"And he who sat there appeared like jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that looked like an emerald!!! "---rev 43
Imagine participating in a Special Friends Meeting For Tsunamis! Oh, maybe you better not.
"What is that you're wearing on your head?" someone asked me, after the silence and the queries, in the dry, tolerant way of Quakers.
I touched the sparkling silver crown made of paper. "Oh!" I laughed. "It's left over from the Eagles last night!" No one else....no one in The Dalles, in Hood River, in Portland was wearing a crown like that....or any crown at all. "It's symbolic," I said.
Galveston, TX. December 2004. Coke! I needed coke! I staggered over to the gift shop in the lobby of the Moody Gardens Resort and Conference Center Hotel. In the summer, the halls would be teeming with visitors lured by the beach and the three mystical ecology pyramids. But now the sky was grey against the pink and blue geomety, and the rates were down. I pulled a diet cola out of the cooler and handed the cashier a couple of ones.
"Wheh's George? Track dis bill? What's all dis writin'?" asked the clerk, a pale woman in her 60s with hair like a darkening marshmallow.
"It's sort of a game you play on the internet. If you find one of these, you enter it. You can make maps and stuff of where people find 'em." I explained. It would be the last substantial thing said during the next ten minutes.
"I dont have much use for de intahnet. But my sister...my sister is retahed and she stays on the intahnet ALL DE TIME. She gets up at six and dunt go to bed until two! She dunt wash dishes but maybe once a week or clean or anyting! [clip] She plays dis game ALL DE TIME. Dey have dese villages. You pick yoah roll...mastah, slave, free person...." Hmmm! De clerk was speaking in the dirty rice drawl of the bayous! Did they have 'gators in this game? SNAP!!!!
"Must not be on a dial-up. Is she married?" I asked.
"YES!! Her husband stays in de bedroom with HIS computer...and the daughtah stays in HER room and plays...she's a CHRISTIAN....so she has a Christian master. [clip] I tell her it int natural, she dunt talk to REAL people!!! She tells me 'You waste all this time running aroun' bars and drinkin' all night.' I tell her at least I am with REAL people...dose people on de compuda you dont even know who dey are! [clip!] And THEN she says her master is callin' and she has to get back on the compuda!!"
"Huh! So where's this master guy from?"
"Oregon, I think. Boring! Can you imagine doing one thing all the time by yuaself like dat? I mean, I go off for three days and play de slots, I'm bored, I'm through!!"
New Years, 2004....I put on my black shirt and my black brocade slacks from Fred Meyer and my tiny purple zip up jacket from a Portland yard sale and my old green LL Bean coat and I was off. I walked past Albertsons and Rite Aid and Burger King, crossed the street, and then walked past the now empty National Guard Armory and Dennys. I turned the corner and walked up half a block bordering the ball park and then into the crowded parking lot. Look at all the pick-ups! I opened the door and walked in.
"Here, I got this receipt," I told the doormen, who were stationed at a puffy portable bar.
"OK! Now all we need to see is eight dollars."
The receipt was my application for membership in the F.O.E. Auxiliary.
My decision to join the Fraternal Order of Eagles Auxiliary had been a weird but emotional one. My grandfather, George Homsher Hayward, had been a member of Aerie #666 in Richmond, Indiana! But in truth, I was interested because The Eagles is a real hoppin' spot. Earlier in the day, I'd buzzed my way in, leaving Ian in the car obliviously quoting facts from "The Alaska Almanac." In the smoky haze I could make out a magical cluster of neon beer signs on my left, and a dancefloor on my right, vast as a Saskatchewan wheat field. I walked up to the bar, and waited while the bartender poured a Miller Lite for a wheat farmer to my left. Then, I asked about joining the Eagles.
The bartenders hair, I recall, was blonde and poofy, like a roasted marshmallow. She was about my age. She said, "Men, women, anyone can join. Fill out this application. I'll be pleased to sponsor you! I won the #1 sponsorship award last year!"
Now, however, midnite was approaching. I looked around.
"WOW! What a lot of cowboy hats!!" I said to myself. But people of all types were there, dancing to the rock-country coverband or sitting at tables doing almost nothing. I milled around through the cheerful murk. At the back was a NO MINORS pool room, where a woman in black glasses and a red satin evening gown was making a fruitful shot. To the front a NO MINORS Keno room, where a lone dark man was staring at a screen. And what was this? Another room, with a kitchen!
"You can go on back there!" a man said.
Whoa! What a spread! Chips and salsa, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, cold cuts and cheese, bread and what's this? BARBECUE TRISCUITS!! I loaded a plate with cheese and carrots and triscuits! What a bonanza!
Then I stepped up to the long, cozy bar.
"Can you make a sloe gin fizz?" I asked.
"Uh...I've never made one. It's just sloe gin and soda, isnt it?" asked the young woman on duty, scrambling for the manual.
"Dunno," I said. "I havent had one in 20 years. But I think maybe a lemon...."
"Hey, Todd, how do you make a sloe gin fizz?"
Bald Todd came over. "It's sloe gin, soda water, and sweet and sour." She began pouring a jigger of red sticky gin in a short glass.
"That will be $2.50," she said. Two fifty???? "Hey, how's come you get to have all these George bills?"
"I make 'em," I said. "If you make 'em, you can have as many as you can afford."
I put on a silver cardboard crown and sat on a black naugahyde stool to watch the dancers on the polished birch floor. How festive! Old white haired people, the woman in silver lame, dancing to rock!! Haha!!! Oops...maybe they were my age. Three young women in sweats were line dancing. A frail-looking man with a weak chin, waist length hair, and a black Harley jacket cut fine trails with a pretty blonde in a black cocktail dress. I began to explore again and read the old auxiliary charter from 1938. By the billiard room, a gent grabbed my arm lightly,
"Hey, I need a pool partner."
"I'm sorry, I dont play pool very well," I smirked.
"Oh well....hey, I need a pool partner!" he said to a huge breasted woman in lace and tight jeans.
"I dont play worth s--t!!!" she laughed. But then she got up to play pool. I guess she actually knew how!
Suddenly, a man with a rattail in a black tuxedo mounted the stage. "5-4-3-2-1!!!" he counted. Then about 40% of the audience blew their silver paper horns and rattled their noisemakers. That included me! The bass player jumped down and kissed his girl in a big swoon! Someone pulled the cord on three bags of balloons, and they skittered and bounced along the floor...until the dancers popped them. The band struck up the chilling chords of "Takin' Care of Business!!!" and it was as if the floor itself danced in the neon from all those pretty beer signs reflected from a huge rented mirror ball!
I left, walking home past styrofoam patches of 2 day old snow. At 9th and Cherry Heights, the lights of a City of The Dalles Police car revealed the unsteady owner of a silver Toyota sedan bearing Washington Plates and a SUPPORT OUR TROOPS magnet. On my left, the lights of an illegal firework lit the low clouds in the night sky like tiny stars.
The Dalles, January 2005: "Hi" I said"...my mother used to drink whiskey sours! So maybe it's time for me to try one..."
The bartender at the FOE Eagles Aerie 2126 poured out a huge jigger of rich brown whiskey . Her face glowed like a ripe peach beneath the sunny neon Budweiser sign. I picked up the squat glass glass and snowy napkin and found my way to a table by the dance floor. Several grey-haired couples were twisting to a karyoke version of the old classic "Let's Twist Again Baby Like We Did Last Summer!!!"
"Whoa...that guy's got a good voice!" I thought, as the karyokeist crooned on.
"She wore blue velvet
And like blue velvet were her eyes.... "
I pulled the December issue of Astronomy out of my coat pocket and began to read "The Ice Planet Past Pluto." I topped this off with "Big Venus Type Planets Attached To Stars Outside of the Solar System." These planets rotate around their stars in less than a week or so and make them wobble!!! Maybe someday someone catch one in transit, like they did with Venus!!!!
Suddenly a voice said"Remember, in New Zealand, how you thought no one would ever speak to you except for us bracelets? And then how suddenly they wouldnt shut up? Maybe that will happen here."
I thought, "Back to the jewelry box for you!"
Rotorua, New Zealand, August 2004: By the time the ferry carried her and her Toyota camper van back from Picton to Wellington, from the South to the North Island on the long northward journey to the Aukland Airport, things had begun to change. Here in the Hutt Valley, in Ekatahuna, in Hastings, waitresses, desk clerks, customers, and random individuals clamored to pierce her armor with stories, opinions, and facts.
"We can't make a go of this motel. We just lease it from the Chinese and they charge a fortune."
"Look, that disposable camera costs more than the suitcase you're buying!"
"My boyfriend is flying to Italy for a motorcycle convention, but I dont think we all can afford to go!"
"Go to the Polynesian spa in Rotorua, sweetheart!!."
And so she drove north past the great crater lake at Taupo, and back through the geothermal valley where she'd hiked in wonder only a week and a half earlier. She took out her map of Rotorua, and located the Polynesian Spa, with its enticing rock pool as pictured in the brochure called "Rotorua, Geothermal Paradise!!" So many missed turns!!! But wow, there it was ahead, and with a special on at the Lake Plaza Hotel as well. What luxury for this, her last night!! She parked and dove into the Polynesian Spa building.
"ROCK POOL CLOSED FOR WINTER REPAIRS" said a sign.
OH NO!!!! She looked at the neat indoor pool and she looked at the price for a dip. She went back out to her camper van and located Cosy Cottage Holiday Park (famous for its naturally heated tent spaces) on the map. So many missed turns!!! Would she run out of petrol?
[to be continued]
Snow Day On I-84!!!
Boyd dismounted from his battered green pickup...which today had been transformed to a little snowplow....into the barren grey and white of midafternoon. He hardly looked at Wa-Na-Pa, the long,cold street that served as the main, barely throbbing aorta of Cascade Locks, Oregon. Deftly, he turned the door handle of the Salmon Pub. Inside, framed against the old pine paneling, the bartender was stoking the fire with cleaved oak logs. It was warm and homey as the Sunset magazines that lay sleepily on the mantle.
"Yep...no big deal," he commented to the bartender. "Back when I lived in Minnesota..."
A lone woman sat at a table by the window, eating a salmon burger. She was thinking about her now-chilled box of CDs and her husband's 4 wheel drive Subaru with huge spikes protruding from the tires. No big deal, she was thinking. Back when she lived in Minnesota....
"You'd think it would be easier for some of those people to just drive through town," she told the bartender.
"Lots of traffic out there?" the bartender (who was a woman) replied.
"Yeah...and it's going so slowly."
"It gets better once you get on towards Hood River." (You pronounce Hood River "Hood RI-ver," sort of like "Moon RI-ver.")
"Yeah...well...I live in The Dalles (you pronounce this "The Dalls" and not something stupid like "The Dallies")and I drove in to Portland this morning, and now I'm driving back. Everyboday was going so slow!" She'd just swung the station wagon off the bare pavement of the right lane and passed at 65 over the gravely ice; the old grey Suburu was the Jaguar, the jetfighter of icy roads. "The worst part was Portland. You'd look out the window and see cars beside you just covered with sheets of ice." Each vehicle a lovely waterfall! Each leaf of grass a thick rod of glass~~
"Most people who do go through only stop a moment," the barista continued. "Then they get on to where they're going. They were scared to go last night, and now they are in a hurry to get where they are going. There are a lotta people out there from Idaho trying to get back. But they're going right into the storm we had yesterday."
"Trying to outrun it...but they cant." the woman said.
"No, they can't. One couple said they needed to drive up a 7 mile dirt road north of Lewiston. Wondered if they would have a problem. Well...yeah!!!"
Suddenly, a Jeep pulled up at the icy curb. The door openen and a couple walked into the building.
"I'd like a Cloud Cap, and she wants a soda and lime," a thin young man with blond hair told the bartender.
The woman at the window wondered what a Cloud Cap was. Then she began to recall the semis as they chained up for the Bonneville Curves, half on the shoulder and half in the right lane, she supposed. In the whiteness you could not tell where the roadway began.
Fuddruckers in Lake Oswego! I crept sheepishly through the vacuuous white rooms. Over to my left were some tomatoes, lettuce, and salsa. But I wasn't looking for vegetables, I was searching for people....people I didnt even know!!!
"Oh, why dont I just drive back home!" I whimpered. You may not believe it, but I am a very shy person!
In the second cavernous room, a thin woman with lively glowing eyes sat pointing to a cardboard sign which read "BOOKCROSSING"
I walked over to the table.
"Actually, I was looking for wheresgeorge.com." I said.
The people....maybe ten in all....at the table looked at me blankly. Then a shorter and plumper woman said hesitantly, "My husband is a georger. REX!!!!"
I turned 90 degrees and stared at a goateed man in a dark leather vest. "Rex??!?!" I said. It didnt ring a cashregister.
"Twigman," she said.
"TWIGMAN!!!!" I gasped, drawing in my breath. I was face to face with the #1 wheresgeorge devotee in Oregon!!! You wonder that no one was asking for his autograph!! If they only knew!!!
"Sit down." he said, pulling a chair over.
"This FAQ card will explain it all to you!" explained the thin nonplussed woman from behind her stack of books. "You enter the ISBN of the book on our internet site and that establishes a file. You print out the FREE BOOK!!! and stick it inside or on the front...that's what these other little stickers are for, I just love these...and then you leave the book somewhere...that's what you're really supposed to do. But we're just trading them right now. Then when someone gets the book, they enter number on the web site and there is a space for comments." She turned to the man on my left. "You're new arent you?"
"Yes," he said. "I'm into geocaching."
"You ever find books in geocaches? Dollar bills?" asked TWIGMAN. Twigman constructs twig furniture for a hobby, that's where he got his name.
"You sure do!" said the man from behind his stack of books.
"What's your secret?" I asked Twigman.
"I use ones and fives for everything. I'm nice to the people at the bank," he said.
"You might like this book..." someone interjected, hurling towards me a copy of that meaningful book with all the water on the cover with an eye staring down at it.
"No...I really dont read much fiction. But my son does. He likes fantasy..." Where were the John McPhee titles when you needed them?
"This book is what you want!" said a blonde from Washougal excitedly. "A friend of mine wrote it!!! It's about a couple who travels around in time using a Volkswagen Rabbit."
I walked up to the counter.
"Can I help you?" asked the barista.
"Wow...I havent been to a Fuddruckers in years. I dont eat meat...I'm looking for something that I can eat...."
"We have gardenburgers," she said cheerfully.
"Great!" I said. "That and a large drink." I got my diet pepsi from the fountain and walked back to the table.
"What's the ethics of people trading bills?" I asked Twigman.
"Well....where people have gotten into trouble is when they sit around a table and trade a bunch of bills and then they report them on the site. That's cheating! But if you and I just exchanged a bill and then spent them, that would be OK. I would be willing to do that." He handed me a crisp Little Soldier stamped in multicolor ink. It looked like the dollar I had found months ago at Fred Meyer.
"TWIGMAN," the name on the profile had said when I entered the bill into the website.
"I just write on mine," I said, handing him a JUDITH original.
"Judith!" yelled the counterman.
I picked up my burger, then piled it high with lettuce, tomatoes and onions. Then I added steak sauce. It had been years since I had put steak sauce on a sandwich.
Handy Map White Salmon
Vancouver Washougal Stevenson Bingen Lyle Dallesport
Portland Troutdale Cascade Locks Hood River The Dalles
(Not to scale) I-dam or bridge
January, 2005. We stumble, here at the mouth of the Klickitat, across the Union Pacific tracks, down over sharp flint-grey lava rocks, and past steel-grey Firestones filled with styrofoam, faded shotgun shells, and milkjug bobbers, to the cold winter strand of the Great Columbia River. We run out on four pronged bird tracks and two halved deer tracks, across the muds of the empty bed of the Columbia, until we are almost half way across. If you just extend you arm, you can almost touch an aid to navigation! The trite winter cold races below my fleece and sweater, but Erin traces her name into the sand and yells
"Take my picture!"
She removes her shoes and wades farther in the grey water, upstream towards Mosier and Bingen. If she just extends her hand a little more, she can touch snags of old conifers that have newly risen out of nowhere, like tombstones of dead lumberjacks....no, like tombstones of Hanford employees. Then she turns and walks north, back towards the WA14 bridge over the Klickitat, towards Lyle, Washington, and the old red car. Between us, a fat white seagull swoops and turns, so close I can almost feel it. A couple with a baby near the summer shore raise an orange kite. Across the river, on I-84, a yellow Oregon school bus races east.
October, 2004. It was just last October that the red car and I were racing east ourselves, but on the parallel and more colorful 2 laned Washington 14. I was just about halfway from the putrid smoke of the paper plant at Washougal to the massive power TransFormers of Bonneville Dam, where everything is really curvy and forested. Suddenly, on the shoulder of the road right up against the guardrail, there appeared a young couple with their thumbs out! Oh no! There was no shoulder at all here on this curve! I screeched to a halt right there on the roadway. They hesitated, perplexed, and then raced to the car, she sliding the side door open and he entering the front passenger seat.
"Where you headed?" I asked.
"Bingen," said the man. Bingen was (and still is) about 30 miles east along the highway.
"Well...that's fine then! But better get a move on! There's a huge semi barrelling down the road just behind us!" I looked in the rear view. Yikes! The massive transport vehicle from Boise was hard astern, and soon we would be squashed! We accelerated very rapidly indeed!
"Yeah," said the man pleasantly. "They like to go down this road real fast!"
They were both young, thin,and blond. I couldnt see the woman, but she was very pretty and wore a stocking cap. The man was white as snow with shoulder length brown hair and a goatee. He wore a black leather jacket and blue jeans, and sported a gold ring in one ear.
"Hey, look out there at that boat!" he said.
"Is that one of those 10 day cruise boats that goes from Astoria to Pasco?" I asked.
"No! That's a private vessel!"
"Like a yacht?"
"Yeah....and I was right up by it once. They're real rich. Me and my brother was out fishing one time and we ran outa gas. That boat was right there and she come up by us and we said, hey man, we're outa gas! So they threw us down a couple of oars! Keep 'em! they said. Like you think they'd do something better than that."
"Huh!" I said. "Where was that?"
"Stevenson. We grew up in Stevenson," he said.
Suddenly, big flashing lights came up behind me. GASP!!! A Skamania County Sheriff's vehicle passed like lightning in the left lane.
"Hey," I said. "Look over there! The cops are pulling someone over!" I swerved to avoid the unlucky goose and its preditor
"Yeah, hey, the cops, that's someone I like to avoid. I got into a lot of trouble in high school back in Stevenson. Made a lot of mistakes...."
"Huh!" I said.
We passed Bonneville Dam (Which I had accidently crossed in the red Windstar in November of 2000 when I took a wrong turn at the visitor center, cant do that now!!!) and soon we were on the slow main street of Stevenson. On our left was the Skamania County Courthouse, on our right, the Big River Grill. (All of this is WIFIed as part of the rural WIFI project!!! The whole downtown of Stevenson, Washington!!!!)
No police came out to greet the blond man.
The next fifteen miles went so fast!
Then suddenly, at the Mouth of the Little White Salmon River, an unusual renegade auto appeared in the westbound lane! It was a bright yellow 1953 Buick Roadmaster with red flames dancing up the sides! There was chrome trim all over!
"Hey man! I know the guy who owns that car. Ha! I put the engine in that thing!!" said the blond man.
"Wow! I'm impressed!" I said.
"Tommy knows almost everyone around here!" the tiny woman laughed admiringly. These were to be the only words that she would speak during the trip.
Soon the town of Bingen appeared above the dashboard. Bingen is just downhill from White Salmon.... in more ways than one!
"Where was it that y'all wanted to be let off?" I asked. Chip's Bar & Grill was on our right.
"Well, actually just through....on the other side of town. You know where Big River Asphalt is?"
"Uh...you know, I KNOW I've seen the sign."
"Yeah, I'll show it to you. She's had some problems with them. We've got something we've got to settle with them." he said.
"Huh!" I said.
Just as he said, Big River Asphalt appeared.
"Well, good luck!" I said as I left them off.
Murdock Washington! A Tandem Windsurfing and Welfare Paradise, braced leisurely between the Klickitat Hills and The Mighty Columbia! One sunny blue afternoon in February, you might see a man not so much older than you drive up the Murdock Mini-Mart in a red Toyota pick-up with topper. His beard is long and white, his kinky hair is drawn back into a pony-tail, and he's wearing a Hawaiian shirt as a harbringer of spring. There he is at the Kassa! (this is Finnish for "cashier.")
"Can I get three of those heavily fried fish fillets?" he asks, and pulls out his checkbook to pay, musing over his financial records. "Dang! I paid five hundred and forty six dollars this month for drugs!"
The clerk angles all three out of the case at once, as if he were netting goldfish from a tank. "Yeah, I know my grandfather paid six hundred and eighty this month."
"And I got insurance, too...that was MY part! I guess it just depends on how much ya wanna live," says the customer.
"Isnt that the truth," says the cashier.
The next customer flops twelve ones and a 44 oz fountain diet pepsi on the counter.
"Truck driver came in here and says he finds those bills all over the place, places like Michigan," he tells her.
"Somebody found one of these I spent here in Montana," she answers.
"Well...that's a fair ways," he says, emerging as the victor.
Rotorua, New Zealand! A third of a world away from Murdock along the Ring Of Fire...and at the fork side of The Pacific Plate! In this August winter, white mist smokes upward like wizard breath at every hollow in the elfland terrain and hisses in the cold sky. Dwaerves? Faeries? Daemons? Each boiling stream gurgles with the sulfurous steam of Hades! Each wayside inn offers its own sizzling pool to weary guests.
I stepped down from my rented Toyota van camper and surveyed the Cozy Cottage Campground. Squish! In the New Zealand summer, the tent sites were advertised as naturally heated. Now with their ample skin of winter rain, they simmered. I threw a few towels around my new tropical swimsuit and sloshed my way to the Hot Pool....actually one of several. The biggest one was empty, except for hot water. What exactly does a hot pool look like? Like many in New Zealand, this one looked like a gigantic concrete minnow tank, like the one at Hakkala's Sporting Goods in Park Rapids, MN. Or like....my mind floated back to my Alabama childhood, to the basement of the Valley Christian Church. Clutched in my hand was my coloring of "Daniel In the Lions Den."
"That's where they DUNK them," said my father. SCOTCH BAPTISTS! Camel-ites they call them!!"
"Dunk them?" I asked. Someone had had the smart idea to send me to Sunday School here, though no one in my family really cared about religion, particularly my father. In the end, in his early 70s, he would grow to depend on the Saturday Senior Lunch for social contact. Elderly Valley Christians would be forced by southern politeness to hear endless facts and stories from the National Geographic flow like pipe smoke and blue cheese from his encyclopediac brain.
I distowled and settled into the hot sulfurous water. I looked up....alone beneath the black southern sky and tiny white stars scattered like frost! A tree fern brushed against my shoulder. The door opened! The couple, clothed in the fading plumpness of their late 60s, I'd seen before. Oh no! It was the maintenance man and his wife!
"You're from America, arent you?" he asked, easing himself into the tub.
"We were in America last year," said his wife. "We went to New York City!"
"We were all over," said the man. "We were going to rent a car, but then we saw a tour."
"We took the English tour. They had a German tour as well, and a French tour."
"We met people from all over the world..."
How lucky these people were to know each others next beat, like the two sides of one heart.
"We have been all over. We've been to Europe and Australia."
"And Egypt. If you never go anywhere else, go to Egypt. The Pyramids are just amazing."
"They were all built with slave labor."
"We went with a under-30 tour. They had spaces they needed to fill."
"No one minded."
"Do you know the man I admire the most? Winston Churchill!"
1.One minute everything was normal and then the phone rang. Suddenly I was ear to ear with someone I hadnt heard from in twenty years. That's the rule that I should have learned from my parents.
"I havent seen that old goat in twenty years," my father would say.
"I remember we used to go dancing there twenty years ago," my mother would say.
But I do truly think the last time I actually spoke with my college pal Marianne was in....well, maybe it was 1987. Oops! For all these years she has been an attorney with legal aid in Des Moines.
"I'm going to Sweden in March," I said. "Up over the Arctic Circle to Kiruna and then..."
"To Narvik in Norway...." she completed my sentence. Omnsicient? Then my memory returned like buzzing bees flocking to the hive. The unsteady bee dance in my head said this
"Huh! I forgot you went on Scandinavian Foreign Study. Where did you go?"
"Yes, I surely did. I stayed in Bergen and then we took a tour up to Narvik. Then we stayed with families in Copenhagen. My family hated me because I was a hippie. I had 2 pairs of ripped bell-bottoms and weird friends like Jim Ridker...no, I guess he wasnt along. She told me that my family evidently was one of some means as I was doing this, and that I should write them and tell them to send me some suitable clothes."
"You? I thought you were the most reliable and adult of all my friends. What's your daughter doing now? Is she going to Earlham?"
"No, she wouldnt go. She's at Beloit. She was home at Christmas and after a week, we both couldnt wait for her to leave. I want my life back!"
"I'll have to wait a long time to get MY life back," I said.
"But she's told us that she isnt coming home spring break. She's going to Quebec with a French student. I have no idea who he is. They're going to visit a couple people he met in a train station in France. They didnt have any money,so he gave them some for the train." She laughed. "She's going with some guy I dont know to visit some people who were broke in a train station. Isnt that scary?"
"Huh!" I said.
"You were in England Foreign Study, right? I remember that you were indignant when they didnt want to let you take your pick-ax on the plane. You loved your pick-ax!!"
My rock hammer? The luckless bees buzzed, but would form no picture. When could that have been?
"That was before they even had any security at the airports!" I said.
2. "I think we should go to the State Cheerleading Competition in Portland on Saturday," said Ian. "We've been number one in the 3A, now I'd like to see what we do as a 4A." The Dalles Wahtonka High School had been thrown up over the limit by a controversial consolidation. What other high school had two names, two team names (the Eagle Indians)and two mascot seals? It was embarassing!!
"I bet you like cheerleaders! I bet you like GIRLS! I bet you have a GIRLFRIEND!!!" accused Erin.
"No," snarked Ian. "Sure I like girls! I like boys too."
"E-Yoooo!!" said Erin. "You like BOYS!!!!"
"I like EVERYONE, Erin! Except for a couple people."
"Huh!" I said.
"Kevin. I hate Kevin. He's irritating. I like to think he has a screw loose a quarter turn.I like to think he's not really that dumb. He's just pretending. I like to think that!"
"Jag hatar Kevin!" I said, practicing.
Wow! I'd never realized how nicely rap music lends itself to Cheerleading routines. Team after team of white and Asian Valley Girls showed us how they dance MTV-style in the suburban Portland and Willamette Valley 'Hoods. Lake Oswego! Troutdale! Eugene! Boring!
"Those girls on that team look like ostriches!" exclaimed Erin. "It's disgusting how they wiggle their butts."
No better handsprings could be seen in a Brazillian Two Ring Circus, and no better pyramids in an Iraqi prison....until they fell! On every team, someone would fall or at least shake with unsteadiness. Except one...the huge WILSON HIGH SCHOOL from Portland!! This no nonsense 17 member troop rolled like a well-oiled green tank patrol.
We were left speechless. Then I said, "Well, good thing we're not competing against them. We're a 4A (Small)." I glanced down at the little blue six member team from Grants Pass and breathed a sigh.
Suddenly, the MC announced "Next up in 4A small....THE DALLES WAHTONKA!"
The three dumb blondes ahead of us stretched for a look.
"What color are their shoes?" asked the one with the baby and the nicely laundered thong.
"They're GOLD! They're GLITTERING!!!" gasped the one on her left, her eyelids sagging with mascara.
Suddenly, the music began for The Little Eaglets.
"VIVA LAS VEGAS!!!!!" Oh no! But what can you expect from a school that churns out several musicals each year? L'il Abner....How To Suceed in Business...Oklahoma!
The ten little Indians bounced like perfect springs across the gym! They stacked 3 High like a display of fine ruby and topaz jewelry and did not waver once!
"They're going to win," said Ian.
And they did!
"Ha!" said the large blonde woman as she fingered her glass of Miller Lite. "This will be nothing. I was a member of The Rainbow Girls and Eastern Star. They were tough! We had to wear evening gowns to the initiation."
"What's Eastern Star?" asked the younger blond woman. She was dressed in black and through her left eyebrow and through her nose she wore the most delicate of silver rings. Like the older blonde, she resembled a Viking warrior.
"Masons!" said the other woman.
I stared off across the vacuous, silent dancefloor of the Eagles Aerie and contemplated our fate. Soon we would become full-fledged Eaglets and be issued....our own keycards! I thought of the five women at the table, all dressed in lovely evening gowns. Instead, we wore Nice Trousers.
The conversation slipped off of masonry. The older blonde woman, by trade the Manager of The Oregon Trail Close-Out Center, said "We're almost moved over to Dallesport...we got between 2 and a half and three acres...our fourwheelers and our Harleys, our boat...they're moved over there already. Wide open spaces over there!!!" She turned to me and said "You look pretty calm!"
"That's because I'm petrified," I said, flashing geology terms at her. I fingered my grandfathers ring. I wasn't really petrified, either literally or figuratively, but the last thing I wanted to say here was "After going through Prelims, everything is a breeze."
"Say, do you all know each other?" I asked. The colors on the neon Budweiser sign seemed so pale in the windowless daylight.
The ample brunette chuckled. "Yeah, we do! I'm Sandra, and this is my daughter Tanya. And this is my friend Darlene, but we didnt know either one of us that the other was coming! Ha ha! And this is my ex-mother in law May. We all live together in Dallesport! Can you imagine living with your ex-mother-in law!!!" May was the only wiry woman in the group and she had bright, quick eyes.
"I WAS living on The Coast," said May.
"We went to visit her in Lincoln City, and the place was CRAWLING with cockroaches!" said Sandra.
"You said you couldnt even sleep in your bed, you were sleeping in the recliner and still they were dripping down from the ceiling onto you like water!" said Tanya.
"There were even cockroaches in the microwave and in the refrigerator!" added Sandra. "We got a U-Haul and moved her out right away!"
Suddenly a woman with curly hair and a blue vest...it looked alot like the one Erin had for Campfire!... opened the door to the room where on New Years Eve I had gobled down bar-b-cue tricuits.
"Where's the other gals?" she asked. "They said there were seven of you!"
"Uh..." we said.
"I'll check at the bar!" she said. She walked over and came back with another gal in tow.
"Look who I found!" she said. Where was the other one? We would never know.
What happens inside the exalted door to the kitchen room? That I cannot tell. But here is what Eagles believe in
I have learned that everyone sees things through different eyes. But how could you look westward along the Columbia at sunset and not love America? Support Our Troops...bring them home.
"Can I get a Scotch and Soda?" I asked the bartender. I'd meant to go home direct, but felt I'd earned the icy glass.
"You can come sit with us," said Sandra. She and her daughter had ordered another round of Miller. The two elderly women at the table were drinking coffee. Tanya lit a cigarette.
"She"...she said indicating one of the older women..."said that we'd have to ride donkeys!!"
The older woman smiled faintly and began to tell us some of the rules. "Well...did you know that you cant sign in a man as a guest...you cant sign in your boyfriend. You have to ask one of the guys inside to do it. They know which ones not to let in...the ones that start fights."
"Huh!" said Tanya.
January 2005-The American West begins on the back road between Mosier and The Dalles. At the snap of a finger, a desperate hand will lose its fading grasp on the cool dark world of the Portlandista and find itself holding a bright expansive winter.
We drive the old red Windstar south up Mosier Creek. We turn at the place the asphalt roads come together like brances on old apple trees, driving up past orchards and small farms. Up and up, past the Mosier Trailer Resort...soon there are no houses...soon there is no pavement, only dry gravel. Below us, to the West, there is the Oregon of your dreams, dark green conifers spead across the Cascades like moss on smooth jagged rocks, like tastefully clipped beard hairs in the neck crotch of a bird-watcher, one silver pebble, a food crum of a cabin in all our vista. We pull over half on the roadway...there is no boundary and no one will care. Erin grabs the new digital camera, snapping the sky, the sun, and the mountains, then turns to the black winter ghosts of scrub oaks above us. This is where the West begins. This is the line.
We drive upwards on Vensel Road, sometimes through scrub, sometimes through forest, but now past patches of snow. We look over to the isolated ranch on our right.
"Isnt that where we saw those dogs running in the field last week?"
"Yes, and look, their tracks are still there in the snow!" The sun had drilled their pawprints to bare soil and dead grass. Just last week, Emma had been sitting where I am now.
"Oh my!" she had said as the road turned steep and narrow, the back wheels spitting gravel out into the past.
"Look at those dogs running!" Erin had said to Baby Victor, his warm dark eyes like big chestnuts in his tiny head.
Suddenly, the sound of samba rhythm!
"Here, you answer it." I hand the phone to Erin.
We turn left onto Chenoweth Creek Road with its brown wood fences and cattle grate.
"Look! Ahead! A deer!" says Erin.
Deja vu! I stop.
"He will run," says Erin. But he doesnt...not yet. I pull out the camera. We take photos of the dust on the our windshield and the road
ahead of us. The deer has antlers like big dead oak trees, and he's figiting. Then I remember the telefoto feature. Voila! A big deer,
captured on electrons!
"He's going to hop!" says Erin. And he does...right over the barbed wire!
Montreal! How this internet espresso-lain city tempts fate! One night, I casually glanced at the advertisements on my confusing city
map. My eyes were rivited on these words
I wrapped myself in my new pink parka (inspired by "Legally Blonde") and set out au pieds north on St. Denis, into the Latin Quarter.
VOILA! on my left, there it was. I opened the door...
"Bonjour Madame! Comment va tu ce soir!" said the lady at the door.
"Just me..." I said, clueless. Having spent my high school FTA service grading tests for Mlle. Stange's "Francais avec Alabama
Dipthongs" class, I could read almost everything in Montral, but didnt understand a word that anyone said.
"We have a vegetarian buffet here. There are three tables, hot, cold, and desserts. You seat yourself...it's all NON-SMOKING!" I drew in my breath.
"That's great!" I said. No joke! Almost in tears, I piled my Lumi-arc plate p high at the hot and cold buffets. Theres nothing better than
a huge transparent plate of tofu products and a bottle of ale with a lumberjack on the label, eh!! It was much later when I tumbled out
again into the charming frigid night.
"Avez-vous un peu d'argent pour moi, s'il vous plait, je suis si froid!" said a young man sitting on the sidewalk. He was wrapped in a
"Uh...Je ne peut parlez le francais," I said, using the second person plural instead of the infinitive to sound stupid and ignorant.
"You have any of ze spare change?" he repeated.
In fact, I went to the Veggie Palace the next day, too, for Sunday lunch. Then I walked back to the hotel and retrieved my backpack and the bright blue Chinese suitcase I'd bought in New Zealand for US$9.
"How do I get to the airport bus?" I asked.
"It's a long way. You better take the subway," said the desk clerk.
Not me! Subways are for wimps!
I set out along the Rue Pomme de Terre, a 35 pound pack on my back, dragging a cheap busted suitcase behind me. What happened was that Northwest Airlines baggage smashed it on the way to YUL, but I didnt know that until I got it to the hotel and tried to extend the handle. It jammed halfway, wouldnt go up nor down and the plastic cross-brace was busted as well. So hence I walked at an odd, lowered angle so I could pull the case on the icy sidewalks. How weird I must have looked!
Lucky the station only twenty or so blocks! There it was, just ahead!!...uh.....
"It USED to be here," someone explained. "To get to the NEW bus station, you take this subway line, and then ask...." OH NO! The
hotel clerk had sent me to the train station!!!
Screw Northwest Orient, should I just take a fast train to Vancouver? At this point, I had no time to toy with questions and uncertainty. I walked out to the grim brown cold front of the station and stared at the line of cabs. A cab? I'd never taken a cab on my own...in The
Dalles, "a cab" means the woman with a battered blue Voyager who takes welfare recipients to Fred Meyer for groceries! How far would I sink!
I settled into the back seat as the driver, a robust man in a tired black jacket, wound up his mouth.
"Where are you going?" he asked. What a loaded question!
"Back to Oregon." I said.
"Do you know Serbo-Croatia?" Of course I did. "I was a foreign diplomat from the former Yugoslavia before the war, but when it broke out I stayed here. I was first in the US, but I applied for a job teaching English and they would not hire me...English and water polo. So now I am driving a cab. I was a championship water polo player. You would think I could find a job."
"Water polo..." I said.
"Not so much played here, but they do have water polo in Portland. How do you like Montreal? You should visit New Brunswick, it is lovely there, have you been there."
"No....but I think British Columbia is really nice!" I said.
"British Columbia! Ha...an American State!"
"Ha ha..." I said.
"You know, Canada should all become American states. There was a survey made and 30% of the people unprompted said that Canada should join the US. Why not! Canada has to do do what the US says on major policy anyway. You look at Trudeau, he was a master at this, going to visit Castro, making like he was defying the US, and then on something that made a difference missles for example, he did just what the Us wanted him to....We should have the voice...we should be able to vote."
"Maybe Bush wouldnt have been elected." This was his cue to say the right thing.
"Maybe the Republicans wouldnt have let the Canadians join. Because the Canadians would have voted for Kerry. You should visit Croatia. It is perfectly safe now that the war is over. Slovenia, Montenegro...Things are cheap and they have the big houses they rent out..."
And then I WAS looking at Trudeau, and at Northwest Orient.
Finland, March 2005.....I sat inside my new little Toyota Yaris as the man from the little rental firm filled out the form.
"I'm having trouble writing...I think the pen is frozen," he said in his beautiful, characteristic accent.
"Here's one from AmericInn," I said. I'd just recently stolen it in Wadena, Minnesota.
"You'll love driving this little car," he said. "It has little spikes on the tires, so you wont slip around on the road."
Fueled by one hour of sleep and five drinks on the flight from Seattle to Kopenhavn, I drove north. I drove and drove, past skiers and snomobile festivals and ice fishers, the revisited Finnish roads now almost as familar to me as Highway 51. After an hour, I stopped at a Huoltoasema Cafe (that's finnish for gas station...) and ate an open faced salmon sandwich, a cardemon pullaa roll, and drank dark, harmless home beer. I drove past the City of Lahti, the sky now dark against the shining earth. I took a wrong turn, towards Mikkeli. Suddenly on my left, vasemalle, an affordable place to stay...The Pine Tree Motel! "Dance Hall Special!!" said the sign on the side of the building. You dont see this too often!
"I'm looking for a room!" I said to the desk clerk. The middle aged woman stared at me...you're not in Helsinki anymore sugar! "Uh...huonee," I said dumbly. "Huone!!" she nodded. That's Finnish for "room."
"Kuinka paljon maksaa?" I asked, mustering my tired memory. When would I get to Sweden where the word for "room" is "rum"? Jag vill få ett rum...zzzzz..................clunk. Ah, Sweden of my dreams!
"Viisi kymmente viisi euroa," she said, holding up an 8 1/2 X 11 plastic sign and pointing for emphasis. 55 euros. This doesnt seem like a lot, but the exchange rate sucks!
"OK!!!" I said....but what was this lippu..."ticket" on my bill? I turned and headed for the door. What was this huge room off the lobby...why, it was a dance floor! Why...it was as big as the dance floor at the F.O.E. Eagles Lodge and there was loud music, too! Suddenly, a little blond elflike man appeared at the threshhold, all clad in a black jogging suit.
"Tansitko minun kanssa, ehkä vain kymmente minutia?" said the little elf mildly...this means something like will you dance with me for about 10 minutes.
"Uh....minun suomi on paha!" I said. This means something like "My Finnish sucks!" I sped on outwards to my room. I really wanted to see what my bed looked like, close up!
But like it or not....fate and that wrong turn had trapped me in Finnish Humppa Dancehall Hell!!!
The room was bountiful....2 beds and a couch! Beyond the room, beyond the balcony churned the waters of frozen Lake Peru, the snowy shore and the solid waters merging in white like the duvet and pillow on my bed....zzzz.....cider, pear cider. My eyes popped open like a breakfast toaster. I put on my Swedish Clogs and slid on back to the lobby.
"Saisinko sideri?" I asked the young bartender.
"Do you want ice with that?" he answered.
Any other night than Friday they would have had a real band, but just like the Eagles, this was Friday and that meant KARYOKE!!! Oh no!
"NYT me soittamme RHUMBA!!!!" the dj would say, and one of the four guys at the front table would take the mike and sing some rumba song in Finnish. Then another one would sing an insipid pop tune, or some great Russian flavored humppa classic. Humppa, in case you dont know, is Finnish for polka, you know, oom-paa, but I think rather it is an all-encompassing term for nuevo Lawrence Welk.
At best, 5 or 6 couples would be dancing at one time, but paucity was balanced by enthusiasm! There was even a guy dancing in a wheel chair, the kind you see people playing basket ball in!!!
Finally, after 2 pear ciders without ice..
"It's 5 euros now, it is no longer Happy Hour," said the barista....
I decided to call it quits. I walked back across the dancefloor.
"Ja nyt me soittamme valssi!" the dj was saying. Some of the singers were pretty good, but this one sounded like a dying road-kill reindeer.
"This is the music of the people, true folk music!" I muttered, as if in a dream. The room lights sparkled magically like Christmas.
Suddenly, the little elf man appeared again!!!!
"Minun suomi on paha!" I said again!!!
"Mista asut....oletko saksalainen, venalainen???" Was I a Russian tourist?
"Olen amerikalainen," I mumbled, as he followed me out the door into the cold March evening. He pointed at his Toyota Landcruiser, and, beckoning me, opened the cold steel right rear door.
"Huh?" I said.
The elf pulled a fifth of scotch out of the back seat. "Upea drinkii!!" he said.
I shook my head. "Olen liian vasynyt," I said. This means "I am too tired." Maybe I could be enchanted at a later time when I was awake.
"Naw...." he said, following me with the bottle of booze.
"Olen vasynyt," I repeated. I'm tired. My feet crackling on the ice underfoot, I turned the key to the pine door of my room and went inside, alone.
Last week, for Spring Break, Ian and I flew to Houston to help Emma move back to Bryan. Frankly, Ian and I would have preferred to vacation in Maui, but we had a great time visiting Emma and Victor (Wee Erin was at a spring break camp at the Campfire Camp they call Namanu having a rip roaring time, so dont feel sorry for HER!!!). We also attended the 10th Anniversary Celebration of our old Radio station, KEOS community radio. Anyway, the story starts as I pull out of a Best Western (Truck Parking Available!) in Navasota, 20 miles south of Bryan at 550 am to fly home via the 70 mile distant Houston airport....our rental vehicle is a behemuth jet black 17mpg Jeep 4wd SUV...bumped "up" from a sub-compact!!! Right-O!!!
TEXAS, March 2005...We'd started out in the peach grey light of dawn, the headlights of the darth vader jeep brightly lit, but quickly the savanna became morning green, yaupon and scrub oak confetti like a Casa Ole margarita or my side-kick bottle of diet mountain dew. My daughter's friend's half-brother's pregnant wife had told me I cant take the tequila, but at Casa Ole they make them out of champagne. And I told her I always like going there because they have that avocado dip with the salsa.
Ahead of me, the miles ride on, northeast, why was I going north east? Anderson...and straight ahead to Huntsville. Oh *(&*( I am on the wrong road .and so I turn back to Navasota, where we staid the night in a curry motel. We'd staid till 545 to have continental breakfast with 2 husky truckers, their diesels firing up in the lot. The milk's right there in the refrigerator, one had told me. I searched for tea, but there was no hot water, no tea bags, just three pots of coffee. Texas, its Texas, I told my self. My memory of Texas...particularly of how to get to the airport from Bryan...is now foggy as a Brazos morning, smoggy as the Houston landscape, smoky as a BP refinery explosion.
To my left, 1774, shortcut south to Plantersville. The narrow black road seems to twist on forever through yaupon (Ilex vomitorium) and sticky cow pasture but the story does end.
The pretty woman next to me is eighteen, and is flying back from Clearwater, Florida with her mom and brother. It rained the whole time. She tells me I'm going to Texas Christian University this fall, and when we went to look at it, we drove for three weeks on a road trip. We went through Denver. The rockies were beautiful. I was raised in Portland, but I wanted to try something different.
Will you miss your friends?
Not so much...just my few best friends. But I am a Christian and most of the people I know from school just say they are Christians, it is only skin deep. They smoke and drink and party. But who I will miss most is my mom. She is really a great person and my best friend. The woman on my right is in college in Lake Charles. She is going home to Portland to see her family. She is wearing spaghetti straps and on her waist there is a tattoo. She calls her dad on her cell phone and says we are about to take off. I zip up my fleece, even though I am starting to sizzle in the pre-take off heat, so that she will not see my black Nightwish Tshirt. It says Touring Around This Planet Hell 2004.
We are waiting for two unaccompanied minors who were directed to the wrong gate. Then we will take off and we will see mount hood sticking through white clouds like an icing nozzle, three hours in the future.
Ian, I will say through two seats of separation, there is Mount Hood.
Finland, March 2005 In the last days of my trip, I finally found peace across long white Finnish days. It was if I were a dying woman, struggling to live to the fullest before I ended my days in one final snowy dawn. What I did these last couple of days was drive around a lot aimlessly until I figured out something exceptional to do...tiny Yares with mega km/l are particularly suited for this...and then I'd pull into gas stations and have a pullaa and Pepsi max every so often. Then towards evening I would try without avail to find suitable lodging for a couple hours, until finally fate led me to somewhere weird, and then I'd have a dinner consisting of however they fixed salmon there and a pear cider or three. A lot of people don't want to live this way, but I find it pretty metro chic!
In early March, the daylight in Finland and Sweden builds to about 12 hours, but the sun hangs low, a rising pendulum in the icy sky, its yellow light dimly skimming the surface of cold white snow. In the waning hours of Saturday afternoon, I began my lodging search in the wooden buildings of Vanha Rauma, Old Town Rauma, on the west coast. I then turned south but changed my mind.
"Hameenlina..." I said to myself. I would go see the old castle there. It was something to do. And so I began a soonly dark journey halfway across southern Finland towards the city of Tampere.
"WHOA!!!" I said to my telephone. "NOKIA!!! I'm in the town of NOKIA! You're home, boy!"
"Better take a photo," he said.
"I need a better phone for that!" I snarled back.
I did, then we drove on to the spa resort they call "Rantasipi Eden," thinking maybe they had a hot tub. Ranta Sipi is Finnish for Shore Hotel Chain, and Eden is self explanatory. "Welcome to Eden!" Thedazzlingly opulently lit Eden arose like a gleaming royal diadem ofsticky Las Vegas in the New Finland, a bloated cruise ship obscenely anchored in Ketchikan, a rock candy mountain covered with ice cream and swarming with big Finnish ants.
I figured the hot tub was swarming with upscale insects as well. Iturned back into the cold Finnish forest.
Finally, I found the town of Hameenlinna. This means "Hame's Castle." There it was, the castle, right across the river! But where were the humppa motels!?! Sure, the downtown areas were arock with club goers and nice bars, but where would I park...? And just where WERE the hotels? I loved these mysteries...
"I am sorry, we are completely booked!" said the desk clerk at the chainette built to look like a castle.
Not looking back, I drove off, on the cold, dark route to Lahti. But before I had gotten but a few Kilometers, I saw the sign, and I knew I had been led....led by fate!
[to be continued]
The Dalles West Exit, I-84! I was late for my show, but nonetheless felt compelled to pull over. "I got my stuff in the front here...can you perhaps sit in the back? Where are you going?" I said.
The lean, bearded, grey-haired man climbed in. "Portland," he said.
"So am I," I said.
"My name's Rick Watson. I'm going to Vancouver to visit my step daughter. She's a single mom with 2 kids. They dont call me grandpa...they call me grandpaPA!!! I just got out of the hospital here with a heart attack. I was sitting in Denney's having a cup of coffee and POW! I fell over and they called the ambulance. The nurses were really nice...people are really nice here.
"Wow...how old are you?" I asked.
"Fifty four. "
I asked him where he was from.
"From Missouri originally. But I was living in Mississippi. See what happened was that my second wife ran off with a black man. Plus I had this new van conversion and she ran it into a tree six times intentionally. Fourteen thousand dollars. So I hitched up here. Wow It's so green out there."
"It will be before it dries up in the summer."
Rick was a moving man by profession, working for the top moving companies and driving the big vans. He was wearing an ALLIED STORAGE cap, big yellow letters. He had even moved the president of coca-cola from the east coast to Seattle. I wont tell the story in public.
"A moving van is almost never overweight," he said. Wow that was a new fact.! "the most I ever weighed was 38,000 pounds." Now his vertebrae were deteriorating and he couldnt lift anything.
"I had a job setting up trade shows in Vegas for about six months. You'd set 'em up and then you wouldnt have anything to do for 3 days. Drove me nuts. I had a friend out there laid down behind one of the casinos and ended up with a hundred scorpion bites...laid down in a scorpion nest. Died."
"Huh!" I said.
"You'll like it here," I said.
"Yeah...I like the west coast. I hate the east coast. I hate New York. People there never took driving lessons. I was on this bridge once in New York and it took 2 hours just to get across it. I like Connecticut, though! This one company I worked for, out of Dallas, the manager Jim Wallace had a Thanksgiving spread up at their warehouse in Connecticut...every food imaginable. You had to wear a tie and your pants had to be pressed, and you had to wax the floor of your truck!"
"How classy," I said.
The miles wore on, but Rick's mouth was fluid. Soon we were in
Troutdale, flodgate to the Rose City.
"My first wife, we had 2 sets of twins...out in California. My first son lived in Fresno. He was throwing snowballs at some skinheads and one of them took an iron bar and bashed his head in eight times. Then he stabbed him six. Bashed his brains out, killed him. It was in all the papers...the three guys that did it got the death sentence. It really tore me up."
I gasped. "How old was he?"
"Nineteen." He started to cry softly.
"Wow," I said and thought of Ian. "When was this?"
"About a year ago," he said. "I got a couple of friends who are bikers and who're in jail and they said, "Look Rick, don't worry,
we'll take care of them. We'll fix it."
This time last week, we were in Southern Finland! We were looking for lodging in Southern Finland and had passed up the Ratasipi Eden...but listen, I was hedging...
Here are some strange facts
1) The shape of the sum total of human suffering is like your spouse's job. It's a black hole, stretching on forever in time, sucking in anything it can find.
2) Back in the 60s, someone, probably a guy, came up with the fact that wearing cute clothes and decorating your home with beautiful things was sinful, shallow, and part of the military industrial complex. Hence you spent years wearing faded brown flannel shirts and patched bell-bottoms and later went on to REI fleece vests. This guy, you would discover during the late 90s, was color blind and had absolutely no interest in visual aesthetics and had owned a televison for years. In actual fact, buying a pink satin blouse at St Vinnies uses less of the earth's resources than buying a cheap chinese t-shirt at Rite-Aid.
3) The conclusion is, briefly, that probably what you should do is what you can for other people, then go out
and party. There's no reason for you to get sucked into that black hole, because to do so just makes the black hole bigger.
4) And my confession is that I lied. The reason I didnt stay at EDEN wasnt that it was disgustingly commercial. It was because I thought they probably didnt have any vacancies.
But all this philosophical Finnish stuff will have to wait till next week.
The Dalles, April 2004, 930 pm--Damn! My key card to the Eagles Lodge didnt do a thing. I rang the bell. Someone buzzed me in.
Over by the bar, a half dozen sleezeballs of various genders were pouring Bud down their throats.
"Ha ha!! You're not his wife!?" one of them said to me with a slosh, his chubby tatoos gleaming. "He was supposed to be home 2 hours ago...haha!"
"No, I'm not," I said. Almost five years here in The Dalles, you start to feel like you know what to say.
I said to the bartender, "This thing doesnt work."
"They expired March 31st."
"Can I buy a new one from you then?" I asked.
I've always been afraid of martinis, but recently I've felt able to take the challenge, out of desperation, I guess. It's like the step from marijuana to meth.
"You want regular or with vodka...?"
"Regular," I said. "I've already had the one with vodka."
"You want that up or on the rocks?"
"Uh....up, I guess."
"I'm just trying to figure out what glass to use." He pulled a margarita glass of the shelf. "I dont think you want gin. You didnt like that gin and tonic last week."
"Oh...vodka, I guess," I said. He seemed to think I was a little weird. "I usually just drink margaritas," I apologized.
"This isnt a margarita," he warned. "It's a martini." Huh! The bartender poured about a cup of vodka in his silver shaker."Uh...let me look that up. Two seventy-five."
"We need to get some Mexicans in here...do a Cinqo de Mayo..once you get the ball rolling those Mexicans join up like crazy...."
"You got a taxi out there Bill?" asked the bartender. Taxi????!?!?
"Uh...yeah...I aint drivin' home!" said Bill, spilling a wave of Miller Lite onto the carpet.
"I'll give him a ride," said Shane, his tattoos flashing.
"Did you know some Mexicans arent from Mexico?" said some 0ther guy.
"This isnt like the last one I had. The other one tasted musty," I said, looking up from The Oregonian. That's the Portland paper. The lead article was about how there is more acid rain here in The Columbia Gorge than in Pittsburg. The room was starting to spin. I chomped down on an olive.
"That's because they put too much vermouth in it. This one is DRY. The drier the martini, the better it is...just a drop of vermouth. I know...I've been a bartender for 30 years."
"You know how to make a cosmopolitan?" I asked. I'd tried at the Eagles before and gotten a blank stare. Sex on the Beach si...Cosmo, no.
"Sure....that's easy! Sweet and sour...cranberry juice....real popular in Portland...."
"I'll get one next time, then." I said.
"I used to work at a martini bar in Portland." he said, beginning to warm up. A martini bar?!??! "Lemon drops...cosmopolitans...all sorts of martinis." He mentioned a liqueur I'd never heard of. "But this is mainly an older peoples bar. We dont have a lot of that stuff."
"I had a chocolate martini in Baldwins Saloon once."
"Yeah! Creme de cacao! We've got that!"
&&&&&&CALIFORNIA PARTY WEEKEND!!!!
The world begins to change like a vortex chameleon the minute you step down the Alaska/Horizon into that plane. Slowly, clearcuts still in spring powdered with what looks like cleanser, lone pines abandoned by fate poking up above them like them like tiny versions of the brushes you use for cleaning out the back of your refrigerator....NO NO, STOP THE IMAGERY!!!!
Ian and I boarded the small Horizon Air plane bound for San Jose without incident. Imagine,in just 1 3/4 hours, we would land in CALIFORNIA and PARTY WEEKEND!!! In the next 36 hours, we would meet some wonderful people and we would also have a great time....
Party Stop 1. "We offer complimentary ale or wine to folks over 21," said the magazine in the seat pocket. Must be a misprint!
"Beer or wine?" the stewardess asked, making the ninth sweep of the aisle, swaying a 2 gallon bottle in each hand. "This, by the way, is a witty partnership between vinyards and breweries who need advertising, and Alaska Horizon, who is striving to numb passengers into believing the plane was not 45 minutes late as is habitually the case," the stewardess did not say.
I am so proud of the west coast and its urban chic uniqueness!!! Free corn chips and amber ale!!
Out the window, the scrubbrush like mountains and increasingly dry forests gave way to crew cut maquis, and then to golf courses rolling beneath like green beans boiling in a kettle. Imagine going to bed with a lumberjack and waking with a Greek restaurant owner!
"I think we're late, Ian!" Outside our rental car, rain was dripping down like a lazy sprinkler in the oily dark. We sped southwest across the lethal Santa Cruz Hills. If it were morning, they would shine like green velvet.
"WOW! Why couldnt they have the dinner at that cute roadhouse?" I asked. "We would be there already!
"Flares...wonder where the state troopers are going?" I asked.
"Wonder how that car got up on its side like that?" Ian asked.
Party Stop 2. Soon we would arrive at La Crepe Delicieuse, site of our first party. I would recognize them by their photos....BCDiver, CA Dreamer, Gremlin, and Todd. I'd met them on the internet as words, as pseudonyms of Bill Trackers and now here they would be humans, Californians! We would sit down at an oblong table and order cokes and crepes. Ian would roll his eyes at first, but in the end leave enchanted. I would briefly close mine...zzzz....BONK! too much LaConner Supreme!
Someone would pull out a huge stack of dollar bills...time to trade!!!!
But even more stunning, BCD would pull out his cellophane encased 1935 Abe, the serial numbers printed in red.
"I got this in a STRAP from the BANK!" he would say.
When I was young, would I have seen these old fives as a matter of course?
[To be continued, not to be confused with Finland To Be Continued.]
Night had fallen on Paradise, otherwise known as the stretch of Washington State 14 between Washougal and North Bonneville. Far to the south side of the road, the lights of the big Oregon interstate reflected into the oily dark waters of the Columbia as if lakers in the memory Port of Duluth, the clatter of holds filling with grain and iron ore. Her ability to write as she traveled waxed and waned. She stared at the double yellow line before her on the empty black road. Black and yellow stretched lines of mutated bees. The black and yellow line reflected as the schoolbus traveling along it. Giant bees disembarking from a Skamania County School District bus and crossing the double yellow line, in the night. It was time to write about the woman from Oregon.
The woman from Oregon sat in the cool sunshine in the rear of her friend's home in Santa Cruz. One of the guests said
"A lot of people havent been here before. They say 'What a pretty, cozy house!' But they didnt see it before, they dont know how far it's come."
She could remember the house four years ago, four years back into a hundred sixty. House warming party...This was a cause for celebration indeed!
Invisible, she sat and ate pot luck food that would run in shifts, salads and cakes in musical plates, guests in musical chairs, bands in musical tupans and gaidas. As a woman from Oregon, she could do this, eyes, ears and mouth filling with others' life as if they were a bathroom sponge.
"Yeah, I did live out in Colorado for a while, but I came back. I wanted to live in a blue state. The interior of America has difficulty seeing things as they are."
"I dont see how anyone can see how things are from within America. When I lived in Spain, you saw what was really going on in Iraq. You saw how many babies were being killed."
"Spain pulled out didnt they? Voted out."
"Yeah, and it'll be interesting to see what happens in the British elections."
The Woman from Oregon went in to get some brie and crackers and then came back out again. The climate had changed.
"What is that bush? Someone said it is a camelia, but I think it's a rose," said a woman.
"It has leaves that are characteristic of the family Rosaceae," the Oregonian offered in a credible but somehow goofy manner.
Most of the guests had some other reason to be in Santa Cruz on Saturday. Most likely they even lived there...hence this was just one car in the ferris wheel of Saturday; if each person were a piece of string, then this moment would be a large complex knot....one knot on the vast net. An Oregon woman, or a relative from down the coast, would, on the other hand, be as a strand of discarded fishing line caught in a tangle on the otherwise orderly net.
"There's sixty people here!" said a young woman to the hostess. What a big knot!
"We know her from years ago, before she was married," a woman told her when she asked.
"Wow...I wonder what it would be like to have so many friends," answered the woman from Oregon, who was becoming more reclusive as time went on.
In the evening, the musical bands played and sang, and people danced. The room, in fact, was filled with people who knew her friend from folk dancing. She tried for the easy ones...she'd given up hope of dancing even in strict repetition without explicit instructions from a Caller. It was between two of these Balkan line dances that she said to her son
"That man looks like Eric at Sacred Harp."
"What?" said the tall man. Oops!
"We sing Sacred Harp," she explained. "You look like one of the Tenors."
"Sacred Harp? I LOVE Sacred Harp! Do they still do that? I sang it as a child, south of Fresno."
"You were a Primitive Baptist?" she asked.
"Pentecostalist. That's why I became a bohemian when I grew up! Ha ha ha!"
"Pentecostalist? But it was a capella?"
"Well...they do it in a square, but we sang in regular rows...but a capella yes. It was one of the finest experiences I ever had, to have the spirit of god...the love of god pouring from you...filling the room as you sang. And that's about the same way I feel about dancing now."
Junkie! she almost said. "Huh!"
"If you'll excuse me now, I need to dance!" he laughed.
By night, The Dalles and its companion Dallesport, WA are clothed in basic black, the streetlights and signs of Johnny's Café and the RECREATION BOWLING center like diamonds and beads on a crepe cocktail dress, the Great Columbia crawling between them like a black satin scarf or a large licorice snake...slithering up....strangling the inhabitants in refuse from Hanford way upstream....
Gary the Bartender is reluctant to suggest anything. I've told him my plan...to discover what metro chic mixed drinks taste like, but I can tell he thinks I'm addled. Lucky he's older and thus more addled than me...a retired owner of two bars in Portland. He intended to move someplace like Maui or Florida, but instead he came to visit his sister in Dallesport and stayed, lured by Beaver Paradise.
"White Russian. Vodka, kahlua, and half and half...some folks put in a little coke, makes it sweeter. They call that a Colorado Bulldog."
"I think I'll just take the white russian this time....that's a lot of kahlua there...."
He pauses dryly and says abruptly..
"San Francisco...we called it a San Francisco. One night we were drinking these and we decided to drive to San Francisco."
"From where? Portland?"
"Portland. It was only nine hours. We were there in time for brunch. We ate brunch in San Francisco."
A day and a half after that, The Dalles held its annual Clean Up Day. I saw the full pick-ups lined up alongside the National Guard Armory and knew this was my one opportunity.
"Hey guys, let's get rid of the old bathroom plumbing that's sitting beside the driveway!"
No one moved. I didnt dare suggest we get rid of the toilet sitting by the garage in full view of the street. What is it about men that they want so badly to retain old plumbing? But finally my enthusiasm was infectious. Soon the back of my red Windstar was filled with refuse pipes.
"How about that old fiberglass shower stall? The aluminum frame for the door?" Oops...must be reusable!!!
"Can I go?" said Erin. And so we went. Pick-ups containing brush, Christmas trees (some folks here still have their lights up!), old mattresses and dead tires...and others just containing things most people would sell at garage sales jostled for position.
"Wow! I just feel like plucking that lamp out of the pick up ahead of us!" said Erin.
"Wow!" I said. "That stuff is almost NEW!"
Soon we were at the head of the line. "You got plumbing back there...you a plumber?" said the hefty Dalles Disposal Service Employee.
"No," I said.
"You just cut the pipes up and hauled 'em out...ha ha ha!" he said.
"I'm not reponsible," I repeated.
"Ha ha ha!" he said.
We turned into the armory. Huge refuse and recycling trucks moved in and out two a minute, like giant noisy dinosaurs, the place was so busy!
"They must hate being here on Saturday." said Erin.
"I bet they're just happy not to be in Iraq!" I said.
"You got metal there...turn left behind that pick up! And here's a recycling leaflet and over there is the Use and Reuse things [remember the lamp?] and the Lions Club has *** free*** HOT DOGS inside too!" said the guy after we made the turn. And, we would later learn, pastries, doughnuts, bananas, cokes....
At the metal area, two men pulled out our plumbing and stacked it with old school desks, high chairs, and unidentifiable twisted chunks of metal. Shortly thereafter, a big duckbill picked it up and chunked everything in a truck. We turned and parked, then looked at the Reuse area. Immediately I knew we were in trouble at home.
"Look at those baskets!" said Erin."I can use those to sort those herbs,"
"Look at those benches!" I said.
"Isnt that cute! The lid lifts up!" exclaimed a National Guardswoman. This is what The Guard SHOULD be doing!
"I can use one in my office and one in the bathroom!" I said.
That evening, Ian and I went to Fred Meyer for groceries.
"Sheaf Stout and milk? You're not going to mix those, are you? Ha ha ha!" said the checkout clerk.
"No..." I said.
"Weekend Rates at the Palace"...Rural Hameenlinna, Finland March 2005
Some of my recent writing is influenced by a book I read in February by Dan Kennedy.
Writing about conversations is almost like cheating. People say what they say and you just remember it. If you can remember it, it's probably interesting and usually, but not always, silly enough to entertain readers. I will have to remember that if I ever become a real writer. Otherwise, you have to remember what you were saying to yourself. Imagine a volcanic eruption, molten magma flying around like a shook up catsup bottle. Or even more fascinating, terminal moraines in southern Finland, ice knocking over mastadons and stuff. But maybe when all that's going on, you're thinking about what pretty blond hair that guy had who was getting out of that old Volvo wagon back in Jokkmokk and how you'd like to meet him, over and over in different scenarios. Madame, han sade, det var så dålig att när min bils dörr oppnade, slåg jag dig. Ah! Men du är så vacker! Jag ska köpa dig frukost! Och så vidare. Pretty boring, huh. Well, there arent a lot of conversations here in southern Finland , just a lot of snö, or as the locals say, paljon lunta.
[förtsatte....continued] She drove the little red car past lights on Finnish snow...where was she going? She knew from the Lonely Planet that the sign led to a conference center. The yellow lights reflected like butterscotch and Kahlua on the March ice. It was not what she expected, none of the thoughts of concrete hotels or modern wooden lodges rattling in her head were valid. Ahead of her stood an immense brick estate she had seen once...just once...in Ireland.
There were no more signs. She and the red car passed through the first brick and metal gate, into an oblong courtyard. She wondered if she had invaded a private club, and if the hunting hounds would come for her soon. She parked by the huge wooden castle door, where two men in suits...dukes and earls she thought...stood talking in the cold Finnish evening. She pulled on the door.
"How do I..." she said to herself in English.
"Push," said one of the men.
And it was thus that she came to stay the night in the Vanajan Linna...Vanaja's Castle...you can see it right here!
http//www.vanajanlinna.fi/portal/english..and do look, because it is incredible!!!
Somewhere way above her was a ceiling! And to the left, the polished wood of the Reception Desk. She braced herself. "I'm looking for a room," she said.
"Yes, we have rooms," said the young woman.
"Um..." she said. "How much are they?"
An angel swept across her. "The same as a room at the Holiday Inn Express, had your president not jacked up the exchange rate so high," is what she heard in her head.
Very briefly, Vanajan Linna had been built as a magnificent hunting lodge in the1920 by a wealthy doctor and investor named Carl Wilhelm Rosenlew. Fazer, Svinhufvud and Mannerheim had visited here! Then by fate, it had become a conference center run by one of the many Finnish hotel chain. She cruised the darkly plush and lofty lobby, suddenly hungry. The vast main dining room was occupied by a group based in a Norwegian tour bus who were being forced to eat prime rib. But the softly wooden paneled pub...it was the most elegant pub in all of Finland! The old parquet floors on which Fazer and Svinhufvud (Finland's second president) had stood chatting were clothed in rugs from Persia. Modern-day guests in metro chic cocktail attire were eating right there in front of the elegantly mirrored and stocked bar, seated in carved walnut chairs! You can see the pub on the web page that says "Only the best is good enough."
"Uh...where is it here that I can eat dinner," she asked at the desk. Surely there was a snack bar somewhere.
"In the pub...yes! I'll have a table prepared for you at once!" said the other clerk. The American woman followed her into the bar, and to a table. The clerk motioned for a waitress.
"Can I get you a drink?" asked the waitress.
"Could I have a glass of white wine?" she said. "No.." she laughed. "A Glass of pear cider, please." The waitress held the bottle in a white napkin as she poured.
But wait...wasn't there a five year old rolling on the floor? And by the door...werent those two women wearing sweatsuits? And those people in tuxedos and satin and sequens...and dreadlocks! Why...they were part of a WEDDING PARTY!!!
She was so glad to be back in Finland, land of beauty and mystery. It was almost as weird and multifaceted as Portland!
April, 2005: What a delightful surprise! This year, The Scarlet Begonias...our cell of The Red Hat Society...would be launching a float in the Cherry festival Parade! I immediately replied to say that Erin and I would LOVE to ride on it. We started planning our red and purple spring costumes days in advance!!! And when that day came...Saturday to be exact, we proudly marched right over to the staging area behind Albertsons to hop on!
"Dad gave me this umbrella....and it's a ducks head!" exclaimed Erin, who was wearing one of those renfest dresses that come from India, in ambivalence.
We climbed on...and off...we'd been told to be there an hour ahead of the parade, and it was pretty darn wet!
"Do you know this is the first year that it has rained during the parade?" said the lady whos hat had been modified from one she'd got in a party shop in Portland. The original hat was a cross between Uncle Sam and the Mad Hatter. How damp of us! The crepe paper on the poles was bleeding and the red lace was hanging limp!
I got down and walked around, while Erin sat and chatter underneath her duck's bill. The Young Republicans had cut huge elephants out of cardboard or plywood, sure, but WE were far glitzier!! "Wanna see a Cherry Palooza!" someone commented. I walked back and climbed back up onto the float, a cleverly disguised farm trailer hauled by a RED truck, not an easy task in a slinky purple velvet gown! I sat down on my hay bale. Suddenly, the mayor appeared with a couple cherry red cylinders!
"You win!" he said. We'd won the Mayor's Trophy!!!
A clown came by and said "You know what. They have spring water in bottles now!" Well, there was a SPRING on the bottom of his water bottle.
A woman came by with a big yellow ribbon. "You've won second place!" she said. A woman dressed as a red and purple jestor put the ribbon on her trident.
I said to myself, "Why not let the kids win?"
Someone said, "Did you see that great paper dragon that Canton Wok has?"
Finally, we, the 74th entrant, began to move....past new John Deeres standing fallow, belly dancers standing...standing, past firemen ready for action, past soggy rodeo queens mounted on bored mares. We turned out onto 6th Street, past Burger King, Rite Aid, Fred Meyer, Taco Time. The rain had stopped, but all along the route, the parade watchers were chisled into shining grey pavement. A middle aged man with flippers for hands waved to us. Suddenly, we crossed into the Mill Creek valley, where everything was green. Across in Washington, the hills looked as verdant as Ireland....as the back of a dollar bill. Soon, we would be downtown!
"Huh!" said Erin. "Eduardo saw me."
"At least you were on a float."
"With a bunch of old ladies!" she said.
Afterwards, someone said, "Come to our house for cake!" That was where the float had been built, only two blocks from our house. Erin and I changed into civilian clothing and walked over.
WOW!!! "That's the house that says "NOT IN OUR TOWN" and used to say "BUSH" in the window." I commented. The NOT IN OUR TOWN refers to the porno shop just over the city limits from the new Home Depot. Someone once said that one quarter of the applicants for jobs at the Home Depot failed the drug test. We sat down in the living room, on the couch and gazed at the collection of beer steins.
"Where's Princess?" one woman asked.
"Princess is right over there!" said the elderly Bush supporter. She motioned to a white plastic cube on the bookshelf, faced with canine photographs. "Princess died," she said bluntly. "We miss her so much!"
Erin whispered to me, "I hated that dog! I'd walk down the street and she would run along the fence and bark at me and she wouldnt stop. Yap yap yap!!!"
Now in spring, the tender green leaves of the trees along Gorge are like firework Cascades of confetti and stoplights, and all of them say GO! That's what Ian and I were doing Sunday, going right along east on WA14 past the grimly beautiful pulp plant in Washougal, its vast smoke against the sky like the dream clouds of heaven. Our mission was to track down WIFI, and our weapon was my new Inspiron 600m computer, its shining 2 tone case so neatly reflecting the rich blue of the Cascadian sky and the grey of the Washougalian....well, Washougal in general. People outside the Pacific Northwest will recognize Washougal from...well, its name. Just imagine the name, grey Washwater or something. Or where they have all those petroleum refineries south of Houston.
"Detect any wireless connections here in Washougal?" I asked.
"No," said Ian, returning to his new copy of 1635b, which is one of those books where modern West Virginans drop through a time warp to 17th century Germany.
I shrugged. "Only 20 miles to Stevenson," I said. I knew that the entire downtown of Stevenson, Washington was wired, due to an experiment of the Rural WIFIfication Program. And...I knew a pime location for hooking up would be the Big River Grill, with its fine array of Northwest Ales and Stouts!!! So we drove along, over hill and dale, around Cape Horn where the Columbia cuts through at the apex of the Cascades and past the town of Skamania. At the sign for Skamania Lodge, I mumbled excitedly:
"Ian, put down your Dungeon and Dragons Guide To Orks and open up the Inspiron!" This was real life!
"Nothing here!" he said, as we passed that little lake on the outskirts of town."...no wait...there are four available connections!"
"But this one needs a password. We definitely need to pull in somewhere downtown."
The Big River Grill appeared to our right. I slid into a parking place.
"Two for dinner?" asked the waitress.
"Actually," I apologized, "we're just here to try out the wireless on my new computer!" I said. "So we only want to order a small amount, as we have already eaten lunch."
"By all means!" the bartender said excitedly. "You dont have to order anything...we're not renting space here! This table here should be best for your reception!"
"Well...Ian, want anything?"
"A rootbeer would be OK with me," he said, opening the computer with a wild look in his eyes.
I looked at the beer menu...Guiness, Deschutes, Full Sail...."I'll have an IPA Stout," I said. Made in Stevenson itself, and modeled after the local expresso.
"And...I said, how about cheesecake...dont know how well that will go together...Ian, cheesecake?"
"Sounds good to me!" said Ian, stridently zeroing in on the Downtown WIFIification option.
"I'll go back and look," said the bartender....<clip>..."marionberry drizzled with dark chocolate?"
"Sounds good to me!" said Ian, zeroing in on the "The Sims Discussion List."
"Are you really happy there? Or would you like the large booth by the window?" asked the bartender.
I love this place. I love Stevenson, even though it's a drab rainy small town. I wish I lived here. Here we were in a dimly lit grill where Portlandista metro-chic meets the vast green human nothingness of the Mighty Cascades and a huge collection of license plates on the wall. All around us, happy tourists and residents were dining on salmon and wine. And we had found our first WIFI, no strings attached!
&&&&Wow....what I remember most from television is some science fiction shows.
1. A twilight zone where a whole town was catapulted to an isolated nowhere.
2. Lathes of Heaven, where some guy was able to change the course of the word by what he dreamed or thought, and it ended up he was asleep in an
3. A futuristic show where the world was overpopulated and everyone lived in little cubicles...and then someone escaped out of the death chute!
***Min Resa Till Sverige 2005
Sverige! Jag hade precis kört över gränsen. Den första skylten hade sagt "Inget att Deklarera" eller "Varor att Deklarera." Jag undrade om någon satt inne i gränsstationen, och väntade på någon smugglade olaglig sprit. Den andra Skylten låg precis till höger om vägen. Det sa "Du kör för fort!" Ja, jag var så glad att jag kunde läsa svenska och inte behövde att översätta! Men bara fyra ord...
Jag började att lyssna på radio. Ja, det var riktigt. I intellektuella Sverige är radion underbar! Rösten sa, "Det där låten kommer från Portland, Oregon...Pink Martini!!!" Tyvärr, hörde jag sällan bra musik därefter. I stället, fanns det många tråkiga, svåra saker på radio. Till exempel, "Skolbussarna är för långa i Norrbotten! Många är tolv meter nu!" Jag skulle helst lyssna på RADIO CITY, som i södra Finland. "Soitamme rockia ja sportia!" Vi spelar rock och sport. Men jag hörde bara bra musik på Finlands högre RADIO CITY. Det var så svårt att lyssna och alltid försoka att forstå Svensk radio.
Jag hyrde en liten röd bil i Vanta, Finland. Det var en ny Toyota Yaris. Den här ekonomiska bilen drog inte mycket bensin, så det kostade bara lite mer att köra än min Windstar. Nu åkte vi genom Kalix, snön liknade glasyr bredvid vägen. Vid Töre, svängde vi till höger och köpte en Pepsi Max på en bensinstation. Den här kalla bruna läsken var mitt eget drivmedel! Lyckligtvis, behövde Rödbil ingen bensin. Vi fortsatte mot norr på E10. Den här vägen var mycket isig. Jag har så mycket tur att jag hade fått en bil med dubbar på hjulen! Agenten i Vanta hade sagt, "Du kommer att tykar om körande den här bilen. Den har däcken på hjulen!" Visst.
I början fanns det hus och stugor bredvid landsvägen, och plana vita sjör också. Sedan blev en tredje viktig skylt synlig till höger....POLCIRKELN!!! Vi stoppade emellertid inte.
Vi såg den populära gula affären Tank@Mat och beslutade att bromsa in. Där fick jag en annan läsk och en bulle. Sedan reste vi igen. Vi började att se bara en väldig skog genom Rödbils genomskinliga fönster. Vi såg stora och små trad och mycket snö, och var mindre glada att vara i Sverige! Med min oturlig och ensamma bil! Vi såg inte en annan finsk bil i Sverige.
"Olen iloinen että olen erikoinen!" sa min bil. Hon var glad att vara mer speciell än de svenska bilarna!
Till slut kom vi fram till Kiruna, Järn Stad, Lapplands isigs drottning. Man kunde se den enorma järngruvan som ligger söder om den lilla stan. Den såg ut som en stor kaka med vit glasyr. Bredvid den vita kakan fanns Kirunas sjö. Vi köpte bensin och ett avslagen laxsmörgås. Kassan accepterade inte mitt visakort, för nummerkoden fungerade inte i Sverige. Jag betalade med kronor. Jag var lite arg. "Jag hatar Kiruna!" skrek jag tyst. "Kanske ska vi åka till Norge nu..."
Den nya vägen från Kiruna till Narvik i Norge följer den gamla järnvägen som blev byggd för bära järnmalmen från Kiruna till Nordsjön. Ursprungligen hade jag planerat åka tåg, men jag trodde... kanske skulle jag ofta önska att vila och röra den kalla luften. Så Rödbil och jag följde järnvägen över den vackra fjällen och två gånger mötte vi det snabba blåa tåget. När vi lämnade Kiruna, fanns det många gröna träd, men snart blev de buskar. De stora granarna verkade bekantare än de nakna buskearna. De senare liknade gamla skelett....väl kusligare! Jag hade kört över fjällen till Mo i Rana för fyra år sedan, och det hade varit samma på sommaren. Bredvid vägen låg en stor sjö, Törne Träsk. Boken som jag fick gratis i Kiruna säger att den här resan över bergen är den vackraste åkturen i sverige. Jag vet inte, men den var mycket trevlig! Bredvid vägen fanns några städer som var mindre än Kiruna. Jag tror att de härdiga människorna som bor här är samiska. Det fanns två skidorter också och jag började att undra varför jag inte hade tagit med gamla finska skidor. Därför att min bil var så liten!
Berget blev högre...men inte verkligen brantare...och landskapet verkade tröstlösare. Till sist kom vi fram till gränsen. Det fanns ingenting där med utantag av skylterna och ett litet tomt tullskjul. Jag önskade att jag hade en mobiltelefon! Jag kom ihåg att du kan se hyddor på de stora fjällen i Norge. Dit kan du gå om du har en fruktansvärd kris. Det fanns endast några få bilar på vägen nu. Norge är annorlunda. Det är ett strängare land än Sverige redan som i sommar. Oceanen...eller verkligen fjorden...låg bara ca 15 kilometer från Norges gräns! Men den här slingrande vägen var brantare än Sveriges. Jag tänkte på Vancouver Ö. Jag tog till vänster och snart var vi i Narvik. Himlen var mörk nu. Jag försökte att hitta ett billigt hotell eller en vandrarhem. Jag körde genom den beige tunneln till närbelägna Ankenes, men hittade inget hotell. Jag åkte tillbaka och fick ett rum på The Radisson, som var mycket fint. Det var det dyraste rummet på min resa! Jag parkarade Rödbil framför dörren. Det fanns inte många bilar här. Jag åt middag på hotellpuben och sedan gick jag runt Narvik. Vädret var varmare än i Sverige och stjärnorna var ljusare. Jag kom ihåg Österrike, för gatorna var branta! Jag gick tillbaka igenoch klättrade upp sex trappor. "Fyr mar trappa," sa en gammal man till mej på norska, skrattande. Jag kunde förstå svenska nu då jag var i Norge! Jag kunde läs deras norska märken också!
Jag vaknade mitt i natten, dreglande. Nej...min mun smakade salt. Min läpp var gjorde ont, därför att de var så torra och sprack. Jag tvättade mig och somnade igen.
På morgonen, såg jag att det hade snöat. Och det höll på och snöade. Nej, himlen var blå nu! Jag plockade upp min kamera så att jag kunde fotografera vackra Narvik. Men himlen var vit nu! Alla var vita!
"Tror du att det kommer att upphöra att snöa?" frågde jag den unga receptionisten.
"I don't know, you can never tell here in Narvik," sa hon, uttråkad.
"Jag måste lämna Norge nu!" tänkte jag. Det var enklet till jag började att köra över fjällen. Men på grinden fanns det fem bilar, två skåpbilar, en buss, och en stor dansk lastbil som var köade upp. Skylten sa på norska, "Vänta på att snöplogen skall komma!" Därför väntade vi. Sedan kom många bilar från öster, och den stora gula plogen vände. Vi foljde efter. Himlen och vägen och fjällen var alla vita! Den kalixa plogen åkte för fort! Vi stoppade en gång, för det fanns en bärgningsbil, som höll på och bogserade en stor lastbil. Men snart var vi vid gränsen. Sverige steg upp framför mig som den klara solen. Plogen försvann och vi var ensamma. Jag svängde till den roda skidorten Riksgränsen för att köpa lite mat. Det fanns många människor där rande deras skidor eller snowboards. De var våta och röda och ganska ohövliga! Jag stannade igen på en annan skidort som hette Björkliden och tittade på min e-post på deras dator. Sedan körde jag igen, tillbaka genom Akkanationalparken och "Tornedalen." Ibland var vädret klart nu, och då verkade sammanställningen av den stora blåa himlen, de kalla gråa molnen, snön som socker, och den fina flytande dimman över den frusna sjön verkligen vacker. Man kunde bara känna sig ensam. Men jag hade tur...jag var inte ensam för i stället hade jag Finskrödbil!!! När vi kom nära Kiruna, såg jag igen de höga vindkraftverkan och fotograferade dem. Jag försökte att fotografera solljuset, men lyckades inte så bra.
Sedan hälsade vi på det berömdt Ishotellet nära Jukkäsjärvi. Den är ett finskt namn som betyder Jukkäs Sjö. De flesta av människorna där var unga, och många var amerikanska! Nu hörde jag människor som verkligen kunde tala engelska! De trodde att jag var en annan gäst och hälsade mig som en god vännina!
Allting där utom presentffären är byggat av is. Det finns en kall vit teater där man kan sätta sig och titta på Shakespeares kalla pjäser. Man kan hyra en hundsläde och åka runt omkring på den fogliga älven. Man kan också använda en röd spark att åka på!
Det finns tjugofem tusand glada invånare i Kiruna själva! Stan är svensk, men omgivande städer är finska och området är samiskt! Jag bodde där på Yellow House Vandrarhemmet. Jag hade ett eget stort rum, med en soffa och en bekväm fåtölj! Men det fanns bara ett badrum på det gamla gula husets andra våning. I det här rummet fann ett badkar som var underbart, för jag tycker om inte att duscha. I källaren fanns det en modern tvättmaskin och en torktumlare, som jag använde. Nu behövde jag inte att köpa några nya rena kläder! Det var verkligen trevligt!
Innan jag lade kläderna i tvättmaskinen gick jag för att äta middag. Medan jag promenerade genom stan verkade vädret att bli mycket kallare. Jag tror att det var den starka vinden, för då hade temperaturen ute sjunkit bara två eller tre grader. Det var ännu eftermiddagen och ganska ljust ute. Affärerna höll just nu på och stängde. Jag gick in ett litet varuhus, och försökte att hitta en bok om Sveriges geologi. Den enda boken som jag såg hade bara ett kapitel om Sverige, och hade publicerats många gånger Jag tror att förfataren hade skrivit det här mästerverket vid 1960 ...intespeciellt aktuellt!! Jag tänkte efter tande ut den användbara kartan, för den värdelösa boken var inte billig. Jag hittade träskor av trä som var billigare än böcker. Emellertid köpte jag ingenting. Jag hade inte lust att spendera pengar. Jag gick runt omkring i Kirunas centrum och beslutade att pröva en pizzarestaurang bredvid gymet. Från mitt bord kunde jag se de skinande människorna som badade i poolen! Några cycklade på plats. Jag fick den vegetariska pastan. "Vad är det här då?" frågade jag mig. Det var ananas! Vad. Hur kusligt! Jag drack en päroncider som alltid. Nej en gång serverade de mig päron-och ananascider någonstans...Finland?
"Hur är din mat?" frågade den unga servitrisen.
"Intressant!" sa jag.
Vädret var fortfarande fruktansvärt. Jag gick till mitt varma trevliga rum och tändde lilla ljusen i fönstren.
Efter frukosten, fotograferade jag gruvan, sedan började jag köra söderut genom Lappland till Jokkmokk och sedan Vilhemina. I efterhand önskade jag att vi hade rest mer i Lappland. Om jag hade planerat bättre, skulle jag ha rest till Rovaniemi och Kirkenes och sedan till Kiruna.
De flesta av Lapplands invånare är träd och de alla visade den röda bilen på den tomma vägerna till Gällivare. Jag körde om en långsam Shell tankbil och en långsammare bil som bogserade stockar på ett släp...en timmerbil! Bredvid vägen såg jag ett ljusbrunt djur.
Titta! "Där är en älg, Sveriges största djur !" Nej...vad är det för djur...det där djuret är...tässä on iso pora!...en stor ren! Underbart!
Många renar bo i Lappland! Tio minuter senare hade jag avgjort att titta på några vackra gröna träd ett ögenblick. När jag igen tittade på vägen fanns det två renar tio meter framför mig. Vi bromsade snabbt och Saaben bakom oss bromsade också. De söta djuren tittade på oss och gick sakta bort. De var som stora hundar. Det här hände två gånger, med olika renar!
Efter vi lämnade Gällivare såg jag att bilen visade mig hur många kilometer som jag kunde åka utan att tanka mer bensin. Usch! Jag hade inte nog. Vi hade tur för den lilla dator hade fel. Vi forsökte att tanka i Porjus, men det fanns bara en automat och vår PIN fungerade inte. Rödbil tankade i Jokkmokk och jag drack en Pepsi Max och sedan var vi glada resenärer igen. Vi ville bo omkring Vilhelmina, men svängde fel till vänster. Tyvärr var vi på vägen till kusten. Det verkade varmare och snart fanns det fler människor och hus. Då var jag ledsen, men jag körde inte tillbaka. Slutigen var vi nära Bottenviken vid Skellefteå. Genom stan var det mycket buller och färvirring.
Vi åkte söderut på E4:an. Jag tänkte efter en färja till Gotland, när jag aldrig hade varit. Men det var två långa resor. Jag visste inte. På vintern finns det inte så mycket att göra i det här området. Jag undrade om jag kunde hyra skidor. I vilket fall som helst, behövde jag en plats att bo. Kanske kunde jag åka färjan från Umeå till Vaasa och bo hos Tropicalanda som hade en underbar swimmingpool. Men den enda båten hade redan gått. Jag ville bara ha ett billigt motellrum. Jag började att söka efter ett rum vid Örnsköldsvik, när jag frågade på ett stort hotell...."Har du ett rum?"
"I'm sorry, we are totally booked!" De verkade mycket brittiska. Jag såg flera hotell i centrumet utan en parkeringplats. Några i resehandboken kunde jag inte hitta. Vi körde tillbaka till E4:an. Nu blev det mörkt ute. Det fanns mycket byggnader på vägen. En gång såg jag en skylt som annonserade ett hotell, men jag kunde inte hitta en avfart. Vid Dockstra fanns ett märk, men jag förstod inte att man måste gå in i hos Dockstra Bar och fråga. Det var sent och jag kände mig ensam med de stora bländande ljusen fråm eurolastbilarna. Det närbelägena King Eriks Hotellet var mörkare än himlen med undantag av kylskåpet! Jag knackade på dörren, men ingen hörde. Återigen på vägen, såg jag ljus på vägen framför mig, som kom från en väldig bro! Och jag mindes ett hotell som mina barn och jag hade sett bredvid bron för sex år sedan. Jag hade försökt att bo på hotellet, men det var på sommaren och hotellet hade varit fullt. Var ligger det...bilen och jag körde upp och upp! Till sist såg jag en byggnad, men inget skylt. Två unga kvinnor stod och rökte på den isiga svarta parkeringplatsen. Jag frågade, "Finns det en hotell här någonstans"...och den enda svarade, "Ja, det ligger precis här." Vi gick in i den moderna byggnaden, och jag skrev in mig och parkerade bilen. Sedan gick jag till baren och sa "Kan jag få ett glas päron cider!" Jag fick en smörgås från glasdeliskåpet och tog ut salamin. Sedan åt och drack jag. Nu var det nästan midnatt. Kvinnorna pratade med mig på engelska. Den ena tog fjärrkontrollen och frågade, "Bryr du dig om jag byter kanal?" Jag svarade att jag inte brydde mig. "Nu har vi amerikansk TV. Sex and the City!" Jag hade aldrig sett det här TV-programmet, för jag ägde inte en TV. De sa att de alltid lyssnade på amerikansk TV för det var den bästa. "Mer och mer," sa den ena kvinna.
Jag tog min kamera och gick till fönstren för att fotografera den stora bron. Den var så stor att jag inte kunde fotografera hela bron. Det var också mörkt ute och man kunde bara se ljusen. "It is magnificent!" sa den äldre kvinna. Ja...Höga Kusten Bron är världens sjunde längsta hängbro! På morgonen gick jag till turistbyrån i samma byggnad. Här läste jag om Höga Kusten. Under istiden fanns här den tjockaste (3 km) isen i Europa. Vikten orsakade att landet sjönk 800m. Landet håller på och stiger högre nu! Många gamla vikar och stränder är på de höga bergen nu. Det är väl intressant. Jag reste runt omkring Höge Kusten och Docksta och fotograferade en vik och flera berg med stränder, men jag tror att det är enklare att göra på sommaren.
Jag började tänka på Sundsvall. Ian, Erin och jag hade bott på skidorten där för fem år sedan. Det var på sommaren och priset var billigt. Vi promenerade på spåren där de åkte skidor på vintern. Då hade de här spåren god belysning. (För det mesta bodde vi inne i ett tält nära Bottenviken.) Vi hade en bastu i vårt trevliga rum i hotellet! Jag kunde se Sundsvalls ljus somsken på den gråa och rosa himlen under hela nätten. Det är roligt, för i Sundsvall finns det bara två eller tre timmar som verkligen är nätt på sommaren. Nu när det var mars och det fanns snö var det dock ganska långa dager, trodde jag att det där hotellet Södra Berget var mycket populärt.
När Rödbil och jag kom fram till Timra nära Sundsvall, såg jag en skylt på ett shoppingcentrum där det stod "IKEA". Vadå ... vi svängde av från E4:an och in på shoppingcentrums parkeringplats. Många shoppare höll på och handlade! Jag gick in i den enorma och fulla IKEA affären. Jag trodde priserna var billiga och vill åka till affären i Seattle nu. De hade ett fullständigt kök som jag tyckte om, och jag tror att det är portabelt. Kanske har du en sommarstuga utan kök. Du kan använda det där köket. (Du behöver installera några rörledningar, antar jag.) Jag hade tur, får jag kunde inte få någonting som det hem på planet! Jag fotografade en kvinna av en händelse och hon började att le och tala hastigt till mig på svenska. Därfär bestämde jag mif för att gå in i gallerian. Det fanns två trappor. En trappa upp fanns det en tråkig skoaffär med tråkiga skor och inga träskor. Det verkar konstigt men i Sverige hade ingen träskor på vinter. Kanske var det därför att det är för kallt och de tar dem på sig i huset. I Oregon har vi alltid traskor! Så jag handlade inget. Jag gick in i bokhandeln. Jag kunde inte hitta några böcker om geologi eller botanik...vad heter de svenska träden och skogarna och stenarna? Som om de bryr sig om det! Men jag köpte två uttalslexikon som var billiga och ganska tunga. De kostade 129.00 kr per styck. "Jag ska ta med en bok hem till en vännina,"sade jag till mig själv. På nedre botton var den Macdonalds Restaurang. Den var full...många människor ville äta paha amerikalaiset hampurlaiset...dåliga amerikanska hamburgare. Den där restaurang är inte ett vegetariskt café. Jag trodde inte att jag ville äta med dem.
Jag hälsade Rödbil igen och svängde till höger. Vi åkte längs den vita linjen och över den grå asfalten. Vårebs blek sol hängde alltid låg på den vita himlen, och när vi körde, ligger solen alltid på höger sida. Ja...det var eftermiddagen! Jag undrade vad vi ville göra. Jag ville inte resa till Finland just nu. Ett annan skylt visade oss det nästa äventyret.. Falun! Jag mindes Falun för fem år sedan...då var det så kul! Var Falucentrum likadant under snö? Vi svängde till höger och in i STÖRST AFFÄR I CENTRAL SVERIGEs parkeringplats. Men det fanns bara livsmedel och kinesiskt skräp i den här affären. De hade inga träskor.
Man måste köra bort från kusten, det är uppenbart, för att komma fram till Falun i Dalarna. I Bollnäs fanns det mycket trafik, men snart stod för de mesta klippig skog bredvid vägen. Jag följde den felaktiga vägen vid Viksjöfors, men vände helt om. Snart var vi i Falun! År 1999...då hade vi använt en tältplats bredvid skidorten och simmat i den stora olympiapoolen. Erin hade älskat den roliga kanan. Det var för kallt nu att sova i ett tält. Alla var annorlunda i Falun nu. I centrum fanns det inte en festival med mycket musik, mycket fin päroncider och en berusad, klappande folkmassa! Där fanns det bara den svarta natten, den vita snön och flera berusada människor nu. Jag kom ihåg det CITY HOTELL som hade varit HOTELLET! Alla musikerna hade sovit där...en eller två timmar! De höll på och spelade alltid i lobbyn. Jag hade spelat in dem på min MD spelare. Jag tror jag har den fina finska musikeren Kimmo Pohjonen som spelar dragspel! Michelle Delfino, som arbetade med Northside Records då, hade bjudit in oss också att titta på Oysterbands special akustisk show. Så många minnen var här! Det fanns tyvärr inga musiker i lobbyn nu. All musik låg på dansgolvet en trappa upp. DÅN..DÅN...DÅN!!! Receptionisten berättar för mig att hon kanske kunde hitta på ett bord där, men jag svarade att jag ville gå till centrum.
Jag gick två tvärgator och hittade en irländsk pub. Bartendern var mörk och kom från Mellanöstern. Jag frågade, "Kan jag äta middag här" och han svarade, "Ja," Männen gav mig en matsedel. Den lilla baren var full, men det fanns flera tomma bord. En blond kvinna satt och drack ett glass vin vid bordet bredvid. "Har ni ett gott svenkst mörkt öl?" frågade jag. Han sa att han skulle be ena till mig. Jag berättade för bartendern att jag åt varken kött eller kyckling. Han sa, "Pröva den här öringen." Jag sa, "Vad är det för fisk" och han sa "Den är en rödfisk". Vi höll på och talade engelska, och jag trodde att han hade sagt "råttafisk"! Det där namnet verkade väl motbjudande. "RÅTTFISK?" frågade Jag. "Ja, rödfisk". Det fanns bara den här fisken på matsedeln! Var det karp? När han serverade mig, förstod jag att min fisk var som lax!
Sedan gick jag tillbaka och frågade receptionisten, "Vad är det korrekta ordet, Faluns centrum eller Falu centrum?" och hon svarade "Både."
På morgenen serverade hotellet en stor frukost för det fanns många affärsmänniskor där. Kanske är de viktigare än turister! Hotellet hade ett litet rum med en dator med internet och e-post gratis...det kallades ett affärscentrum eller business center. Sedan gick jag ut och hittade Faluns (eller "Falu") mycket intressant museum, som heter "Dalarnas Museum," för Falun ligger i landskapet Dalarna. Förut har det här ordet betytt lite. Nu kunde jag forstå Dal+ar+na! Jag var så intellegent!! Det var som The+ Dall+es, där mitt hus låg! Visst! Det fanns många intressanta saker inne i de här museumen. De bästen var den minimalisa förevisningen som visade fotografier som var porträtt från 1900-talets tidigare del. De var stora nya svartavita kopior, men de var dock mycket fina och så detaljerad! Det den ena gamla mannen som hade på sig glasögen, som har ena linsen rakt. Han hade dem alltid på sig, för han var gammal och fattig. Och det fanns foton med vackra barn och glada kvinnor. Och man kan se gamla folkmusikinstrument som kohorn, spelpipor och säckpipor...och fioler. Museumen har flera rum med gamla möbler. Och du kan se gamla folkdräkter.
Jag gick och hämtade Rödbil på Hotellet, och vi började vår resa till färjan. Vi beslutade att vi ville åka till Åland och att vi inte ville köra in i Stockholm. Tyvärr hade vi inga tidtabeller! (Sist lärde jag mig att den stora färjen från Stockholm till Åbo via Mariehamn avgår klockan tjugo. Men den färjan kommer till Mariehamn tre! Vår färja kom fram dit halv elva!) Vi bestämde oss för att resa från Kapellskär. Min pojke och jag hade använ den här hamnen år 2000, när vi reste från Tyskland till Finland och körde längs med det Östersjön. Vi såg zigenare på tältplatsen! Rödbil och jag åkte genom Borlange, Sala och Uppsala. Vädret var det värmaste här och snön började att smälta. Jag tror att det var vid tre eller fyra ute. Vid Sala tankade jag Rödbil och gick in i butiken. Dagens rätt var kött så jag tog en smörgås med ansjovis och plast men ingen Pepsi Max. I stället, köpte jag en flaska 1% rosévin! Jag kände mig ganska berusad efter jag drack det! Jag var rädd för att köra! Nej...jag var så dum. Någonstans stannade vi igen och handlade. Jag glömmde stans namn. Jag såg en skoaffär och gick in genom dörren. Där såg jag många traskor, men sulorna var gummi...och jag ville ha trä! Vilket fall som helst, tog jag av mig de märkligt bullriga gamla blåa träskorna, som jag hade köpt på en bensinstation i Småland för fem år sedan. En kvinna kom fram mig och sa på svenska...
"Vad kan jag hjälpa dig med."
Men jag förstod bara ett ord, som var "hjälpa." Och hon var för gammal för att tala engelska, tror jag, vi var lika gamla!
Jag gav henne min gamla sko och hon pekade på siffran 39 på sulan. Ja...nu måste jag köpa träskorna som också har det där siffran. Jaså.. Igentligen tycker jag inte om dem för de var för tysta. "Sven Johanssons Skofabrik, AB, Tyst och lätt" var orden.
Vår gamla vän E4:an förenade oss igen vid Uppsala och vi reste till Arlanda. Det var dumt också, för det var för långt! Klockan var kanske 16.30 nu, och jag började att undra när den sista färjan seglade. Vi åkte tillbaka norrut och hittade den riktig vägen till Rimbo och Norrtälje. Jag började att se flera bilar från Åland....Sina har egna nummerplåtar för de är så viktiga och självständiga på Åland! En, två bilar! Hoppfullt höll de på och åkte till Ålandsfärjen! Men när jag kom fram till terminalen, fanns det bara lite grand trafik. Jag parkerade och gick sedan in i byggnaden och åkte rulltrappan. Det fanns tre färjalinje: Tallink, Silja, och Viking. Jag trodde att jag var sen, sedan såg jag flera bilar som väntade ute, som hade kört upp för att checka in!
"Snart ska vi resa på den lilla Ålandsfärjan och sedan till bekanta Finland! Är du inte glad?" frågade jag Rödbil! Bilen sa ingenting.
"Fyrtifem svenska kronor!" sa mannen i kiosken.
Jag hade tagit ut mitt visakort. "Mja! Jag ska betala kontant i stället," svarade jag.
Klockan sju gick vi till slut ombord på den trevliga båten. Jag ville äta den goda Vikinga Buffén. Den här buffén och tax-free:en är hur Viking Line tjänar sina pengar. Den är dyr, men du får ditt Lapin Kulta Öl gratis. Jag tror det här namnet betyder Lapplands Guld. För många år sedan fanns det en guldrush i Lappland! Det smakar lite tråkigt som Budweiser, men de tråkiga finnländarna älskar det! Du kan få gratis vin också, vitt eller rött. Eller du kan ha läsk eller färst mjölk. Alla är på fat. Det finns all slags mat, till exempel vidrigt kött och fettbildande desserter. Men jag valde laxen...rökt och ugnasbakad lax...och den röda eller gula kaviaren!
Resan tog bara ungefär tre timmar, och snart kom vi fram till Mariehamn. Den lilla stan var så annorlunda i mars! Var var alla turisterna? Bara en kvinna och en röd bil. Det snöade mjukt och de mörka vita vägarna var lugna. Vi kört runt stan och letade efter ett billigt hotell som alltid, men det var sent och många var stängda på vintern. Jag bestämde mig för att bo hos Viking Lines hotellet, som hette Park Alandia. Jag sa, "I am interested in a room." Och den gammle mannen...kaske femtio-fem som alltid!!...frågade, "Rum?" Ja, vi var i Finland nu! Han kunde inte tala engelska!
"Ja, jag vill få ett rum...ensam, bara mig..." Jag var mycket glad att jag hade studerat svenska! "Hur mycket kostar det?"
"Femti-fem," svarade han. Jag önskade att växelkursen inte var så dålig. Under Euros första år kunde man tänka på dollar.
Sedan hörde jag musik! Jag gick in i puben, där jag lyssnade på en musiker som sjung Golden Oldies till exempel Simon och Garfunkel eller John Denver och spelade gitarr. Den verkade att vara en bra plats att vara. En stor kvinna framför honom applåderade efter varje sång. Jag satte mig vid bardisken och frågade,
"Kan jag få en päroncider...."
"Med is?" svarade bartenderen som alltid.
Jag drack min cider där, men flyttade senare. Människor började att komma fram i den mörka puben och slutigen fanns det inte tillräkligt med sittplatser! Det var lite svårt att ta sig fram. En man satte sin hand försiktigt på min axel när han gick forbi. Jag kände mig som jag hade blivit en del av Åland!
Nästa dag reste vi till Finland på den stora färjan Isabella. Men fortfarande kunde vi se Sveriges starka inflytande. I södra Finland, från Korpoo till Lovisa, var skyltarna på svenska förutom finska, och ibland kunde man se Lovisabanken eller Mattssons Handel. Sveriges historia kvarstod tydligt i slotten i Häme och Åbo, och i de gamla byggnaderna i Vanha Rauma. Inte förrän jag gick ombord på planet var jag färdig med Sverige!
"A Spring Trip to the Next County!"
Now in spring, the new wheatfields of Sherman County Oregon are like a great rolling ocean, kelly green as the west coast of Ireland...with patches of sagebrush and tumbleweed floating adrift!! If you drive north, through the fields and hills on the blacktop from Wasco to Rufus, you can imagine that you are in England, and that sheep and cattle lay down in ancient serenity with lions. See! Just beyond that crest is the coast of Dorset, and those dim beige bluffs are France...but no, France is nowhere near that large! Those must be angry dark storm clouds across the Channel.
I drove down across that spring hill at an angle, descending into the abrupt valley of the Columbia River. The faded browngrey, south-facing hills of dry Washington stretched like a ribbon before my face. The black top turned into the small town of Rufus, with its huge John Day Dam, its grain elevator, and its interstate highway...and its not much else. Except...no...look up ahead! Why, it was Bob's Texas T-Bone Family Restaurant and Lounge! I pulled my teal-colored Dodge Sedan (another story indeed!) into the parking lot and opened the door to the Family Restaurant. My mission was to eat a little dessert. The entry was a compelling, but fairly disgusting, one for a pesco-vegetarian! Right there, by the cash-register was a glass case full of dead animal parts, for example, barbecued beef chunks and spicy hot chicken wings! Ugh! No doubt forced to listen to Vogon poetry, here at the restaurant at the end of the universe. But on a shelf below these dismembered mammals lay....smoked dead salmon in plastic bags!!!
I quickly scanned the aging but nicely maintained 70s decor of the ample Family Dining Room. SEAT YOURSELF!!! So I did, right by the window, and stared at the four semi trucks neatly stacked outside. A waitress came by with a menu and a glass of water.
"I'm just here for a little dessert!" I said.
"We have pie, how's that sound, honey? Cherry, apple..."
"Cherry! That sounds great!?"
"Warmed up with a little ice cream, honey?"
I was anxious to sink into the Rufusian culture, so I ordered the works.
"Here you go honey!" the waitress said in only a few minutes, then turned to a robust semi truck driver who had just sat down at the next booth.
"What can I get you, sweetie?" she asked.
Soon it was time to leave.
"Could I get one of those smoked salmon?" I asked. It wasnt a whole salmon, but everyone knows what you mean when you say that.
"Where do they come from?" I asked.
"From the river right out there," said the waitress.
"I think the Indian sell 'em too [right over there at Celilo Village]," added a guy sipping coffee at the counter.
"We smoke them ourselves," added the waitress.
"My brother gets real big ones up there in Alaska. Fifty pounds, almost right outa the ocean so they're not that messed up. He went up there to clean up the oil spill and stayed, got married. They're doin' pretty well, got a lump sum for all the kids for the oil spill. They was giving them yearly payments, but then they decided just to give'em a lump sum," added the gentleman at the counter.
"Where in Alaska?" I asked.
"I dunno," said the customer. "Never been there."
Nabbed by the law...for years she'd been able to avoid it, but now here she was, seated on a hard oak bench outside the courtroom. Soon, the dreaded figure of the DA would appear from his warm varnished office and say this:
"Five of you....two more and we'll go downstairs!" Now she knew for sure she'd been apprehended for voting for John Kerry and would be sentenced to three months of incarceration in !!!GRAND JURY!!!!
They could grab you at any time won short notice to serve, just as they'd done here, one hour on a Friday afternoon. They could call you again and again and again!
At last an elderly woman wearing a lot of hairspray and a pastel satin "Tygh Valley Bowling League" jacket arrived.
"Hate to tell you Darleen," said the DA, "but you've gotta walk back down the steps again."
There we were, six reputable-looking women over 30 and Officer Thompson. It was hardly what the Founding Fathers would have picked as a jury of peers!! There are, in fact, no set rules for selecting a grand jury in the State of Oregon! Here is my guess. They prefer:
1) Women between 35-85 whom they believe will be neatly dressed and hate methamphetamines.
2) Police officers who lift weights and Know the Law.
The DA appeared perky and dapper...and brave! in his grey suit. My mind skipped back to the orientation a week earlier. The Wasco County Judge had sat high above us in flowing black robes and a cute beard. "Usually," he said casually, "it will be the DA that will preside. But not always. For instance, back in the 80s, when the Rajneesh cult allegedly poisoned the salad bars and plotted to murder the District Attorney,(see http://www.rickross.com/reference/rajneesh/rajneesh8.html ) the ATTORNEY GENERALS OFFICE came in!!! And the Grand Jury was in session for months!!!" Wow.
Seven chairs and a large oak table stood in the middle of the little regal room, with seven legal pads and seven pens laid out neatly on top. The DA passed around a list of seven names. "Put your initials by your names and you will all get a HUGE sum of money for doing this. Ha ha ha!" he joked.
Every wonder what a grand jury does? Most people have no earthly idea. What a fascinating story!!! We were there to indict this guy on charges of Commercial Sale of Drugs and Possession of a Firearm. The police had.....
WHAP!!! Suddenly the white stone statue of Madame Blind Justice popped off a bookcase, whipped off her blindfold and slipped it over my mouth, pulling it tight! MMGLMPH!!!
"It's a secret," she said.
"Cataclasms on the Columbia!"
Stevenson, Washington, May 2005
We sat there, Ian an myself, at the Big River Grill. Yeah, it was Mothers Day again, and we were spending it just like we did last year. We were driving home from Portland and stopping to eat meatloaf...well, I wasnt eating dead cow! I was eating scallops and shrimp with spinach in a yellow sauce that stained your hands and mouth, accented by aparagus and too salty upscale hashbrowns and washed down by IPA Stout. My mind drifted back to one of my former lives, back in 1503, when I was living with my husband, Wah-Na-Pa, right here in proto-Skamania County. We'd just sat down to a dinner of roasted chinook salmon and dried huckleberries when we heard a big rumble and then a WHOOSH!!!
"WyEast!!!" gasped Wah-Na-Pa. "The mountain is falling!"
WHUMP...the next thing I knew I was crawling around behind a woman in a sari!
Stevenson, Washington, May 2005 (the day before)
"Yep...there's the gas line." The driver of the battered red pickup...a retired high school teacher...nodded toward the yellow stakes along the gravel Forest Service Road. "I remember when it exploded. We were in the gym and heard a huge BOOM!!! We didnt know what the heck was happening! Everything out here was burning like crazy!"
"Good thing there's nothing out here!" I commented. I remembered the time the gas line blew up near Hempstead, back when I lived in Texas. Forty miles away...everyone heard it but me.
"Just a little shift in the earth..." mused the man in the jumpseat behind.
We were driving as head vehicle in a field trip to the Red Bluffs, the scarp from which vast tonnages of earth fell to form the Bridge Of the Gods between Stevenson and Cascade Locks. The modern vehicular toll bridge is named after this giant clump of debris. BOTG dammed the Columbia River and backed up water at least to The Dalles, 40 miles upstream, like the damns do today, but without generating any power for California. The trip was lead by Pat Pringle of the Washington DGER. (What exactly is a DGER? That is a good party question for Washington residents.) Pat and a unretired high school teacher had gotten a grant to core some old Douglas fir growing on an isolated section of landslide debris. By counting the tree rings, they established a minimum age for the slide at at 1595 AD.
"Better put on the four wheel drive!" said the retired teacher.
"Clunk clunk...sputter" said the truck.
"Too many people back there under the topper!" said the teacher. Soon he said, " Pretty muddy! We'll park and walk the last mile." said the teacher. And so we commenced to hike up and up and up and up. You can stuff a lot of up into a mile.
"I saw a dorsal fin in that puddle the last time I was here," someone said. Erin was wearing long rubber boots. She walked right through the little lakes.
"Hey!" said someone. "Here's a bear track in the mud!" Everyone looked.
"Take a picture of that Ian! Erin!" I waved the camera around hopefully.
"I'll take a cougar over a bear track any day," said a friendly middle aged woman, later identified as the City Manager. "They seem to attack people like joggers and I dont run that fast anymore! Ha ha ha!!!"
Finally, we had snaked up the snarly forest service former road. Above us hung the scarp. It was worth it! From the road it is a bunch of scarlet and maroon stripes. But here...
"Way up there at the top is the Grande Ronde...part of the Miocene Plateau Basalts. Those are pillow lavas up there, formed in water then POW!!! Exploded! And then below that...most of that's the Eagle Creek Formation....lahars...mudflows here, you can see these angular cobbles that the flows picked up. The volcano's gone now.."
People began to scramble up the talus...the huge boulders at the base of the cliff.
"Chunks are breaking off this all the time!" warned Pat. "If you hear a KER-CHUNK run!!! You wonder what it's like to be in an earthquake up here!"
"Are those white lines maybe tree trunks up there by the caves?" someone asked.
"By gosh! I think they are! Buried vertical trees!" answered Pat.
Mothers Day...1960? She doesnt remember.
The shops here are new and bright and airy, without history. At the top of the shopping center...someday they will scowl and call it a "strip mall"...is the Western Supermarket. At the bottom is Kesslers, and that is where she's headed with scraps of her allowance, weekly dollars. Over to the left, on carpeting, are the mens clothes and over to the right are the ladies clothes, sitting apart as in some old Quaker Meetinghouse. Above the ladies side hangs a balcony with a beauty parlour, where hairdryers routinely scramble womens brains like laboratory centrifuges.
Between these sections, under the glass sloping roof, grow BANANA TREES set in peat moss far above the Alabama clay...and parrots too! Or maybe she just imagines the parrots, or misremembers. She sees huge waterfalls and flowing streams and hears the cries of jaguars and cheetas. She walks on the clean red quarry tiles to one of the shelves where Kessler's displays giftware. What should she buy?
"What are you looking for today, Little Miss?" asks the tall black man with shining white teeth. He is wearing a grey uniform with an oval spot that says his name is "Joe." Joe talks with the children whenever they visit Kessler's.
"I'm looking for a mother's day present," she says.
"This vase is mighty nice!" suggests Joe.
She picks up the little glass vase. It's real crystal, from somewhere in Europe...later the tag will long wash off. It is just the sort of thing SHE likes, it reminds her of waterfalls. In Senior English, she will write about crystal and waterfalls, but not on the same piece of paper. She will save black men for college.
"I'll take it to the cash register for you. They will wrap it up!" grins Joe.
The middle-aged bartendress looked at me dubiously. "Uh...orange juice? Vodka?" she passed it on to the other middle aged bartendress, who knew more.
"Huh...we don't have any mixer left. Orange juice, vodka, lorintino....nobody has Galliano anymore."
"That's the stuff that comes in the tall bottles," I said.
"I think they originally put eggs in it," said the blonde woman sitting right there, drinking a...uh...cocktail. When they first came out, I was 17, and my aunt used to drink them. But they had to stop probably because you cant use raw eggs in stuff.
I took my drink and sat down at a table and started to correct my last draft of "Min Resa Till Sverige 2005." I'd bargained to write this essay instead of my winter term final. But it had grown into a monster, almost 18 pages with the photos. No one had bargained for this ice breathing dragon.
"Jag började att lyssna på radio. Ja, de var riktig. I intellektuell Sverige är radion underbar! Rösten sa, "Det där låten kommer från Portland, Oregon...Pink Martini!!!" Tyvärr, hörde jag sällan god musik.efteråt. I stället, fanns det många tråkiga, svårta saker på radio."
Pretty exciting stuff, huh? Everyone else was playing pinochle or listening to kayoke or trying to get laid.
Too much alcohol in this $2.25 fancy screwdriver! I wobbled my empty glass up to the bar and laid it down with the tip, intending to head home.
"I could swear it had eggs in it," said the blonde woman. "You ever have a warfel?" Wordel? Wobble? "Caramel and [what was it? Some kind of whiskey? My head was starting to spin.] Tastes just like butterscotch!"
"What?" I said.
"Here, I'll buy you one." I should have known what this was leading up to, but I was too naive.
The bartendress brought two tiny glasses. "Here you go Brenda!" I stared for a second, picked mine up and sipped it, and looked over. Hers was completely empty.
"That's a shot glass. You're not used to shots, are you? You're pretty naive, arent you?" Naive? I knew every cheap Chardonnay, Porter, and Stout that Safeway carried!
"Want me to put it on the rocks?" said the first bartender. "It looks like it would be good with cream." And highly caloric as well. She brought a glass with ice, poured the shot in, and added a little cream. Then both she and Brenda siphoned off a tiny strawful.
"Pretty good!" said the bartender.
"Where do you work?" I asked to be polite.
"DuCharme Trucking...my husband owns it and I manage it...yeah, I married into DuCharme trucking and I don't see why at this point but that's the way it went. I finally gave up and moved out. I sleep in the office...when he's home but when I'm out of town I move back in."
"When did you move out?" asked the bartendress.
"After he beat me up." Oh gosh. "He hates me drinking and partying like this."
"Well, you're an adult. You have a right to go out and take responsibility for your actions."
"Well, everyone thinks Tom's a great guy. They don't understand."
"Well, some people know both of you and...."
I wanted to tell her that my husband didnt see the point in drinking either, but I could hear Brenda in my mind telling the bartender, "She's really naive."
"We need a duplex with a cat door in between," Brenda explained.
Finally, someone came up behind the bar asked everyone,
"Do you need the courtesy car?" That meant it was closing time.
"I'm on foot," I said.
Late spring was wrapping itself around the I-84 like a moldy dishrag as I turned the corner onto the The Dalles West on-ramp. Hey! I recognized that old guy standing on the shoulder with a plastic bottle of clear kerosene and a cardboard sign reading MOSIER! It was Henry, the Viet Nam vet with cancer problems and a shack located ominously across from the Memaloose rest area!
Everytime I'd picked him up, it had been a different fuel...the first time propane, the second thin air, and now kerosene for his kerosun heater. "When I was in the VA hospital in February," he explained, "they got into my shack and took my wood stove. They took a lotta stuff, like my lanterns."
"That's too bad," I said.
"I'm gettin' too old to live out there. I'm sixty."
"Isnt there any hope of getting a real place to live?"
"I got a lawyer trying to get me disability, but he says the courts are so backed up that I'll get regular social security at 62 before I get that! You know I got this cancer problem. I get free medical care, but no money. They wont admit it's Agent Orange. They say it's because I worked at the boat yards in Bingen. But that's gone now, new owners, cant get any money outa that."
"Huh," I said.
"Yeah, I live almost completely by picking up cans. I get a little money carving walking sticks now, sit in the rest area doin' it and people buy them. The ones with the snakes wrapped around the handle sell really well. But you know I'll work all week on one and make maybe 20 bucks. Keeps me busy though...keeps me from drinking."
"Huh!" I said. "Lotsa tourists around now." I could imagine them all pitching cans out of their cars, and lit cigarettes as well.
"Say, thanks for picking me up! I got a few regulars, but I was late today getting into town. I thought I'd be stuck there till five."
"People are scared to pick up hitchhikers," I said.
"There are a lot of road transients out now. The railroad bums are all in town now too."
"That's interesting!" I said.
"There are a lot of drugs in town too now," he said ominously. "Meth...lots of meth. When school is out, you'll see a lot of car break ins.
The streets are slick with spring rain here in Portland...excess water is what the Rose City is famous for, though the annual rainfall is equal to
that of the East Texas savanna. Traffic funnels into one lane. Ahead on the high bridge over the Willamette you can see reflected red and blue lights,
vivid as an airport bar in deep evening, desperately slurred as a drizzly September evening on Mannerheimtie....that's in downtown Helsinki! You can
see flares that burn like a torch in the hand of the ferryman, sliding across the slick dappled surface of the big river. What is ahead? Like a
two headed January you wish to turn your head in horror yet stare at the evidence of human fallibilty.
The fluid yellow lights of a tow truck reveal an old red Toyota....totally intact. False alarm. It's a stall!
Below me, the lights of downtown Portland smear into the gloomy Willamette like a swarm of lightning bugs.
Ahead, near Corbett, the interstate will dissolve into a swarm of giant raindrops, giant silver bubbles hitting the dark windscreen.
Liberty Hall in Portland, and Little Dove, Treble has returned from months in the ARGENTINE!!!
"Happy to be back?" I asked. It seemed like a good thing to say.
"Yes and no. I'm experiencing a lot of culture shock." Dove looked like what I thought I did with Jet Lag!
"Huh! What do you mean? Do you speak Spanish?"
"I do now!" She thought a minute. "I'm used to being a foreigner all the time, to feeling like I dont belong. And here, I have come back to Portland where things have continued going on."
What a candid statement! "I suppose it's something like being in Finland for a month." But that was stretching it. Helsinki is a lot like Portland.
"And Portland...it doesnt seem like a city, with real concrete."
"You were in Buenos Aires?"
"Yeah...and I look at all these lawns and trees and I think of the wasted space. I think of the sprawl here. I think of these grass areas that have no purpose."
Better to have real forests instead. Suddenly I was reminded of Yakima. Panicking, I changed the subject!
"Huh! Is it safe there?"
"Sure...little crimes like here....certainly more so than Chicago."
Chicago! I remembered now she was from Chicago. I could remember some point shortly after I'd got married in the 70s and was going east to visit some friends. I'd got off the freeway in Chicago to get gas and everyone was black, like in parts of Birmingham. The buildings were just as shabby. I anticipating being glad to get back on the freeway. Then it turned out everyone at the grimy gas station was really nice.
"Do they tango there?" I asked.
"Yes...I tangoed a lot!" she answered.
I am convinced that living in Sweden or Finland and maybe even Norway would not be that socially different from moving to Northern Minnesota...(and remember, I LIVED IN DULUTH for 4 years!) You see a bunch of introverted alcoholics on snowmobiles in both (?) places. And Swedes think just like we do. They like music! Just this Wednesday, our teacher Gunilla said till oss...
"Class! Här är tre noveller. Ta dem och sedan kan du läsa dem och skriva...vad den är om och vad du tycker om novellen!" Write about one of these short stories...REAL short stories! "Oh...this one by Mikael Niemi is too hard! Some of his writing has Finnish words in it!"
I drew in my breath...
"Well..................... maybe Judith!" she commented.
I'd been able to read, more or less, stories about London axe murderers in tabloids like Aftonbladet. (This is Swedish for something like "The Evening Leaf." I had great confidence in being able to read a chapter from Niemi's book...set in the valley of the northern River they call the Torne, at the Swedish Finnish border. But she was right...it couldnt be read by a second year student, it had to be translated using a dictionary. I am almost done! Here is an exerpt of Chapter 7 of "Popular Music from Vittula."
"My sister was out, so we snuck into her room. Niila unbuttoned his shirt and pulled the 45 out from the warmth of his body. Solemnly I laid it on the record player and let down the pickup. I turned up the volume. It scratched faintly.....
WHAM!! A crash!! Thunder rolled down and hit, exploding the room! It rolled on end and we were hurled against the wall, we lay squashed against the wallpaper as the house spun at a furious speed! We sat there glued like postage stamps while the blood pulsed in our hearts, gathered in an intestine-red lump before everything turned and exploded in the other direction, out to the tips of our fingers and toes, red spearlines of blood in our entire bodies until our mouths gaped open, choking like fish!
After an eternity, the whirling stopped. Air whistled back in through the keyhole and we splatted down on the floor in small moist heaps!
Rock & Roll.
The Beatles. It was too good to be true.
We could not speak for a long time. We just lay there and bled, empty and happy in the ringing silence. Then I got up and played it again.
Same thing again. It was incomprehensible. It could not have been made by human creatures."
There are those that say the ecotone between the American West and the Pacific Northwest lies at the boundary of doug fir forest and oak woodland. But this year, the rains even into the steppe have persisted into late May, and the Torthwest has rolled down the great valley like the rumors of a huge Google server farm. First there was the STARBUCKS!!!!! in Safeway. Then there was the roomy health food store with a whole wall of wines. Then...There was simply too much of the Northwest to restrain!!!
The sky rolled in on Saturday like the fog on Bainbridge Island. The dull Rose City smog rolled down the gorge as if it contained grey water from every washing machine in Portland! Hmm...the sky looked just like the uninspired Wordpad background that I'm writing on! Lucky our car was red! This was the third of four fieldtrips out of the Stevenson [WA] museum, and this one so close to our home that it was a very short one. We'd come to see the Indian petroglyphs at Horsethief Lake State Park. Erin aimed the little Nikon at carved outlines of bighorn sheep and shamanistic owls and fired away. These lovely carved surfaces had not always been here. They'd been blasted out of basalt when the The Dalles Dam flooded a number of neat local landmarks and put in storage for 40 or 50 years. Then, to the delight of the local Yakamas, they'd been ceremoniously dumped here by the synthetic lake.
"In those days, the elders of the tribe were honored, the carriers of oral tradition. Now they are shut away in old age homes! But all this is changing now...." a local Yakama was explaining to his tour group. I considered the theory that in those days, the number of elders was manageable and most of them were about 60 or so in any case. Then I thought about Bingo....
Our field trip was so short it was over in a flash.
"Can I go look for wildflowers?" Erin asked, waving around a few stalks of Queen Anne's lace.
"Uh..." I think it's illegal for you to pick those. But let's go walk up on Horsethief Butte!" The great whale-like edifice rose before us like a reinforced concrete teepee.
I pulled off the road into the tiny parking lot.
"Whoa!!! Look at those climbers!" There was an array of vehicles ranging from the Willamette Peak Baptist Church to Wine Valley Search and Rescue. WOW!!! Most of them were involved in a sociable but perilous rope-assisted ascent of the columnar basalt monolith. Horsethief Butte had survived the Floods. Would it survive the climbers?
"Look there, wild rose!" I said to Erin, hoping she could maybe pick those. But neither she nor Ian were interested in plants anymore. Ahead were sheer drops and certain death. What a great place to play!!!
"Ian! Wait! Ian?" Where had that boy got to? Was he laying at the bottom of Horsethief Lake, 1000 feet down?
"I answered you!!!!" he said later.
"We couldnt HEAR you!" Erin said.
Then Erin herself was off, gentle boots wedging into incredibly thin ledges and footholds. She was young enough to do this yet old enough to do it well...bobbing up like a cork in waters constantly assaulted by flying mascara missiles and soggy wads of skimpy pink girly shirts. Not to mention methamphetamines!
"Up here!" someone would say.
And then I was off too...up the easy way!!
"Where's MOM???" I heard someone say. "Is she UP THERE!?!? Yikes!!!" To my left was the West a scraped expanse of dry biscuit scablands patterned like a dead tortoise shell. To my right arose the base of Mount Hood, like a member of the Ku Klux clan in its white outfit, and below that the green Northwest and the new The Dalles with its espresso shops and internet connections. I raised the Nikon to my eyes. Then I wiped the dust off of the lens.
Suddenly, a climber appeared and said:
"I should tell you guys this, they warned me about it...
Erin began to shake in her sneakers...
"There's poison oak all over this place."
I looked down. The ground was overrun with shiny green leaves, three at a time.
The Hood River Valley is the Jehovah's Witness painting of paradise....you've all seen it in the Watchtower. The Cascades cradle the narrowing valley like a verdant paper syncline, at one end the happy village (Hood River, 20 miles downstream from The Dalles) on the mighty deceptive river and on the other the coconut sno-cone volcano (Mount Hood) that fortunately isnt erupting. In between is a cornucopia of fruit basketed orchards and cheerful families eating picnics. The farmers are all holding dicotyledonous sprouts in their curved hands, just like the Cascades are nutureing the orchards. Up the perky river lies an ever perkier river and vast steep acreages of green conifers just begging to become houses in Japan.
Yeah! That was me riding in a battered blue Subaru wagon with an old three legged dog named Puck and his owner, the director of the Shadow Of the Cascades Institute. Imagine her as young woman with blonde idyllic braids and one simple rhinestone on her nose! My goal was to assist on the annual field trip by dressing like a woodpecker. As a real estate agent, I would find proper homes for animals pretending to be fifth graders. Each animal, we learn as protoecologists, has a particular structure they need to live in. Here are the structures of a forest: Tall tree, snag, log, opening, canopy layer, deep rich soil. For example, a pine marten may spend its whole life eating pine needles in a TALL TREE.
Interrelated! That is the main jolt of ecosystems.
"Yes, I'm the director," said the director. "But I try to spend only about 15 hours a week at it. I really have about four jobs."
"Wow," I said. "What are those other jobs?"
"Well...I work with some farmers in The Dalles. They're all worried about it raining so much and the cherry trees molding."
"Huh! I bet!"
"I'm working on a project where we try and get the farmers to use less pesticides. They generally spray all during the month of April. But now we can install weather sensors that tell them exactly when the bugs are going to hatch. So they only have to spray twice now, with less lethal chemicals."
"Wow...that should save them some money..."
"Except the catch is that the safer chemicals are a lot more expensive."
"So I live right on Mill Creek...are the dangers of having those sprays there from upstream in the orchards?"
"Well, if someone WADES in the creek...or if you grow vegetables by the creek..." she answered ominously. "But Mill Creek is a steelhead stream, and so the farmers can get fined if they interfere the salmon spawning! So they are anxious to find a safer way."
"So what are your other jobs?" I asked.
"Well...I bartend at the finest hotel in Hood River and for private parties."
"Wow! Swank!" I said. "Do you know a drink that is in a shot glass and might have some type of whiskey and then butterscotch? Something like a waffle or woofa?"
"Huh...I'm not sure. It's probably a fancy shot of some kind...maybe a whiffle ball?...usually at the hotel people dont drink to get drunk like that, they just want something with dinner or to drink while they're talking. Fou fou drinks..."
"Fou fou drinks?"
"Fancy drinks, like martinis or cosmopolitans. And then at the events, they just have a few bottles of stuff, no one wants to make an investment. So I just make simple drinks."
"Huh...screwdrivers, scotch & soda...so how did you get into bartending?"
"Well, to start with," she laughed, "I drank a lot!
A Field Trip that Really Didnt Work Out But Who Cares...."
Asphalt to dust to trail...in some worlds that is that natural order of things....and in that world, the order is usually synonymous with the simple word "UP." We were headed UP toward the fourth and last of our series of field trips, UP the Wind River Highway and then UP the road along Bear Creek and its woodsy homes.
We'd chosen to take the red Windstar...
"I can take my four wheel drive," said our leader, a retired high school teacher. "Who else would like to volunteer?"
And we'd taken the current science teacher from the Stevenson high school as well.
"Hey, can I go with you guys? I dont think my Toyota will make it!!!"
Starting at a mellow 50 ft above sea level, it was us four in the valiant little red windstar, pitted against potholes and thrown up dust as we made our assent on the tortuous, road to...
"Where are we going again?" I asked, squeezing between a sheer drop and a huge crater.
"Grassy Knoll [Lookout]," said the teacher. We were high in the green Cascades, in what the locals sneeringly call the Rain Capitol of the Universe. We were looking for wildflowers.
"Whoa! Look at that view down there!!!" Not just the Cascades of Your Dreams, like down around Mosier. This was the Cascades of the Universe!!! Here the diamond green bristle points of firs melted into aqua ocean wave upon wave of high mountains...to be allowed here was to be accepted finally as a true Oregoni...oops...a true Washingtonian.
"Hey, watch out for that andesite boulder there in the middle of the road..." I said to myself.
"Saksalainen!" announced Ian excitedly. "Vanha saksalaiset!!!"
"Vanhat," I corrected. Old Germans. Two grisly old German women had emerged from their white rental Dodge Neon and were braced to go UP with their summer ski poles.
We, however, lazily walked up to our other leader, a retired forest service employee with an astouding knowledge of the local flora, who was speaking on the grassy meadow.
"That's one of the 500 lupine varieties here..".yep, they were all here, from onions to Indian paintbrush to phlox to....Erin? Where was Erin. All the three not-so-little girls on the trip were gone, UP!!!! into the cool brown and green forest, like canny little witches or wood nymphs!!!
And then we too raised up into the forest.
"False solomons seal," said someone.
"Devil's club," said another.
Up and up, and now the oldest people began to sit by the wayside, as if in some old Turkish death march. The trailside was littered with snow-white insurance agents(...as if awakended by a lifetime sleep by the kiss of Mother Nature...)turned biologists. My own legs hurt, my lungs exploded, but it was my knees...the thought of my will against the indefatigable force of jellow...that scared me. Maybe they would give way...
"Huh!" said the stocky woman with powerful legs on the trail before me. "Its still another hour to the top. We were up this way earlier in the spring. It was a real wet day.." To my left, horsetails around a tiny brook glistened pea green.
Finally, even the girls and Zen Ian stopped to rest.
The retired teacher said, "I guess I misjudged the time. Let's vote."
"Up there!" pointed the devils club woman.
I didnt vote. I wanted to climb UP and UP, until my lungs turned into aspic. But I remained silent as the trip became as if a bottle of liquid youghurt.
The current teacher took our photo. He lifted the camera, pushed the button...and the batteries fell out on the steep ground!!! I'd never seen anything like that happen!!! On the second try, he snapped a photo.
It was The Big Sky Day in Gilliam County, Oregon. You could drive for miles in this open country of sage and wheat, and above you would see the same grand cathedral ceiling that only the gods could have painted. To the east, clouds layered against the bright blue sky as if cut again and again by a celestial knife, stacked like buckwheat pancakes...and then rising below them the low dark peaks of the Blue Mountains. To the west, the sky like knobbed and bubbled milkglass, the decapitated veined peaks of Jefferson and Hood in the far distance. To the south, a shaft of rain sky like columnar basalt ries from the High Desert. Bright green wheat straight and crowded like the rain forest, round corregated grain storage shimmering in the sun like tinsel on a Chritmas tree, like broken glass or broken diamonds. Rainforest green tractors plowing into sage steppe, rising dust like spilled coffee against starched tea towels. Catacombs of stock trails on dry steppe like spider webs or oriental rice paddy terraces, smears of rainforest green where springs and seeps arise on the dusty slopes. Mikkalo, a monolith bank of hard concrete grey wheat cylinders and not much else and then Condon, turbines farming wind like dustdevils, its huge cloudwhite wind generators in rows like soldiers or power transformers from the dams so far away and so far below on the columbia i turn down north into wasco only to be delayed by a white turbine a propellar turning the corner to klondike two pickups one in front the one behind not accustomed reading mitzis goat ranch on the door panel..............................every turn a painted photograph, every photograph an Ansel Adams. I pick up my camera to shoot and feel the oncoming gold Ford pickup pass much too close in the other lane.
=== Another Tuesday at the Aerie:
"women...smells," a man was saying at the bar. He must have been discussing an article in Time or Newsweek. "You would think, depends on the job. What's your occupational category?"
"Blue collar. I was a welder," said the man in the leather jacket.
"I'll have a manhattan," I told Gary the Bartender, grabbing for names.
"Sure...just Bourbon, vermouth, a little lemon....you want that up or on the rocks?"
The hefty man in the white shirt turned and stuck out his paw, "I'm Art!" he said.
I said, "I'm Judith, but I wont remember your name."
Then, the man on the other side of me, in the brown leather jacket said, "I'm George."
"Hi George," I took my drink, sat down at a table, and opened up Sunset Magazine.
"How is it?" asked the bartender.
"Reminds me of Scotch and Soda," I said.
"No," said the bartender patiently. "It's bourbon." The he turned towards the men and said, "last call!!!"
"Bars should pay cab drivers for all the drunks they take home," said Art.
"Cabs should pay bars for all the late night business," said George.
These drinks are never big enough, except for the Pina Coladas and the Flaming Orgasms. I tasted the bourbon, a glass of bourbon and picked up the cherry and ate it. Suddenly, I was sitting in a dim restaurant in Birmingham, smelling the bourbon and my mother said, "I bet you want the cherry!!!" My head started to throb above my right eye.
"Yeah, I got a wife at home, obnoxious as heck. How about you?" asked Art.
"No," said George.
"You divorced or did she pass?"
"She passed on," said George.
"You have a good life together?" asked Art
"Yeah, we did for the most part."
"You want another cup of coffee before you leave?" the bartender asked.
I walked home across the little league field, the sky at ten still bright in the west, bright in Portland or Hawaii or Japan. A young couple was standing by the empty concession stand.
"You got a spare cigarette?" the boy asked.
"No, I'm sorry, I dont smoke," I said.
If you look through the shafts of rainbow sunlight, you can see us, two cinematic boys stumbling on the river cobbles, big and grey like dinosaur eggs. One of us is from La Grande, Oregon and the other is from Tennessee, each of us crazy and young, with skin like young calves, and minds like young monkeys. We're stacking up the oval cobbles into cairns, like David Thompson and the rest, and now the sunlight swings like a scythe, like a circular sawblade, whirling us, sectioning us through time....Eugene, we're on the Willamette now in Eugene, stacking up cobbles, long forgotten lonely cairns of stones....
There they were, playing on the weird, cairn-infested Government Camp-White Salmon ramp onto I-35, huge packs on their back. Suddenly, right there in the middle of the boulderfield, they stuck out their thumbs!! Hitchhikers. Forgetting little Erin and her huge bicycle were in the car, I slowed to a halt. The boys came running!
"Oh no!" grimaced Erin. "Derelicts!"
"I'm just going to The Dalles," I said hopefully. "Twenty miles."
"Umm...," said the one with the shaved head except for the huge ponytail.
"That's fine!!!" said the one in the stocking cap.
"We live in Eugene and we're going to spend my birthday with my grandmother in LaGrande. She has cancer. We just spent a couple days in Portland."
"I been to the Saturday market selling semi-precious stones," said the Tennessean. "Amethysts...rubies. I carry 'em and sell em, its better than spangeing." Was that the right word? Begging, he explained.
"Hey, what a great day!" said the boy from LaGrande. "You can actually see mountains! We were on this city bus to Troutdale and he said, "What's that over there?" and I said, "Mount Saint Helens!" And he got all excited and everyone on the bus thought he was nuts!"
"That's a neat knife you have," said Erin. "My brother would be jumping up and down to see it."
"Mostly I use it for cutting brush," said the Tennessee boy. He smelled heavily of smoke.
"I hear it is more dangerous to hitchhike than it is to pick up hitchhikers," I said.
"It's about 50-50. Like, you get these guys who are drunk and pick you up and ask you to drive...that's why they pick you up. And that one dude, held a knife on his lap the whole time, he was so scared of us....I said, stop, lets get off here!!"
It wasnt very far, but still we crossed that border...you know the one by now, between the Northwest and the West.
"Look...forest to desert in just a few miles!" commented the boy from LaGrande to his friend. I thought of LaGrande, in the Blue Mountains.
"I'll let you off here, at the last exit," I said. I hoped they wouldnt get stuck. "Not a decent place to stop, but they'll have to deal with it." As a member of the Grand Jury, I felt I could take liberties with the City of The Dalles and stop right in the middle of the roadway.
"We can deal with it," said the boy in the stocking cap. "We've dealt with more than you can ever imagine."
Maui, Hawai'ian Islands, June 2005!
"First date with a sushi bar"
What a treat to be in Maui, and to be able to walk down the White Russian-colored, night lit beach at Kilea!! To your left rises across the fluttering bay the lush western volcano, long extinct and capped by the huge, morose dark cloud of erosion. That's what happens, rainfall causes erosion! To your front rises two Totem poles, tributes to George Vancouver, the ONLY totem poles like this in the South Pacific, eh? And far to the right sits the neon carnival window of the Sayonara Sushi Cafe, where I was headed ON FOOT, gleaming OPEN in the vast Pacific night, just like the Eagles Aerie at home!
Alone...too. Ian and Erin were back at the Maui Tsunami Discount Resort, watching "Manga Mango" on The Cartoon Channel. This is the story of how a cute girl pop singer and a little blond 10 year old wimp, both from another planet, begin an alliance to become king of the universe, by first defeating a couple of sleazy used car salesmen from the same planet.
"Anyone want to go have some sushi?" I said.
"Anyone interested in dinner?" I said.
"Anyone want to go with me?" I said.
"Anyone want me to bring anything back?" I asked.
"Sure," someone answered.
"Would you like to sit at a table, or at the SUSHI BAR?" asked the Japanese man at the desk.
"Uh...why, I've never sat at a Sushi Bar before!" I answered.
He grinned in that Japanese way, and pointed the way! I picked a chair near the end of the metrochic black marble and curved glass counter and sat down. In front of me were chopsticks, a pitcher of soy sauce...sooey sauce my dad used to call it, either that or hair tonic...and a smiling Japanese man with a knife.
"How are you tonite?" he asked, grinning. He had a thick accent.
"Fine, I guess."
"Are you by yourself?"
"Yeah, my kids are in the motel. They had too much to do...they were busy."
"Bu-sy!!!" he grinned, hacking a salmon roll into tiny neat sections.
"Want something to drink?" a Hawaiian woman behind me asked.
"Uh...yeah...uh....how about...uh.." What was ethnic here? "Saki?"
"Warm saki. Small or large?"
"Large," I said. Heck, I was on foot!
She brought the warm saki, too much, but what the heck, I was on foot. I sat and stared at the Japanese man rolling my eel roll, and then two California rolls to go.
"Can I get some of those soybeans?" I asked?
"Oh, yes, I'm sorry!" said the sushi man, grinning.
I looked over at the Japanese patrons sitting at the tables, and listened to the recorded piano bar music. I poured one two ounce glass after another of saki from the pottery pitcher. A couple, Caucasian like myself, came and sat beside me, and I wondered if I should move over one, but decided not to. I pondered my day and how tired I was. It had been Erin's day, but I had snuck in some things. First it was all hers....we had gone on our one big, expensive trip, a scuba cruise. Then we'd driven past the huge brushlike sugar plantation that covers Maui's arid midriff, a conglomeration of alluvium from the dormant east volcano and wind blown dunes.
"I'd like some sugar cane," said Erin.
"When I was a kid in Alabama, they used to sell it at the grocery store!" I said. "But, hey, why dont we stop at the SUGAR MUSEUM and ask?"
We toured the beautiful old plant manager's home, now filled with old photos, shrines, and sugar cane.
"I'm ready to go to Borders now!" said Erin.
We did. But I sat out on foot for the Kona Koffee Bar, to check my e-mail and listen to folks in Hawaiian shirts say stuff like:
"I'm working till midnight for two more weeks and then I'm going to PORTLAND on vacation!"
A couple hours later, I picked up Ian and Erin.
"Hey, do you think I could take a little detour?" I asked. "We could see some rain or something!" What I planned to do, since no one was really listening, was to drive around the entire western half of the island. But then I thought of something. Instead of the now shark infested north coast, why not just go straight up, 10 miles up the 'Iao Valley, directly into the melancholy clouds of the extinct western volcano? So I did! Finally, the Hawaii of my dreams! Historical terraced tarot agriculture! Horribly bloody warfare during the Hawai'ian Unification, the red tide they called it. Lush green rainforest, a dashing stream, towering volcanics in the form of gabbro and basalt! Maori...oops...a cute Native Hawai'ian family swimming illegally! And the best part...sixty degree weather! I grabbed my Chena Hot Springs fleece and bounded UP UP the asphalt path...till it ended at the base of the great phallic 'Iao Needle, which you will see in every deceptive advertisement of Maui! But this was borrowed time. I returned to the car where the children were huddled and drove back....
"I will come back again, I will return to Hawai'i...alone...and see all of this again in detail!" I exclaimed to myself, finally draining the last two ounce clay cup of saki. I had intended to write this a one paragraph introduction to "Snubaing in Maui," but have become far too emotional!!!
Skamania Co., Washington, May 2005:
And then down....but before we descend from the foothills of the Grassy Knoll Ranger Station, I turn to the forest service retiree, tall and lank and knowing everything there is to know about the plants here, from concrete Vancouver to lush Hemlock down unto the barren slopes above Wishram. He also knows that Latin names are a human invention, that classification is merely perception. I want to get the good out of the long upward hike before I go down in glory.
"Just chew it for a while and spit it out, get the good out of it!" says my long-dead mother as I try to eat a long dead gristly porkchop.
"What are the trees I'm seeing up here," I say cunningly.
"Most of what is new up here is Noble Fir. You see it begin at about 3000 feet...now we are at 3500."
They are all around us, like quiet jade arrowheads. High Cascades indeed! To the north lies the brutal grey white chips of the Snoqualamie. And in only a few weeks, we will drive up and up to the peak of Haleakala, House of the Sun, where at 10,000 feet there will be no snow, only rocks and fine red and black dust and the plants they call silverswords. "I come from Syria and where we live there is an area just like this, but it is flat!" a man will tell us....
"And this one here is called Douglas Maple." Douglas fir, Douglas squirrel, Douglas maple.....where will it all end? The current science teacher, a cute, wiry man who has left his wife and two tiny boys at home, snickers.
There is nothing left to do but descend the low but majestic Washington Cascades. One of the many retirees, a man with a white beard but no mustache, decides to walk with me.
"You know this was once the Pacific Crest trail...but it was an inconvenient way to meet the Bridge of the Gods. Years ago...unfortunately too many years than I want to admit...I took a group of Boy Scouts up to White Pass to the ski lifts and then we walked back along this trail, it was a LONG trip!" He chuckles. I remember that once it was my ambition to walk the Appalachian Trail, but now it is the Pacific Crest. I know I will never do it, but in July I hope to walk along it.
"How do people walk across the Bridge of the Gods on foot?" I ask. "I have always wondered!" The Bridge of the Gods in paved in steel grating.
"Very carefully!" he says. "Hugging the side and dont look down! One time a friend of mine and I walked over to Cascade Locks. We knew that the Indians were selling fish over there. He was one the cheapest men I ever met! We parked the car by the side of the bridge and when we got to the toll booth, the lady shook her head and said, "If you're that cheap, you can come back across free!!!"
"They charge you to walk?"
"Then it was half price...25c, same as motorcycles!"
***Maui No Ka OI
HANG TEN, Pipeline, let's Go Trippin'
HANG TEN, Pipeline, let's Go Trippin'
Every Wave is New Until it Breaks!
***"Cousin Virginia is here to visit us from Hawaii!" said my mother. Counsin Virginia was a nurse in Honolulu, and Mother and Daddy George had gone to visit her in '47/ It was the biggest and most adventursome trip she had ever taken. I sat my tiny body down on my grandfather Georgie's lap, and looked at Virginia Jones' photos. "Nurse" was an understatement. Virginia had been directed by President Roosevelt to establish a public health service in Hawaii, and was Dean of Nursing at the University of Hawaii. On the other hand, my father commented, she was an old maid.
For years after that, our house was flush with brown gifts from Hawaii. There were dusty mumus which soon became too small, brown stuffed dolls named Kimo and Hallylowkey, necklaces made out of brown seeds, a chocolate brown incomprehensible book called "Hawaiian Fairy Tales," and a distintegrating grass skirt. Most mysterious of all was the mildewing pink foam plastic lei. And finally there was my mother's brown scrapbook with golden Dutch children on the front, containing many photos and darkening souvenirs of Hawaii after the war. Just today I opened to the book, to the 8 photographs of Maui.
"Look, Ian," I said. "Here is sunrise from that crater in the east and the lush phallic Iao Valley! Grandmother Mary went there too!" But there were no reciprocal photos of our biggest adventure in Maui....a SNUBA CRUISE!!! No surprise, because a snubu cruise is BLUE!!!! The water on a snuba cruise is as blue as the ink that spilled from your old fountain pen ink bottle!
***"Whoa!" I said to myself. "This is just like home!!!" I was leaning against the rail of the Maui Princess, my Chena Hotsprings fleece soaked with salt water and my third free sesame bagel soaked with diet coke , the result of a high speed trip out to the first dive site.
"The beach ahead," said Captain Corky in tour mode, "is all nude!!!"....well maybe not. Maybe not like The Dalles at all. But of course, in terms of aridity and lithology, it sure was. The upcoming shore looked just like Washington State across the broad Columbia...heat baked basalt and dry brown scrubby brush.
"Wait!" I exclaimed to myself, pulling out "The Roadside Geology Of Paradise." "Havent I seen this photo before? Yep, there it was! "Wow, children, it's the cinder cone Pu'u Ola'i, which originated within the last 100,000 years, during the Hana stage of vulcanism!" AUGH!!!! MONSTERS WITH TUBES COMING OUT OF THEIR FACES!!! Then they were gone, out into the incredibly clear water at the stern of the little tourist boat.
"We practiced snorkeling this time. Next time we will snuba!" they would later tell me.
"I dont like getting my face wet," I told the only other tourist left on the boat, an elderly woman from Virginia. I **didnt**, and it was also too early in the morning.
"I dont either," she said.
"Is it time for a mai tai?" I asked the bartender.
"We dont have those, young lady...but we do have beer and wine. Red or white? You might as well, you're paying for it!" What a deadbeat I was. It was 11:30 AM in Oregon. I looked out. The little bay like a lilypad pond with human leaves. I thought of sitting around in a swimming suit the rest of the morning and shrunk in horror.
"Are you having any fun at all on this trip?" the snuba instructor would later ask.
"Sure!" I would say. "You can see all sorts of geology from the boat you couldnt see otherwise. Like the black sparsely vegetated lava we last passedf rom the 1790 eruption!" That would be the real truth. No joke!
Erin would just roll her eyes and fiddle with her mask.
Again underway, we looked at the water. It was the blue of the Microsoft Windows Toolbars in this computer. Royal blue. Like a copper sulfate experiment in chemistry class. I sure didnt want to jump into copper sulfate!!
Suddenly Molokini appeared ahead of us in the ocean. Molokini is a tiny Hawaiian Island, more suited for the leeward chain, another Hana cinder cone.
"Oh man...it looks like another Miller Island, some dehydrated sagebrush toxic waste slab in the Columbia!"
The children raced for their snuba gear!."You see all those people over there from the Whale Foundation? Well, you might think that's the best place to see fish, but they have 200 people on their boats. It's just the best place to see people! THIS is the best place to see FISH!!" said Captain Corky.
You may not know what snuba is. It is like scuba, but you dont have tanks. You are hooked up through your snorkel hose to an air source on a surface raft. That way, you dont have to be certified to dive 30 feet, you just need to drag around a 30 foot yellow hose! You wear a weight belt to keep from floating, and then you flipper like heck to get up to the top. I knew this wasnt for me, especially in the morning.
I took photos of the children jumping down into the water and of the grey fish swarming around a floating bagel.
I lay down on the top deck.
I looked at my geology book.
I said, "Judith, you are a wimp. You are no macho geologist!! Estella Leopold wouldnt act like this!"
I went into the restroom, took my rings off, and put my swimming suit on. I found a snorkel mask and two fins, size 6-8.The bartender gave me a yellow float belt. I inched down the steps into the COLD water. I put my face INTO THE WATER!
SPUTTER SPUTTER!!! Salt water stung in my mouth CHOKE CHOKE!! I knew it! I was an incompetent scubaist!!! Soon I would be dead as the grass on Molokini!!!
I lowered my face into the lucid water again and again until I could breathe. Ahead of me darted flat black fish with pink stripes. Just astern of the boat, grey fish nipped at a bagel. Mounds of coral lazed below, deceitfully close in the glassy water. In front of me, two children swam one in front of each other like a short school of fish. I caught one, touching him on the back, but he didnt notice or stop. He followed his sister down beyond my reach, both tethered to the surface only by a yellow umbilical cord.
"Middle School Literary Camp"
***The quaint Il Piatto Italian Cafe cozies itself on Ankeny SE, just one block south of Belmont in Portland. I sat across the little gold metallic table from Ian, staring softly and silently through the dusky interior, the gauze curtains, the dim lights, and the thin wine-glassed guys chattering with the barista at the little cottage bar.
"Ian!" I prodded, "The waitress is here!"
"What are you reading?" asked the waitress politely.
Ian awoke as if from a dream. He turned over the thick paperback. It read "STAR TREK Adventure 9,467: The Lost Bodysuits of Zarkon!!!"
"Uh-HUH!" the waitress smiled politely.
***"What you'll notice is that like with most kids this age, the stories are divided between the very real and the very fantastic. And keep in mind these are rough drafts...they will learn as they grow older that writers rework and revamp their writing over and over like..." like longshore currents along a Texas beach, getting rid of stuff that is off on a tangent or superfluous as if it were clorox bottles or used condoms, or icons of George Bush.
WAS THIS MY PROBLEM...THAT I DONT PROOFREAD ANYTHING? I wondered. What if I had gone to writing camp as a kid? Would it prevent me from spewing unpublishable grey water from my hosey fingers into Galveston Bay twice a week?
"The first of these is very real," said the instructor, a thin man in the newspaper business. He motioned the first girl up to the podium.
"My father told me that Mikki was coming to visit us from Scotland. When I met her, I was surprised to hear that she and my father were going to get married!" read the girl. I looked at her parents...a husky, black clad man with a shaved head and a even huskier smiling blonde woman in light blue trousers. They were holding hands and beaming at their daughter. I sat and listened to the reading, rapt. I wondered why anyone would want to move to this sleepy town at the edge of the American West as a mail order bride.
"They had set the wedding for June. Then they learned that the consulate in London had sent the papers to the wrong office. Mikki had to go back to Scotland."
I thought of how at first the Klickitat Hills in Washington had reminded me of the barren sheep pastures of the Scottish Highlands.
"The minister told them that they should have the ceremony as planned, and then be legally married later. Then after Mikki returned, they finally went in for an interview to make sure it was not just a marriage of convenience. The INS asked for photos of things they had done together. They answered that they had photos, but had not realized that they would need to bring them."
How had they met? I wondered....
The other stories were about various things. A couple of kids moved with their robot to Boise. Weird surrealistic things happened, but then the writer woke up. A man returned home to visit the dying father who had been a real jerk. A girl convinced a man not to cut down the forest she loved.
That's really good for a 12 year old, but he should use more bizarre adjectives! She should use proper nouns! I said to myself.
Lastly, Erin stood up, and read. Her story was the beginning of a novel about a cat who discovers an advanced feline civilization. With a flicked raise of an eyebrow she began to read,
"Get up you poor excuse for a cat turd!" she said, her strong voice and words an integrated poem moving as if on a screen, a painted film moving in my ears. No one else read like that, in round images. Had she used adjectives? I thought she did!
"It is a risk for them all, it's hard to get up there and expose a part of themselves. There are adults who cant do that!" the teacher would say
Just north of Astoria, June 2005: The land below Longview Washington is a huge spit that derives its black and white sediment from The Mighty Columbia. During the last glacial, the bay behind the spit was above sea level, and there was no spit, but since that time, cold winter currents have regularly driven tiny long traveled pieces of British Columbia north again from the river's mouth, as if allowing them to grasp again in one last gasp of hope for that cool glass of Molson. But the unfortunate sand grains are chunked down tout suite in back of the Long Beach Holiday Inn Express.
Offshore, the plate tectonic brush paints a more byzantine and brutal picture of transform faulting and subduction, and thus is my inner turmoil over my own identity weighted down, pulled apart, and finally ripped and dragged brutally like the raw-edged rocks along the San Andreas Fault. No problem is more turbulent and at the same time sillier than choosing lodging on a trip to the beach. One part of me wants to sleep rocked by the sound of the waves in my tiny orange pup tent. A second whines, "Pull over into the parking lot of the Thunderbird Motel...there must be some great stories about meth labs out in the shimmering dusk!" And then a third listens kindly to Erin when she says, "This upscale bed and breakfast will be really great!"
I think so too...but at the back of my mind, I know that like the Red Windstar, I really dont belong there.
"You're from The Dalles! I must admit I cant think of any reason I'd want to live in The Dalles!" says the cheerful owner.
"Well," I say, "Things are moving east now. There is a Starbucks in Safeway. And the housing is cheaper. We could never afford the house we have if we lived in Portland or Hood River." I think of the obscene clutter of Long Beach.
"I do know the country," she says. "My father was an attorney and worked with the wheat farmers and ranchers out of Pendleton. Mostly trying to allow farms to stay in the family without them having to pay a fortune in taxes."
I leave Erin to talk to her, and walk out along the path to the ocean, past the scouring rush and the vetch, the European beach grass and the dry, green pines.
"They're cutting down and burning the pines next door," the hostess had said. "Because it is so dry here now, we havent had any rain, and the pines catch on fire, and threatens the houses. But the smell is really awful and I wish he would stop."
"You dont have a chance," said her husband. "It's his property."
***The ocean is before me now, past the peppery dunes, a patch of fog on the head of land to the south a blurring like salt or hydrofluoric acid on a camera lens. I had seen oceans like this before, from Yachats to New Zealand, Barrow to Anchorage to Monterrey, and even in the dim evening of Hawaii. It is always the same ocean, always the same smooth minimalist cheat for photographers, now the teal stripes bleeding against the white break of the waves, the grey clouds like a smeared watercolor.***
Deja vu at the Mouth of the Columbia..
***Coming east from Tillamook and its squeeky cheese curds, the Wilson River slices through the Coast Range like gentle pinking shears. The grey white asphalt follows the river like a thread of slimy infection festering in the green V of the mountainous slice....anyway, right there on the ascent you can find your mountain home...the Riverside Bar, Grill, Lodge, and Fishing Expeditions NO VACANCY!!! I wasnt sure what the NO VACANCY was for...maybe the fishing expeditions, since I didnt see any motel rooms. There were a lot of free tables on the sprawling wood decks...and a lot of unfree tables where people sat and drank glasses of rich brown Heftweiser.
"Hungry?" I asked Erin, who at the time was stuffing her mouth with cheese curds. Maybe. But I was, and I swung Red Windstar left towards the outfitters sign, back into the westbound land, and into the parking lot.
***Inside...it was one of those loggy places you'd find....in Finland. To the left lay six tables and a white dry-erase sign that said "Special: Spaghetti and Meat Balls " Below that was a black chalkboard sign that said "Special: Plank of Salmon, garlic mashed potatoes, and vegetables." We sat in a sea of a few hefty, hungry couples." A perky young neo-hippie waitress brought water and menus.
"Wow, she reminds me of Kitty Foster from college or Susan Reagal from Balkanalia!" I mentioned to myself, and pulled out my copy of Lauri Anderson's "Children of the Kalevala: Contemporary American Finns Relive the Timeless Tales of the Kalevala." It's a bizzarre book about Yoopies and the first story is about a guy who grows up with an alcoholic, abusive yet lovable miner dad who falls off a barstool at 38, and becomes braindamaged at the Mosquito Grill so he just sits around the rest of his life chainsmoking Camels on the couch and annoying everyone. Finally, the hero and a friend name Eino drive out to South Dakota taking him along. Somewhere around there the dad blows up like a balloon and dies of alcohol-induced kidney failure and the boys ship him home to Michigan as bus freight wrapped in garbage bags. This is a clear pick for fans of Prairie Home Companion!!
###Imagine a huge walking metal house lumbering along mountain meadows. Inside, by the door is a DIAL with colors! Each color represents a...well, I guess a reality that will be there when the door is opened. Like yellow, you'd get a town in England and blue, an alpine meadow, and black a surrealistic flying war zone. Somehow in the Long Beach B&B, I'd turned the dial to valkoinen ja sininen...white and blue, the color of the Finnish flag!!
No stories indeed! The handyman caught me in the front hall.
"Who's the Finn here?" bellowed the tall blond grey handyman.
"Uh...not me. I just speak a little Finnish."
"My grandparents came over during the Alaska gold rush!" said the beanpole, non-plussed. "They found enough GOLD to establish a coal selling business when they moved to Seattle. My father insisted that the children be bilingual!!" Then he started rattling off Finnglish.
"What?" I said. He had learned enough of that weird Finnish-American dialect to speak to most anyone from Finland. I would later pull out my laptop and show him some pictures. He couldnt read a word.
"Guess what that means!"
What I learned from class, and from Finnish Fun Weekend in Bemidji, is that if you learn a language by ear alone, you are illiterate. But at least you can hold a conversation!
***"I'll have the salmon special," I said to Kitty or Susan, whoever she was.
"I'll have the chicken and dumpling soup," Erin added. Ten minutes later, the cook would come to our table.
"Who had the soup? We're all out."
"I'll have spaghetti and meat balls," Erin would say.
###Astoria....end of the line for Lewis and Clark! Erin and I trolled the shops for tarot cards and other mystical things...
"Yeah...I do tarot!," said a large man in a side-street store-front. There were paintings with big, bold strokes in the plate glass windows. "Oops...stood up too fast, let me get my bearings." I hoped he wouldnt fall over.
"Do you think he was drunk?" Erin asked once we were outside.
"Did you smell anything on his breath?" I asked. She hadnt.
***Suddenly a hefty, bearded man appeared in the dining room. He said, "Well, I'm your waiter now! Anyone not ordered???"
Everyone stared at him. "I'm the wave of the future!" he warned.
I walked back to the restroom, threading my way through feather lures and frozen trashfish.
###We found some tarot cards at the bookstore and then Erin asked if I wanted to go into the FinnWare store.
***"Yeah, my sister went to high school with her," a hefty woman at the next table was telling the waiter.
###"Sure!" I said. I turned the wheel to the door and there I was at FinnWare, and there was that crazy book.
"Are you a Finn?" asked the clerk.
"No, I just took a couple courses in Finnish. Do they still teach it here?"
"No...the older teacher had a stroke, and the younger one...her husband died"
"The lady who owned the bed and breakfast...." I asked in addition.
"Just sold her bed and breakfast and got married again. She's a masseuse.
"Yeah, we saw it on the internet and wondered. I remember when Jakko died," I said. Ralph had announced it in class.
"Yes...massive heart attack. He was warned and but he didnt heed the warnings!!!"
***Blue and yellow, Swedish wrong color....apparently the big wheel was temporarily stuck in a past life.
Below me, out the door and under the deck, the wild tealgrey Wilson boiled and gurgled into eternity, into the Great Pacific. So ambitious and then soon lost!!
"Who's the one with the appetite?" bellowed the waiter. "Who had the salmon? Just look at that!"
"Uh...that's pretty big, " I said. It resembled a two pound T bone, only the bones were many and fine, like fishing line.As we ate spaghetti and wonderful salmon, blue and red lights were flashing behind a red westbound Fred Meyer truck as it gingerly snaked past valley homes and fields in the valley of the Wilson. Soon we would pass that truck going east, and after that the road would steepen past maples and conifers and clearcuts. Soon we would be over the summit, driving through the white Oregon evening into the wide valley of the Willamette.
"Glad I'm Not Single Again" or We Go Out To a NO MINORS To See The Clumsy Lovers from Vancouver While Our Kids Are At Camp!!
***Friday, July 8 … Savino's, Hood River, OR. Our annual summer trek into the Gorge to do some wind-surfing, eat very reasonably priced Chinese food, and play Savino's Lounge. Well, we'll for sure do at least one of the three. The Chinese food I put at 50/50, the wind-surfing is a bit of a longshot. But we'll definitely be at Savino's. 212 4th Street, 541 387 5511, adv tix available at Mobius Records. 9pm.----e-mail newsletter***
If you drive down 4th Street in Hood River, you'll see Savino's Lounge http://www.savinoslounge.com/, a thin dark dive squeezed in by the mysterious Mobius Records. If you drive up 4th, you see the broad chic sign on the salmon painted wall above the hospitable wooden deck. What this means is that Savino's has two faces! Another two-faced thing is that if you look at the web site, you see a MARTINI BAR!!!!! You can just imagine yourself sitting there at a little round table while you and everyone else is guzzling lemon drops and cosmopolitans....
I looked around. The reason they still had unbroken stemware left was that almost everyone was drinking nauseating swill like Coors Light, Pabst, and Corona. You would think at least they'd favor a Black Butte Porter or an Alaskan Amber!!! Some people were, I guess, but it was on tap. Even worse, a lot of people were drinking something out of red plastic glasses. Maybe it was water, or unsophisticated cheap mixed drinks. Not even the F.O.E. Eagles Aerie would serve martinis in plastic cups!!!
I laid my own elegant, expensive chocolate martini on the pool table, which was covered with a large piece of 900 ply plywood and sandwiched myself between my husband and a plump blonde woman.
"Have you seen the Clumsy Lovers before?" she asked.
"I saw them at Northwest Folklife in Seattle," I answered.
She smirked. "The first time I saw them was in 1994. Yes, that's right! But I havent seen them the last few times they've been in Hood River. I have unfortunately learned after the fact. They're the kind of band that's a lot better LIVE than on record. The fiddle player is really good. She's married to the bass player."
"Huh!" I said.
****Friday, July 8 -- Savino's, Hood River, OR -- Today was the travel day from hell. Took us about six hours to get through the Greater Seattle area. Traffic lady on the radio said it was the worst she's ever seen. It was definitely the worst we've seen, at least as far as non-weather related traffic.
As a result, we got to Savino's later then the scheduled start time. Set up very quickly, did a sort of soundcheck, and then blitzed through a couple sets. Ended up being very fun, place was packed, energy was sky-high. Drove to Portland after the show, where the hotel was, and got to bed in the wee hours of the morning. Long day, but at least we don't have to be anywhere tomorrow till dinner time." ------ http://www.clumsylovers.com/ ********
"HELLO! We're the Clumsy Lovers!" said the singer whose name is Trevor, but I think of him as our PD Cody "Austin" Rich" as they are exact doubles. "We're from CANADA!!! 1-2-3....let's yell that everybody! ONE-TWO-THREE!! That's how many hours it took to drive from Seattle to Tacoma!!!" That's why it was eleven and they were just pushing off like a sailboard with "It Takes A Worried Man...To Sing A Worried Song," off into the sound stream of Hood River, Oregon. An amiably busy, raucous, and loud mix of traditional, Celtic, reggae, and pop, TCL were not really pretentious martini material, were they? But what a wonderful band!!!
Yeah, like the blonde woman said, the fiddler, whose name is Andrea, is just like a little hummingbird fiddling with ever moving wings! And she has big eyes, like huge aura fantasy anime party lights! The band brightened the stage with their magic smiles and their cute trick of running high energy songs right into one another, like a CD avoiding being tracked on a 2 second gap stand alone Pioneer component CDR recorder, like waves crashing rapidly into shore on top of one another, like a roller coaster with hill after turn after dip with no mercy! I'm exaggerating a little, but why not?! The audience, ranging from the nose ringed NO MINORS limit to...uh...old grey hairs like us!!! incessantly popped and hopped with their low class beer bottles in the tight space between the bar and the stage. What a band! What ambience! FOLK MUSIC indeed. And even better, CELTIC FIDDLE!!! Secretly, I shot a horn sign at Trevor.
Then the stunning hoser band took a long break. I got up off the back of my seat, perused the new album ("I bet I could get one free!") and walked back to the unisex bathrooms. All the women in line were wearing black shirts like me!!! I was wearing ALL black!!! Wasnt I cool!!!
"Did you see that sign on the wall?" said a young woman in a black leotardlike top.
ONLY ONE PERSON ALLOWED IN THE RESTROOM AT A TIME!! ANYONE SEEN LEAVING OR ENTERING WITH ANOTHER PERSON WILL BE ASKED TO LEAVE!
"Weird!!!" I said. She rolled her eyes.
I stopped for a moment on the deck. The blue river sky and the lights of White Salmon, Washington acrost it burned like an enchanting postcard.
Sometime around midnight thirty, two women in small skirts and smaller sparkling tops hopped onto the pool table!! I dove to rescue my second martini, as they began to dance like go-go girls! The lady bartender ran over in a panic.
"Can you try not to JUMP UP AND DOWN!!!" she begged, terrified. The girls hugged each other.
All too soon, TCL launched into an extended golden oldie version of Brown Eyed Girl, Country Roads, and something else I was too drunk to remember. The audience went wild! Then the band left. Someone from the club said the band was too tired from their Seattle ordeal. We wouldnt take a no!!!
But imagine this...in the morning you are in your usual home doing laundry, in the evening you're checking into the Imperial Motel via a Chinaman, then roving through downtown with a 6 pack of pear cider, looking for a machine where you can get variable colored money. All this is due to the wonders of modern transportation, and the kindness of other nations more lenient customs agents.
"So what's in that bag, there, eh? A computer? What's ON your computer, eh?"
"Stories, I write stories, and then there's my e-mail."
"Are you sure you dont have any FIREARMS?"
And then I said it, "I'm a Quaker. I dont use firearms."
"Well," she said, smiling, "We cant tell just by looking at you that you are a Quaker."
"I guess the bumper stickers are on the BACK of my car!" I said. "By the way...any good places to stay in town?"
The customs agent suggested a charming B&B. But I saw the "Free Wireless Internet" and stopped at the Imperial Motel here in Grand
Forks, British Columbia. I had distracted her from the fact that I was carrying $125CND in currency defaced with www.whereswilly.com!!! Or I would not be
writing this while drinking this wonderful Okanagan cider!
As for the transportation, all I needed was an old red windstar, $30 in gasoline (!) and a ferry boat! Yes, a ferry to Ferry County on WA21!!! Up the Upper Columbia, one giant party in the cleaner lakes upstream from the nuclear plant...
"Look, Red Van, there's a semi stopped there on the beach, and the drivers are frolicing in their underwear!..."
All of arid Washington was out in its boats and swimsuits (and underwear) today, in the sun lakes of the Columbia, like a rare warm long day in Norway!
Up past the Grand Coulee Dam, water over the vast technical spillway, sagebrush over the Columbia...then north to south of Keller at the Mouth of the Kettle where the road stopped abruptly.
"Wait here for ferry," said the sign. I did, but only for a short time, because the ferry was on its inward voyage. A SUV pulled in behind me carrying a jovial retired couple. I looked to my left, where children played near the water.
"Does it cost anything?" a pretty young blonde teenager asked.
"No...it's free!" said another. There were four of them, all blond and similar. Maybe they were cousins.
The old blue ferry pulled in, and all seven of us boarded, four on foot. That meant it was almost full!! Suddenly a large Indian family in an old metallic brown pickup with Montana plates and mardi gras beads (on the rearview!) drove on too. Children gazed wide eyed from the crowded open truckbed.
"Howzha?" said the gaunt brown ferryman. Then he turned to chat with the couple in the SUV.
I thought of Finland, as the tattered ferry sped through blue water, across the Columbia River and up the Kettle.
I started my engine and drove off. The Confederated Tribes of the Colville greeted us with ** their**sign...and their trees, but otherwise left us alone. It would take hours to drive through, for the Colville Nation is the size of Delaware!
Grand Forks, BC, seven AM...
The Rasputin Cafe lies just to the west of the Imperial Motel, in an old ornate hotel building. RUSSIAN FOOD, say the letters painted on the side. I opened the door to the dining room. The faded plastic plastic booth seats were sparsly occupied by aging men in plaid flannel shirts and morning frowns.
"You need a menu?" the aging waitress asked as I seated myself by the window.
"Sure!" I said, waving my hand over my coffee cup so she wouldnt pour anything. "I'm a tea drinker!"
She frowned and rolled her eyes. "We got a breakfast special for $4.95. Eggs, hashbrowns, bacon, sausage, and toast. How do you want your eggs, hon?"
"I could do that without the meat. Sunny side up." I had had my heart set on borscht!
The waitress brought me a pot of Red Rose.
"Gonna be another hot one!" someone in a faded blue flannel shirt told her and added, "Over easy."
After breakfast, we headed over the river and on out to the east...if you lived in Pennsylvania, you'd go west for adventure, but we in the Northwest go east, over some river that wont be recalled [in this case the little Granby] and into the parking lot of a fruitstand.
"ORGANIC!!!" I read as I entered the door. There were organic lettuces, organic tomatoes, organic cheese with hemp...I picked out a lot of half yellow organic cherries and a bag of BC Certified Organic cheese curds.
"Gonna be a hot day," I told the clerk, a robust young man with clear blue eyes and long yellow felt dreadlocks.
"Yeah. But I was in Victoria all weekend, and it rained constantly...we've had rain here and it's hard to grow vegetables with the cool weather."
"I live in Oregon, in the Columbia Valley, and the cherry growers are in a real panic because of all the rain."
"That's what's happened in the Okanagan! These are local cherries, but there the early crop split from the rain, and then the mid season crop split so bad that they're just letting them drop off the trees as fertilizer. The late crop...we'll see. Those are the ones that they sell to japan...to Asia for the megabucks," said the clerk.
**Here in The West, the towns and fields are like gentle oceans, the wooded mountains like dark exciting islands, and the roads like grey ric rac zig zags of taking off the overdrive. Driving over the mountains and again descending, the sea suddenly blooms bright yellow, like a big school of fish in Hawaiian blue green ocean and I stop to take a photo, but the landscape of mountains is so vast the field appears only as a short sunny line.**
At Castlegar, I paused at a Canadian Tire store to buy an Outdoor Kitchen Cart on sale...the box was so big that it took up two seats and partially blocked the back window! Now I no longer felt like a tourist...
"Yeah, I just came up here to Canada to buy a sink for outdoors since I do all my cooking on a Coleman propane stove...." I imagined telling that to people who asked.
And so we three, Judith, Red Van, and El CentrO, set our sights on the source of the Columbia River as it nestles like a baby against the Canadian Rockies.
The Gold River winds through green years and dry years,
Brand 'em in the spring, ship 'em in the fall.....
The Purcell Range was the last place I could trick myself into thinking I was in the regal green coastal range of Oregon, where noble firs cover the high mountains like noble fur. As we three swung into the town of Cranbrook, the severe grey Rockies arose before us like an army of steel...stern knights in chain mail, sharp silver swords, armour clad tanks of doom!!!
Times I have gasped in total surprise and fascination at a grey razorlike mountain range...like falling in love!!!!
*1972 Rising from the Colorado Plains, growing up in the Appalachians I'd never seen anything like this...John Denver was right!
*2000 Rising from a traffic jam in Bavaria, driving south I'd never expected the Alps to sweep me off my feet!
The stern sawblades remained at our right hands, tires, and legs as far north as we went that day on BC 93/95. Likewise at our left flowed the Mighty Columbia, now a dazed pearl blue from glacial rock flour. We crossed the river at Canal Flats and a sign said "The Mighty Columbia," and after that it spread retrospectively out into a creamy lake. I pulled into a rest area and took a photo. Near me was a van with Oregon plates, and under it two desperate young tree hugger neohippies, trying to get it moving again. A third Oregonian, a spacy young woman with a long braid, was kicking rocks around near a big glacial erratic. I figured they must be from Eugene. A sign said, "Columbia Lake, Source of the Columbia River which Empties into the Pacific Ocean at Astoria, Oregon." Two weeks earlier, I had been right there, and the darker river had been just as broad as this lake.
Up through Windermere and Invermere, and their condominums and new homes...I wondered if the Gods of Immigration would allow me to retire here in the Kootenai! Probably not. Then, finally, to my final destination, the tiny tourist town of Radium. Radium is like Leavenworth, which I visited a few years ago, an inexpensive trip to the Alps! You can almost hear yodels in Radium...but not many, because the town was so tiny. I turned the corner at the bizarre shop and museum of The Woodcarver NO CAMERAS Admission for Cameras $5, and drove up to my home for the night, a guest house whose web page is www.milliondollarview.com . And what a view indeed! The people who run it are Hungarian.
"This reminds me of the guesthouse I stayed at in Austria." It did, down to the wood paneling, and the chairs in the restaurant. "Does Hungary look like this?" I asked.
"No," said the host. "There arent any big mountains in Hungary. But you have been to Europe?"
"Mostly the north," I said.
I drove back down to the information center, nestled beside a quaint Irish grocery. I wanted to use the internet and find out where the hot springs were. Water from these springs are fed into the Largest Hot Pool in Canada. That's why I drove here to Radium, to swim in the hot waves! (There is actually a tiny amount of radon in the water, but in the early 1900s it was thought of as a positive advertising concept.)
"Have you been to the source of the Columbia? Columbia Lake" asked the truly nice young woman at the counter.
"I have....but doesnt the river go on north for quite a ways?"
"It does," she said, "but the lake is the source of the Columbia."
A best birthday party in Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Washington.
"I want to go to the ICE CAVES for my birthday!" said Erin. Wow! A geological birthday party! What more could a mom ask for, unless St Helens is erupting? A lava tube formed a few thousand years ago in what became pahoe'hoe basalt, the cute little Guler Lava Cave was used in earlier days as a source of ice for bars in The Dalles! What a perfect place to cool down 4 12 year olds on a July morning!!
"Hey, here's a web site...Skamania County Sheriff's Department Press Releases. 'Spelunker Missing In Ice Cave! Hiker Falls to his Death at Cape Horn!"
"MY HEAD'S STUCK!!!" whined Keenan. My heart jumped up through my cheeks. Oh no! What I couldnt see, since I didnt have a flash light and was in the next "room," was that it was merely his silver bicycle helmet that repeatedly became stuck. Likewise, my foot kept getting stuck between two jagged basalt talus boulders.
"Don't go beyond where you can see the light of the opening!!" whined Judith. Trace hadnt brought his flashlight and the LEDs didnt work very well. I was scared. What if someone fell? What if someone got lost...stuck in a passage in back of us? My cell phone hadnt worked since we'd crossed the Skamania county line....
"There's a shaft of light over there!" said Erin.
"OK now," I whined, "Let's turn around and go the other way!"
"Look Alfredo! Ice!" said Keenan. "On this side there's ice all over the rocks!" It was as much fun as Lappland!
"Another room!" said Trace. "Whoa! There's icicles all over the ceiling!!!" They call this the "Crystal Grotto."
Altogether, there are four sink holes...roof collapses...that allow entrances to the cave.
"There it is! Let's go back and find where we were!" Erin and her entourage dove right in to the next round of visionless sharp black rubble. What I would later learn was that it was almost impossible to get lost, because you could always see the next entrance just as the light.
"Ugh...let's not go into this one!!! It's a gnat nest!!! Thousands of gnats!!!" said Alfredo.
Maybe that's what happened to the spelunker...she was eaten by bugs.
We moved on up the road a mile or so, to the natural bridges. This is actually another lava tube, but it is almost all entrances! A mere 5 feet of cave manifests itself as "bridges." At this site, I ignored everyone pretty much...after all, they were twelve!!...and walked around.
"What are these?" I asked. There were little round yew-like berries on the bushes. "Huckleberries?"
Keenan tasted one. "They're really sour!" he said.
"I'm really hungry!" said someone.
"Can we go to the Bahma Coffee House in Stevenson?" asked Erin.
"Sure," I said.
In the car the children begin to chant:
"I pledge allegiance, yes I do, that Michael Jackson touches you.
He used to play with little toys, but now he plays with little boys."
We turned left, away from Trout Lake and toward Goose Lake and the mill town of Carson, Washington. All along the shoulder, people were picking berries.
Soon, another sign would say "Pavement Ends." I slowed down, as we passed conifer after conifer, curve after curve, here in the heart of the Cascades, following the 1858 path of McClellan and his soldiers from the caves to the Great Columbia River.
"Goose Lake...Campground!" Weary of the gravel, I pulled in.
"Hey guys! Wanna get out at this lake for a minute!" I said. They hesitated, then poured out the door. I did too.
Before us lay paradise, and that was what McClellan said too! The lake was not so clear now, however, and the sesquicentenial willows stood as silver ghosts with their feet in the waters of Hades. Ranks of still-living green firs guarded the shores like tall dark spearmen. I lay down on the cool sandy beach, watched anglers, and closed my eyes while the children gathered logs to build island bridges.
"It's about 4:30," I finally said.
In the parking lot, someone asked directions to Trout Lake, the way we had come. "Which way do you turn? Is the road as bad as it was coming from Carson?"
"I dont know...well..no, most of it's paved and there are ice caves you can visit."
The redhead lisped cheerfully, "My car died...it's an awful road...but she...my friend here got it started again!!"
The Panther Creek Road was gravel and switchbacked, creeping past the Big Lava Bed. Losing altitude, it turned into one lane asphalt and intersected onto the big Wind River Highway, which carried us through Carson.
"We're running a little..uh...a lot late," the boys would tell their parents on my cell phone, which had recovered its signal.
We turned onto Washington 14 and soon were in Stevenson.
"I bet the Bahma Cafe is closed by now," said Erin. It was. We parked near the Big River Grill, where we sat five at five around the big table by the front window, the one with the great view of the Skamania County Courthouse. I ordered a portobello sandwich and the boys ordered burgers. Erin ordered meatloaf.
"Do you have a birthday thing here?" I secretly asked the waitress.
She smiled, "Dont worry, I'll take care of it!"
"Who's the birthday girl?" she would say before she brought the check. "ATTENTION EVERYONE!! Erin is having a birthday!!" She would set down a brownie swimming in icecream with whipped cream and a cherry on top. We would sing happy birthday and then the children would raise their spoons...
Radium BC, July 2005
The taste of fruite breakfast crepes in chocolate sauce still sweet in my mouth, I pulled into the Husky Station, filled my tank, grabbed a Diet Mountain Dew from the refrigerator case, and then walked to the counter to pay with defaced bills labeled "www.whereswilly.com." No wonder they call BC an American state, it's just like home!
"Did you know Mountain Dew has more caffeine than any other soft drink?" asked the clerk, her head backed by the Great Columbia out the plateglass somewhere.
"Yeah, that's why I drink it," I answered, my life an obscene circle of caffeine and booze.
"What is even worse is that Red Bull. I had one of those and my head almost flew off."
"Huh! Some people drink it with vodka."
"The young people drink it with alcohol so they can dance all night," she said. "I am so worried that their hearts will give out."
Then back up the great green Oregonesque Mountain, past the weird woodcarver and up to the booth labeled "Kootenay National Park." My goal was to drive a few miles and then backtrack down the Big C into Montana. YOU NEED A PARK PERMIT IF YOU STOP," said the sign. I wasnt planning to stop.
"How far up...are you going to the Hot Springs?" she asked. "You dont need a permit to go swimming."
I'd already been swimming there, I'd gone last night. Radium Hot Springs indeed hosts the BIGGEST HOT POOL IN CANADA. But the water temperature was uneven and there were no ex-convicts with tatoos discussing Moose Huntin, just dull tourists. What had gone wrong with my dream? I reckoned it was the luck of the draw.
"A couple miles," I said.
"You need a permit then. But when you go SWIMMING you will get a discount!!! Eight dollars."
As I paid my fee, my fate rose within me and was sealed. Red Van, El CentrO, and I would get our moneys worth. We would drive not two miles, but all the way across the narrow grey steel blade of the Rockies to Banff in Alberta. This would be the first time since she left Texas that Red Van had crossed the Divide. And so we followed along behind the honeymooners from Saskatchewan and the Rental RVs full of Germans and Danes, along the high road bordering vast ancient glacial valley, like soda straws cut in half lengthwise. I thought of my own honeymoon so long ago, along the Icefield Parkway.
Suddenly, on the other side of Sinclair Pass, the trees on the mountain sides were no longer the green of the west coast of Ireland. They were dead as doornails!!!
"WhOa! I wonder what could have caused that!" I queried to El CentrO, laying like an obstructive box in the back.
"Dunno," answered the outdoor stainless steel kitchen cart.
I stopped to get a diet coke at the Vermillion Crossing Lodge. It's a popular thing to do. In the visitors center photos and maps showed the extent of the last huge forest fire.
Eureka, Montana, July 2005: You never know when the border will come. One second you're in Mississippian limestone and wham! a thrust fault will thrust you right into the Jurassic. One moment, you'll be in Alberta with the queen in your pocket, and the next...
"So you have Oregon plates, but you have Texas inspection stickers!" said the border guard. She was on to something!
"That was five years ago." I said simply, a little hostile. A huge crack, seeded by a flying chip of Columbia Plateau Basalt. grew across my windshield like a mountain across the sky. The stickers dated that crack as after 2000. In any event, it was an accusation I hadnt expected.
She raised her eyebrows. "OK then. Are you bringing anything into the US?"
"I have 3 small bottles of Okanagan Pear Cider and (I rolled my eyes), an outdoor kitchen center that I bought for $199CDN." I pulled out the receipt. Had I paid too much?
"No firearms, tobacco, fruits and vegetables, meat products?"
"No," I said. She went to the side of Red Van, tapped on the glass, and stared at Le CentrO's gargantuan box. Le CentrO remained silent.
"No. I'm a vegetarian!" I said. "But, uh....is cheese a meat product?"
"No...actually it's just red meat they're looking for.
You always wonder if the US could turn you away, leaving you to wander around aimlessly in Southern Alberta.
Eurekakerue! What could you do at nine at night in Eureka?
"Gamble or go to bed!" piped up Le CentrO. There were more casinos here in Eureka than you could shake a stick at! Ironically, though a sleezy boozer, I have absolutely no interest in gambling, except with my life on hairpin turns and Alaska ferries. I pulled into a rickety motel just across the street from The Big Sky Restaurant and Casino and parked at the office door.
"REGISTER AT GAS STATION," said a piece of white paper. I did, and it reminded me of Germany and Sweden and Finland and........................how euro!!
Then I bought a six pack of Lang Creek Huckleberry Honey Ale, paying with marked ones. As it turns out, this stuff tastes a lot like Talking Rain Berry Sparkling Water, only it's beer.
"What's this duct tape on the carton?" the clerk asked.
"I dont know," I said. "It's not my fault."
I took the beer back to my Hi-Klass room.
"OH NO...IT'S NOT A TWIST TOP!!!" I exclaimed. I thought of going back to the Exxon and asking for an opener, but I didnt. Instead, I opened the closet door and inserted the top of the bottle into the latch hole on the frame, levered, and pulled the cap off, twisting the bronze metal hardware and spraying a cascade of huckleberry foam onto the lovely brown plush carpeting. I figured, though, it would be several years before anyone noticed.
In the morning, I drove south toward Kalispell. Just shy of the Eureka City Limits, I was seduced by these words:
at Conchita's Mexican Cafe, and pulled under one of the former drive-in bays, next to a SUV with Montana plates.
"Sit anywhere you want," said the waitress. I did, and then I ordered Huevos Rancheros.
Three husky middle aged women were sitting at a center table, talking about business. One owned a Pizza Cafe.
"I had to let her go... you hate to do that, but she always had one excuse after another for not being there," she was saying. She had also had a freezer go out in the middle of the night and water was all over the place and she had had to mop it up.
"Here, do you want the paper?" One asked me. "We're just reading our HOROSCOPES!!!"
"Which one of you is a Scorpio?" I asked.
"I am..." said the one on the right. "We're supposed to be involved in a big accident today.
Over against the wall, a chomping man was telling a thin Mexican woman, "Conchita, you have the best restaurant in town!"
I drove south again after that, but after a few miles trafffic came to a halt and then began to move slowly. A Coors Van that said, "Making Parties for Twenty-Seven Years" was pulled across the lane and its driver was directing traffic. An old Chevy and an old Volvo had come head to head, their hoods crumpled like Coors cans ready for recycling. Miraculously, the riders stood dazed by the side of the road.
&&&&"July 2005, Toll Road 93: Koontenai NP, BC" Looking at those crumpled cars, one is hard pressed not to think about Alberta and the Front Range and continental collisions. Most of Albert's province is like a Cretaceous/Paleocene age Winnebago, flat and rolling with little glacial coulee dents on top and the emotional pain of a comet splash somewhere in Mexico, like a child died in Viet Nam. But on the right front fender, there is horribly twisted rock, thrust faults and fragments of the tragic BC Overaeon Express Semi that hit it years ago. That's where I was, driving my little red van across the ancient wreckage along with thousands of Danish and German tourists, taking photos of trees standing like graphite pencil leads and...
Yes, on foot across the suspension bridge to the place the Indians called Place of the Pigments, where dozens of Japanese and Europeans pondered on how to take that astounding perfect photo of wet mud. I took one too! Back in the parking lot, I squinted at the rental RVs. Was this the Real Canada that they'd come to see? My guess was that most of the euro-caravaneers had about as much intention of finding the Real Canada as next joe from Saskatoon. Then I saw it! A white rental camper van, and a woman with a folding chair set up outside, reading....and I thought of myself in New Zealand last summer and smiled.
As the miles thrust on, however, I grew more and more frustrated. Where were the copies of "A Concise Geology and Botany of the Kootenay and Banff National Parks" in the gift shops? Where were the signs and geologic maps in the displays? Hidden behind "Facts About Hot Springs Hotels" and "Tasteful Photos of U Shaped Valleys"? I'd been here twice...
1. My honeymoon, right after Wasatch-Uinta Field Camp.
2. The American Association of Stratigraphic Palynologists Annual Meeting 1990 Field Trip.
All I remembered about my field trip was throwing a snow ball at one of my collegues and the words of the leader:
"The Indians used this as a vision quest site. That's where these red jasper chips came from."
My guide book! My map! Laying piled on some shelf. And the punch line is, I will tell you ahead of time, is that today I would retrace the route of the field trip from crowded Banff to uncrowded Longview, and I would never realize it.
Some people will stop and get a new map when they hit a new state or province. Not me! Now that I was in Alberta, I was following skeleton lines radiating from Dazzling BC into the cultural night. Soon after the border, I turned off of Canada 1 through doug fir and aspen into the town of Banff, hoping to find WIFI, lunch and a bookstore.
AUGH!!! Downtown Portland!!
In panic, I reversed my trail and looked at the now vague map. How could I stay close to the mountains rather than Big Calgary??? Hmmm...40....here's a nice road! And so I turned, juxtapositioned as with a thrust fault, into my own past, through the blue smears of the Carboniferous into the Kananaskis Country, over Highwood Pass on the highest engineered road in Canada!! (7237 ft.) On my right...on my left...the green spruce, firs, pines and larches, and the silver chainmail knights of the Rockies, with their Mesozoic lined faces contorted into faults and synclines.
I just wish I'd had my guidebook!!!
There were signs.
TEXAS GATE!! This is Canadian for cattle grate.
LOUGHEED PROVINCIAL PARK!! On the Continental Divide.
SYNCLINE!! THRUST FAULT!! No joke! A sign on this lonely road pointed out the syncline and thrust fault on Mt Kidd, the soldier to the west.
Up over the Highwood Pass, I stopped and walked a subalpine valley trail...another will take you into alpine vegetation and into the Ptarmigan Cirque. "The summers here are very short," the signs said, "Two months, really. See that tiny sapling? It is over 100 years old!"
COME BACK YET AGAIN!!! A sign in my head said.
Down now into the East, the first time in five years I had driven over the divide. On the left shoulder a mountain sheep...or goat lingered, and on the right, a cow grazed....no...it raised its head and I was face to face with the sorrowful brown antlers of a moose.
TEXAS GATE!!! And I was in the foothills. I stopped at a tidy gas station and store...the only one in tens of kilometers...for a muffin (my Banff luncheon!!!) and a diet pepsi. A pickup couple drove up pulling a horse trailer and a man in dress clothes...a fancy cowboy shirt, boots and clean jeans...opened the door for me.
No American plates....not even from Washington.
Down towards 22, foothill ranches, like Spokane, but grass shining green as Astoria...............then, rising from the grassland, PUMPJACKS and a drill rig on the Horizon.
IAN TYSON'S NAVAJO MUG
WELCOME TO LONGVIEW.
I pulled into a quaint The Black Cat Swiss Cafe, now hoping for an early dinner. What is Swiss is the sausage they serve.
"The wife's in the camper, doesnt want to get out," a tall circular man in his 80s was explaining to the hostess.
"Do you have any vegetarian sandwiches?" I asked the plump, aging waitress.
She looked confused, running her finger down the menu. "Uh...this is...uh...vegetarian...Pasta and tomato sauce."
Yep. "OKay!" I said pleasantly. "And ice tea!" A dead elk stared at me from the log wall.
The cowboy ("Good to see you again, Curly") sitting against the wall finished his dinner and rubbed his fingers against his suspenders and blue plaid flannel shirt. Then he leaned against his walker and went to pay the bill.
Soon I would pass through the limestone of the Frank Slide in the Crowsnest Pass. Soon I would cross into Montana, with its Flathead Indians and its lakes and vacation homes the size of Seattle and its relentless Casino signs.
Do you ever wonder what kind of problems places with pool tables have?
1. White Salmon, Washington! For years I'd considered going to the Mooseantler Tavern and Family Restaurant, overlooking the main street of White Salmon, Washington, and I never have, because despite the fact it's only 22 miles away, I have never ever eaten out in White Salmon.
"Where do you want to eat lunch today?" I asked Erin.
"Uh..." said Erin.
It was finally time to cross that bridge, in this case the The Dalles US197 Bridge right over there by the dam and locks.
"Hot today," said the perky blonde waitress, who probably should not have been wearing a pastel blue tank top without underwear.
"It was 99 when we left The Dalles," I said.
"It must be 95, then. It's always cooler here. The farther west you go, the cooler it gets."
"Can I get an iced chai?" said Erin.
The waitress frowned in apology. "Actually no....because I dont know how to make that. I usually work over there...in the bar." She motioned past the pool tables and the Texas Hold 'Em Room.
"Can I get an ice tea?" I asked. There was a canistor on the ba...counter, in front of the glistening wine glasses and beer mugs.
"That I can make. But let me tell you before hand, we dont have half this stuff. We had a cooler go out last night. It's a big money loss day!" She shook her head, poised to spend 50 or so paragraphs during the course of our meal about the Upstairs Freezer Disaster."
"Can I get fish and chips?" I asked. It was halibut...always halibut here in The George.
"That I DO have. But it's the bar fish and chips, not our special batter. It was in the other cooler. What a mess. The manager is supposed to give me a list of stuff that's bad."
"Hey, I like the dill in the tartar sauce. How did this happen?" I asked.
"Well, it started acting up a couple weeks ago and these people were supposed to have fixed it, but then when the new cook walked in this morning she didnt notice anything and then the manager...Well, they hadnt fix anything! The owners are talking to the insurance company right now, they're thinking maybe $5000. Its a big money loss day. Look on this list! Salmon. Halibut. Ceasar salad..."
"Wow, I didnt know you froze caesar salad." I said.
"And Thursday's always a big nite. We got some people come in here too that wont take no. You just want to bring 'em what they want, 'Here's your rotten salmon, sir, just like you ordered.'"
2. The Dalles, Oregon! Yep, home again at The F.O.E. Eagles Aerie!!! I stared at my short but potent green glass of grasshopper with 2%, while Dave pointed at his Nokia cell phone.
"See, this is a pay as you go phone! I just use this phone for COMMUNICATION!"
"Huh!" I said. I had just met Dave ten minutes ago. What happened was that I'd sat up at the bar and Gary the Bartender said,
"I have a new grandaughter!"
And Dave sidled up from the Keno room, swung his hefty, hearty frame up to the bar...with a slight waver...for another glass of bourbon (scotch? rum?) & coke and said,
"I've got a 4 year old and a 6 year old, third family, but the first time I had kids. I'll be 62 when the first one graduates from high school!" And then there was no stopping Dave. In just a few minutes, I would learn that Dave is the oldest and shortest (5' 8)of six children, that his father had arrived in The Dalles in the 50s to work on the dam as sheet metal supervisor, that his grandfather was from Tennessee, that he himself is 1/8 Cherokee...
Suddenly the wireless sound of "Take It Easy"!!
"Hello....yeah...yeah...I better come home then, huh!"
The barman came back from the storage room. "Either of you want something else? Last call!!"
"Ha ha...not him, he has to go home," I said. "Not much of a crowd, tonite, eh?" What you read is who there was!
Dave's potentially handsome blond face darked, his noble silver bird necklace glowed red with reflected light from the neon Budweiser sign. "Our aerie is struggling, and do you know why that is? Because we half our potential members. Everything is geared toward the Geritol Crowd!! Even people our age...and I include Gary, even if he is a little older...he likes the same music we do!" If he only knew...
"I like all music," said Gary.
"Biggest dance floor in the Gorge," I said, shaking my head.
"What they should do is put a plexiglass wall between the bar and the dance floor so it wouldnt be so loud back here when they have bands. Hey remember when they had that big dance here with both a rock band and a country band! Both rock and country!!! And it worked!!"
"Yeah, a couple years ago." said Gary. "Phoenix. Cost $10 but it was worth it! I worked the other bar over there and we were selling drinks like hot cakes." The only time I'd seen it open was on New Years!
"Hey," said Dave, "I went to school with..." I stared at the pool tables for a minute. The boys were perking up! "Dr. Cox...he and his sons...in the business with him...make dentures. Started the band 30 years ago."
"Do you have a photo?" I asked Gary.
"Photo? She was just born yesterday! I'm going down to see her next week...."
"You are very lucky!" I said.
"I'm from Fairbanks," said beautiful Kathryn, my neighbor on the solarium floor, the penthouse sleeping deck of the ferry they call the trusty tusty. I refer to it as the trusty rusty, however, mirroring my enthusiasm for sleeping on the floor for three nights. That's two and a half days of watching the regal conifers of Kodiak Island melt into alder and willow shrubs and then tall lush Aleutian grasses and herbs, fireweed, lupine, salmonberry, and yarrow, glaring in rich awe as moldly grey mist abruptly cuts like a guillotine into the cornflower blue of the vast Peninsular Terrane sky.
"You're an ALASKAN!!!" I said. I would later learn there were many others aboard...the Portlandista couple from Juneau, the transferred teacher from the North Slope, the drunken fisherman from a farm near Puyallup (originally), and the ever shifting waves of Aleuts off to visit relatives...and the Safeway in Dutch.
"You've been here five times! You sound like a potential ALASKAN!!!" she said.
"Maybe," I answered. "But I dont think Fairbanks. It's too cold in winter!"
"It's not the cold you wouldnt be able to take. It's the constant darkness that would drive you crazy. But maybe somewhere in the southeast...Ketchikan? Homer? It rains a lot there."
Maybe. During the next 9 days, Erin and I would travel all over the place, and we would be pretty lucky in finding ALASKANS. But for now, like the unfortunate and legendary Peninsular Terrane, we were being scraped along the Ring Of Fire from the Oregon Coast to the byzantine and steeply subducting Aleutian chain. This first and most amazing leg would take us on this sparse metal ferry from Kodiak, out to Dutch Harbor and Unalaska, where fishy cannaries are as plentiful as expresso shops in Seattle or Portland.
The Trusty Rusty has four floors. The bottom holds vehicles and the odd dog or two...following weird American custom, animals forbidden on the human levels. The second floor contains a large and poorly decorated lounge with chairs and booths, a restaurant, a little theatre, the few sparse ensuite cabins, and several vending machines. This is where most of the passengers are confined for the better part of two and a half days, to form a strange camaraderous microcosm. The third floor holds crew quarters and passenger cabins...for those lucky enough to book in June 2002!! The fourth floor is solarium and open deck. On other Alaska ferries I have heard you can erect a tent on the open deck. We tried that here, but the wind was far too strong.
STUPID OREGONIANS IN TENT BLOWN OFF TRUSTY RUSTY BY HELLISH BUT TYPICAL WINDS!!! read the headline.
We took our tent down, and Erin and I slept two FLOORS apart.
Here is where the Trusty Rusty stops on its monthly run: Chignik. King Cove. Sand Point. Cold Bay. False Pass. Akutan. Dutch Harbor. Akutan. False Pass. Cold Bay. Sand Point. King Cove. Chignik. Kodiak. At Chignik, we would exit through the vehicle ramp, stare at the little cannery, and wander around, buying fireweed honey at a flea market. Conversely the locals...mostly Aleuts...would come aboard for lunch, buying cheeseburgers from the restaurant in white styrofoam containers.
"This is their RESTAURANT!!!" the veteran RVers...Don and Deb from Black River Falls...would comment again and again for the next hour.
The next stop would be King Cove. I would sit up on my Thermarest pad, pull out my camera, and photograph Dawn at King Cove, Alaska. Then I would lay back down.
The next stop would be Cold Bay.
The Draining Of Cold Bay, Alaska
We docked at Cold Bay in the morning of the second day, now bright grey as a harbour seal. Cold Bay is not far from a wildlife refuge, and there'd been a drawing for short tours. But I didnt enter, I could see the wildlife right there on the bright treeless ground...buttercups and pineappleweed...
"I'm staying on the boat," said Erin, "but if you find me a store, get me something that doesnt come from a ferry."
"OK," I said.
"They don't call it Cold Bay for nothing!" commented the ferryman as I disembarked. There's no harbor here...so it couldnt be Cold Harbor!!
"There's a grocery store, off to your left...somewhere," said someone else.
I walked along the long wooden pier, slowly exchanging position with Cold Bayians queuing for burgers. A rusty pickup pulled up behind and beside me and an Aleut woman yelled across the tall boy passenger, "Do you want a ride?"
I didnt, I wanted to walk the gravel roads, but I said "Yes."
She smiled. "We'll take the long way into town...give you a tour! I'm going on the ferry, going into Dutch for six hours!" she giggled. "Where did you say you were from?"
"King Cove," said the pretty Aleut woman sitting in the jumpseat with her two children. She was dressed like a woman from Portland. "I'm going to Akutan to visit my brother."
"Who's that?" asked the driver.
"So what do people do here in Cold Bay?"
"Hmm...there's fishing and hunting, in the summer. But other than that, not much." She paused. "We have a big airstrip here. Many of the planes on international flights stop here for refueling. The company that used to fly all over the Aleutians was headquartered here, but it went bankrupt."
"So how do people get around to other places? Do they fly, are there boats?"
"Well, there are direct flights to other towns, but they are very expensive. Some people do have private boats."
Soon enough to walk, we were at the grocery store, like so many Alaskan buildings covered in water warped grooved plywood, here painted brown. On the wall was a bright yellow sign:
REMOTE PROPERTY, INC. FOR SALE BEARFOOT INN ALASKA STORE BAR HOTEL BUNKHOUSE.
In the window was a sign that said:
Inside a sign above a hand-through window said:
The Alaska liquor laws are even weirder than those in Oregon. Otherwise, grocery goods were stacked up on warehouse-like shelves. I surveyed the pop tarts and cookies.
"There's some frozen sandwiches in the back," suggested the woman from King Cove.
I walked back to a freezer door...2 rooms in fact, one refrigerated (did they really need a refrigerator?), one frozen, and loaded bagels, milk shakes, and diet mountain dew into my overflowing basket.
Then it was time to go back. I said hello to the tall man from Georgetown, Texas, and the Dutchman from Minneapolis (whose wife had gone home at Kodiak because she always got seasick) in the sharp gravel lot, and then headed seaward.
"Look at that!" pointed the wife of the chunky old hippie carpenter. Her husband had once worked on the Rat Islands at the end of the chain. "I didnt believe it, until I was working under a building a looked up and there was a huge RAT staring me in the face." In this case, we were face to face with a two hole golf course!
"Can you take my picture?" she said.
"If you take mine...."
Just past the golf course and the guesthouse, I heard the sound of wheels on gravel.
"Want a ride?" asked the driver. She was not an Aleut, but rather a...non-Aleut?!?! You never knew. Many of the children of Aleuts look Norwegian.
"Sure!" I said. "Are you going to go on the ferry?"
"I was," she answered, "but I have to fly to Anchorage instead."
"Well," I said, "this is the second ride I've gotten!"
"That's how people are in Cold Bay," she answered
The Rusty Tusty just might have the smallest bar in the fleet...at least it's smaller than the vast glitzy lounge complex of the Cinderella which ploughes the waves between Stockholm and Helsinki! It is even smaller than the smeared out bar of the Queen of the North which rides between Prince Rupert and Port Hardy BC. But with 4 barstools and 3 tables, it seems to suit the clientele just fine!!
"Can I have an Alaskan Amber?" I asked the tall bartender whom I hypothesized doubling as the Chief Steward.
"Sure," he said.
The first night I met Cyril and Bob. Cyril was a neatly bearded Australian in a soccer jersey who'd moved to Toronto many years ago and obtained employment, somehow circumnavigating the necessary papers. Now, they'd found him out, so he was in the process of being processed for citizenship. Or something like that. Bob was a Big Texan from Georgetown. I was sitting at the third table staring at my AA, and suddenly Cyril said "But we're forgetting about you! what is the story of YOUR life?"
Every evening after that, both evenings, that is, I'd see Cyril somewhere and he would say, "We've got a date tonite in the bar!" But we always (twice!) went there at different times...and different locations along the steeply subducting archipeligo.
The second night, I stared at a conversation on the barstools between a couple of traveling Birders and a sexy, flashy young Aleutette, who was seated against the port wall of the vessel. The Aleutette's brother had been lost on a fishing vessel, and according to the story that was told again and again, the captain didnt report the problem for four or five hours. So she was bound for King Cove to comfort her mother and seek ruthless legal vengeance.
"Last call," said the bartender, as the male birder began fondling the female. Whoa!!! I turned my eyes away.
The third night, the girl birder was back at the bar, but with a female pal. Also at the bar was...
THE DRUNKEN FISHERMAN!!!
Erin and I had run into TDF earlier in the day, when we'd disembarked at the isolated Alaskan grooved-plywood village of False Pass and walked along the gravel road with a guy named Josh looking for salmonberries for Erin to eat. Josh was from New York City, and was a senior at Indiana University majoring in mathematics and piano. He'd begun his journey in Bellingham, WA, taking the famed and tame Alaska ferry up to Alaska, and then over on the Cross Gulf, where he'd hung onto his bench in the night-bound solarium for deer life due to 35 foot waves. Then he'd taken the plane up to Barrow and flown back down to Kodiak.
"I LOVE New York!!" said Joshua, his eyes watering.
Anyway, we were walking along by the False Pass Post Office/Cemetary with its wooden Russian crosses, and the handsome young fisherman was sitting in his jaunty navy blue cap on the steps. He said, even then slurring his words:
"I sold my ticket. I'm staying here!!!" Then he laughed. Soon, however, he would catch a ride back to the ferry with a Satanesque black-clad Aleut on a 4 wheeler.
But now he was talking to the 2 Birder Girls at the tiny bar. He said:
"I'll give you this twenty if you buy a drink for me." They rolled their eyes, shook their heads, giggled, and soon left. I was left alone with the Fisherman, my Juneau Beer, and an ambivalent feeling that Cyril was watching the movie, "Famous Oil Spills."
"Here! I'll buy you a beer if you'll get me a drink!" He slurred a stream of ones, tens, and twenties from his billfold. "Oops!"
"Thanks, but one is enough," I said.
"You got a cigarette?"
"No, I dont smoke..."
"What is WRONG with you girl? Not a smoker and a moderate drinker? JEEZ!!" Girl, indeed.
The Fisherman was, I thought, about 30, and he'd come up 7 years ago from Washington State, from the rural Puyallup area, to fish...
"Last call," said the bartender.
"Can I get another rum and uh...."
The bartender brought him a brown drink in a squat glass glass. He paid with a archipeligo of bills, the bartender picking up the correct amount. In one minute the rum and uh was gone, down the hatch.
"We slaughtered animals at the farm, but just for food, I hate the commercial slaughterhouses," the fisherman said. But now he was slaughtering halibut and black cod, the queen diamond of fish. Most recently, he'd served as the middleman, the consolidator...I cant remember the name of the job..between the fisherman and the cannery, picking up catch, paying the price, and taking it in. How much for halibut...four dollars a pound? He'd got off a boat at King Cove...
"You have another job waiting for you?" I asked.
"Yeah, I do, a boat waiting for me in Dutch Harbor."
Later, my daughter would run into The Drunken Fisherman in the bow of the boat.
"You can see all sorts of things in those clouds!" he would say.
And Erin would shake her head and think, "He's drunk!!!"
&&&&I ordered a Deluxe Veggie Burrito at that wooden taco trailer near the University of Alaska.
"You're a vegetarian!" said the barista, a heavy set, bearded man in his 70s.
"Yep..." I said.
"I am too. I've been a vegetarian all my life. You know what I think it is....when I was growing up we hardly ever had meat...I grew up on a farm and sure we had a chicken every now and then, or we slaughtered a hog...but we never BOUGHT meat. I just grew up without getting used to it."
"Where did you grow up?" I asked, hoping for a pioneer in ALASKA story.
"Northern Minnesota. Just there over the border from North Dakota. Hey! This gal's a vegetarian!" he called to the elderly counter woman.
It was unlikely that he's seen a lot of forest fires either, back in the Red River Valley, but I bet he'd seen a lot up here. Last year, the road to Chena Hot Springs was burning, just a few miles to the northeast. This year, Arctic Alaska was burning. You couldnt see it in the moist peninsulas, but you could here in arid Fairbanks. The sky was like a pate de foie gras right now, it was like the fog over Dutch Harbor, it was like a hash den of black spruce incense.
When I get back from Texas, you will hear the story of the world of the smoke half light.
"Red Van Travels Home At Last"
My car is red fire and we are burning, flying spooks through Mother Texas with the dead of night...and we hope we can stay awake and not end up that way! Into Texas at half after midnite, buying off-brand chex mix at Jacksonville in an off brand convenience store where everyone is speaking Spanish, equally confused about their route. Dallas at half past one, where 35E is nonchalantly pink flared off and we look at our new map for a new route, a Mercedes convertible flies past us like chic lighting, the cops have pulled over a motorcyclist and his girl. Half past two south of Ennis and Angus we pull off the hell of the same one lane construction we left five years ago, down south toward Mexia and its round about cloverleaf of four motels and convenience store, a slow white pickup in front of us, pull into a motel lot for a diet coke from a bright machine, the restaurant is still bright too and the neon says open, maybe twelve warm customers and a waitress lounge wakefully inside, enveloped by fluorescent whiteness. But we drive on south down the two lane towards Groesbeck, in the shadowy dark the jagged cool ghost creeks and gutters of the coastal range smear past, but when I look, it is not firs and hemlocks, and clearcuts, but the dry black oaks and grey rolling pastures of northcentraleast Texas. And the stars................we turn onto 6 South and follow a semi, past Calvert and its antique stores, and through Hearne, where the busy gas stations are open at five, and we cant tell who is new and who is old, who is done partying and who is ready for work.
My daughter will tell me,
"There are two thousand people are here from Louisiana, and A&M will admit one thousand Louisiana students at lowest tuition."
They've come north, into the future, and we've come the wrong way, south, into the past. But listen: Red Van is leaving me at 178K. She will spend the rest of her days here in Texas, in the past with my daughter Emma. On Wednesday, I will buy a brand new tiny yellow car in Hood River, fetched from Seattle, much like the one I drove in Sweden in the winter. Will our adventures be different now?
A day and a half later, I will ride in the back seat with my grandson Baby Victor to the Austin airport. I'll get out, not looking back,
"No, I cant sell you a Shiner, not before noon," a spanish clerk will say.
"Just the veggieburger, then," I will say.
and I'll fly to Denver on a small plane, fortified with cranapple and Finlandia. I'll line up for another plane to Portland and at the doorway of the airplane, I will hear a chic woman chat:
"My son got out on Saturday night, he didnt have any trouble. But they loaded up their baby and their two dogs, and they didnt have room for much more. That's all they have. I dont know. I just dont know." She shakes her head, her voice breaking.
I will sit vertically cramped in a blue seat, a vacancy between myself and a pretty blonde college student.
"We're flying now!" announces the pilot, excited.
What an odd thing to say, I think.
Idaho, August 2005
I-84 just east of Boise, pulling out of the rest area, I braked for the scraggly bearded boy in painters pants who was standing on the shoulder.
"Where are you going?" he asked.
"Uh...Utah!, for now," I said. I didnt want to drive all night!
"Great! I need to get to I-80, need to get to Colorado. I'm Joshua! It's a GOOD thing you picked me up..." he answered, slurring his words. My gosh, Josh was a child drunk! Or worse. "...you know why? Because my girlfriend cheated on me for the third time and I said that's it, but now she's having a cancer operation and so I'm going to a rock concert in Colorado Springs and working concessions so I can help pay her medical bills. I need to get there as quickly as possible." Wow!
Josh was 23 and he'd grown up in St Louis ("the most awful crime-ridden city in the country), the oldest of 5 children. His parents had divorced when he was 17 tearing at each others like pit bulls in the process, so he'd started traveling, but not for long. He'd settled in Northern California on an old tree sitters farm, and then moved on to another Farm in Asheville, North Carolina, which is where he had been living with this treacherous and tragic woman. Or maybe the sequence was backwards.
"I thought you were from Eugene," I said.
"I was just there trying to forget her. Do you have a phone?"
"Yeah." I gave him my black Nokia of the Night. I have a whole bunch of rollover hours which should be used.
"Hey! Cingular to Cingular! It's free!!!" he exclaimed, and the called his buddy. "Yeah, I drank 5 beers but it didnt help. Three dollars and fifteen cents for gas in North Carolina?!?!" he exclaimed. Then he called his ex-girlfriend. The Nokia to Nokia conversation went on and on in the bleary Idaho sunset. I pulled over to a truck stop to top my tank...two dollars and fifty nine cents. He got out, sat on a bench, and rolled a cigarette, still chatting. I bought a egg salad sandwich, which I later found to be OH NO! chicken. He got back in the car, still talking. Finally he said, "Yeah, I know, I love you too" and hung up.
"That's your ex-girlfriend?" I asked.
"Yeah, I know, I'm not handling it very well," he said.
"Looks like an emergency vehicle. You see smoke? There was a real scent of outback." Alaska in the air.
"Let's look! Whoa...see over there!!!" The long low brushfire Snaked along the obsidian night plain like Hawaiian lava, like Miocene Plateau Basalts.
I'd meant to stop, to see Utah!'s mountains in the morning. But I didnt have a map, so I just drove and drove....
"I-80 is just a few miles down the road," he kept saying. "But if you want, I can drive all night, I'm awake!!!"
....right across the Wyoming Border on 80. Soon I saw the lights of Evanston.
"Truck stop OK?" I asked.
"There's a Pilot Station!" he said, and I pulled up to Pump 3. He walked inside with his bag. A old jeep wagon pulled up to pump 5, and a couple in their 20s got out to stretch. Joshua walked out of the building.
"Are you going east? I'm trying to get to Colorado..." he said.
The couple hesitated, looked at each other, and nodded.
I waved goodbye.
Would you rather live in Louisana or Utah?
I feel compelled to tell some story about New Orleans, since I've been there three times. Unfortunately, I cant remember much of anything about the trips, only desperate snatches. Time washes away images like crazy waves wash away houses and cars. I searched out artsy black and white SLR photos from the last visit, a '95 spring break drive from Texas, the Green Aerostar filled with 3 children. At the time, I noticed in the pictures, the skyscrapers were glowing bright grey and modern against the downtown sky, and the elephants were smiling like dark clouds! But the most memorable yet unphotographed part was the coupon-book Days Inn in either Met'rie or Slidell, whichever one it was the motel was dusty and mildewing. Ian, who was just a little tyke at the time, had been brutally thrown out onto the second floor balcony for turning on the television at four AM and spent most of the early morning pounding on the door and screaming things like:
"Let me in! I dont want to go to the zoo! I want to watch cartoons!"
That's the same trip that we picked up a bunch of free miniature bottles of Tabasco sauce at the factory gift shop at New Iberia. Coming back, we crossed the Mississippi on a ferry. Many years earlier, I'd crossed the same river on another ferry, near Galena, Illinois. I think I did, at any rate, or rather I think it was Galena.
The other two trips were during the eighties. I visited my friends Janet and The Raven, the latter of whom worked for Big Oil there in the Big Easy. They lived in an upstairs apartment in the French Quarter. I dont remember much about that trip either. Riding on street car tracks and on street cars, restaurants nearby with crawdad etoufee and jazz...
"I dont really like jazz," I would have said, petrified of being bored and alienating.
...with their whole fronts open to the street, like little alleys. A trip on a sight seeing boat, where I bought beer in a plastic souvenir mug. What happened on that boat? Where are my slides?
Later, I remember two black folks standing near a dead '67 Impala, yelling at each other in Southern.
"People are really weird here," said Janet. They'd come here from Iowa, and if Cedar Rapids was a shining tuba, New Orleans was a dirty saxophone.
My friends would subsequently move on to California, England, and finally to Alaska. Years later, last month to be exact, Erin and I looked up Janet and The Raven in Anchorage, where Janet owns a toy store and The Raven consults for Big Oil. The gas tank in my rented Kia SUV held up fine. I dont have a story about this either, but it's good to have a segueway back to Alaska.
Introduction II: Alaska has only two major byways that span the distance from sophisticated Anchorage to inland Fairbanks. On the left is the George Parks Highway, lonely in places but interrupted in the middle by the stark cold peaks of Denali and...well you cant be too lonely when there are millions of other tourists there doing things like stepping off of tour buses and stopping their behemouth RVs to photograph moose. On the other hand...the right to be exact, is the Richardson Highway. It parallels the Big Oil Pipeline and driving down it mostly consists of scanning desolate subarctic parkland that's barely hanging on and wondering when the next almost deserted plywood and log roadhouse, gas station, and RESTROOM will pop up instead. You can, with little forsight and a penchant for sitting for hours in a rental vehicle, make a two day loop of these two roads. Your choice if you're a mercurial introvert like me is whether you prefer to be overwhelmed and disgusted the first day and depressed the second, or vice verse. That's what I did...two years ago, got disgusted first then depressed. But this year, accompanied by my little daughter Erin, I went the other route....backwards, you could say!!! What is neat is that you see things in just the opposite way!!!
Dutch Harbor, Alaska, August 2005
How many times have you wished you didnt have to go through airport security?
How many times have you been caught with scissors or a corkscrew and had to fake being senile or just plain stupid to a government employee even more witless than you?
Then flying to Aleutia is the vacation for you. Does it matter if a 15 row SAAB coming flying from Dutch to Anchorage is hijacked by an irate Ethiopian cannery employee carrying a butane lighter in his rubber boot and is diverted straight down into the Busy Bee Arktik Krab plant? Does it matter if a paranoid schizophrenic Inuit waits for days in the airport bar eating salad rolls for the weather to clear...zzzz....and then sneaks plastic explosives and gasoline disguised as a 12 pack of Diet Big Red onto a goosie filled with Aleuts bound for Nikolski, the longest continually occupied town in the western hemisphere? No. You can go straight on to any of these places or back by air just like you did in the 1960s, carrying harpoons, bush knives, an extra couple gallons of petrol, dirty pictures of sea lions...anything but....
"What's in that box?" asked the PenAir counter lady at the Dutch Harbor Airport.
"Halibut!" said the nice elderly couple. I'd actually seen them buy the fish from a couple of Aleuts who had docked their fishing boat, Queen of the Icy Seas, at the end of the small boat harbor. Mr Halibut was hung up against a board like a huge dead white bat in the eternal fishy drizzle of Dutch.
"There's no ICE in there, is there? You know you're not allowed to take ICE in your baggage!"
Soon it was time to board the little SAAB for Anchorage through the one gate, with the rest of people who were escaping the almost treeless desolation of Dutch....at least for the time being. ( Dutch/Unalaska is really a pretty neat place to be, with varied ethnic restaurants, wide open spaces, and free library cards for EVERYONE!!! You could get trapped, like the old white haired man with the long beard who drove his 1968 fluorescent lime green VW bug with Californian plates onto the Aleutian ferry at Kodiak.
"You're staying here for the next month," I asked him in the Public Library.
"Yep...I wanted to spend a little time here...so there was no choice but to wait a month for the next ferry. I sleep in my car anyway, so it wont cost much."
I looked inside the little Beetle. It was packed full, with just enough room for him to recline the drivers seat. )
"If you are flying standby, we are completely full!" the counter lady announced over the intercom.
I turned for one sad look at the Airport Bar/vietnamese cafe. Its bright lights and Alaskan Amber gave such solace to those waiting days for their flight out...or more likely further in!
Erin and I sat at the back of the plane. To our surprise, some of the seats were empty. A rotund man moved back to the single across the aisle from us.
"Where were you before?" prodded the stewardess. "Just up one seat? That's OK. We do the weight by SEGMENTS."
The bright green herby land quickly disappeared into omnipresent Aleutian mists and grey clouds.
"Not like the ferry, eh?" the chunky old dude asked us.
"No, I guess not...."
"I'm traveling with my wife and daughter. My daughter's 39, but she still likes us...ha ha!!! We're traveling to Gnome, we try and go to one or two places in Alaska each year. We're from Hawaii...I have business interests in Hawaii and in Reno."
"This is nothing like Hawaii," I asked. "Say I have a question. Why arent there ferries in the Hawaiian Islands?"
"We wonder that outselves! You have to fly everywhere you go...and rent a car, that gets expensive. We do have barges. But have you ever seen the seas between the islands? Open ocean!! You would need a pretty big boat, or you'd be seasick all the time. They're proposing a sort of huge outrigger canoe, though. The rental companies are howling, but I'm all for it!!!!
I thought of the North Sea ferry, between Kristiansand and the Tyne. That was a huge boat.
In Anchorage I rented my car, a little ice blue KIA SUV. It was not something I would have done ordinarily, but that the economy car price was almost as much as the SUV price. I wanted to see what it was like to drive a Ford Explorer....I'd intended to spend a few days in the Kenai Peninsula, south of the Big A. But then Erin said:
"Let's go back up to Chena Hot Springs!!!" Chena Hot Springs, with its new Ice Hotel, the premier resort of The Interior!!!
And hence I determined we would now drive counterclockwise around the Fairbanks Circle.
Alaska, August 2005
How was the trip different, driving forward to backward, instead of backwards to forward?
For one thing, there was no young hitchhiker from Beaumont, TX who had been driven into total poverty in Fairbanks by a drug-addicted girlfriend and rejected at the Canadian border as well. In fact, there were no hitchhikers at all, even though there was a lot of room in the SUV. But more importantly, there were stretches on the 2003 Richardson Highway where I was totally stunned...the rise southward into subalpine vegetation that chilled like a Norwegian fell, the rise of the brutally high Alaska Range and the Chugach Mountains, and the slow smeared oreo descent of the Matanuska Glacier south of the Glenn Highway.
"Huh!" I commented beneath the Hawaiian shirt blue sky outside the log Meier's Lake Roadhouse, where I would soon order a cheeseburger from a black waiter and photograph a fat white poodle sitting at the NO MINORS bar. "Looks like we've been in subalpine vegetation for a while. Yawn!!!" www.columbiagypsy.net/poodle.htm
"Huh!" I said to Erin about 20 miles later. "That's a nice glacier! Why dont you snap a photo! Why...why, I can hardly see the medial moraine in this picture. Why is it so hazy??"
SMOKE!!!! A FOREST FIRE!! I looked around....not a sign of flames...exploding petroleum...
Yep, as I mentioned about 3 weeks ago, far to the north the Alaskan taiga was burning. Soon, the Alaska pipeline would dissolve to a broken chalkline against a landscape resembling washwater from a roughneck's laundromat against a Mushroom soup sky, valiant green forest and strikingly bold steel mountains reduced to Wyoming Badlands.
At Delta Junction, the clerk at the tourist office whipped out Today's Map. Big and small bright yellow blobs half filled the space in Alaska between the Arctic Circle and the Bering Sea like patches of lichens. There were a few symbiotic blobs in The Yukon as well.
"And that's not all of them!" she added.
Well before night, we rolled into Fairbanks, but not before seeing a moose that looked confused by the side of the road. We didnt take a picture, rather, We took a photo of smoke at the TEXACO station www.columbiagypsy.net/smoke.jpg and then turned northwest along the Chena Hot Springs Road. We were in plenty of time to check into our MADE IN OREGON yurt and have dinner in the lodge. I had a grilled portabello. The Japanese waitress had stars in her eyes.
"The best time to come is in winter, but when it is not too cold. The whole sky is lit with the AURORA BOREALIS!!!"
I pondered the idea of ionized smoke.
That evening and again in the morning, I took my yearly dip in the NO MINORS World Famous Rock Pool, relishing the mercurial chilly to hellishly scalding water against my skin and the sand between my toes.
"Almost makes you feel young again!" said a bearded man lounging against the rugged boulders rimming the hot pool. You could almost imagine him smoking a cigar.
"Are you from here....or are you touring?" I asked, but I knew the answer already.
"I'm...from Fairbanks," said the old wheeler-dealer. "Yeah, it's cold in winter, but let's put it this way. Some people live here in the summer...snowbirds...and go to Florida in the winter. But I'm RICH ENOUGH to live in Fairbanks all year long."
"Huh!" I said. "Are you originally from..uh...Alaska?"
"Nope. I'm from Pittsburg. Ha ha!!! Came here to homestead, but then found that the homesteads were all gone, so I went into prospecting for gold...too hot? If you stand over by where there's spraying water in the air, it's cooler."
"The plane out of Dutch Harbor was full, but it wasnt," I was saying.
"Yeah, the fuel out there uses up the weight. That's a long haul for a little plane. They could stop for fuel in King Salmon, but they're too cheap...gas is cheaper in Dutch Harbor and Anchorage. It's different if you're doing a charter, you can get by with a lot more. I've chartered full planes out of there before, costs about 12 thousand dollars, and stopped at King Salmon. But if you can't land there, or there's no fuel, you're in hot water! You're dead! Ha ha!!!" I imagined him puffing on his cigar.
"Wow," I said.
But then his friends...a group of innocuous codgers and codgettes in their 60s...joined him and his voice trailed off. Dangerously overheated, I ascended the ramp to the building and paused to listen to the conversation.
"You pay the fines, you get a guard with a AK47 for each one, I'll get those things out for you, that's what I told them. Exxon has had a drilling rig stuck out there for months, spent god knows how many millions of dollars on it, nothing happened." The man with the imaginary cigar shook his head in dismay.
Yep, back in the Big P again, and further, back in Swedish class, my fifth year in the Finnish Room!!! Swedish III!!! Who would have guessed? This is what happened after class....
"YOU HAVE A COKE BOTTLE IN YOUR HAND!!" commented my classmate Janet after class. "We have some NEW RULES," she added, nonchalant and rolling her eyeballs.
"Look, read them," smiled our teacher Gunilla, shaking her head. Those crazy Finns!!!!
"NO FOOD OR DRINKS IN THE FINNISH ROOM!
NO STUDENTS CAN BE LEFT ALONE IN THE FINNISH ROOM!!!
NO STUDENTS CAN TOUCH ANYTHING IN THE FINNISH ROOM!!!"
"Huh," I said. fondling my Diet Mountain Dew.. "They have all sorts of receptions here, cookies and everything. Maybe they've had some thefts of rare Sibelius scores."
I was obviously rationalizing in a way typical of people whose Nordic ancestors came from Glasgow.
"Make sure you two leave at the same time," said Gunilla, rolling her eyes and shutting the door.
One good Finnish Band is Apocalyptica. Graduates, or so it is said, of the Sibelius Institute, their first CD was "Metallica For Four Cellos." My children and I saw them...were LUCKY to see them.... at the Aladdin Theatre Sunday night.
This is the place you would ordinarily go to see Richard Thompson or Catie Curtis.
"I remember Fairport!" said Ian, who had just bought an Apocalyptica World Tour Tshirt with a cello shaped graves printed on it. "What a contrast!!!" I could remember Erin laying on the floor as Simon Nicol sang.
"I'm sleepy," she had said.
But now she is older. We have been in Oregon five years.
"Is that a real skull on stage? What are those brown things on stage supposed to be?" asked Erin. "Tombstones?"
The audience was typically Portlandista. In front of me, two women sat together with intricate make up and dyed long crew cuts. Behind me a goth couple in their 30s wore black. A long haired bearded man in a tye dyed T-shirt poised ready to head bang. There were women in black sequined evening gowns, and couples in pastel polo shirts, and eight year olds, all hanging on the stage. There were even a few folks in black T-shirts!!!!
Suddenly I was smiling..grinning...gasping...laughing... with joy and delight. It was like when Ian as a small child first witnessed Chris Chandler at an on-air in the KEOS studio.
Or when just last night the Goa Constrictor had a couple guys in the studio doing Electronica with endless means of percussion, endless complexity..
"YOU GUYS WERE GREAT!!!" I said. They grinned.
"Whoa! Look, those guys look really Finnish!" I said to Ian. One of them is a blond guy who plays with The Lahti Symphony Orchestra, wears black sunglasses, and just sits and plays...probably as Finnish as you can get. Another cellist looks a lot like accordionist Kimmo Pojonen with a funny black stripe of a beard and he's the one who beckons the audience to clap their hands. The third and fourth are the cute ones, with long hair.
"Can I go up to the balcony?" said Erin.
"Yep," I said. I was losing my children one by one.
There isnt too much else to say, except that they blew me away like a Nuclear Blast, which coincidently is their record company.You may not believe me, but I have seldom heard better musicians on either side of the Gulf of Bothnia! Sweet, acoustic melody laden themes so common in Finnish music, like nectar to the Hummingbird, like roses and thistles, like Czech dessert wine or Chai tea lattes, played on 4 cellos and a wild set of drums. And passionate and incongruous as this may seem, these Suomalaiset Poijat play as cellists but do everything else like they were Angra or In Flames. They rip off their shirts..........
"Some guy on the balcony said "Hey, skinny nordic guy, take off your shirt!!!"" Erin would later tell me.....
The photos I was taking near the back of the audience were too small. I had thought that a digital camera would solve everything, and it did, as long as you
werent in a theatre taking photos of Finnish guys rotating their heads while playing cellos. So I went up to the front and settled in by the 20 foot speaker on the
left. What an exquisite state of deafness! I snapped a fairly good photo of the quiet blond, and moved in for the kill on the long brown haired guy who was
twirling his cello around 360 degrees at lighting speed like a huge globe, horsehair flying as like my hair does on a damp day.
"OK, you guys, get out of the fire lane!" yelled a 400 pound bouncer dressed in black. "Someone could get killed!!!"
I walked back to my seat, then as if magnetized I would again be drawn forward, to photograph a brilliant young Finn with long blond hair, summer hay in Ostrobothnia blowing in the wind, swooning over his thin walled instrument as if a dead lover.
This fall I have registered for two undergraduate natural history courses. These include "Geology of the Oregon Country" at Portland State, and "Life of the Forest" at Columbia Gorge Community College. So far...after one week...the courses have proved to be a little unsettling!
"I'm here to learn Facts About Oregon Geology and Local Forest Ecology!!!" I say to myself.
The head of the Portland State Geology Department stands before us. A man with wild eyes and crazy hair, he gestures emphatically as he shows slides of the Mount Saint Helens lava dome and shakes a pop bottle to show how spewing soda is similar to an eruption. Soda Eruption!!!! WHOOSH!!! He says:
"I don't care if you learn the specifics here, though if you like you can learn all the details. I want you to get the overall concepts. I want you to learn to think like a GEOLOGIST!!!"
How does a geologist think? My mind erupts back to the igneous petrologist at The University of Iowa, who would periodically forget to take his Lithium pills. But here's the answer, here's a quote:
"If you wait until you have the right answer, you will never start thinking about it. Test your idea...right is not important. Why do you want to be right?" He shook his head.
Well, I know I want to appear right about Local Geology and Ecology, so that I can impress people in my neighborhood. Most geologists, however, constantly slurp out non-judgmental wishy-washy things like.
"Dunno, that's not my field!"
"Huh! I was there about 6 months ago....there's a great café and bar nearby!"
"Could be...hey those look like great ripple marks over on the margin of your photo!"
Others, mostly elderly men, are indeed more opinionated, and snarl out from the back of the room at professional meetings...
"That's a bunch of GARBAGE!!!"
"Huh! Well, you're entitled to your opinion, Robert Ruhe!" the speaker...in this case the head of the Iowa Survey...will say mildly.
Wading through the syllabi, the instructions on writing the papers, keeping the field journals, the grading requirements or total lack thereof, have set me in a tremble. Why didnt I just register for Swedish Literature, Norwegian, Linguistics? What drives people to say "I hate science?" Fear?
In any case, I am here for the 5 total field trips, reasonable health insurance, and my radio show. I hope in the next several weeks to have enough time to tell you about the field trips I have been on.
[For people who dont know the awful truth, I have a PhD in Geology, specializing in fossil pollen. That's why I'm so smug, so perceptive about what geologists say....and so reluctant to jump through any more HOOPS!!!]
Note I didnt send to the folkdj-listserve: Ha ha!!! Yep, everytime I hear Tommy James, I look back fondly to sleeping in 10 inch rollers, plastering my face with makeup, wearing dresses and hose every day to school, not getting asked out despite all this effort, the rigid caste system of the fading old south, block after block of filthy shotgun shacks, black dust from the steel mills that covered everything, segregation, Bull Connor, George Wallace...and picking out the few tunes that I **really*** liked, like Herman Herman's Jezebel, The Yardbirds' Turn Into Earth, The Beatles Norwegian Wood....from the radio or from albums.
I wait all day to go to the gym, not just because I'm a lady of the night, but because they turn off the golden oldies and turn on rock tunes I cant identify.
I have been increasingly enthralled by cosmopolitans. The first time I drank one of these enticing martini-morphs was at The Eagles Aerie, where Gary the Bartender mixes me up one for 2.50 and commented:
"They are very popular in Portland!"
From then on, I would find myself devising surrogate cosmos in airplanes:
"Could I get a cranberry juice & FINLANDIA vodka?"
"Sure!" the flight attendant would say, "but all we have is cran-APPLE"
"Yeah." I'd say.
On my way to Texas in Red Van, I stopped for the night at a Howard Johnsons in Goodland Kansas, which is at the dark CO-KS border. This hotel specializes in the AARP rate, for which I apparently qualified, no questions asked!!! As I went to set up my wifi by the pool and hot tub at midnite, I noticed a tiny BAR. Interstate travellers were sitting there drinking up-scale Oz beer, like PBR and Miller, and some were playing pool.
"Can I sit by the pool and drink?" I asked.
"Huh?" said the bartender.
"Can I get a chardonnay?" I asked nonplussed. I took my valkovinia out to the Courtyard and stared past my Dell Laptop at the gurgling waters. Then I came back inside. People were still playing pool and it was after 2 AM. What happens is that in Goodland KS your Pacific car says 12 midnite, your phone says 2 AM, and your bar says 1 AM.
"Can I get a cosmopolitan?" I asked.
"Uh..."said the bartender, flipping through his ROLODEX Guide to Mixed Drinks.
"You know what the zip code is here?" I asked a man sitting at the bar grinning slyly. "BONK!" went a bunch of pool balls.
"No," he grinned, his eyes tilting amiably.
"You're not from here, huh?"
"Uh-uh," he said.
The bartender handed me my cosmo in one of those funny crooked stem glasses. I took it out to the pool. Wow! What a good cosmo!!
"You put quite a bit of triple sec in there," I said when I brought the empty glass back. Yum!!!
"That's not right? It says here to do that," said the young man, grabbing for his ROLODEX.
"It was delicious!" I said.
In Atlanta, I stood in the Heavy Metal bar line. Why get another Guiness? Why not a COSMO???
"What's in that sprayer thing?" I asked.
"Anything you want!!!"
"Cranberry juice? Can I get a cosmopolitan!"
"Sure! I havent fixed one of these things in a long time!"
He pulled out a shaker and added ice.
Cranberry yes. Triple sec? Maybe.
Tonight, I walked over the sparkling black Park Squares to Puccini's the chic new Italian Cafe in the Ione Towers Apartments. It had almost emptied, but later sometime it would fill again. A chalk board says, "Happy Hour: COSMOS and LEMON DROPS $5." But at 9PM they cost $7.
"Can I get a cosmopolitan?" I asked.
It came with a lime, and tasted about like the one I'd bought in Kansas. Behind the free-standing fire-place, a lone player aimed at a billiard ball. I opened my computer and drank it slowly. Then I walked over here to Smith Center, my head spinning.
"I'm starving," said Carolee, the black-clad, light headed hostess of the Ethereal Gothic show.
"Do you drink? Do you know what a cosmopolitan is?" I asked.
"Hmm...cranberry? Triple sec?"
Yesterday my mother-in-law Annabelle Wilhemina Martha Langguth Day died at age 92 in Menagha, Minnesota, a German woman in the show of St Urho. Anabelle never really grew up and was always an ally in the struggle to get other people to go places and not just sit around. She didnt drink, but neverless, that last Cosmo was a toast to Annabelle.
"There was frost this morning up in Trout Lake!" said one of my fellow Life of the Forest students.
My outdoor kitchen is now ready for rainy fall. I purchased a Coleman Gazebo, actually a huge hexagonal screen house, on sale at Fred Meyer. It was difficult to erect using the Sri Lankan instructions, but we did it, and now it houses
1) my 2-burner Coleman camp stove on its plant potting table with the big propane tank beneath
2) shiny LE CENTRO outdoor kitchen cart with sink brought across the border from Castlegar BC (connected on a RV hose!)
3) and the glass dining table and chairs we've eaten on eat on all summer.
About a month ago, Erin told me: "Dad said, new RULE, you use it, you wash it!"
So I have been heating my washwater in a huge chic stainless kettle I bought in Finland, washing my dishes in LE CENTRO, and drying them on a wooden rack I bought camping in Sweden...or with a green checked Danish towel I bought in Iceland. Set up like this, the children now dread these words:
"Get your coats on and come outside for dinner!!!"
I started cooking outdoors a few summers ago, with an overturned milk crate, one burner and a cylinder, making ramen noodles outside because I hate electric stoves. Now, I really do need to cook outside as we are remodling the kitchen and there is no stove at all inside, just a microwave.(I dislike the sound of microwaves even more than electric stoves!!) As in many homes, this sort of remodling task can take months, even years.
Now, I have conjured the misty ghosts of camping trips...Colorado to New Zealand, Scotland to Sweden...in my Finnish kettle. Out here no one stipulates that the dishes be Corel and easy to wash, or the floor vinyl and easy to clean, or that the lights be bright, economical fluorescents. I hear the running of Mill Creek instead of the radio. Perhaps I will continue cooking like this into winter.
It was the third time I'd picked up Henry that week, standing by 84 with a pastboard sign that read "Mosier." Henry is the VietNam vet who lives in a home-made shack on state land across from the Memaloose Park Rest Area. He's lived there for over 10 years, starting out with a pup tent and trading up.
"They dont care," he says. "They dont know what to do with that land. They bought it or six dollars and acre from the postmaster of Mosier when they put the freeway through. He's still p---d about it."
Henry was returning from Fred Meyer, where he had tried to get a replacement part for his Coleman white gas lantern. Nowdays, he found, you have to order them.
"What happened was," he said, "that I take these cancer drugs you know and I was in Portland getting checked and they gave me morphine. Billy took me in, and we stopped in Hood River and got a beer. So then I went to put fuel in my lantern and I put chain saw fuel in there instead. You know Coleman has just this one type of gas can.."
"Did you label them?" I asked.
"Ha ha...no, but I knew which one was which. But I grabbed the one with the oil mixed in. BOOM!! I nearly blew the house up. I got a electric lantern but the batteries dont last long. Now I'm using candles...I'm gathering wood for winter too, but I'm waiting till it rains to light much of anything because it's so dry. If I started a fire out here the state would be REALLY mad! I've got this kerosene heater, but #1 Kerosene is like 5 bucks a gallon now. I just use it warm up in the morning while my stove gets going."
Our eyes scampered upwards over grey squirrel hills to scrub oak and ponderosa woodlands. "You know what?" said Henry. "We sure are lucky to live here!"
Field Trip One: Up (and up...and up...and up...and...) The Santiam River Valley
"Can I ask you on this map where we're going?" I said, thrusting my Map Of Oregon at my teacher.
"Huh! Well....first down to Salem and then over her in this green area." All the nearby students clustered around the finger of the Head of the Portland State Geology Department. "Then we'll follow the Santiam up here...we're going where HARDLY ANYONE HAS EVER BEEN!"
Stop 1. Our first stop, however, was at the Salem Transfer Station, which is the Cascadian word for "Dump."
"See these boulders scattered around?" our teacher said, his hair wild with the grey foggy dew and his eyes teasing (notice the similarity between "teaching" and "teasing"). Where are they from? The Great Flood?" Suddenly, a gigantic garbage vehicle drove up and a burly man stepped out.
"Look," said the garbageman, shaking his head. "You can't stop here in front of the gate. Garbage trucks need to get in! Look over there by the Nature Trail! Plenty of boulders over there!"
WOW! I was SO impressed! In at least half of Geology Field Trips, and the best ones in fact, someone tells the Scientists that they are tresspassing. Or blocking traffic. Or have now been blacklisted by the FBI (See "Looking at Pimple Mounds in The Strategic Petroleum Reserve, Podunk, Louisiana.")
Nonplussed, the teacher moved over and started pointing again at the round reddish smoke-ring-like markings on the boulders. Finally he said, "These are columnar basalts!!! Weathered in place back around 6 to 7 million years ago, when it was HOT and WET here in the Willamette Valley. They're called CORE STONES!! If you look over there at that ridge...which you cant because of the COLD WET fog...all that is RED soil. It's these deep red soil here that is the basis of the OREGON WINE INDUSTRY." The students began to perk up and listen!! "There are two soils here...one from marine sediments and the other from the volcanic basalts. Boutique wineries plant the same grapes on both soils and get TWO varieties of wine from it!!!"
Stop 2. "Uh...I guess you can't see any of these red soils for the fog. But can you hear that train whistle? It's coming from a river valley and that valley is THE ANCESTRAL CHANNEL OF THE WILLAMETTE!!!"
"What's the next stop?" a student asks the driver of our van, now dubbed "The Other Van." We will later hear how during the first days on the fire line, he was allowed to drive a backhoe over everything that moved as well as small trees and that it was AWSOME!!!
"Dunno," said the driver. "I was just the first one to show up, so he gave me the keys. But as I understand it, he has a route he's decided to take and he's going to stop whenever he feels like it."
"Maybe our assignment is to write the guidebook after we get home..." I suggested.
"In Hawaii, you can make soil from lava in a matter of days!" someone commented.
Stop 3. "Whoa! Students, did you see all the landslides on this steep (yet still paved)forest road? That gravel just behind us is where the road washed out! Can't be helped...this weathering is REALLY unstable! Look at that ROADCUT...weathered dacite bedrock from the Cascades on your left...rotten to the core...we call them THUNKERS. Colluvium...boulders that have tumbled down from fresher, more resistant rocks above...to your right. Can you tell if this rock here is a thunker or a ringer? No?" Whack!!! Thunk!! Smash!!! Down went the rock hammer again and again!
Landslides are REALLY BIG here in Oregon!!! What a GREAT TRIP!!!!
Stop 4. "Whoa! A restroom!" said the girls in the seat in front of me. We're cool, a unisex outhouse works fine for us. But...
"AUGH!!!" said the Environmental Science Senior. There's a rock under the door! It wont move!"
"We'll stand guard!" all the girls in the line behind her said desperately, and turned their backs.
"Thanks! I'm afraid if I pull on it, I'll get trapped in the restroom!" Yikes!!!
Down the hill, underneath the overcast cotton sky, lay misty grey conifers and a dark, enticing waterfall. Our teacher stared down to the earth at cobbles and said, "See how some of these are green?"
"Huh!" answered everyone, removing digital cameras from their eyeballs.
"The green color is from hot water circulating in the volcanics of the Sardine Complex. See here's a breccia...rocks within a rock. These are about 16-20 million years old. The Sardine was eroded, and more volcanics were re-erupted on the old surface. The newer volcanics didnt have that green color. This is true all around the Cascades, not just for the Sardine.
The water beneath us ran cool and clear, shiny as a can of fish.
"We will now be going up into the Western Cascades," said our teacher.
Stop 5. Gravel Road, getting steeper and steeper.
"You have till 12:30 for lunch!" Well...maybe. At 12:25, we started our hike.
"Oh...Darn! I left my laptop in the car and I didnt lock it!!!" said the driver of "The Other Van."
"Really? Is that why you keep looking back?" I said. "My purse is in the van as well....but I really think NO ONE is up here to steal it."
"There's a breccia-pipe bornite deposit here...copper ore," said the professor. "You get magma at shallow depths, with metal, and as it evolves the metals and water become more concentrated. In the right conditions, it can blow up, reseal, blow up over and over, each time pumping more metal in. This deposit was found in 1978 by Texas Gulf Sulfur, who then traded it to Plexus, because it was too small for them. Plexus had gone through the last stages in 1992 of an environmental impact study and then someone in the attorney generals office discovered that the state law said no development in the 5 rivers area!!! That's because the towns in the Willamette Valley dont treat their water. So then it went to the courts..."
We crossed a creek...
"Did you make it?" asked the driver. I hadnt, my foot got wet, but only on the bottom.
...and stopped at a clearing.
"Anybody want a rock hammer?" asked the teacher. Students began to bang away at a tiny outcrop, ominous as a festering wound on the hand, where there were tiny jagged quartz crystals, green malachite, and orangish pyrite coating the rocks.
Stop 6. Cedar Creek Valley Overlook. Not much to look over but mountains. Imagine a U-Haul crammed with sofas crammed together, draped with green searsucker couch throws, or row after row of green oxygen tanks, identical conifer after conifer clinging onto 89 degree angles for miles...as far as an ocean can roll. Imagine a long, tiny white string flung onto the chair flows..um..throws...like a worm trail.
"We're up above now...in the tan unaltered area...not far from the French Creek Ridge Volcanic Center," says our teacher. That's what we're doing and thinking, like a magic white van school bus or an unlucky vulcanologist we've been swallowed by ancient volcano after ancient volcano all day. Back in Texas, I was usually sitting on an ancient beach, or stuck waist deep in an ancient swamp. No big deal for an ancient Beachfront Casino (except if you're in a storm deposit) but believe me, I'd rather be sitting in an ancient volcano than be on St Helens a couple decades ago!
"Eleven million years and younger," said the professor. "Look out there...classic Western Cascades Topography...deeply incised valley system, overwhelmingly steep slopes. In the
High Cascades, things are rounder, except for the Glamour Cones."
"Wouldnt an older terrane be more rounded?"
"Well, not here!!! In the High Cascdes, you have a "constructional form"....everything new as it is built. Whereas here you have an erosional landscape. Look at that V over there with the horizontal beds. Here the valleys go through the flows. Glaciers and streams determine the landscapes here...to the east the landscape is around volcanic features."
Stop 7. "Here we are now, at the French Creek Volcanic Center. There's one of the dikes...and here's a massive lava flow over bedded pyroclastics. Surge layer--airfall--surge layer--airfall...over and over." The outcrop resembled like a chic grey cotton bedspread from India, a heavy ash thread woven in every half foot or so. Hot gasses--ash--hot gasses---ash. I thought of hiking in Hawaii, following the footsteps of warriors killed by the hot gasses and winds of a surge layer in 1790...just a split second in Deep Time. Was I next?
"Say...do you mind if we go down the other way?" said the teacher to our driver. "It's as steep as the way up, but you dont have to look down!!!"
"You wonder why they bothered to build a road up here," said the forester in the front seat.
"I'm getting a headache," said the environmental science major in the third row.
Stop 8. ZZZZ...."Zeolites in this tuff here....used in water softeners....heat source in dacite dike....." Klunk!
Stop 9. "That was my favorite part of the trip...the convenience store...all those goodies! And a real bathroom!" said the English major. The Environmental Science major nodded and laughed.
Stop 10. Detroit Dam, low fall water exposing black skeletons of lopped off tree trunks.
"Here we are now...they QUARRY this rock because they can get big pieces. This is unusual for volcanic rocks. THIS IS THE MAGMA CHAMBER!!! It extends all the way to Detroit!"
Everyone gasped! Several kilometers below the surface, right here at this little intermontane hydroelectric plant!!!
"Why?" asked someone.
"Lots of uplift! Why? Due to subduction. Why? Probably a change in the convergence rate between the North American and Juan De Fuca Plate causing a steepinging of the slab about 5 million years ago!"
The Dalles, Oregon, Sunday 16 October, 2005
Friends Meeting. I've spent the entire hour dozing off and reflecting selfishly on my last week. But then, after meeting is over, a wise old lady says:
"I've been thinking about all the natural events, how lucky we are to be having this beautiful day. And how stupid people are...there are enough disasters that nature has been causing...that they persist in making more disasters like this FOOLISH AND INHUMANE WAR IN IRAQ!!!"
After fetching Ian from the playground (yeah, 16 and a big puppy) I go back to reflecting on my past week. Some of it related to Ian and his fetchingly green performance as Uncle Henry and The Emerald City Guard in the The Dalles Wahtonka High School Production of "The Wizard Of OZ."
"Oh Toto! We're not in Kansas anymore!" Dorothy had said.
"Here's your dog, Missy," Ian would tell her a couple hours later, just as she misses her balloon ride back to Kansas. Toto is motorized, a stuffed pup stuck onto a remote-control sedan. This really gets the audience chuckling each time Toto is unleashed.
"I keep thinking of her taking my order at Burgerville," Erin would comment almost a day later.
I wonder when a house will fall on George Bush? Or maybe even better he'll MELT!!! Or best yet in a non-violent sense, if he will ever discover the Inner Light of God!!??!!
And I also think of FIELD TRIP 2: Tamanawas Falls Trail.
It's one thirty pm and I'm standing out in the parking lot with Owl, Honeybee, and Lichen. I've just spent four hours nestled in a forest that consists of mostly Doug Fir (coincidentally MY name as well), but also other trees. It is my wish to identify these other trees that has led me to anticipate FIELD TRIP 3.
"Welcome to Snag City!!!" I've greeted 5th graders with those words over and over today, as the temperature here on the East Flank of Hood gets colder and colder.
"I'm here to find you your special structure home in this community!!! Does anyone know the six structures here in the forest?" Children are quick to answer...TREES! LOGS!!! SNAGS!!! uh...DEEP RICH SOIL...um............um.......................clearings? Uh...........................
"Look above you at the different LAYERS of branches!" I've said.
"CANOPY LAYERS!!!" says someone.
"I'll give you each a flag and you can put it on the correct structure!" I announce. "Look around to see a house you might want to live in!"
"Now we have a game! Pretend you are a little seed and you're sprouting!!! Now you're a sapling...wiggle those fingers and photosynthsize! Now you're a big tree! Now lightning hits...BAM! Now you are a DEAD SNAG! Bugs are eating on you! Munch munch!!! Now you fall over!!!" Today the kids love this!
Lichen, a woman my age who is originally from Utah!, pulls a cloth bag out of her battered LAND CRUISER and says,
"This isnt champagne, but we can celebrate anyway!" There's a designer Full Sail Lager for each of us!
"I love this beer!" says Owl, lighting up an eco-cigarette and discarding her eco-coke.
I dont. I dont like lager and I dont see the point in drinking before six, except that this is a wonderful social event, a celebration of the other three having gotten through 3 whole days of FIELD TRIPS with Odell 5th graders. I listen to them talk about how the boy who cant speak any English is very bright.
"I spoke Spanish to him," says Honeybee, the AmeriCorps volunteer.
And a bunch of other stories. Then I drive home.
In just 3 days, the dominant vegetation will turn to spruce and hemlock and the elevation will rise to 4600 feet...almost as high as Denver. Then it will be time
for FIELD TRIP 3 and the picnic tables will be turned, just like they did when the White River Lahar came down off Hood.
FIELD TRIP 3
Stop 1: Montane Mixed Forest, Flanks of Mt Hood, Oregon, 4600 feet. Our Life of the Forest class climbed along a sandy rubbly lahared area, sand like a dreamy coastal beach drowning the lower inch of mountain trees. Just like our teacher Mr Forester had said, there were not many herbs left alive in this high montane autumn. I tried to remember what the terrane looked like in the snow two years ago, when I went skiing with my daughters 5th grade class in sandlike drifting snow.
"Look at that silver bark and the pitch bubbles!" said Mr Forester excitedly. "Let's look in our 'Plants of the Pacific Northwest' and KEY IT OUT!!!"
Silver fir, mountain hemlock, englemann spruce, sub-alpine fir, western and mountain hemlock, huckleberry, princes something or other, pathetic wilted yellowed lupine, huckleberry and vicious beargrass. What an ecological association!
Unfortunately, all of us believed we would collapse from hypothermia...except Mr Forester and his student crony from the Fish and Wildlife Service!!!!
"It could be a lot worse!" commented our teacher, smiling effortlessly.
"A lot worse!" agreed the older student, snickering. I supposed not. You could, like the student, be retired forever from your Fish Hatchery career because your elbow was worn out from tossing foods to chinook and steelhead day in and day out for many decades.
I walked over into the Forest Service Outhouse, pulled some toilet paper off the roll, and wrapped up my finger where my sample of beargrass had sliced through frozen flesh as easily as little kitchen knife.
Stop 2: 5400 feet: "Class...the complex expensive instruments are on the back of my pick-up...my labrador Sequoia would fetch them for you, but she's out chasing twigs. What I'd like you to do in the next 30 minutes is to count all the trees, shrubs, and herbs in the 1/4 acre radius I will assign, measure the height of the trees using a clinometer, the amount of coverage using this weird fancy mirror, and the temperature and humidity using my sling hygrometer, it's very fragile, if you break it you flunk. After that, core your trees using this SWEDISH coring device and calculate productivity during the last 10 years!!"
WHOA!!! Have you ever had a lab experience like this???? Like in organic chemistry or something?
My perky work group ascended the waning forest and I began to think about what we had to do. By the time I blinked, two members had whipped out a 100 foot measuring tape and flagged off the circumferences of the tree and shrub circle. Suddenly my world collapsed and my secret was out: I have awful trouble working in groups. The group glared at me with the evil eye. Pathetic stupid slacker!!!
"Why don't you count the trees in that quadrant?" one suggested.
"Don't we want to identify them?" I began to ask. They ignored me!!! They were busily measuring the height of a sub-sample of mature trees with the CLINOMETER...without me!!! Suddenly Mr Forester appeared.
"I'm not sure what we're doing," I said.
"Look," he said impatiently. "We're identifying trees." I was right!
"Wow...that's hard to do when you cant see the needles!"
He sighed. "That's why I had you look at the bark!" I began to shiver uncontrollably with hypothermia. "This one's a western hemlock. This one's a silver fir," he said hurridly.
"Huh!" I said.
I counted 14 hemlocks and 5 firs, and 17 huckleberries in my area, with the major herb being beargrass (not much of an understory here). The other students, lucky ducks, used the clinometer. What you do is stand 100 feet away, look into the lens of the little metrochic instrument, and record the numbers that line up with the top and bottom of the tree.
Someone said, "I wonder if there is a corer down in the truck!" Halleluja! A way to redeem myself!
"I'll go get it," I said and that's what I did. The landscape resembled an Ingmar Bergman movie as I ascended the embankment to our station. I easily twisted the blue Nordic device into a hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla) that they had "shot"!!!
"Which one's next?" I said. "Hey wait...I think this one is dead!"
"Naw....there's some needles up there!" said one of the alpha team members. Yeah, deceased ones!
I tapped the blistery silver bark. THUNK!!! "Doesnt sound too good to me!" My group cast me the evil eye. I shrugged and screwed away at the tree corpse bark, through the papery dead xylem and phloem of the newly made SNAG. Then I handed the corer to the alpha dude. He dove right in on the blistered bark of another silver fir.
Suddenly Mr Forester appeared again.
"That tree doesnt look very good!" he exclaimed, then pulled off a large loose chunk of bark. The slab resembled a large dried salmon fillet, ready for a Paiute sacred ritual. THUNK!! It hit the ground. "Usually when the bark comes off like this, the tree's dead. You cant measure productivity on a dead tree!!!" said Mr. Forester.
I smiled in the damp grey light of the Northwestern afternoon.
>>>>Interested in the darker side of things? Is everything in your closet black? Looking for a career ? You've come to the right place! My wholehearted suggestion is basic igneous petrology or shield vulcanology!!! Yep, it's time for
FIELD TRIP FOUR: Columbia River Gorge!!!!
Bright yellow Aveo and I met the gang...2 white university vans and a giant obnoxious RAZ tour bus( http://www.coachusa.us/equipment.cfm )...in The Dalles, where the trip began for not one but TWO classes: my own "Geology of the Oregon Country" and also "Field Studies: The Gorge." The latter class contained some real alpha team hot shots! Oh no!
First, we examined the Miocene Columbia River Basalt pillow lavas in The Dalles (I-84 and US197), formed when lava flows hit slow moving water in a big lake. Yep, there used to be a lake right here in the ancient Columbia that the Corps of Engineers has dutifully attempted to recreate in the modern river. You may remember the thrilling video, "Pillow Basalts Forming in Hawaii"!!! What happens is that a perkily lava stream is broken into fiery chunks when it hits a body of water, forming little glassy chill rinds on the exteriors. The chunks are preserved as round pillowy blobs in an original matrix of glass shards that weathers pretty quick to cheesy oatmealy goo. In a quiet lake, the pillows are cohesive, but in a flowing steam like the ancient Columbia, the pillows smear out, which you can see around where they're blasting out the side of the freeway near Hood River. We also looked out at the Rowena Overlook thrust fault and the biscuit scablands formed by the great floods. We then stopped to view the volcanic cone that sits atop White Salmon, Washington, and ones that form the peaks at Underwood. How lucky we are to live where there are so many secret records of raging disasters and brutal earth violence!! I bet only 1.72% of you readers can identify any of these places or disasters! But someday you will ride a RAZTOUR bus into the Columbia Gorge and your memory will tilt!!! "Ah! Pelagonites!" you will exclaim. "Pillow basalt!"
Our last real stop was at lushly forested Latourelle Falls, just shy of Portland Metro. Our teacher, the Head of the PSU Geology Department, descended from the RAZTOUR bus, chucked and queried:
"Students!! You will walk down the path to the falls, ever vigilantly examining the basalts. At the falls, you will decide this:
HOW MANY BASALT FLOWS ARE HERE?"
We walked down to the falls, ever vigilant.
"Look!" suggested a woman, pointing at a basalt outcrop. The cigarette in her hand was like a smoking fumerole, ready to slowly kill off some unwary vulcanologist with hot gasses. She unfolded her knife and began digging out a plant with small blue flowers. "This tastes just like licorice! Try some!"
"Huh!" said her male companion. We walked on, them both chewing blue flower root, and soon the great falls and awe inspiring outcrop came into view.
"Hey! That yellow stuff! Is that the stuff between the pillows? Is that the...uh....pelaginite?" she asked, waving around her cigarette and grabbing for her camera.
"It looks a lot like a lichen to me," I answered.
At the falls, the basalt shone like obsidian, like the hedgehog carved from coal that I had bought in Wales one year, like the interior of my new Chevy. How many flows were there? One blobbed out at the base of the falls, like crumbled licorice gelatin. Three or four were evident in the middle, jet black bee hives of columnar basalt, slowly cooled as if by the silver stream that fell before them like tinsel....some of the hot shot students climbed down by the moist pool and pointed their cameras UPWARD to get a good shot for their report.
"Is that a WEDDING!" the smoker exclaimed excitedly. I thought so! But moving closer, I saw that it was a group of men of all ages in their Sunday best! Boys in 4th grade, college kids, car salesmen, and grandfathers, performing a ceremony! What was it? A group of OREGONIANS!!! So lucky!
I looked back at the dark honeycomb. The lines cutting across it had made me think there were several layers. But it was like that Escher puzzle....they were lines made by the honeycomb cells leaning in and out. Maybe two. Or one. It was a long shot.
The class had gathered at the picnic area, just as our teacher had instructed. I sat uncomfortably on the ground. Someone's cell phone rang.
"How many basalt flows are there?" the instructor chuckled.
"Seven! Five! Fourteen!" said the students.
After some more discussion, the head of the geology department asked, "Any other answers?"
A cute male alpha hot shot resembling Mel Gibson as a Scottish warrior said confidently, "One."
I smiled and so did our teacher. It is not what you think at first that is important, it's what you write down on your final exam that matters.
Students!" attentioned Gunilla in Swedish...in Swedish 3 there is No English No Mercy. That included our book, "Tusen Tankar," where every lesson was a text from some impossibly idiomatic and brutally realistic contemporary novel. The latest was from a "deckare" or mystery novel called "Prinsessan av Burundi." The heroine, also named Gunilla, had just found the neighbor's pet rabbit gutted after which she'd been attacked by an old classmate, whom she hit with a wine bottle and stabbed with a corkscrew!
"The author, Kjell Eriksson has two occupations. What are they?" Gunnilla asked in Swedish, she scanning the room for a victim. She chose one in the front row.
"Uh....han är författare och trädgårdsmästare." said the girl, who had been one of Gunilla's private students. Jaså! He is an author and q gardener.
"In Sweden," said Gunilla, again in Swedish, "I also had two occupations. I was a teacher of English and Swedish. I was also a BLACKJACK dealer!" She motioned delaring ut (dealing out) cards, in case any of us didnt get the point.
Somehow I knew she was dead serious.
"What do you think of our casino?" asked my rider and Life of the Forest classmate, as the dark autumn miles sped by between Hood River and The Dalles.
"Hmm! You know, I think it's a great idea!" The Warm Springs Nation was in the long, gut-ripping process of moving it's casino from Kah-Nee-Tah near Warm Springs to the Gorge, where it would be closer to Portland and its bonanza of tour bus gamblers. First they'd been pushed away by environment-friendly yuppies from Hood River, just like the expanded but not sufficiently upscale Wal-mart. Now the Warm Springs Nation was making a more successful, but still controversial stab at a site near Cascade Locks, where there is a wonderful volcanic dike jutting upwards, looks like andesite to me! Oops! Wrong class!!!
Some of the people who live in Cascade Locks believe the Casino will bring tourists in to disturb their peaceful, secluded, reflective, soggy Oregonian lives along the freeway in the heart of the Cascades.
"Hmm" said Charlene, my rider. The second (or third) story is that she was riding with me because her son took her 1993 Toyota 4 wd truck to Hood River so her brother could tune it up, but he was tired and he forgot to put a fan belt back on and the engine blew up. The only way she could get to her Life of the Forest class was to ride with me.
"He was feeling bad, but I told him, 'Everything happens for a reason.'" Maybe the reason was that Charlene and I could talk to each other in my car. Half Paiute, the rest Wasco and Warm Springs, she had been telling me endless stories about her endless family, about her three pre-school grandchildren she was keeping because her daughter wouldnt settle down, and about the Madas School District, where her twins, like the rest of the Warm Springs teenagers, rode four hours a day to and from a white high school.
"I sort of think that Cascade Locks doesnt deserve the Casino," I said. "But you know, I think people want to preserve the Columbia Gorge the way it is. Think what it would be like with a bunch of motels and tourist stuff!
"Hmm...but look at all those Windsurfers coming into Hood River...yet they didnt want US!!"
"You're right...but The Dalles would be grateful for the jobs, there is so much unemployment."
"The Dalles...or Celilo," said Charlene. Of course. Celilo Indian Village...but wait! Too far from Portland!! And too real!!
"Two of the tribes signed a treaty," said Charlene. "The Paiutes did not, and were put into prison, some of the were sent to Florida." Charlene had told me. "My grandfather was one of those sent to prison."
"Wow! Florida!" I had said.
Goddamn bastards, I thought then and think now as well, we are goddamn presumptious bastards.
Today I read a sign at Cascade Locks that said:
"WELCOME WARM SPRINGS!!!"
Wonderful!!! Deal those cards out!!!
===This weeks begins a pall of darkness covering the northern world. New Zealand, I think, "I'd like to study New Zealandish, where life has begun to brighten!"
But I'm not. I am studying the languages of the Finns and Swedes, whose worlds are now spiraling into the magic of winter lights and nights, like tinsel whirling to the star of a Christmas tree!!!
"Oh dear!" exclaimed Erin. I wasnt actually there, so I will have to reconstruct the Friday afternoon conversation. "The Halloween Dance tonite at the Middle School has been cancelled! Ian, can I go to your party with you? Huh, can I?"
Ian shrugged. "It's OK with me, but everyone else will be at least 2 years older and infinitely more mature."
"You will have to call and get permission," said someone larger.
"It's OK with me," said the mother, whom I would later see having a great time playing monopoly with teenaged girls. "But everyone else will be in high school, and I'm not sure she will have any fun."
I guess she didnt know Erin. I recalled the brittle, dark young waiter at a Houston restaurant, bottle of red vino in his hand, ready to pour..."
"She's eleven years old!!!" my older daughter Emma warned, just before the inobservant Greeks would have lost their liquor license.
I drove my children out into the Orchards in Yellow Aveo, the lovely arms of cherry trees stretching out like loving clotheslines in the dark October night. I turned and drove a quarter mile down the driveway, past the siren arms of fruit trees, by metal clad migrant lodgings where the ghosts of Spanish workers were laughing and cockfighting in the July sun. Then, as a black clad witch laughed in the breezeway, I left my children off.
At midnite, the witching hour, I drove back along Threemile Road, back down the moon-shaded driveway. I rang the doorbell. The ebony and ivory young witch let me in. I looked at the freezer, the washer, and the dryer. Then I walked into the livingroom, past the worn bare white of semi-gloss moldings, past tired sheet vinyl flooring with patches worn bare by the ghosts of small children. I nearly decimated an entire village of perky monopoly players....
"MOM!! Why did you have to come now?" exclaimed Erin, who was sitting on the worn couch with several teenage girls, watching a romantic movie.
"Uh..." I said. Because the party was supposed to be over at midnite!!! "Can you go get your brother?" I asked. What an obediant girl!
"He's playing computer games. He has to kill several more guys before he leaves," reported Erin. I stood and waited.
After the killing was done, I left for home with Ian, Erin, and a perky girl whose parents were fast asleep.
"What classes are YOU taking, Ian?" she began. "I'm taking DRAMA next term!!!"
"You'll LOVE drama," answered Ian.
Four years ago, when I began studying Finnish, my children...at least the ones who had moved to Oregon...were 3rd and 7th grade trick or treaters! Now they were going to real parties and dances that lasted into the night!!!
"I'm going as a gargoyle this year!" said Erin. I guess she's still a trick or treater. But she is traveling with new ghouls.
And things have changed in the new Finnish class...the very next in a hard-won four year cycle. There are so many Finnish students that the fire marshall made them move out of the Finnish room into a Foreign Language Classroom! The book is different, and so are the stories of why the students love Mother Finland. I have lost track of every one my old class comrades, even the former opera singer who had shared my trip to Finland two years earlier.
The river of time runs on through our lives. Like a grain of quartz or plagioclase feldspar, we believe we are anchored on a stable point bar until suddenly we are transported elsewhere. In an extreme circumstance, we are like the loess of the Palouse of Western Washington, suddenly hit by the Missoula Floods and deposited somewhere in the Willamette Valley like Corvallis or Eugene. It may seem OK there, but we will never get back to Pullman!!!!
In addition to The Time of Darkness, now begins in Cascadia The Time of the Great Rain. Just this morning, I was driving down I-84 and the world outside my Aveo windows resembled a Maytag on Rinse Cycle. Suddenly, at Wyeth, Oregon (which is actually just a big railroad yard), there appeared something in the whirling grey vortex to catch my eye!
"Jubilee, Bonanza!" I exclaimed to Yellow Aveo. "Four drenched young people on the shoulder of the road with their thumbs out!"
I pulled over against the island on the entrance ramp and the children came running! Imagine stuffing three boys and a girl into an Aveo!
"We're just going back to Cascade Locks from Hood River [20 miles]!" explained the blond lad in front. "You see a camper broke down back there? No, huh...well, we started walking and we walked for about a mile and a quarter. We thought someone would pick us up...."
"It's kind of hard to pick up 4 people...hey look, only 6 miles to Cascade Locks!"
"But they didnt..." Nineteen, twenty...just now out on their own.
"We were thinking maybe someone with a pickup," said the blonde lassie in back. "We thought we could all sit in the bed of a pickup.
I pulled off at Cascade Locks, then drove down to the Union 66 station, and turned right. I turned left into a grey clapboard apartment complex, Cascade Locks' finest. Suddenly I knew too much about these travelers.
"Thank you!" said everyone.
"Sorry about getting your car all wet!" said the girl.
Here in The Gorge we take care of each other..............eventually.
FIELD TRIP #5. LOWLAND DOUGLAS FIR HARDWOOD FOREST
Just three days earlier our Forest Ecology teacher, Mr Forester, had announced, "We're going to Cascade Locks!" We headed out from Hood River en caravan, Yellow Aveo (carrying Carlene and I) next to last. Our parade overshot the Locks and parked across the freeway from Bonneville Dam, at a segment of the old Scenic Highway which had been designated a hiking trail.
Down here along the Columbia, the elevation above sea level is under a hundred feet and the species diversity is rich.
"Students! I could go on for DAYS showing you new species!" said Mr Forester very excitedly. Luckily only a few are trees. We found maples, bigleaf and vine, bright leaves glowing like the fires of hell in the Halloween weekend. Buckthorn, common snowberry, salal, dull Oregon grape and trailing blackberry, all coating the sides of the asphalt path. And ferns, the gentle maidenhair clung to banks, and the coarse sword fern carpeted the forest floor like Victorian conservatory weeds or bracken in northern Minnesota! And not the least, the buttery autumn herb called vanilla leaf, arising from a rhizome!!!
"And this!!" Mr Forester announced, waving a cone with mouse tails. He was saving for the best for last this cool misty morning.
"It's the state tree!!!" commented his student crony from Fisheries and Wildlife, taking a drag from his mushroom shaped pipe.
"DOUGLAS FIR!!!" everyone answered, tears of reverence and recognition in their eyes.
It was time for lunch. We began our descent into the parking lot. Suddenly Mr Forester panicked. "Where's Emily?" he asked. We all looked around for her characteristic cigarette smoke. (This is not the same lady who was smoking at Latourelle Falls! That was a GEOLOGY trip!) Oh, no! A student was lost in the woods!
A cocky high school Jump Start student from Trout Lake, WA said calmly, "I think she walked back to the cars. She has a lot of problems with asthma." We returned to the vehicles and there she was, asthma device in one hand, cigarette in the other! Mr Forester was off the hook!
After eating much too rapidly (why not dine and have a brew at the Salmon Row Pub at Cascade Locks instead?) we began our species inventory. Group One! That was us! Mr Forester and Celia (a beautiful young woman who in real life is as a school bus driver) began their ascent up a steep muddy embankment clogged with vivid emergency- chartreuse moss and Pteridium munitum (sword fern). I dutifully followed, each coarse frond like an artistic brush painting me WET!!!
"Here's your center!" said our teacher, and left us to survey the area. My job was to count ALL the trees in the fifth acre circle and trip over dead logs.
"Whoa!" I said to myself, "all these little trees are western hemlock. The big ones must be hemlock too!"
Suddenly my instructor appeared like a spectre and corrected, "Well...we didnt really go over this. Look at these fissured brown trunks. Almost all the big trees are Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii). It's just the small ones that are hemlocks (Tsuga heterophylla)."
"Why is that?" I asked.
"They're just coming in. They're shade tolerant." This is an example of what ecologists call "succession."
"And what is this hardwood here?" I asked, as long as he was here.
"Pacific dogwood," he answered. He began to rove around, examining TREES. I followed up the steep slope, the tall rigid ferns like storm surf on the coast.
"There's a western red cedar here," he added. (Thuja sp)
"Could there be a fir? I found one with emarginate needles."
"There is one species, a grand fir (Abies grandis)that's here."
"This is sure difficult country," I commented darkly. It began to rain grey on the pink down jacket I'd worn in Lappland and was wearing here too, figuring I'd stay warm.
Mr Forester became solemn. "Now," he said, "You have a respect for Those Who Work In the Forest."
Hood River, Oregon, November 2005, "Habitats: Life of the Forest"
Mr. Forester was in Heaven, delivering a THREE HOUR lecture on one of his favorite topics, FOREST DISTURBANCE!! He pointed at his power-point presentation.
"Here," he said, "is what I like to call the FOUR HORSEMEN of APOCALYPTIC DISTURBANCE!!! We awoke with a jolt, shaking our swollen hands!!! Right up there on the screen were the four Bibical Horsemen, framed in black!!!!
"The first Horseman is DROUGHT!!!"
"The second Horseman is INSECT INFESTATION!!!"
"The third Horseman is FUNGAL INFECTION!!!"
"AND the FOURTH HORSEMAN...DEATH!!! is FIRE!!!"
"Acting alone, the result is a species mosaic, a small disturbance. But acting together, the ENTIRE FOREST is subjected to an APOCALYPTIC EVENT!!!"
Now along Washington 14, the colors of the fall maple leaves mix with the of the small fires they are burnt in after they fall on peoples lawns. It is too wet and grey to have bigger fires now!!!
Driving home, I stop for a drink at a log cabin in tiny Home Valley. A blue sign outside says "Fresh Beer Is Best!" but the brand is pretty much swill. I pull a diet coke with lime out of the cooler opposite the bait chest, and pay with two georges.
"Ha ha!" exclaimed the clerk. "You've got a bunch of these. I see them sometimes."
"Yes," I explain for the zillionth time. "I mark and track them. It's like playing the lottery or bingo, but it doesnt cost anything."
"Back when I worked for the forest service..." I remember this woman now. The last time I stopped here, I learned all about the shopping demography of rural Skamania County. "...I found a balloon out in the woods. It had a bottle attached to it! I opened the bottle and there was a note from a school class in Victoria! In CANADA!!
"That's a long way. It must have been a hyd...helium balloon!"
"The currents had carried it all that way! So I wrote them, and sent them a whole bunch of Smokey the Bear items: rulers, coloring books. It was only TWO WEEKS since they'd let it go. They wrote me back and they were SO excited. Each one of the students had set a balloon free, but this was the only one that was ever found. I still write to some of these students!"
Sometimes I think an Apocalypse is coming. I remember back when I did my road trip in 1972 in Alma Luverne, my gold 1968 Camero with Turbo-Thrift, the
hitchhikers I picked up were happy young people looking for adventure or golf courses, finding themselves in the Summer Richness Of American Culture. Nowadays in the Pacific Northwest the happiest people are kids whose 1981 campers have just broke down by the side of the road. Or carless locals fetching groceries or divorce papers in Hood River. The rest...you know the stories....
This is one rule, never pick up anyone in the black night. But rules are made to be broken. I didnt even see him until I'd passed him on the freeway near Cascade Locks, a bright boy dressed in white with a sign written in gel-pen and a thumb, so clean cut he could be an LDS missionary or working for UPS.
"Where are you going?" I asked.
"Hermiston," he answered.
"I can get you to The Dalles."
"I'm going to see my friend. He called to say he was coughing up blood. His lungs are falling apart. I almost have asthma myself, so I know how he feels."
Whoa! His story unfolded. He was 21 and lived in Portland, but he was originally from Hermiston, which is a grim sagebrush town around Umatilla, Home of the Army Chemical Weapons Dump. His mother now lived in Mount Angel and his father was still in Hermiston. He'd started hitchhiking in the blackness at seven pm, from Gresham, and had gotten a ride to Cascade Locks. Then he'd started walking along the freeway. His friend in Hermiston was really special. His friend had always been there for him.
"Do you have a cell phone?" he asked. I gave him NOKIA. There was something about the way he spoke that made me nervous. "I need to call my other friend to say I'm coming," he explained.
"Is there anywhere good to eat in Hermiston?" I asked, making conversation.
"Uh...I'm a fast food guy. But there's a Shari's and I think a Denney's....hmm....hmmm....if you drive a couple hours east, to LaGrande, there's a burger place. My parents took me there when I was 16. They had full plate burgers...oblong plates. It was the best burger I ever had, juicy and they bake their own buns! I've travelled to Washington too! Moses Lake area, I've been up that far. And California...I had a job for 2 weeks in Santa Cruz! They flew me down there and I assembled desks."
"Wow!" I said. "I know someone in Santa Cruz! And I just was by Moses Lake on the way to Radium Hot Springs..."
"I got up at 5 and I'm getting tired now. I have that AHD thing and when I get tired I have trouble talking. I have trouble remembering things."
"I do too," I said. "I'm getting old!"
"I have an unusual name," he said as we approached The Dalles. He handed me his drivers license. "I like writing poetry. I got a web site on poetry.com. If you put in my name, you can see what I wrote."
"OK!" I said.
"And now that I have shown you my drivers license, if there's a missing persons report, you can tell them where you left me off."
Oh no! "Nothing will happen to you," I said.
The grey shelves stood before me, like basalt tables in the wind, one more trip, one more house to build in the grimness of the campground, one more...
AUGH!!! I awoke with a start! It was 7:07 AM. In only twenty three minutes, Charlene would arrive at my home and we would drive to:
FIELD TRIP #SIX: EASTSIDE CONIFER HARDWOOD FOREST!!!
Thirteen minutes...she was early. And I was catatonic!!! Where exactly was my hand? My Diet Mountain Dew? Would my feet move?
"Well," said Mr. Forester, standing at the doorway of The Columbia Gorge Community College Hood River Campus/gorge.net (look at the header on this message)/Joe's Silk-Screening. "Looks like Lisa isnt going to make it! Let's move out!" Two minutes late! We lunged for our cars. Suddenly, Lisa arrived in her white 1998 Volkswagen Jetta!! Lucky girl!
What's interesting about this car and Lisa?
Lisa's car has SENIORS 06 painted all over the windows. Jump Start Seniors from Washington and Oregon both, Tasmanians, Paiutes, School Bus Drivers, Retired Fisheries and Wildlife Employees, Women with PhDs, and even 19 year olds who had a -0.3 average in high school but are now hoping to transfer to Reed. "Habitats: Life Of the Forest" lovingly accepts us all! That is the magic and conundrum of the community college system!!!
As we waited, the blue Toyota occupied by Austin who smokes and his wife Miranda who grew up in Australia pulled around and behind Mr. Forester's Pick-Up. Then I pulled up right in front of Austin. Then Austin moved HIS car! Then Celia the Bus Driver pulled her huge pick up (she uses it to pull her horse trailer for barrel racing) in front of Austin's
This is called "jockeying for position" and is typical of mature caravan-style science field trips. Those of you who arent scientists may not believe me.
We pulled out onto OR35 and then onto the Old Dalles Road, proceeding into the Middle of Nowhere, where we disencarred and climbed over barbed wire past signs that said NO TRESPASSING YOU WILL DIE!! Yep...
Oregon White Oak, Hazel, Thimbleberry, Deerbrush, Shiny Leaf ot Tall Oregon Grape, Oceanspray, Blue Elderberry, Grand Fir, Chokecherry...
"Um..." said Josh, a bright young man from Trout Lake in a leather hat. "That's not a chokecherry. It looks like it's a willow."
"Hmm.." said Mr Forester. "Yes, I was worried because I couldnt find the basal glands. Willow sounds like a good choice."
This sort of thing would never happened in my PSU geology class. It just wouldnt. That is the magic of community college.
Soon, we sat in our cars for a snack, running our heaters to thaw our fingers. Then we drove to another site and climbed over the barbed wire.
"Sure it says NO TRESSPASSING," said Mr Forester, "But I know the guy who runs this forest!"
Now our group, Austin and Charlene, Celia and myself were experts, moving as fast as we could to measure our variables, to count our species in our circular plots and go home. I had settled in as the tree counter. Ten million doug fir, three oak, and one six inch ponderosa, too short and out of bounds. Then I measured my herb plot.
"Is that a baby blackberry or is that an herb?" I asked Mr Forester.
"That's wild strawberry," he answered. Oh no! Fragraria!! I should have known that....
This was our last field trip. We'd built up such a camaraderie over the past 2 months of freezing weather and pouring drizzle!
Waiting to leave, my group went over their test and field book scores.
"You've got to put in fluff!!" Austin explained, as the group projected slashing Mr Forester to ribbons on the evaluation. I thought of the forest policeman for the State of Washington, with is red hair and twinkling eyes and his odd Idaho accent. I thought of how he'd left his wife and three small children at home two nights a week to teach this course "for fun," and how his wife helped him grade the lab books because he was color blind. "Look folks, this is college!" I thought.
"I'm taking it pass/fail," I said and looked at the twin flower leaves that covered the ground.
Just to be safe...I ordered a vodka martini.
"We even have some new pretty glasses! Someone brought these in!" said the lady bartender. "Do you want that on the rocks or up?"
I looked at my glass. Hmm...wine glass? no, it was a stemmed orange juice glass!!! "Up," I said.
"How much do I charge for this?" she asked the other lady bartender.
"I mixed one with tanqueray the other day and I charged four for it!" TOLB answered.
"Uh...two fifty," said my bartender. "That's pretty fancy gin!"
YES! Saturday night at the F.O.E. Eagles Aerie!! I was there to check out the band, because our monthly contra dance at Rockford Grange had been cancelled due to the caller having the FLU. What could you do but go down to the Eagles to hit the booze and check out the band, which in this case was The Ultimates? There they were, right up on stage, gold jackets over Death Metal black, one thin white haired man pounding the drums, one cherubic chubby keyboardist, and one computer screen to fill in the rest. The band was pretty special because the drummer had played with The Champs ("Tequila") at one time and had toured with Roy Orbison as well. The keyboardist had worked with The Coasters. I knew this because I'd read the laminated menu of 250 available requests, and it was also posted on the front door.
Wow! The requests were rolling in, too! Stacked up like pancakes!
"Oh Pretty Woman...this'll goes out to Bill and Lavelle on their 50th anniversary!" announced the drummer. "But first, let's get IN THE MOOD!!!!
I fingered my martini and looked at the twinkling starry lights, at the crowd on the dance floor. Jitterbug, fox trot! Slowly, my glass melted into a triangle and my fleece and jeans metamorphosed into black satin. All of them still the same, their cowboy shirts changed by magic into sleek suits and cocktail gowns! Saturday night a Mediterranean cruise ship, in downtown Seattle, just after the War...
The singer/drummer began to thunk out Johnny B Goode, and then Roy's Pretty Woman. And....He took his mike from its holder, left the stage, and came towards me. The performer grabbed my hand and waist and began to twirl me around, I so very awkward since I cant ballroom dance, the edges of his sequins grating against the cold skin of my arms and hands. What a tiny man the drummer seemed! Then he released me, moved out onto the dance floor, and began to sing an Elvis song!
VEGAS!!! Whoa! This must be like a Las Vegas show! I've always wondered why people went to Vegas with its sleezy slot machines and canasta games! I scanned the contours of the cigarette machine on the far wall....
...on this edge of the dance floor, the singer had his eyes on a thin, witty woman in her sixties. Soon, he was sitting in her lap, singing to her, her eyes half laughing and half crying with embarrassment!
At the back of the room, an auto mechanic with 3 foot long hair moved his Budweiser from the bar to a ringside table.
Behind the trellis of the Texas Hold 'em Room, behind the pool tables, insurance salesmen and wheat farmers stared each other down.
"THANK YOU LADIES!!" said the drummer, confidently, into his microphone.
&&&&&Now in autumn, the chasm between the cherry orchards here in The Dalles and the apple orchards of the Hood River Valley becomes more ominous. Defoliated, the gentle Prunus trees grow like dark chic candelabras against the dry hills. Driving now from Odell along Oregon 35, the Malus trees...apple and pear...seem to me to twist like charred Iraqi soldiers from the other Bush war.
I wrote that comparison...scrub oaks twisting like a charred Iraqi soldier...last year when I climbed to Tom McCall Point last year. A few weeks ago, I copied my diary entry of my ascent and turned it in to my Oregon Geology professor, a postscript to "Field Trip II Report: The View From Rowena Point." I would never have done that in my years as a real student. But now, neither my grade nor my pride really matter, because Oregon is twisting....rotating. That's why there are earthquakes in the Pacific Northwest!
As I drive into Portland, a rainbow on the Columbia follows me on my right, as a wave smeared across the music I am playing, known muted colors of a spectrum on a turbulent autumn river of whipped grey.
Our guest speaker in Forest Ecology says:
"One of the most amazing experiences I have had as a wildlife biologist is when I saw a number of bald eagles near the Klickitat River...a whole convention of bald eagles! They were looking down at a pasture of cattle. I said to myself, eagles dont eat cattle...too big! There were calves there, but they dont eat calves! The eagles were getting really excited! As I was watching...the miracle of birth! A calf was born and the eagles took off. What do you think they were after?"
No one in the class ventures a guess. But I know!
"The PLACENTA! They gathered around and ate the PLACENTA!!!"
"Lots of nutrients!" comments someone.
Last week, class break, twisting my ear around the corner, I could hear one line of the private conversation:
"Sometimes," said Mr Forester in a nasal measured voice, "you do take a course that leads you on the path you want to take."
Josh...the bright boy from Trout Lake who had challenged Mr Forester's identification of willow and of red elder...I could feel Josh's mind ticking.
One more life sucked into the giant whirlpool of....
Whoa! Sunday! thought Kenny as he hit the road in typically jovial fashion and pulled out his thumb! Sunday, Oregon City and Brenda!
There was nothing that could get Kenny down...not the fact that his his hand had been smashed last month at a temp job building a retaining wall in Cascade Locks, or that he'd had to sell his car! Who could complain when he could walk the town in 45 minutes, when he had so many friends from so many fine years here in The Dalles! Friends stuck together! Down past his brothers blue house by the park...yep he could remember the flood in 96, when he warned Tom that he was going to drown if he didnt leave! "You'll be floating like a beach ball!" Tom laughed until he saw the cars floating like beach balls in the yard...then they'd all climbed up onto the second floor balcony and watched Mill Creek roll by, dead trees knocking at the sides of the building! What a great time that was!
Kenny was born in Spokane in 1956. His parents had moved to Racine Wisconsin...what a great place that was, especially the Dells when they went up north...but his mother was from The Dalles and wanted to go back, so they did. They'd moved to Goldendale, 40 miles from home in Washington, when he was in high school but they'd moved back. He was so glad! Ever since, he'd stayed...friends stick together!!! Life had churned on like the beautiful Columbia for 30 years...then he'd met Brenda! So far away!!! And to tell you the truth...things were so dull in The Dalles that you had to get out once in a while to really appreciate it! Why exactly DID they roll in the carpet at ten??? So here he was, 20 minutes at TD West and no ride!! He couldnt believe it...he was a great guy, didnt want to hurt anyone this was his KARMA, he ALWAYS got a ride, neatly dressed in a leather jacket and with a smartly clipped Beatle haircut! So he started walking, confused as heck....
Which is when we picked him up, 5 minutes later.
"We're...um...going to Sacred Harp..." I stammered.
"We're going to a singing thing!" explained Ian calmly.
"Great!" said Kenny. "Hey right over there, right past Mosier on the old Highway, there's some CAVES!!! When I was a kid, we would pretend we were Indians! The Indians used to hide in them!"
Hmm..."On the old highway?" I asked.
"Yes!" he said. I wondered if he had ever hiked here....or just played....
The miles rolled on effervescently. Such was Kenny's bouncy influence on the Chevy Aveo!
"And over there...look at Wind Mountain! A friend told me this years ago...you can SEE an Indian there in profile."
We waited with anticipation. There it was...
"The nose...and the feet! See it...you can only see it for a split second! Gosh, we are so lucky...it is so beautiful out here today!"
"And here...Beacon Rock! Someday I'm gonna climb it! Steep? Yeah, but there's a path up there!"
"Yep. I think it's a landslide block," I said.
"No," Kenny corrected. "It's a big piece of lava! And see those lines?"
Yep. Those were the divisions between the Miocene Columbia Flood Basalt lava flows, marked by inter-flow soil formation.
"That's the flood levels. From the Flood."
Vancouver, BC, November 2005, the city, its skyscrapers as thick as snow-covered cedars in the coastal forest, grasping out into the wilderness, a gentle but deadly octopus....
Stretching inland like a gash into the mountains north of Vancouver, Howe Sound functioned as a river valley during Tertiary times. Then the glaciers came and made the valley wider...u-shaped? v-shaped? Only a true linguist can select the right IPA character!! Born to be a butterfly, it metamorphasised into a fjord, an arm of a centipede ocean, with the ultimate human purpose of transporting copper ore from the now abandoned Brittania Mines, and, these days, from the Christmas lights of the pulp mill outside Squamish. BC 99 winds up the right shore of Howe Sound, toward Squamish and Whistler....
"You are," I said, "only the second woman I've picked up hitching alone." A young blonde woman with a backpack, she'd come off the Nainamo ferry into the dark mainland night, climbed up the hill to 99, and pulled out her thumb! Then I'd stopped, forgetting that Erin was laying with the front seat against the back door, snoozing like a kitten.
"Ah-ugh!!! Wha..???" said Erin.
"We're driving up to Squamish!" I had said over the head of my chronically abused child.
"That's where I'm headed too!," she had exclaimed. "I used to live in Squamish and I am visiting friends there." Now she lived south of Campbell River.
"The beginning of nowhere!" I had commented.
"There's a lot of development going on there," had she answered.
"But this is Canada," I added. I think of the tabloid article from the night before: "Prince Rupert Woman Missing...Last Seen Hitchhiking to Terrace!!!"
"Back in Ontario, near Toronto, when I was growing up, I was told not to do it and I didnt. But it's different here. I dont worry about it at all!"
Blocks of slide-prone batholith and chickenwire rose blindly to our right in steep curves. To our left, the cedars and hemlocks and little salal bushes calmy betted their dangerous fate. One earthquake, and they would be buried along with affluent Vancouver commuters under long forgotten lonely cairns of stone.
Suddenly, four policemen arose like convenient gas pumps in the middle of the omnipresent construction cones. They were wearing lime-green vests. I put on my brakes. The one behind motioned me to the front pump.
"Any alcohol tonite, eh?"
Alcohol? Without thinking, I blurted out "No!" I sure hadnt brought any with me across the border!!! No dead cows, or guns, or apples, or wine, or any other weapons of destruction...except my little Aveo.
"OK, then, have a good evening!" recommended the public servant.
Suddenly...."Oh no! I lied! I forgot that I had a peach cider with dinner at White Spot three hours ago!" What would happen? Would they realize it and come after me?
"That was with dinner," said Erin. "And there was hardly any alcohol in there." How would she know? "I've never seen anything like that!" I added.
The woman's calm voice smiled. "They started a program...RIDE it's called...to basically look for drunken drivers. What happens is that they stop everyone and ask if you've been drinking and you say "No!". And they let you go on.
Listen to this hint! As you cross the border north from Blaine on I5 during the Rush Hour, there is a HUGE traffic jam where 95 junctions with Canada 1. Imagine being at a standstill, moving 10 feet in 20 minutes! But if you take the HOV lane, you can BY-PASS the mess almost entirely, with an easy merge on the other side! But here's the kicker: there is a POLICEMAN in a fluorescent vest taking down license plate numbers when you go to merge! So you better have something on that passenger seat, be it human or a big floppy doll!
"White drizzle so complex and dense that I cannot keep my sanity"
They say the Inuit have ten dozen words for our word SNOW!!!! That's THE biggest tundra myths! Here are my words for SNOW flying up against my windshield between Hood River and Rowena, Oregon!
These things run in cycles. One year you have no snow and two years later it's a bonanza!
I left home at one pm, almost creamed by two semis who were from some other state like Saskatchewan and didnt know Oregon's law about assisting merging traffic on freeways, and it was drizzling.
It was drizzling in dazzling Portland!
It was drizzling at Washougal when I bought gas at 9:15. I pulled out onto seductively curvy WA14, and withing 10 minutes...SCHMULS!!! Drizzle on the windshield, snow on the summer tires of my new car. Slush on the hills, around tricky cape horn, puddles in the valleys. Twenty six miles later I crossed the Bridge of the Gods. It was drizzling!
"Snow out there!!" I told the Oregon gatekeeper.
She shrugged at me with drizzly eyes.
Cascade Locks was a Christmas Post Card.
SNOW ZONE, said the summer sign as I drove onto I-84, the warning area blank.
Somewhere east of Wyeth, a semi traveling 10 feet ahead of me pulled off the road abruptly, but VERY SLOWLY. I swerved abruptly to the left. SCHMULS!!! said the horizontal icee in the left lane.
Recovering, I glanced at the roadsides. ***Everything*** was a Christmas post card!!! Hemlock trees vanilla iced like glistening rain on the highrises of Vancouver!!!
Just east of Hood River, I saw with some alarm snow shooting from the sky at my windshield like vomit from a drunk! Marijuana! I hadnt even had a margarita! I slowed to 25, just like everyone else.
I remembered driving from Texas to Park Rapids in the early 80s for Christmas. We read the bank signs as we drove north in Minnesota: minus 17...minus 20...snow turning to ice on the windshield.
Anyone else here a Quaker????
On I-84, just past the Ainsworth State Park Exit...
ROCKSLIDE!!!! BOULDERS THE SIZE OF CARS ON THE ROAD!!! ONLY ONE LANE OPEN!!!
Driving along the interstate today I find a big pile of rocks obstructing the right eastbound lane. But how lucky for everyone!
The boulders crushed TWO cars in their fall, one totaled, but every person escaped unharmed!! god indeed!!!
How do you speak to god?
Just like our Eagles Aerie, our Quaker Worship Group is in trouble. What happened was that the Multnomah Meeting sent someone out to check on us. Then the holy s**t hit the fan. Friends related that they only went to Meeting because they felt guilty for not going, that they were just plain burnt to a crisp!! Sometimes only one or two people showed up at our Meeting!!!!
"And how do you feel?" said the Big Spiritual Honcho from Portland, who had been talking to god for years. Now, he was talking to ME!!!
"I'm not burnt out at all. I've been doing my radio show in Portland for a couple years and I just got back to doing Meeting in The Dalles!! Wow, am I happy to be here again!!!!"
"Whoa!" said the Spiritual Honcho. "KBOO?!?!?"
This Sunday, our Second Spiritual Hot Shot from Portland arrived, a docile woman with dreamy eyes behind wire rim glasses. Old Hippie!!!
"So I hear that someone has even gone to the CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH!!!" she initiated, with some concern.
A Friend answered, "It's so easy...it's easy to just go and sit and listen."
"Worship Groups are hard," said the Honcho. "The Monthly Meetings are so easy!!!" Yep. You just sit and listen to other people being enlightened by god.
BUT...I was thinking this. I had never considered another religion...except Sacred Harp, where god fills my soul as i sing. I had been lifted these many years with no effort from the pit of aetheism by god within me. Her essence is PEACE and the LOVE and KINDNESS which exists between human beings.
Suddenly, Erin cheerfully asked a question, which I could not hear.
The Honcho from Portland answered this:
"Sometimes I hear voices, which direct me. But sometimes I know I am right." Right about War. Right about Capital Punishment. Right about god in all "men."
She smiled. Everyone was Silent.
The home of the Queen Mum of the Flaming Roses Red Hat Society is situated idyllicly in East The Dalles, overlooking icicly winter yards frosted with brown oak and maple leaves. But if you gaze dreamily up from the doghouses and lawn orbs, you can look beyond to a small December greening vale and ridge dotted with middle class homes. Farther on and to the right, you can see the Columbia River and beyond that a pale snowline on the sagebrush of the Columbia Hills, now velvety and misted by the noxious smoke of too many woodfires. Inside the bright house, every surface is spotless, the Christmas spruce opulently decorated, the furnishings richly reflecting Queen Mum's very successful career as a Mary Kay consultant! The living room also reflects Mum's obsessive Angel collecting addiction...there are Angels in every angle of the room!!
"I was collecting Angels before anyone else even thought of it!" she proudly claims.
Erin and I were seated at the sumptuous dining room table with a group of Red and Pink hatters, eating our pot luck Christmas luncheon. I'd brought a tray of smoked Alaska salmon and Canadian fresh crab garnished with tomatoes and olive slices and accompanied in a pink pressed glass bowl by fat-free sour cream with fresh dill and minced garlic. I'd got these bowls at a boot sale in Cropredy, UK in 1998. To my dismay, the real stars of this shebang were chili-mac hotdish and greenbean cassarole! Snarfed up like diamonds and gold! Ugh!
"Look at this!" commented Erin, holding up her napkin.
"Wedgewood, England," I read softly.
The Ladies around me began to speak.
"One year I took my husband into the furniture store early and showed him the dining room set I wanted, to give him time to save up for it. Christmas Eve came and I opened my box and it was a fluffy robe! I was so upset, but I didnt want to show it. When I got up in the morning, I walked back and forth twice from the kitchen without even noticing that the table was in the dining room! In the night...[anyone could just walk in!!]...he and some of the other police officers had carried it in!!"
"One year my husband said 'Your present is in the driveway!' A new car? I went and looked but didnt see anything. Then he said 'You have new snow tires!' I was so mad! But he learned."
"Flowers, even...jewelry...nothing with a cord!" said the dining room set Lady.
"Small appliances just dont do it!" said another.
"No more of these gift certificates from Fred Meyer!" said a third.
"When I was first married to my first husband," related the young step-grandmother of a Pink Hatter, "he gave me a vacuum cleaner. The year he gave me some flowers and a top, I knew the marriage was over! Picked out by this girlfriend!"
"I hope the second one is better!" wished someone.
"Yes, he is!" replied the young step-grandmother, her eyes sparkling like the star on the Christmas tree.
"Country and City"
Portland, December 2005. Happy Hour Cosmos for $4 at Paccinis! Walking through the NO MINORS portal, I stepped right up to the grey corian bar and studied the chalkboard.
"I'll have tomato saffron mussels and a cosmopolitan," I said.
A black man came in and sat down on a stool. This is what he said to two random young white guys:
"If you are not following in the teachings and spirit of Jesus Christ, you are leading an impure life."
"Huh!" said one of the white guys, interested and pleasant.
$4 is high price at the The Eagles, except this is what the lady bartender told me Friday night:
"We don't have those fancy drinks here!"
"That's called a Steelhead Orgasm Party," said the bartender.
"I'll have a tequila sunrise," I said, frightened.
But here in Portland! All sorts of odd cosmos!!!
"Did you put grapefruit juice in here?" I asked.
"A lion bred with a tiger, genetically unique!" one of the white guys was explaining. "They call it a liger, and it never stops growing. It eats 35 pounds of meat a day!"
The chic boy at the bar, dressed in black, picked up a bottle and stared down the neck. He shook his head.
"Nope...this is cranberry...a cosmo is vodka, lime, and a splash of cranberry."
Two whole sour limes with pulp! I'd just ordered a vodka margarita martini! But listen...a whole plate of mussels in ignitable sauce for $3.25!!!
Alaska, August 2005: Chignik, Sand Point, King Cove, False Pass, Journiers at the Cutting Edge of vacationing....The sky and sea were darkening by the time our ferry had reached Sand Point, and my memory has dimmed as well, slipping away like sand into the Aleutian night. It was here that the new school teacher disembarked, drove off the car deck, snapping the line with Montana and her divorce and her indifferent teenagers. We disembarked too...Erin and I; Lisa the travel writer from Vermont; Catherine from Fairbanks, a cabin-mate on the plush sundeck floor; the fleece-clad couple from Juneau; Joshua, the New York college student from Indiana who'd traveled like this all the way from Bellingham; some guys in Velcro rain-coats I couldnt identify; and the usual Bunch of Aleuts on a monthly relative binge. We parted company with the Aleuts, their uncles and sisters and cousins screeching in on 4 wheel drive pickups. Then someone said the inevitable.
"I wonder if we can find the store!" but also
"I wonder if it's OPEN!"
Past the Harbor and up the hill, cold drizzle dampening our hair and sneakers but not our spirits! One gravel road led to another, houses, a clinic, just now lighting up.
"They have to buy stuff somewhere!" said a mystery man in a raincoat and backback.
"Look over there at those buildings! Maybe its a store or two!" said another, the roadside fireweed burning bright as a pink sunset somewhere else. Where had all the trees gone?
"Whoa!" said someone. "It's the Lucky Crabcake Chinese Restaurant...and it's CLOSED!"
But Joshua continued to walk over to the rugged buildings. "I just have to take a picture...a Chinese restaurant way out here in Middle of Nowhere, Alaska!" he said in his thick Brooklyn accent.
We left, defeated. What if we got lost in the spiders web of wide open Aleutian roads? What if the Trusty Tusty and its excited staff left us here in this fishy drizzle without our suitcases and sleeping bags?
We didnt know. But it might not have been all that bad.
Chain Up, Ye Semis!!!
The sky is like dark marble and our skis slice like sharp pukka knives into fresh the wedding cake icing of new snow that has fallen since noon. We glide along 9th Street, then into the parking lot of the Senior Center. Erin slides effortlessly down the back driveway by the creek and returns.
"Mom...you're walking more than skiing!" she says.
"That's because your skis are better than mine," I say. I remember the crazy hills of the Duluth Municipal Golf Course, back in the 70s, the fast steep slopes of the white greens, and how I fell on my tailbone!! So do my skis, old white battered Jarvinens.
"We'll leave our skis at my parents house," said my husband so many years ago. "We won't be using them in Texas," he added, sealing the deal.
"This is so easy," says Erin. "It's Downhill that scares me!"
Beside us, a passing car whispers like a night ferry in Baltic ice.
Last night, though, there was hardly any snow on the ground, at least down here near the Columbia.
"Ian! Let's drop by the Community College Christmas Party!" I suggested perkily. "They've got a hip hop band!"
"Ugh!" said Ian. "I don't really like hip hop."
"Hmm," I countered obliviously. Off we went! Up and Up, 1000 feet above sea level in a jiff. The lights of The Dalles burned below us like a molten lava flow along the valley of the Columbia. Soon we were in the Columbia Gorge Community College lot. Ian stared at the glowing lights in the Cafeteria window.
"It's a rave," he said flatly.
MINIMALISTIC!!! A strobe light throbbed against the minimalist white walls of the lunchroom, rainbow colors whirled like a psychedelic orgy! In one corner, the band...a man at the turntable, one at the board and two huge 300 pound bodyguards...throbbed out loud monotonous bass. Trapped in a passing hip hop car! I looked around. The dance floor was filled with young people... actually mostly prettily clad-girls, since most of the guys were slumped in chairs or standing staring...writhing gloriously like cho-checkers. Yep, I was TRAPPED IN A TEEN AGE HIP HOP SOCK HOP!!
And where was the food we'd all expected? For $5 you would expect carrots and salsa...
And where was Ian? I walked outside and turned the corner. He was sitting on the stairs, reading a copy of "Nurse Weekly."
"You really don't like hip hop, do you?" I queried.
If I had had any pride, if I hadnt been a dj, I would not have gone back after I took Ian home. But I was drawn by the colors and the beat and the passion of the dancers. At the Eagles, I was used to sitting alone with a White Russian, while simple honest pinochle players with white hair swore at each other:
"You're full of SXXT, Ray," they tell each other, downing another Budweiser.....
I leaned against a simple white cafeteria column and heard no conversations...just the WHUMP WHUMP of the speakers, like the mesmeric railroad drone of a black death metal band, like the monotonous chant of Breton dance songs, like a passing car of glowing purple neon on a pitch black night, yellow in the streetlights. WHUMP WHUMP...outside through the big sleek windows, the lights of the city glowed like Kilauea. Across the floor, a couple in sleek black danced, as if in a steamy tango, against each other...was he Hispanic? Mulatto? Samoan? I could not tell for the Cascading lights!
I am so lucky to drive to Portland with my daughter and grandson!!
"There's a rainbow," I say, as we head along I-84 toward Rowena. On one side of the left arc, the sky is grey as Seattle. On the other it is blue as Hawaii.
"I've never seen a rainbow like that in Texas!" says Emma. "They never have mountains on either side! I didnt know they did that!"
"Not much elevation in Texas," I say. At least in East Texas. I think of the Davis Mountains.
"No...and look...there's the other side!" she adds.
We drive on, snow clinging on at the Memaloose Rest Area. They say it is 54 degrees in Portland, but here it is not warm enough to melt the drifts. I think about Henry, the Viet Nam Vet who lives in a shack on state land just shy of where the trucks park. The last time I'd picked him as a rider was the day after the first snow.
"'That's not rain out there', I thought, and I pushed aside the styrofoam that I have for a door. Everything was white!!'" he told me.
"Yep!" I laughed.
"You know what!" he said. "I found a tent at the side of the road and gave it to Dirty Dan! Elk hunters must of left it! You know, he just had the tarp to sleep under."
I'd seen Dirty Dan a couple weeks earlier, walking along Washington 14 near Murdock, his long woolen winter robes and long blond locks flowing like waves and sunshine along the Columbia. As always, he pulled his wooden cart of possessions behind him.
"It must be pretty cold now even in a tent," I commented.
"Yeah," said Henry. "I did that the first two years I was back....but you know I'm doing OK now, with my disability and my wood carving. But have you seen the price of kerosene? Six dollars a GALLON I had to pay at Home Depot!!!"
We cross the bridge into Washington at Hood River, so I can get gas at Stevenson. I never buy gas in Oregon. By now it's a game I play, perhaps just to be able to drive the gentle, winding lanes of Washington 14.
"Ian needs to learn how to drive," says Emma.
"Uh...he's not really interested, and it would cost a fortune to insure him!" I answer. Girls learn to drive as a matter of course, but boys choose their time and place due to too much testosterone.
"Do you remember teaching me to drive in the big Brazos Center parking lot...I killed the battery on the minivan...by stalling it out too much. Ha ha ha!!!" she laughs.
"No!" I say. Uh...
"The green Aerostar! Maybe it was a bad alternator, but I killed it. We walked home."
Suddenly I remember. What a nightmare!! Walked home...hadnt we called Triple A? But that was before the days of cell phones...
Suddenly I think...I wish I could keep this friend close to me forever.
Just a couple of weeks ago, I wandered through the Fred Meyer store looking to buy No-Fat Cheese. You may not be aware of this, but despite the Presidents Warning against Obesity, people continue to demand their gouda, cheddar, Monterrey Jack, and other varieties dripping with milk fat, so there's not much selection.
"WOW!!! YUMMY!!" some people say. "I'm getting a real high off of this Muenster!!! But I still believe the President when he says the Ay-rab terrorists will explode the Umatilla Weapons Dump, Hanford, and The The Dalles Dam using detonated garbage barges if we dont extend the Patriot Act."
But as for me, I think it's more fun to squander my meagre calorie allowance on cosmos and margaritas.
Anyway, as we approached the check-out counter, a teen-age store clerk passed by and taunted poor Ian!
"Top Ramen!!!" he snickered.
Ian, clad in the white shirt, red vest, and bow tie he'd worn singing Bass at the The Dalles Wahtonka High School Harmonaires Christmas Concert, chortled back.
He'd got the nickname from the Great TDWHS Christmas can drive. One day, his homeroom [computer] teacher announced:
"GENTLEMEN!!! If we win this can drive you can have a LAN-party. You can play computer games all period long!"
The boys got to work collecting cans and other food objects, each of which counted one point.
"How many cases of canned corn are you going to load in this cart?" I asked Ian as we cruised Grocery Outlet. I fingered the tiny wad of marked Georges in my pocket nervously, having originally intended to buy a package of discount frozen cheese ravioli for supper.
Sometime during the week, it was discovered by an unnamed computer geek that RAMEN NOODLES cost only 14c at Fred Meyer!! Well, you can guess what that meant!!
"We bought out Fred Meyer on Ramen three times!" Ian explained later. "But it didnt do any good. Just before the deadline, Mrs. Lyell's class went out and bought five cartfulls of Ramen from Safeway!!!"
"So you didnt win?" I commented.
"No...but we had our LAN-party anyway, with doughnuts too, we did such a good job."
"You know, Ramen isnt all that nutritious..."
"Yeah, I think they're going to ban it next year."
Sunday, on Christmas, we drove into Portland to sing Sacred Harp. The day was fascinating. It started with a visit to Jeff Kaliss and his abundant inlaws on a large property near Sandy. Jeff's young children had received keychains that posed as pets.
"They can interbreed with each other. It's scary!" said Jeff.
"Erin used to have one of those," commented Ian. But now Erin was a teenager, and I had forgotten about these virtual animals.
Then we went to sing. There were so many people at the Kennedy School on Christmas, and so many cookies on the table!!!
Then Ian wanted to stop at Powell's City of Books and spend his Christmas money. I drove into downtown Portland.
"Oh!" I said relieved. "It's closed!"
Then I turned and drove east on Burnside. Just before the bridge across the Willamette, we saw jovial men clustered by Portland Rescue Mission, awaiting check-in.
I wish I knew the answer.
Friday Harbor, Washington: "Rain Falling On Cedars"
(unfinished story) The grand Rosario resort hotel beams the white of its old white walls into the East Sound of Orcas, the gem of The San Juan Islands, thrust-faulted and bi-terranded earring of Washington State.
"Is it not still lunchtime?" I queried the hostess, a fast-footed middle-aged woman in black and white.
"Um...yes...but all the tables are dirty...have to change them..." Her mind and eyes circled the luncheon room, its own windows scanning the bay. SHORT-STAFFED ON A HOLIDAY WEEKEND!!!
Soon other people began to mill about the foyer as well, and eventually we were all seated behind the long line of windows in the photo....the one that looks like a ferry car deck. Soon most would be drinking smooth glasses of wine and merrily chatting about bladder diseases and real estate...
"We get the CBC, but frankly after the day is over and it's time to watch television, we mostly just read," a woman at the next table would say.
...while waiting for their mussel platters and reubens. But Ian and Erin were reading, and as I waited for my beer battered salmon and salad (substituted!), I starred out into the grey Friday water and trees. The climate here is drier (only 25 inches!) than on most of the coast, due to the rain shadow from Vancouver Island, but apparently BC's big whale of an island dives under the water in winter!
"Look!" said Ian. "There's a float plane!" ....taxiing along the bay. I grabbed the camera! FLASH! Ian grabbed the camera! FLASH!
"Huh!" I commented. "That looks like a bubbling mudpit."
In my next life, I will get a camera with a single button that reads:
"Yep...our old friends doug fir, salal, snowberry, sword firn...but here, what's this? Madrone! You never see madrone where I live. WOW!!!" I said to myself. I walked up the hill, walked back down to the parking lot. I descended down the hill towards the ocean and looked at some whitewashed English barracks from the 19th century Pig War with Canada. By then it was about 4:30 and getting dark, so I got in my car and began to drive over a paleozoic terrane towards my motel. ARGH!!! Suddenly, I had to swerve to avoid three young men in my headlights!!! And they had their thumbs out, too! I put my hazards on and halted in the middle of the roadway.
"Going into town for the evening?"
"Yeah!" they said.
"It's one big evening tonight! Is this the way the weather usually is right now?"
"Yeah!" they said.
Not much conversation. I left them off near the Friday Harbor library.
What I'd meant to do was go down to a wine bar in downtown Friday Harbor that was having a dj and champagne, leaving the kids to the TV set and the sink drip. But for one thing I wasnt too hot on going alone, even in the anonymity of rural Washington. For another, the web page which had the San Juan Islands schedule of events switched suddenly to January 1st. What was the name? Skips? Zippos?
"When you get a break in your TV show, do you want to go get a dessert in the restaurant?" I asked.
Ian and Erin perked up from "Wasabe Raiders."Sure!" they answered.
"We're just here for dessert!" I told the waitress.
"We have chocolate cake, ice cream, cheese cake, creme brulee...."
"I'd like cheese cake," ordered Ian. "And caramel mocha."
"I'd like chocolate ice cream," ordered Erin.
"I'll have creme brullee" I answered. "And do you have champagne by the glass?"
"Yes we do!"
"So how much is it? I dont see it on your menu..."
"You can have it for free!" she smiled. "I wont tell anyone!"
HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!
First Page: http://w3.gorge.net/judith/stories.htm
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