiddle that hasnt been changed is the pegs."
"Wow!" I said. "Look here in your book, the fiddler for the Danish band Zar is left handed!"
Two people walked by in historical costume.
"Didnt I see you walk by with a bass when I was talking to Roving Fox?" I asked.
"Yes, that was me!" said the woman.
I aimed at their cute costumes.
"I am local and I play the dulcimer for European tourists in this outfit," she explained.
"Why...I was in college in San Diego and I had the same job!" said Ryan. "But I live in New Hampshire now."
"Why...I did it backwards, I grew up in New Hampshire and moved here!"
I snapped the Black Knight.
"What bothers me is that where I live, we only have contra dances once a month," I said.
"Huh!" said Ryan. "Back when I was learning, they had them once a week. No wonder people dont get good at it."
"And...they do square dances. We didnt do that in Texas."
"Well," said Ryan, "that's what they are supposed to do. We do contra dances, square dances, and because we are so close to Canada, we do the French Canadian dances too. They call them quadrilles, and in the old days people would waltz and polka as well. It was just after the revival that people did only contra dances...in the midsection of the country especially. There is more than one type of sqaure dancing, too." Ryan is a Caller sometimes, the artist in charge. "Southern Squares, that's the conventional type that carried on without a revival. But the type YOU do is in part improvised. The figures are set, but the easier parts, the grands, the circling, the dosidos are all improvised by the caller. "
I though of how easy dancing was back in Texas, where all square dances were associated with Red Necks and hence dismissed.
"AND...it wasn't until the revival that the instruments used became standardized. Before, they had anything...trombones, drums..."
"Wow," I said. I wished the Mill Creek String Band would incorporate trombone.
"Here, let me give you a Cd...it's a teaching Cd. Mail order places wont carry it because it doesnt have a cover, but I just sell it myself." The cd said "Let's jam!"
"Is it time to jam now?" Ryan asked, eyeing his mutant Strat.
"Yeah, it's after ten thirty now..." I said. For me, it was time to party.
March 2004 Dream Theater
Late again! No one was at the Security Gates when I arrived, so I walked on through the Metal detector.
"Are you searching people for noxious weapons this time?" I asked a lounging man who resembled Mr Clean.
"Yeah," he said bored and excited...."what's this you've got in your coat pocket?" he asked. He lightly frisked me.
Oh no! What was my checkbook doing in my coat pocket? I hadnt seen this Rocket Launcher of the New Economy in months!
"Why, it looks like my check book!" I said. He shook his head and waved me through, into the teeming tower of Portland's Roseland Theatre.
The concert had begun at eight, so now at nine the floor Roseland was packed. The lady guard stamped my wrist and I ascended into the special over 21 balcony, somehow mandated by the Oregon Liquor Laws. It was packed up there too! Usually you can sit down in the first two rows and watch Dyslexic Harddrive Puss or Rotting Motherboard at your leisure. But now these seats had entirely been sold to devout middle aged men for $40 bucks apiece.
I walked up to the bar, which had turned a 90 degree angle since the mercurial but cute Swedish death-prog band Opeth had played there.
"Do you have wine this time?" I asked the charming girl bartender.
"White or red?" she asked.
Then a balding 6'5 man beside me began to speak, "Aren't they great?"
"I dont know, I just got here," I said. Right now, DT was bathed in Christmas colored lights and executing a slow, passionate keyboard masterpiece.
"What a great voice...you havent heard Dream Theatre before?"
"Not in person," I screamed. The speakers were turned way up.
"xxxx," he said.
"That's great!" he said.
I walked about five feet and leaned against the trash can by the bar. It was the farthest I could get, what with the crowd, but I was right up against the balcony rail. I looked down, first at the pile of plastic glasses in the garbage, but then at the sea of regimented heads beneath me. Nine tenths of them were men, and about two fifths of them were wearing Dream Theater T shirts.
GREAT *was* the word for Dream Theater's performance....the ghost of Led Zep had come forth to claim a new day. They were a pinnacle, a gleaming monolith, a Washingtons monument apparitioned forth to mock snotty critics who said rock as we knew it was dead. They had done this by jamming their potent hard pointy gleaming hematite phallus right into the cauldron of progressive metal. The performance was just what the old guys in the premium rows had dreamt of when they came into the theatre. And below us, the rows of prog boys and sexy girlfriends formed dancing waves in the blue ocean lights; a moment later, red spotlights galloped across these human shifting dunes in an ocean of fire. On stage, guitars dueled slowly like mating sea lions. They would continue to do so for two hours, changing strategy and tempo.
Oh no! I was out of wine. Back at the bar, I ordered another chardonnay.
"Well, we meet again," boomed the man who had towered over me like a balding citadel. I noticed now he wasn't really balding, but rather had a sort of buz cut.
"Hi!" I said. "great band!"
"Arent they?" he exclaimed. "And it's such intelligent music!"
"Would you call this progressive rock or progressive metal?" I asked.
"Oh, this is rock, definitely!" He went on to say that he was a Led Zep fan, that he liked the old ones and this was the only new band that had touched his heart and mind.
"Try Symphony X," I said. DT was metal as far as I was concerned!
"I'm Tony," he said, screaming above the din. "T-O-N-Y. I teach xxx at xxx college....a small college in North Portland."
But it was impossible to talk any more. I moved back to my post at the trash can. Then the music stopped, and I was imprisoned with a full glass of chardonnay in the Adult Balcony. That will teach me to drink wine!
Finally, I had chugged down the rotted grape swill and made my way downstairs to the ladies room. "And indeed," I said, "After losing 40 pounds you can be a lady now, Judith." and pulled off my Victoria Canada souvenir fleece to reveal an elegant long sleeve black crepe KMart blouse. Actually, I'd intended to wear my black Evergrey 2003 Tour Tshirt (dark progressive metal from Sweden), but I'd forgotten I was going anywhere after class.
"Great band you got out there!!" I said to a stocky black clad employee at the sink.
"You like?" she said, with exotic sweetness.
Up in the balcony, I was able to get a closer spot leaning against the wall, black crepe shirt, blue jeans, and hair becoming progressively whiter, peering over rows of men who had outlasted their physical youth. The shredding sound and light waves carried me out to sea, jagged...
But all too soon it ended and the house exploded in ovation, a steady searing wail like some great whale. "WHHHOOOMMMMM!!!!"
The band came out again and played one more song. The man beside me, with a white, drooping face and blond curls, air guitared the crescendo. Then next to him, two thin, drooping men in long hair and long coats popped out from the slick wall, the three like a Chinese fan in the heat of a southern revival. The daring ghosts of ZZ Top had arrived at last!!!
Albertsons, March 2004-"Luck"
I put my case of Top Shrimp Flavored Ramen and my bottle of Ste Chapelle Idaho 2004 Johannesburg Reisling on the check-out belt.
"Oh yummy!" said the clerk with obvious sarcasm. "I know kids who call those 'noodle bars.' Ha ha ha! I need your Albertsons card."
Just then another clerk stepped up, a smaller woman with marcelled orange hair....sort of.
"You remember when I said I was going up to Toppenish?"
"No," said my clerk.
Well, I went up and won TWO THOUSAND DOLLARS in the penny machine at the Wild Horse Casino!!! Can you believe that?" That's up in the Yakima Nation, in the State of Washington.
"Out of the penny machine?"
"Can you believe that? I didnt even know what was happening, the man next to me sai d' Do you know how much you've won? Over a thousand dollars!!!' I had to get a bigger purse!" She slapped a pack of ground round down on the belt.
Think! Can you remember the last time you ate meat? I can! Picture if you will the jagged towering cold mountains of Norway during the summer of 2000. My son, Ian, then 11, and I had come off the Gudsvagn ferry and were headed south. The weather had held, and we had been camping for many days in the constant light just south of the Arctic Circle, the heat at times so intense that the natives swam in the bold fjords. But I was tired of it. The sun was tired too, it was late evening and it drooped like the midday sun in Oslo's January. I pulled into a hotel car park in the town of Voss. The building resembled a concrete cell block, the grey of geese on wing.
"Do you have a room?" I asked the clerk, a large man with dark hair.
"Yes...we have plenty of...." The phone rang.
"Ja Ja!" he said. "Komm du här nu!" he said in unintelligible Swedish....um...Norwegian. Then he turned to me,
"You are just in time! There is a coach coming soon and they need rooms!" There was excitement and panic in his voice. And we were so lucky!
Ian entered the spare lobby, clutching his Fjord Bandits of Pern novel.
"I'm starving! Do they have food here?" he asked.
"Yes, yes, I can make you a dinner! We have a coach of hungry people coming in and they all want dinner!" The man's eyes widened into doe-like saucers. Perhaps he had gypsy blood in him.
Later, we sat alone in a dining room full of people who all knew each other and spoke unintelligible Spanish. They were eating at a hastily concocted buffet. The desk clerk brought Ian a fully loaded plate of noodles and round meatballs with brown gravy. In his other hand he held my plate of lettuce. He beamed as he set down the meatballs, which the Swedes refer to as köttbullar or in English whhosh-shetbullar. Ponder that word. "The boy is HUNGRY!" he chuckled. In front of us, ill-clad middle-aged Spanish tourists were shoveling down shetbullars with a characteristic lack of reserve. Ugly trolls glared down upon them from shelves on the wall. "Yo tengo shetbullar! Donde esta?" they seemed to say.
Halfway through the pile of meatballs Ian's will and hunger gave out. But I was starving. The cows were already dead, that was fact. One after one I loaded meatballs onto my salad plate. They had the consistency of tender brown rubber. Then I asked forgiveness from the God of Animals and I have not eaten meat since. But in Estonia I was to come close.
February 2004, Camarillo, California, to my left the powder gray waves and steel drilling platforms of the Pacific lay still unseen. But I'd seen a lot of stubbly shrubby hills and they reminded me of Yakima. I'd seen a lot of traffic jam in Los Angeles and it had reminded me of hell or Houston. What was the point? Point Roberts...I'd move there instead!
But Aunt Liz had moved here willingly from Minnesota, first to Stockton and then here to retire from teaching into a doublewide. So it was here, to briefly see the town in which she'd stoppedliving four years earlier, and to eat a late breakfast at 1:30 pm. I swung my blue rental Cavalierinto a strip mall. Subway to the Right, Taco Bell to the left, ahead the closed Pasta Central volleyed and thundered. But then I saw it....The St. Francis Bar-B-Q!!! Huge racks of dripping fat crisp ribs in succulent sauce loomed above me from my Alabama childhood. Tricked! What I'd always liked was the sauce, and hence Bar-B-Qs had always been the plague of my many semi-vegetarian years. Wary, I drove around back and it was there I saw the word on the catering truck:
I walked in and the Cambodian waitress handed me both a regular and an express lunch menu. I picked up the express (10 minutes guaranteed) and looked...NO CAT fish. But there was TUNA fish. So I ordered the tuna sandwich. I have yet to find a tuna salad sandwich I like, but maybe someday I will. What a challenge!
"Where's the restroom?" I asked.
Back behind the building and through the kitchen door. I shot a glance at the false deluding catering truck on the way. In the kitchen a giant black man was moving around succulent briskets. The sandwich was huge and tart...a carefully toasted long roll jammed with with huge chunks oftuna in *mayo*. A lot of people like *mayo*, but I dont. In my heart of hearts, I wish it had never been invented. I wish folks would simply take a one slab of tuna like they used to at McMennemins, barbecue it in teriyaki sauce, and put a little ginger pickle on top.
A slender, mouthy woman and her daughter walked in the door. She was more of a peach than a brown or black color; in a romance novel perhaps she would be called an octoroon.
"Lemme see," she looked at the menu. "You got any catfish today?"
"I'll go check...yeah, he says, since it's you, he's got some he'll cook some right up!"
The large black man in the white apron came out from behind the counter.
"Why, I'd know your voice anywhere! How you doin'?"
"I'm doin' just fine...you close at 2:30?"
"Yeah, that's about all we can manage after the Friday night buffet!" he shook his head. "Sometimes it gets out of control! Last night it got out of control!" Then he swung around and asked me,
"How's that tuna sandwich?" Oh No!
"It's BIG!" I said.
"It's big, that's all you can say? Now come on, tell me! I make each one of those up special! Most places mix up the tuna in the morning, let it sit all day, but this is FRESH!"
"Wow, fresh!" I replied.
"Well, I just cant decide what I want," the peach woman said to her child, but mostly to herself. "Catfish? Ribs? Pecan pie?"
"I want a lemonade," her daughter said and bounced off. Then the woman looked straight at me.
"What did *you* get?"
"The tuna sandwich."
"How was it?" she asked.
"Wow...I'm not sure...I was so hungry I just wolfed it down!"
Note: My husband's aunt Ruby was diabetic and continued until almost the end of her life to cook a lot of cookies and desserts and force people to eat them. She loved to make them but couldnt eat them. Her nieces and nephews had loved her when they was growing up because she always had a lot of cookies for them when they came to visit, as well as stuff to color and read. At the time I knew her...maybe30 years ago...I only tolerated her food and personality and was generally miffed that we hadnt stopped in The Cities at a vietnamese restaurant instead. I was in fact generally miffed we hadnt just spent the whole WEEKEND in The Cities. But for everyone else it meant great memories.
Cultural Confrontations In Hood River...
Things were going from bad to worse at the Grange. There was a new caller Saturday named Ken, who not only had supplied a fiddler and guitar along with but also called while playing the mandoline. Fair enough! But while we were there all he called were squares and waltzes. How lazy is it to call a waltz! And how confusing it is to dance a square.
Suddenly, a young woman in a peach flowered skirt came up to where my family was sitting and said to Ian
"Do you wanna waltz?"
Ian shook his head. "No." She walked off. We looked at him. "She's in my science class...."
Oh no! It had finally happened! I wanted to say, Ian, you're fourteen, you cant dance with your little sister forever. But what 14 year old boy wants to waltz? Later, however, he would dance with this woman briefly as part of the Lone Star. That is what mixers are for.
Soon we were dancing a square...what can you do? Ian was dancing with his mom and Erin had been placed in the middle. The dance is something like musical chairs. At some point the person in the middle swings one member of each of the four couples and then the ones not swung has to join the center person in a left circle, a right circle...confused? And then each of these five people has to scramble for the four partners! Luckily this is irrelevant. By coincidence, my children and I all were wearing black shirts from Finland. You may remember my wolf eye shirt. That is what I had on.
"What's the deal with the shirts?" asked the man across from us.
"You know what Tuesday is," I said on the fly. "St Urho's Day!"
St Urho's Day 2004 dawned cool and clear in Hood River, Oregon. From the Parking Lot of the Napa Auto Parts Store in the Heights, you could see the snowy abraded tooth of Mt Adams as clear as bell. I pulled into the lot and awaited the festivities. At the streetside were vehicles...all painted purple and green...a jeep, a ranchero pickup, a Beetle, a Thing. Each vehicle sported one sticker that said Sisu and one that said Buy American Farm Produce. People milled around in purple and green. Some...later to be announced as the Iron Maidens...were wearing Viking Helmets and odd breastplates! But the court of queens was most magnificent. One woman wore a footlong foam grasshopper on her head. Another had plastic grapes dangling from her paarasol.
Suddenly a yellow Hood River School Bus drove up. Then they descending over the parking lot like a wavethe Hood River Middle School Unicycle Club! They all wore black and drove silver chrome unicycles, which of all the symbols present, most closely approximated modern Finland.
A grape colored woman opened the ceremonies. "Our slogan for the year is 'Fun With Finns---Its A Good Thing'" she said, and introduced the State Representative, Patty Smith. Did Patty have anything to say? "Party" Patty said. I took a photo of the band, composed of an accordion, a bass, and a dobro, nestled in the back of a pick-up. Then the party-goers began to pull out. "We'll all meet at Full Sale Brewery and Party until its ST PATRICK'S DAY!!"
"HISSSSSSS....." went the crowd. Then, with police escort, the happy Finns moved out onto their parade route, south towards the foamy inverted beer glass of Mt Adams.
ZZZ......I'd waited years to find a St Urho celebration and I was about as bored as you! What was the problem? Headache? Too early? Too many fruit growing Republicans, too cliquey? Too small? No one speaking Finnish?
Or was it the silver claddagh ring on my finger?
Today I snapped my son's photo as he set off for school, aviator jacket, high knee socks and his Black Watch kilt dancing around his knees. Cute as a bunny!
Dublin, March, 2004
Grafton Street, jutting soth off the Liffey, churning like a tidal bore from the Irish Sea. Closed off to the vehicular traffic for which central Dublin is almost innavigable and, lined with exotic stores like Tie Rack and HMV, pedestrians were able to sail from side to side encumbered only by each other. To the left, a man hammered on a light dulcimer, and further on, a young woman squeezed on a wooden B/C box. Another man busked old Beatle songs...acoustic rock...with an acoustic guitar and a punk three piece has set up black amps for electric rock. But I did not stop, because I had a mission in Dublin. I was off to buy a kilt for my son. Not everyone would pick Dublin as a town to buy a kilt in , but there were circumstances.
Back at The Dalles High School, the 9th Grade PE assignment "My Favorite Sport" has aroused more excitement than any other project this year. Some people had chosen to just throw around a basketball or football but Ian immediately set to work on researching how to build a caber. What exactly is a caber? You've seen these telephone-pole like objects at the Highland Games; big burly men in kilts and tshirts lifting them in vertical orientation and painfully tossing them for a short distance.
"...its the tapering that allows them to pick up a spin," read Ian.
Several weeks later the caber was ready, constructed from two by fours.
"Sierra Mosier demonstrated her belly dance project in the gym today," said Ian. Sierra is in a different PE section, but the first period Concert Choir class was invited to watch as well. "It was a real show! Her whole family is into competition belly dance!" The Dalles is in fact, sponsoring its first annual belly dance competition in early May at the Civic Auditiorium. Here in 9th grade PE, the competition was heating up as well.
"I need a kilt," said Ian.
"Fine," I said. "I will schedule this trip to Ireland so we have three hours in London. They've got a Scottish store...where I bought this sweater on sale...down across from the British Museum. We can pick up a Clan Donnachaidh kilt...we are members through the Starks and Reids...and tour the Museum as well." Neat as a pin.
The fabric of our trip began to unravel, however, when we were released from our British Air Steerage compartment at Heathrow, groggy and myself full of wine, food and Scotch and Soda. (try booking the Hindu meal out of Seattle. Supurb!) We scrambled to get to the famous London Tube.
"No trains today! Take the Special Coach!" said the sign. They're repairing the Tube so it doesnt fall in. But in the case of the suburban Picadilly, its the sky that they dont want to fall. We mounted the Special Coach for the Acton Street Station, now temporarily the end of the southern Picadilly. Wow! It takes a little more time for a Special Coach (English for "bus") to get anywhere than does an express train! But you see more stuff.
"Hey look at that!" I said. By the side of the road, a black and white sign said "STOP BUSH." I fingered the black and white cap that read "JOHNSONS CROSSING, YUKON."
"Florian wore a kilt to school one day," Ian reminded me.
"Florian Schwartz, the German foreign student..."
The Northern Line delivered us to Euston Train Station. I picked up my Tix at the Fast-Tix machine and then asked at the Information Desk..
"When should we arrive to take this 530 train?" I asked the African woman at the desk. Probably 525, I thought. It was 300 now. Just enough time for the Scottish Store, hang the museum!
"Oh no!" she said, shaking her head. "I just called them and they are using Special Coaches past Krew!" For people unaware of the path of travel from London to Dublin, you travel north through the Midlands, then along the mercurial north shore of Wales. This journey takes about 5 hours on the train. Krew is about half way...still in England. "You will have to leave here immediately. I recommend you take the next train! Unless you want to be stuck in Krew at one in the morning." Or something like that. It was hard for me to understand what she was saying.
I looked up at my son. The tears were beginning to form in Wee Ian's eyes.
"Krew?" I said.
The svelte African woman handed me a print out of the next six trains that stopped at Crewe, and the next six Special Coaches to Holyhead.
"Crewe?" I said. This was my tenth visit to the United Kingdom. I thought I knew them all...Crieff, Carlisle...but Crewe?
"You wouldn't want to get stuck in Crewe...it's just one street there with a couple buildings," interjected the other clerk, a jovial young man with a characteristically British Crewe cut. He shook his head in warning.
Panic gripped my heart as I gazed over my head at the huge aerial timetables. My eyes stuck on the 1535 Glasgow Central. In just thirty moments, on a battered plastic and rayon plaid seat bound for Mother Scotland, I would pull out my 1998 AA map of Britain and locate a tiny dot near Newcastle-Under-Lyme.
"CREWE," said the tiny dot.
Why did so many trains stop at Crewe? What was the Secret of Crewe?
The answer was easy. Like the town of Karjaa on the Helsinki-Turku route, it functions as a junction.
See some photos of our trip at http//www.columbiagypsy.net/eire.htm
Look at Competition Belly Dance in The Gorge at http//www.gorgeousbellys.com
I pulled the red Windstar into the parking lot of the The Dalles Wasco County Public Library, then stormed into the front door. This is where I knew I would find him. And lo! to my left through the picture window I spied the floressant Columbia Hills, green as the fields of four fields of Ireland, and to my right I spied Ian, cowering behind a bank of computers beside his colleague from Fourth Period Concert Choir, Kenny Mxdina .
"It's time to go!" I said, towering over him. "It's Gung Fu night!"
"Oh mom!" he whined, "I'm just about to shoot down this Star Blazer Module!"
Kenny snickered. "Ian Day, do as yo' mama says!"
Ian grinned and narrowed his eyes for one last shoot.
Seated in the car for our short ride home, I asked him, "Ian, what is wrong with your hair?"
"Jena Vxxmeister French braided it in Science Class."
"Huh!" I said. And how had his caber toss demonstration gone? Had he gotten it off the ground?
"Pretty well!" A few of his colleagues had in fact tried tossing the massive double two by four. One had, in fact, commented
"No wonder they call it a MAN'S SPORT!!!!!"
And hence it was that his PE teacher had felt compelled to demonstrate the sport to his other classes.
Euston Station, London, March 2004
Had we been in the rail station (jarnvagstation in Swedish) in the Portlandesque city of Helsinki, we would have been greeted by a cafe selling pulla and Karhu Beer. But today, we ran headlong into Burger King, laying before us like the bubonic plague. Here the children felt compelled to purchase Whoppers.
I shook my head. "Here are a few pounds for overpriced junk food," I murmured, "but then we must hurry to the trains or we will be stuck in Crewe all night!"
I scanned the huge train arcade. It looked so much like Helsinki here! Laying before me were trains bound for exotic places like Manchester and Istanbul. Then I spied Platform 4 and the battered cars of The Glasgow Central.
"Quick children!" I said. "We must board this train for Scotland! Maybe we can get a kilt there! It is 330 now and it leaves at 335! Hey, how do these cars work?" In front of me were cars with nice blue upholstery and table lamps. Obviously not ours! We moved to steerage at the back of the train and found plastic and rayon seats in-between the tiny "reserved" signs. The minutes passed...five, ten, fifteen.....!
"Right-O!" said the loud speaker. "Well, we've had a bit of a problem with a derailment up the line. But now they've set to work clearing the wreckage, and we've got the word that we're scheduled to leave at 1610. " Lucky these foreigners speak English! What if he had said "Meilla on rikki juna Espoossa ja me lahdamme nyt kuusikymmentakymmenana?" Would we have truly understood the situation?
Time rolled, but we didnt! Finally, at 1609, the disembodied voice appeared again.
"Well, the track seems to be cleared...and actually we had a bit of a problem too with one of the train crew being late, but he's appeared now, so we're ready to move!"
Lucky it wasnt Churchill, Ontario, and we werent moving backwards to take the chef to jail. Thirty five miles backwards through the boreal pines, all because he'd gotten drunk and threatened a passenger with a butcher knife for insulting his food! And move forward we did. The cramped brick streets and yards gave way to posh semidetached homes, Safeways and car dealerships...and finally to sheep and cows. In no time, we had reached our first stop at Milton Keynes, a planned community named for a famous economist. Again, the voice came on,
"Well, all the trains seem to have left at the same time and we've got stuck behind several locals...but I feel confident that we will soon be able to make better time!" he said.
The tension mounted. We were moving at the same pace as this story! Would we all be able to meet our Special Coach at Crewe?
Northampton, Coventry, Stafford...we'd finally picked up speed and were moving at a clip.
"What sandwiches do you have?" I asked the man at the old wooded counter.
"We've got roast beef, chicken tikka, tuna and cucumber...."
"I'll take the tuna," I said, asking for trouble.
"Two pounds please," he said.
I went back to my seat and pulled a diet mountain dew from my pack.
Finally, three hours after our departure, the voice announced Crewe.
"Hey, what do you people do with your trash?" I asked a blonde young female native.
"Well, we generally just leave it, there dont seem to be any bins around, are there. I suppose they dont have bins because they suppose people can leave bombs in them."
"Why would they think someone would leave a bomb in a trash can?" asked Erin.
"I have no idea," I said. "Maybe it's because we're traveling to Ireland."
[to be continued]
"Dan Pohlxn got his hurling ball for "My Favorite Sport" on e-bay from an organization related to the IRA," mentioned Ian casually. The Pohlxn family are well-known orchardists here in The Dalles, but that's not where we were. We were driving in a Seat Leon Diesel on a lane and a half wide rustic Irish road behind a quaint tractor looking for viable road signs. Our mission at present was to locate Tall Crosses. But our long term goal was to obtain a kilt for Ian to wear in his dramatization of Caber Tossing, his topic for My Favorite Sport in PE at The Dalles High School.
Crewe, England, March 2004.
At Crewe, the scenery had been reduced to a slick black drizzle.
"Where are the special coaches?" I asked at Information. One wrong turn, and we would no doubt be stuck here until the wee hours!
We were directed up and over the tracks to platform three,and then down the chute. Upon arrival, we found a queue (they call these "Crewe Queues") headed by two stout uniformed matrons carrying electric sheep prods.
"Yes, the electric lines are down because of the gale! None of the trains are running!" one was explaining to a confused train passenger.
"We would like to take the coach to Bangor," the two prim old ladies were calmly explaining to the other. This was nothing compared to the Blitz.
"It should arrive shortly," the matron answered. This is not the Bangor in Maine, but rather a Welsh town fairly close to Holyhead.
Soon, the coach did arrive, bearing the title "Crewe School For Anorexic Young Ladies." No, no, I jest, but the seats were obviously fabicated for very thin people. We stowed our bags aboard and boarded
"Bangor," someone stated.
"Holyhead," I said, hoping it was the correct bus.
"Holyhead," said Erin.
"Yes," smiled the matron. "You're with your mum."
... and waited. We waited for all the possible trains to show up and fill the Special Coaches. A Hindu gentleman sat down next to me. Then the bus departed.
I had chosen this itinerary in order to recreate a trip made in March of 1971, London to the Port of Dun Laoghaire, by a woman identical to myself but much younger. The train was sepia and muddy pastel, and passed dim bricks and black industrial skeletons instead of Safeways. The foggy memories gave way to a strange prescient karmic hallucinations in the soggy rigid darkness.
......" As we drove along the narrow Scottish road on the "opposite" side, we made a last minute decision to check out Ian Anderson's (of Jethro Tull) salmon farm, and I, as "navagatrix", was poring over the map in the car whilst eating a pre-lunch Cadbury bar. "Oh, there's the turn!", I cried out, and Bob's pre-pub-lunch reflexes reacted instantly as he cut the wheel. As fate would have it, this was on a curve in the road, and in the instant we made the turn, 2 teenage girls (in their mother's company car) came around the bend and broadsided us (sending us into a third car waiting at the intersection)."....
I awoke with a start. We had slowed into the bright lights of a town. To the left was a cozy hotel, with strands of ivy on the car park wall. The strands were blowing horizontal.
"What town are we in?" asked the Hindu.
"Chester," I said. I had seen a sign...not even in Wales. We stopped to release some of our passengers at the train station. But there were many more waiting at the train station to board, more than we could hold. Then we departed into the wet darkness and wind, onto the upturned belly of Wales. In only a few minutes of dreamtime, we passed through the great tunnel, stopped at Bangor, and were at last at the Holyhead ferry terminal. The next morning, we crossed the Irish Sea on the Stena Line, on the largest fast ferry in the world.
"Hey mom, try walking!" said Erin, boomeranging off the Sports Bar into the Foosball table.
But now, we were hellbent for crosses in Kildare.
"First children, lets see if we can find a kilt dealer on the Web." I consulted The Lonely Planet Guide To Ireland. "Here's a internet cafe. Follow me down to Carlow!"
And indeed it was at Carlow that we located a picture of a kilt. A big arrow pointed to the Banks of the Liffey. Hence we later found ourselves on the Dart, from Dun Laoghaire to Pearse Station.
"No service from Pearse Station to Bray on Weekends due to construction!" said a sign.
Later I would ask at the Tourist Bureau how to get back to Dun Laoghaire on Saturday.
"You'll have to take a bus," said the clerk. Lucky we were leaving Ireland on Friday!
And hence it was that we set out on foot from Pearse Station in Central Dublin to The Grand Connelly Hotel 20 blocks away. It was obvious that the children had not packed lightly.
"I'm going to collapse!" they complained. "Can we get a cab?"
"Tis better to die at Pearse's side that at Suleman or Sudelbar..." I said sternly, then corrected myself. "Tis better to die neath an Irish sky...."
By the time they had got to the triple in the Royal Connelly, a serendipitous shabby blend of parqueted antiques, walnut paneling, heavily varnished staircases, and three or four discos, they were dead tired.
Hence it was I ended up on Grafton Street alone, bound for the Liffey. I pushed open the door of the tiny shop.
"ALL KILTS ON SALE" said a sign.
I pawed through the rack. There was a deep discount, but the selection was not very good. And the sky blue Official Kilt of Ireland was too expensive.
"Do you have a Robertson?" I asked the clerk. That's Irish for "Donnachaidh."
"Uh...no....here's a Campbell, though," she answered vaguely. Huh!
I picked out a Black Watch, and carried across the Liffey and down Grafton Street, into the battered old hotel. At the desk were six Scotsmen in bonnie knees, registering for rooms. We had come to the right place for the night!
The Rain Shadow Institute...
In April, the Columbia Hills are covered with bright yellow pollen. On the freeway, flatbed trucks barrell, down I-84 up from the Willamette Valley, stacked high with bee hives. The bee hives, however, are headed not for these grassy hills, but for the white blooming orchards that surround Hood River and The Dalles. And the gold pollen grains on the Columbia Hills are really bright yellow compass flowers!
Up Dalles Mountain Road, past the winery and passing a bright yellow road grader, the little red windstar shone against the moist brilliant green grasses, the compass flowers, the violet lupines, and the four petaled mustards. The car turned left on the gravel road and climbed up and up into the Dalles Mountain Preserve. We parked at the closed gate. A cold wind was blowing and I shivered. I had remembered this as a sagebrush steppe, but there was no sage...which scientists call Artemisia...here, just blooming grassland.
"What a view!" exclaimed Erin.
To the southwest lay the rough, dark green lower treeline of the Cascades, the beginnings of the narrow Pacific forest in Oregon. Above that, the snows of the Great Volcano Mount Hood touched the upper treeline, where it is too cold for trees to grow at this latitude....and then touched the blue sky. To the southeast lay the tan and brown wheatfields, quilted into the vast rainshadow of the Cascade Mountains. At the very bottom lay the Columbia and The Dalles, and I-84 with its cars and trucks reduced to ants and pinheads.
"Let's look for the Living Crust," I said. "Do you see the annual grasses?" These imported annual grasses die early and then burn. It wasnt meant to be this way...
"Before cheat grass came in, fire was not a major part of the ecology on the Oregon steppes," said the ghost of Aldo Leopold.
"Right there, and here are the bunch grasses! And here's moss...part of the living crust!" said Erin.
"Yes, and the bunchgrasses need to team up with the living crust to outwit the annual grasses!"
My mind raced back to Colonel Wright Elementary School. I was dressed in a Tshirt that said "Wheatgrass." A young woman with a thin gold ring in her nose was saying
"Bunchgrass team! We need to team up with the living crust...That fine mix of fungi, algae, lichens, and moss covers the ground like skin...wont carry a fire!"
Then we all gave each other a high five.
My momentary role as a member of the bunchgrass team had sprouted from my role as a recent Rain Shadow Institute Volunteer. It was a breath of relief. For years, on and off, I'd volunteered to explain to children how to put C-A-T or 1-2-3 together, concepts which had always confused me. Now I had tinker toys and esoteric chemicals! What a relief!
"Let's take off two of those green O atoms off of CO2, join them together to form ozone and stick these remaining tinkertoys together to form C6H1206! Voila! Photosynthesis!" Easy as pie!
"Is this stuff called scat really poop? I stuck my finger in it? Can I go wash my hands?" asked Jake.
"You'll have to go ask your teacher about that," I answered calmly. "It's not my responsibility."
We went outside. Each student got one card and hence became a unique plant or animal. Each child-organism attached themselves by ropes to signs that said soil, sun, lake...or to other organisms...to show where they got nutrients, water, oxygen or co2, and energy. What a web! What a complex mess!
"Alright," said the young woman with the ring in her nose. "What happens if just one organism is pulled out of the web? If the organism goes extinct or gets sick...."
"They're all affected...." said someone.
"Think about that!" said the young woman ominously. The children fell silent.
Odell, Oregon, April 2004
Shane got off work at Gillis Landscaping at three and walked up past the packing plant to State Highway 35, where he stood with his thumb extended. Thus he got a ride for the 10 miles north along the Hood to I-85. He'd spent the day outside, a place he loved to be, planted a few shrubs, fertilized...the job he'd got last year when he'd finished high school. He'd hated high school, had sat there at assorted desks for four years and got Cs and Ds...just enough to graduate. But in middle school, he and his friend Tom had run a lawn mowing business, and their fame had grow in the orchard lands along the Hood River Valley. That's how he'd got this job and that's how he'd been able to buy his two cars. The first he'd loaned to a friend, who wrecked it. This one, he loaned to his girlfriend Elaine. Elaine had called him a couple days ago.
"My dad looked at my grades and he went through the roof!"
And thus Elaine had been grounded and Shane was on his way to Cascade Locks to pick up the car.
Hood River, Oregon, April 2004
The little red Windstar barrelled past a Covenant Transport truck just east of the White Salmon exit and dodged a Jeep Cherokee entering by MacDonald's. Then its driver (me) saw the thin kid with the bizz cut. He was wearing long black shorts and white T-shirt and, I would later notice, a gold earring. His thumb was out! Another chance to amortize my gasoline! I pulled over immediately and moved my books off the seat. The kid started running and when he got to the care, he opened the passenger door.
"Where you going?" I asked.
"Cascade Locks," he said. He had a definite speech impediment. All his words ran through his nose.
"That's great!" I said. "Hop in!"
I didnt try to talk...he didnt seem the type to say much. But to my surprise he talked constantly, about his girlfriend who never studied and how he'd started to intensely landscape his yard with interesting plants. It was only eighteen miles to Cascade Locks and as we approached, I asked,
"Was your girlfriend there when they had that big fire last summer?"
He laughed. "Yeah! I took the day off! I told them, my girlfriend's town is burning!"
"Huh!" I answered.
"She had to evacuate! And then one of her friends called up and told her her house was burning. That was a sick joke."
"That was really mean," I said.
And then I left him off at the Forest Land overpass, near where his girlfriend lives. All around me the charred black skeletons of pine trees still stood, the ghosts of truth.
Fun in The Dalles!
Have you ever been to a belly dance competition? Me neither, until The Dalles sponsored its first Gorgeous Bellys Competition, hard upon the bellys of the St Marys School Band Wine Tasting and the Shriners Annual Oyster Feed.
You might have thought the Oyster Feed to be the cultured pearl of these events, but even with a real live accordion player playing hits of the 30s and 40s accompanied by a karyoke keyboard....
"This is my fifth plate of fried oysters!" said the woman across the table from us. "I'm starting to feel sick!" She pointed at her bloated stomach. "I'll have to take it home to my boyfriend."
"That's the way to please a man!" I commented.
The wine tasting was far classier, reflected in the $25 price tag. Of my family, only I could afford to go, especially since no one else drinks wine. One entire buffet table was covered with veggies, shrimp, salmon pate, and shrimp or chicken salad in mini brioches. There was also mini reubens, salmon fillets, and roast beef. On the other sides of the room were tables manned by wine merchants from all over Cascadia.
"Here's some of our award winning Chardonnay," said the man at the first table. "Newburg...our winery is around Newburg in the Willamette Valley. We have several vineyards...the newest one is located on a former turkey farm. You can imagine how fertile that land is! And it has a unique taste as well. Of course we mix the grapes to make these fine varieties."
"Lets try the Gewurtz now..." I suggested, grabbing onto my stemware for stability, like a bull in a china closet.
I grabbed a couple dozen large cocktail shrimp to sober up, then tried some Maryhill Chardonnay and something that tasted like antifreeze from the Yakima Valley. I walked over to the volunteer who was carving roast beef from a slab of dead cow.
"Hey!" I said, "Do you suppose I could have a slice of that cow to take home to my husband, who doesnt drink? What exactly are you raising money for?"
"The band is going ON TOUR to Portland, Seattle AND Vancouver!" she said excitedly. International travel!
"Wow! Do you suppose I could get some more for my son? You can just put it on this kaiser roll. Are you a Catholic?"
"No. But what I really like about St Marys is that they get to stay in the same school for eight years. Whereas with the new school district plan and you start in fifth grade, they have you in three schools in three years..." The merging of the The Dalles and Chenoweth districts is a popular and endless topic here.
"What a pain! MY daughter is in fifth grade now and...by the way, do you think I could get some roast beef for her? "
I grabbed several minibrioches and reubens, and about a quart of shrimp, wrapped them in another napkin, and headed home with dinner.
But now it was the first of May...Mayday...and Ian and I were entering the former Moose Lodge in Downtown The Dalles. The dead mooseheads were all eyes...the three on the sides and back of the huge hall were training their lively glass orbs at the stage, whereas the one in front was staring at the colorfully dressed audience. I'd been there earlier in the day, with my husband and daughter, wondering if it was really legal for 12 year olds to belly dance in public. Ian, on the other hand, had chosen to spend the afternoon at the Rec Center on Second Street "watching people bowl".
"Are you sure you werent watching yourself play video games?" I had asked silently.
On stage, a woman with deep black hair and a rich red and black harem costume was standing with her back to the audience, giving a final shake.
"That baby's going to come out dancing!" commented one announcer.
"Well, it takes a lot of courage for Salome to come out and belly dance on stage when she's seven months pregnant!" said the other with great admiration.
The wise elks smiled their approval.
"How's come there arent more men here?" wondered my husband.
"Hey, I think I recognize someone!" exclaimed Ian. "That girl who just got part of the winning troupe award." He pointed to a thin blond 9th grader in corn rows and a pastel satin bra. Why, it was Sierra Mosier, who had inspired Ian to toss the caber as "My Favorite Sport" ( www.columbiagypsy.net/scot.jpg ) by belldancing for the Concert Choir!
"I guess most of the audience is belly dancers," I answered. But it was more than that. What was it? "Oh...I guess it's similar to the Red Hat Society," I decided.
Finally it was time for professional entertainment. The band was Django's Cadillac (www.djangoscadillac.com). The dancers were workshop instructors"Ellen" from Hood River and "Kitiera" from Seattle(www.kitiera.com), two wholesome-looking, tiny women. Unlike most of the contestants, they moved their stomach muscles like dark, forboding cloud snakes. The last performer was Jim BoZ (www.JimBoZ.com). JimBo, from California, is a male belly dancer who closely resembles the professional wrestler they call "Big Turk." Yep....
"What did you think of that?" we asked Erin.
"I thought that was disgusting," she said. "Look I got a free washable tattoo. Can I take belly dance lessons?"
I settled in on the first row to listen to Django and watch people tango.
I love you...."
I hate jazz, but now it was live and fast, unlike the hovering elks. In front of me, below the Head Elk, a thin blond with a ten inch skirt and four inch heels was dancing with an Oriental man an antler shorter than her. "Doesn't she look great in those clothes? Arent they smooth dancers?" I asked silently. I looked over at Ian. "What book is he reading?" I asked silently.
A bumper sticker ahead of me reads "Support President Bush and Our Troops!"
Stevenson, Washington, May 2004
I stared out the front window from my table at The Big River Grill ( http//www.bigrivergrill.us/ ), past the totally eaten plate of Grilled Steelhead Salad, and past the incognizant head of my son, absorbed in "The Elves of Dergrillade, Part Two, The Quest for Blunt Ears." Out across Highway 14, in front of The Skamania County Courthouse, some guy was meticulously parking a late model Ford Pickup and a boat trailer, containing an upscale boat.
"I wonder if he's coming in here," I said to no one. Either here or Bob's El Rio; it was almost eight thirty, and nothing else was open this late.
Sure enough he was! The stout man in the flannel shirt walked across the highway and right into the door. He sat down at the one table with bar stools.
"Can I sit here?" he asked the waitress, who looked skeptical. Half an hour ago she had told three windsurfers in weird clothes to go sit at a real table. Who knew when a group of people might come in and want a table to drink and talk to each other, instead of the bartender?
"I want to keep my eyes on my boat!" the fisherman explained.
As for myself, I try and keep my eye on the river. Just this past Friday, I was up on the Chenoweth Table just east of town, trying to keep my eye on the river so I wouldnt get lost. You'd think since the river is a thousand abrupt feet below that would be hard, but the trick is that if you see Washington, you know the river is between you and those scruffy grassland hills. The table has been newly designated as public land...as a preserve. Years and years ago, at the end of the last Ice Age, the ice dam that held Glacial Lake Missoula at bay melted and the resulting water carved out the Columbia River Gorge. The Big Wave scraped across the high plateau here and at the site of the Tom McCall Preserve in Rowena, eventually resulting in a weird topography reminiscent of an oppressively drought-inflicted sphagnum bog. Scientists call this pingoish, hummocky topography a "biscuit scabland."
"Crunch!" went my feet as I walked along the living crust of mosses. Lupines and yarrow passed me by as the earth orbited. There are no trails here, there is no history. But to the north there is a little pond, and scrub oaks and pines with branches elongated away from the windy Columbia. To the south, across the fence, there are small ranches with horses and junk vehicles. Two small signs at the entrance say "We the local landowners protest the use of Sandlin Road as a Suggested Entrance To the Chenoweth Table." A third polite sign says "The forest service has not yet designated an Approved Entrance to the Chenoweth Table." And still a fourth sign could be in front of my yard. It could say, "I the landowner do not approve of my yard being used as access for bums sleeping under the Ninth Street Bridge." But the bums wouldnt pay any attention.
The Dalles, May 2004
I pulled the red windstar over to the Port of The Dalles exit ramp for a man holding a sign that read"Mosier."
"I'm not actually going all the way to Mosier," he said. "Just to Memaloose. I live right up there across from the rest area." Deja vu! It was Henry, the Viet Nam vet!
"Wow!" I said. "You're the guy who carted your wood stove all the way from Mosier! Were you up there when it snowed?"
"Yep, I was stuck there for nine days. There wasnt anything moving on the freeway."
"So how do you get to live up there? Is it public land?" I asked.
"Yep. I just...I guess I just landed here about seven years. I put up the shack, and they told me I could just stay as long as I kept things clean and didnt burn it down or anything. If you're homeless, having a shack is a heck of a lot better than sleeping under a bridge like some people do."
My interest was as always piqued. "How many are there you?"
"Oh nine...ten...eleven...and then in the summer a lot of transients come through." What a manageable number!
"So that area down by the marina...do people live there?"
"Yeah, down there, and some live down by the rail yard. And then there's this one guy...you know the guy who sells plastic flowers on the corner by Albertsons? He lives out behind Fred Meyer."
"Huh!" I said.
"Margaret and her boyfriend were living out...you know behind that place that sells fuel oil?...behind there last winter but the police threw them out. They came and cleared away about a truck load of trash." Wow! I vaguely remembered a woman being picked up off 6th Street right by there...from The Police Report in The Dalles Chronicle! Henry almost laughed. "Then Bunny and two guys are living over in the far west side by the creek."
"Say, you know the guy with the fake leg?" I'd given a ride to Brad a couple years earlier.
"Yeah, that's Brad. He got his leg cut off riding a freight train. And you know Big Sam...collects cans all day, lives at that run-down motel on the west side...he got his arm cut off that way. That's why I stay away from freight trains...too dangerous!"
"Me too!" I said. Henry continued with his census.
"And then there's Dirty Don...they call him that because he's filthy! Takes a shower every three or four months at St Vince. And Krazy Karl's gone to Cascade Locks...pushed that cart all the way to Cascade Locks. Once he pushed it all the way to Portland!" I knew just who he was talking about, though I thought Wee Heather had referred to him as "Isaiah."
"My dad gave him some food," she'd said.
Karl or Isaiah was striking in that he dressed in Bibical robes and pushed around a huge handcart, gathering not only cans, but all sorts of noxious trash.
"Sometimes he gets too crazy and the cops take him away to the mental hospital. But he always comes back."
"I'll have to look for him in Cascade Locks," I said.
The Memaloose Rest Area, ten miles distant, came into view, and I let Henry off. From the back window, we could see him climbing over the center barriers. Then we drove on, on our way to Portland. To our right, a red and white New Rising Fenix ( http//www.risingfenix.com/ ) semi stood waylaid by the Oregon State Patrol. To our right, a tiny white tug pushed a barge upstream on the bright grey Columbia. To our right, Chilled Express cars led a Union Pacific train on the iron road to The City of Roses. To our right, a line of CP Rail cars lay sidetracked at the Wyeth yard, crisply alert for the call to move on.
You are the night, Lila...
Portland, May 2004
Portland sparkles at night! Below the ripening rose blossom sunset, I packed my books into the Windstar and turned downwards toward the Willamette. Only a fool would walk the twenty blocks, but downtown Portland flowered at night, music snaking from doorways like grape vines in early spring. No parking spots! Tonight, I was on my way to Barbati's Pan, to see Gogol Bordello (www.gogolbordello.com). What kind of place was The Pan? I didnt know, but it sounded like they sold pizza...
"Oh my!" I exclaimed. To the right of me lay Keller Auditorium. On the left lay a fountain complex, marked by columns that you can stand on, glowing like white capped teeth in the budding moonlight. "That's the place I've been looking for for over 30 years!~" Well, not that hard, but I'd always wonderd where it was. It was here in the summer of 1972 that I bivouaced with my two girlfriends, Cinda and Ellen. These two tiny women had spent the past few weeks hiking in pouring rain and erecting a waterproof tube tents on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington. I, on the other hand, had driven via San Francisco and on to Eugene in my 1998 Camaro with Alabama plates, Alma Luvurne.
"Meet us at the ---- Fountain at ----- and ----- Street. It's easy to find!" Cinda had said. So I did.
"Forget that information immediately after use!"said my brain. So I did.
We'd hopped over the shelves like young girls will.
"So how did things go at the University of Oregon? What happened? Did things work out with Jojo?"
My face flushed red as a delicious apple. Waves of joy gushed over me like a...fountain of joy!
"Yes they did!" I said, gloating. In those days of golden youth, being In Love was like a red red rose. spending four or five days being in love with a man you'd had a crush on for a year and then stealing off to Portland before it all collapsed qualified as well.
"Wow!" I said, and walked on. Lucky I'd taken this path down Third! I walked on through the darkening town, past the massive buildings whitewashed with light, past the Federal District Court with its security scanners and past Borders, which had just closed. I'd always wondered where Borders was as well. Finally, as the buildings slid to adult cabarets and peeling stores, just past the turn at Burnside, the sound of The Pan became evidenta woman in peasant dress was juggling and playing accordion on the sidewalk!
"Good evening!" I said to the bouncer.
Ahead of me rose an antique bar and a lot of black space.
"I'd like a glass of white wine," I said to the bartender, a tiny young woman dressed in black with two piggie tails on the top of her head.
"Chardonnay?" she asked. She went to look for a corkscrew.
They turned the lights off and turned on a big mirror ball. The pretty orb cast dots all over like little blue rotating moon balls. Then the local white noise indie pop folk came onto the stage. Imagine King Black Acid Featuring Natalie MacMaster on acoustic fiddle!
"We are Seachange (www.seachangemusic.com)," said the Emo-esque singer. "We are from Nottingham and this is the last night of our American tour. We have some recordings for sale on Matador Records."
They werent half bad!
Tension grew with the audience. High volume Balkan muzak pounded from the speakers. The two robust white haired men leaning against posts disappeared behind columns and droves of suicide girls and hoodie boys took their place.
"Dobri Denh, gde karandash?" said one of the college boys.
I performed a little cocek, but everyone else just milled excitedly.
Tchkung! Vortex! Tempest!...how else could one describe Gogol Bordello? From New York City, I had never seen anything like it. Oh, yeah, but I had...the Seattle Balkan punk band Kultur Shock. But say Kultur Shock is red bull and everkleer...nope, a husky pen, then Gogol Bordello is a skinny, twisted, pencil, just like its singer, a neurotic, emaciated glitter-eyed man from the Ukraine. He frequently jumped up and swung from the fresnel bar. What a mixed bag! The fiddler resembled David Grisman and fiddled like a Russian gypsy. The accordionist carried his instrument and his clothing just like Joe Bukovsky from Cleveland. Contrarily, the rest of the guys played guitar or drums or something and looked that way. But that wasnt all! There was also an ugly woman dancing around in an ugly peasant party dress, and two woman in judo outfits.!
Non-stop action! No breaks or anything! Wham bang! Damn...I'd managed to get myself right on the edge of a Chernobyling mosh pit! Whoosh! I pushed a hoodie right, swirling with blue moon spots, right back in where he came from! I moved back and tried a grapevine step to samba fusion. For once it didnt matter how bad my steps were...no one was old enough to care and their own movements were vertical chaos. People didnt even care when I coceked on their feet in the black moonball night. Wham! One of the little oriental women crashed huge brass cymbals. Wham! One of the little woman thunked on a huge bass drum. I moved to the extreme left, close to the stage. Milktoast civilians climbed onto the stage to dance. Members of the band surfed into the audience. Then it was over. No breaks between songs, no tune titles, it all fell in a heap.
"Wham wham wham!" went the audience with their hands, led by the ugly woman with the big nose. After ten minutes of this, Gogol Bodello began to play again, sweat boiling from their bodies. They played on and on, into the night, or at least until 115, a churning mass of peasant circus colors, the Ukrainian skeleton waving his hands and pacing, beaming electrically. I could only stare and smile in wonder, like my son...
Like my 7 year old son back in the Texas studio, Chris Chandler doing an on air, young people gaping in amazement to folk music. I walked back, up the street, on wings instead of legs. A few cars were still rolling, their tires sizzling against the shiny pavement. A bright deli still had its door wide open. I pulled a lime diet coke out of the cooler and pushed my change across the counter. At the Multnomah County Courthouse a guard came out and lit up a cigarette. At 24 Hour Fitness three men still pushed the weight machines while another cleaned. At the PSU ramp, I flew up eight flights to the roof garden with feet of Mercury.
You wonder why you have to keep track of all this idiocy. I'll tell you why. It is a rare honor to live in a country where you are able to run the nation yourself...an unusual right. [or something like that]---Molly Ivins
Hood River, May 2004 http://www.haitiaction..net
Trapped in a church basement with Democrats!
Ahead of me, the shirt on the red haired Unitarian punk said "Bush=Killer." "Good to see you here," someone had greeted her. "Most 18 year olds don't even vote."
The ultimate ahead of me, however, was a respectably suited lawyer from Walowa. We were supposed to see a film, but the film hadnt made it. So the lawyer talked and talked.
"Aristide..." he was saying, "Was taken by stealth to the airport where he signed a paper...which was NOT a resignation...a professor who KNOWS haitian creole in Kansas translated the document and said NO he did not resign, the local paper picked it up, but did anyone else? NO!...and was whisked onto a plane and the first stop was Jamaica. We lied, by the way and told the Jamaicans that there was no one aboard but the pilot and co-pilot. And then they flew, of all places, to the Central African Republic. Anyone ever heard of the Central African Republic? Me either, till I went there! No American embassy, the phones dont work, the most dangerous capital in the world. It has a per capita income half of Haitis. That's where they left Aristide off. Imagine being stuck in The Central African Republic!"
After the talk, there were plenty of questions. You have to actually be hot on politics to ask all these questions, and this room was a magma chamber.
"What," someone asked in amazed confusion, "does Haiti actually have that we want?"
"Well, that's a good question, and no one can figure it out," said the speaker. "But the best answer is that they are challenging the status quo. They believe that the rich should share their wealth with the poor!"
The audience gasped.
The Dalles, May 2004
I swung the Windstar over at the The Dalles West exit, on the way to Portland.
"Where are you going?" I asked.
"Eugene," said the middle aged man. He was dressed in white polo shirt and shorts and carried two brand new bags...one a backpack...from Columbia Sportswear. He had a strange, small mustache like Clark Gable.
"Well, actually, I'm trying to get to Troutdale. Yeah, I think that's what I'll do. I think I know someone in Eugene, but I'm really trying to get to Ontario." Ontario is not just in Canada, but also down on the Idaho border by Boise. "What happened was that I bought a bus ticket from Portland to The Dalles with my last $20. I knew this guy here and I was thinking I could do some work around his house." He pulled out a business card with a home address on the back. "But I got there and the house was empty...they said he'd moved to Washington. So then I thought I'd hitchhike to Ontario, but I've been here for two days. A gay guy stopped and offered me $40, but not a ride...haha. I had to sleep under the bridge and I dont have no sleeping bag. One of those guys that lives here told me to hop a freight..."
"I wouldnt know how..." I interjected.
"Yeah, and how would I do it with these bags? So I thought I'd go back to that truck stop in Troutdale, and maybe a semi would be going all the way through to Idaho and pick me up. They tell me you get out to Arlington or somewhere, you can get stuck forever."
His problematic life unfolded like a perennial flower, in a continuous loop, over and over, each time with new rich details. After twenty years of marriage, his wife had divorced him. He was crushed.
"She told me I was a workaholic, but I told her, you want those nice things, I gotta work."
He had worked for his father-in-law, in construction, and so he'd lost his job and hit the bottle.
"I've been clean now for six months, though," he said.
His sister had bought him the bags which gleamed like new tennis shoes behind us, and he had boarded the bus in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, for a new life in Oregon. In Chicago, there had been an unexpected day layover due to terrorists. At Yellowstone, Montana, the bus had been met by stranded young people, up from Alabama and Arizona, who'd come looking for work and found none. This should have been a sign to him to go back to Pennsylvania.
"I got to Portland and no one would hire me. So I went to stay with some people in McMinnville. But the teenagers down there were smoking pot in the house there, so I said, what if they catch them and me being the only adult. I had to get out."
So here he was. Out on I-84. I rolled my eyes.
At Troutdale, I pulled around to let him off on the eastbound.
"Actually, if you could go back to the exit on the other side of the river, the trucks could stop better..." he said.
So I looped again to the east. Lucky it was only the width of the Big Sandy to that exit.
All along the Sandy River, Sunday morning fisherman cast their lines in the mellowing light.
Oregon, May 2004
Rowena Crest, Home of the Tom McCall Nature Preserve! Back when I lived in Texas, I would have had to travel thousands of miles to visit this land of dry biscuit mounds, but today I'd driven ten miles up the old Columbia Gorge Highway, past the barren quarry and shooting range, past the town of Rowena with its Baptist Church, deserted store, and one phone booth...why did people live in Rowena when there wasnt even a pop machine let alone a restaurant?...and up the tortuous Rowena Curves, designed as a aesthetic device by Quakers in the early part of the last century. Wow, now my brain is scrambled! Oh yeah...and, like the pima mounds of Louisiana, no one knows what formed them. The Missoula floods flooded and scoured the land, and then the St Helens eruptions erupted and covered the land with gooey ash. Then the funny mounds formed like magic!
Voila! The Rowena Crest parking lot and its magnificent view of the river and its fire-bound dry grass gorge, dotted and v-ed with Oregon white oaks and ponderosas. Below on the freeway, the cars are so tiny you couldnt even steppe on them like ants! Two residential RVs frame the view like behemouth cockroaches.
I commence on the track that goes upward, first across meadow still dotted with yellow balsamroot and vetch, and then up 1200 feet to the matterhorn-esque McCall's Point. Five hundred relatively flat feet into the trail I came upon four fellow hikers.
"Hey look, I found a caterpillar!" a round man exclaims. "Ma'am! Ma'am, have you been on this trail before?"
"Yeah, once I think" I answer.
"Are we about halfway there?"
"I dunno," I answer sheepishly. "It was a long time ago." B----t! I'd given up,daunted not by steep slopes, but by time constraints...well, maybe both.
I move past them and their caterpillars, walking quickly so that I wont have to talk. Most of the trail, like so many in the gorge, is a steep sawtooth of switchbacks. Back in Texas, you could walk and think about the palmettos and alligators beside the path...SNAP! But here you are in Oregon, ignoring your pounding heart rather than the rattlesnakes. What if I die here? That's why many Oregonians wear special plastic fleece vests everywhere they go, to mark themselves as extraordinary people who can deal with rugged challenges.
I travel through patches of scrophulaceae and cruciferae, past twisted, lichen-covered oaks, charred corpses of Iraqi soldiers ignited during the first war. My legs hurt. Hot...it's hot and below me the biscuits are baking and I have cooler, more fun things to do but if I turn around and go home, I will have to go past the caterpiller people. I climb on. Leaping lizards...every ten feet a new lizard darts across the path and into the brush. With changing elevation, the landscape unfurls like a gentle flag. My red windstar, the two motorhomes, and the town of Lyle, Washington shrink from view. Before me rise the pastures of High Prairie and the clearcuts of Appleton, to my right Mount Adams and to the left Wy'East or Mount Hood, downriver the moist orchards of Underwood and White Salmon open up. "There is no other way you can see this," I say to myself.
One hour and only a mile and a half later, the marked trail ends on a dry knob prairie. To the south, a faint track leads to another, higher point, lush with pines and firs. I think of Alabama where I grew up. I circle, and then walk back down the path. I never meet the caterpillar hikers again and as I reach the bottom, two giant RVs pull out and descend the Rowena Curves, headed for The Dalles. At the same moment, two large brown hawks appear, gliding effortlessly across the field of view.
I went up to Seattle after this show to Northwest Folklife, where among many other things I went to a Scottish fiddle workshop, and then Tuesday night to a Finnish fiddle workshop. These workshops are really never set up for people who've been at the low, intermediate level for many many years. The only one I've been to was at Swannanoa, with Mike Dugger, and its been the only one so far that I didnt feel...um...slow. But you either go to workshops with your fiddle or you dont, and if you dont, then you miss out. Aw heck! I'm just glad my left index finger is usable now.
She looked up from writing, across Mill Creek to the Senior Center. What was the commotion? It wasnt bingo night!
A bright red engine from Mid Columbia Fire and Rescue hustled into the parking lot, scarlet lights flashing. Things were obviously heating up inside!
Seattle, May 2004
She leaned against the glass counter at the Steel Pig Bar B Q, and gazed into a trio de mayonaisse... coleslaw, potatoe salad, and macaroni salad.
"I'll be with you in just a minute," said the lone barista, a young woman with dark hair, scooping up chicken and pork baked beans. What was that accent? Cajun?
"Sure," said our heroine.
The barista turned and smilingly shouted. "Hey by the way, one of you got the extra hot sauce that you didnt ask for. You taste it you'll know what I am talking about." AUSTRALIAN! She had an AUSTRALIAN accent!
" I'll have the..um...regular catfish plate with collards," said our heroine. "And a diet coke." She recalled a field trip in the 80s. They'd stopped at a Golden Chicken in Nacogdoches, and the driver, a soil scientist named Jeff, had ordered a tea. They'd got goin' again and he took a suck, shoved the brakes on, pulled over, and violently spat the whole mouthful onto the shoulder of FM2609. Then he'd dumped his cup out in disgust. That's how SHE felt about sweet tea as well!
"How do you want your sauce...mild, hot, or..."
"Oh..." How silly! "Tartar sauce!"
She grabbed a can from the cooler, picked up a Seattle Weekly, and sat down at a table. Up at the counter, a mulatto gent had appeared to help out. She read the horoscope
"Scorpios! You have been redeemed and no longer have a reputation for being sly and selfish! Now after all your good acts, you can now be bad! You can be bad because you're good! Do you see what I am getting at?"
She wandered to the back of the room. A newspaper column read, "This isnt the best barbecue restaurant in town but it just opened. Your best bet is the delicious, crisp peppery CATFISH!"
Her mind drifted to last night...
Jamaica! Ganja! Redemption! Jah!
"This song is about Terrorists! And they're coming! They got the monorail today! Ha ha ha!" said the dreadlocked singer of Nuffsed, billed as roots rock dancehall.
Plastic fleece vests! Spikes and mohawks! And of course, the dreaded dreads. It was a party audience and the evening was beginning darken. Where was that smoke coming from?...inhale while you can! A dreaded black man came and stood beside her, obliviously dropping two backpacks on top of hers and began to fiddle with his illicit tape recorder.
During the break, she wandered into the adjacent building. Salsa! Cambalache! What a choice!, she thought, watching the way the brass section lined up and moved their shining gold horns.
Next band! "Let's thank the Folklife sponsors for supporting international culture!" said the singer Adrian Xavier. http//www.sacredgroove.com/featured.html "And right now the Bush administration is trying to kill international culture. And right now, I'm sort of AFRAID to say that, the way things are!" The crowd cheered and shot peace signs. She moved in closer. Just in front of stage, a handsome handicapped man sat on a red scooter; "Legalize Marijuana," read a sign on the front.
It had been a long couple of days.
"There's an extra beat in the middle of that measure," warned the man dancing next to her, her beloved Balkanarama on stage. "You have to FEEL it!"
"You'd do better if you held you use the other end of your bow!" warned the star of the Scottish fiddle workshop.
But now she was invisible and so melted into the evening, dancing just like everyone else in this wonderful mixed audience. How did everyone else dance? The way they wanted, feeling the music and inhaling as well. Invisible? No...alone and as one was a better term. One nation, indivisible.
With her fork, she fished a couple shreds of barbecued pork from the collards and began to eat lunch.
Dinner outside on the terrace! What a great place to set the table whilst my husband cut cement paving blocks in half! I rummaged in the drawers for a clean, small tablecloth. A clean table cloth can remain in one of those drawers for years on end and voila! it's pulled out and laid on an elegant camping table on a half constructed patio! Wait! No, this was no table cloth...it was a silk lace mantilla!
I lifted it out gently. Cuba...it was from Cuba, according to the decorative, yellowing label. I'd last seen that label in 1968 in my mother's Duncan Pfyfe sideboard. Now the edges and the folds of the lace were beginning to shred. Who in my family had been to Cuba? I started to unfold it but I didn't, I was scared to. I opened one of the sideboard cabinet doors, and laid it gently by some perky apple-shaped etched glass plate and cup sets. My mother had bought at Huffstutlers in 1961....or maybe she got them mail order.
I never knew my father's mother very well, except from her writing and her photograph album. She died when I was eight and I can recall only this question
"Would you like a glass of Hawaiian punch?" and the swirled linoleum on her kitchen floor as she poured it for me. But her writing has affected me more than the gentle, copious spoken words of my other grandparents.
My father's grandparents...Fred and Hazel Reid Gennett...had a moderate amount of money, and they lived in a modest but lovely home on several acres outside Richmond, Indiana. The house, designed to the strict standards of my grandmother's DAR membership, overlooked not only Elkhorn Creek, which you couldnt see, but also Elkhorn Falls. Adinner bell on a stalk on the patio called imaginary Hoosier field hands to dinner. A massive wall-long stone fireplace with candle-molds, heavy irons, and oil lamps awaited a reversal of the rural electrification program. But my favorite item was the mah-jong set in the cabinet in the den!
My mother's parents were living on social security above a dentists office. As I got older, I avoided my mother and her homey, talkative parents, and drove instead with my father along the Boston Pike to stay with my more reserved Grandfather Gennett.
"I have something to give you," said Grandfather one Christmas. We went up the stairs past the bathroom with the chenille rug. It always smelled like lifebuoy soap in there, and you had to duck under the roof slope to take a bath. We went into his bedroom, and into the big closet. He picked up a grey box that said "Pogue's Cincinnati"...the kind you see in movies where the heroine pulls out a beautiful ball gown.
"This is very old," he said.
"I like old junk," I said. I was thirteen or fourteen, and everyone talked that way.
"Well, this isn't junk," he said sternly.
I set the box down on the bed and opened it. It contained a number of things...a box with letters and invitations, a list of names and addresses, a cotton nightgown, long white silk gloves, silk shoes...and a silk wedding gown.
"Wow!" I said.
I took the box into the guest bedroom I shared with my father and shut the door. The shoes would not go on my small feet and the gloves would not go onto my tiny, childlike hands. The silk fabric and the stitching were beginning starting to fall apart. I pulled in my stomach...at the time I was 5 feet 6 and weighed 92 pounds...and closed the hooks and eyes. I looked in the mirror. I pulled my hair up on the top of my head in fin de siecle fashion and....
My other grandfather had a trunk-sized box for tools which he gave me, first adding new hinges and handles and then staining it red "because it's cherry." Each side is one board two feet wide and they are held to each other with square nails and wood putty.
"That's your hope chest," said Georgie.
When I moved out entirely from home, I put the Pogue's box into Georgie's wooden chest and drove North and South and East and finally Northwest with it. Sometimes I think of laying the silk gown on my bed, but I never do. I am afraid to see what has become of it.
What a disaster today! I arrived to do my show and couldnt get into the door. After their exams, our station management skeedaddled it out of Dodge and hadnt renewed the key card list! I called campus security, who let me into the station long enough to call every staff member I could think of, only to get rings and answering machines. I gave up, took my son to Powell's , came back and sat around outside the door. Someone came to prepare his show for next Friday, couldnt get in, and left. At 1215 Eva Lake came in to do her show and couldnt get in. She went over to security, where she pulled out the Arts section of the Oregon and showed the officers a color photo of a painting by a distinguished Afro-American artist on the cover. "See this? I am not just spinning discs! I am interviewing this man! You have to let me in!" After half an hour of whining and answerless phone calls, she convinced security she was Miss Important and that since everyone's key card had been cancelled, there was obviously an error. Wow! Meanwhile I was still outside listening to the speakers play they same inferior white boy hip hop album over and over. An employee of the college newspaper "The Vanguard" even came by and complained about the bad music. Finally Eva returned, followed by a security guard who opened the door. I threw on the AM sign-on, half of my theme song, and 2 songs and that was it for my show!
I hung around and listened to her fascinating interview for 30 minutes and spent about an hour sticking genre dots on the back library. After that I went to lunch and told the next host not to shut the door because his key card wouldnt work. When I got back the next host was going on air. The last host hadnt told him about the card. Argh! Then I went to pickup Ian and we went to Shape Note singing. At 630 when we hit the Sandy River, the station was playing the proper ska music, which meant no one had been locked out...so far.
The Dalles, June 2004
Disaster! The very word conjures up dire images! One day [November 2000) you'll pull out of the Bonneville Dam Visitor Center and, rapt with the jagged beauty of the Columbia, take a wrong turn, and, following an employee vehicle, drive through an automatic gate and across the dam proper into the State of Washington. The next, you'll be forbidden by a big guard with a gun from even getting near the dam, for fear you will pull out your Nokia and summon a barge carrying huge Yang Ming containers loaded with nitroglycerine to ram right into Bonneville instead of properly ascending through the locks.
Disaster! It had finally hit! Traffic was backed up halfway down Ninth Street as one by one the fire and rescue vehicles rolled up Cherry Heights Road, lights flashing ominously like tiny nebulae. There had not been so many fire vehicles here since the great Sheldon Ridge Fire of '02.
"Where is the fire?" a woman in a blue Ford Explorer asked me.
"I dont know. They seem to be all moving really slowly!" I answered puzzled, and then walked on down ninth. You can do some stuff better on foot than you can in a Ford explorer. Was it a huge, silent wreck at Cherry Heights and Tenth? Was St. Mary's School oozing with a chemical gas leak? Were aliens from the Crab Nebula invading?
I crossed Mill Creek, passed the Mid-Columbia Senior Center and the police roadblock, and viewed St Mary's Catholic Church and School on Tenth. It looked OK to me. I crossed Tenth, at the second roadblock. St Mary's still looked OK to me! But the holocaust must be here! The lot was jammed with emergency vehicles from all over the Mid-Columbia areafrom Dufur and Tygh Valley, from Parkdale, Westside, Odell and Hood River itself, from High Prairie in the State of Washington, and from our own opulent Mid-Columbia Fire and Rescue. Though our own engines were huge, some of the red volunteer trucks were hardly larger than a Ford Explorer....but each of them shined like a new Mercedes! There was a sleek black Oregon State Trooper and a City of Portland Police Department cruiser. And finally, there was a drab SUV from the Bureau of Land Management, and many dim mint green vehicles from The US Forest Service. I looked out onto the street. A boxy ambulance moving at snail pace carried two black bows on its bow. Above, an American flag hung high between two white cherry-pickers. This was no disaster, it was a funeral procession! That's why they were moving so slowly and silently up the street!
Reagan? No...no one here knew Ronald.
"It's a funeral for a guy from the forest service who died here recently," a The Dalles Chronicle photographer with a huge camera would tell me in about ten minutes.
Uniformed guests milled outside the modern schooner-like chapel, while civilians were allowed to pass inside. Four pipers and a bass drummer figited in their dark dress kilts. One of the forest service employees lit a cigarette and went over to talk to them. The firefighters shifted into regiments and the pipers struck up "Floors of the Forest." "BOOM!" went the black drum. Two by two they marched slowly, as if ascending into an ark, solemn pipers, then the men and women of the Forest Service in their khaki workclothes, one man walking with a little girl, group by group. Then the smart officers of The Mid Columbia in their dress blues and white hats fell into line, followed by the rank and file in their blue work clothes, then other blue firemen and another group in khaki. They marched into the door of the church and were gone from view.
LaGrande, June 2004
Imagine this. It is the year 100 million BC, and you are at the edge of the North American continent, which right now is somewhere around the Idaho Border. You're riding on a tropical island called Ol' Blue one of a school of islands, of light terraines, that are floating east and bumping against up the edge of the continent, scraped off as the heavier seafloor beneath them slides underneath. WHAM! There you go, slammed and crumpled up against Potato Land! A hundred million years later, you will be standing under a pine tree on what is known as the Blue Mountains, waiting for the crowds to arrive at the First Annual Americana Music festival in LaGrande, Oregon. And just like the Terraines, a loose configuration of Sacred Harp singers AKA Portland Sacred Harp are migrating eastward in vehicles to this very spot from Portland, Seattle, Eugene, and The Dalles and colliding with cratonic reality. Their mission is to effect two "performances" and one workshop, and then one additional workshop at an Evangelical Quaker church. For this they will be paid enough to fill their gastanks. They would happily do it for free, but, would you look a gift horse in the mouth?
I sat in the small bleachers reading "Someday the Ice Will Reveal All Its Dead" and listened to a succession of regional old-time and bluegrass bands. First there was a loose association of Old Time Fiddlers..."Blue Mountain Old Time Fiddlers." Some had driven hours to get here with their fiddles. Then it was a pick-up bluegrass contra band called House Blend; they closed with Celtic dance tunes. Then Oregon Thunder, high school students from somewhere like Silverton, six hours west in the Willamette Valley. Their fiddler is fifteen. "He's from Norway!" they announced.
"On the sea the ice cracked suddenly and loudly," said my book.
Following was the Portland caller from the Hood River dances, Bill Martin, and his blind fiddler wife, doing business here as The Martins; later they would conduct a workshop in Railroads In Music. Between me and the two stages were perhaps twenty or thirty people, half of them performers and volunteers. Slowly the macabre reality of the meticulously conceived festival unfolded like a black rose. It was the hotel restaurant in Dublin where we ate alone. It was the house concert with five paid guests. It was the Portland MAX train at midnite.
"It's the first year...it will take a while for this to get established, and for people to come from out of town," a volunteer will tell me later.
"The admission price is just too high," a fellow singer will tell me later.
"There are no name brand acts," I will answer and nod.
I looked down. "I think, Dr. Wegener, we have all heard enough about your continents moving for now," said my novel.
I got up and walked over to the Log Cabin that doubled as a Hospitality Room. I framed the mountain meadows and the patches of fir, the horse trailers, and the brown mare grazing by the rodeo ring. I snapped a picture and walked inside, hoping for a fruit plate.
Eric parked his '86 Toyota at the rest area west of Pendleton to switch drivers. Pastor David adjusted the right hand mirror...or tried to, because the knob came off in his hand.
"First time this has happened to me," said Pastor David dryly.
I rolled my eyes. "We'll have to call Car Talk about this," I joked.
The miles rolled by, the hot, dry basalt and dead grass running stationary like wildfire past the battered sedan.
"How's come there's this big hole here where the radio is supposed to be?" asked Pastor David, nodding at the gaping hole in the da"Well," said Eric, "when I lived in Seattle, they kept breaking in, so after the third one, I gave up."
"Huh..." said David, accustomed to chronic sorrow.
"See those bunkers over there?" said Eric, pointing at large anthills arranged in a checkerboard pattern. "Umatilla...those are chemical weapons bunkers. They're trying to get rid of them by burning them."
"How does that work?" asked Ian.
"Well...they're organic chemicals and when you burn them..." explained Eric.
The anthills gave way to poplars, methodically groomed and arranged in exactly the same way as the bunkers. Pulpwood!
"Mountain sheep...you'll see a mountain sheep here sometimes. Someone introduced mountain sheep," said David.
"Sheep or goats?" asked Eric.
"Sheep," said David.
In my book, the Icelandic Ponies were being sacrificed one by one to the ravages of the Greenlandic Ice Cap, and the herd dog would soon be eaten. However, the men would survive, rescued on the cold coast by an itinerant minister in an umiak.
"Mount Hood," I said. Hood was rising at last like an envelope flap in the west.
Now it is hit and dry here, so barren and brown and basaltic that land around The Columbia Hills resemble the damp volcanic fields southwest of Reykjavik. As we...Erin and I...leave The Dalles for Hood River the junkyards and trailer courts bake like adobe in the sun. Sierra Blanca...what year had I driven west to El Paso in a battered blue honda civic? The last owner had left a crackled decal of a skull struck by lighting in the back window. Fort Davis, the observatory at Alpine......
"When we get to Mother's Market, we'll have to get more of those Cherries," says Erin.
So early on Sunday, the freeway at Rowena was already crowded with summer tourists. At first I thought the red and black spot was a kite surfer, but it wasnt.
"Is that a glider over there, Ian?" I asked.
"No...I think it's a float plane. I think those are pontoons," he said, looking up from Tamara Pierce.
The plane skimmed along the big lake of the Columbia, falling lower and lower. I thought I would see it land.
"Damn!" I said, as a grove of pines and basalt obscured my view.
I looked ahead. The plane hadn't landed...it had risen and was far outpacing me. By the time I reached Mosier it was rising against the clearcuts above Underwood. The river barges crept like snails, the trains chugged along and were soon left behind. But the airspace above the Columbia was the left lane of the autobahn. Where was the small plane going? Trout Lake? Carson?
Erin and I put Ian on the redeye for Minneapolis alone...one hour after he turned 15...to Concordia Language Camp for a month. Actually, we didnt wait, we just hit the road home at 11pm, after we saw him get through security OK.
A Swedish class party Portland, June 2004
"So how did you make that?" I ask. "Its not very sweet."
Gunilla jabs her knife at the pretty red and white cake. "It's actually two sponge cakes and I have cut them in half," she answers in that odd British-Swedish accent. "And this filling here is a type of custard you can get at Ikea as a mix..." she pulls a box out of her green cupboard..." but I have put whipped cream into it as well."
"So what is this filling?"
"It's just strawbries. And then of course I put the whipped cream on the top and put the strawbries on for decoration."
Everyone is in awe of Gunilla's home, set in the old neighborhood above the busy Lloyd Center. Built in 1910, it reminds me of my old house in Texas. It is so unlike the big, new homes of the Finnish women I know in Portland. It is so different here in New Sweden.
"The reason you cant park there in the next block," she says, "is that they are filming a movie there tomorrow. They only want cars from the '60s."
"What's that picture?" someone asks.
"That's my old house in Sweden." I remember from class that even in the 60s, there had been no indoor plumbing on that farm.
Sunshine is going back to Mexico, to the Coast, to take a job at the corporate headquarters of a hotel chain. "I am actually from Mexico City. I came up here to do my masters and then I got a job. But this one pays better," she says. "And my mother is happy! I'm forgetting my Spanish. She calls me up and I cant think of the word. I have to stop a minute."
"But where will you study Swedish there?" asks Gunilla.
"Ha ha...the Scandinavians come in July and August...maybe I can ask to brunch with them."
"Do you just speak English automatically then, without thinking?" I ask her later, before the showing of "Cops." Later, we will have to scramble to make sense of the Swedish subtitles.
"Yeah," she says.
"Would you like to move back to Sweden?" someone asks Gunilla.
"No...I'm OK here." Gunilla is an American citizen now. "But I would really like to go back to England."
I think of driving on the left and the narrow roads lined with stone walls. I think of the dowdy women and crowded tube of London in the seventies. I shake my head. I would never go back to live.
At first I thought they were black cats, pretty black Persian cats. They were moving along at a confident clip, past the ornamental maple, past the little concrete pagoda....
"They have white stripes!" I exclaimed. Oh no! These were no Persians, no Scotties! These were two skunks!
The plump, luxurious mammals continued toward me at a fair trot. Wow! They were only about two meters away.
"Erin...Erin..." She had to see this...they were so cute!
Nonplussed, but shy of human noise for what hrududus had done to their comrades, they turned tail and trotted, back down the dry grass hill, and into the valley of Mill Creek. I looked after them. There were three of them! Where had the other one come from?
Lucky they didnt get angry!
Springfield, Oregon, July 4th
Back again in Downsunk Fault Block Valley. We were there to see Riders In the Sky...Riders In the Storm, or something like that. The cowboy band, dressed in red white and blue sequined cowboy clothes, was a great choice for a family event! Not too many bands do imitations of armadillos...gosh I'd almost forgot about armadillos! "Whoosh," said the one guy, making a traffic noise, and rolled over on his back dead. I rolled my eyes and got up. I walked back to the Lions Club Beer Tent.
"Could I get another Chardonnay?" I asked. They were on sale.
"Yes," said the lioness behind the counter, "but you cant use that glass again."
If people wondered why I was standing in the mocha smoothie line with a chardonnay, they were too polite to ask. But one guy had a great perception.
"I could use one of those, standing in this line! Ha ha!" He was a tall man with a grey beard, a green polo shirt, and a Ducks hat.
"WHERE did you get that accent?" I asked.
"Why....I grew up in Alabama!" I exclaimed.
"Huh! Yep, I grew up in Columbus...Alabama, Phoenix City, ha ha!...Havent been back since 1975. I wouldnt live in The South again if you paid me. Sheep...they all believe what they tell 'em down there, just like sheep! Muh wife owns three Baskin Robbins and I'm not useta standin' in lines like this. We got some rental properies too."
I was a little foggy on Columbus, but Phoenix City I remembered. "I hav'n't lived there since 1968," I said.
"I remember 1968...I was goin' to school in Miami. Learnin' Spanish. They'ere drafting people left and right, so'I took a Spanish course...ha ha. Th'army sent me to training in California, had me take a Spanish course. Hell, I coulda taught the course! So they sent me to PANAMA as an interpreter! I ended up as a MEAT INSPECTOR! I'as the only one who spoke Spanish. What a job! What an easy life! I was a corp'ral but they paid me like a capt'in. They shipped OUR steaks in from the States!"
"Ken! Here's your smoothies!" said a young woman from behind the counter.
I walked back with Erin's Caffeine-mobile. In just an hour or so, we would all be sitting on the banks of the McKenzie, watching fireworks through diffraction gratings. You havent seen anything until you've seen fireworks through these special glasses. It's The Cowboy Way.
Hood River, Oregon, July 2004
"So you say you're a professional mediator?" It was the monthly Red
Hat Luncheon, this time at the Palatial Riverside Grill, on the banks of the Columbia! I was chatting with a slim blond woman slightly older than myself. "What do you mediate?"
She smiled like a person who loves to talk and drive her red sports car. "I mediate child custody cases. I used to be a special ed teacher, but I couldnt stand it any more. So I retired and got this part time job at the Court House. I can deduct my kitchen as a home office."
"It must be interesting! Do people ever have everything settled?"
"No," she said. "They never do. They always bicker. They're going through a divorce and at least one of them is always hurt and mad."
"And," interjected the woman next to me, who had ordered a chicken caesar salad, "Its not the kids they are fighting over. They are just fighting each other."
"Can I get the Tofurkey sub?"
"What kind of Tofurkey?" asks the counterwoman. I'd forgotten, Hood River is the Tofurkey Capital.
"Hickory Smoked," I answer.
It is a week and a half ago, and we stop here at the Heights Sub Shoppe before our ascent to the treeline of Mount Hood. Then we're off, through Odell and Dee, running south and up, past the ruins of the New Zealand owned wood products factory. Years ago, too much snow had collapsed the roof and set fire to the contents. Mt Hood rises above us like...a Hood.
"Like the Klu Klux Klan...ha ha," I comment. We turn the corner at Parkdale..."Erin! You're the Navigator!" I say.
"Stuffed Trout!" I answered the waitress. To my surprise, everyone gasped in admiration...and went on to order reubens and tacos. Little did they know there was little choice for a pescovegetarian on the SPECIALS menu. And little did I know I would get the senior citizen discount! Two dollars off!
"Turn here," Erin says, and we drive south through Parkdale, past orchards and trees...more and more forest trees, an upscale b&b and then finally Cooper Spur Lodge. Ahead of us, the Cooper Spur Ski lifts are silent and locked. The road goes to gravel, to washboard, alongside one switchback is snow. Snow in July! Spanish moss hangs eerily from the firs like a Lousiana swamp, white flowered camas shooting like stars and sparklers on the forest floor. Ahead of us, the conifers are stripped white like a ghost army....
Down the table, someone said, "My husband gave me $5.50 in nickels last time we were in Vegas and said 'When it's gone, its gone.'"
Almost no one is up here, just a few hikers with small backpack tents interlain with the patches of snow.
"That will collapse," I tell Erin, as she walks across a snow bridge, but it doesnt.
At the very end, the Cloud Cap Inn is bolted shut. Aside from two women with backpacks and a dog, there is no one here but one hundred year old ghosts. You can see them in their long dresses and their horse-drawn wagons, sputtering up to the top of the world, to the log buildings at treeline on the Cooper Spur.
"I love reinactments...I'm hoping to go to Gettysburg this year," said the mediator.
"My great great grandfather was there," I commented. "He was a farrier in the Indiana cavalry."
"Why, my great great grandfather was in the Indiana Cavalry too!" said a blonde woman who had married her husband three times...at least she had had three ceremonies. You may recall her at the Christmas meeting, ordering wine instead of tea.
"What county?" I asked.
"Owens...in Southeastern Indiana."
"Dearborn," I said. "on the Ohio River."
Here at tree line, there is only the white flap of Mount Hood, and little of the grey envelope beneath it. Facing us is Elliot Glacier, retreated from the iron funnel of its U-shaped valley. Where we stand, the trees are dwarfed, and the branches grow only away from Hood. Here so many are the whitebark pine, Pinus albicaulis. They live to be a thousand or more years, among the oldest of living organisms, yet so many now stand dead in the cool July, like silver ghosts.
Baked Alaska! July 2004
The day began with promise. I sat groggily in the lobby of the strange, historic Fairbanks Hotel, chomping at a Kim Chee Oriental Noodle Bowl. The room was overflowing with four blond, wiry young men in synthetic travel pants and t-shirts. Huge bush knives hung from their belts. Two of them went out front to smoke admidst the mud and case heavy equipment of urban renewal.
"...frukost..." I picked out that word, which is Scandinavian for breakfast. I hoped they were not speaking Swedish; if so, I'd thrown a bunch of bucks down the drain.
Fairbanks...it was good to be back!
We made our way to the train station.
"Ma'am, you'll have to get back on the train. Once you are on you cant get off! But we'll have a couple of great front-shots for you."
"Front shots?" I asked. What was a front shot? I wanted a photo of the Alaska rail engine against the grimy wall of the Fairbanks station.
My hand had slipped on the computer keyboard and I had ordered a two-for-one train trip to see the great Denali. I thought of alternatively dozing, staring at the magnificent scenery, drinking fine wine, and wandering through Alaska rail cars. Little did I know that we would be trapped two days in two cars, a traveling fishbowl filled mostly with cruise ship wimps...who turned out to be ordinary, kind people stunned by the beauty, culture and wildlife of Alaska. But does the AMTRACK pick up hitchhikers along the Columbia?
"We're from Houston! My brother drove his RV here from Virginia and we met him in Anchorage. We went to Kodiak, where he was stationed in the Coast Guard during the French and Indian War. Then his RV broke down and we decided to fly up here and ride the train back while he gets it fixed."
"We're from St Petersburg and this has been such a cool trip! We love hiking! We've been to Glacier Bay, right up to the icebergs! We wondered whether we could handle a trip on our own...and yes we can! A lot of those people on the cruise ship are FAT! I bet they're just there for the food."
"What color carriages do the Amish have in your part of the country? Sometimes one of those things will get rear ended and kids will be flying all over the place, no seat belts..."
"Yeah, well, I'm a flyfishing outfitter based in Seattle and I'm staying here at the lodge free because I know the food manager. That's a great Tshirt, is that a timberwolf? Are you interested in a cocktail?" Oops...
"We're from San Diego and this is the first vacation we're done without our relatives since we got married 13 years ago. We're riding up from Anchorage. I'm a Navy nurse. They courtmarshal us if we dont stay fit. Here's a photo of our golden retriever."
"What a great cruise! We got to see whales and seals! We retired to Tennessee. You see a lot of people retiring there now. We've come with 7 other family members. Mom is 90 now and we think this is the last time she'll be strong enough to travel. They made her climb up the steps and I dont think that's right."
But now, in the amber white night, we had broken the walls of our aquarium and were flopping around inside the van from Payless Rental Cars.
"Yeah, I came up here last fall from Florida, rode the train from St Louis. They drive pick-ups all winter down there on the Chena River. Me and my son were down there once in ours. Texas? Lived in Dallas and San Antonio. I LOVE Texas." Tears welled up in his eyes. "No...I've sold cars all my life, now look what I'm doing. I'm waiting for a couple things to pan out and if they dont, I'm going back home."
We located our battered, upgraded, full-size Kia in the lot and were soon on our way to the luxurious Chena Hot Springs, deep in the forests east of Fairbanks.
Alaska was burning. It still is. Thirty miles down the road the already tan air grew thick and drab as a color negative. Forty five miles down, charred skeletons of thin trees rose like zombies along the road.
"Wow!" I exclaimed when we arrived. "This place is crawling with firefighters!" There were three school busses waiting for them in the gravel parking lot. This is why they dont have school in Alaska in the summer.
I parked the car in the dim day-night, coughing on and off. We entered into the log bar that doubles as the Chena Hot Springs Restaurant. The restaurant was closed now. Check out http//www.chenahotsprings.com/tour.html
"Can I get a chardonnay?" I asked the Japanese bartender.
She searched and found a bottle with a kangaroo on it.
"I'm going to look at that moose-antler sculpture outside," yawned Erin.
After 10 minutes of drab grey, the Alaska sun rose behind a grubby shroud of oxididation. But Erin and I slept on and on...until at last we stumbled into the huddled main lodge of Chena Hot Springs. It was 830am. We stopped to peruse a chiseled relief map of the area, 52 miles west of Fairbanks. In most other states, excluding Wyoming and Nevada, CHS would qualify as "remote." In Alaska...HA! There is a Fred Meyer only an hour away!
Two men were attracted by the gazing activity. One tall man said, "I was talking to one of the firefighters...35,000 acres up in smoke! And it's joining another fire of 30,000 acres! They say it's the biggest fire in Alaskan history! I'm a firefighter in Vermont, and we've never had anything like this." He shook his head.
Another tall man said excitedly, "In Anchorage, we have had no rain...well, only one thunderstorm!"
We all should have confessed, "I'm a Fire-A-Holic." But we did not.
Erin and I moved on past, into the bar and restaurant. We sat down and orderd breakfast.
"Some of the springs like this have a temperature inversion...sometimes there are pockets of hotter water," explained a geothermal company representative at the table next to us.
Chena Hot Springs Resort had some sort of fascinating temperature problem. Usually these conversations would be in secret, but the smoke had driven away so many of the potential customers. Hence, a bubbly representative of CHS blatantly shared her concerns with the sparse Fire-A-Holic breakfast crowd as we chomped down spinach omelets. Smoke and geothermal activity! Seasonal aridity and plate collisions! We were right at home!
We went outside and split up. Then we reunited.
"Mom!" said Erin. "One of the goats is stuck in the fence! The guy from the office is going to get his pliers!" There thegoat was, bound with a leash on the fence. Later, the guy would board up the holes the comely, hungry goats had made.
"What do you do with that float plane in winter," a yellow-clad firefighter asked a woman employee.
"We cover the wings," she answered.
Hot Springs! I sat in the big hot tub with Erin. A year ago, a Democrat from Massachusetts had babbled about kayaking. This year, an Israeli from Atlanta chatted with a chunky blond man from Tok.
"Yeah, I'm from Israel. We lived in Seattle a year, but I'm in software and the market collapsed. I could only find a job in Atlanta. But I hate the Southeast,"...he snarled..."and we are moving back."
"Huh!" said the man from Tok and began to tell his own story. "We lived 10 years in Nome, 10 years in Barrow."
"Barrow is nice to visit as a tourist...we were just there...but I cant imagine living there." I cant imagine living in Israel!
"Naw...its great! Everythings free! They got a swimming pool and its free," said the Alaskan. Later, I would learn he was originally from Edmunds, Washington. "By the way, this isnt some weird sort of cancer on my stomach. We were over to see my wife's uncle and his dog bit me. The guy's 93 and you can't complain...he needs his dogs. My wife's from the Kotzebue area...she's an ESKIMO...ha ha."
Eskimo, indeed. She was a double for that nurse in the TV show. "What's the weather like in Barrow?" I asked her.
"Cold," she said. "The winds come in from the north. I'm glad we live in Anchorage."
"You just live in Tok in the summer?"
"Yeah," she said.
"Where you going next?" asked the Tokian. Steam was rising from the tub.
"Dawson," said the Israeli. Dawson is in The Yukon.
"Dawson! Oh no! They got that road closed! The fire is real bad up by Chicken!" said the bruised Alaskan.
"Oh no!" said the Israeli. The other road to Dawson was very long.
But the road to Barrow was only a short plane ride, and we would follow it soon.
New Zealand is more like America than any country I've been in...well, aside from the Big C. It seems to be some strange combination of Canada, Hawaii, Iceland, and British road layout.
August 2004 The Dalles, Oregon
Great to be back, looking for middle school gymshorts! I swung the red windstar on a right turn into Fred Meyer, following a late-model metallic sedan. Tourists! Our neighbor to the North! I leisurely snapped on my brakes as the little vehicle wandered aimlessly like a lumbering moose.
"Wow! A Canadian vanity plate!" I commented. "Beautiful BC. Consul-one..."
Ice? Cold drinks? A stylish swim suit? What was the sleek woman in black capris shopping for in this fiery summer air?
North Island, New Zealand.
In this wet winter air...in this frost wet new spring rain, the hitchikers had laid low. The New Zealanders had too, waiting until my slow drag back to Aukland to begin the stories of their lives, words flowing in the torrents of a west coast rainforest stream. On the day the dam broke, I was in a Cafe in the town of Eketahuna. A woman in the giftshop (everyone in the shop knew each other, whether they liked it or not) said to me, words fountaining from her mouth like the fonds of a crisp treefern.
"You would think the fourwheelers would go anywhere, but they dont, and my husband has to walk everywhere on the farm it is so wet now and he refuses to wear the long boots just the short ones so he comes in with his pantlegs caked with mud and my washing machine is really hurting."
"Huh!" I said. They speak English in New Zealand, except for two vowels.
"Lane C-ven," said the check-in clerk at the Picton Ferry, between the north and south island.
"What?" I couldnt see lane C here next to the Sea.
In the eleventh hour, on my last approach to the airport in Aukland in the north Island, two lean hitchikers appeared with large packs along the vine of Highway One as it cuts across the sheep-splattered cones of volcanic hills north of Rotorua. (In New Zealandish, this means Lake of the Two Plumbers). I put on my brakes, and they cheered.
"I think its illegal for you not to have seatbelts, so you both gotta sit in the front," I said excitedly. Of all the countries I have been in, New Zealand's immigration officers have been the nastiest. They almost didnt let me out of the country because there was mildew on my passport! In 1999, I had lost it between the washer and drier for 4 months. In the interim, no one else had complained, not even Estonia! Hence I was petrified of the traffic police...well, that and the copious, frank BILLBOARDS!
"DRIVE DRUNK...DIE DRUNK!!!" say the drops of slimy red blood on the grisly blue-back background.
The man and the woman were raw and spare, young, and wiry, blue eyes and short sandy hair.
"Are you going to Hamilton?" he asked. No, I was bypassing Hamilton on a rustic road.
"Sure! Where are you from?" I asked.
"We are from the Czech Republic!" explained the man. "Oh no...I left the sliding door open when we put our packs back there."
I pulled over and he got out and shut the door. "Your jacket is still there," he said to his partner.
"We have been here five months," he said.
"We have been wwoofing," said the young woman.
"We work maybe five hours a day for our food and lodging. There is a book you pay for, with addresses, and then when you get into an area, you call up someone and ask if they need help. It could be farms...or cafes."
I thought of the Japanese waitress who served me sushi and saki the night before in Rotorua.
"I dont really live here...I am just practicing my English!" the waitress had said in a thick oriental accent. Wwoofing!!!
"When we first got here, they paid us to pick apples."
"Hard work," I said.
"Yes," commented the woman. "We are still living on that money, ha ha!!! We camp on the beaches for nothing and we eat rice and couscous. But when we do stay in a backpacker, we can cook a chicken in the kitchen! It doesnt cost us much to live. We do a lot of tramping...."
At $40 a day just for the camper van and the tent site and the ramen noodles...and countless dollars for the cheap cafe meals, I could not compare poverty. I was too old to be poor like that. I cursed my parents for threatening to become volcanic if I ever traveled in such a way. "Here, take my Texaco and Shell credit cards up to Iowa and come right back," my father had said. That was why I was now on a long geographic race with death.
"Where are people you meet from?" I asked. Most of the foreign campers I'd met seemed to be from England or Australia.
"From America...or Germany. The Germans are all over. But from France, England, Spain...and Brazil, we met a couple from Peru...no, it was Chile!" he said.
"We have hitchhiked all over Europe. France, Spain, Portugal...it is easy to get rides and useful to speak English. But when we were in Montenegro, we had to ride public...the bus. Because the people there werent used to seeing foreigners hitchhike. They didnt know what to do," she said.
"We are taking a year off from university," he said. "So if we went back, we wouldnt have jobs anyway. We have a stopover in Asia. But now, we are going to Hamilton to get our New Zealand visas extended."
"Where in Asia?" I asked. Singapore was where they had mentioned.
"Oh...maybe Singapore. But anywhere. Maybe somewhere where there arent a lot of tourists, like Viet Nam or Cambodia,"
"Huh!" I said.
They were such talkative young people, their youth like creamy milk. We watched the sheep and cows pass by in jade pastures.
"I think," he mentioned to her, "That they will not renew our visas."
"Maybe," she said. "But perhaps they will."
I dropped them in the middle of Hamilton, veering way out of my path and timeline. Then I drove North to the airport in my Toyota Hibrau.
Tygh Valley, Oregon, August 2004
Now that it has rained, everything has changed. But last night, as we drove south into the Valley of the Tygh, the combined stumps of wheat, pale yellow like Chardonnay, were tinder dry. Ahead of us, the wheat hills rose and rolled like the patchwork quilts made in the brown macrame years of the 1970s. To the west, a dull dusty haze revealed the verdant Cascades and the melted snow of Mount Hood as one big lie. The lush Cascades, and with them the Willamette, Portland, and the Pacific, were now lost like a mirage, as much a fiction as Hood's fiery eruptions and the legend of Wy'east, from the hard lives of the farmers who had reaped these fields.
"My eyes hurt," I said.
"Forest fires?" someone wondered. There were always forest fires.
"They burn the fields, to keep them fertile," said Erin.
"This is a big county," I said, sick of driving.
"It used to be bigger. It used to contain parts of Wyoming," someone said.
Erin found a place in the stands. Ouch!
"Bull riders!," said the MC. "Looks like Tillamook is taking home a bunch of Wasco County money!"
No joke. When the megacounty seat has 12,000 people, you can hardly have a class event! Bull riders fell off. Barrell Racers knocked over barrells, or, like our own FitzGustavson sisters, dragged their withers. Calf ropers tossed their weapons into thin air...
Fwap! The rope of a 12 year old girl..a break away roper...hit its mark. A black and white spotted calf was tossed head over heels. I was sure its neck would break. But it got up, surprised, and shook itself, dragging the broken line behind, just like the barrell racers and bronc busters.
"Bill Murphy from Redmond on Big Sky there behind Wildcat Excavation!" said the MC. The ever-opening door to Bill's future as a bareback rider swung wide, but the horse didnt move.
"Big Sky's got his ass nailed to the side of that pen!" laughed the folks behind us. The equine was indeed backing up and refusing to perform as a rodeo horse. Finally the officials moved him down to Columbia River Bank. But Big Sky still refused to budge anywhere but backwards.
"Huh!" said the MC. "Well, let's go on to the next contestant, Jason Faberdeaux of Cave Junction."
"That's the Winery!" said the woman behind us.
"Blue Moon," I muttered discretely. I remembered how Cave Junction had been up against the wall in the great forest fire two years ago.
Unlike Big Sky, Viscous Thrasher didnt hesitate to bolt into the ring when the door opened.
"He's hangin' on there with both hands," exclaimed our neighbors.
Jason was doing a good job, I thought. VT sprang right across the ring, with Jason attached like a human leech. Never veering from his path, the little horse continued a straight course across into the no-cost bleachers, or would have if the wire fence hadnt been there. Jason kept on going, tumbling across the wire, head over heels like the little calf.
"Wow! He landed right on the guy in the wheel chair!" said the people behind us.
"Everyone OK over there?" the MC asked.
Jason shook himself and crawled back under the wire. The wheel chair man gave a thumbs up.
"Bill Murphy, again," said the MC. Big Sky edged sideways from the pen, stood stunned for a moment, and then began to buck and shimmy like a demon from hell or Kah-Nee-Ta. Wham! went Bill, hitting the ground.
"That's rodeo!" said the MC.
Portland, August 2004
The traffic on I-84 was irritable, and I was full of the Vegetarian Meza from a Middle Eastern Restaurant on Belmont. Suddenly, ahead of us, I saw two blonde dreadlocked hippie guys with backpacks by the side of the road. Their thumbs were out! I thought a second, then pulled over. The guy in the grey SUV behind me was p---d, but he didnt honk.
"Where are you going?" I asked. They needed baths, so I hoped they would say, "...oops Seattle! Wrong way!"
"Down I-84," they said.
A few minutes later, they elaborated from the middle seat. "We're going all the way to Columbus, Ohio," one said.
"But we're stopping a bunch of places in between," said the other. Wow! They were good looking underneath all that dirt! One had a huge tattoo on his leg.
"See, earlier this summer, we were working at a farm down by Santa Cruz. It was an organic farm...solar power, sustainable, totally *off the grid.* So now we're going home," said the first.
"Huh!" I said.
"Portland is great! Theres no laws on where you can camp!" said the other
"So we were going to ride a freight, but they caught us in the yard. It's a lot of fun to ride the freight trains! So they checked our ID and told us to go hitch. Here we are!" Right-O!
"Is that the Columbia River over there? Or is it a big lake?" said the other.
"Havent you been here before?"
"No! Hey this is really neat! Mt Hood just sticks up above everything else! Wow!"
After a shining hour as tour guide, I pulled off at the The Dalles East Exit. I turned left onto US197. A giant silver SUV honked at me angrily.
"Antsy!" I exclaimed. It was my fault.
Barrow, Alaska, July 2004
What can you expect from a planeload of new 4 wheelers, canned tuna, and Eskimos? Grey skies and no view of the Brooks Range and vast North Slope tundra! "%^%^&%" I said to myself. Then suddenly, the strange hexagons of patterned ground appeared through the window, an uncalculated japanese garden. Ahead of us, in the ocean, a strip of pack ice gleamed against the grey sky like a long grin, like the doorway woodwork in the hallway Mount Tabor bungalow.
Free at last, Erin and I walked the bone grey pebble beach of the Arctic Ocean. It was littered with hubcaps and gashed by the ruts of the fourwheelers that the children here drive late into the night.
"It's cold," said Erin. Thirty nine in July...as cool and bleaker than Iceland. She dipped her finger into the Great Northern Ocean. It is said that Eskimos do no learn to swim, because if they fell out of their kayaks, they would freeze before they drowned.
A woman approached us, seallike in her green parka.
"Hi! Are you enjoying your trip?" Yes we were. "The ice was right here yesterday, and it brought the little fishes. Then the ice moved that way," she pointed down the shore. "So the fish moved with it." She grinned, showing crooked teeth in her harvest moon face. "And with them the fisherman."
"Do the little fish have a name?" What did they call the tiny fried fish in Finland? Mukkua? Something.
"We call them 'little fish.'" she laughed. "No one eats them but The Elders. We give them to The Elders."
My mind reeled. I had plunged into the strange world of the Inuviak, where Wells Fargo cash machines and whale hunts find themselves face to face.
International Cafe Tour
Barrow, Alaska, July 2004
She surveyed the town she had come to wonder about.
"This looks like Greenland!" a man would say with confidence tomorrow.
Barrow's bare sand and pebble yards were mottled like fish floating in this overcast evening...an grim, sunless evening that would soon last all night! Houses were dumped willy nilly on these false river plain sediments, as if there were no women, as if no one had heard of Better Homes and Gardens, as if everyone here were honor students at Dwane's School of Auto Repair and Downscale Landscape Design.
ARGGHHH!!! she said to amazingly artistic self. Then she said to her not-so-little daughter,
"Erin, let's go check out that Japanese Restaurant.
"Where are you from?" asked the plump Japanese waitress, delivering hugely and probably justifiably overpriced Salmon Teriyaki and Vegetable Tempura.
"We're from Oregon," she said. "We flew up from Seattle."
"Oh Seattle!" said the waitress. "I'm from Seattle!"
"It's cold here," said one of the Oregonians.
"You should have been here in April when I came up to look at this place to buy! Grey and COLD!!!! I didnt want to stay." She shivered.
"Maybe you should go back!"
"No, I have to! We got lots of business here. I used to own a restaurant in Bellevue, The Mount Fuji Sushi Inn. Do you know it...over by the Marriott? So MANY Japanese restaurants in Seattle!!!!"
Geraldine, New Zealand, August 2004
Geraldine! The woman from Oregon shut and locked the sliding door of her camper van and used the light of her little plastic lantern to guide her way the half block to downtown Geraldine. After cris crossing the southern Alps, tramping out on the grey cobble rubble of glacial outwash, and crunching her feet on wisps of snow, she was now south of Christchurch, again in farm country. If she faced the East and did not see the mountains, she could imagine she was back in Iowa. She noted the automatic teller and the old hotel and then settled on a modern informal restaurant. As she opened the door, the bartender immediately caught her eye. In a country populated by models from an American JC Penney Catalog, the barman stood out like a retired greyhound in a pickup full of cocker spaniels.
"He's right off the cover of that Fleetwood Mac album!" she exclaimed to herself.
"Will that be one for dinner tonight, Madame?" he said to her, gathering a menu from below the hanging wine glasses.
"Yes," she said. All black, sleek as a ferrett, charcoal hair pulled back like a cellist into a tail. Portlandissa! Park Squares! Rommels in The Dalles! She felt right at home! He showed her to her seat and went back to his bar work.
"Will that be two for dinner?" he asked an incoming couple from Montgomery Ward, South Island. These good 'ol Kiwis were taken aback. "No, uh, actually we're just in here for a drink right now."
"Very well then!" said the barman, nonplussed. "What will you have?"
"Do you have a Chardonnay?" I...oops...she asked. "And can I have the seafood soup." With prices in New Zealand dollars, she had learned to be unreasonably frugal. Later she would ponder and find the Barrow dollar to be equivalent to the Kiwi dollar.
"It's a nice little town," she commented as she surveyed the bill.
His eyes began to fog! "Geraldine! It is the most wonderful place in the world! Since I moved here a year ago....I have three children, and I can walk down the street and it will take me an hour to make it a block. I know EVERYONE and...people watch out for my children here. I dont have to worry about where they are, because someone is ALWAYS watching them!" Where had he lived before? Wellington? Christchurch?
She paid the bill and walked toward the door. The sleek bartender rushed to hold it open.
"Have a pleasant evening, madame," he said, clicked his heels, and bowed.
Wasco, Oregon, September 2004
Ahead of her, the hills mounded up like old brown fleece blankets thrown over tired couches and beds. This time of year, cows were in the fields grazing through the silver grey wheat stubble, independent razors on the faces of old men.
"Moro," she said in her mind. But then the road to Wasco came up, branching off of US97, so she turned right and drove past the Case dealership, the peeling, vacant storefronts, and past the evening restaurant that her travel agent had suggested during the last inescapable conversation.
"I'm going up there for dinner tonight," the travel agent had said. "It's just a great old country restaurant with HUGE portions and GREAT steaks!!!"
But it was closed, so she stopped at the other place...the only place in fact...The Duck-In Deli & Bar. There were several vehicles parked outside, including a motor home and a white sedan with California plates. Walking inside, she noted that the cafe was split into two parts. One was the "deli"...more like a country cafe...and the other had a pool table. A sign said "NO MINORS"on the archway of the bar.
"Can I get lunch here?" she asked a bearded man fussing around behind the counter.
"Yeah," he said. "There's some menus," he pointed at a stack of rumpled paper tri-folds. "Sit where you want."
She ordered the special, Clam Chowder and a tuna sandwich...it was either that or ham. Then she sat down.
"On the way to Winnipeg...." said a man at one table.
"Motel over in The Dalles...turned on the TV set..." said a woman at another.
"Dance at the Fire Hall. I came out of the beer garden and she was standing there waiting for me...a little young!" said a woman at a table for eight.
She walked over and looked at what she thought were magazines, but it turned out they were kids books. She walked back.
The waitress said, "I wonder whose keys these are on the table."
The woman from Oregon said. "They're mine."
Monday, September 13, 2004, Glenwood, Washington: During a lull in the rain, I walked out onto the wide wet wing of the Camas Prairie, held as if by two hands by the waves of the high green Cascades. Suddenly, an old cowboy in a small blue jeep drove past me on the mud and shorn grasses. I walked back to my red car. Soon, on the highway to BZ Corner, a small deer would cross quickly in front of me.
Cascadia, September 2004: Do you ever read "Free Will Horoscopes" in the Willamette Weekly? Here is what my horoscope said last week
"The stars have been against you, Scorpio! You are in a state of festive pessimism. Now is your opportunity to reach your potential and explode into a state of festive optimism!" Scorpio horoscopes usually sound vibrant like this. But it makes me consider. The present present, the past present, the future present all scrape against each other like the cars of a train, realities shifting like the Pangean sands on an animated U. of Chicago continental drift simulation. One moment you're browsing happily in a size M Fred Meyer boatneck cardigan, the next you're struggling into an XL American Apparel pocket T in a Pearl District dressing room. One weekend you are breathing smoke in the screeching darkness of a Seattle metal concert, the next you are sitting in the ANZAC tea room with the Red Hat Society eating scones and clotted cream.
"Ladies!" announces Queen Mother Janet, who sells Mary Kay. "I know we are all having a FABULOUS time, but today is September 11th. So let's all have a moment of silence. Hold hands!"
All the ladies twist around to hold hands. Ten seconds later, it is over, and they can again sip their Australian ginger-lemon tea.
In the Days of 7-11, even before then, I had developed an aura of festive optimism. I looked for beauty in all things, dull highways blossomed into fantasy landscapes with Chinese dragons. I doctored bland photos into rich melodies and words escaped out of my fingers like harp arpeggios, like machine gun fire. Now I have to think a while to write. Why the passage into a mint grey pull-down sleeper berth?
"It was the invasion of Iraq!!!" That and some other stuff. But now I knew...
THE GEARS OF THE SCORPION CONSTELLATION HAVE BEEN SCRAPING AGAINST THE SKY!!!
One twelfth of the earths population has been screwed up by this error of astronomy!!!!!
"What brings you two here to Seattle?" asked the young desk clerk.
"We're here..uh...for a metal concert!" How embarrassing!!!
"Are they from Finland? Ha ha!" she shook her head.
"You met them?" I said almost calmly.
"Yeah, really interesting people! But you can't understand a word they say when they're talking to each other."
We walked into the elevator and voila! A very tall man with long blond hair entered as well, carrying a case of wine. "Roadie? Warm up band? (yes!)" I said to myself. But he was silent.
"Paljon vinia," I said to Ian as we got out and hoped the blond man heard.
Nothing at the Roseland had prepared me for this. Imagine the Roseland, an opulant, spacious Portland theatre...no queues, an efficient metal detector, cute muscular bouncers, a balcony bar with seats for grown-ups, a reasonably elevated stage. I'd been able to almost look Alexi Laiho from CoB right in the eye in the Roseland mosh pit! At the Seattle Graceland, our adventure began with a two hour two block line! We actually didnt stand there that long. We were mostly sitting in our hotel room watching "Great Engineering Disasters" on the History Channel. We were watching this one where Texaco drills through a Louisiana salt mine, dissolving the salt, and not only does an entire lake drain into it creating a vortex that sucks in eleven barges that are eventually spit back out but also the Gulf Of Mexico backs up into it.
"Hey, I know that expert!" I said to Ian.
"Huh!" he said, not impressed.
"Whitney Autin from the Louisiana Survey! Ha ha, I remember when we were on a FOP (Friends of the Pleistocene) trip back in '86 and we were in this old gold painted school bus and the back door opened and all these folding chairs spilled out and Whitney had this light blue "Party Naked" T Shirt on and he went back and picked them up off the highway." Shabuta Pachuta, who cared? Time shifts like the gears in Andromeda.
"Look at that guy, Ian." With no TV, Ian was more willing to look, but there was nothing to say. One glance told the story of the unfortunate thin boy. One side of the cardboard sign said "Need A Ride To Seattle." The other said "Need a ticket."
"Huh! Must be sold out!" said a computer geek in a black Opeth T-shirt.
"OK. Take your stuff out of your pockets before you get to the door!" said a bouncer. They frisked Ian, right out there on the sidewalk, but let me be. They left the women alone, except to search our purses.
I thought of Ian. The pen is mightier than the sword.
"Don't forget your Earplugs, Mother! I've put mine in!" said Ian.
I will never know what the Graceland actually looked like, and Nightwish either. We stood back near the door and the bar, like the other clueless people who had arrived on time. Though I could not rise high enough to catch more than a glimpse of my favorite Finnish opera metal band, still the music lifted me!!Come Cover Me, Wishmaster, Sleeping Sun, Wish I Had An Angel, Over the Hills...those lovely ballads, Tarja Turunen's Sibelius Institute vocals, the melodies and sweeping arrangements from screenplays. Metal for geeks....ha ha!
"Nightwish keeps getting better and better!" I wanted to say. But no one could or wanted to hear.
"I sang at the top of my lungs the whole time," Ian would tell me later.
"I didnt hear any of it!" I would answer.
You could see other people singing as well. What a mixed audience! Sure, plenty of metalheads, but also the punker with blue hair, the middle aged men in baseball caps, the smiling suburban couple in their thirties...the blonde man wearing a blue nylon team shirt reading "Suomi," the battalion of marines, and the WOMEN!!! Unlike most metal concerts, almost half of the visible audience was women, women of every possible type...well, possible as far as being at a metal concert! Meidan takana ja oikealla (Finnish for "behind us and to the right") were a little pocket of us, young women in T-shirts and madonna tops, jeans and tights, thin and voluptuous, brown and white, looking towards the front and Tarja. We were so lost in these lush songs...
"I'm in love with my lust
Burning angel wings to dust..."
WHAM!!!A trio of earringed lushed men pushed like a chain of bulldozers past us into the rows ahead, and danced the horn sign dance, right in front of the battalion of marines!!! What nerve!!
"Wish I had a rocket launcher!!" I said to myself.
"Why do people move back and forth like this during songs?" I wondered.
"Do you want to try and move closer?" I asked Ian.
"No," he said. I'm happy where I am."
Someone on stage sprayed gallons of water out onto the audience. Well, litres maybe.
"If we were closer," Ian would say later, "We woulda been soaked!"
Folks began to head to the doors during the second encore. It was then I saw my chance to move to the front. Magic! One moment of magic, arms raised to the front like one taut white muscle, Tarja's white arms reaching out to meet them, very bright lights hitting a dreamscape of opulent beauty and fantasy, white warm as new morning on thin cotton curtains.
I went back. "Ian," I said, "come up here, just this minute and see this."
Behind us, one of the girls' fathers...the girl with the corn rows and brown hoodie... had come to get her and take her home. She smiled shyly and nodded to him.
Imagine a lahar, flowing like ketchup....
What fears have been on you mind lately? Afraid of retiring to Florida now? Good! Maybe we can both move to Prince Rupert. But just imagine this...that you are afraid the volcano you can see out your window will erupt!!! What would be the impact of a SECTOR COLLAPSE!?!?!? Imagine too having an experienced geologist from the USGS and the DEQ guide you step by step in situ through your fears, just as a psychologist would lead you through your parents sex life! Well, yesterday, the Geological Society of the Oregon Country got just such a treat! Mr. Ken Cameron led the lucky members on a tour of Mount Hood!!!
"The worst case scenario," said Ken, shaking his pony tail behind his balding head, "is a "SECTOR COLLAPSE" which means that a whole wall of the volcano would cave in!" We gazed across the rugged high elevation landscape near the rustic Timberline Lodge. It was almost noon...maybe we could hike back for some salmon newberg and Pinot Gris? The V-shaped (as V-shaped as the Virus Scan logo on your computer) valley below us, hardly vegetated, extended downward from the steep, creamy White River Glacier high above. "You can see the old glacial moraine there...at the end of the last glacial period the ice extended almost all the way down to Highway 35. But during the Old Maid eruption...200 years ago...a lahar...a mud flow swept down this valley and that's what you see here, what's left of it, one hundred and fifty feet deep." The view was as grey and rubbly and fresh as the Arctic Beach at Barrow, Alaska, but it was a lot warmer here. Beside us, old trees stood dead as an army of silver ghosts. "Those trees, whitebark pines, were killed not by fire or insects, but by pyroclastics 200 years ago. The small, young ones, sheltered below, are the living ones you see now!!! Trees dont grow very fast up here."
Back, though, to the SECTOR COLLAPSE!!! "Sometime between 50,000 and 100,000 years ago," the DEQ wizard explained, "the north part of the volcano slid down in a debris avalanche, engulfing the entire Hood River Valley...thats about 40 km...all the way to the Columbia River. But since that only happens once in about 100,000 years, the hazard risk of that is basically zero." Lucky!
The problem is, in fact, not these big things, but the little pyroclastic and mud flows. Pyroclastics are hot bombs of ash and dont get all that far. Mud flows (lahars), however, get a long way, rumbling down river routes, in this case all the way to the Columbia. In fact, Lewis and Clark originally named the Sandy River the Quicksandy River, because a lahar was oozing down it at the time into the Columbia. It sure doesnt look like this anymore!!! A hazard map shows that sizzling pyroclastics would engulf the upscale resort town of Government Camp in less than 30 minutes. In about an hour the lahars would reach the mouth of the Hood at Hood River and in three and a half they would be at Troutdale, again the mouth of the Quicksandy. That's where the outlet mall is...suburban Portland!!! But nothing at all would happen to The Dalles. I was relieved.
"Yep, poor Harry," Ken was saying. "He was just getting back on his feet. He was supposed to have been at his post on Mount Helens instead of Dave Johnston the day Mt St Helens went off, but he called in and said he couldnt make it. He had some real psychological problems with that. But he'd gotten this job in Japan, and he'd gone up there with the Kraffts as a guide and...they thought it was a safe area, but the pyroclastic flow jumped the ridge..."
"They never recovered the bodies," said someone.
"Yeah, they did," said Ken, "but they were a mess."
Mother, what was it like up there?
Imagine yourself hurled as if a prescient frisbee back through the vales and county parks of time....back...back to the Saturday before last, to where the Geological Society of the Oregon Country is on a Field Trip to Mount Hood. Vulcanologist Ken Cameron lays a seismic chart out on the parking lot. This parking lot is situated on the grey sands and gravels of a 2002 lahar, or mudflow, which slopped like catsup from the White River Glacier down its outlet stream, the White River, making it, I guess, the Red River, only it was actually grey with crunched up dacite. Then it clogged up the undersized OR35 bridge and rechanneled through the highway! Goodbye asphalt!
"Now, let's look at what's going on at Mt St Helens! Look at this! A swarm of little quakes! See this one here? See how the profile rises slowly? This is typical of steam. It's the beginning of the rainy season, and water is percolating down into the magma chamber. There's no new magma. So really, not much is happening!
Sunday, October 3rd....
Shouldn't I be at the station meeting? At the peace march? But none of these excited me as much as a volcanic eruption.
"Look, Ian, look at the Toutle River on your right. See how muddy it is? All that grey mud came off St Helens in 1980. What is the word for that, Ian?"
"Uh...LAHAR!!" exclaimed Ian cheerfully, and then he went back to reading "Invincible Lancers of Pergo."
Then I drove on, as it is 34 miles onward, up to the point where the St Helens road was closed due to volcanic eruptions.
Just Friday we had been again at the Annual Columbia Gorge Community College picnic. I was out of sorts, due to there being no gardenburgers and all the side dishes having sweet pickles and mayo in them.
"WOW!" said Thomas, Ian's Kung Fu friend, through his braces. "We were watthing Mt Thaint Helenth on the TV in thcool and !!!BOOM!!!it erupted!!! We could FEEL it, too!!!" Could they really feel it way over to Lyle, Washington?
But there were other opinions. A woman who had come to visit somebody for some reason said
"I was thinking about moving here, but volcanoes going off? That's too scary!"
Indeed, there are several ways of looking at the Ring of Fire.
But...back to yesterday. "Not as much traffic as I expected," I said.
"Huh!" said Ian.
However, as we approached the end of the road, Mt St Helens came into view and so did the vehicles.
"Hundreds..." we observed. "Thousands..."
"I smell sulfur," said Ian.
They were parked everywhere, at the sides of the roads, in the viewpoints and parking lots. Every second a few more would arrive, to stare down the crew cut face of Mount Saint Helens.
"Look over there!" I said. Over there looked like a flying saucer convention. The aliens had invaded! A yellow tape was pulled across the shoulder for a hundred feet at the entrance to an overlook. "PRESS ONLY" it said.
"Let's get a picture of that Ian! Grab my camera." Ian poised to shoot...
"Argh! Roll down the window!" I said.
I parked the windstar on the return side, near the end of the road, and left Ian and his book to guard the car. Mostly, I knew there was a restroom at the Visitors Center, but I thought maybe there was a better view of the volcano as well.
"Huh! Is that a cloud or a plume of steam or hot ash?" I wondered. I snapped a photo.
Along the road, people set up tripods and folding chairs and broke out the mountain dew for the long haul. I walked down to the building and entered the ladiesroom line.
"I figured this was the opportunity of a lifetime for my children. When else will they see a volcano erupt?" a large but short woman was explaining to a blond man. Her child interrupted to point out,
"It COSTS MONEY to go in there!!"
"Yeah, Dawn, but it's only nine dollars a family and there are four of us. That's not TOO expensive."
"We spent the night in a motel here and sort of kept an eye on the mountain," the man said.
I rescued a small white truck from the back of the toilet and sent it skittering along the floor. It was still lying there when I went to wash my hands. I picked it up and set it by the sink.
I went outside and walked down the trail for some yards, dodging tripods. Was that steam or clouds in the crater?
"I'm sorry," a ranger was explaining to the throng, "You'll have to take those dogs back to your vehicle." I fantasized this delicate, canine-free area buried in ash, hurled back to a stage zero ecosystem. Imagine these dogs and forest service employees cast in plaster like the folks in Pompeii!!!
I turned and took a photo of the broad muddy 1980 lahar, now dotted with weeds and little trees. Then I walked back to the red Windstar.
Ian was leaning against the car when I got back. A small black chevy pick-up with Wisconsin plates pulled in front of us, blocking our view of a renegade Channel 4 NewsReporter van. Two young men got out and scrambled up the hill to the trees.
"Let's go," I said, snapping my son's photo in the evening sun. It was a gamble that only half failed.
&&&&&&Children Out of Control!!!
"Why do you need a support group? Why do I need to be warehoused on Tuesday nights like a dog in a pound? I'm not out of control!!!" protested Erin. "What's this homework report sheet thing? How can you expect me to make any better grades?"
"You're making straight A's? Even in math?" I asked. I knew the answer...and she was bound for People To People World Leadership Forum next week. Just how "out of control" was she? Would she slyly sneak out of her Washington DC hotel room and OD on smoothies? Accustomed to her elected office of 6th grade MP, would she attempt to bully shrub-supporting delegates into sanity?
I wasnt sure I needed a support group either....at least this one. One moment we signed up for Parenting Class at the Middle School, and the next we had found ourselves in a support group for strong willed children. This is what I said to our table!
"Our son is stuck inside of a computer and has even played Return to Castle Wolfenstein numerous times. But even worse, he reads fantasy novels instead of doing his assignments. He has even gotten in trouble for reading Nora Roberts in English class."
Out of control!!!! Little did I know then that seven tenths of a grade point...only a few forgotten Integrated Math 2 assignments....would disqualify him from the Rotary Study Abroad Program in Finland!!!! Self-destructive indeed!
But we had to tell not only how out of control our children are now, but the out of control things we ourselves had participated in and what the consequences were.
"I grew up in LaGrande,and we used to disconnect the odometer and drive to Portland!" began Jean the Middle School Counselor. "We could have been killed."
"I got pregnant right out of middle school!" said Amber at Table #1.
"I ran away the first time at twelve, did drugs, and that was just the beginning," said Tasha at our table.
"Once when we went to a rock concert in downtown Birmingham, my friend persuaded me to follow one of the musicians to the Holiday Inn lobby to get his autograph and so we werent there when my father came to pick us up, so he wouldnt let me go see Paul Revere and the Raiders," I said.
"Whose autograph did you get?" everyone wanted to know.
"Let's go over the signs of marijuana use. Any questions about the video?" said Jean, the middle school counselor.
"What's this green tongue thing?" asked Lavona at table #1.
"You may have noticed when you drink a latte, and look in the mirror at your tongue, that it's green," said Jean. "It would look like that."
"That's a bunch of b------t," said Wayne at Table #4. "For many years I smoked marijuana on a daily basis and my tongue was never green!"
Jean changed the subject. "When I was a child," she said, "my father was a doctor, and we lived outside of town. He used to have a tank of gasoline out back, and I used to love to smell it. I didnt get high or anything, I just liked smelling it. I'm sure that killed some brain cells!!!!"
Back to real life applications. Just this last Tuesday, Ian told me, "Wednesday, we're not having soccer practice. We're going up to polish the womens team's shoes! We'll be at their coach's house. Hope I can get a ride!"
I tried to remember all the questions I learned in Parenting Class..."What? (polishing womens cleats...that was suspicious!!!), where? when? who? how?" But Ian didnt know all the details. It was easier to ask when it was over.
"I got a ride with Vicente," he said. All the guys on The Team have names like that...Jesus, Juan, Vicente. "His car is really neat...something like a 1974 Honda...speedometer doesnt work but the engine does and that's what's important. It was a great party...womens and mens team both! We watched Mexico beat St Vincent and Granada 7-0 I think it was. Those guys from St Vincent all had dreadlocks, it was really cool. We had chips and dip and stuff too!"
"Any ganja or alcohol?" I asked.
"Huh?" said Ian.
The Red Hat Ladies were again sitting to a three course luncheon. The perky blonde next me, thin and the owner of a red sports car, was describing a wild day of travel.
"They were paying me sixty dollars an hour including drive time...that made it worth while to drive all the way to Arlington. There is NOTHING out there in Arlington. I asked the clerk, how will I find the court house, and she said, "Ha ha...it's the only two story building in town!!!" And the couple were from FOSSIL, which is down in Wheeler County...and they persuaded them to drive up, because there is NOTHING down in Wheeler County...."
Nothing but a great bunch of fossil seeds and leaves preserved when a giant lahar engulfed them. FOSSIL indeed!!! This was back in the days when Central Oregon was getting a hundred inches inches of rain a year, as opposed to EIGHT!!!!
I turned to talk to the woman sitting on the other side of me. She was twenty years older than I, but she had less white hair. I keep mine white in contrast to my Portlandissa black shirts!!! She was new to the organization.
"You're originally from California?" I asked. She had said she had a sister there.
"Yes, but I moved here when I was young. But I havent lived here all my life. I lived up in Sunnyside, south of Yakima."
"Wine country...." said I, stabbing in the dark to sound like I belonged here.
"I dont like it because it hardly ever snows." And because everything shuts down at ten. "But last winter was great, when they closed the freeway," I continued.
"I didnt like January at all," she answered. "I broke my hip because I had a heart attack. That was when the roads were all closed. But they were letting ambulances through."
"Wow!" I said. What else could you say. "Did you have, like, a bad pain in your chest."
"No, " she said. "I was nauseated. I'm diabetic, so I went to get a drink of milk because I thought it was because of that. Then the next thing I knew I was falling. Then I saw my cell phone on the table and I crawled over and grabbed it and dialed 911." She said all this smiling calmly. "Now I'm afraid to be without my cell phone. I live alone....so they came and got me and they couldnt do anything about my heart until they fixed my hip...they took me to Portland in that military helicopter...."
"So you MISSED all that! Are you OK now, can you walk OK?" I thought of driving behind Mt Hood with a convoy of semis, the only way to Seattle and my trip to Finland on SAS. They had closed the freeway to Portland due to winds and black ice and drivers refusing to use chains. The truck in front of me was from Quebec!
"Yes," she said, smiling sweetly, "I feel fine now!!!"
I-90, Washington State, September 2004
East of Snoqualamie, east of Cle Elum, east of the mountains, the sharp dark force of the Cascades and its herringbone conifers gives way to the first gentle brown of the oak-pine woodlands, and finally to the soft rolling hills that are so similar to the wheat landscape south and east of The Dalles. You might recall a book called East Of the Mountains, by David Guterson, who also wrote Snow Falling On Cedars. It was to this home country that Guterson's dying hero drove from Seattle, with a shotgun so that he could pretend to be killed in a hunting accident. I bought that book in Mo-I-Rana, near the Arctic Circle in Norway.
"That's a really weird book, Mom," Ian had said, it being one of the few books he refused to read.
"All the books I read are like that," I said. "Wait till your refuse to read Someday the Ice will Get Rid of All Its Dead, which hasnt been written yet."
But Ian and didnt have any shotguns and hadnt even considered shooting ourselves. Our brains had just been etherially emptied by listening to the lovely and LOUD Finnish opera metal band, Nightwish, at the Graceland in Seattle. We gazed dreamily out at the gentle shoulders and convenience stores of Ellensburg, Washington. An old bearded hippie was standing on one of those shoulders with his thumb out. I pulled rapidly to a stop.
"Where you headed?" I asked, as he scowled at the disorder in the middle seat.
"I'm trying to get across the river to Oregon," he said. "I'm headed to the Trinity Tribal Stomp(http//www.trinitytribalstomp.com/) in California."
"Hop on board!" I said.
"Where are you from?" I asked.
"BC...I'm coming from the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia!!!"
"No...I guess I am in a place that I can admit I'm an American. With Bush's war....it's not very popular to say you're American. And I'm ashamed to admit I am an American." And thus I found myself face to face with the person....well, I would easily award this Old Hippie with the Biggest Bush Hater in America prize.
"Every time I see one of those campaign signs," he said, "I want to mutilate it and rip it to shreds."
"Um...so what have you been doing up in BC?"
"Well, now I'm picking apples. It's easy to find work. They got college students that come from Quebec to pick in the summer, but they've gone back."
"The Canadian government lets you in to work?"
"Well, they don't like it, but they look the other way. But I don't go in through the border, I go around. I dont want the government keeping tabs on me. Some places you can get in pretty easily, for instance The Boundary Waters."
"Ian was canoeing in Maine and they went in and out of New Brunswick," I agreed.
"But the last time I went in I was in Montana. I crossed at night. I walked through wheat fields for hours before I got far enough from customs to feel I was safe."
We talked about apple trees and George W Bush as the interstate miles stretched through the sage and military wasteland between Ellensburg and Yakima. I learned that he was hitching because he had given his car away a year ago, and never looked back. Then, south of Yakima, at the northern boundary of the Reservation, I saw another man beside the road.
"Oh no, dont pick him up!" whined the Old Hippie. But it was too late, the door was already open.
"I am headed to Bend, looking for employment! I have been unemployed for two years. It is a conspiracy between the US and Britain. Read the King James Version! It will tell you everything."
Oh no!!!!! But I could not dump him off in this second wasteland. The pathetic dry dead hills of the Yakima Indian Reservation stretched for at least 30 miles ahead.
"Huh! They say Bend is a fast growing community. But I can only take you to Goldendale, not to Biggs," I said. "I have something I need to do in Goldendale."
"I thank you for doing what you can to help a destitute man!" said the Bible Thumper.
"She does it all the time," said Ian, rolling his eyes.
"Where do you get the money for your smokes?" sniped the Old Hippie.
I let off Thumper and turned left into the bowels of Goldendale. The Old Hippie asked: "Are you sure you know where you are?"
"Sure," I said. "I was just on this road last week when I had lunch at the Azul Tonto Family Restaurant." I remembered happily the Chile Relleno on my plate. I pulled into a Shell station and put a little gas in. Then I drove back to US 197.
"He was a whiner," the Old Hippie said. "I am a licensed carpenter and I'd run into people like that all the time at my job." Not to mention a psycho as well.
"I sort of wanted to hear more about the Tri-Lateral Commission," dissented Ian.
There are entire neighborhoods in Portland where there are only Kerry presidential signs. Young democrats stand in red raincoats holding signs that say vote early. It is only when you get out to the freeway that you see the big SUVs and pickups with bumper stickers which read, simply, W.
Imagine the Miocene, about 15 million years ago. A big body of water called Lake Rathdrum was dammed up by the amazing Plateau Basalts. This is up by Spokane and Coeur D'Alene, but these hot lavas stretched all over as far as my home and beyond...and its an 8 hour ride on AMTRAK to Spokane! Mount Saint Helens is only a wink of an eye compared to the disasters they must have caused! Then, during the Ice Ages, glacial ice covered the Idaho Panhandle including Lake Rathdrum...and a lot of other stuff as well. When the big ice sheet melted, it left a glob of ice up by Spokane and Coeur D'Alene in the old sediments of Rathdrum, and that became the deep, cool Lake Pend Oreille (Pond-a-ray) . Later, the lake valley became a funnelway for the huge Spokane floods that left eastern Washington as scablands and carved the Columbia Gorge as we know it. Then later on, the Navy established a huge training base on the shores of Pond-a-ray.
I learned about all of this...except the Spokane Floods...when I was enlisted to drive 4 Young Friends (Quakers) from Portland to a campout at Farragut State Park, which is near Atholl, Idaho, and on the banks of Pond-a-ray.
"We could put your son on a bus from Coeur D'Alene. Otherwise, we cant figure out how to get him home."
"He could hitch!!!" I said in my mind. "By the way I have a mini van and an 11 year old and have never been to Coeur D'Alene," I said aloud, by proxy of e-mail.
"What did that girl we took home's parents do in Afghanistan?" I asked Ian just tonight.
"I can't remember," he said. "I want to say diplomat, but I don't think that's it."
No child who has been touched by the Religious Society of Friends is ever normal. They havent been baptised, haven't watched enough TV, and have been taught not to believe in war or capital punishment. A lot of ivory tower liberal democrat or hippie kids also have these handicaps, but in a more scattered way.
Getting together with other Quaker kids like this is always a thrill, after spending most of their time in a world in which they are too weird to truly fit.
Lets rewind to August 2004.
"Who is this kid in the photo with the black fuzzy beard and the video camera?" I asked Erin.
"That's Olof. He's dislexic and can't read, but he knows about every movie ever made. He's making some sort of documentary on Young Friends."
Of course! Why else would you walk around with a video camera at a campsite?
Oops...lets rewind to the last week in July.
I swung the red Windstar with its human cargo into the little wide place in the road called Atholl, and then drove the few miles into Farragut State Park. Wow!!! A four lane park road! Cement water towers! Little cement block buildings! The disused airstrip at shabby Texas A&M Riverside campus....a revamped World War II airbase. The PX at the soon to fall into cold disuse airbase at Duluth, where Coast Guard families could buy groceries cheap. I-5 south of Seattle. Russian graves in Germany. Finnish graves at the Russian border. The Umatilla chemical depot. Halloween..........
I swung the red Windstar down to the group campsite that would be overlooking Pond-A-Ray if there hadnt been so many dry pines in the way, and the human cargo disgorged itself. The teenagers would spend the next 3 days sitting around, staging business meetings, swimming at the dock, cooking, and making Tshirts. But I wouldn't. I was free to do what I want.
"Oh no!" I had said "Erin, I forgot my tent stakes! Let's go down to the Target down at Coeur D'alene and get another tent, and maybe check out Borders and The Olive Garden while we are there!"
I would later check out a lot more than Idaho strip malls. I hiked along the lake, and up into the overgrown wasteland of ovals, where wooden buildings had once housed thousands of men soon to be stuffed into subs and destroyers. I found the brig, one of the few cement buildings and hence one of the few structures yet standing. It housed a museum. You could see a reconstructed cell there, but you could also see pictures of ghosts training, eating, having fun on the lake. You could see an exhibit of smiling German POWs who liked it so much in Idaho that they moved there after the war.
"Can I help you sir?" the hostess asked.
"Yep," said the visitor, a cranky old man. "I was stationed here during World War II. I was in company D42!!"
"Good to sea you! We get a LOT of visitors through who were stationed here. Here's our book you can find your company and sign...."
I left and drove into Atholl for a 1 liter diet Pepsi.
One day I walked the other way along the shore, dodging bicycles and pine trees. I wanted to take pictures, but the mountains across the deep lake were hazy....Washington was burning! It was hot and visitors from several states were parked by the beaches to swim and to back their pleasure boats down the ramps. A shiny pickup from Alberta carried plates that read "OUTLAW6." I took photos of the docks and the truck.
One day I drove to the town of Bayview, at the upper end of the park. I drove past the Naval Institute for Stealth Soundings and up to a huge marina. Then I walked down to a cafe with a floating dock and a pool table.
"Can I get a tuna sandwich?" I asked. I thought excitedly of eating right there on the dock!
"We are all out of tuna," said the barista.
"Gosh, there's nothing I can eat on that board! I dont eat meat and usually I can eat a grilled cheese or french fries or something," I smiled. Maybe she could make an ungrilled cheese sandwich.
But her mood darkened. "This is a simple place. It's not a fancy vegetarian restaurant," she answered.
I walked up the hill to Hotdog Heaven. "You really have fish tacos?" I said.
I took my tacos and diet coke and sat on the balcony overlooking the marina.
"I didnt charge you full price for that coke," said the barista. "I had it poured for another customer, but he changed his mind. It's kinda flat."
"Mom," he said. "I'm so proud of my yellow slip. 'Excessive pushing'!!!!!!!" He had just come home from the match with Umatilla, where the army has chemical weapons warehoused.
"That doesn't sound good to me!"
"The coach is PROUD when we get those! That means we are AGGRESSIVE!!!"
"Mom," said Ian...."can you take me over to soccer practice?"
"Yeah....why do you have your uniform on?" It seemed to me his shiny red shorts were pretty short indeed! He'd just got the new pair...the old ones I had stitched up with butterscotch yellow thread because they'd been given him with the crotch ripped out...because the player they call Juan had just been returned to the Varsity team because some of the players had "flunked out" ie they hadnt made a C average. But Juan was about 4'2 and Ian was 5' 11 1/2. Ian and his blond friend Phillip....the Phillip who had enlisted him in this JV folly and had suffered a kicked thigh in the Friday game against #2 rated Hermiston that had taken him out of the game in a moment of drama....towered above the tiny brown Hispanic boys like tall Ponderosas among scrub oaks. Maybe that was it, his shorts didnt seem normal because they didnt scrape his knees.
"Uh...we have team pictures today."
I loaded the 157K Windstar with its human ammo and turned right onto Cherry Heights, past the back of Albertsons and Dollar Tree and Burger King. Two short blocks later, it arrived at Kramer Field, where I fired off a single red projectile.
But as I tried to pull out onto tenth, there was a steady stream of cars coming eastward. Twelve thousand people here in this city, half for Kerry and half for W. Whose car would I hit trying to get into the eastbound lane???
Right after I wrote this story, two Jehovah's Witnesses came to my home with a copy of The Watchtower. I liked the picture of the lion laying down with the lamb.
Musta kuu! That's Finnish for Black Moon. The Black Moon hung above my red Windstar, a leaden Christmas ornament ominously suspended above the eighth floor of the PSU parking ramp! What was up?!?! Armageddon had come! The moon was now illuminated only by the neon lights of Portland; its face was a concrete portrait in sharp greys. I was reminded of a photo I took of a metal orb suspended by cables in downtown Wellington, New Zealand...in the photo you cant see the wires! (http//www.columbiagypsy.net/wellington.htm) How weird!!! But even stranger....an intensely bright light beamed from the very upper left corner of the Black Moon . Had the moon turned into a gimmicky flash light? Had aliens landed? Armageddon indeed!
I began to drive the many familiar loops and switchbacks of the grim concrete ramp....so like the moon itself...and almost ran into a group of black clad Young People pointing at the Black Moon. Then it dawned on me, the thought arose and I exclaimed
"It's no holocaust! IT'S A LUNAR ECLIPSE!!!!"
As I drove eastward to The Dalles, the Black Moon slowly turned into a Bruised Rutabaga. And I was left with this thought
"How exactly does this happen?"
&&&&Our Sacred Harp Group was featured in The Sunday Oregonian...3 pages no less!! Lucky they missed me and Ian....
The New Zealand winter spread before me like a valley....oops!!! Dog gone it!!
I had intended to write about my dead battery at Franz Josef Glacier in South Island, New Zealand, but this article inclined me to write about the convention....
Sacred Harp! Shape Note Singing! Four groups of people...and anyone can sing though there are an amazing amount of prima donnas...arranged around a blank square singing old hymns in four part harmony....
Portland Sacred Harp Convention!!! As usual I was late, since I dont live in Portland. I put my homemade corn bread and Gravilohi (Finnish salted salmon) down on the long row of tables and then went over to the Treble Section. The only seat available was on the back row, next to a Portlandista who had just started attending our singings. Though covered with studs and tatoos, she was dressed in calico, like a Pentecostal, and she is just the sort of person a journalist would corner to write about.
"All over the country, weird-looking young people are reviving the shape note tradition!" the hypothetical journalist would say. But she and I, in the end, would both be mysteriously passed over by The Oregonian.
Our special guest, a woman from Rhode Island, was standing up to lead in the middle. In preface, she gave copious pieces of instruction....
"What I learned was that at Singings, bread and soup didnt go over well at potlucks. What did was macaroni and cheese with velveeta...." And corn bread. But this was Portland, and the bread and soup would go over just fine. Even a lot of my raw fish would be eaten.
"And Portland...I heard that Portland didn't want their convention in a church...and at first I thought that was wrong, because of tradition, they wouldnt do that in The South, but then I realized it was Portland....and that was OK."
Finally it was time for lunch. I dished up a bunch of vegetarian selections and sat with a Tenor from Out of Town. He seldom attends these days; it is a long drive.
"How's your family?" I asked.
One of his sons had broken up with his girl friend and the one in Seattle wanted to borrow money.
"How about the new one?"
"I sent him back," said the tenor. Maybe I should try sending one of mine back. "The state lied about him...he was actually severely disturbed. Horrible history of family abuse. I put up with the lying and stealing, but when he physically attacked me.....I'm offering a home, not a hospital."
That was pretty sad. I knew that he had been trying to adopt a child for a long time. I changed the subject.
"What do you teach?" I asked. I couldnt remember.
"Fourth grade. But this year, I swapped Social Studies with the fifth grade teacher."
"You like Social Studies?"
"Oh ***yeah***, it's my favorite. I'd like to do my masters in history. I'd like to do something on the history of Sacred Harp. So many of the topics are about violence...."
"That's right....you're from a Mennonite Background," I said.
Our plates were empty, so went to get more food. I put my water bottle down to save my seat.
"Huh...this dish has tofu in it...cant have meat and tofu both!" I said to myself.
When I got back, a prima donna couple was occupying the seats. The bottle was on a window sill. I went and sat down by the door, which is where those donnas should have sat. The Treble named Ed came and sat down as well. It is rumored that he is a choir director, but I dont know.
"This is really frustrating for me. It's too scattered. I just want to sing," he began mildly.
"Me too...How is the landscaping business?" I said, hoping this was not a volatile topic.
"Great...there's too much work! I didnt realize you lived in The Dalles. I like the colors and the landscapes out there."
"Some of the most beautiful photos I've taken are from that area...because of the colors and contours," I answered.
"When is the first frost?"
"Ummm..." I had to think. "November. Do you have some sort of specialty?" I was scraping ttiny hamburger particles off my tofu.
"I do just about everything. That's my specialty...my diversity. But I like pruning the best. You could say I have a passion for pruning."
After lunch, Ed and I...and the Mennonite tenor...got to sing again, this time steadily. After about an hour, they called a name I did not recognize
"Bernice Harvey of Ozark, Alabama."
Bernice was an older, well-dressed black woman. As it turned out, from the story in The Oregonian, she had sung with the Wiregrass singers. When she led, she didnt do anything dramatic, like some of the visitors from far away. She just moved her hand up and down calmly. I wanted to talk to her about Alabama, but as it turned out, I would not have the opportunity. I wrote her name down in my red book to remember it. The only other name I'd written down was Pete Walker, at the Woodlands Community Center back in Texas. He was an older white man who'd grown up singing and had traveled from Alabama also. I'd written that down in my blue book, the revised BF White.
Traveling "alone" in New Zealand, August 2004
At first, I'd intended to stay on the North Island where I could walk on steam. What could pull harder than a land swiss cheesed with hot tubs and geothermal exhibits? I'd done that, driven my camper van into the mud of Rotorua and Waikite and awoken at five each day to frost and hot vapor. But then the demons began to whisper this
"How far South can you go?"
At first, I intended to drive south to Wellington and turn north again. I drove past the moon of Lake Taupo, and down the West Texas-like Desert Road past the snow-white active volcano they call Ruapehu. I camped on the Coast at Otaki and saw for the first time, in the cold grey evening sun, a dove-grey ocean west of the Pacific. Across this ocean lay Australia, New Zealand's partner in Continental Drift. Many (say 500 million) years ago, a line of volcanos arose on the shores of the part of Gondwanaland they now call Australia. Plate movements caused these volcanic rocks and their accompanying sediments to smush up westward with that huge southern supercontinent and grow into new Australian coastal mountains. Much later, these mountains pulled apart from Gondwanaland/Australia and the Tasman sea prepared itself for my searing virgin gaze. It was under this burning gaze that New Zealand was erupting from black and white paper into richly colored...well maybe sometimes grey-scale, considering the weather...shapes and forms. Imagine dunking one of those sponge dinosaurs into a glass of water!!!
I drove south from the monkey puzzles and hot tub of Otaki Beach to the city of Wellington, where on a split-second decision...
"HOW FAR SOUTH CAN YOU GO???" said the demons.
...I took the freeway exit that said "FERRY TERMINAL---LYNX" and was funnelled into downtown Wellington. Six hours of urban fun later, my little Toyota van and I had boarded the military grey, darthvaderhelmet-like Lynx, and were bound for the South Island.
"***HOW FAR SOUTH CAN YOU GO???***" said the geography demons.
"TO THE FRANZ JOSEF GLACIER," said the geology demons. "IT IS UNUSUAL FOR A GLACIER TO COME THIS CLOSE TO SEA LEVEL AT SUCH A LOW LATITUDE, AND THIS IS DUE TO THE HIGH GRADIENT OF THE SOUTHERN ALPS!!"
"Huh!" I commented. "I guess the ice almost just flops down to the sea because the mountains are so high!"
"AND" chimed in the botany demons. "THERE ARE TREE FERNS RIGHT THERE."
"THAT'S BECAUSE ITS A RAINFOREST DUE TO THE ALPS TRAPPING PRECIPITATION JUST LIKE THE CASCADES. IT'S THE ASTORIA OF THE SOUTH!!!" screeched the meteorology demons.
The Toyota, the Demons, and I disembarked in the dark at Picton, South Island. I drove 20 km south to Blenheim and parked the Toyota in a muddy campground. I poured all of us a glass of Chardonnay which I'd got at a New World Market in steamy Rotorua.
In the morning there would be hell to pay for parking where we did. What a devilish bunch of ruts we left!
The New Zealand winter opened like a valley before us...in fact, the mild valley of the Wirau with its sheep fields and chic vinyards. Here in the South Island, though, there was no more frost in the early August mornings. Soon the gentle valley gave way to the rugged gorge of the Bulla.
"Huh! That's spelt 'Buller'!" I exclaimed to my pals.
If you go west from Boulder, west from Philomath, you can imagine this road, with its windy roads and steep slides.
"During an army truck driver training mission," the newspaper would say a few days later, "one of the trucks went off the road and slid down the mountain. A special team of rescuers...."
The Bulle Gorge proved to have been a real mess for explorers and railroad workers too.
"But even more so for the people who lived here," explained the Geology Demon. "In 1929, a big earthquake took place with the epicenter near the town of Murchison. ( http//library.christchurch.org.nz/Childrens/NZDisasters/EQMurchison1929.asp ), due to movement along the White Creek fault. Seventeen people and a LOT of livestock were killed." Plate collision indeed!
"Take that turn and drive SOUTH to Greymouth," said the jealous geography demon. And hence we turned left, along the valley of the Inangatua, or something like that.
A president who is truly led by god's word does not divide a nation in half, but rather draws it together in peace.
Hokitika, New Zealand, August 2004...traveling "alone"
The American woman sat alone...or so everyone thought...at a table in the Cafe de Paris in downtown Hokitika, South Island, New Zealand. It was still light outside, and the cafe evening was not yet in full bloom. Outside, the sky was like wet moldy noodles and the western ocean like boiling oatmeal, but here inside the Paree, the Portlandesque interior was warm and dry.
"The special tonight is seafood, pumpkins, swedes, kiwi fruit, papayas, and beetroot on a bed of rice," announced the waitress.
"Wow! Another opportunity to relish typical Franko-Kiwi Kwisine, complete with incongruous fruits and root vegetables! I'll have that!" said the American woman. "And a glass of chardonnay......"
"What dressing would you like on your salad?" asked the waitress. Behind her stood a glass case of desserts.
"Nothing but do you have some lemon?" asked the American.
The Oregonian looked down at her Gitxsan-designed pewter steel bracelet. People thought she was alone, but she wasnt...along with the Daemons, Raven was with her. She'd bought Raven in Prince Rupert, British Columbia and he had become her constant companion. (If you were to stand in an empty swimming pool in Prince Rupert for a year, after a year you would drown in six feet of rain water; it's likely that you would suffer the same fate here in Hokitika as well.) An ancient native of the BC coast, The Raven was a real trickster! In his previous life, he had tricked his old grandfather into letting him play with a box containing the sun. Then he'd opened it, and voila! Light for the Haida and all of Prince Rupert! But now his major trick was being a bracelet for tourists and hanging around on old totem poles.
"You remember when we saw that glacier in Alaska?" asked Raven? His flat oval eyes grew wistful.
"The Portage Glacier? Do you think we will ever see that again?"
"Probably Nevermore," quoted the Raven.
She remembered that day well. It was July, the previous summer, and she'd been tooling down from Anchorage to Seward in a red Ford Focus. Suddenly, she'd decided to check out the Portage Glacier!
"Is that the one where we took a boat ride on a lake the color of a 32 ounce margarita?"
"Yes," she told the Raven. "That beautiful ethereal green the color of a 20 year old teal ski jacket is due to suspended rock flour from the glacier." No jest, though, the glacier had been a visually aesthetic delight, like gliding on unicorn wings. She'd driven up to the visitors center late in the afternoon, the Raven's sun glowing high overhead in the bright blue sky.
"Would you have another tour boat going out?" she asked, hesitant to admit she was a tourist.
"Yes, the last one leaves in five minutes!" said the clerk calmly.
She'd bought her ticket and bounded for the boat.
At the Cafe de Paris, people had begun to filter in in droves, like sheep to the balcony.
"Table for twenty," announced one man.
The waitress brought the typical Portland in New Zealand salad of baby greens.
"Gack! What is this stuff on the salad? It tastes like pickle relish!?!" she told Raven. Maybe she could take it to the restroom and warsh it off.
"I remember the low angle and the debris riding on the glacier like medial moraines," said Raven. "The glacier terminus reminded me of a long crewcut on an old man...white and jagged."
She was afloat now on an Alaska voyage. There was the Burns glacier and the dividing tarn on her right! From a distance, the Portage was no crew-cut, but rather an ice blue shag carpet. As the silly tourists drew closer and closer on the long meltwater lake, the tour guide had said
"You can hear the crack of calving ice! SNAP! People kayak here, but they have to be careful. There was one California couple that was squashed by calving ice. The relatives sued because the warning signs disnt say that they really MEANT it was dangerous!"
"I'm really sorry," the waitress explained. "I TOLD them to put it on the side. But they didnt do what they were told. I'll get you a new salad."
She poured some water from her glass fish carafe. The waitress brought a strange and delicious concoction of unrecognizable seafood and weird vegetables. For months afterwards, the New Zealand cuisine would spice up her pot luck inventions. Shrimp with lime and papaya! Pumpkin corn bread!
"Will there be a lake at the Franz Josef Glacier?" asked Raven.
"I dont know," she said. "But I know this for sure. We will have a dead battery and I will be depressed for two days because I'm an incompetent idiot.
The woman from Oregon walked back to her camper in the steady Hokitika drizzle, hauling a plastic bag of ramen noodles and soup cans (from the little Neighborhood Food Shop) past the jade stores and the wool shop whose storefront is a large sheep...1200 m in all to the Shining Star Chalets sur la mer. Inside the warm windows of the cosy wooden chalets, serious vacationers cooked dinner and watched television. She opened the door of her little Toyota van, found her lantern, and walked out to the grey ocean.
May you find a single man in New Zealand, Gypsy Flores!!
[to be continued]
I said, "Ian, there must be a lot of Bush supporters up at the high school...." Our county voted 51 to 49 for Bush, just as I suspected.
Ian said, "Ha! Our English class is a little hotbed of dissent!"
I said, "Your English class? Oh come on, the signs were 50-50 in the yards."
He said, "Well, there are some moderates...."
Passing for Swedish at the Norse Hall
Though the sign on The Norse Hall was lit neon red, the food at the annual Norwegian Lutefisk Dinner was solidly in the Whitening Agent category. The menu was underpinned by indistinguishable serving dishes of boiled potatoes, hard and lumpy, and of lutefisk, taut and rubbery. (FYI-The Swedish word for lutefish is lutfisk, and the English word is reconstitutedcodfishsoakedinlye.) Also included was also a dish of pastel cole slaw, an old Viking delicacy, and of brown meatballs in gravy. The Swedish word for Meatballs is köttbullar, which, through the mysteries of Swedish pronunciation, is banned by the FCC...
"Ugh...lutefisk!" said Erin.
"Du kan äta köttbullar i stället!" I said, having given up speaking to her in a language she could argue with. "Du och Ian alskar kött!" (Hint, pronounce the k as a sh)
"Mother!!!" said Erin.
And add to that the flat pale potato lefse, the cream sauce, the melted butter, the prune pudding...and then as a surprise!!! red glug and cranberry sauce. Faktisk, the glug was $3 a mug.
"That has port wine and vodka in it," said Susan, the Sons of Norway bartender proudly. "The port wine is what makes it good.
We'd sat for ten minutes in the gymnasium/dance hall, waiting....and wondering the bizarre.
"I'll take one of those pulla...uh...bulles...
"Huh?......That's cardamon bread," said the Ladies Aid Society clerk behind the table.
"Great!" I said. "Tack tack." It would be this mistake that would fatally mark us as non-Norwegians. Word gets around.
Suddenly a bearded man in a blue kilt took a stand in front of the ticket table.
"Aye, laddies and bonny lasses, now I'll call ye in order of the largest parties! Lindholm, party of seventeen! Nyhus, party of twelve!" Norwegian men woman and children, most holding glasses of wine or glug, scurried down into the rugged BASEMENT of the Norse Hall.
After some time, the Scotsman bellowed,
"All parties of three!"
We were the last threesome to go down. A party of two pushed their way in front of us. The door woman seated us alone at the very last table, next to the rugged steps and cattycorner to the display case of marinated herring available for sale! Vadå?
A few minutes låter, I asked the stripe-costumed doorwoman, "Är vi getting any food?" Everyone around us was wolfing down quivering chunks of white.
"Uh..." she said and went to consult with someone else. "I guess no one else is coming." she muttered.
But they were. Halfway through our gelatinous jelly-fish like chunks of lutefisk and shards of lefse, a beared old man appeared at the door. He had bulky glasses and his white hair was slicked back behind his ears. The woman in the striped jumper jumped over towards us.
"Do you mind if he sits with you?" she asked.
"It's our pleasure!" We picked up the dish of potatoes off of one of the corelle plates.
"You've got to talk loudly!" he said. "I was in the airforce during the war and my hearing is bad."
"What?" I joked.
"They say the sexiest men have poor hearing!" he answered.
"Huh?" I said.
"You'e sposed to say 'what?'" he answered. He turned out to be quite a jokester.
"Är du Norsk?" I asked.
"Ja...liten Norsk. I learned a little Norwegian, by the way from my father...but mostly German," launching into a discourse on the Germanic languages and history. "Oh...but I talk to much. I am used to being a professor and instructor, so I am used to going into topics in length." He turned to the incoming waitress and stood up."Ah Jenny, it's good to see you again!"he said, and kissed her hand. She shook her head and laughed.
"I'm sorry! I didn't introduce myself," said the old man. "I am Prince Franz Durchhopf of Upper Hesse, baron of Dusch-hedwig and heir to the throne of Upper Holstein and possible heir to the Czardom of Russia...my father has told me all of this. Look at my profile, that of the Romanovs!!" He launched into another history of Europe.
I changed the subject. "Look, there goes a waiter with a bottle of aquavit!"
"Aquavit...what IS aquavit? And what's that you have in your mug?"
"That's Glug in my mug," I said.
"Grog? With rum?"
"G-L-U-G" I yelled.
A man with a long white ponytail was walking out the door; unlike us he'd been with a party of 13 and was done with his food.
"Hey, man!" he said, shaking the old man's hand vigourously, "Good to see you!" He turned to us. "He sat at our table last year! Quite a conversationalist!!! Ha ha!!!"
"Hey Jenny," said the old man, catching the waitress. "What's this aquavit? Can I get some of it and some glug too?"
"You want both of them?" answered Jenny. "Are you driving?"
"I happen to have an infinite capacity for alcohol. Can I write a check?"
"You should joined the Sons of Norway," suggested the Old Man, leaning his elbows on the clear plastic tablecloth. The place mats, it turned out, were UNDER the plastic!
"We're not Norwegian," I said.
"They let in Swedes too...and our president and his wife are from Scotland!"
"Huh, I thought he was from Texas..."
"I'm sorry...I forgot your name...Judith? I used to have a perfect photographic memory, in the airforce they told me I was a genius but several years ago I had a patient and I tried out my own cure on her...brain damaged...and it wrecked my own memory!!! Anyway, it's a great place here!"
"I was here for a dance once," I said.
"They have dances twice a week, and if you dont know the steps they will teach you. Not just schottisches and polkas, but samba and tango."
"Tango?" I said.
"I had a hip injury recently and it just kills me not to tango. You see, I used to be an Arthur Murray instructer at the USO when I was in the airforce. I had such a gay old time in those days...you know, Jenny, those homosexuals have taken that word from me, it is such a shame.
It was time to leave...I'd decided to stay until he finished his meal, but his fork remained poised in the air. His mouth seemed more interested in ejecting words than injecting his two prune puddings.
"Thank you all for your company, Judith!" he said, grabbing my hand. I can't even remember anyone ever kissing my hand before!
"You know, he was a nice guy," said Erin as we walked back to the windstar, in spite of the fact that he'd encouraged her to go out for football. "You didnt have to say a thing hardly, just sit back and listen, like with Uncle Ken in Minneapolis."
South Island, New Zealand In the time of the Kotuka, the Great Wizard Waldorf gathered all the Hobbits of TeVaka and said to them
"There has come the time of the Kotuku, and soon it will come the time of the Blue Penguin, the Korora, when it will not be safe here. I have had a vision, and that is of the strange forest they call Waikukupa, between the sea and the Southern Alps, and of the Great Ice River. That is where we must travel." Then Waldorf pulled out his water colors and produced a magnificent picture, of glowing green tree ferns, grass as sparkling as the braes of Kerry, and above that, white ice cliffs like dead warrier teeth glinting against the cornflower sky.
"No," the Great Wizard Randolf, "I think you are painting too rosy a picture, considering the amount of condensation and rainfall due to the plate boundary orogenic belt. It's just like the west coast of British Columbia!" He moved his wand, and it became a garden hose. All the bright colors washed off, leaving the blank grey they call low clouds to obscure all but the very bottom of the now olive and grey landscape.
"Maybe we should stay here in the desert," said the little hobbit they call Taniwha.
"Road To Depression"
A wide grey braided stream drains meltwater from the Franz Josef Glacier, just as the glacier drains snowice from the Elie de Beaumont (3117m). It's actually one of several glaciers that drains the mountains of the Southern Alps, but FJ is the one that tourists visit, that and the Fox Glacier. White ice tumbles down like a waterfall, scraping off its dark schist sidewalls and carrying them as dirt and cobbles to the stream at the base.
I drove the Toyota van across the long one lane wood bridge that traversed the braided cobbles, and then navigated the 1.75 km fern-lined access road...which I would see again later in more detail. I stopped in the carpark next to the other campervans. I was here at last, at the Franz Josef Glacier. Grabbing my compact light plastic raincoat and hauling it over my Chena Hot Springs Fleece, I took to the asphalt trail. Soon the ferns faded to a rugged deciduous forest. Ahead and to my left lay the upstream, the white glacier, and a whole bunch of tourists in bright blue and yellow raincoats.
Part of the glacier at least! It disappeared upwards into the grey low clouds, its base the v of a charcoal cardigan cutting into a dirty white shirt. I walked past the point of the asphalt, and down into the gravel floodplain, where the path was marked by flags.
WARNING THE STREAM CHANNEL IS EVERCHANGING IN WET WEATHER YOU CAN BE SWEPT AWAY.
I pulled the hood of the rain coat over my head, to warm me from the drizzle.
I walked on, taking photos of the schist and the glacier, the medial moraine and the tourists. Then a sign said
DO NOT GO PAST THIS POINT WITHOUT A GUIDE OR YOU WILL BE SOCKED BY A BIG CHUNK OF ICE.
I stopped, looked, and turned around. A party of elderly Britons didnt, and as far as I know, they turned out OK. But I had touched glaciers in Montana and Alberta in 1974, and that was enough for me. I would never forget.
I walked back. Yards away, I stopped to listen to a guide standing on the little stone balls.
"This is where the glacier was in 1920," she said. I took a photo, 1920 terminus marked by tourists.
Back in the lot, I unlocked the Toyota and put the key in the ignition. ER....uh....whump, it said.
OH NO! I'D FORGOT THE HEADLIGHTS!!!!
There was no phone in the lot, no rangers, no tour bus drivers!! I listened to the conversations of the few stragglers. They were all in Indonesian or Serbian!!! OH NO!!!
I tried the ignition again. Nothing happened!
Suddenly, a white car pulled up. The people were blond and looked like Americans!
"Do you have jumper cables? A cellphone?" I asked.
"No, sorry, we dont!" OH NO!!! Aussies in a rental car!!! They walked on down the path to the glacier. My hopes dashed, I began to walk down the 1.75 km access road. Luckily it was a pleasant road, lined with tree ferns and bordering on the flood plain in a parklike setting! Finally, ahead of me rose the long long one lane wooden bridge on the main highway (NZ6). How would I get across it without a truck creaming me?
Suddenly a white car appeared! "Need a ride to town, mate?"
"My battery is dead," I exclaimed to the CamperVan agent from the pay phone by the Mobil Station.
"Uh...well, there isnt much out there on the west coast. You see any garages?"
"No," I said.
"Hmmm...well, here it is! Franz Josef Garage! Just right there in town, at the Mobil Station! Just go in there and get them to jump your car."
"Huh!" I walked over to the MiniFoodMart. "I'm looking for the garage."
"Mechanic?" said the red haired kid clerk. Red hair and freckles, like a fireball in autumn. "Uh....oh....he retired a couple years ago. But here's this thing." He pulled a round device from underneath the counter. "You can take this thing back and jump it."
I thought of hoisting the device and trying to hitch back, of trying to figure out where my battery was, of trying to figure out how it worked....and of the sun going down. I thanked the kid clerk and walked back to the phone booth.
"Uh....let me look again, not much out on the West Coast" said the agent. "Yeh, here's a mechanic about 20 km away. I'll call you back."
"Yeah, I found someone from Fox Glacier. His name is CLARK."
A silver SUV pulled up, driven by a clean-cutman in his 30s with a yellow dog in his lap.
"Are you Clark?" I said.
"Yes," he said. Like everyone else I had met, he didnt say much.
I finally said, "Is he a puppy?" Not everyone has the skill to navigate turns with a big puppy on their lap.
He brightened. "Yeah, he's four months old!" The pup squirmed and wagged his tail.
Clark swung the drivers seat up off its pedestal, attached wires to the battery and shot a current through. I turned the key.
"Don't turn it off till you get to Fox Glacier," said Clark taciturnly.
"How long does it take for it to go dead like that?" I asked.
"As little as five minutes. They're made to start the engine, not operate headlights!"
I didnt even stop at Fox Glacier, like I had wanted to. I drove through loops of wild road to the southernmost coast point on Highway 6, before it turns inland to traverse the Alps. This town is named Haast, after a geologist. I looked at the setting sun, and the sign towards the campground further on at Haast
Beach, and I rented a backpackers room at the World Heritage Hotel, with my own shower and a bed with springs. I walked into the bar, where a good variety of decapitated game animals hung over my head as I ordered
"I would like the salmon on potato pancakes and a chardonnay." (this place is famous for immature smelt or "whitebait," fish so small they make a pancake batter out of them, but I wasnt smart enough to order them!)
I walked over to one of the tables that covered the unused stage, and drank my wine. Down on the dance floor, a long table of men were drinking beer and watching a soccer game on the TV and laughing.
The next day I would be at my southern most point at Tarras. The next day, I would see snow, and dry brown landscapes that reminded me of Wyoming.
The weather has changed, bringing not only autumn but a damp spring to the dry forests and woodlands of the eastern Columbia Gorge. As I write, thin angel hair strands of grass grow beneath my feet as I recently walk with my daughter on the once dry Chenoweth Table.
One week in early November, the road to Portland and Swedish 201 held this surprise
"Whoa! Snoa!!!!" I exclaimed. The top of the watercolor mountain landscape above Wyeth was like powdered sugar on a green chocolate bundt cake, like mildew on a damp carpet cast outdoors, like a herringbone jacket on pines and firs. The snow is gone now, when will it return?
It was about that time that I saw two wanderers along the drizzly interstate near Starvation Creek. I was about to pass a UHaul truck at 70, but instead swerved back into the right lane, for the man had his thumb out! I skidded to a stop twenty feet ahead of them and they ran to catch up, the woman bouncing like a round ball and the grocery bags swinging like white plastic pendulums of time.
"Where are you going?" I asked.
"Just up to Cascade Locks..." said the man.
The man climbed into the back of the Windstar and said to the round little woman
"You sit in the front Hon!" He had a bearded, lined, fortiesh face. Hers was like a young white moon. Fifteen miles, locals...how long did it take to walk fifteen more miles home?
The heavens broke loose. How lucky!
"Good thing you picked us up when you did!!! WOW!!!" said the man. I turned the wipers onto high.
"I like to pick people up when I can. I feel so guilty for using all this gas!" I thought of all these cars, these SUVs, these semis. Too busy? Too dangerous? Too afraid of a shy, chubby young woman with dark hair and a lethal grocery bag?
"We took care of some business in Hood River...and bought some groceries so we wouldnt have to walk down to the grocery store when we got back."
"THE PROPOSED CASINO WOULD BE A GODSEND FOR Cascade Locks SINCE TOURISM HAS NOT PROVED TO BE A VIABLE INCOME SOURCE IN THE TRANSITION FROM A LOGGING TOWN," said the newspaper article in my head.
"There are only about 500 people in Cascade Locks...a lot of retired people." I thought of retiring in the constant rain and trees, the Columbia view and the boredom at the Apex of the Cascades. Why retire to somewhere boring where it didnt snow much? Vancouver in the summer, Anchorage in the winter, Helsinki in the fall, Reykjavik in the spring!!!
"People wonder why kids get into trouble...only one little school for all the grades...why they party and drink and do drugs so much. There's NOTHING to do there. I grew up across the river, in Stevenson Washington. It's not too much bigger, but they have dances for the kids."
I thought of the Newspaper article in the coffee shop in Cascade Locks, about the favorite son army private who had always been in trouble, but had found a niche in Iraq....
"I never did any of that," she said. "I made Cs and no one ever noticed me; came home after school and staid out of trouble. What a day outside!"
"You're from Stevenson?" I repeated. I liked the Big River Grill there, and the pools at the luxurious Skamania Lodge. For $10 you could buy a day in hot wet luxury under a misty November sky and later beside a warm fire. It was the nights that cost big bucks.
"I am, but my family is from a few miles away, from the Carson and Hemlock area."
"Hemlock...never heard of it!" But I had just been in Carson...dozing, my car drifted over the shoulder strips...
Twelve thousand people in The Dalles...a community college and a new Home Depot. How lucky!!!
"Where do you live...I can take you into town!" I said, as the showers closed in on us. It was just a loop, a small drive through town....
Vancouver Stevenson White Salmon Dallesport 20 miles between towns....
========================================================The Columbia River
Portland Cascade Locks Hood River The Dalles
"What terrane is this, by the way? One of the Intermontanes? The Insular Terrane, also known as Wrangellia?" was what I was wondering as The Red Windstar (now at 161K!) kerchunked off The Pride of British Columbia. Oh schist, I didnt know...back in Sooke, back in Victoria, we were at the northern margin of the Eocene Crescent-Siletz Terranes that underlay the I-5 corridor, but that was now history. Whatever the terrane, The Pride of BC had followed its path eastward and had docked onto the North American continent at the unspellable place they call Tsawwassen. Kerchunk!!!
"Children," I announced, "We're conveniently located just a few miles from the community of Point Roberts, Washington. Where's the BC map?/Ou est la carte de BC?" I fumbled through the pile of used cameras, empty pop bottles, and gum wrappers between the two front seats.
"I think you just take that orange road," said Ian, putting down "The Peshwar Lancers" and picking up "The Lonely Planet Guide to the Republic of Vegan Cascadia." "You know, they made an exception to 49 degrees for Vancouver Island, but wouldnt budge on Point Roberts. Now it's stuck out there with no land access to the rest the United States. In past years, most of the visitors there have been Canadians looking for cheap booze. Even today Canada provides utilities and services."
"Regardez!/Look, a sign!" I said. I swerved off of 17 and onto the orange road, past the bustling glob of Tim Horton and Royal Bank and MacDonalds that marks Tsawassan as a modern, thriving bedroom community for Metro Vancouver.
"Whoa! What's that up ahead, next to the BP station? Why...it's The Stars and Stripes!"
I scarcely had time to exclaim, before the Red Windstar was sucked as if by a cyclonic vortex along the orange road, into the grey omninous gate labeled US CUSTOMS!!!
"Aw heck, I'd meant to stop at Tim Horton's for a doughnut first!!!"
"What is your purpose here?" growled the border guard sternly as he visually surveyed the car for dope. Just recently, a border guard working at the Metro airport had been arrested for hiding 9 million kilos of grass in the side compartments of his van. Flashing a diplomatic passport, he'd told his comrades that he was going down to Bellingham to get the engine worked on, but he was lying!!! "How long are you here for?"
"Oh, I've never been here, so I thought we'd just drive around...maybe a couple hours." This was Amer'ca, they had to let us in!!!
"Where are you coming from?" he snarled. He reminded me of Jonathan Winters.
"Vancouver Island," I babbled cheerfully. "We rented a little cabin up there for Thanksgiving!!"
"You have your forms of identification?" he seethed. I handed them over. He handed them back.
"Have a nice visit," he said.
"Wow...lots of gas stations here!" I said...."Where's the town? What cheap prices!"
"Huh!" said Ian.
"Why...those must be in LITRES!!!" I commented.
"Hey...it looks like we're going down to the ocean!" Over is a better word than down, since the area was flat as a slice of Velveeta cheese. We passed dumpy shacks and new, palatial vacation homes, then arrived at a park. We drove in and parked, flaunting the $3 parking fee for non Skagit county residents.
"I think that is for summer," I said. "Who would pay to come here in winter?"
Before us lay the varied grey and white cobbles, the dead stripped driftwood, and the abandoned pier posts of the winter beach of Point Roberts. We got out and stood on it. Erin and I slowly began to walk in front of the grey sky. Whoosh, each grim creamy wave surge ended in creamy froth, like a long white scarf tossed to backdrop a postmodern seaweed display. "Dynamic Catalog Designed by Neptune Advertising!" WHOOSH! Clunkity-Clunkity-RATTLE...rattle.........Each wave rolled the small grey marbles up the steep winter beach, and then the slick stones rolled back again, a huge oceanic pinball machine. AUGH!!! I jumped back as the sea reached forward.
"Stay back here, this far, and you wont get wet!" exclaimed Erin, hopping backwards. "Hey look, a house!" Someone had build a tiny play shack out of twisted grey rounded driftwood. Erin crawled inside. I took her picture, and thought of Indian children playing here long ago. I thought of how soon Erin would be a child playing here long ago, how soon I would have no children that played.
"Let me have the walnut goat cheese salad and the baguettes with sun dried tomato spread." I said to the waitress at Brewster's Restaurant. What nice menu selections...and with the prices given in Canadian dollars...how convenient when you've just been traveling in Canada!!
"...use of pastels is really intriguing..." said a woman with red hair at the round table by the fire place.
"Where's the chapter on "How Does the Canadian Government Work?" said Erin to Ian, who was reading my new copy of Ferguson & Ferguson's "How To Be A Canadian." Ha ha! What a useful guide!
"Here it is..." said Ian. He turned the page. "It doesn't." said the page. How informative!
"That's why I moved to Canada in the first place, because of their abstinence from most of these conflicts," said a man at the round table. He had a foreign accent and was wearing black leather.
".....some countries...afraid to stand up against the United States policy towards Iraq because of the repercussions..." said a woman at the round table.
How to meet men, part 5....Scanfest '04
Jaggedly, she made her way past the rosmaling, the pulla, and the lignonberry jam display. Suddenly, a lushly handsome white-haired man of Scandinavian heritage appeared and looked her in the eye and said,
"Your shoe is untied."
She meant to say, "Yeah, I bought these things back in '95 when we were camping in Colorado and I came upon an outlet mall somewhere around Colorado Springs. You dont see many of these black suede Adida urban walking boots with the open-screened arches nowadays. The laces have taken a beating." But instead, she laughed and said,
"Why dont you tie it for me then!"
He was not taken aback! "Why didnt I think of that...you have your hands full with rice pudding med fruktsoppe, and glögg!" He bent down and gingerly tied her right boot. Then he untied it and retied it.
"Huh! Well! Thanks alot!!! Tack Tack!" she said, though she was practised at not tripping.
SIGH!!!!!!!! That's not something you experience everyday!
När jag var liten
När jag var ung, bodde jag i Alabama med min mamma, min pappa, min mormor och min morfar. Vi borade i ett stort vitt hus på tre tunnland ovanpå Shades Mountain, närä Birmingham.
Många sager att våra liv var bättre då. Emellertid fanns det olika toaletter på varahus och bensinstationerherrar, damer, och kulörter. Svarta och vita människor hade olika vattenautomater! Vi kunde inte äta på samma restauranger, eller gå i samma skolor. Flickor måste ha på sig kjolar eller klänningar alltid, och läsa att bli lärare, sekretarare, och sjuksköterskor. Då var vita män mycket viktiga! Har du haft mässling? När jag var en flicka, hade alla mässling, påssjuka, och vattkoppor. Några hade mässling, sedan blev de utvecklingsstörda.
Jag har försökt att komma ihag flera underbara historier. Det har jag gjort inte. I stället har jag hittat på några hjärn bilder och foton. På somrarna fanns det eldflugor. De var små ljus i luften på kvällarna, och vi kunde snara insekterna inne en burk. På nationaldag stodde vi på bakgården och tittade på fyrverkeriet över Birmingham. Himlen var så vacker! Vi tände tomtebloss sedan skar vi klara stigar genom nätten.
Vi är i min morfars bil. Vi har åkt längs med landsvägen förbi "The Vestavia Temple" som är ett ovanligt hus som blev en restaurang och "The Owl Motor Court." Där ligger små vita stuga. Vi har tittat på kudzun bredvid vägen. Kudzu är en dålig växt från Japan. Vi har köpt bensin på "Pure Oil" i Homewood bredvid the F.O.E. Örnars Ordenet. Min morfar är en Örn!!! Nu sager min morfar att hon ska besöker i en minut. Jag väntar ensam i bilen. Till sist parkerar vi och går in i "Dunn's Drug Store". Här kan jag få en limead vid lunchdisken. Sockerdrickan smacker bra.
Georgie och Nana bodde hos oss i ett rum som hade en luftkonditioneringsapparat. Min mormors hår var aldrig gråt! När hon dog, hade hon fortfarande brunt hår. Då var hon 81. Men jag kommer ihåg att de var 69 och 72. Hon stickade ofta. Min mamma kunde inte köra, och arbetade under dagen. Daddy George och hans grön Pontiac tog mig till lekskolan och balett. Vi var goda vänner, för det fanns inga små barn närä oss.
Mitt stort rum låg en trappa upp. Mina möbler var vita och en tapet som hade små blåa och gula blommor hängde på väggerna. Det fanns ett badrum som hade fula gråda och kastanjebruna kakel mellan två sovrumet. Den andra rum hade furupaneler på väggerna och en dörr att oppnade till vinden. Jag har inte några fotografier av den här våning och nu är jag den sista människa som kommer ihåg. Vi flyttade när jag var sju år gammal. Nana och Georgie kom från Indiana och åkte tillbaka. Men mina minnen är tydliga. Kanske kan familjen som köpte huset från oss kommer ihåg också. (Fadern, Dr. Imler, var operationsläkare och skar av hander när han använde en cirkelsåg i källare!. Han fick mycket pengar från hans försäkring.)
Jag hade mycket leksaker och dockor. Min pappa, Daddy Robert, sagt att jag var bortskämd och fått för mycket varor. Men jag måste lyda fyra människa. Mina farförälder och min mamma var rädd för allting. Min pappa berättade mig att de protesterade när han ville ta mig till skögen eller faktisk till brevlådan.
Är jag säker? Nej! Jag har spungit och lekt i en tid i gården och har varit mycket glad. Helt plötsligt faller jag på grus! Det gör ont i armen. Vi åker till sjukhuset. Det är spännade! Nu har jag ett vitt gipsbandage på min arm för den är trasig. Allt skriver på kasten.
Är min hund säker? Jag har en liten cockerspaniel. En dag min mamma sager att han gjort till Ny York!
Nej, min pappa berätter till mig efteråt. "En bil körde över T Bone. Vi gav det där hunden till dig, men T Bone var verkligen Georgies hund."
"I am going to tell your fortune with these cards!" said Erin.
"Uh...can you wait a minute? I'm looking on the internet at extravagant bed and breakfasts for our trip to Houston to see Baby Victor!" After our experience with the stove and the smoke alarms in our off-season cabin on Vancouver Island, what were the chances that we would be allowed to stay in one of these lacy rooms? Guilt struck me.
"OK....go ahead," I told Erin.
She brought out her beautiful cards.
"Wow...where did you get those?" I asked.
"Dont you remember? You bought me these from the Metaphysical Section at Borders in Lake Oswego."
"Uh...I guess so," I said. I have no memory.
"Chose three cards," she said.
"What a beautiful card!" I said.
"It is the fairy that was kissed by a pixie. It is your past life, and it was ruled by romance." This is a paraphrase. She actually said all this in about 10 long paragraphs.
"Fair enough. I love romance.....And the second card."
"This is the Sage, and it is upside down. It represents the misuse of knowledge. This is your present." Whoa! Was there a better use for Continental Drift and Suspect Terranes than including them in stories?
"And this one...."
"This is Transformation. You have the potentential for a change in your life that will be amazing." Like a butterfly emerging from a cocoon. This was just what the horoscopes in the Willamette Week had been telling me for the past four years! So when WOULD I be transformed from Frivolous Romance and Faulty Geology into a nirvanic existence???
Not this week, I guess. The major de semaine transformation was effected by Victor Flores, who made me become a grandmother and a certified Elder. I was pretty lucky that Victor was born in Texas, where New Grandmothers are typically about 36-41! So I'd taken it well, and had made up fantasy stories
"As I child," Victor would write later in his Pulitzer-winning autobiographical novel," I'd lived in a world garnished with the empanadas and pinatas of my father's Venezuelan-Salvadoran family. But all this was to change when I stayed for one very magical summer with my other grandmother, whom I called GrandmaMA. She lived in a quaint rustic cottage on the wild, wet ocean coast near Prince Rupert, British Columbia. It was decorated in traditional Fenno-Scandic and there was always a Boiled In Lead or Oysterband ZSI on the computer and a fresh salmon in the pan....Come with me in my van camper, she said, and I will show you the magic of Wrangellia!!!!"...................
"I had an abscessed tooth," the local State Farm agent was explaining with obvious effort. "The dentist pulled it and two days later, I started talking like this. They told me that half my tongue and vocal chords were paralyzed." Yes, the upstanding ladies of the Red Hat were meeting yet again for their Christmas Party, this year at the ANZAC tea house! Carolyn's voice had gotten progressively worse since I'd met her . Now when she spoke, she sounded like a stroke victim, or someone with a closed head injury. Now her husband and Insurance Partner did all the phone talking.
I chomped into a lemon scone with Devon Cream and changed the subject. "I always wondered why someone would live in Rowena, I mean, there's not even a convenience store there!"
"Well," she said, "You can get on the freeway and be in The Dalles in five minutes! But we wanted to get away. In the insurance industry, you are always dealing with peoples problems. They have a terrible wreck or their toilet backs up...."
"Our wreck was kind of fun," I said aside to Erin.
"Or deaths or health problems. So when we go home, we want Peace from all these things."
"You turn off the phone..."
"Oh no!" she said. "We never do that!
"Wow~!" I said in admiration.
"Part of our land is a nature preserve. It has a number20475. We have skunks and deer.....and BOBCATS!"
"We have skunks and raccoons....but not BOBCATS!!"
"Yes," she said, not listening to my skunk report. "Our cats kept disappearing...and we finally discovered that BOBCATS and HAWKS were getting them!"
"Oh my! HAWKS!!!" Our two cats, Fred and Kate, were nearing ten years old in perfect safety, even in a house adjoining skunks.
"We kept a little pond, too, with goldfish...but the HAWKS got them too!!!" Carolyn said.
Pink Martini! Why is the word Martini so symbolic? Who else has a love/hate relationship with martinis and all they stand for?
What is your worst nightmare? Last night I had a dream where I was traveling in the UK by train and we were pulling up Red Tide dinoflagellates (Rhodochrosites) out of the ocean over by Prineville. When we arrived into the suburbs of London, the tracks disappeared! Each car was then guided individually over the A-road system via satellite-computer technology. Boy was I lucky I was riding in my windstar (see the car-train option on Finnish VR Rail)! At the station, some Oceanographic crew members in the sleeping cars were rudely awakened when the cleaners pulled the roofs of the cars off and started blowing detergent foam inside!!! I just drove right off!
Parenting Class has been sort of a nightmare, too. The most unsettling event was this
"For our last class," the teacher announced, "We will have a **DESSERT** pot luck! Bring your favorite gooey, sinful desserts."
Most of the class brightened, forgetting about the MIPs and 12 year olds on birth control pills. "Yeah! Huh! Great!" they exclaimed. But before me arose a spectre of a Woman wearing a size 8 Kathy Ireland swimsuit from Big K. She sat down in my seat, pounded her fists once lightly, and moaned, "Oh no!" It was a dream come true!!
"Everyone, except for Judith, who will bring her own special DESSERT recipe!" said the teacher. How embarrassing!!!
Finally, the day arrived. Parents rolled in with (some did look like they *could* roll fairly easily...snicker....uh, just like my own corpulent late self in the fateful summer of '03) and piled their plates high with delicious pies from Albertsons, rich chocolate cakesfrom Fred Meyer, and gooey cookies from Safeway....what can you do when you work 5 jobs? I walked in with my exotic fruit-Atkins yoghurt and a few slivered almonds salad and shook my head. Perhaps I had won a victory. This had never really been my world, I just stumbled through it like a ghost, as if in a play or dream. Before me arose the spector of beautiful black Kathy Ireland Christmas satins and knits from exotic Mexico and China, and of my Portland, my Handsome Boatman.
Mix in pieces one star fruit, one half lime, one mandarin orange, one banana, 2 kiwis, one mango and one small package slivered almonds with 1 container no fat no sugar yoghurt. Then dump in some cinnamon and squeeze in the other half of the lime as juice.
Most children grow up basking in the stomachs of extended family dinners. However,we didnt have much family and Thanksgiving, for example, consisted of the three of us cooking a turkey, setting out the chrysanthemum wedgewood and buttercup silver, eating and then cleaning up. For me the greatest highlight was setting the table!! No joke! However, there were a few eating thrills each year! One was the annual Refrigeration Supplies Distributor employee Christmas party at our home. After that was the Birmingham Wholesale Credit Union party!! But far more frequent were the Eating Extravaganzas that began this way. My father would call my mother and say something like "Austin Brown from Copeland Compressors is in town from Atlanta! Be ready by seven!"
Then, my mother would dress in one of her good butte knits and I would put on a nice dress. My father would arrive in his Thunderbird, and we would drive off to meet Austin or Tom or Dick or Harry at the Restaurant. Usually we went to The Gold Nugget Supper Club, or to Armando's Italian Dining, both over by the Pure Oil Station in Homewood. But by far the most elegant venue was "The Club," a private supper club by the TV stations atop Red Mountain. We would linger in the lounge, where the piano was covered with gold Mother of Pearl. Then we would go eat in the circular dining room, either up by the windows, where we could look out the windows at the firefly lights of Birmingham, or down by the circular glass dance floor, where transluscent light glowed underfoot.
"What would you like?" the waitress would ask my mother.
"I would like a whiskey sour," she answered.
"And you, little miss?"
"I'd like a Shirley Temple....and a shrimp cocktail!" Also good were the French onion soup, the vicious schwa, and the cold ravioli.
These were special times for my mother, who was stuck with Parkinson's disease, stuck at home with television and depression. But here she was with old friends, back in a life as real as the very magic lights of The Magic City on a sparkling rainy night.
My Christmas came early this year...flying to Texas to see Baby Victor! Imagine having a baby you can just walk away from!!! And even sweeter, seeing my baby daughter Emma again. I glanced in the rearview of the red Chevy Cavalier at the three of them...Erin, Emma, and Baby Victor's SUV of a grey plastic car seat, all skwunched together!! And a Fiesta, a Bennigans and a Papadeaux's as well!! You dont see this stuff in Oregon!
"Mother, do you realize there are more of us than ever before, but this is the smallest car?" said Emma.
"Well, it cost $12 a day," I said. "And it was an upgrade."
"How did we ever get by in that Fiesta we rented in Sweden for a month?" asked Ian and his 6' legs from the front seat. Actually, he'd said it a few hours earlier, but it sounds good here. "All that camping stuff!!"
"You and Erin were littler then," I said. "But we ***were*** really packed in!"
"Almost everyone at work," chatted Emma, "voted for Kerry." Texas indeed! A perusal of the Houston Post and a subsequent comparison with The Willamette Week shows that there is very little difference between Houston and Portland! Did you know there were gay people in Houston?
"HUH!" I said to her.
"All except for this one guy...he said he didnt know what would happen if Kerry got elected. 'If Kerry gets elected, everything will go to the dogs...I'll have to move to CANADA!!'" She laughed. "No one said much back, since he's the assistant manager. But the manager told him"Ernie, you're crazy!"
We flew home to Oregon the morning of Christmas Eve, magically avoiding computer shutdowns and tropical snow....but not the Rose City Cafe at the airport!
"I sure wish I had some California Rolls!" begged Erin. It was then I saw the smoked salmon hash benedict on the breakfast menu!! Whoa!! Death shrouds began to encircle my Texanhood like thick waves of hollandaise sauce.
"Table for three?" asked the host.
Christmas came right on time for WestGate Market, an old grocery in Chenowith. If you have a mobile or manufactured home or are a welfare recipient, 78% chance you live in Chenowith and not The Dalles.
I'd driven past Fred Meyer, Albertsons, and Safeway looking for salad greens for Christmas dinner. Depressingly closed! If there is anything more dismal than the ghostly dark streets of Christmas Eve, it is the low cloud grey streets of Christmas.
"Huh! Maybe I could order some salad to go at Denny's! But their parking lot is PACKED!!" However, I had a hunch.
"I will drive out to Chenowith and the old The West Gate Market!!! You never know!!" I turned the corner at the new Home Depot just shy of the NO ADULT STORE NOT IN OUR TOWN picketers and swung into the lot.
"WOW!! This place is as packed as Denny's!!" I exclaimed.
The entire staff of West Gate Market had been assembled for this event.
"Why did you get those celery?" asked the manager, frowning.
"I guess they must have run out of the wrapped celery sticks!" answered the produce manager.
"Whoa!" said someone, "You got all three check-outs going!!!"
"You bet!" answered the manager. "We even have to use that guy sometimes!" He pointed to one of the regular shoppers.
Three choices of salad! Eleven packages! I picked up the Euro Salad Mix with Romaine plus an avocado and a BC Hothouse Tomato and headed for the dairy case.
"You got any Mexican cheese?" asked a Mexican gent.
"It should be right over here!" said a clerk. "No...looks like we're out!"
"Maybe we moved it over there by the milk," suggested the manager.
"Whoops!" said the clerk, digging around. "Here's one!"
I'd just lifted an entire discounted Chef Jon Donaire frozen Tiramasu into my little hand basket when a burly man dressed in white appeared. Aha! He'd left his cleaver behind the meat case!
"Can I help you with something?"
"Uh...not really..." I said. But no, it was Christmas. "Uh...actually...where's the cider stuff?"
"Cider...uh...oh, the Martinelli Sparkling Cider! Follow me!.....Now, my recommendation is the purple grape...Looks like this is the last one left!"
Maybe the cranberry???
"That's what I'll take then!" I said, adding the bottle to my little orange basket.
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