The grey streets of downtown Victoria shine slick with red and blue and green and white...this holiday evening the bright streetlights far outnumber the humans. "Look! Our hotel is right by two bookstores!" says someone. In fact, the Bedford Regency used to BE a bookstore!
"It's by an Irish pub, too!" I say. The pub is a Howe's moving castle of happy people and noise in this winter silence. Psst...a car's doppler tires roll by in the drizzle. And best of all, you can hear a fiddle inside!
"Do you have a coin you can spare?" a young man asks. He is squatting on the bricks outside the doorway. "I'm trying to get enough for some food."
We climb the elevator of our silent hotel (ferry special! $30 off winter rate!!) and I ask "Is anyone hungry?"
"No," says Erin, tuning in "Manga Mania."
"I am!" said Ian "I'd like to go to that Irish pub and listen to the music!"
We descend the stairs and roll out the door and up the steps of the pub. In the corner a young fiddling man effortlessly slings out jigs and reels. There's a free table!
Suddenly a woman appears carrying a tray.
"Can I see your ID?" she asks Ian.
No Minors...No Music.
They say the San Juan Isles, their smushed terranes peeking up between Vancouver Island and Skagit County like a cheese and TVP club sandwich crunched between the passenger seat and the door, are among the driest places in Western Washington. As our ferry approached from Anacortes, past Lopez and Shaw and finally that whale of an Island Orcas, I gasped in surprise. The sky was as grey, the tall conifers as dull dark green, and the drizzle as wet as anywhere else in Washington!!!
"Why, I expected to see a pine-oak woodland!!!" I explained to the mostly empty ferry. "Or Snow Falling On Cedars!!!"
That's why I'd come here, because I had been so taken by the imagery of "Snow Falling On Cedars." You would think that there would be museums and bed and breakfasts named after Guterson's book, or the opulently sparse movie. But maybe because one of the major themes is Japanese Internment during World War II and the prejudice that resulted from that folly, the San Juan Islanders feel the same way as Alabamians do about "To Kill A Mockingbird".........ambivalent. Or maybe it's just because so few people have both read the movie and watched the book....
I'd decided on one ferry shift...four or five hours on Orcas. After that, just as the grey of the sky and sea would begin fade, we would take the inter-island ferry to San Juan Island and spend the night. I drove Yellow Aveo along the one highway...
"This island is a saddle with a great glacial bay in the middle, just like Maui!" I explained. Where were the palms?
...past wet, sheep pastures, the grange hall, the airport too big for an island its size..
"This reminds me of the Finnish Arkipeligo!" I stated.
"You're right! Ferries from island to island!" Ian answered.
"ArCHipelago!!!" Erin corrected.
We ate lunch...much too S-L-O-W-L-Y in the restaurant at the ancient (1906) white mansion of the Rosario Resort ( http://rosario.rockresorts.com/ ) ...but where else was there salmon fish and chips with a substituted cranberry salad?
"We should just drive back and catch the ferry!" I thought. But I turned south again, toward Mt Constitution, the highest point on Orcas, in the whole of the San Juans! Soon the land turned lush Irish green as we climbed on switchbacks into the clouds. Hawaii!
"This reminds me of the huge volcano on the east of Maui!!!" I said. "Except there's no view." Just clouds turned to fog with elevation, and emerald cedars.
"I'd REALLY like to stop and touch some trees!" scolded Erin as we approached the summit. I pulled over to park like the cars in front of me. Erin disappeared out the door. I looked for the restroom, then for Erin, climbing the WPA tower quarried from some hapless terrane. Maybe she'd fallen off a cliff!
"There there, mother," comforted Ian back inside the Aveo, looking up from "Lizard Kings of New Troy."
Wait! She was no longer five years old! She was a young woman now, trained to ride bareback at Ekone Sustainable Horse Camp! No problem!!! I sighed in relief!
Suddenly, Erin appeared!
"It's really weird out there!" she announced. "You're standing on the edge, and you never know with the fog when you could fall right off...hundreds of feet!" Teenagers Falling On Cedars!
Three fifty...how long would it take to get back to the four thirty ferry? Back along switchback..."Hey, lets stop and take a picture of that fog!"... past upscale homes and sailboats, bed and breakfasts and artist studios and madrone...and finally to the harbour with ten minutes to spare! I pulled in behind a WAIT line! Wait??? No room!
A woman got out of the car ahead of me and banged on my window. "Is this the line to Anacortes?" she asked. A strolling young hippie guy answered her, "Yeah!"
NO!! I didnt want to go back to Mainland Washington after driving all this way! I was in Finland now! On Maui!
"Where's the lane for Friday Harbor?" I asked. The minutes were ticking away!
"You better ask a local!" the nuevohippie answered, leading me back to his friend's white 1973 Volvo Wagon.
I peered into the drivers felty blond dredlocks. "Dunno," he answered. "But it sure as hell idnt this one!"
Over there! Another set of lanes, now empty! PROCEED! WAIT! I barreled down the PROCEED! line, down a steep hill to a fluorescent green ferryman and followed by a desperate silver Chrysler MiniVan! TWO MINUTES!!!
"I'm trying to get the Friday Harbor ferry and I'm confused!" I levelled.
"Yeah, well...Is there anyone in the booth...uh..."
"I need to get there too!" wailed the MiniVan driver.
"Uh..yeah..no look, come over here, I'll sell you a ticket, I guess," said the ferryman. "Fourteen dollars." He took his time. Minus one minute! The ferry sat like a gaping maw. "Now which car is yours?" he drawled as effectively as a Washingtonian was able. I poured out my Georges and he counted. One-Two...MINUS THREE!!!
"I'm in the yellow car," I said.
"I'm in the mini van," she whined.
"Mother, why are you so **agitated!!!!***" asked Erin as I drove into the remodeled hull. The silver MiniVan followed.
"She's not agitated," said Ian in a spark of supreme cognizance. "She just gets excited when things work out."
The hatch closed behind us. We climbed up the stairs. Outside, the aluminum sky began to darken. In twenty minutes, the lights of Friday Harbor would sparkle in our eyes.
Almost every adult who lives here in The Dalles loves the peace and tranquillity, the familiarity of each basalt-blocked cul de sac and each salmon entree on each restaurant menu, not that they eat out that much. They've decided to live here because..well, one of two things:
1) They never liked much excitement.
2) They got sick of excitement.
It's the kids who've nicknamed it "The Dulles.
"Walk?" asked Erin.
"Uh..." I said. It WAS drizzling, but then winter was the grey depressing drizzle season in Oregon. And hadnt she been earning a 20 spot by hiking to Sallie's to feed her rabbits and chickens while she was in Seattle?
"Yeah, I suppose we could burn a bunch of quickly depleting gasoline and drive 12 blocks. Hop in the little yellow Aveo!" And so we drove on down ninth street dodging possums, meth addicts, and drizzle drops, down onto seventh.
"Look! There's Ian!" I exclaimed. "Back from building sets for the The Dalles Wahtonka High School Presentation of 'Arsenic and Old Lace'"! Let's pick him up!"
"Oh do we have to?" asked Erin, in the same moan as my father's when my boyfriend first accompanied me to Alabama for Christmas.
But I pulled over anyway. HONK!! Darn those headphones! "Ian, get in the car or you will miss the ANNUAL WINTER SOLSTICE PARTY!!!
"Uh.." said Ian.
"Plenty of food!" I said.
"OK!!" answered Ian.
Yeah, it was a little late in the season, and a little early in the day. But it was better than last year, when Sallie had gone to her Winter Shack in Baja and ignored us completely.
I looked around the living room at the jeans and fleeces. I was properly dressed, my Finnish power metal T shirt hidden beneath my Chena Hot Springs jacket!!! Did I know anyone?
"It appears as black stuff on the end of the twigs and pretty soon all you can do is pull up the trees and apply antibiotics to the soil," a man on the couch was saying.
"Diane and Ronald have an orchard near Hood River," introduced the hostess.
"I know you from somewhere!" said a woman."Yes! You were at the Sacred Harp workshop in White Salmon in March 2003! I've cut my hair since then!"
"And of course I know Erin!" said another woman excitedly. "I was her MATH teacher last year! Mrs McPhee!!!"
"How is the water level in Mill Creek?" asked a third. "It isnt in any danger of flooding your house, is it?"
"It's high as it ever gets, but it never gets above the invasive English Ivy on our stream terrace." I reassured her.
'Put down your book, laddie, and sit with us!" commanded the man with the bacteria-infested pear trees, patting the ragged couch.
Yep, WE WERE TRAPPED BY SMALL TOWN UNITARIANS!!! Snared by the memory of elephants!!!
I walked over to the table, snared some smoked salmon and broccoli and a red plastic glass of Columbia Flood Basalt Chardonnay 2006 and sat back down.
"Tell me," said the creek hydrology woman, "Have you ever gotten to the point that you have felt comfortable living in this community?" I must have said something to her when I last saw her back in December 2002.
"No," I said, simply. Why on earth did she have to bring that up? Everyone gasped....
...Except for the couch people! "I've read that there are now spray-on solar circuits!" Ian was explaining, holding them at bay and eating a plate of tiny carrots.
"There's just not enough to do here," I explained. Everyone shook their heads. They all loved living in this small town or in the even smaller but jazzier Hood River.
"Why did you MOVE here?" someone asked.
"My husband got a job at 'the college'," I answered. Everyone nodded.
Suddenly, a balding man with a sandy mustache walked in the front door. Why, it was Dan from Second Saturday Contra Dance!
Suddenly, the hostess walked into the room and announced: "I brought in some CREAM PUFFS and MINI QUICHES!!!"
Everyone took a couple.
Dallesport, WA January 2006
"I dont see why you force me to go to Quaker Meeting with you," argued Erin, her voice as stern as a college professor. "I'm an atheist."
"Hmm," I said. "Ian, what do you say? IAN!!!" The basalt cliffs of Dallesport loomed below us, Murdock Mini-Mart dissolved behind.
He looked up from "Squirrelmen of Planet Mystica." "It's OK with me," he said.
"Do you know what we're discussing?" I asked.
"Not really," he answered. "But Meeting's OK." Cinnamon Roll was OK too, I reckoned.
"But I've been thinking this as well," I explained. "I dont really believe in god either, but rather in the Light and Spirit. What attracted me back in '89 was tradition...and pacifism and service. It gave me strength to live in a hyper-conservative Texas college town. Plus there were evening potlucks with the hot tub and wine. But I have not felt this way here, where Portland is a touch of the throttle away. Today at Meeting they were talking excessively about being old and dying. I dont see why they have to do that. And I'm not really interested in the meditation or mysticism." Shallow!!! I was shallow as the soils on biscuit scabland!
"It's not that," said Erin. "I've been thinking about that too. It's just that I dont believe in god...and what about the airplane?"
"Hmm..." I said, wondering dazzled what she would be like in 2020. "Maybe you should be a unitarian."
"What do they believe in?" asked Erin.
"Originally, they did not believe in the trinity. But there is the universalist part, which says all all gods are one...mohammed, whatever. Essentially, though, you dont have to believe in god at all. You just have to believe in going to church. You might like it! Or paganism might be more fun."
"They have 3 gods!...." Erin began.
How did I decide to become a quaker? My parents had come from a quaker town, my great great grandfather had been disowned in fact. I had attended a quaker college. That's how I had escaped from Alabama, by rejecting my happy no-catch offer from Birmingham Southern and accepting a last moment probation from Earlham College. It proved to be an academic mistake, but that is another story. I did not apply to become a quaker...go through Clearness, as we say...until after Ian was born. Here is the story.
"In the spring of 1987, I attended a field trip called 'Sequence Stratigraphic Concepts Applied to Paleogene Outcrops Gulf and Atlantic Basins,' led by Gerry Baum and Peter Vail. If you're a geologist, you'll recognize Vail's name in particular. I flew into Mobile, Alabama from Houston. The field trip was uneventful, aside from one of the redneck southern oil guys being upset over the way an attendee from China slurped noodles with chopsticks ("Dogs...the Chinese eat like disgusting dogs!") and a hideously long death march trek along Little Stave Creek, looking for the Eocene-Oligocene boundary. Nothing unusual. I boarded the plane again at Mobile, perused my guidebook and the grey Gulf of Mexico...
"This is your captain!" said the pilot. "Unfortunately, one of our engines isnt working. We'll have to land at Jackson!"
Oh no! I was aboard the Plane of Death!
The lady with Big Hair in the seat beside me pulled out "The Methodist Prayer Book," and began to read silently, her lips moving. Maybe she had done this before. The minutes ticked away. I stared at the woman's book.
"I hope we will land OK," I said.
"Of course, why wouldnt we?" she drawled and smiled. In retrospect, I guess planes can fly just fine on three engines. But I made this bargain:
"God, if you let this plane land safely, I will join The Religious Society of Friends."
"Soon, we landed in Jackson, Mississippi, my heart in my throat. Soon, we were dispatched on a flight to Dallas. It was filled with military men.
"We sho' is late takin' off," said a soldier behind me.
"Yeah, a buncha people is late catchin' da plane!" snickered another.
But we were not out of the woods...into the Blackland Prairie...yet. The pilot came on the intercom.
"You may have wondered why we havent landed yet. There is a Huge Thunderstorm over Dallas at the moment, resulting from...<clip>...and we are in the process of trying to dodge tornadoes!"
Lucky the plane landed OK without me making any more bargains with George Fox! I ran to the gate where the last plane to Houston was departing. The crew was in the process of retracting the bridge. "You'll have to make a leap!!!" joked the gatekeeper. I stared across the foot wide chasm and sprung.
My new teacher is a handsome man...blond and robust...so it is not difficult for me to pay attention to such a narrow topic: Scandinavian Literature and World War II. He begins:
"Welcome! My name is Peter, and the ONE WAY you can fail this course is to call me Professor. I'm NOT a professor to begin with, I'm a writer and lecturer!" He will later explain as well that DANES are "the most egalitarian people in the world...unlike the Swedes, who...this is one problem when DANES get a job with a SWEDISH company...having to call your supervisor mister or miss!! And the GERMANS! Fraulein Schmidt on all the nametags, nineteen years old!."
"But if you are one of those people who wants to make an A...you must attend class and you must discuss! You must have an opinion! Maybe you can even ARGUE! I love controversy! Most of all, though, I want you to have FUN in this class!!!"
Not all the students care about getting an A. I, for example, am taking the course P/NP, having not studied literature since I was forced to take "Oriental Literature II" in 1971 (C-). The Nordophilic Senior Audits dont care. One says:
"I was IN World War II...in the Navy in The Caribbean! Just out of High School!" Everyone gasps!!
The rest of the class (Everyone) is shrouded in diversity.
"I'm a graduate student in fiction!" says a woman.
"I'm a graduate student in history and public policy," counters a man with black glasses. "I'm primary interested in the collaborations between...<clip>....
"I lived in Finland for nine months!" declares an undergraduate.
"My background is in Geology and Botany," I say. "One reason I am interested is that I am a Quaker and don't like war."
"I don't like war either," answers Peter, his face changing. "I was a conscientious objector in Denmark."
"Who doesnt?" I ask. "Also, though, I took the sequences in Swedish and Finnish here."
"One of Gunilla's students!" he smiles. "And you back there?"
"I'm Tom and I LOVE war! Ha ha!"
You love it till your head explodes into pieces and then its all a vacuum.
Peter's lecture begins:
"The battle for Denmark began at 4 AM and lasted two hours. What could we do? Denmark is flat as a pancake! By the time people woke up for the day, it was over. My grandfather was out in his field and wondered why there were so many planes flying around. They were dropping leaflets that said:
~~~WE HAVE JUST TAKEN OVER YOUR COUNTRY FOR YOUR OWN PROTECTION~~~
My grandfather was born in 1900. He began his life as a nomad in Palestine, his mother was Jewish and his father converted to Christianity. He didnt want his son to be raised as a Jew. As it turned out he was ABDUCTED...Not adopted, but ABDUCTED, by Christian Missionaries at the age of 5. When he arrived, my grandfather was told that he had to become a Danish citizen. Imagine a child, one minute riding camels in the desert, and the next milking cows in Danish rain! It looks just like this," he motions out the window, "in Denmark in January, just 10 degrees colder!"
Somewhere in my Swedish book, a Kurd has left Irak with a falskt passport. Now he waits infinitely in a page-lined cell, waits to find out whether Sweden will take him as a refugee....
The empty grey Victoria morning was no more beautiful than the solitary lines of streetlights in the dark night before. We stared out the windows of the bar/coffeeshop of our hotel and waited for our breakfast. The steel hands of the lonely downtown clocks were sealing our fate like a great slow dripping tongue on an envelope, like a KTel freezer bag machine.
"Here's your salmon benedict!" announced the waitress cheerfully, "and your breakfast burrito. And your Belgian waffles." O Canada!
"Is it always like this in winter?" I asked out of pity. "I mean, I know it's a holiday."
She scanned the empty room. "Things were really hopping yesterday...New Years. But usually during January and February people avoid downtown like the plague.
The Death Scythe of Time ticked on. We dragged our small bags to the lobby.
"Here's some marked willys," I offered. "You have a fifteen minutes in the bookstore next door. Nine thirty. Then we have to leave." Six...we would have been on the six am ferry to Tsssawwasssareeeessss...whatever. The BC Mainland. But then I thought, why not shoot for the 10:45 Coho to Port Angeles, direct to the Olympic Peninsula of Washington?
Sealed...like mammals in an Arctic wildlife refuge.
"Can I pay cash?" I asked the desk clerk, his pretty brown face like a sweet potato pie. I pulled out some crisp marked 20s....Elizabeth!
"Yes...I believe so...OR...what province is THAT!?!?" he asked bewildered.
"Ha ha," I answered. "Oregon."
"Huh! I've never been there. Is the weather like it is here?"
"Well, in Portland right now, it's equally grey and drizzly. But you know, I would love to live here, but they would never let me in." Most people dont know this, but you can actually ***buy*** your way into Canada.
"Why not?" he answered. "I have heard if you are from The States and apply, it only takes you six months to get an immigrant visa."
"Did you immigrate?" I asked. He must have...he had a funny accent. I on the other hand could speak nasal English like a Cascadian and translate French like a geologist. Donnez moi une roche, s'il vous plait.
"Yes, I'm from the Philippines. It took me four years to get a visa. I love living here in Victoria; it is a great place to raise kids. You can drive from one end of it to the other. It's so much safer living here then where I moved from."
"I'll bet!" I said.
"Yes," he continued. "You can never tell what will happen to you in Vancouver."
Yesterday I was late for my show, because there was a wreck 40 or 50 blocks ahead of me on the I-84. I had just swung right on the City Center Route where 205 to Salem and Seattle cut off I84 and traffic came to a dead stop. After about half an hour I called the station, like I'm supposed to. At that point, traffic had moved to a point where the smaller vehicles were able to turn and proceed up an entrance ramp. However, there were so many cars using parallel roads...halsey and weidler...that it was still difficult to make any progress. All along the way, you could see the jam up on the freeway and cars attempting to back up the entrance ramps.
Question: How many police did I see directing traffic?
a)Zero b)0 c)Nolla d)None
Imagine this. One minute you can trick yourself into thinking life is going according to your gamble, your calculated risk, driving along happily past the BC Capitol Building and the grey harbor, the Natural History Museum you should be visiting today. You cling to the thought that things will work out fine, but there is that one point. Your test is returned face down by your professor, your human resourses interviewer rolls her eyeballs, your car misses and sputters and black smoke curves up from the exhaust pipe...and you can see the line for the Port Angeles ferry curving out onto the street. Then there is that second moment where you can no longer fool yourself:
"You got a reservation?" asks the kid ferryman. Was he an American? "No? We got another one at FIVE PM!!!"
TRAPPED ON VANCOUVER ISLAND!!!
"What will we do now, Mother?" asked Erin anxiously. "You need to get to your radio show!"
"Tsssawwasssareeeessss...we're going back through Tsssawwasssareeeessss...whatever!!" I pulled the miniscule yellow Aveo around and skidded into a U-Turn into yesterday, back through downtown Victoria, back past the deceptive, I5esque White Spots and Tim Hortonss, back past the Travellers Inns and Best Westerns of Sidney. An electronic sign above us blinked:
"Tsssawwassseessssen Ferry 89% Full NO WAIT" No wait! Great!
Just imagine this...living somewhere where a black electronic rectangle controls whether you can escape or not. But listen...there are other ways to escape. You could, for example, take a different ferry from the northern tip of Vancouver Island to Prince Rupert and hence north on the Alaska Ferry and....
"If we can get through customs by two, I bet we can make it back...." I hypothesized, a bit too optimistic.
The minutes tore away as the little studded tires of my yellow Aveo tore up the 4 lane. Would I make it? It was now twelve twenty.
"What's that up ahead?" I asked. It was a log jam of cars!! The painted line kept us at bay from the kiosks as surely as razor wire! All around was Chaos! British Columbians of all nationalities slammed their car doors and waved limp sheets of paper.
"I have a RESERVATION, eh!!" each would scream in a gasp, their eyes widening in fear.
"Yeah, so you do, eh?" the ferryperson would say calmly. "We'll take the cars that have reservations around in a minute, eh." The car logjam was a four lane mosiac of reserveees and deadbeats!! In some areas, these tiles would jab and stick hopelessly, but not here in Canada! Soon, the responsible cars were triaged out, on past the cashier, and into a mile long lane, leaving us behind. I moved up into an emptied space behind a silver minivan, its front foot on the razor line. The ferryman motioned the minivan on towards the booth and the woman from Oregon followed. I handed the cashier my Visa Card. She hesitated.
"I need to wait until they tell me I can sell again," she said.
Did we get on the ferry? Yep. Most of our lane moved on just as if we scumbags had got reservations, on into the behemouth Spirit of Tsssawwasssareeeessssen with its astounding restaurants and gift shop and videoarcades, a moving floating Canadian town. Toyotas and Fords and Mercedes squeezed desperately in behind us, into the Great Spirit's great mouth and then the lips closed close behind us, smiling
"Dont give up now, Mother!" Erin said as we emerged again.
Did we make it through customs by two? No...there were too many cars...British Columbian, Washingtonian, Oregonian, Cascadians...all trying in a jumble to enter America as if it were just the neighborhood 7-11. License plates queued helter skelter...and waited.
"You bringing anything in?" asked the customs man.
"We have a number of paperback books," I answered. Ian demonstated by continuing to read "Czillaxdcysol Trilogy 3: Wizard Race for the Bellingham Downpour." Erin lay unconscious in the back seat, drugged by earphones and sleep.
"OK," said the customs man. Forty five minutes in preparation, and it was over in a flash.
Did I make my radio show?
"You did the best you could, Mother," said Erin, as I pulled out my cell phone in Everett to make that call....
The steady grey drizzle and cabin fever, the dripping eves and deceptively blue mornings have snaked on through January. It is if I am blocked by this rain into a snowbound Icelandic Fjord...
"This is like summer in Iceland!" I say.
...with only a disastrous avalanche can free me. I slip outside, into the yard, and down to the creek, where the waters still churn as if in a Maytag. I pick up a branch and pitch it in and it glides downstream like a child on a waterslide. I scan the banks for sprouting tulips and daffodils, but see nothing new, just a more ominous spring green of cheatgrass among soggy fallen oak and maple leaves. They say you gain a new life as a real adult after your parents die, I just read that in a story in a back issue of "Oprah" at the gym, but ten years later mine is as before, except for an increased stash of old glassware and end tables and tablecloths. Now my mother-in-law's towels are on the bathroom racks as well. What if I took it all now and threw every one of them into the water, watching them run and boil as they raced to the bridge? I look at the empty branches of saplings, blurred as in a photo, the green of spring smiling behind. I snap the photo, more perfectly taken than with a camera.
I walk back to the patio and pick up a can of Spray and Wash from the pavement. Erin is rearranging black folding chairs.
"Erin! Did your dad give you another assignment?" I ask.
"No, I just had to put this chair back. That's not a spray," she argues, "It's a stick."
"Hmm....a stick in each hand!" I hurled the one in my right over the edge.
"Why are those branches so red?" She points at a naked bush.
"That's just the way they are...it's just that you can see them now. The rain has given them odd bright colors against the grey," I answer.
"Everything looks strange today."
"But look here at this bush..."
"Pink Buds. Huh." says Erin.
"Spring in January!" I say.
I continue to look for these holes in winter, do what I can, and wait.
EVIL!!! Anyone here take Lit courses in college? Me too...back in '71!! Yikes!1
"Students!" announces Peter, teacher of Scan Lit & WWII. "The dwarf in Laegerkvist's 'The Dwarf' represents Evil." Yeah, but which Evil? I can tell Peter has a trick up his sleeve! Satan? Nazis? (yeah, he admits that one) The Evil in MENS souls? De Facto Religions???...my thoughts range back to my review of 'Fiddling For Norway'!
"Let's list some characteristics of The Devil!" says Peter as he picks up his piece of white chalk.
"Hatred of innocence," says the women with the bright red hair.
"Derisive sense of humor!" says someone else.
"Cruelty," I say, scared of flunking.
"Can anyone think of an instance where The Dwarf was Cruel?" needles Peter.
"He he!!!" snickers the guy who said he loves war. "When he cuts off the kittens head!"
Yeah, that was pretty sadistic and DARK as well, and would as well be classified as 'hatred of innocence.' The Prince, who is the alter ego of The Dwarf, would later cut off the head of the Princess's lover, along the lines of 'The Nine Cruel Brothers' or 'Matty Groves.'
Maybe I will pass?!?!
The next day, searching for security, I remember the written words of The Head of the PSU Geology Department:
"The Dalles Formation is not Well Studied."
This means that no one has found a grad student who is silly enough to work out here, even though similar TDF outcrops stick out as plentifully as singer-songwriter promos.
I drive southward and upward along Skyline Road, its orchards and its scrub oak woodland.
PAVEMENT ENDS! reads the sign. What else is new?!
Silly girl, my stark, self-conscious observation of the Dalles Formation! There is Dalles Formation here aplenty, the beige ashy rhyolitic volcanic sediments contrasting with the older DARK sheets of incinerative but simple Miocene Flow Basalt.One minute the Dalles Formation is sand that mimics a river dune, the next it is massive cobbles. Sediments? Pyroclastics? Who knows? I drive surprisingly at the edge of knowledge. Slowly, my little Aveo attains the heights of Dutch Flat. I remember driving here on this ranchland ...you can read it in my journal archives...with my husband, in September of 2001, the day after the planes hit.
IS THERE EVIL HERE??? I ask myself. Is there evil in the twisted black oaks, bare as corpses from the winter famine? Is there evil in the tiger stripes of the pines, growing fiercer one by one as we climb higher? If not, is there evil in the corduroy wheat stubble? In the barbed wire of the fence lines? In the cinder stripe of the road gravel, the sparse cinder stripe slung into the thin white snow at either side? In the black cows that crowd a pasture like hungry crows?
Upper Five Mile Road, is Satan in this forested hollow? Is it Satan in the snowy dark coolness of the first Douglas Fir? In these tattered isolated trailers in Gods Country?
Great cliffs and hoodoos of reworked volcanic debris rise to the left.
To my right, a yellow ribbon is tied on a rancher's mailbox.
I think about Niels Bohr, 'Copenhagen,' and the bomb trigger.
Do you ever ponder time perception?
The Dalles, Sunday Morning, 1 AM....
"And how are you?" I asked Mr V. That's what the kids call him, Mr V. Mr V is a mild, slightly chubby man with sandy hair. I'd come to this mild split level home from the seventies because, just as my toe was about to hit the bathtub, my little Nokia went "Wooo!!" which means I missed a call! I called my voice mail.
"Mom, uh, I need a ride!"
"I'll be right there, sugar plum," I said to the bathtub. Ian ("Officer Brophy") was out late at yet another cast party for "Arsenic and Old Lace." He has a lethal nightstick and everything! Last night they were at Denny's. Denny's is the big teen aged hang out here in The Dalles, because nothing else is open, not even Safeway. No...I guess there are a few gas stations, and a couple bars. But tonight they were at Mr & Mrs. V's, over by the Oregon Veterans Home. Jena V is playing one of the kindly but lethal aunts, with a pillow strapped to her waist. That's what you have to do to look fat if you're an energetic cheerleader. Plus she has to spray grey stuff on her hair.
I drove down 10th Street and across US 197 that leads to Bend and is at this point located in a gully with pillow lava walls. During the Miocene, the Mighty Columbia River covered the highway, and due to a hot spot now in Yellowstone Park the head of which is now decapitated migrating eastward underneath eastern Cascadia, fiery hot molten lava flopped into the water, solidifying in the shape of droopy pillows. I pondered on what that was in the distance that was like a shining leviathan!? Was it the OVH, the Big BPA converter station, the Columbia View Baptist church...or was it molten lava?
"Shh....now you're taking a different course...Scandinavian Literature and World War II!" I said to my ghostlike reflection in the sun visor.
Then, It was if the long asphalt road doubled up like a licorice loop in time, and took me right there to that landmark, but the gates of perception rolled away from me as if on a grocery store checkout conveyer belt and I never learned what it was. I parked, walked up to the door and rang the bell. Then I asked Mr V this:
"And how are you?"
There are all sorts of surrealistic replays, variations on a theme you can do with this, that can have you looping back and forth over and over to Mr V's well scrubbed face. Take for instance Hamsun's highly terrifying book from 19th century Norway, "Hunger," in which the hero goes berserk from lack of food four times, being saved by 5 and 10 krone notes each time, each received in a different way. Or the play "Copenhagen" where the ghosts of Heisenberg and Bohr and the latter's wife Margaret replay one boring but pivotal evening over and over like an electron uncertain of its whereabouts. Or the course in general, where we replay and replay replays over and over, one after another.
"Tired!" he answered pleasantly. He paused a minute then said:
"This is really a good bunch of kids! Several parties ago, the police rang the doorbell. They said 'We've been informed you have drugs and alcohol here.' The Band teacher's at it again! Ha ha! I told them I had kids downstairs playing air hockey, kids in the living room sitting on pillows watching a video, kids upstairs playing video games. 'Do you want to come look?' I said. Someone had too much time on their hands. Now when we have a cast party, I call the police first." Whoa! He calls them over and over again!!!
And here was Ian now, dressed in a black Prog Power 2004 shirt! He cast his head to a young woman also dressed in black, just like Hansun's lover. Maybe she was real, maybe she wasnt, but once she gave the hero a 10 krone note. When we were in Norway, Ian spent a 10 Kr. note...or was it a coin?
"We're taking her home," said Ian giddily. Said, not asked.
"OK!" I said and we were off. "Just let me know where to turn!" I added.
Soon, the girl was home safe, on the corner of 8th and G Street.
"Who was that and what was her purpose?" I asked Ian.
"That was Hannah. She does sound effects. In this play, she did the door bell and the phone."
"Hmm!" I remarked. "How interesting!" No wonder she was wearing black!
"I was at one of these parties last year and the police showed up...." began Ian.
These hitchhiker stories cycle over and over, too, variations on a theme.
Munoz swallowed the last of his bottle of Thunderbird and walked out on to the entrance ramp. He'd been stuck on this long grey stretch of interstate for 9 days, Portland to Pasco and back again to The Dalles through Purgatory, damn these rednecks who'd trapped him out here and wouldnt give you a nickel to dig a ditch unless they'd known you twenty years. Munoz just wanted to earn an American wage, but they wouldnt pick you up, they wouldnt hire you. Here at the end of the wet desert, he'd scrambled down the hill from the interstate into the tie plant and the big railroad yard and had tried to catch a freight...not a treacherous thing but for the yard gangs they had some places. But, hey, in The Dalles, the trains werent going anywhere; they just sat there poised on wood and iron, and so did he. He'd moved on to the freeway again. The sage gave way to pines and oaks and the freight streaked west like missiles in trucks bearing hundreds of different signs, Knight Transport, Bright Logistics....
At first I thought it was Henry; this was where I always picked up Henry if I saw him and took him home to his shack across from the Memaloose rest area. But this man was younger and stockier in his earth-colored jacket and dirty brown locks curled out from his stocking cap.
"Where're you going?" I asked.
"I'm trying to get to Portland," he answered.
Mr Munoz began his story.
"I'm 49 years old. I'm not from here. I'm originally from the Boston area. My grandmother was German, My grandfather was Irish, and my father was Mexican. My uncle married a white girl too, and moved to Maine, and my brother did the same thing and moved to Houston, near the ship channel. That was a while back. But really from Detroit, worked in the automobile industry. I moved out of there because of the crime, to Grand Rapids and thats where they make a lot of the furniture.."
"Unless it's from China..." I interjected.
"Uh..Then I crossed the great Mackinack bridge to the Upper Peninsula and slaughtered meat. But I didnt like it there either. So I moved to Minnesota...to St Paul...but it's TOO COLD there, so I moved out here. Hey, that train over there is waiting on a track to get to Portland, if you see cars with wood on them like that they're going to Eugene."
I didnt say anything. I felt faint.
"Hey," Mr Munoz asked, "Could I bother you to turn your heater down? It's all the way up. I'm just about to have a heatstroke! WOOH! And you got a down jacket on!"
A down jacket and too sleepy to remember lunch. He rolled his window down and a blast of fog rolled in. "I'm 49. Yeah, I don't date these girls in the new generation. I meet these other tramps sleeping under bridges, and if she's under 35, I wont hook up with her. She'll say something like 'Let's go over to the Salvation Army' or something and that's just not what I'm interested in. Yeah, look at that grey darkness out there, I love it. All I need is an American job and an American paycheck. They hire these Mexicans out here, but wont look at me, I'm a Mexican too, but they want real ones who are sending their money back to Mexico.
"There's some jobs out of Dutch Harbor they were advertising on the web," I suggested, "living out on the boats. You get minimum wage but you get room and board too."
"Someone I heard of drowned on one of those boats," he answered. "Yeah, I've got a lady friend with a variety shop on Burnside who hired me to move boxes. There's this one guy who goes to Hawaii every March, does shows for partys, gives me $300 to work all day setting up lights and taking them down. Next month, I'm going up to Seattle. In the spring, I'm home free...I can mow lawns, cut down trees, clip hedges...anything out doors. I know how to survive out here!!"
"If you look down there on the console, there might be some change you can use," I countered. "But a lot of it's Canadian."
He dug around in the loose hair, dandruff and snack crumbs I accumulate to discourage theft. "UGH!!.....What's this thing?"
"It's a twonie. It's worth about a dollar eighty. They don't have paper dollars in Canada."
When I looked again, all the coins were gone.
"I can just tell people I was up in Canada and this is all I have," said Mr Munoz.
The West truly begins here beyond Denver; for each and every Easterner passenger there will be one passage for which she shall gasp:
"Here are mountains the like of which I have never seen before."
To the east are vast spider webs of houses and roads curving through dead winter grasses two shades darker than Austin limestone, snow like white beach dunes. Then, at the last house and the first conifer, big ridges begin to curve upward and westward like cracked mud, dipping east. These soon give way. Perhaps the dark mountains pushed up through The Flat East like a rising life preserver, Rising From the Planes so to speak. Perhaps the plastic foam glob was there first and the east is the remains of a great lake. On the other hand, imagine if the mountains were a function of plate collisons. If I werent stuck here above the clouds, I'd look it up, get the facts straight, and tell you the real story!
When I look down again, one sentence into the Eocene, the landscape is as brown and flat as Oregon wheat country, milky white sand snow dusting mesas and cuestas like art glass. This is the place they call Wyoming. I am a slow writer.
To reach Austin from College Station, I must go back in time, follow the path of flight I so often used to travel. My daughter Emma, Baby Victor, and their cat...all that is left of our Texas family...live on the Eocene, on d clays and sands that once formed the shores and shallows of the Gulf of Mexico. I start my silver rental car and drive down Texas 21. I travel through Caldwell and Cooks Point and Old Dime Box, past oak and yaupon (Ilex), over the Brazos and the Yegua Creek forks, through the Paleocene, past field trips and farm parties and steel pumpjacks now frozen cold. I know these eternally pale, faded farms and ranches and gas stations...Theriot's Bulls, Catt's Pitt Stop, Idselt's Pumps, Boriak Bog...by heart, even if I cant spell the names. Somewhere along 21, the Paleogene gives way to the underlying Cretaceous limestone, to the Austin Chalk of the great continental seaway; dead dinosaurs, iridium layers, and Shock Quartz mark the imaginary spot. The junipers that Texans call cedars dot the landscape and fencelines now like flames, malachite green gas flares rising from the soil. Pastoral live oaks spread their branches and shelter exotic Lee County brahmas like loving mothers; winter dead oaks, twisted like blown-out drilling towers, harbor live green mistletoe like rats in a burnt out house. Prickly pear and mesquite...or is that sagebrush?... hint of dry expanses to the West. Mother, when do we get to Ozona? On my left is an old cafe. A woman gave me a ride here when the tire on my Suburu blew out. I was 8 months pregnant, too clumsy to change a tire...no, I didnt even have a spare!
"I saw you out there and turned around! I know what it's like to be pregnant! When is your baby due?" she said.
Were I to drive further on, to the new airport, I would reach Bastrop, Land of the Lonesome Pines. There is sand below and pine trees grow with long feathery needles, just as if they were in East Texas. It is indeed an oasis! We came here and hiked on the trails, colored blue and read and yellow for identification. But I turn right and take my path through Elgin, towards downtown Austin. I cant think of anything that has happened to me in Elgin, but it does now, here at the Qwik 'n' Ezy.
"Ten dollars on the right hand pump," I tell the clerk.
"Surely," he says, in emphatic Lone Star speech.
As I write this, try to think of the words and memories, our little airbus noses over the White Peaks of the Wasatch-Uinta, and over the round and square patches of the Snake Valley, sniffing out Boise.
I pull out of the Red Airport Lot in my yellow Oregon car, onto and off of the freeway. Up and up we drive along the Larch Mountain Road, slowing into the forests where winter vine maples drip with moss like bright green slime monsters. Huge hemlocks from the last storm block one lane, vivid redbrown and green in the thickening mists. I stop the car at the iron gate that warns:
CLOSED DUE TO SNOW!
and I walk into the bright wet grey, there are few maples now, but the forest is dense with conifers and moss and pale lichens, with hemlock and the odd red cedar, shrubby salal and dwarf Oregon grape and douglas firs as tall and straight as the jet trail of a moon rocket, so tall you can not see the tops in the fog, only the mouse tail cones on the ground. I wipe off my lenses and turn past the gate of the dirt logging road to a little clearcut. I see them there, baby dougs, mingling with little hemlocks and grand firs, cold and wet and lush in the Northwest afternoon
Andrew's luggage consisted of a white water bottle. That's how I knew that this clean cut young fella with blue eyes was a local. Yes indeedy!
"I'm going to Hood River," he told me after I'd moved my books into the back seat. "The DMV here wont take this one document I need for an id card." Twenty miles.
"Huh!" I answered. "My son isnt interested in learning to drive, so he has an ID card. He showed them his passport."
"Wow, maybe I should get one of those."
"You only really need one if you travel out of the country. Like Canada."
"I'd like to go to Canada sometime. I hear its really pretty."
"It is...but no prettier than here. Vancouver is a huge town."
"No...even bigger. Like Seattle."
"I was in Seattle once! I went up to the top of the Space Needle! I took my son up with me."
Then he began to tell his story.
"I'm originally from White Salmon, but we moved to Hood River about the time I started High School. I just moved to The Dalles 3 weeks ago...got a job as a laborer with the company that's building the new Google place..."
"That's down by Taylor Lake?" I said to avoid the words "Oh" or "Hmm."
"You know where the prison is? Down past that. First they gave me a job in one of those things that looks like a golf cart, picking up trash and stuff. But now I'm in the new building, wiping off the dirt...they're putting computers in there, so it has to be really clean. They got a place under ground...under the floor... where they're putting the cooling water, and I'm getting the dirt out of that now...With most construction jobs I worked at people were in a hurry all the time to get done, but here people are pretty laid back"
"Hmm!" I answered. "How old is your son?" I looked over at the river.
"Five. I don't get to see him much now because his mother and I split up and she lives in Vancouver [WA]now. She's got this other kid too, so she works long hours and she don't really want to see me; she's determined to make it on her own. I hate to have to get a lawyer but maybe I will. It was the most wonderful thing in my life meeting her and seeing him born. Breaking up with her was the awfullest."
A Trip To Maine...
I have boxes and boxes of unlabeled slides! Actually there are only a couple of big boxes containing a lot of little ones. Here is a slim silver one from 1980 labeled only MAINE AMQUA HOUSE in Sharpie. I look inside...a couple photos of my cats, some views of water and trees, some unknown earth scientists banging away at unidentified outcrops, and....a huge, beautiful photo of a hibiscus red lobster on a plate! Yep, I remember that part well! We were on our field trip...Mt Dessert, ring a bell?...and stopped at this great place by the ocean and they gave us lobster bibs, butter oozing out our cheeks and dripping off our chins. And here's a photo of my room at the college in Orono, which I shared with a wiry, tanned woman from Seattle, Estella Leopold, lady of the stars, sister of the moon, daughter of Aldo! And these two, one of molten metal from the nickel smelter at Sudbury, Ontario, the other of people looking at the molten metal...
What do I remember? What was my route half way across America? Is this of any interest to anyone?
From Duluth in a green LeCar, up the North Shore, through the border station, from the wild rugged wilderness of northern Minnesota into the tameness of southern western Ontario, in those days the stucco houses in the valley west of Thunder Bay were as foreign as London. This was my third...maybe fourth trip through the border, looking at the trees and the PreCambrian, buying lemon curd and crumpets at the supermarket. At Sudbury, I gazed at the moonscape...trees as dead as if a comet had hit...and stopped for a tour of the noxious smelter. I spent the night somewhere in Ontario, at a faded but immaculately tidy motel. Forty seven dollars? Yikes! What was a Canadian dollar worth then? After that, I hardly stopped, only to buy gas in Imperial Gallons.
A river, still northerly...."That town looks OLD!" I exclaimed. Were the streets brick? Were the houses French? It was unlike anything I had ever seen. Was it North Bay?
East then, on and on, I reentered to Vermont through a small road, the woman border guard questioned me skeptically.
"I am going to a meeting of ice age scientists in Orono, Maine!" I told her.
I drove through Vermont and New Hampshire and Maine. There were trees here as well! Someday I will go back to Vermont.
"What is the one state you have never been in?" you might ask.
"Delaware," I would answer...
"What is the one state where your Georges havent been hit?"
It gives me something to look forward to!
[You too can look forward to something...the rest of the story!]
I found Orono, and my modern dorm. I sat talking that evening in the lounge to some Scientists I met, including my former advisor in palynology at Iowa, Dr. Dick Baker. Dick had worked on Late Quaternary and Holocene vegetational history in Yellowstone Park, as did I his little cub. I met an interesting graduate student from the University of Alberta, working in the Canadian Rockies. His name was Dan Young and he was from northern California, where he had hidden out in the forest to avoid the draft...until the government caught up with him and sent him to Viet Nam. At least that is the story he told. The next evening, I would get drunk at an Orono bar with him and some people from North Dakota. Sometime later he would go to Anchorage, grow big tomatoes, and work on oil rigs.
I met a couple young ecologists in the lunch line.
"Hi!" said Kerry, a perky folk dancer with long hair and a mustache.
They were both at the University of Minnesota, Owen Davis http://www.geo.arizona.edu/palynology/personel.html, a PhD student, and Kerry Woods http://faculty.bennington.edu/~kwoods/, a post-doc with Margaret Davis. Later, we would all three go on two trips. We would go with Kerry that winter to core a frozen lake for pollen in the white snowy Upper Peninsula of Michigan. My job would be to sit in my snowmobile suit on a tarp, wrap core with saran wrap, and shiver. I shared a room with them in a ragged motel with dim wood paneling. Then in the spring we would drive to a cave on the Snake River Plain of Idaho with Owen and sample packrat middens in a bony cave, sleeping in a moribund travel trailer. But I didnt have any place to take them; I spent all my working hours staring through a microscope in a cement block office underneath a huge telescope on the UMD campus!
The two boys and I went on the field trip, too, and ate lobster and drank beer by the ocean...I have right here "The Geology of Acadia National Park"! What happened was that the big continental ice sheet backed up against the Mt Dessert range and went over then around it in long fingers! Then it was buried by the ice. Now at least some people can find u-shaped valleys in this area.
I drove back through Quebec. Somewhere around the grey cave-like freeways of downtown Montreal, I discovered the gas tank cover was missing from Le Car. "J'ai perdu mon gas-chapeau et j'ai besoin d'un nouveau," j'ai dit au Renault dealeur.
"I lost my gas cap and need a new one," I repeated.
"Oui," he said.
I turned across into the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, stunned by flat jack pine forests as far as Le Car could see. At Ironwood, there was a museum where senior citizens wove Finnish rag rugs on a loom. In those days, you could buy old rag rugs like this at garage sales in Duluth. I bought a dark blue one as a souvenir, and you could see that rug, still fresh and chic, if you came to my home.
This is all I can remember of my trip, but it is very special to me. It was this trip, and the people I met, that persuaded me that I would be FUN to get a doctorate. As a result, you can call me Dr. Raggs!
Midterm Essay, Scandinavian Literature and WWII, February 2006
As I begin driving home along BURNside, I notice the reflection of my car in the window of Dante's and my side view mirror is blazing! I turn on KPSU and "Fire!" by The Crazy World of Arthur Brown begins to play. Three omens in five minutes!
What evil entity does the dwarf represent? One would best ask Lagerkvist, but perhaps his answer would have been as uncertain as Heisenburg's remembrances. From my reading, the answer is similar in elusiveness to a three-in-one trinity or the wave-particle nature of light....or more appropriately, dark!
--Is Piccoline really Satan? There are several references to Hellfire or Satan in The Dwarf, for example, when Bernardo begins to paint the dwarf's portrait, the artist changes his demeanor and and "look[s] devilish. (49)" In the wine massacre fire dance (140-141), possibly the most dazzling passage in the book, the dancers are black, the torches could have been dipped in Hellfire, and Satan could have trained the dancers. Later, wee Piccoline stands on a chair, surveys his lethal work, and observes that he's happily dispatched so many to hell. The little "shadow" (7 bottom) comments, "I felt like Satan himself..."(153). A bored agnostic would take this to mean that he isnt really Satan, yet there is so much odd humor, so many twisted religious passages in The Dwarf that these words might just be a sly trick from a treacherous fellow. Hmm. At the bottom of this goldmine page (still 153) of amazingly evil sentences lies this important phrase: "[The deceased revelers have]...drunk my poison blood." The enemy elite were not exactly communing with Christ when they were poisoned! "He still sits at his feast, while I stand here in my shame," (46) comments the dwarf on viewing the painting of the Last Supper. Judas, a little daemon, or Lucifer himself? It doesn't really matter. If, like me, you don't believe in Satan, then what else is he but an aesthetically powerful metaphor, an anthropomorphic mirror of evil?
--Is Piccoline the "dark" side of humanity? Our teacher has informed us that no one is two feet tall (except maybe a little imp), which suggests that Piccoline may not be real. The dwarf believes he cannot die of the plague because he is not human (p 205), and since The Dwarf is a heavy duty novel, he must therefore be symbolic. ;-) "Inside them [humans], there is always something else which they ignore (30)" and that's probably a dwarf.. We discussed Piccoline's negative "dark" characteristics in our mostly black-clad class: cruelty (the kittens head, 20), bloodlust ("I crave blood!", 71), lack of empathy (attitude towards plague victims, 191), deceitfulness (poisoning Don Ricardo, 148), and dislike of fun, beauty, and innocence ("laughter is lovely and disfiguring," 112), as well as a few more bad attitudes. Dark, indeed, but ignorance also plays a part in the essence of Piccoline, in his attitude towards Bernardo's sense of wonder. I read somewhere that he represents "the common man during war" and agree that this is one more facet of Piccoline's byzantine existance. His enthusiasm for going out into battle, camping out in the beautiful countryside, reminds me of American Civil War soldiers who in ignorance left their farms, idealistically looking for adventure and bravery and found themselves entrenched in blood and horror. I also recall the way WWII Europeans turned their heads while undesirable civilians "died of the plague," not entirely out of malice, but rather from indifference.
--Is Piccoline the Nazi party? Here is the wave nature of dark! One could imagine the Italian state as the Germany, with little Piccoline strangling the other parties (ie Jehosophat) in an "arranged" election, and "evil" taking over the country. Germany begins its invasions, symbolized here by a single deadly romp in the Tuscan countryside. He ruthlessly murders a merrier dwarf in conquered territory...is he killing a milder ideology? A political party? Perhaps the false peace foray represents Germany's relations with Russia. In the end, the real Germany did fall into ruin...disease, destruction, depression, and starvation, the work of some little Piccoline. The Nazi party was finally "put into a dungeon," but it's still out there and even were that not so, similar theories and emotions will surely be freed again and cause trouble. There is a Finnish metal song called Fourth Reich is Rising!
A few years ago I read a book about "normal" fiddling in Norway (Fiddling For Norway), where for many years music and dancing were considered the devil's work. Piccoline in many ways reminds me of religious ascetics, like the minister in Franny and Alexander or my husband's now-deceased aunts in Minnesota ;-), who strive for gaunt "purity," in a manner that imperfectly parallels Nazism. "I have loved much, but I have not loved God...and my punishment is just (177)," the princess decides, with a lot of help from the deceptive fun-hating old scumbag. She falls into unpleasant decline and death...like the normally life-loving, beer-guzzling German people during the Second World War..
--Is the dwarf a three dimensional symbol? Even though Piccoline is probably not a real human, he is the most fully developed character in the book. He's the narrator and rattles on forever about himself! Some of our students found him humorous, but I didn't like him enough to be amused. On the other hand, the princess spends most of her time lying in bed and thinking of her lover, at least until she defines herself a sinful slut. Angelica, nice though she is, is as vacant eyed as the teenage girls you see in the grocery store trailing their boyfriends. Boccarossa switches sides for more money and pillage. The characters do change, for instance Angela becomes less obvious and playful and finally tragic, but most often in a rather streamlined, linear way. The "treacherous" (to the dwarf as well as others, as he could be considered Piccoline's "whole self"!) prince is an exception. Though his motives are not well examined, his regrets to giving way to evil seem to be more eloquently implied. As we discussed in class, the dwarf's personality doesn't really change, but more and more inlets reveal themselves, he becomes excited or agitated for various new and unsavory reasons, and his power and freedom wax and wane like a month of a bloody moon. "I am always the same" (30).
--Not all the "evil" in The Dwarf is Piccoline's doing...he's the prince's dwarf after all...which is another reason to believe that if he's Satanic, he's just one little nasty daemon, and that his domain is a single state, in this case Germany. He admires Boccarossa and Il Toro, but there is no way he can directly influence them, unless he picks up his bottle of blood-wine and knocks one of them completely dead!
He does not seem to have power over nature ("Why is it raining?" (84)). How fortunate!
--Unraveling the fabric of The Dwarf is just as hard as untangling the volcanic deposits in the Pacific Northwest! There is so much I have not mentioned here or even thought about or understood! Maybe we need a dwarf geochemist...
The word's gone down this north coast
And its boy you best take care
Cut yourself with a knife
Find all the salt's that's in the air.
Spring in the Columbia Gorge! Well, not yet. But along WA14, a fertile milk-white fog has covered the valley like a prescient spurt of semen. Soon the maples and dogwoods will sprout leaves! Well, not really, because it takes the dogwoods (Cornus), a long time to get going.
"Ten dollars on pump one," I told the clerk at the Country Corner in Stevenson.
"Sure," he said, setting down his broom.
"So if I drive the back way past Mount St Helens to Stevenson, what towns will I hit?" a prominent Seattle georger once asked me.
"You wont hit any," I said. "There's nothing there." North into the crest of the Cascades, into the snow-whiteness, there is no civilization but a few campgrounds and fish hatcheries. There is nothing along the roads but the trees and lakes and mountains of the Gifford Pinchot.
Well, not really. There is Mill A and Mill B and there is Hemlock.
I partially fill my tank and drive upstream, past the Big River Grill. Suddenly, along side the road, appears a man with a jug of milk in one hand and an upturned thumb in the other!
"Where are you going?" I asked as he slid into the passenger seat. He was dressed in green army camaflage fatigues and looked more like Fidel Castro than anyone I'd picked up.
"Hemlock!" he answered. The very name conjures up two visions, one of mighty Northwest forests and the other of Evil poisonings and suicide. The latter species, however, belongs to the carrot family, while the former....
"Had to get some milk. My boy likes milk on his cereal. I'm Bradley, by the way..." he continued.
"Hemlock!" I exclaimed. "I cant take you to Hemlock. I'll have to let you off at the intersection to Carson." Three miles, was it?
"That's fine," he said.
"So what's it like to live in Hemlock?" I ask.
"It's really great! I've been living in Hemlock for twenty seven years. It's right there in the Gifford Pinchot! We go hiking all of the time, me and my boy and I got a couple four wheelers too."
"Sounds great!" I commented.
"Yep, hitchhiking has been my principal mode of travel ever since my license was suspended. I know everyone around here. Someone always stops to pick me up. People stick together here...fight like the devil, though, when the going is good! But when times are tough...when my friend Casey Weston was murdered thirteen years ago, they had a candlelight vigil at the courthouse in Stevenson and five hundred people showed up!"
"Murdered?!?" I commented.
"That's who my son is named after. Casey."
Nothing beyond the deep green daggers of hemlocks and doug firs at the side of the road, stabbing like cold knives into the white winter sky.
Joined briefly in special time and space
One day our teacher, Danish author Peter X, announced:
"I think we should all go bowling!"
The students stared at their classmates, amazed, amused, stunned, and disoriented.
"Let's pick a time! Monday night? Five o'clock at the campus bowling alley?"
Oh no! I would be in Swedish class, and then "The Raggle Taggle Gypsy"!!!
"We will all go have a drink afterwards!" Or two. Or three!!!!
"What kind of beer do you like, Peter?" asked someone.
"I dont drink beer, actually..." answered Peter. "I'm a wine drinker."
Back in Iowa City, no geologist would have admitted that.
"I'd like a kamikaze," I told the chic bartender at Paccini's.
"You want that up or a shot?" A shot? He filled my glass first with ice and water.
I paid, picked up my martini glass filled with pale green lime and vodka, and walked to the long table. I was the only one with a cocktail! All the other students were drinking white wine...or yellow beer!
"Do you want a plate?" asked the waiter. I scanned the flaming fire and the dormant pool table. A plate? Was this still happy hour? Then he brought two pepperoni pizzas! Augh!! Dead animal!!
"We ordered right after bowling, before you got here," explained the woman across the table.
"I'd like to have some," said Billy, a 40ish balding redhead, "but I'm broke."
"Go ahead and have a piece, Billy, there's plenty!" said the across woman.
Then we began to tell their stories, piecemeal.
"I'm from Longview, which I've referred to in my latest story as 'Arbor City'. I've been a yoga instructor and a carpenter's apprentice," said the woman across. "But the last one was awful! It just wasnt me. Now I am working on a masters in creative writing."
"My wife is from Norway, and her sister is living with us as well," said the public policy student, son of a Texas geophysicist. "I'm taking Norwegian now, but I still dont understand it!"
"I'm from Spokane...UGH....and taught English for many years," offered the other creative writing student.
"I called my parents in New York and they said 'Why dont you go back to school?'" said Billy, the budding communications student.
"This is really good gnocci!" exclaimed our teacher. We'd already heard volumes about his life. We could write a book!
"This must be a sports bar," said the carpenter. She was dressed in exotic velour and big eyes.
I took another sip of vodka.
"Hey, waiter!" piped someone. "Can I have another glass of chardonnay?"
"I'd get another beer, but I'm broke," said Billy.
"Here, look, why dont you borrow a couple of georges!" I offered.
"Huh! They're stamped. It's a game, isnt it!" exclaimed the former carpenter.
"Sure! Hey waiter, can I get another PBR?" ordered Billy.
"Ugh! Pabst...I would have never loaned you three dollars!" I growled.
"Billy's just drinking to drink," explained the carpenter. "Besides, PBR is chic in some circles! You can go into some upscale bars here in Portland and EVERYONE will be drinking it."
Finally, the students decided it was time to go.
"Billy!" asked the petulant coed who had brought her boyfriend and whose life I hadnt been able to hear. "Want to come to the Peacock Garden with us?"
"I would, but I dont have any money..." he told her, though she only listened for a second.
"I'll loan you a few more," I offered. "But you will owe me."
"I have to go see my very good friends who work in the deli in my building," said Billy. "I do that every night...."
"Billy....take the money and go. Tonight is SPECIAL!!!"
California, March 2006:
I drive east on 12 and 88, from Lodi in the Great Valley into the Sierras. In the beginning there are pretty green fields of cruciferae...you mortals call it mustard...the blooming glitter of butter-yellow blossoms beneath the gnarled T-crosses of grapevines. Soon, however, the vineyards give way to sheep and cattle, and dry oaks hanging heavy with mistletoe, like New Zealand or Texas..."up the Buller" say the schizophrenic voices in my head...others have demons, I have misleading geography.
I smile. What's going on? I pull out a geologic map from the pocket of "California's Changing Landscapes." The rock are getting older. I am crossing a line of faults. At the 2000' level, near Pine Grove, the oaks metamorphose to pines, juniper and manzanita. Swiss cheese patches of snow now line the roadsides. Soon, there will be cedars as well, and the forests would grow deep green and dense.
I pull into a cafe called The Sierra Inn. The parking lot is almost full. Inside, the paneling is a picture of wood and the booths are pictures of leather; a folding Lions Club sign is propped up by the front door.
"If you're by yourself, then you'll have to sit at the counter," a busy waitress tells me. I sit myself on a revolving stool at the crowded counter. The rugged, heavy-set man next to me has obviously finished his breakfast...the oval plate of pancake syrup in front of him is nearing solidification....and he is now s-l-o-w-l-y drinking his morning coffee. I look up at the "Lunch Special" board and shake my head at the nine carnage-based selections. Ugh! My prediction is that there are at most four selections for me on the menu:
1. Grilled Cheese with fries, macaroni salad, or cottage cheese
2. Tuna Salad Sandwich with a lot of mayonaisse ditto
3. Breaded Greasy Fish Sandwich ditto
4. Gardenburger Sandwich ditto...with any luck.
"What exactly is in the stuffed potato?" I ask the young waitress.
She brightens and says with enthusiasm, "Potato with cheese and HAM and..."
"Could I get a gardenburger?" I ask. "And can I possibly get a salad instead of the french fries?"
"Sure!" she says happily.
My "California's Changing Landscapes" lies impatiently on the counter. It opens spontaneously to a receipt:
STANFORD UNIVERSITY STORE July 1972...the last time I have been anywhere near the Sierras.
"Mother, when do we get to Truckee?" says the ghost voice of Jack Kerouac, the one that has echoed in my head for thirty four years like my lost youth.
I open to a page that says in more words than this:
"Paleozoic miogeosynclinal limestones lie to the east and eugeosynclinal rocks rich in volcanics are exposed in the western foothills!" Eh?
Anyone here know what these words...mio- and eu- geosynclinal...mean? I dont either, because, like frontal lobotomy, they were outlawed about 1975, once everyone got the drift of plate tectonics and prozac. Imagine your Trash-80, your wringer washer, your clipper ship.
Yep, all I remember about vertical tectonics is that a mountain range...the Appalachians, the Alps, the Sierras...moves up, and basins move down on either side of them. The sediments in one basin are "clean" and the ones in the others are "dirty." Now the past is different. Instead of moving up and down, mountains are formed by plates moving from side to side, slamming into each other like a drunk Yukon against a logging truck.
"Oh well," I say, and take a gulp of my diet pepsi.
The gardenburger is huge and delicious and so is the salad. I finish them off, pay my bill at the register, and drive eastward. Three thousand...now the snow beside the highway is like styrofoam packing against a new boombox. Four thousand feet...the houses like a winter scene in Vermont, but the road is bare and clear...
Then, suddenly...***CHAINS REQUIRED!!!*** Oh no! It's a roadblock with a gigantic flashing sign!! And police vehicles!
Unlike every other driver...who is determined to reach RENO and its flashy casinos...I turn around my silver Dodge Mini-Van...
My mind hurls back in time..."We have no sub-compacts left...would you like a Sebring Convertible or a Mini-Van?" said the Oakland Dollar Rent A Car Clerk in Sanskrit.... Why didnt I forsee this? Why didnt I ask for snow chains! But who cares...you cant see the rocks for the snow!
I turn my gentle silver van back downhill on CA88...4000...3000 feet. I stop at a Sierra Trading Post convenience store and buy a bag of Super Orgy Party Chex Mix and a Diet Pepsi.
"How are you today?" asks the clerk.
"Fine...I'm driving around aimlessly, looking at plants and rocks."
"You better be careful!" warns the clerk. "There are accidents all over the place!"
"I saw 3 cars in the ditch coming down 88!!! " adds the man behind me excitedly.
"I hear they closed the Pine Bowl!" says the clerk.
"They closed it because there were a thousand cars in line and they were blocking 88!!!" adds the driver.
It is the shining Sierra Snow hour for Nevada drivers and convenience store clerks.
November 2005, Portland State University:
"Students!" announced the chairman of the PSU geology department, drawing an oval blob on the chalkboard. "Here is the Sierra Nevada Subplate. It is rotating northward, into Oregon and Washington. Washington is being pushed into British Columbia. But British Columbia isnt going ANYWHERE! That's one reason we have earthquakes up here!"
What more inspiration would you need to travel?
March 2006, California:
Back at the Sierra Trading Post, I started to get into my car...a gentle silver minivan...and then paused. I pulled out my camera and begin to walk, cold snow wedging into my clogs onto bare feet. Pines...yeah, but what kind? Lodgepole? Sugar pine? What are the weird mint green ones with the huge cones? Was that a cedar, a redwood or something else? Was that a madrone, or something else?
Murphys Law of Natural History: The secrets of the local flora in a given remote location can usually be found on the internet in a couple days, in a library that is closed on Saturday, or on a nature trail that is closed for the season.
I took some reconnaissance photos of snowy branches, got into the gentle van, and drove back through Pine Grove, and continuing through hill and dale until the pines thinned and the oaks again gained purchase. I turned south down 49 at Mokelumne Hill...suddenly my schizo sub-demons begin to show slides of hula and leis in my brain!!!
"No, no, no!" I laughed, wishing I were on Maui. I swung into the Gold Field Super Gas Mart in San Andreas and filled half a tank...$38!! I shrieked in disbelief ("AUGH!!!") and went inside to pay the clerk, my pocket heavily weighted.
"Thanks for all those ones!" she groveled.
"Do you want some more? Do you have a couple tens?"
"I sure do! Yesterday I didnt even have enough ones to open!"
With any luck I would get a hit in Calaveras County, home of the jumping frog.
Then, back on the road, I saw a sign. It said: "California Caves...this way!" Yep, I followed the sign, suddenly and unfortunately aware that they would never let me tour a cave wearing clogs, despite the fact I had spent my teenage Alabama years hiking in skirts, hose, and penny loafers. It's not like I were wearing spike heels!!!
"Class, you show up in high heels or flipflops to the field trips, you FAIL!!!" the head of the PSU geology department had said.
Keeping this error in mind, I beelined for the bookshelves instead of the ticket counter. Hmm..."Coloring Book of California Goldfield Floozies"..."Methods for Gutting Squirrels, Rabbits, and Small Rodents and Cooking Them Over an Open Fire"...AND
Roadside Geology of of Southern and Central CALIFORNIA
Geology of the Sierra Nevada
Geologic Trips: Sierra Nevada.
I squealed like a trapped bunny. I opened a book and read that, yep, I'd been driving on stacked terranes. They'd ridden the Pacific subduction conveyor belt, been scraped off, and bumped into each other even more slowly than a guy can drink his morning coffee. In doing so, the rocks had gotten really screwed up. Bonanza! Mother lode! What a relief!
Driving north again, I followed the fault, the gold town trace, between 2 of these terranes. I stopped there, north of San Andreas, and scrambled up the rubbly roadcut in my clogs, picking up soapy jade-like serpentinite and cones from pale green digger pines. I aimed my camera...
"YOUR BATTERY IS EXHAUSTED!" it said. This is another Murphy Natural History rule.
Then I drove back across the Valley, across the flat plain where the subduction trench had jumped 60 miles west at the end of the Jurassic, back into the traffic of the freeway and finally into the vast metroplex of teeming humanity that forms west central California, which is why everyone is moving to Bend instead. I turned off on the road to Napa, tomorrow's destination, and passed black wineries, grey vineyards, and glittering lights of upscale California. In Calistoga, I saw a cheesy sign:
"Dr Wilkinson's HOT SPRINGS Mudbaths Motel Air Conditioned Vacancy"
"Do you have a hot pool?" I asked the desk clerk.
"Yes, it is right behind the office!"
I rented a cute, expensive room and changed into my swimsuit. The pool was huge, clean, wonderful, and just the right temperature, but the lone immersed couple werent saying anything. After a while, I left, changed back into my jeans and fleece and pink down jacket to walk down the cute main street. I entered a chic Mexican Cafe and ordered red wine and fish in tomato sauce, at $13 the most expensive dish on the menu. The beautiful dark haired waitress...the waiter was even more handsome!...brought chips with 3 salsas: tomato, peaches, and fiery green slurry. After dinner, I walked the streets again, watching the restaurants close and the employees mop up. The towns people and tourists were now compressed into two bar and grills, listening to jazz musicians, and I stopped to linger outside of both. In one window, a guitarist took a swig of beer; in the second, a black keyboardist raised his head in passion.
Back in the room, I pulled out my book.
"Red wines made from grapes grown on soils weathered from the dark rocks of the oceanic crust sometimes have sharp flavors that require some aging to mellow...." it said
March, 2006, Napa Co., CA: In the morning, I drove back through wine country, past magnificant vinyards and wine tasting salons, past the stately mediterranean masquerades of Sutter Home and Robert Mondavi....
Robert Mondavi!!!! Thirty four years ago...who would have guessed as a perky, clueless young girl that one would have said "thirty four years ago!"...I toured the Robert Mondavi Wineries with my tiny friends Cinda and Ellen after the conjoining of our Great 1972 Road Trips. We'd met in Portland, driven down the Oregon coast picking up men, and finally had shared a nightmare night ride in my 78 Camaro, Alma Luverne, down the pitch black California coast to stay with Ellen's brother in San Fran. In the lush wine country, we'd bought gift boxes of wine and...
"What's in the box?" asked the man at the post office.
"Wine," we said.
"You cant mail wine. It's illegal. You'll have to sent it by bus."
"Bus?" said Cinda, opening her soft blue eyes.
"The bus station. I'll tell you how to get there." What man could resist a 100 pound blonde with an IQ of 150?
But now, in 2006, I drove alone, on to Downtown Joe's, to the Napa Where's George Gathering, which as I expected was alot of fun.
"Whoa!" I exclaimed, fingered my stamped bills, and ordered. "Can I get a gardenburger with swiss and mushrooms?"
Clueless...everyone else has grown in wisdom and experience. I'm, conversly, still clueless and cute as a button in my deep purple cotton dress made in India, my red velvet scarf, and the red rhinestone pin my little daughter gave me.
It's a bad food day at Spooky's, a choice between small town pizza, mozarella sticks, and green salad. Ian, my companion, has refused to wear a pink hat and lavender shirt.
"I'll have the chicken Caesar wrap," he says.
"I guess you dont want to eat with us...."
"Uh...no..." he answers anxiously, turning his head anxiously towards the video game room. "Spotted Owl Big Game Hunt!!!" is blinking its lights just for him.
"I almost ate your salad when I saw it there!"
I'd been to the restroom and now I'd returned to my end of the table to be enveloped by the violet-clad movers and shakers of The Dalles, Oregon. Most of whom had ordered Oriental Chicken Salad!!!
"Is that chow mein noodles in there?" I asked pleasantly, pointing.
Suddenly, the Hatter they call Donnie appeared behind me!
"Judith...I want you to have this red pen!" she said.
"Wow! Thanks! That's great!" I answered. The classy red and gold pen said this: "Donella and Marvin: 1956-2006." Donnie and Marvin were one of the first orchards to go independent from Oregon Cherry Growers. You can see their Fruit Tree Empire above Dry Hollow. They can afford the free pens!!!
"Fifty years!! That's really something nowadays!" chuckled the chicken salad eater across from me.
"Oh no! Did we all get one?" asked the chicken salad eater next to me. She too is an Alabamian, coming from Dothan! "I thought I was supposed to pass mine with the Get Well from Lung Cancer card I signed..."
"You go pretty fast with that...," commented the lady across from me, grimly.
But I had lost track of the conversation. The gals at my end of the table were members of a sorority. They had a tendency to not explain what they were saying, because they all knew...all three of them.
"Sally told her husband when they were crossing the bridge...when I die, throw my ashes off the bridge. The next year, she died! That was the only thing she ever said about it."
"I remember my father" continued the PUD supervisor catty corner from me,"...he never got mad but this once...he said, 'There were some kids on the bridge jumping off. If I could have caught those kids, I would have killed them!' He knew it was us."
I looked around clueless as usual. Were they talking about the Biggs bridge, 20 miles up river, or the railroad bridge just to the west? I could remember when a semi was blown right off of it!
"What bridge is this?" I asked.
"Panama! It's a bridge in Panama!" chuckled a chicken salad eater. "You had a train in one lane and cars...with a stoplight......... in another! There were only 2 foot wide boards for a car to drive on...you had to stay on those boards."
"My uncle was a taxi driver..." obliviously continued the PUD director. "He had a fare out there and he drove across, petrified and shaking. Then he had to drive back. Just as he was about to get onto the bridge again, a fare stopped him and said:
"'Are you going back to Panama City?'"
"'Yes!' he answered. 'Do you drive?"
"That guy got a free trip back to Panama City, but he had to drive across that bridge!"
I sit on a couch in a coffee shop in Portland. It is the last social event for Scan Lit and WWII. Two women are talking.
"I cant write dialog," says one. "That is a major problem."
"I've just learned to avoid the 'Do you know Bob' problem."
"Yes! I've learned about that too!"
"What exactly is that?" I ask. Maybe it's one of those useful writing hints!!!
"Well," said the older one...oh (&)*, what exactly did she say? I THINK she said you delete all the "you knows," and other dumb superfluous words when you write dialog. Or maybe you just delete all the times someone says, "Do you know Bob?"
"Do you write fiction?" the other asked.
"No," I answered. "I have no idea how to write fiction." Everything I write is real.
They smiled smugly.
As for me, I still have a lot of problems with tense agreement.
Between Washougal and Skamania Landing, along Washington Highway 14, there is an old volcano they call Mount Zion, and below that, the rock they call Cape Horn. WA14 is a treacherous road as compared to the freeway, which is actually 50 times more treacherous than I-80 going through eastern Iowa, especially when Canadian semis are splattering ice pellets on your windshield. But the curves and cliffs of Cape Horn on the Washington side are probably the most treacherous, especially in the darkness of cloudlit night.
We'd just gotten ten gallons and a Dasani at the Chevron in Washougal and were heading home from Portland, clipping the curves of Cape Horn and coming out safe. Suddenly, passing in my rear view mirror, lit scarlet by my tailights, I saw a clean cut young couple waving their arms! Ahead of them in dismal night lay a disabled sedan! I pondered the situation, then slowed onto the shoulder, then pulled a UTurn back westbound.
"Mother, what are you...?!?!" exclaimed Ian, waking up from his Homeworld Trance. This game, playable on laptop, features aesthetic purple jettrails and New Age music.
I didnt answer. The young folks were running toward my car! I rolled down my window.
"Our WHEEL fell off!!!" exclaimed the woodsy young woman. "I need to call!"
"Do you want a cell phone?" Nokia perked up his little black antennae.
"No, I have one, I just cant get a signal!" Not unusual for Cascadia!
"Do you need a ride? Hop in!"
"Yes! To Skamania Landing. I KNOW I can get a signal there!"
"Do you know, Amber, I cant believe our wheel fell off!" said the guy.
Soon we came into the outskirts of Skamania, the grey, darkened general store station coming into view. The young woman pulled out her own Nokia and dialed..
"The reason I'm not home yet is that our WHEEL fell off! Then these nice people from The Dalles picked us up." she told her mother.
"Where do you want to go?" I asked.
"She lives in North Bonneville," said the woodsy bearded young man.
"You can drop us off at the gas station, " said the young woman. "My mother will pick us up."
"I guess we'll have to tow it back," the guy told her. "That'll take hours."
Soon the North Bonneville Chevron came into view. It was closed, but I think you could still get gas with a credit card.
"I just bought this car," explained the man. "They said there was only one thing wrong with it. But one thing after another has gone wrong with it. I think I bought a lemon!!!
"Thank you for picking us up!" added the nicely dressed woman. "I know I wouldnt have the nerve to do that!"
Ian and I drove on, over the Bridge of the Gods to Cascade Locks, Oregon Helmets Required and out onto I-84.
"What's that stuff hitting the windshield?" I asked.
"I think it's rain," said Ian.
"No, look at that splatter! I think it's snow!" Also, snow has this unique pattern of fireworks going off, or of the Enterprise going through a time warp.
That evening, the snow would not stick, but two nights later it would. Our family would emerge from the High School, from the local production of the musical "Annie," and the ground would be white as snow. Snow at river-level in March! Wasnt that something!?!?!
The Dalles, March 2006. Down on Second Street, along the sidewalk and the basalt wall that lines it, two thousand seven hundred candles flicker in small paper bags. The candles have been lit for a while, so others are silent and dark. Each square bag and its cylindric candle stands in the chilly evening, like excess teeth in the smile of America, like broken cogs from the gear wheels of mechanized combat. I lean on the wall by the municipal pool while two people, alternating, read names into a microphone.
Two days later, I walk through downtown Portland. The letters chalked on the sidewalk in the chilly Oregon evening say:
Rethink 911. Inside Job.
I stand with Hoosier Friends in Downtown Richmond. We hold candles and shiver in the snow. Rice paddies ripple in the breeze.
I stand with Texas Friends around a College Station flagpole. We do not say anything, but Balkan tunes run through my mind.
"Class!" the head of the PSU geology department announced last fall. Wow! I sure am getting a lot of mileage out of him. "The State of Oregon is getting rid of a lot of geologic maps. Anyone know why this would be?"
No one raised their hand.
"Because they're putting most of their inventory of publications on line, because it costs so much to store it otherwise. They gave us all these great maps of central Oregon...some of Bend, some of Redmond, some on a larger scale. It's up to you to interpret them! How do we interpret a geologic map?"
By hedging around with our partners until the teacher came by and explained everything?!?!
I'd spent so much time hedging with my map of Bend that it had branded my brain like a burning poker...volcano-sedimentary Deschutes Formation, volcanic ash, and best of all, weird party-hat-esqe cinder cones!!! No wonder it was a red-hot destination for immigrants from California!
"Wow! Cant wait to go back there and look at all that!" I exclaimed. I'd been through Bend a couple of times during my denial years. Now that it had warmed up, it was time for a drive down US97!!! I loaded my "Roadside Geology of Oregon," my "AAPG Map of Cascadia," my "Field Trip Guide The Dalles to Sunriver," my coat, my cell phone, and my purse into the Yellow Aveo and off we went, south from the river, into the heart of Oregon. The sky was white like dirty dishwater with chunks of curdled milk dumped in for clouds. The wheat fields were dull tan, the trees drab green, the sagebrush grey like dessicated squirrel carcasses...maybe we should have waited a week or two!!!
Not really. The rocks didnt care what season it was. I opened my slim guidebook as we climbed the Missoula flood terraces, pressing it hard against the steering wheel. I watched the Plateau Basalts give way to the Dalles Formation, just as The Dalles and its orchards gave way to Dufur and its wheatfields. Tygh Ridge, axis of an anticline, these beds dipping down southwards beneath younger Juniper Flats Flows....and as a bonus, juniper invading the flats! We through past Maupin, where one flow filled the Deschutes and now forms a bench which holds the town. Suddenly, a woman and her dogs appeared in the road. We swerved, and she smiled and waved! Then a man with long white hair and a lime green safety vest appeared and did the same! Maupin! Known for its rafters and wavers!
The John Day Formation with its fossil leaves, flat valley farms irrigated with well water from between the flows, Madras Wells Fargo with its Warm Springs Indian teller, lots of Juniper and Sagebrush...and the Cross River. I pulled into the Ogden State Scenic Vista to look at its magnificent flow-lined gorge, crossed by 3 magnificent bridges. "300 FOOT DROP!!! KEEP PETS AWAY!! WATCH YOUR CHILDREN!!" said the signs. Whoa! Deep indeed! "That flow came right down the river and then was eroded right back out again, wow!!!!" I exclaimed and started snapping millions of photos of the green river and its grey walls, something you can do now with the digital camera. I took pictures of junipers, too, juniper leaves, juniper bark, juniper berries...snow...was that rain or snow? I shivered violently in my thin, worn Chena Hot Springs fleece. My hands began to puff up with frostbite...
SUDDENLY THE SOUND OF SAMBA RHYTHMS!! Yikes! Why was I even getting a signal here in this desolate majestic cleft high desert geology vantage point? Had Erin forgotten her clarinet again?
"Hello!" said the voice. "I'm calling from Federal Savings in Bryan, Texas. Is this a good time to talk?"
"Uh...well...I'm walking around in the high desert in a snow-rainstorm wearing only light clothing."
"I'm calling about this account you have that is getting a low rate of interest. If you merge it with your deferred annuity..."
"Uh...maybe you could call me back in June," I suggested, sinking into hypothermia.
Redmond, and then Bend...I'd driven over one hundred miles, back and forth through millions of years. Mileage indeed! Seventy thousand people here in Bend...why all these new Californians, aside from the housing prices? It was the same old juniper and horses as in Redmond...but wait, hadnt I seen those weird cones on the 1967 map branded on my brain? The big dull grey cone on my right was covered by juniper, sagebrush...and shiny new upscale homes. Albertsons, Best Buy, Subway, Wal-Mart....I headed for a cluster of cones to the south. Suddenly Bend Oregon was gone, replaced by pine trees, pine forest, patches of snow, rough blocky aa lava flows, snow spitting, swirling against my windshield, yellow signs Chain Up Area, white snow racing past a vast, ritual mound of Falun red cinders, a road spiraling upward to the top, a logging truck hard on my heels...
CINDER CONE NATIONAL MONUMENT...CLOSED!!! said the sign.
It was time to turn and go home. Spring was hard on my heels.
What was the best part of your trip to the Caribbean in a floating sewage tank? Was it the monotonous frothy expanse of blue Caribbean water? The hint of chic
tango muzak in the formal dining room? The clean cut Filipino waiters? The tuna-watermelon sushi? No? Then was it the crossing of the Cayman Trench into
the Caribbean Plate? The stolen vision of Cuba before the blinders were put on our eyes? Not even those!
"The Mayan Ruins of Chacchoben!!!"
Like all of us, one of my greatest ambitions has been to verify stuff like Mayan Ruins as real, not just some colorized archaic hoax equivalent to the torso of an orangutang attached to a stuffed salmon. I would have preferred having a guidebook, brochure, or mimeograph to show what was actually going on! But here is what I know from memory:
Chachobben lies inland from the tourist port of Costa de Maya, which is Spanish for Lethal Margarita. To get there, you stroll down the concrete pier from your Cruise Ship, past the Tourist Bars and Shops, and board an airconditioned Tour Bus.
"Cinco minutas mas!" announces the guide, continuing on in Spanish. She is a tiny, dark young woman in nice pastel slacks. "Five more minutes! No puede comprender, gringos. You cant understand me! Here are some Spanish words you know though: MARGARITA!!! PINA COLADA!! ENCHILADA!!! Are you having fun? Si?"
Soon you are past the high wall of barbed wire and the big modern PeMex Station. You are on your way down the straight white concrete two lane into Mexico!
Low mangroves fly by the tinted window, their dark stilt roots curving like tuning forks along the white lime sand shoulder. I snap photos, but the roots are gone in a blur like notes of a song.
"Here is the Military Checkpoint," announces the guide. "I hope you all have your passports! Ha ha!!" We had been allowed into Mexico with no documents! It was a trap! "No, I am just joking. We are close to Belize here. Two soldiers sit beneath a shelter and wave lazily as we pass. As long as we are not from Belize, we are A-OK."
"What did Belize used to be?" my brother-in-law will ask at dinner.
"British Honduras," I will answer.
Sometimes there is grassland, sometimes hills and woods of palm. They all blur in my camera.
"Is it mangrove all the way?" I ask.
"No, only along the coast. Here, now it is rain forest."
Outside there are small slender trees, like Hawaii or New Zealand, and isolated stores and houses with thatched roofs. The buildings do not fatally blur and I begin to take pictures again. Mini Super "Imelda"....Abarrotes Terestita...Carnes Asades...Quaker State...what do all these bright signs mean? What is in the shops? The towns? Thatch and sheet metal roofs, sheep and goats littered like shopping bags, clotheslines and satellite dishes, palm trees and an old jeep wrangler. Let's turn down that dirt road THERE!!!
But we dont. We drive on past cattle in fields as open as Brazos County, to the ruins themselves, pyramids of toothlike limestone blocks and wedges...
"They were originally covered with stucco and painted the colors of Mayan corn," says our guide. Under that thatch roof there you can see some remains of the stucco."
...... foundations of royal homes, and remains of a market. There are conical hills in the periphery of the market. The land reminded me of the lawn-covered Caddo Mounds in Texas, but here there are thin trees growing over the mounds and limestone blocks.
"Mostly the sacrifices here were Blood Sacrifices to the Gods....from Royalty," explains the guidess.
"Huh!" I say to myself, grimacing.
"And here...this tree is the Gum Tree...Sapotilla," she continues, pointing at crisscrossed bark. "They would cut the bark like this! Do you know how we got chewing gum?"
"It's hot here, Ian," I say. "Imagine living somewhere where its this hot in March. It reminds me of Texas."
"Yes Mother," he laughs. "We HAVE lived somewhere that is this hot!!"
We climb tall steps into a complex of pyramids, built as layers. Each time the site was resettled, the Mayans would add on a new layer to suit current tastes.
"Here is a leaf. What do you think this tastes like?" The bite numbed my tongue. Cloves?
"Allspice!" answers a blond woman correctly. I bet she is from Michigan.
We gaze out onto the scrubby rainforest.
"See, here, this area of Mexico is all flat," the guide told us. "Should there be a hill here? No, but people thought it was, because it was all covered with trees and dirt. Finally they figured out the great ruins were here!"
I open the bottle of Coke Lite from the gift shop and begin to drink. It is no longer cold.
Grand Cayman: Fun for Kids
Do you wonder why Cuba...down there by Guantanamo...looks like it is cut off by a machete? It's because the suture between the North American Plate and the Caribbean Plate runs right along it as a transform fault, like the turning threshold of a two-part Stockholm bus, like hands motioning "lickety split." One moment you are in America smoking a cigar and listening to the Social Club, the next you are in the Caribbean wearing dreadlocks and listening to Jah. Between Jamaica and the Cayman Islands...where are they, by the way???...the fault turns into a spreading zone and forms the abyssal Cayman Trench. Hence Plate Tectonics explains the deep economic and cultural gap between the Caymans and Jamaica. No comprendes? Are you having fun?
If you are on a Cruise Liner, you will dock at Grand Cayman by a tour-size boat called a tender; the turquoise ocean is too shallow for the huge pleasure palaces to dock directly. Once you are there, it is only a few steps past the barbed wire into Georgetown, the tiny but powerful city that holds half the world's wealth in its gentle fists.
We locate our tour guide outside the Hardrock Cafe. My brother-in-law Roger has made reservations on the Internet.
"My boat's busted," he reports. He finds us another operator down the street.
We split up. Ian, Erin, and I climb upscale tropical steps and they buy smoothies. I buy a Coke Light at a newsstand.
"Where did you get that? How much did it cost?" asks Roger excitedly when we met again.
"A dollar and a half. You could pay that at a truckstop!"
Addiction!!! After thirty two years, here on Grand Cayman, I discover that Roger is a kindred soul.
We board an old and grafittied schoolbus and drive past Burger King and KFC, across the island to a place they call "Stingray City." I briefly mourn my earlier dreams of walking the trail north of the botanical garden. I know for a fact I'd rather do this, spend my day with plants on this sunny island, but I can come back alone. There is only this moment for me to snorkel with four children...Ian (who is slipping away so quickly in body if not mind), Erin, Avery, and Hallie...and stingrays.
"Ha ha!" begins the driver, a middle aged black man. "People ask me where I live and I say 'the other side of the island!' They developed tourism on this side because it was no good for anything else. You cannot grow crops here. Where I live there are 10 different kinds of tea in my yard...and fruits. You cannot starve on this island unless you refuse to get up out of bed! Hey!" he shouts out the window. "Seven miles to the beach. Can I give you a lift?"
We drive on past grand hotels, lush Donald Trump condos, chic cafes, and the snowy beach. I pick up my camera to capture a wood house, but it is gone almost before the dozers get it. We stop at a second beach surrounded by million dollar stucco homes.
"Hey, that one's for sale!" says someone. "Let's buy it! Ha ha!"
We board a small boat full of snorkel gear and set sail.
"Look!" I chortle. "Mangroves!!!" Their black stilt roots curve from the salt water like tuning forks, waves from the boat lapping against them like music. I raise my camera and squeeze the trigger.
We pass a catamaran and soon we are out on the sandbar. It is time for the children...and the adults as well...to walk with the stingrays....and hundreds of other tourists.
"This is the only place in the world you can swim with them naturally," echo the words of our driver. "Other places, like the Bahamas, they have been brought in. But they are here in Grand Cayman of their own free will."
"There are too many people here now. We cant find a place. We'll have to snorkel in the reef first," announces the captain.
Erin adjusts her mask and gazes at the choppy waves. She has one foot on ladder...
"I think I'll just chill out here on deck," says Ian.
"I feel really sick," says Avery.
"Mommy!" says Little Hallie, burying her impish face in Aunt Tammy's lap.
It is too deep. I dont want to get my face wet. The next stop maybe....
"You'll feel better if you lie down. Take deep breaths!" I tell Avery. His parents have escaped into the Caribbean.
I eye the snorkels...put one on NOW Judith!!! REEFS!!! I take a step...
"Time to get get going!" says the captain. Snorkelers drip back onto the boat and the motors churn.
"Agh!!!" says Avery.
"Over the side!" yells Aunt Tammy. She twists and drags, but his 12 year boy frame is too strong.
"NO!" he shakes his head. Soon there is strawberry smoothie all over the deck!
I snap a photo. Then Avery offers to recreate his despair and I snap another. The captain looks down and gasps!
"Smoothie!" Aunt Tammy tells him.
"That's OK, then. I thought it was blood!" he laughs.
They lay there still nauseous, Avery on the bench, and Wee Hallie on Ian's lap, while we anchor at the sandbar. I take a deep breath and slide down the aluminum ladder into the frigid tropical water. Hypothermia! The salt waves sting my eyes.
"Grab me a handful of sand!" I ask Erin. The grains are round and white, like salt with a little pepper. Suddenly a great grey floating leaf.moves past us low in the ocean, almost touching. It is a stingray!
The stop here is longer, because the crew is taking souvenir pictures with their big red plastic cameras and docile rays. Finally the captain says "Time to Go!" Everyone pulls themselves onto the deck except....
"Erin! Erin!" I say. I know she cannot hear me. She is far away and her head is under water.
Renaissance Plantation, Ft Lauderdale, March 2006: I stand in the elevator, waiting for it to move. A nicely-dressed woman inserts a room card into a slot
below the buttons.
"It keeps us SAFE," she shrugs.
"Huh!" I say, apathetic.
"I really LIKE it!" she says accusingly.
Where I live, here in The Dalles, we don't have elevators that do this.
The ruddy, bearded machinist stretched out his short but ample frame and sipped on a Jack Daniels and coke, his fourth for the beginning day of this very lucky trip. First Class! In his sometimes unlucky, sometimes amazing 54 years, this was the first time he'd flown First Class. He was lucky to get this Cruise Booking, too. Two weeks ago, tattered to the max, he'd stolled into Big Dipper Travel in Wasilla and said this:
"You know, I need a break. It's 20 below and I've been working 74 hours a week."
And she had said this:
"I understand, Greg. These winters do get tiresome. What you need is a Caribbean Cruise! I have just the one for you..." She rattled the papers on her desk. "The Carnival Liberty is sailing to...um...let's look...the Bahamas, Grand Cayman, and Costa Maya! I guarantee, you will have FUN!!! And they will even arrange airfare and put you up in a hotel overnite for one low price!!" Then she stared sarcastically out at the dirty grey Alaskan snow.
"Arent you going to have lunch?" the woman next to him asked. She and her children were going on the cruise too. It was her brother-in-law's idea, she told him.
"No...I didnt realize I'd get all this free food, so I already ate two breakfasts on the way from Seattle." He'd broke the trip to visit his brother on the slopes of Ranier, and somehow had neglected to sleep for two dayzzzz...."
He awoke with a start, his whiskey lonely on the tray. Alaska born and bred, and how he loved living there! In the winter, there was his big RAM truck and his snow machine. In the summer, there was his fur wheeler and his Harley...
"Sure!" he laughed at the woman from Oregon. "See my shirt!" Flames licked through the black cotton atmosphere, framing the two airbrush-printed Harley Davidsons. "Ever been on a cruise before?"
"Yeah...we went on the Aleutian Ferry last summer!" she explained.
"Ha ha! Aleutian Ferry! Cruise! Ha ha!!" he exclaimed, jabbing her in the arm with his pudgy yet muscular elbow. "Yeah, right! I worked out there once...as a carpenter out there on that last island over by Russia! Jesus! "
"We were up at Barrow the year before..." she added, nonplussed.
"I been up there...no...wait...Prudhoe Bay, that's where I was, building Man Huts. They gotta build everything up there in winter when the ground is frozen, thirty four dollars an hours and then half the time the weather is so bad you cant work!
"And Chena Hot Springs! You meet colorful people there."
"That IS a crazy place. My ex-wife and I were up there once and saw this guy coming out of the pool stark naked! I told her, just don't look, just don't worry about it."
He took a sip of his booze. "My son's takin' care of the house for me. He's got studs all over him, tattoos all the way up his arms, one on the back of his neck that says ALASKA. I said to him "'If you like Alaska so much why are you living in Florida?' See, he ran off when he was 17...someone saw him at the airport and told me. He went down to Florida and two years later he called me 'Dad I'm in trouble!! Help!' Well, I knew where he was..."
"How?" asked the woman.
"I hired a private investigator. It turned out he was on cocaine. I got him into a program and he's been OK now for 2 years. But he says 'Dad, how's come you don't have any tattoos?' And I said "'See my hair...' usually it's way longer, down to here, but I cut it because I thought it would be too hot on the Caribbean...'I can cut my hair anytime, shave my beard...' though I wouldnt, 'but once you got a tattoo you can never get it off!'"
I walk into the Grand Cabinet Bar, checking out the margarita deals. Two days earlier, I'd attended the Captain's Gala Welcome and washed down 2 complimentary white wines and one martini at full tilt. The rest are just fantasy. I'd go down to the Piano Bar and say in my head:
"I'll have a cosmo,"
And then I'd snap a photo and leave. When it came down to it, none of the drinks on the boat had any soul.
I walk in and there's Greg from Wasilla, sitting on a bench, holding a bourbon and soda in his plump fist.
"How are you doing?" I ask.
"Great!!" he says. "I been sunning myself, met a lot of people from places like Michigan!"
"You look red." I comment.
"And guess what! I won $1700 in the casino, playin' the slots!"
"How much did you invest to get that?"
"Fifty dollars! That'll pay for my trip!!!"
What a lucky boy!!!
Say! What event of the preceeding week IMPACTED you the most?
Thursday, April 6th: WHAM!!! I'd gotten out of my little yellow Aveo to get a soda at the Hood River Shell Station and had looked around at the hatch for no good reason, turned my head and WHAM!!! The 4X4 of structural steel that lolled in the bed of the parked blue Toyota pickup had had a red flag tied on the end, but that had not done me any good in the face of IMPACT. All I felt was the crunch of cold iron against titanium frames and calcium skull bones....only on the rebound did the red metal loom before me, my brain vibrating green in the Cascadian spring gloom.
"That's the height I always bump my head!" my husband would tell me.
"I have a lot of trouble with that!" my son would echo.
"Drat!" I said. I was so stupid. I reached up to tough my ringing head and blood poured down my fingers. My glasses hung funny and my skull was no doubt fractured. I bolted for the ladies room.
"UHHHHHHH!!!" gasped a clerk who was unloading a flat of Bud Light into the cooler.
"Ran into piece of iron," I explained pragmatically.
I opened the door and took off my glasses. The left nosepiece was missing. There was a jagged cut in my nose where the crosspiece had been, and another between my eyebrows, where the ingot itself had hit. I held a wet paper towel against the angry wounds, and then a dry piece of toilet paper. I noticed the toilet was plugged up by paper and perilously close to exploding. I tossed the bloody paper in without thinking.
Monday, April 10th: They clustered on the four corners by TacoTime, by Albertsons and Fred Meyer, by the car wash. They were mostly young people. Some held signs others Mexican flags. I was headed to Albertsons but later I would return with a camera, and stand in front of Taco Time. Jesus Perez from Ian's soccer team stood in front of me, wearing his maroon letter jacket.
"They said if you went to the demonstration you would get an unexcused absence!" my son had told me.
I raised my camera, and two teenagers turned around. "Hey, she's taking a picture!" They posed, the Spanish boy with a red and green Mexican flag, the Anglo girl with a sign that said "Illegal Workers Do Jobs That No One Else Will." I took one photo, narrowly missing Jesus' informative fleece.
Later, I drove past with Erin, who had stayed home from school.
A sign said, "Honk if you care!" I honked. Who could resist?
"There's Melissa!" she pointed and waved, eliciting a huge roar from the demonstrators. "Everyone is there! And I'm sick!"
"Hmmm...." I opined.
"Our social studies teacher said we'd get extra credit if we went....and wrote a paper about it!"
Soon Mr Hoar will be deluged with half-cocked essays!!!
"Class!" began Peter, Danish author and underpaid instructor of 'The European Historical Novel.' "What did you think of 'Silk'? Who absolutely hated it? Who absolutely loved it? Who didnt even read it?"
"Silk" is a novella sparsely written by the Italian author Alessandro Belloni...is that right? I need to know this for my midterm. It is about a silkworm buyer in 19th century France who illicitly travels for months to Japan to purchase the little buggers.
He falls in love with a woman whose claim to existence is as diaphanous as a filmy drape of silk.
He goes to Japan four times.
There are many layers to the story.
"Look what my grandson drew in my book!" said the senior audit next to me.
"My 2 year old ripped mine apart!" said the man behind us.
"I went to the bookstore and there werent any left!" said the fiction major next to me, against the wall.
"That's no excuse!" said Peter. "You will have to make arrangements with another student!"
I sprang to action.
"You can borrow mine! And while you're at it...make a lot of notes in the margin!"
That way I would not spend Wednesday looking for more layers. My book would be in the hands of a professional.
"There is no one answer. Often the author does not even have a theme when he or she is writing. It is instead what you the reader wants to find in the book." The discussion rides on, the hooves of dark unknown horses pounding into my skull. Michael Cummings, head of the PSU geology department had told us:
"You do not have to be right in Science. What is right today will change with time, just as the landscape." But I could grope in my pocket of experience to find a shining star. Here, I could only listen and see a rainbow of answers I never knew existed, caves and tunnels drilled into a new planet.
"Herve...our main character is an observer of life, things happen to him but he does not really participate..."
"Devoid of passion," says an undergraduate Writer. "There's not a lot of passion in this book."
"But there is sensuality..." adds another. Simmering beneath the surface! I say beneath my breath.
"No...there is plenty of passion..." says a third.
"What's the difference between passion and sensuality?" asks Peter, beginning to panic. Oops! His mental English-Danish dictionary has failed him! That's why Portland State pays upcoming foreign authors minimum wage!
"Uh..." says a brilliant but oblivious history major. "Passion is active and sensuality is passive."
I think of radio and how there is nothing in my life I like doing more.
I think about how I order sets.
I think of the sensuality of traditional music.
I think of the passion of folk-rock fusion.
I doubt if it is so clear cut.
I wonder if anyone else in the room is thinking about music.
"How many of you consider yourselves aspiring writers?" asked Peter, up and coming Danish author and teacher of "The European Historical Novel."
About half the people in the class raised their hands. That's a lot of writers...ten maybe!!! I bet the history majors didnt, and maybe a couple of people who just like to read. And me. That's because I am an unaspiring writer. After writing a three hundred page geology dissertation and listening to a whole bunch of free CDs ten times so I could write reviews, I figure I must have paid some kind of dues. Ha ha...I was making a joke, but listen: We are all writers if we write. We are all singers if we sing. We are all dancers if we dance. But a MS in geology from the University of Montana doesnt guarantee a thing, does it, Don?!!!
Have you ever considered a different ending to one of your journal entries, one of your reviews, one of your love letters? I had intended to write a different ending to my last story, but this is what happened.
"What is it this evening?" asked Gary the bartender at the F.O.E. Eagles Aerie.
"Well, ya know Gary," I answered, "I was looking in my mothers 1944 "Joy Of Cooking" and found this...a STINGER!!!" Old drinks are like heritage tomatoes!
"Whoa! Just like the Old Days! Brandy and white creme de menthe! But look, the brandy is too sweet. It's been superceded by Vodka."
He picked up the one martini glass then put it back. "On the rocks...it says here $4.75 but that's silly. Three dollars." Almost all the cocktails are $3 at the Eagles.
Almost no one was there. One of the last couples approached up to the bar.
"Going to the meeting in Hermiston, Bill?" asked Gary.
"Uh...no...yeah," said the man and veered towards the OVER 21 pool tables.
"There's a directive to make the Eagles in Oregon smoke-free," Gary explained. "But look at how many of the people in this room are smoking! They say, though, we will get more Eagles that way. Have you ever smoked?"
"About four months when I was in college. Then I got bored."
"I used to smoke a pipe for a couple years," he countered.
"This tastes like mouth wash!" I commented.
"It's an after dinner drink," he explained.
A guy with a long white beard came up to the bar to collect his Keno winnings.
There was a lot of alcohol in that Stinger. In my opinion, Gary the Bartender, Golf Shark, and former Portland Bar Owner saw the "TOP OF THE LISTENING PYRAMID" sign on my head and made sure I was immobilized. Bartenders listen to a lot of stuff, and then they have to spew it back out, like a college student who's had 15 beers. I wont go into the details, except to say I dont mind. That's how I learn stuff.
A guy with a blurry face came by to redeem his Keno winnings.
An hour later, after convincing me that Adlai Stevenson was our most intelligent presidential candidate, Gary asked,
"Need anything else? Ha ha...except maybe a crutch!"
On the way home (safely on foot as always!), I started thinking about music, about how finally I realized that sensuality and passion were my balancing factors. Then I sat down to write at my Dell...my head clearing or so I thought.
"You have absolutely no tolerance for liquor," Gary had opined. "But that's good for your liver."
This is the ending I had meant to write:
"I am wondering about these porpoises!" interjected a creative writing grad student. We were discussing our livre de semaine "Silk." "Did you know that porpoises are the only animal besides humans that have sex just for fun?"
"I am thinking about how Helene...how his wife died after he brought back a bunch of dead silk larvae," said a guy in the back.
Yep...everything was running smoothly, twenty sharp people pondering their own personal Sudoku puzzles.
SUDDENLY!! Billy...you may remember him from the post-bowling bar scene in "Scandinavian Lit and WWII." He was the guy who was drinking (UGH!!!) PBRs....said accusingly:
"Are you a member of this class?"
The poor undergraduate English major was stunned. "Uh...I came in a day late." Everyone stared at Billy. I just smiled and shrugged. I'd had a happy hour cosmo with him at Paccini's during break. He seemed very enigmatic. How exactly was my lime-laden cosmo more demonic than three PBRs?
Billy picked up his books and stormed out of the room, his red hair flashing. "Alright! Go ahead and laugh at me!" Everyone was perplexed!
"I'm having a talk with him!" said Peter. Two bulls in a china closet! "He doesnt belong in this class. He did volatile things like this in the last class, but not this extreme!" What he'd done was laugh at the ironic death of Peter's uncle during World War II as if it were film noir, always a bad move. Peter had told us about his young uncle's death while we were waiting to view the film "Hamsun," starring Max Von Sydow.
"I had the same thing happen to me, I had a man over for an exquisite Japanese dinner and he acted terribly rude!! No manners at all!!!," said an Oriental Senior Audit...or was she a professor? Of all the students, she had the most erudite interpretations!
The former English teacher said, "You cant have a student in the class like this. It interrupts the flow of the discussion."
Rachel, a brilliant young English major countered, "But everyone is different, everyone is unique. That is sacred. You cant exclude him because he is different."
Now it is spring, April in the Columbia River Gorge! The algae green hillsides are covered in Lithophragma parvifolium, Balsamorhiza deltoidea, and Ranunculus occidentalis!!! Up and up we climb, in converse fashion, first through spring-fed Douglas Fir and Vine Maple, into Ponderosa, into stands of crusty, dormant, lichen-covered White Oaks as ghostly as Buchenwald, as scary as Romania.
"I dont know about this!" someone whines. "It sort of spoils the beauty of the landscape, putting a name onto all these plants!" Someone else answers, "Yes, but it doesnt hurt to know more!"
"There's a redtail!" someone points. "And there's another hawk!" someone answers.
"What was that? Oregon Grape? I always wondered what it was!" a fifth exclaims.
Yep! It's the Portland Audubon Society Flower Trip! And indeed, my first.
You can look out here, down to sandy Memaloose Island, locally know as "The Grave," upriver over the white blooming cherry trees of the Mosier Valley and on to the bridge at Hood River. You can see Mount Hood to the South.
"Look...Mount Hood!" a young woman says.
"Like a sharks tooth on the horizon!" I comment. Like the snowy hood of a Klansman.
"It seems so small," she replies. But this is as big as the old volcano gets right here.
I have driven the asphalt below fifty times. I should know these roads like the blue worm veins on the back of my hands that bulge in the noon heat...but I dont. It's too tall here, like the eyes of a redtail. We've climbed on, past the haunted Carpathian Oak Forest, into meadows and alpaca pastures, up a tall hill where jagged basalt has fallen like hailstones and the big yellow balsam root are as thick as coarse stars in a galaxy of algae. It is time for lunch! A boy...tiny for his penetrating eyes..tells me:
"I found some broomrape! Would you like to see?"
"Great!" I answer. "By the time I saw the example, everyone was commenting on spikes of grass!" I kneel down and look at the two tiny blue flowers. Broom rape has no green parts!
"Broomrape is an EVIL plant," I will tell someone later. My bet is that she's a retired psychologist. "It is a parasite!"
She will chuckle, her fleece flapping as she walks. "There are no EVIL plants. That is the way of Nature."
Even later, along the county road, someone will find a carcass of a good-size mammal and place a discarded quart bottle of a blue-labeled brew beside it.
Our leader will add, "So that's what happened to the hiker I lost track of last year!"
I will snap a photo.
"I'm also looking for a large flowered clover to take a picture of," I tell the wiry boy. Deep down, I know that with my camera, a closeup will just blur like a moment of truth.
"My name is Steven," he says. "I'm in seventh grade. I've been interested in plants now for two years. At first I thought the talk was boring, but I've changed my mind."
I think of Erin, my own daughter in seventh grade, twice his size, half Amazon and half Fairy, beating off adulthood successfully yet in vain, with a steel fist.
"Over there!" someone will exclaim as we descend again into woodland. "Deer!!!!" Four of them race by as fast as a northwestern river in spring, so quick your finger can not hold them in view.
Word is out at the Murdock Mini-mart!
"Someone in the Klickitat Sheriff's Department won a million dollars on a $20 scratch ticket!" relates the clerk.
"He's a deputy, a rookie. Used to be with the Department of Corrections!" expands a customer.
"I know him from bowling!" claims another customer.
"He's my friend too!!!...or at least I'd like him to be," retorts the first.
Out by the pumps, two semis have pulled in off Washington Higway 14. The drivers spring from their cabs and set their lunches on the picnic table before they
laugh and walk inside for a coke. Soon they will sit and talk and stare into the blue sky and the now browning spring green of the Klickitat Hills.
Across the road, a herd of domestic ostriches mill around and crane their necks. What could they be observing?
Portland, May Day, 2006
At quarter to three, Broadway is a churning river, white enough to tempt a seasoned rafter, brown enough to carry Mexican flags and signs that say Si Se Puede. It flows uphill from downtown, four lanes wide. You cannot see the beginning: it stretches through the tunnel of buildings the horizon with its Mexican flags and its American flags and its signs that read God Bless America. Yellow shirted policemen on bicycles guard the parade. I weave through as a thread of indifference in a Guatemalan tapestry, a drone string on a native fiddle, and emerge on the other side. I can see the leading end in the South Park Squares
I hear the words of my friend Bill, who has spent so many months as a Peace Observer in Bosnia. He is sitting at the lunch table of a Quaker real estate agent in Hood River, chili and cheese and crackers on the table. He says:
"But let me tell you this...in Eastern Europe there are millions of people who are waiting. Changing the rules would open the floodgates!"
I think of my husband's words. He says:
"My friend Amiya, from Bangladesh...it always bothered him because he had worked so hard to do things the right way.
I dont know the answer. I scan the remodeling job in the student union and I think:
"Let them switch places. Let them come in from Mexico and live in the bitter grey of Minnesota winters, in the gritty horror of Michigan slaughterhouses."
No easy matter! I hear my friend Beverly, one of Portland's many Senior Audits at the university. She says:
"My parents came from Finland. They could never make a go of it in Menagha. They could never raise enough from the land to keep going. So my father was offered a job as a sandblaster in Los Angeles...that was in 1953...and he went, and then in a couple years we moved to San Francisco."
I laugh to myself...Let them come here from Mexico and work like dogs in cherry orchards, and let their children move on to rise to riches at Albertsons and Bank of America! Let us move to Cancun and Cozumel, to bask in the tropical sun and clean rooms for European Tourists!
"This blanket is from Bayfield," says my father, dead for 20 years. I can hold it in my hand if I go home, blue and white wool yellowed by 90 years. If I go home
I can take out the photo album and watch his faded brothers playing in summer sand on the other side of Lake Huron. If they open the floodgates, will we pour
inside? Or will we persist in our own land like an iron fist?
At quarter after four, the river is a lake on the Park Squares; a woman speaks about workers rights, about the immorality of allowing high tech workers like Amiya to enter preferentially. A man translates into Spanish. I walk inside Paccini's, where it is Happy Hour. I order a plate of tomato basil mussels and a cosmopolitan, take out my computer and begin to write in English.
March 2006: Imagine yourselves, now, south of the transform fault...in the Caribbean, on a cruise ship! What's the best part?
Yep! Formal dining!
Walk right in now, into the restaurant of your dreams, the Platinum Coliseum!! Designed by some unnamed designer famous for Las Vegas Show Palaces currently featuring Wayne Newton and Barry Manilow and women with only a splatter of glitter on their chests, the PC decor is a stunning mix of Bordello Ornate and Burger King Molded Plastic! Whoa! A continent away from Northwestern Salmonesque Post Chic! How refreshing! The red velvet brocade wallpaper contrasts so beautifully with the silver painted fiberglass trim and the great collection of silver spoons and spatulas in lit glass cases.
Maybe you think I'm joking! But consider how many people voted for George in the last election!!!!
There are all sorts of tables, some small, some large...but many of them are large, because it is an American tradition that whole families from North Carolina and Michigan join together on these cruises because no one has to wash dishes or deal with those fake avant garde foreign flicks! No, sorry, I'm going overboard.
The reason that the formal dinners are great is that they replicate the days of ocean liners. My own mother sailed on the SS Matsonia on the way to Honolulu to visit Cousin Virginia in 1947, and I have always been envious.
We ate formal dinner every night at a big round table, Ian, Erin and I along with my brother-in-law's family consisiting of two adults and 2 kids. And my brother-in-law's father-in-law, an Florida retiree in his late 70s. Harvey spent most of his time on the cruise playing the slots and running up a bar tab, so it was a joy to see him there perky in his plaid sport shirt and ivory dinner jacket! The best nights were the formal dinners, when I could dip into my wardrobe bought last year at the TDWHS Cheerleaders Rummage Sale. Everyone looked so beautiful! It was as if Red Hat had expanded into the whole universe!
Our waiter's name was Ronald and he was either from Mexico or somewhere else in the former Spanish empire. Our underwaiter was Dmitri, and he was from Ukraine. They both wore waiter tuxes and the first thing Ronald would say each evening was:
"Little Miss Hallie! What will you have tonight? Chicken nuggets? Grilled Cheese? Hot dog?"
Amongst us all, Little Hallie, presently a glowing electrical wire, was probably the least interested in food. But how her parents would beam at her!
The rest of us, having passed the age of eleven, were given less attention but more menu choices. We soon learned that we could have a soup...often a strange concoction like creme of mango...an appetizer, for instance escargo (look at that S-Car go!), salad, a main dish...always a vegetarian, a fish, and a shellfish choice...and one night lobster!!!
"I'm sorry, I can taste BACON in this shrimp dish!" said my brother in-law's wife, sighing depressively. I was no longer the family's pesco-vegetarian prima-donna.
"Oh, I am so sorry, madame!" answered Ronald. "I'll take it back, would you like plain pasta instead!"
"They do that all the time in the Columbia Gorge," I told her confidentially. "I remember throwing up after McMennemins did that!"
As dinner wound down..."I'll have the sugar-free cheese cake," I'd order, wondering if there was gelatin in it...the head waiters would put on a show. Each night, one particular head waiter would sing music from his own third world country. The selections even included contemporary folk from Romania. Once, there was a wild number where the waiters danced on the tables!!!
One evening sticks out in my mind.
"Ian! Can I have a taste of that creme brulee avec blueberries?" asked Uncle Roger. He added "It's OK, we are of one blood!" Ian laughed. It was so seldom we were amongst our own blood. For this one rare set of moments, we were like the family from Pennsylvania at the next table, where the young girls wore make-up and low cut dresses and looked like harlots and the pretty blonde daughter with Downs Syndrome laughed so much, her wonder and excitement with this one special vacation running unchecked.
Then, the waiters struck up a Latin blues rhythm disco. It was time for special diners to stand in a line and dance! Uncle Roger popped up at once. He called out:
"Ian! Let's show them!" And then the two boys, dressed in their black tuxedo pants and ties, the tallest and craziest amongst us, amongst all the relatives, began to do just that!
Another night, the song was romantic. Suddenly, Uncle Roger and Aunt Tammy took hands and moved into the space between tables. They began to dance...maybe a fox trot, maybe a two step. The second wife, the second husband, two Illinois math professors in paradise! The light of love in their steps and in their eyes shot through the room like a comet. It was not my place, not my time to join in any of this. I could only sit and smile into my dessert!
Assignment: Consider the book "Prince" by Ib Michael. Did Santos (Monsieur Charles) actually go to the post office? Write in the same style as Ib.
Somewhere on the southwest coast of Sweden, the great and wise Winged Moose Balður is foraging for tasty leaves. As he skirts the edge of land and sea, his hoof dislodges a block of earth no bigger than a live box and it begins to slip by backwards rotation, quartz against water, quartz against feldspar like so many shooting stars against each other, grain against grain, block against block, nebulae against nebulae. Until they tumble into the northern sea as a tremendous, boiling, summer cold mass, the biggest landslide of the year. They push against each other, jolting and parting the living water like a herd of angry cows in tall prairie, setting up a boiling green curve of a wave that will travel unfettered all the way to the Danish shore, where it will hit like a comet.
Monsieur Charles hardly notices the post office as he walks by. His clothing is layered on his body like an onion bulb; his bags lay in his room, stuffed hastily with decaying remnants of last week's news. One step and another, one by one memories of the past weeks are tossed like excess ballast, like grains of quartz, into the endless blue ocean of time. The town fades like a discarded anchor as it sinks behind him. Another rises before him like a bobber in the waves. The walk, pleasant at a slower pace, has made him hot and tired and hungry. Rising before him is the Renowned Cafe de Rolfsen, a favorite jaunt of Mrs. Swan's guests.
The maitre d' seats Monsieur Charles with the utmost respect. A seaview table with white linen and three sun yellow roses set in a silver vase. Outside, seagulls glide and dive like the boy's white summer kites. Fishing boats bob at the horizon like bottles stuffed with messages and toy schooners.
"Je voudrais d'avoir votre vin blanc de maison, et puis poisson avec pommes de terre au jus, s'il vous plait, et enfin une pot au feu," he orders in his best French. When the francophone waiter is gone, Charles' hand fumbles at the salt shakers, turning them over with seeming boredom. Silverplate, but an pleasant design and in good enough, no, excellent condition. One, then both disappear between the moist layers of clothing. The oyster cocktail dish is emptied, and the tiny fork becomes a trident in the deeps of his pants pocket. Sugar bowl, coffee spoon, butter knife, and fish fork are gobbled up, along with the generous tip left by Miss Helge Olsen after celebrating her birthday with Aunt Jette. A Hummel figurine of Pan and a small but exquisite Norwegian painting titled "Evening Sheep on Olafsfjall" are dispatched beneath his linen upper shirt.
Stuffed with food and loot, Monsieur Charles glances at a waiter, stares at a codfish bone, takes a deep breath, and then jams several handfuls of torsk and fragile sharp bone into his
"AGHAAAAA!!!" He draws oxygen and congealed fish into his throat. Arms flail crashing across the table, reducing the remaining tableware to a confusing, soggy heap of china shards, stained fabric, bruised rose petals, and marine exoskeletons. Waiters and guests look on in horror as he falls to the floor, his body rolling about like a barrel of salted herring. Just as suddenly and violently, he coughs. Chunks of white fish and delicate bones lay spewn on the floor like cottonwood seeds on a rainy day.
"Air! Air!" I must have air!" Monsieur Charles and his new baggage dash out onto the streets of the village. Guests and waiters look on in horror.
Just outside of town, Santos trails an ancient wagon loaded with hay, moving at a snails pace. Horse and driver are almost asleep, but they know the path well. Clanking like Davy Jones in chains, he climbs clumsily onto the back and covers himself with hay that smells of salt marsh. Two hours later, the wagon ends its journey by an ancient farmhouse backed by the sea's erosive force. Santos, groggy and lightly stunned, disembarks and follows on foot the course of seabirds and beachline south towards Copenhagen.
Passengers on the Göteborg ferry are the first to feel the wave, algae colored and sparkling with tiny photons of sunlight. Glasses of beer and scotch slide gently along the polished teak surface of the Mariner's Rest bar but the loss of equilibrium is of little consequence to the drinkers. Sightseers grip the outside railing to steady themselves. The base of the wave hits the ocean bottom on the east coast of Denmark and its energy increases dramatically. When it hits shore, Santos is chuckling and watching his feet, pondering his ability to sell his excess weight at a good price. A split second later, the silvery photons are shooting through his pupils, a fishers hornpipe behind corneas, a lucky pebble of obsidian, a black hole sucking everything back from its wake. The taste of green salt water, of discarded anchors and decaying fish stinging in his nose. Another force is dragging him, pulling him back by the armpits, onto the beach where the pepper sand is still draining towards Sweden. Looming over him is a leathery walrus, flaps of skin drooping down onto his face like warm candle wax, tusks like white ivory swords. He looks again. The walrus is an old woman leading a pony, her face like a sand castle disappearing into the retreating wave, like brown paper crumpled into a suitcase. She is wearing a pale sealskin anorak and she is grinning, the white of her peppery hair blowing with the dry wind into her toothless mouth. The black hole pulls him in again, into an ocean of darkness and he begins to dream. She is standing over him, an old woman who is grinning with knife slash eyes. There are flowers in her hair and on her dress and a winged llama is smiling beside her with its neck as high as the trees. They are foraging for food by the ocean. The llama's foot slips.
"Take me in your arms," she pleads. He does so, and she fades into a snake, a toad, into a young woman with moth wings of amber lace and the scent of butter.
The stars in Monsieur Charles' eyes spiral upward and away, towards the heavens, pulling with them the winged llama and its mistress. His forks and spoons and artwork are strewn over the strand like bleached driftwood, like the carcasses of drowned fish. He looks up at the heavens, at a chestnut brown horse, at a man with a coat the color of an evening sky and buttons like stars made of bright Inca gold. He is laughing and shaking his head.
"Eh? And wot 'ave we 'ere now?" inquires Officer Ibsen.
Portland, my dark boatman, ever beckoning me back!
"Hey! You seen William tonite?" greets the young woman with a backpack. Burnside Wednesday night, across from Powell's City of Books, and she's turned to talk to a few friends settled down for the night, sleepingbags stretched out in a concrete loading dock...... And how different the dark night here in the woods...You never see them like this, they hide in the shadows of the firs and hemlocks to sleep.
We've turned again, away from Portland, like happy salmons returning to their stream to spawn...or in our case, to sleep. The red and blue lights of the Washougal Chevron disappear behind us, the KPSU AM signal fades, and now there is only darkness and sharp black curves along Washington 14. Ian switches the channel to OPB...one month ago it would have been Golden Oldies. Then he picks up his book, "Thoroughbred 16: Jumping For Gold" and begins to read.
"What do you suppose is the reading level on that book?" I ask. "Sixth grade? Fifth?" The lights of the traffic on I84, across the black velvet band of river, shine as tiny eyes on our right hand side.
"Yeah, ha, maybe!" answers Ian.
"But, ha, you were reading at a fifth grade level when you started school...." He could as well be five years old, right this second.
Celtic on the radio, Susan McKeown and June Tabor. The miles began to fly, the narrow highway dragging backwards into time, my soul boiling with Ireland Scotland Britain and Wales, you could hear those ancient voices calling...calling....
Behind us, the red and blue lights sparkled larger and larger, flashed like the signs shorting out at the Washougal Chevron. Time snapped back like a malicious band of elastic. The trooper motioned Ian to roll his window down.
"Where are you going so fast?" he asked.
"Uh..." I answered. "I didnt know I was."
"I clocked you at 65...up to 67...then back down to 63. I thought you would slow down when you saw me. You didnt see me make that U-Turn?"
I shook my head and said, "No...."
"You just saw some lights come up behind you and had no idea what was going on?"
"Yeah..." I answered, perplexed.
He took my Oregon license, wrote down the number, and handed it back.
"Slow down, and you'll get there safely," he smiled.
"Was that the Washington Patrol or the Skamania County Sheriff?" I asked Ian.
"Dunno," he answered, looking up briefly.
&&&&&"I feel like the die has been cast now," said Ian
In a few days, a check will clear at Wells Fargo, made out to American Field Service. A letter will arrive and it will begin:
Soon now, my second child will slide through my fingers like grains of sand, will blow like sawdust from Mill A....and Mother Finland will catch him in her arms.
But now I will hang out the wash and drive to Portland.
I hit upon the idea of walking from downtown Anchorage to the airport, a distance of 4.43 miles, when I saw the "Tony Knowles Coastal Trail" on the "Free Tourist Map."
The woman from Oregon gazed at the blue Northstar sky and smiled. This was the morning when she would commit an act so socially taboo, so weird, that no Native Alaskan would dare consider it. Well, maybe in Barrow, with its tiny crisscross of gravel streets and Chinese restaurants, but those people up there were subsistence hunters with an alcohol ration. They could walk just about anywhere they could drive. But not here, or in any real city that had an airport!
She had flung the black bag over her shoulder. The little green KMart suitcase trailed behind her, limiting her pace with its instability. "Wubble Wubble! CLUNK!" Too fast and it would begin to oscillate and topple like Tacoma Narrows Bridge! How crazed she must look in her pink parka , hawaiian shirt and fiery white hair! On her right, downtown Anchorage retreated like little colored pixels; in the harbour, the containerized cargo could be bright legos across the grey mudflats of the low tide of Turnagin Arm. On her left, alders and willows were beginning to bud out, little green flames at the end of twigs. Bicyclists, runners, and strollers passed her...there were so many of them this beautiful May morning. Some sweaty ones wore shorts and tank tops. Some friendly ones would say "Excuse me" or "Hi!"
"Walking to the airport? Ha ha...good luck!!!" a man said, shaking his head.
One mile, two miles....she stopped to photograph the soggy shoreline and the snow-striped mountains...and even signs depicting the distance of Jupiter and Saturn from the Sun downtown! At "Earthquake Park," a sign said:
"Turnagin Heights Slide. This was the biggest landslide in Anchorage during the Alaska Earthquake!" Once people lived here in beautiful homes, but now the area was covered in wooded slump blocks, by grey-brown alder and spruce-covered terraces and sliverlike ponds, due to the liquification of the Bootlegger Cove Clay. She turned to look at a map.
"Lost? Need some help?" asked a swank, handsome man with white hair and a nifty ten speed. He shook his head.
"Sure!" she answered. "Which exit do I take?"
"If you go to the next one, you can go south...you know the road by UPS and the Post Office. But...um...do you need a ride? Are you late?"
Sure she did...SIGH!!! "No, no thanks!" she told him. She had hours left, hours to be outside in Alaska, not inside an airport!
She walked on the asphalt of the lefthand lane, down Northern Lights Boulevard, dodging traffic. She turned left on Postmark, where she could drag her suitcase along the paved shoulder.
"DO YOU NEED A RIDE!!!" shouted a black woman with cornrows. She was driving a pale yellow Cadillac.
A ride? Come on, I'm an OREGONIAN! I walked twice this far straight up on the last Audubon Society wildflower trip, dragging my lunch and all nine volumes of "Flora of the Cascades." I walk half this far everytime I go to the Eagles, just to avoid a DUI. I climb 8 flights of concrete steps every time I park in Portland! "No thanks!" she smiled. "I need the exercise!"
The woman shook her head. "Well, godbless you, then, and Happy Mothers Day!"
A silver Yukon did a U-Turn in the road.
"DO YOU NEED A RIDE!!!" shouted a white woman with frosted ends.
All the unpaid debts of hitchhikers seemed to gather around her now. The woman from Oregon was reminded of the Aleutian Ferry and Cold Bay, where she hadnt even had to walk, for the local women offering her rides. She remembered the kindness of Alaskans.
"No thanks! I need the exercise!" she answered. She walked on and on. She could see hangers in the distance. She could see the belly of the huge Fed Ex plane, the Northwest Air Cargo flight. The road narrowed and curved.
"DO YOU NEED A RIDE!!!" shouted a man in a Ford Explorer, fuming. "Look, I drove past here, went up to the terminal, and now I'm back here and you're STILL WALKING!!!" He shook his head impatiently. She considered how she was trapped in the timeless paradox, wearing the unwanted gift, eating the unwanted dinner.
"It's not too bad, but I wish they had a shoulder," she answered. "Say...is that the terminal up there?"
"Depends on what airline you're flying," the man said.
"Alaska," she replied.
She took out her camera and began moving at a snails pace, taking pictures of small float planes parked just over the fence. Then, suddenly, she dashed across the road, and up the approach to the baggage claim. She opened the door, sat down, and took her shoes off.
"Forget the terraces, where do we drill?"
How many terranes can you fit onto the head of a pin? Into a National Park? We ride through the chill Alaskan spring in an air-conditioned tour bus, along the Parks Highway. We are all geologists one way or another, and we are here to see the terranes of Denali before the tourists come, in May when the highway is almost a ghost town. Outside, the grey spring trees and strip malls of Anchorage become the grey spring trees of Wasilla. We pick up the last of our cargo here, a tall, white-haired man with a suave European accent and piercing eyes. As I will learn later, Ted was born in Germany and is retired from Schlumberger. He is living here in Wasilla to be near his daughter and grandchildren.
"I'll give you a little of my background!" says our leader. "I am the park service geologist."
"I'll give you a little bit of my background," says our bus driver. "I was born on Kodiak, and started out in construction, but then the bottom fell out of the oil market in the '80s and I started driving tour buses." Bud is no slacker! He's been chosen to drive on this trip because he and his little bus have driven hundreds, maybe thousands, of British Petroleum trainees around. He knows how to talk to geoscientists...and anyone else for that matter...nonstop for hours on end. "I was in Kodiak during the Big Earthquake! We were sitting down at the dinner table and the house began to shake....everyone ran outside, but it was shaking so hard they couldnt stand up. You could see the ground ripple....."
Outside, over the miles, spring returns to winter, cold white covers the ground between the bony spruces...at first like swiss cheese, then like thick icing. Mountains rise white as...white as Mount Hood, I guess. The greatest among them is McKinley.
"What are those long stakes for at the side of the road?" asks someone. "Does it get that deep?"
"No..." replies the park service geologist. "We dont have that much trouble with the snow here. It's the wind."
I keep one eye out the window and one on my guidebook. Much of the time though, I rest my inner eye on my literature assignment, a Norwegian novel called "Tales of Protection." Like all my magical realism assigments, it begins with a corpse...in this case belonging to an aging, eccentric geologist! His spirit hovers above his coffin like a ship as he contemplates seriality and coincidence, fate vs. causality and begins to tell stories. It is something everyone on this bus has had experience with, in no less eloquent ways.
There are six terranes here, give or take a few, and so our magic bus carries us not only through time but through geographic origin...a Yukon-Tanana schist here, a Quaternary moraine there, a recently moved Denali fault more recently read about in Alaska Magazine at the Eagles. We barely stop, TV time for geologists, there is so much ground to cover and so little to bang on and it's illegal anyway! By good fortune, most of us are here to talk about our work and to see Alaska.
"What's that over there!" someone says.
"Caribou...it looks like!"
"Moose in the road!"
"Sheep up there!"
Out my window, a mallard lifts off a little bog pond before I can snap it...I catch it only in flight.
At last we pull in to Healy, where tomorrow we will tour the Usibelli Open Pit SubBituminous Coal Mine.
"We might as well eat now, before we check in at the motel," says the park geologist, hungily eyeing the log-covered Moose Antler Inn.
"Gasp!" exclaims the hostess as we walk in. She collects herself. "We're used to tour buses," she corrects. "In the summer."
At the head of the line, two guys from Nevada turn and one tells us, "They say you have to sit in THAT room if you want to have a beer with your dinner."
"You have to sit in the smoking room to drink? Not me!" the other snarls, shaking his head and retreating smack dab into the rest of us!! Almost of the geologists feel the same way, how odd, a group so passionate about beer, yet so fiercy disgusted by smoke! But Ted hesitates.
"They smoke all the time in Germany," he says. "If I were back in Germany, I would smoke."
"I'll sit in there if you will," I say. I am used to the Eagles.
Connie, the petroleum geologist from Bakersfield, hesitates as well. "I have asthma."
We are alone in the room.
"You'll have to go into the bar and order the beer yourself," the waitress informs us as she distributes menus. So we do. There is a pool table, a whole BUNCH of active smoke, and a full house of locals looking for action!
"Here's your martinis!" the bartender is saying to a thin blond man in a leather jacket. They look skimpy.
"I'll have a Black Butte," I order.The bartender seems like a nice young man.
"Hey!" shouts a gent. "You better stop the f---- blowing smoke in my face or I'll smash your f------ nose!!!" I know he's not talking to us!
"You make me, you piece of s----!!!" But we might be in the way!
"I'll have one of those too!" says Connie.
"I think I'll have an Alaskan Amber," says Ted, musing in his distingished Bavarian accent. We return to our table without lingering. Our eyes water.
The retired couple from Berekely walk by our table. "We thought we would just go sit in the bar and have a drink!" they tell us, as if this were a Napa wine bar.
"No, no...sit here...!!" we invite. "But you do have to get your drinks first." And that is what they did.
"I grew up in Pennsylvania," the man from California begins. "My parents were Quakers and sent me to Westtown...one of the really classic boarding schools!"
"Westtown! I remember that! I went to Earlham." Earlham is a Quaker college in Richmond, Indiana. That's where I learned to be a budding geologist so long ago.
"Our SONS go to Earlham!" says the woman, tears welling in her eyes. She hugs me. I shriek, because I dont like being hugged.
"Well, guess what!" says Connie, the petroleum geologist. "I went to Guilford!!" Guilford is another Quaker college in North Carolina!
What a coincidence! Four Quakers alone in the smoking, drinking section of a lodge-motel in Healy Alaska!!
Almost alone. We look at Ted. He shrugs his shoulders.
Northwest FolkLife, Seattle, May 2006:
She was a great blue heron, her voice skimming the surface of the waters, she was a redtail hawk soaring high above, she was a screech owl...that was why she sang treble though she were no soprano. She always laughed and shook her head when they told the novices, "Sopranos over there!" because she did not have the voice of an angel. "Mother, I could hear your voice all the way in the basement!" her little daughter had told her once, embarrassed. They began with 270Confidence...
"I asked this group if they had CDs and they said, no, they werent a performance group!" the MC explained. She would later tell her friend John that she had never heard a Sacred Harp performance, that she always felt compelled by a force greater than herself...a force within herself...to sing.
77Child of Grace...178Africa....she suddenly became aware that she was on the back step of a set of 4 risers. One false move backward in her Swedish clogs and she would topple backwards, hit her head bone to metal, and die. She would soar away to Heaven.....she huddled now as far forward as she could, burrowing behind a red haired man with a sweet voice. The leader, a blue shirt man from Seattle, spun and leaped, pointing at the sections. She looked at her son in the bass section. There were only a few others that she recognized.
"We are not a performance group," the man said. She thought maybe his name was David. "We have Singers here from all over the Northwest, from Washington and Oregon. And I should add that it is not usual for us to be on risers like a choir. We usually sit in a square in sections facing each other...treble, alto, bass, and tenor."
The weird thing about Northwest Folklife is that despite their insistence at not being performers, The Sacred Cow Harmogenizers are allowed access to the hospitality room. We can check our red books at the same place that fiddlers and tuba players and guitarists leave their expensive cargo. We can get free pop and water and coffee and crackers and we can bring in food and sit at tables to eat exotic samosas and mo-mos and salmon caesars, which is what I was doing just then. I imagined this conversation:
"Hi! I'm a fiddle player from Boise! What do you do?"
"I am a Shape Note Singer."
"Wow! Wondrous Love! Let's jam!"
But I was invisible...no musician ever did paid any attention to me. They did jam with one another, though, lots of them, in that big cement room. If I had my fiddle and some talent, I could play Soldiers Joy or more likely The Rakes of Kildare with them, but I didnt and didnt.
She was a werewolf, one minute singing, driven for blood...
"It's a good thing you were there! I could follow you!" said a woman at the Shape Note Sing-a-long. There were never enough trebles. "That red book that the real singers have...can I look at it?" A worn Dennison, Blood of the Lamb, close as she can get to god.
The next minute, out in the field of bliss....waulkers hitting the table with wool. A Basque band. Children of the Revolution. The Bills from Victoria. Balkanarama. A Morris Dance workshop, the room filled! step skip step skip...back back back, half gypsy, full gypsy, circle, clap (RLRLRLclap....Rclap)and hey!!!
"No sticks! They call this dance 'Soldiers Joy'" announced the instructor, a man with a blue TShirt and jingles on his feet. "Now you can do a morris dance! And if you're free on Wednesday nights...."
"Life is a bird. And you are the branch that sways back and forth."
The bartender smiles and asks, "What will it be?" She is a short woman, with short strawberry blonde hair.
"Vodka martini!" I answer.
She smiles and takes the bluestemmed glass off the shelf. "My glass!" I laugh. "No one else uses it!" she comments.
I, Judith, am the Martini Girl of Eagles Aerie 2126.
"Oops! I measured out twice as much vodka as I should have!" she says. "Three dollars...is that right?"
"Yeah," I say before the sentence is ended.
A man, short and stout and balding, is sitting next to me. He is about six feet away to the left and he is drinking something pink in a tall glass. He asks the bartender" "What happened to Gary?"
"He doesnt work on Sunday." Gary is off with his girlfriend, a Portland Real Estate agent, that's why.
"What did you say you name was?" the man asks.
"Mo," says the Sunday Booze Chef. Then he swivels his head to the right. Behind us, "Curly" is singing his karyoke version of Waltz Across Texas. I begin to dream of the Lone Star State.
"Hey, what is that called?" the bald man asks me. I answer that it is a vodka martini. The blue glass and clear vodka sparkle smoothly, as if in a postmodern Portland lounge. As if in a Portland art gallery.
"The olives look good!" he comments.
"That's the best part," I say. "When I've drunk it all, I get to eat the olives."
"I bet they're better then!"
"Marinated," I reply. "Pickled."
"Hey Mo...can I get an olive too?" asks the man.
On Sunday nights, Mo was compelled by Oregon law to shut down at ten. The last call was at 9:55, and that's why Debbie came up to get another screwdriver just then.
"You still working at the Barbecue?" Mo asked.
"No," answered Debbie. "I was but I just started at the Shiloh Inn..."
"The cook...she's rough, picky...but a great gal. Once she's your friend, she wont leave you.
Debbie grinned. "I got married today!"
"Well...congratulations!" Mo smiled. Then she poured vodka and orange juice into a tall glass and handed it to Debbie.
"You know.......she just got married today!" Mo told the Legendary Martini Girl, the one with the unkempt grey hair and the hippie glasses. She tilted her head towards Debbie's long table.
"Huh!" exclaimed Ms. Martini, looking up from her copy of Sunset Magazine. "Wow!"
"I would never do that," Mo said confidentially. "I've been living with someone for five years...."
"In sin? You've been living in sin?" teased Martini.
"Of course I have! And why ruin a good thing by getting married? I've been married twice already...the second time for 27 years...I've been married enough! Why should I do it again?"
"You know what?" commented the Martini Girl. "One thing. I got married in 1974. I had a hippie wedding...bare bones, no commercialism. I'd like to have a real wedding with a beautiful gown. I would like to look beautiful!"
Mo dismissed this as if swatting a fly loitering on the wall of life. "Ha ha!"
"Got married too young?"
"I was 17...."
"Whoa!" said the Martini Girl, widening her eyes in a gesture of fun.
"Two babies, two years. But that's nothing," added Mo. "My mother was **13** when she got married!"
"Thirteen!!!" Mississippi? West Virginia? "Was this in Oregon?"
"Yeah.., "said Mo. "She was 13, he was 19. They just celebrated their 60th anniversary."
"Wow!" commented Martini Girl, thinking about Coal Miners Daughter.
"And do you know what? I never heard them say a sharp word to each other! Maybe when they were alone, but not around us!" Probably never.Mo began to think about the glasses sitting empty on the tables, remnants of Oregon couples who'd loved each other, stood by each other, through thick and thin.
At some point, I came up with the kookie idea to make up a chart of all the hitchhikers I'd picked up along the Columbia...as well as other places on the globe I'd make up a report and present it to the Oregon Academy of Science. After all, I've probably documented more hitchhikers as anyone who gets paid for it.
June 2006 Hood River: res-Gresham, OR Male over 40 Union Certified Steel Strut Framer/Drywall Maupin to Troutdale Transmission on 4WD pickup kicked the bucket while visiting son Cell phone-yes
There you have it.
Rich stood at the The Dalles East entrance ramp to I-84 and watched the high river, the dull green sagebrush, and the blurry pillow basalts...and the tiny yellow chevy crossing the bridge into Washington. Damn! He hated to be so far away from home without a backup. He took his cell phone out of his pocket, flipped it open and called his girlfriend.
"When I get back," he said...oh screw it, he had a dental appointment at one!..."we're going car shopping...I was thinking of the Toyota lot. It's been 30 years since I hitchhiked. I dont want to do it again." He grimaced at the little wild waterfalls cutting out of the big dam.
Maupin...in the years before his divorce he'd driven that truck to Portland to hang drywall, he'd put up so much drywall he didnt even have to think about it...behind Mount Hood on 26, in green hemlock summer and in ice and feathery snow ploughed eight feet high. He guessed he didnt need a truck like that anymore.
"Who lives in Maupin?" the woman in that yellow Aveo asked after he got into the car...how odd fate was!
"Mostly retired people...and in the country around there it's mostly ranchers I guess." He paused. "What I like is the schools. My son is in the sixth grade....he's been with a group of sixteen kids since he started kindergarten, they all know each other, that's what I like about Maupin, everyone knows each other. He gets Bs, imagine that, he does his homework without even thinking, whoa, I never did that!"
"Beep!" said his cell phone. He stared at it and shook his head bitterly. "Wouldnt you know it, my battery is almost dead!"
A battered blue Impala swerved to a stop. Ten minutes! Lucky! He'd got a ride north, 45 miles on 194 from a friend, the cattle and junipers, the green irrigated pastures at Tygh Valley, the wheat fields at Dufur, all flying by like guacamole in a food processor.
"Hop in!" said the man in a strange Spanish accent. "I'm just going to Hood River."
"Great!" exclaimed Rich. "Where do you come from originally?"
"Cuba! Ha...no...I lived a while in New York City. I come out here with my girlfriend! It was her idea!" laughed the man.
Rich had never met anyone before from Cuba.
The yellow Aveo drove back across the bridge from White Salmon to Hood River. There was a long line which turned out to be for construction, and I'd hoped that the toll would be waved, but the State of Oregon is not one to give up 3 bits. I stopped at the Chevron to get a mountain dew and a cranberry orange scone, and then I saw him again, the immaculate red haired man with the finely trimmed half beard, the big straw hat and the neatly lettered cardboard sign that said PORTLAND.
"No," I said to myself. "No more hitchhikers!"
"Fate," I repeated, and pulled over onto the ramp.
The trip lasts 2 weeks...not the biggest or most important road trip of her life, because she will discover very little about herself, aside from affirming that she does like to take photos of rocks and trees. The trip includes 8 states and provinces, from New York to Newfoundland. She has never been in Newfoundland, New Brunswick, or Nova Scotia. No, I'm lying for the sake of novelty. It's flat red potato-bound Prince Edward Island that is new, not Nova Scotia. That leaves NWT, Nunavik, and Delaware.
Four years ago, a German hitchiker in Iceland told her:
"Last year I traveled to Inuvik!"
"Whoa! You've been to Inuvik?!?!" She foamed with envy like a babbling waterfall.
"Do you want me to take your photo in front of Gullifloss?" the thin German offered.
She rides the frail motorboat back from her daughter's camp to Grand Lake Stream, then crosses the border at Calais, Maine.
"Where are you from?" asks the hoser at the border.
"Oregon," she answers
"And you're driving a car with Pennsylvania plates?"
"It's a rental," she replies.
"Huh! What is the purpose of your trip to Canada?"
"To see all the provinces I havent been to!"
"Hmm! Well, have a safe trip!"
How many strange phantom souls without a name escape into New Brunswick each year?
She pulls into Tim Horton's and buys a Nainamo Bar.
She drives through New Brunswick, stopping at Oak Harbour to camp in her orange Icelandic pup tent. She is on Pacific time. The next day, she drives across the long bridge to Prince Edward Island, stopping at a Howard Johnson's near Charlottetown. She takes the ferry to Nova Scotia and stays at a motel with a bar and a laundromat at Port Hawkesbury, across the Canso Causeway on Cape Breton. She books the 2:30 AM ferry and a bunk to Port Aux Basques Newfoundland, and returns on the 14 hour ferry from Argentia 2 days later. It is July 1st. For 13 hours the sea is shrouded with thick fog, making the whole trip worthless. The boat pulls into North Sydney in the dark.
"Look at the fireworks!!" exclaims a captive child.
They can see the flying sparkles of Canada Day against the black to the front right, against the side window, disappearing in a curve to the back of the boat.
The big boat disgorges her car at ten, and she follows the RVs into a campground.
"Do you sell batteries? I used mine for the camera," she asks, incidentally.
"You can borrow my flashlight...no, wait...you can sleep in the barn!" offers the clerk, leading her to the white rec center that once held livestock. "I've been painting this bed in here for the new cabin over there. It's up to you."
She rolls out her pad and sleeping bag and pretends she is on the the deck of the Trusty Rusty. She opens the windows to quell the paint fumes and feels the cool air.
The next day, she drives across Canada until she bumps into Maine.
"Where in Pennsylvania are you from?" asks the customs man.
"I'm not. I'm from Oregon. This is a rental car."
"Huh. Do you have proof of citizenship?" he asks.
"Where's she from in Pennsylvania?" yells the man at the other booth.
"She's not. It's a rental car. She's from Oregon." He turns. "Bringing anything back?"
"Sure!" she answers. "Three geological publications. A deck of playing cards. A CD. And this lovely towel with a porpoise on it!"
He smiles. "Any beef or firearms?"
She drives on into Houlton, Maine. It's actually Central Maine, but you would call it Northern Maine. The paper companies have transformed the real Northern Maine into an uninhabited blob.
In the morning, she will pull into Tim Horton's and attempt to buy a Silk Bar, which is American for Nainamo Bar. Nainamo is a city on Vancouver Island. The clerks name will be Brittney and she will be brand new and she will not be able to find "Nainamo Bar" on the register. Fifteen people wearing church clothes will impatiently line up behind her. After fifteen minutes, the Timmy's drive-through clerk will point to a key that reads "Bar" and say:
"If you cant find something, just ask one of us."
[to be continued]
July 2, 2006: Lightning! Blazing across the night sky of Eastern Maine!
July 3, 2006: In the morning, the heavens were clear and thousands of canoers and kayakers took to the northern roads, looking for heaven. But the woman from Pennsylvania...at least her car said so...turned west, towards Lake Champlain, where her two fourth great grandfathers had fought the French with Rogers Rangers. She thought of Champlain as a paper lake, but soon it would be as fluid and blue as her memories of Superior. Today, though, she was set for the white mountains of New Hampshire.
The Maine roads, the pickups and the sport vehicles, the beeches, the maples and the eastern hemlocks, focused and then blurred in her side window.
"Whoa!" She'd stop every so often to take photos of the Finnish Farmers Club, of houses that didnt stop till they got to the barn, and of Katahdin (sp?) in the distance... somewhere.
In Farmington, she ate lobster chowmein and then drove west for a few miles. At Wilton, she saw a sign that read "Whispering Pines Motel on Beautiful Lake Wilson!"
She thought about her pup tent and turned right down the long drive. The parking lot was almost empty.
"We have only two rooms left!" said the clerk. "Yours is the smallest we have...above the laundromat. The use of a kayak is complementary!"
"I've never been in a kayak in my life!" she replied.
"Oh?" said the clerk.
A long immaculate green lawn behind the motel lled to the lake and the canoes and kayaks. A grandmother stood by the dock while her grandson walked in the water in his swimming trunks. The waves glittered and a motorboat hummed. The newly-Pennsylvanian woman remembered three years ago in Finland, looking out from a dock in Alajarvi, Finland, at her children in a rowboat. Once, a dark storm came up and Erin had to row fast to beat the grim rain. She remembered waiting for a floatplane at a dock in Bangor. She thought she had writting about these moments in her stories, about how these northern lakes were the same all over the world. She remembered with sparkling sadness the years when she went with her husband and later her children as well, to his parents house on Little Mantrap in Minnesota, and how she had always wanted to do something else instead, something other than sit around in a boat waiting for northerns.
"What kind of tree is this?" she asked the grandmother.
"I think it's a basswood...no, look at that spikey thing...it's a beech. But my husband should know. He's worked in these woods all his life!"
At dusk, she walked along the road, by cabins where people cooked and talked. At one, near the cemetary, there were a bunch of tents set up and a porta-potty had been hired. Further down the hill was a park with a beach (as well as a beech or two!). Three teenagers were wrapping themselves in towels.
"How you doin' tonite?" slurred a man sitting in a dark pick-up. It made her jump.
"Fine, thank you!" she answered.
Just beyond was a dam, and a big brick building that might have been a "mill" that the New Englanders sing about. I had arrived in tiny downtown Wilton. On the ground floor of the mill, people were drinking and eating beneath Neon beer signs in an upscale pub, and I wanted to as well, but there was nothing in my pockets to pay for this lake trip. I turned and walked back to the motel. Over the water, fireworks cascaded down into the cool air.
Most of the guests had arrived at the motel when she returned, guests not just from Maine, or New England, but from all over the country...Michigan! Missouri! Texas!
I climbed the steps to my corner room....Two windows that over looked the cosmopolitan parking lot...and retrieved my laptop. WIFI extends only to the main building!
Another woman had the same idea. We sat in the small lobby together and searched for a signal. She was a woman about my age with bright blonde hair... mine is the color of muddy ice at the edge of an autumn lake...and her incessantly churning thoughts must have kept her as thin as a beech tree. She incompletely nodded over at the brown haired teenage boy who had restlessly accompanied her.
"I've been married twice, the first time for twenty years, never had any children. Then I got married again to my present husband, and I got PREGNANT," she began in apology.
"I have a twelve year old, I just took her to camp at Grand Lake Stream, no one knows where that is," I said. "Where are you from?"
"Arkansas...HE is from Maine and he wanted to come up here and see his family.I dont like to travel, I like to stay home," she snarled. "We moved to Arkansas from Southern California, from Riverside..."
"MOM!" said the boy. "You're supposed to be using the computer!"
"We're just having a chat," she told him.
"We? YOU'RE talking!" he said, rolling his eyes.
"Southern California is a filthy pit. My husband is older, he's 70 and he wanted to retire, and we saw a web site for this subdivision in the Ozarks...do you know where that is...on the internet, and he said 'We're moving there!' It's great! And the birds! All the birds in California are ugly brown...but in Arkansas we have red birds."
In the morning, I drove to New Hampshire, crashing a parade with fire trucks, farm machinery, and a brigade of Civil War soldiers. Their gals were there too, nicely coifed and in beautiful dresses. I walked a quarter mile down the Appalachian Trail, and then headed for Vermont...very quickly found!...where I bought a can of syrup at St Johnsbury and drank a margarita in Montpelier, which, though the capital, is smaller than The Dalles. Young men played frisbee on the capitol lawn. At dusk, I crossed Champlain into New York State, on a small ferry weighted down with three busloads of teenagers. Thousands of people were parked at Essex, waiting on their car lids for the dark. Beyond the town, there was nothing but dark fields and the Adirondack Northway with its idle snow posts. I stopped for the night somewhere at the edge of civilization...
"Just got back from the fireworks," said the desk clerk, who in fact owned the little log motel. "What a mess! There were 30,000 people there at Shoon Lake!"
In the morning, I toured Ticonderoga and ferried back, here to the south you could almost jump Champaign. I visited the Marble Museum in Proctor Vermont, which had in better days provided the white stone for the Vermont Supreme Court in Montpelier and the Oregon Capitol in Salem.
In the morning I found the new headstone of my 4th great grandparents, Mary and Archibald, in a graveyard at Hillsboro, New Hampshire. Below my feet, the ground slowly heated up like a tentsite in Rotarua, Thermal Area, New Zealand and the warmth swirled into my body like a storm. The voices of Mary and Archibald within me whispered:
****live free or die****
Mug-Na-Sush so loved the twilight here in Newfoundland; it was a time for browsing the tastiest leaves on balsam fir!! The forest was hers, she knew this, and she moved her massive brown body like a queen through the summer evening, toward the clearing, where there was a grey path. She knew that there was only one animal in the forest bigger and more powerful than she, the great Sem-Eye, and that they traveled, alone and in small groups, along the grey road with the stripe of yellow lichen, but you could hear them and now in the cool of the pink evening she did not. She slowly pulled her massive torso onto the small sharp rocks and then onto the long hard grey path. She could hear the sound of the round feet of a hrududu screeching and the cow swearing, no this time just exclaiming in wonderment: "It's a moose! I almost hit a MOOSE, just like the sign said! And it's just lumbering across the road like a giant brown amoeba!" Mug-Na-Sush wondered why the hrududus went so fast and what they ate that was so important, but she did not turn her head. She just walked on, across the black road, toward more moist leaves and twigs. In her heart, she was glad it was another cow, and that it did not have a gun.
Lakeview Oregon, July 2006: Yep, morning here at the Goose Lake Cafe!!!
"Hmm...eggs and hashbrowns!" [$2.75] "Over easy, wheat!" I ordered from my revolving seat at the counter.
"No meat?" replied the genial waitress.
"No meat," I echoed. Over the past few months, as I approach my 30th anniversary, my impatience with meat-eating has left me in increasingly hostile condition!
Someday when the emo waitress at McMennemins Kennedy School says....
"Our special is salmon over salad greens with capers, sour cream and BACON"...I will explode like that obese man eating python spaghetti.
But not today, not here in the Oregon Basin and Range. I will instead explode in chic Portland, City of Roasts.
At the table behind me, the breakfast stories began:
1. "....He was one of those Nubian goats. Now, Nubian Goats dont have ears, see, they have the holes but no flaps. I put him out in the pasture with the goats and sheep and next thing I know, he's back in my yard. I took him back to my pasture, and next thing I know, he's back in my yard AGAIN. So I put him back in with my goats. Third time I look up and he's on top of my truck. So I take out my rifle and nudge him off with the barrel and I..."
I listened cheerfully for the punch line.
"...SHOOT him and I take him into the garage and I skin him and dress him out. You know those Mexicans and their goats! I call up Ramon and invite him to a barbecue. So I roast up the goat and he says:
'This is delicious! This is the best barbecue I ever had! What is it!'? So I tell him:
'That was little Nubie! You just ate your pet! Ha ha ha!!!!! That was what tasted so good!'"
The man's voice was rich and deep.
"Want ketchup?" asked the waitress.
"No," I answered. "But do you have any tabasco sauce?"
"Red or Green?" she replied.
2. "....You know...he'd been elk hunting all those years, but he never shot a one.
He told me, "I ain't goin' this time."
So I told him, 'Well...Dont you like the camaraderie?'"
"And he said, well....yeah, I do."
So he went and what dya know, he got an elk!"
I turned around. The man was maybe my age, grey bearded, heavy set and muscular. He was taking to a couple in their early 70s. The older man was wearing a plaid polyester shirt.
3."He was a sniper in the service. He liked to hunt alone, I bet I was the only one around here who hunted with him. He had that rifle, and one time it went missing, said he lost it, he thought. I said to him, you couldnt have lost it, you dont lose rifles. I bet you left it standing by a tree at your campsite, didnt you?'
'Uh...yes, I did, as a matter of fact...must have left it there!'
'You may have left it, or someone may have 'found it'! Now, there's a guy...knowing him, he's not telling the whole truth....who says he 'found' a rifle just like yours standing up by a tree!'
'Well, what do I do?' he asked me.
'If I were you, I'd get a sheriffs deputy to go with you and I'd go up to his house and ask him about it!' I told him.
So that's what he did and the guy said, no, he'd found that rifle and..."
"Here's your bill!" the waitress said.
4. "Yep...I was down there and I saw a guy shooting...bout the size of that gal over there...couldnt have been more than 135 pounds, I dont see how he lifted that thing, you coulda slept in the barrel...."
Outside, the Oregon morning shone like an overripe sun.
How many times have you been at the receiving end of a cruel statement like this?!?
"We feel that you are enjoying yourself. Face it, you're not really interested in throwing pots! We feel that you should drop out of the course."
Thirty years later, I have never ever thrown another pot, and it is a good thing, because it made my hip joint hurt to kick the wheel.
July 2006, in the air! (There is not much you can say about the geology of air, especially when it is cloudy.)
The flight from Newark to Portland is long...five hours or so. I snapped my cell phone onto the seat in front of me, and pulled out my new deck of playing cards. What conversations would I heard on bored?
"I'm sorry, I looked and there's no kosher meal back there for you. About all I can do is give you the set-up without the sandwich."
Later I would have the same sort of discussion, but I'd eaten a huge slice of cheese pizza in the airport, so a dinner of potato salad, potato chips and a cookie was A-OK!
Erin sat in front of me...I wasnt quite sure what she was doing; it was time to let go anyway. Beside me, in the middle seat, a teenager sat staring at the movie screen. At the window, an adult man with a british accent sat staring at space. I would not meet him until the last half hour of the flight, when he got up to use the lavatory.
"Woops! What was that?" he exclaimed. A black object catapulted down the aisle.
"Uh...that was my cell phone. Looks like the clip's broken."
He picked it up and examined it in wonder and confusion. "I'm awfully sorry. But why do you use a clip? I put mine in my pocket."
"I usually have something else in my pocket," I confessed. I thought of my card case, now in my purse. I placed the shattered remains of my clip in a puke bag.
"Where are you from?" I asked when he returned.
"England," he answered.
"Where?" I asked.
"Have you been there then? Around Manchester. But I left a long time ago. I'm an organic chemist and I work for a pharmaceutical firm in Corvallis."
"I took organic chemistry but I didnt do well at it...just the biochemistry part...DNA and sugar."
"The part you were working with. It was probably the teacher. If you get the wrong teacher it isnt an easy topic." His words began to take on an edge of excitement. "We produce the basic chemicals for drug companies and I design the process. Many of the chemicals are tricky!"
"Like making meth out of psudoephedrine! You end up contaminating your motel room forever."
"Well, you have solvents that are poisonous. The processes they use arent very good. There are a lot of impurities in the crystal lattice. You get what you pay for."
Where are you from originally?"
"Alabama," I said. "Birmingham."
"Birming-um! I lived in Alabama too...in Fairhope. I worked for a pharmaceutical firm there as well, but a headhunter contacted me and I have a better job here in Oregon."
"My husband's cousin lives in Fairhope, she retired there from the Navy," I commented. "Alabama is way too hot for me! Where did you live before that?"
"Scotland. Around Inverness. And at the University of Texas...great music at the clubs there! Scotland is beautiful...at the top there is a one lane road that..."
"I remember that road! We stayed at Wick...but we turned around halfway."
"It's too bad that you did, because the west end, the rest of it...it's the most beautiful part!!!"
Each word was an increasing bond between us, stretching over the boy between who sat rigid, eyes fixed on a rerun of Friends.
"I became interested in organic chemistry when I was about twelve and have been obsessed with it ever since!" he confided. "My father was one as well. I didnt excel at anything else in school, and that was a problem, at least then. I just wasnt interested."
"About her age!" I pointed down at Erin.
"What's she doing up there?" he asked.
"What kind of books does she read?"
He shook his head in wonder. "I have never read a book in my life, maybe why I did so badly at school. My wife gives me a mystery or a thriller and I read at most 100 pages and I'm bored. I just cant get interested. No, I take that back, there was one book, about...these organic molecules of carbon, like graphite, they're in a shape like a soccer ball. They call them after an American architect, Bucky Balls. They're of interest because of the different atoms that be inside it. But the book is the story of how they conceived these Bucky Balls, and I read all of it, quite fascinating!"
"Like Watson and Crick in a bar!" I commented.
How many living creatures can you stuff into your car? It depends on its size, for instance, if you have a 20 passenger van, the answer is obvious, or so you would think! But if it's a Chevy Aveo, a 38 mpg phone booth, you go for the optimum. One day, it might be yourself, your dreams, your problems....the next it might be four thirteen year olds...one whom is six feet tall, the Montana son of a semi driver...hell bent on birthday partying to Portland. Omsi...
"I think I'll leave you guys to raise hell here at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry while I go have a margarita..." I said.
Omsi, Powells, and Vege-Thai. What a model child!!
Nevada City, California, July 2006:
The northern Sierras are a great place for observing the terranes that banged into the old North American continent. Going west through Sierra County, first its the island arcs of the Northern Sierra Terrane, then the famous ShooFly with its slates and schists, then the green serpentine of the Feather River Belt, then finally the Calavaras Complex. Simplified, you can travel millions of years in a single morning from the road, along with a little dip in the turqoise blue Yuba. But all this time travel makes you mighty hungry and memories of the blueberry French toast the secret of which is Grand Marnier and cream that you had at the B&B in Sierra City drill like a pinworm into your conscience. You swing into Nevada City for lunch and shriek:
"People! There are people all over the place, just like swarming trilobites!!!!"
In Sierra County, there are rocks. In Nevada County, there are people. You figure.
So you pull out to the east again, looping back in time paradoxically towards the white granodiorites of the intrusive Sierra Batholith. And then you see it! The rustic log walls of
THE LONE PINE SIERRA BAR & GRILL!!
You skid to a stop, narrowly missing the thumb of the equally rustic hitchhiker squatting in the dusty lot. You reach for the wrought iron door knob, eye the friendly sheaf of hard liquor, and seat yourself by the window...picking up the menu!
"I'll have the half pound cheeseburger!" says the hefty lone grey haired woman at the next table.
"The usual!" laughs the waitress.
Outside the western hemlocks smile at her.
"I'll have the vege grill," you order. "But I'm allergic to green pepper. Could I have it without?" It's the first time you've tried the allergic ploy. It just makes you burp. Ugh!
"Actually, no," replies the waitress. "They make it up in the morning beforehand."
"OK, forget it, I'll pull it off," you say, hungry weakness overcoming logic.
"Not if you're allergic! There will be traces of it in the squash and eggplant! We cant let you have a medical reaction in the restaurant!"
[she really DID say something along these lines! Yep!]
"Hmm...well...there's nothing else vegetarian on the menu..."...or fish either for that matter.
"Pumpkin ginger soup!" suggests the waitress. Yeah, sure, your car is topping at 35 mph because your airconditioning is set at 80.
"Um...thanks...I'll try somewhere else close to Reno or something," you reply.
"Where are you headed?" I asked the ragged aging hitchiker. He had only a small daypack...and a black dog.
"Not far...Washington...about 15 miles up the road.
"OK! Hop in!" I invited. He turned and beckened to the parking lot. Two sweating men and a woman with an ace bandage around her knee popped out of sheer gravel and dust! The woman opened the passenger door and hopped in. The three boys filled up the back seat.
"I'll put her here on my lap," said the ragged grey-haired man tenderly. The black dog panted noisily in the heat, "She's not doing very well. When we stop again, I'll give her something to drink, even if it's beer."
"I'm from Oregon, I'm here looking at rocks," I told them.
"Hey...I used to live in Oregon...around Grants Pass...I was gold minin' there! That's how I met my sweetie here, pannin' for gold!" the ragged grey man said lovingly. "Hey if you like rocks...you should come swimmin' with us. We've had a heck of a time gettin' a ride..."
"It's hard for so many people to get a ride."
"We bought some steaks this morning to grill and packed up to go to Washington...off the main road here about 7 miles...only the locals go there...too many tourists out now! Nothin' there but some gift shops and a grocery! But we had so much trouble gettin' a ride, we drank up half our beer just waitin'!!!
"Huh!" I said. I could tell, but let ye who are without sin cast the first geode.
"But this swimming hole...you'll like the serpentine. There's a great outcrop there. I sure wish you'd let me show it to you."
I wished so too. I wished they were all university professors and oil company geologists. I wished they were part of my world.
I looked at the woman beside me. She was of my age, I thought, but her hair was brown. I supposed she dyed it.
"What's wrong with your knee?" I asked. She had limped into the car.
"Oh...I have a couple of slipped discs." What did this have to do with her knee? "Do you always travel alone like this?" she added.
"Yep! Whenever I can get rid of my kids!" I wished they were here in Nevada County with me, all of them. I wished they all loved continental drift.
"How old are they?" she asked.
"Ha! I hear you! My son is 33. He lives on Manhattan Island!" she said sadly.
"Selma!" exclaimed the man in back. "Selma, Oregon! That's where I lived."
"Is that the place that almost burnt up in a forest fire recently?"
"Yep! That's it! In the early eighties!!!"
"A Trip To Portland To Do Radio!!!"
Washington Highway 14 near Dallesport! What do you think of? Why, the Ortley Anticline, which forms the backbone of the Klickitat Hills! If you drive along by Doug's Beach, which at this time of year is stuffed with windsurfer vans, you can see its gentle flanks above the town of Rowena, Oregon. If you were to windsurf across the Columbia to I84, you would see it pitched in a thrust fault against horizontal basalt flows above Doug's Beach. (Doug was a pioneer windsurfer whom I believe died recently). But look up from where you are, and you cant see the darn arching thing in your own state!!!
"Ian! What exactly are you doing on my laptop that is so hilarious?" I asked.
"Ian!" I repeated. This was pretty normal, but soon Ian would leave, exiled to 9 months hard labor in a subarctic lakeside home with 6 bedrooms and 2 saunas. Soon everything would change and it would never again be the same.
"I'm reading Eric Flint's 'Rats, Bats, and Vats,' the latter of which are cloned humans. Right now he's being attacked by the Magh, which are insectoid aliens."
"Huh!" I reply.
"Here, I'll read you a passage!"
The dark of the tunnel at Lyle Washington closed in on us. Soon we would cross over the Hood River Bridge.
"Ian!" I announced an hour later. "Look at that car! It has no license plates whatsoever! Is that legal?"
"Huh...I wonder, Ian, what has led that nerdy guy with a mustache to be driving west along the interstate ultimately into the Pacific in a battered 1993 gold Honda accord with no identification on the car whatsoever. Isnt that a mystery?"
"Ian?" I said. I would miss him so much!
We swung off of I-84 onto I-5 south near downtown, bound for Powell's.
"I have a couple books in mind," he suggested.
"Shut down the computer Ian!" I begged. But the lights on the Morrison Street Bridge over the Willamette to downtown were red!
"Look over there, Ian! It's a barge going one mile an hour!" I said to myself. I u-turned.
"Damn!" I said. "It's a train! It's blocking us from all the bridges! And only 15 minutes to the Raggle Taggle Gypsy" I mused. I u-turned again. Suddenly...I saw it...the funky little Hawthorne Bridge! I slid easily into Downtown Portland, threw Ian out of the car, and eased into a parking spot on Broadway.
Then I did my radio show! And forty minutes of the next show. Then I picked up Ian at Car Toys across from Powells, crossed the Burnside Bridge, arriving at Portland Sacred Harp for 40 minutes of Singing solo treble from the Cooper Book. Not a lot of people come to the Cooper Book singing.
"Ian! You'll have to start a group in Finland!" suggested Connie. I hoped we would all decide to go to Kajaani to demonstrate!
Soon, though I hopped across Alberta Street into my little Aveo. It was a KPSU Station Meeting. If you dont go to these, they give you a strike. Three strikes, you're out! Unless you're in New Zealand or Vermont or someplace exotic instead.
"Not much to say!" said Myron, the station manager. "But about Friday, when we were off the air."
"Are the fruit flies gone now?" asked DJ Shortchange.
"They weren't fruitflies!" said Myron. "They were drainflies!"
"Wha'???" everyone exclaimed. What an aura!
"It's a pretty gross story," continued Myron. "There was a sewer backup last spring behind the music director's office and after they cleaned it up, they didnt seal the pipes. So when they discovered it 4 months later, Building Maintenance's solution was to set off bug bombs without telling anyone! Coincidentally, Housekeeping decided to shampoo the carpets Heavy Duty Bigtime...
"Bug Bombs and Rug Shampoo dont bond very well!" interjected the Program Director, Mr. Austin.
"So the fumes became toxic. That's why we sent out the e-mail."
"Then," continued Mr Austin, "Our carrier KBPS called to complain that we weren't doing IDs at the top of the hour!"
"Doesn't our AutoMix do station IDs?" asked Reverend Kate.
"Normally, yes," replied Myron. "But coincidentally the university rebooted their computer system and everything went dead."
"It got down to me going in with a Kleenex over my mouth to start up the AutoMix," said Mr. Austin, shaking his head in remembered terror.
At least we weren't in Israel!
I left 40 minutes early, driving back up over Broadway Bridge. PSH was in the process of singing just one more song...Twenty minutes later, Ian and I left bound for dinner. I was starving! I screeched to a stop at a French Cafe on 40th. A very weird jittery man with a blond afro approached the little Aveo...Portland personified! Ian opened the window apprehensively.
"I'm really embarrassed to say this, to ask, but do you suppose you could buy me something small to eat? I'm really hungry and you could buy it for me, just to prove that I'm not buying booze or drugs..."
I tapped my foot impatiently next to the accelerator. Embarrassment was chic now amongst the Portland homeless. I passed a georged dollar to Ian.
"Here, take this," instructed Ian.
The man could buy a can of tuna and a can of green beans for that dollar. Or 10 packages of ramen (my favorite breakfast!) on sale now at Albertsons. Or a third of a bottle of Boone's Farm.
"Suljettu!" reported Ian. The bakery was closed!
"Let's walk!" I said. I hoped we would find another cafe.
"Look!" he said. "Quiznos! Wow!"
"Well...but look here next door...The Laurelwood Public House! Does it allow wee children like you who are 6 feet tall and able to hold a job, drive a car, carry a gun, and go alone to a Cannibal Corpse concert to worship Satan? Yep...there's rugrats inside!"
"Hey...I saw this place in the Willamette Week Guide To Portland!" exclaimed Ian.
"Three?" asked the host as we entered the door.
"No...that guy behind us is totally irrelevant!" I answered. The unknown man disappeared to the right!
"I'll have a pint of Tree Hugger (Organic) Porter and a portobello sandwich," I ordered.
"I'll have a root beer and a chicken Caesar wrap," ordered Ian.
"I truly believe we were led to come here to the Laurelwood," I told my son.
Nova Scotia: July, 2006
Just as Sydney is the threshold to Vancouver Island, North Sydney is the gateway to Newfoundland! That's where the ferries depart several times a day to Port aux Basques and a couple times a week to Argentia just to the west of St Johns. The trip to Argentia is twice as long...but the drive on Newfound's one big hiway is way longer. If you're lucky, you'll swing from the cool blues of the Bras d'Or into the Sydneys at dusk for the two AM ferry, on the verge of starvation and out of gasoline.
"Uh...where am I supposed to eat!" you'll say, turning your nose up at the seedy downtown strip. Then you'll find that eight pm is the witching hour for food, and you'll cruise west along the coast past the huge seafood place that switches beer for lobster at sunset and then the houses and condos, dreaming you are in Victoria where you have half a chance. You'll take a left into the bright coaly darkness of downtown Sydney Mines and then...
"How late are you open?" you will ask the manager, who is lounging out front along with a guy with paint splattered overalls and a glowing cigarette.
"Midnight," answers the manager. His cell phone rings.
"Yeah. One sausage and mushroom and one peperoni and pineapple," answers the manager.
Soon the man in painters pants will be on the road with a mission.
"Do you have any salads?" I asked the owner of Pizza De-Lite, a wiry man of maybe 45.
"No...not yet. Salads are on the agenda. You knew I just took over the place, didnt you?"
"No...I dont live here. I'm just here to catch the 2 AM ferry. What's on the veggie?" Across the street, the lights of the Husky station gleemed like teeth in the yellow glow of urban night.
"Mushrooms, onions...are onions OK?...green pepper, and pineapple. I work down there at the ferry terminal...I've worked there for years in maintenance. You'll really like Newfoundland....and you can get a bunk on the ferry for what is it now...fourteen dollars? After you land at Port Aux Basques, go up and see the National Park."
"Onions are fine, but no green pepper," I replied.
I sat down, examined the flowers on my plastic tablecloth, and listened to one-sided phone conversations.
I bided time, biting slowly into the yummy, doughy crust and guzzling Diet Sprite, then returned to North Sydney, parking in a little area of asphalt next to a battered camper van with Newfoundland plates. I pulled out my folding chair and watched the eleven thirty vehicles slide as if part of an earthtone collage, like slow, alternating streams of fiery pahoehoe, into the hold of the big vessel.
"Do you know when the two AM cars line up?" I asked the old man standing next to the van.
"No...I'm setting sail at eight. Yep...we're camped here for the night! Looks like you're from Pennsylvania. How did you find out about Newfoundland?"
"I've always known about it. It was in my stamp collection. Ha ha...I'm going to all the provinces I've never been to this summer."
"It's the in place to be now...haha...big monster campers all over the place!" I love being in the front lines of chic travel!
"Sounds like it's this years Iceland!" Later, driving the big highway, I would repeatedly hallucinate that I was on the Icelandic Ring Road and that the inhabitants were speaking an unintelligible dialect of Old Norse. This is really odd, because Newfoundland is covered with trees and moose, and Newfoundlanders speak an odd dialect of Canadian.
"Yep...Newfoundland's coming into its own," continued the old man. "I'm 75 and just retired...sold my business, cant stand not working, what do you do?...but I own a number of apartments in St John's. The oil companies send these Norwegians over and the units are always full! It's been so long that the rest of Canada has been subsidising us, but now we're floating in oil! Ha ha ha!!!"
"Hmm...so you enjoy living in St Johns?"
"Yep...just so long as I can get out of there when it gets too cold and go to Florida. That's what my father did...he moved to St Petersburg because of my mother's health, if...she was a frail woman and she would have died...she had..uh...asthma. He retired early and played cello in the orchestra down there, wonderful cello player. But do you know, she outlived him. Yep, we'd drive down there to Florida and we'd go to stop in New Jersey and the motels would be full at three, who wants to stop at three. So we bought this, paid fifty thousand dollars for this thing in 1994, now we can stop anywhere we want!"
"Huh!" I commented.
Around midnite, I drove past the toll booth and into the big lot full of cars and freight...more freight than passenger cars at this time of night. Soon I would drive into an almost empty car deck. I walked down to the head of the line, where two semis full of Alberta cattle eagerly awaited milking time in Newfoundland.
"How you doing tonite, eh?" one driver asked. He wore a cowboy hat and a beer gut.
"Fine thank you!" The stench of manure carried on the air as far as the terminal building. I was glad I had not lined up early!
Look ahead of you, along the I-84 in the Columbia Gorge. Why, the layers of basalt tilt brown in the August sun like strips of brisket, barbecue-ing first medium then well done! What a horrifying scenario for a pesco-vegetarian! That's why she takes her children, all three of them and Baby Victor too, into the far northwest, into the inviting 57 degree grey mist of the Olympic Peninsula. For the first time in many years, she rides shotgun in a white Toyota minivan, guiding their circumspect route through the Gifford Pinchot...
"According to the atlas, Emma, we need to turn now onto Forest Service 269, and look at some great landslides!" And, with a smile, Emma drives 35 miles an hour along curves and hemlock and clearcuts. Five days later, she will have her revenge by answering:
"What would I like for supper? Pot Roast!"
The Manresa Castle rises like yellow medieval manse, towering over the outskirts of grey Port Townsend, Washington. Overlooking the distant ocean and surrounded by strip malls and hospitals and peasant huts, it was built in 1892 as an ostentations home and later expanded into a monastery. Now it is a little romantic hotel. In the Pacific Northwest you see a lot of ads for romantic lodging! The Castle is seemingly luxurious, with wonderful soft but firm beds (for romance, I bet!) and rich wood woodwork. But I warn you, there is no wi-fi to track your georges, and there are no sexy hottubs or even bathtubs to relax in after a hard day in a minivan...and scouring the cute downtown on foot for chic but cheap cafes!
"Look at those prices, Mother," said Emma. "And I dont see anything on the menu I want!"
"OK by me!" I said. "Hey look, here's a Japanese noodle house! <clip> I'll have eel dan-buri!" I told the counterwoman.
We took some great photos there.
Then we went back to the Castle and climbed the steps to our lovely rooms without bathtubs.
"Time for us to go to bed!" said Emma. "We're on Central Time!" I'm pretty much on Hawaiian time, myself.
"Whoa! Look!" said Ian, "When you dont have internet, your fallback is the TV!"
"We have two myths we're going to bust tonite!" said the big wall-mounted box. "One is that airlines have you do the brace position so you'll die in a crash, so they wont have to pay out so much. The other is that driving with a cell phone is just as dangerous as driving drunk!"
"Commercial," said Erin calmly, waving the remote. Wow! Cartoons! "King of the Hill"! A bunch of wimp hippies camped in the state park giving massages!
But wait! Massages...Relaxation...Drunk driving...that rang a bell! I fumbled in my purse for that coupon: ONE DOLLAR OFF YOUR FIRST LIBATION AT THE INTIMATE LOUNGE!
I grabbed my key and raced down the romantic wood staircase.
The historic lounge, whose name may not exist, is green with lovely shining Victorian woodwork, plus the bar is from the old Savoy Hotel in San Francisco. The bartendress, conversely, is from Sitka.
"Could I get a cosmopolitan?" I asked.
"What kind of vodka do you want?" she countered. What kind of vodka? What did she mean by that?
"It's your choice," I answered, regaining my composure. She stared at me. "I collect cosmos...I like to see how different people make them." That seemed to make sense to her. She squeezed a fresh lime into the cold silver shaker and then added ice and some sort of vodka. It's all the same to me, but I hear the cheaper stuff is low quality. Then she added some cranberry juice, shook, and poured most of the cosmo into a normal martini glass. It was a lot like what they do in Portland, but Gary at the Eagles would have poured the rest into a highball glass for you. I went and sat at a little intimate round table. The cocktail tasted very limey, like a kamikaze. I call these "dry cosmos."
Suddenly the sound of phone rhythms! It was my husband! How romantic!
"Ian had called me....." I set down my cosmo and walked up the two flights of steps. I thought about the danger of drinking with a cell phone.
"Keep the phone," I told Ian.
"Where are you from?" the Alaskan bartendress was asking. (She had been giving a romantic and drink-free young couple tips on hiking in The Northwest. "We've been to the Cascades, and we've been here!" they had told her.)
"Houston, Texas! When we left it was one hundred six degrees! Can you imagine what it will be like with global warming..."
I could remember the winter the pipes and palms froze in Bryan, Texas, and the snow was thick enough to ski on! I pretended I was in Wisconsin....
"So we are thinking of relocating somewhere. But not Seattle. We're looking for a milder climate. What's it like here? I bet it's cold," said the man. He was 37, we would later learn. "Does it snow?"
"It snows every so often, but mostly it is a brutal, depressing winter because of the wind...though I am somewhat used to it because I'm from Sitka. There are a lot fewer people here, but we are a close knit group. It is the camaraderie that carries us through.
"Hmm...."said the man. "I must admit I like to have warmth. We are thinking of New Mexico...or Arizona."
"New Mexico is great!" said the bartendress. "I used to live there!"
Suddenly, Ian walked into the lush bar!
"You're not supposed to be here!" I whispered. The Washington Liquor Laws are as brutal as the winters.
"Here's your phone," he replied, shrugging his shoulders.
Mr. Austin, our problem...er...program director, sits like he always does, out in the big room with his laptop.
"This is where I do my work," he tells people, his tongue stud shining in the fluorescent lighting.
"Today Ian is going to the airport and going to Finland for a year," I tell him.
"Awesome," he says, and continues to type.
Ten minutes later, he expands:
"A guy that I knew went to Macedonia for two years. He lived upstairs in a house where the family had rented it out for rooms, but it had been empty for many years so the kids used it for a playroom. He had a problem that everytime he came home the kids thought they could come up and play, that it was theirs.
"It must have been a very different world, Macedonia," I commented.
"It is! It's very primitive there, isolated and the poverty is pervasive. There is no real cultural reference point with our world. I mean, they have contact, the see it on television, but they dont really know what's going on. There's teenagers there who would be listening to hip hop here, but there they...well, metal for instance, they'll listen to heavy metal and then the next moment they're playing the local folk music. They just put anything together with no reference to culture."
"Great," I say. "They just play music because they like it!"
"Yeah," he says, "it's really weird, you have someone who you think will be listening to hip hop, and they'll be totally wrapped up in their own folk music."
I avoid the freeway, travelling across the Broadway Bridge, then down on Sandy to the airport.
"I guess we have time for dinner," I tell Ian. We pop into the Rose City Cafe at the terminal and sit down.
"Here's the wines that we have on special," says the typically odd waiter, handing Ian a tiny menu.
"I read in Sunset Magazine that Shiraz is one name in Australia and another in France," Ian tells me.
"Huh!" I say.
My mind slips back to the AFS orientation at Portland's Rastafari Cafe, where three students...Wee Ian and girls going to Chile and Holland...who missed the real orientation and their parents were assembled for luncheon. They faced a nonchalant program official and a self-assured student who'd just got back from Italy.
"Any questions?" asked "Jim," digging into his jerked pork.
"They say that families arent supposed to visit..." began Ian.
"Ordinarily no. We want you to become immersed in the culture and your new family. For instance, there was one girl in Norway, we found out she was spending all her time in computer chat rooms chatting in English. That's just not in the right spirit. Had you planned to visit?" "Jim" looked at me quizzikly.
"Ehkä...jos voisin saada halpan SAS:n luppun ja voisin matkustella taas Suomessa ja Ruotsessa....." I thought to myself. Maybe this winter I could get another cheap ticket on SAS?
"Well, no, that's not it," said Ian. "I have a friend from camp who is moving to Helsinki, and I was thinking maybe I could go visit her."
"Oh, sure, no problem, friends are OK! What you need to do if you visit is sign a waiver...."
My mind slips back to Pasquale's Pizza, Homewood, Alabama, in the mid 60s, my mother saying:
"You're my buddy, arent you!!"
I took a bite out of my stromboli steak sandwich.
A couple years later, I would jump off the edge to college to accomplish some sort of real life. I left her there to watch television in her house in suburban Birmingham. It was about all I could do; my balance wasnt good enough to walk on the edge.
"Sometimes when you're snowboarding, it gets so hot you cant wear a coat, even though there's snow on the ground! It's the sun....."
The Dalles Discovery Center Exit, I-84...
"Portland!" answers the slight, mellow young man with long hair, dark yellow orange like California poppies at dusk. "my name's Eric...what's yours?
"Judith," I reply. I will later learn that Eric is 20, and is from Riverside County, from Temecula...between Los Angeles and San Diego.
"It's beautiful out there now, across the Gorge!"
"That's odd. I was just thinking how ugly and dry everything is." I would rather see a sea of greens and blues!
"Sure. But around Sunset you can see every color across the hills."
"Wow! The Columbia River! First time I've been in The Gorge! I was just here visiting my uncle who lives by the Discovery Center. He is sort of a recluse. Since I was here, I thought I better stop by and visit."
"Does he live in a house, or in that trailer court?"
"He lives in a three room apartment."
"That apartment strip by the old highway?" I had always thought of it as a disused motel.
"Yeah! He's...well, maybe around 61, fairly old. He used to work on the cherry harvest every year, first the fresh cherries, then the frozen...he says the season is expanding now as they bring in new varieties."
"Oregon Cherry Growers..."
"He didnt use to be reclusive but his wife died and now he just sits there and watches television."
"Did he put you up for the night then?"
"No, he said he didnt have any place to put me. But I don't mind sleeping out."
"It's nice weather right now."
The miles drift on like moving clouds, buoyed by the currents of Eric's shy shining smile.
"Where else have you been?"
"Did you hitch all that way?"
"No...my preferred method of travel is the train! The trip from Minneapolis was awesome! Through the Rockies and Glacier National Park! You're going through forest most of the time, it's nothing like what you see from the highway!"
Train! "Did you go coach?"
"Coach...no, Freight!" I should have known...
"Freight, eh? Here's a question...where do you ride that you can see all these things?"
"You know those container cars...two stacked on each other. At the front and back there is a bay, and that's where you sit. It's maybe half the size of this car. It's pretty roomy...three people can lay there side by side."
"Have you ever had any trouble? Have you ever been caught?"
"No you read about those gangs, but there are so many miles of rail, you never run into them. When we were in Minneapolis, though, one of my friends got found and they kicked him off. We had to all get off and look for him. In the end, we had to go up the road...northwest... and get on. It was impossible."
August, 2006: The Columbia Gorge
Yep...lots of discoveries happen at the Discovery Center! For instance, at the July Meeting of the Scarlet Begonias, held the Center's informal, woodsy Windy River Room!
"You know, I've lived here all these years," said Florence, "but I've never been on the Sternwheeler!"
"Whoa, me either," added Eileen,"...let's scrap Romol's next month...who needs pasta and wine? Let's have brunch on the Columbia!"
"Ladies! It's settled then!" announced Queen Mother Pink Angel Janet. "We''ll carpool to Cascade Locks and take the Riverboat next month!"
Her words were like steel rivets in our ears.
On the Friday before the trip, Ian said:
"Jeff from Meeting wants to go on a macho Quaker up to the summit of Mt Adams so we can bond before I leave for Finland. I need a ride to McDonald's in Hood River." Saturday dawned bright and early. I carpooled with Ian and his backpack and box of blueberries!
The Dalles-----Hood River----Cascade Locks----Portland Metro -----=20 miles
=============================================The Columbia River
"I love your shoes," I told someone in the restroom of the Cascade Locks Sternwheeler Depot. They were lavender satin with gold trim and their bearer looked a little Chinese. Who was she? Why did she look at me so strangely?
"Gals, there's another group here from Vancouver! Isnt that delightful?" Pink Angel Janet would tell us, just before we got our pictures taken with the distinguished captain! "And guess what! There is a WEDDING on the second floor salon!"
I followed the gals into the dining room. We set down our purses, our cameras, and ourselves, but we did not take off our hats. We never take off our hats during a Red Hat event, even if we have a headache, that would be an unforgivable sin! The waitress, dressed in black and white, brought us coffee or tea and orange juice.
"Who would like cider here, and who would like champagne?"
She poured those who wanted it a flute of champagne. Later, she would stop by and offer more. You can have as much champagne as you want, that's why they call it a champagne brunch.
"How is it exactly you make a mimosa? Do you just pour the orange juice in?" I asked.
"I think it is just to your taste," the woman seated across from me answered, a wise look on her face.
"Ladies!" announced Pink Angel Janet. "They have opened the buffet!"
Our gals headed on up, some piling their plates high with bread pudding and eggs benedict and bacon, others skimping, both of which are permissible. How many times have you heard a lady say, "I'm on a diet." As for myself, imagine eating all the smoked salmon and fruit salad you want!
A woman in her sixties stopped by our table. She said:
"I've heard of the Red Hats? You all look so beautiful! What is your Cause?"
Queen Mother answered, "We dont have a Cause. We are just here to have a good time!"
The woman smiled.
The waitress returned. This is what she said:
"I wondered if I might ask you something. This is just my summer job: I am earning money for nursing school...I also work at a facility for Alzheimer patients, and I take my group around to visit places. I would like to organize a chapter of Red Hat for them. I think they would love it. And they'd love to make hats! I wonder if anyone here would have experience making hats?"
"I'd love to help you out on that!" said the Queen Mother. She dug in her huge irredescent lavender purse. "Let me give you my card!"
"I just love those women," said the waitress. They are so interesting! I would love to just ask them all to live in my basement!"
"Is this the kind of nursing are you going into?" someone asked.
"I think so, yes. I worked at the Childrens Hospital and it tore me apart, having a three year old myself. But these older people, they lived their lives, they've been happy. It doesnt bother me so much."
Upstairs, I imagined, two people dressed in white were toasting their lives together. Later, I would take three pictures of them posing for pictures, his hand on
her shoulder as she held a champagne glass. Onshore, the hemlocks and maples, the Stevenson landslide, and the Grande Ronde flows drifted by. Indians sat on
their wood fishing platforms and white fishermen in boats held their rods and reels. Behind the boat, the red slat of the wheel turned over and over in the water.
It was a sunny but cool late afternoon in The Dalles, Oregon. Suzy Skunk lumbered perkily across what used to be a well kept Japanese Garden Oasis, not that she cared, and was about to lumber further toward Mill Creek when she saw Katie Kat lounging in her window of the house, bulging out the screen.
"Katie!" exclaimed Suzy Skunk. "How are you! I saw the human carry you down the long pale rock and get into the hrududu with you...." Neither Katie nor her wimpy brother Fred ever left the house unless it was to..."
"We went to the VET!" hissed Katie. "One by one...the human who used to be little is at her friends house having her hair cut and dyed blue today. So the big one who is now the smallest had to take us separately. I was scared so much I left half my coat on her jacket! And I drew blood on her arm as well, with my lethal claws in panic."
"That's how you got your names, right....Freddy Katie...Fraidy Kat?"
"That is true! And we have a brother in Texas named Hay-Soos. But they do awful torture to you on the shining table, chip tartar off your teeth, insert long pine needles into you.....there was another cat in there, the one on fourth street with thirteen toes, you know, the tabby who moved here from BZ Corner up in Washington. She was going to have to spend the night in that fiery inferno of horrors! You, being a woman of the wild, would never understand."
"There is a reason, you know, why people dont keep skunks for pets," suggested Suzy.
"Ugh! But listen, here is a story that my brother told me: He could only hear because when he went in there he kept his head tucked underneath the human's arm so no one would see him. What a smart guy. The first thing he heard was that a dog there didnt want to get out of the pickup hrududu! Big surprise! His human drove back and forth from Portland all the time because they were scraping off his eyeballs and he was trying to get an apartment there, but no one would allow dogs, even though he had a certificate from the vet that Burrito was a companion animal."
"That's pretty exciting," yawned Suzy, and the reader as well.
"And...more gossip! Dr. Haines was out testing semen on one bull!"
"Huh!" replied Suzy. She remembered how two white butterflies had soared and dove together right before her eyes, over by the mint and tomato patch.
Katie continued, her tartar-free canines gleaming in the afternoon shadows. "Then two older men came in and asked,
'How's my dog?'
The receptionist answered, 'The doctor's in with her now, and she needs permission to anesthesize your dog, so she can clean it out. You'll have to plan on picking her up tomorrow if that's the case. But nothings broken.'
'Well...anything we can do...' said the second.
'Whose dog is this anyway?' said the receptionist, a wiry woman, heavily under the influence of caffeine. Her eyes were like drills.
'Ha ha...she's mine! But we bought a ranch together thirty years ago and split it down the middle. So we know each other pretty-darn-well!'
'That's why you complete each others sentences...' stated the receptionist with dry stridency.
'Yep,' said the other. 'But let me tell you this. **My horse** attacked that dog. A few years ago, she was attacked by a cougar and she's been skittish ever since when one's around. We've had a bunch of calves being born lately...'
'I thought calves were born in the spring,' interjected Suzy.
'...and we figure a cougar's been coming down after the afterbirths.'
'A cougar!' The words had sunk in. The perky skunk's brown eyes opened wide.
July, 2006: California
Imagine finding yourself near Sierra City at sundown! That's what happened to the Northern Sierra Terrane. Formed during the Devonian as volcanoes erupted in an island arc along the edge of North America, it...
"What happened then? How did it get to be a Terrane, stuck on top of the Shoofly Complex? Is its presence an example of obduction?"[ ]
That's where my memory fails. I can see the page in the book, see the diagram in my head, but when I try and find the answer in "Geologic Trips: Sierra Nevada," it's not there.
"So that's why you've been putting off this story?"
"Yep...but in every volcanic ash cloud there is a silver lining, an analogy to something or other."
The route through Sierra County is a great place to see the stacking of terranes in the Sierras. First, you drive up (and up) the road where, thanks to one of many kind flaggers, you are able to sample the Sierra Batholith, formed later when the subduction zone jumped westward.
"What's that blah white rock that suddenly showed up in the Japanese garden?" asks Suzy Skunk?
"Who knows? The human says it is 'granodiorite from California'..." answers Kitty Katie.
Then it's WHUMP! Here comes a front loader! Run for your car!
After that, the terranes begin to appear
Sierra City isnt very big. In the days of the gold rush, adventurous people found huge chunks of gold in the rocks, but now, pfft! A great tourist place! I'd looked at the piney campsites , swarming happily with California families and friends clustered outside big tents and bikers avoiding their little tents. In my opinion, the campgrounds were bereft of showers....
"No!" I exclaimed to Yellow Aveo.
In Sierra City, I was misled by a sign that said MOTEL REASONABLE RATES VACANCY.
"My misteak!" apologized the manager. "You wont find anything in town...there's a big wedding here! How about a bed and breakfast? Most of the people who come through are road crews, and they don't want a B&B." He smiled as though indicating my superior gentility.
"Whatever," I said....no, I said "Sure!"
"Why didnt she want to stay in a romantic Italianate, where she could have had wine on the terrace if she'd showed up at a decent hour?" asked Suzy.
"Because," answered Katie, "on this trip she WAS the road crew. There is a time and place for everything."
The owner was a handsome robust man with greying hair. Upstairs I would choose a room with the same selection of discount wallpaper (large red roses on a white background) that I'd used on my bedroom in Bryan, ca 1998, and a shared tub. Too bad I didnt meet the guy I was sharing it with!
"Are the stairs OK for you?" he asked.
"Yeah," I answered, and then blundered laughingly, "I climb eight flights of steps every time I park in Portland!"
"Can I help you with that bag?" he asked.
I stared at him and hoisted the wheelie over my shoulder.
"She just didnt look like the road crew, despite her muddy sandals," continued Katie.
I walked back down to Harrington's, the mis-labeled pine-clad resort, for dinner, and ordered their special, a nine pound pan-fried orange roughy filet and a glass of pinot gris.
"She would later pay for these epicurean orgies by going not only on a diet to loose 18 pounds, but also on the wagon to loose 18 pounds," explained Katie.
"She looks a little thinner," replied Suzy. "Does she miss not drinking?"
"Yeah, " said Katie. "She misses going over to the Eagles Aerie."
"Eagles!!!" shuddered Suzy, her scent glands throbbing.
"Excuse me, Small Mammals!" glared the waitress, turning towards my table. "Would you like anything else? Another glass of wine?"
"Actually, I'd like a cosmopolitan. I collect cosmopolitans." I picked up my "Roadside Geology of California" and began to read. She returned with an orangish cosmo in a crooked glass.
"How is it?" she would later ask.
"Um...I think you might need a little more cranberry juice. And it's the orangest one I've ever had. What's in it?"
"A couple of years ago, everyone was asking for cosmopolitans, so we looked it up on the internet. It said use just a splash of cranberry. [this is correct]. And lime."
"It tastes like you have quite a bit of triple sec in here."
"The recipe said to use orange vodka."
"Wow! I never head of that! But it tastes good. Did anyone ever mention it?"
"No...but usually it's in the bar, and by the time they get around to it they're so far gone..."
"...So far gone they dont care."
"French toast my special way with blueberries, cream, and grand marnier!" announced the host. The guests were now assembled for breakfast in the sumptuous dining room. The two couples...a sturdy cheerful young duo and his parents....were guests at the wedding!
"I havent seen the Australian!" mused the host.
"The photographer never eats breakfast...he has a big day ahead of him in any case!" answered the younger man. Hmm....He reminded me of a construction worker.
"Where are you from?" I asked.
"We're from [oops...forgot!] in The Bay Area," answered the daughter-in-law. What a surprise!
I continued, prodding, "Who is getting married?"
No one minded answering. "He's a friend of ours...we've known him since we were kids. We all used to come up here every summer, to Salmon Lake. It was a tradition." The boy's eyes became hazy in the morning calm.
"Must be a short season here," commented the father.
"Two months," answered our host. You had to make hay while the sun shines, not the snow.
Someone asked me "Why are you here? Where have you been?"
"I'm looking at rocks. There's some great greywackes from the Northern Sierra Terrane up at Bear Lake....I walked up there yesterday."
"You walked up to Bear Lake?" asked the host. Up is the word, but nothing like the Columbia Gorge, where everything is Up. "If you're hiking, let me get you a map."
"Do you have heavy boots?" asked the father.
"No, I hike in these sandals." My sandals are Made In California.
"You better get some hiking boots because there are RATTLESNAKES up there!!" he chuckled.
"Yikes! Rattlesnakes!" exclaims Suzy.
"Oh no!" replies Kitty Katy. "What's that smell!"
The conversation turned to home remodeling. I wanted no part of it, not any more, except to listen. The other guests lived side by side, what luck to find a fixer upper right there for only a couple million dollars!
Our hostess began, "We've owned our house for thirty years. We raised our children here. I used to drive into Reno three nights [two days?] a week to get my courses for teacher certification, you'd see me standing by the washer on Sunday night doing load after load surrounded by fifty children..."
"It was a real mess when we bought it...it used to be a house, a boarding house, and an annex to the hotel over there. For instance, if you look at that wall over there <analogy clip>."
"But then we retired," said our hostess. "We had the house, and we had to do something!" Or maybe it was always their dream. "There are fewer and fewer jobs in teaching now," added the host.
"Why are there fewer and fewer children?" I asked.
"Because," answered the host, "For one thing there is little available land, it's all public land. But for the most part, it's because the kids have all grown up and left. In those days, people were willing to make do with less; there was a back to nature movement. People would come up and live in shacks, in their parents summer cabins, heat with wood, dry their clothes outside."
"Anyone want more French toast?" asked the host.
"I'll take a couple pieces!" I answered. Grand Marnier and Cream!
Canada Geese are looking for dinner now, down by the river at Cascade Locks. They are like food scattered out for chickens on the lawn of the park!
At Hood River, a big semi has slung its silver trailer off the road. It's cab is on the shoulder, but its load is not. A man is emerging from a two truck.
Before Ian left home for Finland, and Emma and Baby Victor went home to Texas, before Erin dyed her hair red and yellow, we visited Hood River for luncheon. In the middle of town a publicity team, wiry and hip, were pulling a sailboard across the street, shooting photos. Trafffic was backed up. Later the team and their board would scale the Salmon fountain as well, as Baby Victor stood and stared.
"I do not think I would like to live here," said Emma. "I could not get used to these people."
1) August, 2006: "I'll look after Victor," she said, and grabbed the foldable stroller. Emma and Ian were free to look for presents to take with them to the families they had or would adopt somewhere else. She walked up and down the big mall of the chic airport, so chic that it had given the town its new name of "PDX." Then she walked back to "Made In Oregon" and released Victor from his stroller. She watched him like a red-tail watches a baby skunk! What an active little creature this Salvadoran puppy was!
She thought softly of Emma and Ian as toddlers and glanced a second toward the store...
YIKES! GONE! She walked out into the charming mall, pivoted in a circle and yelled "VICTOR!!!! VICTOR!!!" Do you remember the first time you lost a grandchild? PANIC!!! "I'm looking for a toddler with big brown eyes!" her mind explained to Airport Security. "High Priority!! He's a Salvadoran Rebel and is known to bite if angered!!!."
Swiveling, then she saw him in the broad doorway of the next store, on a big furry horse, riding furiously, an outlaw trailed by the sheriff's posse.
"That baby sure likes that rocking horse!" a lady exclaimed to her friend, smiling.
2)September, 2006: "Hola!" exclaims the man at the door. Is he selling something? "I'm Coach Perez, Ian's soccer coach, and I thought he would be here this year.."
"He's in Finland!" I exclaim.
"Si...That's what they told me. What a surprise! But I need his uniform. I e-mailed him and called him to no avail. But we have a game tonite and we need the uniform." His dark eyes and mustache pleaded with me in desperation.
"Hmm..." I think. It's one thing to leisurely ponder going through a room of disorganized clothes, another to be given an ultimatum. "The only thing I can do is have you go into that room with me and look!"
"If you'll let me, if that is OK with you." What else can you do?
"Well, it's not on this shelf or in the closet."
"Oh," says Senor Perez depressively. "Can I look in this drawer?"
"Any place you want!" Perez opens the little drawer to find three neatly folded garments of red and gold polyester, alone and pristine against the surrounding disorder.
Three AM, pitch blackness, The Dalles Oregon...
"Like a cigarette?" someone asked.
"Sure!" I answered.
"It's not like you to smoke."
"This one is special."
I flicked up a tiny flickering flame. The cigarette grew long in my hand, long and red and chic like a straw that you would use tandem in a margarita glass. I drew in my breath, the taste of cranberry, lime and vodka washing across my tongue....and a little triple sec, too!
Imagine you're keeping a journal about a journey, but after the fact, you have to have remember everything, except the stuff you can find in "Roadside Geology of the Antarctic" or the flyers you've kept from chic places like Motel 6 in Burlington, Washington. The first day out, every event is imprinted in your mind. That's the most important day for your memory....unfortunately it's usually spent driving up I5 or flying coach out of PDX for 14 hours. If you're lucky, you'll fly first class and meet a machinist from Wasilla, but that's really rare. But still, there can be some adventure.
Walt Simmons leaned his broad stomach against the counter and smiled. It was a short week here at W&L Automotive, and for some reason, there was less business than usual. His son, Larry, was taking a long lunch...ten o'clock was pretty early for lunch, Walt thought. Right now they were changing the oil in that little yellow Aveo, the one where the lady had bought a second coupon book, she didnt ever bring the vehicle it in at 3000 mile intervals, but waited. He shrugged.At the rate she was putting on the numbers, he guessed it must be freeway miles.
"Wednesday, at ten...that's TOMORROW!!! he teased."Remember that! Tomorrow!" Once, she'd clear forgot to come in for her scheduled oil change appointment!
There she was, right there, reading one of their Newsweeks. It was the new one, where all the people wrote in to defend the value of an Ivy League college in obtaining success. Yep. That's where he'd gone, Harvard School of Auto Mechanics! Ha ha ha! he laughed to himself. Go Ducks! Also there was a lot of stuff in there about 9/11. He had already been at work in the shop when the news came over Y104. He was glad he didnt live in New York!
Suddenly, the plate glass door swung open! Why, it was Manuel Gutormsen from Tygh Valley!
"Walt, I got big problems with the clutch slipping in my Yukon!" moaned Manuel.
"Huh, we'll take a look at it after we get this oil changed." That Aveo wasnt much bigger than a peanut. "How did you like doing that 4H demonstration last week?'
"I'm a firm believer in having kids learn how to gut and hang sheep. That way they learn where their meat comes from."
Manuel then fell into revelations on secret places to find tenderloin in the carcasses of elk and caribou.
The tropical fish in the tank by the pop machine began to swim a little more excitedly.
"What did you do over Labor Day?" asked Manuel.
"Ha ha, we went riding up on Mount Adams!" answered Walt. "We were up at the horse camp...Kathy Tomlinson has this horse that's 19 hands high, I mean he's HUGE. She had to stand on top of a picnic table to get on!" Chuckle! "Well, when she was just about on him...he's skittish and he bucked! She tried to hold on to the saddle horn but couldnt...you can see where it bruised up her hand when it hit it. Then after she fell off, the horse walked on top of her...you can tell that because you can see a bruise in the shape of a horseshoe on her leg. THEN he lost his balance and fell and rolled on top of her, and I mean this is a HUGE horse. Well! Linda Taylor she's a paramedic and she checked her out and there were no broken bones. Big black bruises all over her, but no broken bones. We was all getting off of our horses thinking we'd be calling an ambulance for her....but when she got up she rolled over into a little ball and then she got up and back up on to the picnic table and she said,
Detroit, Michigan, June 2006, "You cant get to Bangor from here!":
"Oh no," I said to Erin. "Our plane is DELAYED." We were spending the entire day flying, as you learned and forgot a couple months ago, from PDX to Newark, to Bangor, and driving Erin to Darrow Canoe Camp near Grand Lake Stream, which is another story indeed! Then I would go on, in a rental Pontiac with Pennsylvania plates.
"Huh," she said, yawning.
"There's an agent at the Houston gate...let's ask her!" I exclaimed. And over there behind us was a gate that said BANGOR! Why go to Newark when you could just fly directly to Bangor?
Erin rolled her eyes.
"You've got 45 minutes to get to your gate. Plenty of time!" said agent. Right-O!
"Let's stop at a chic cafe like they have at PDX and have a little lunch," I suggested, nervous. Soon I was sitting in a plastic chair gobbling a delicious 5" cheese pizza, while Erin had the scrumptious M&M and skittles plate.
The conversations aboard the aeroplane were animated.
"I wonder if there's another British Air flight tomorrow."
"Gee I sure hate to miss the first day of our Mediterranean cruise."
There are always people with worse problems. Imagine being stuck at a railroad station in Crewe. We were just trying to get to BANGOR!
Of course you cant get from one terminal to another in Newark in 15 minutes, nor can your luggage. You have to run like hell and then wait for the second bus, the one with the SNAIL painted on the side. Then you run like hell.
"Oh, no!" said a woman we hadnt seen before. She had arrived at the same time as us, too! How does this happen? "There's no one around." Gate 537B was dead empty.
Soon another woman, this one in a uniform, appeared.
"Our planes were late!" said the woman, who as it turns out had flown here from Charlotte, North Carolina. She chatted with the clerk, then turned to us.
"She says the plane has already backed away from the gate. But she says it's at the pilot's discretion. She's going to call." Her face suddenly became grey as steel, her eyes spinning in fear. "I cant get stuck in Newark. I cant!" she snarled. "It is so hard to get to BANGOR!! It's nine thirty...this is the last plane!!!" The correct way to pronounce that noun is "BAN-ger." But I often say "Ban-GOR" because there is a lilt to it. Some people just say "Bang-ger."
"I have three transfers here..." began the clerk.
And thus did the plane back up and the door open to let us in.
"Madam...you cant sit there where your ticket says. It will ruin the weight distribution!" said the lone flight attendant. Just like in the Aleutians! I passed the seats of Erin and the North Carolinian and moved on back to an approved single one.
Suddenly a voice came on the intercom. "This is your pilot. We are currently waiting here on the runway for 20 minutes and probably more due to a horrendous storm in Maine!" The attendant rolled her eyes and started taking drink orders.
"Where are you from?" asked the crusty old blonde catty corner from me.
"We flew out of Portland this morning!" I said.
"We did too! He's [her husband] from Arapakahoosik...we're going back to visit his family. And this is my friend Darlene. We started out at six...we had a nine hour layover in Newark."
"But Nadine met a lot of people in those six hours!" said Darlene. "Ha ha ha...we just went from bar to bar, tasting all the drinks!"
"I'll have a glass of white wine," Nadine the Blonde told the stewardess.
"I'll have one too," I echoed.
"What are you doing here?" she asked me.
"I'm taking my son...oops...daughter to camp near Grand Lake Stream. You cant get there as an unaccompanied minor from the West Coast."
"SON!!!!" screamed Erin, aghastedly. "Your SON!!!"
"Sorry..." I said sheepishly. "It's usually Ian who is having problems getting to BANGOR!"
"A lot of the flights were cancelled all up and down the East Coast," began the North Carolinian. "The weather around Charlotte was AWFUL! I was lucky to get out of there!"
"Do you have business in Maine?" asked Darlene.
"I actually live there...in BANGOR! I'm going home!" said our fellow transfer.
"Weather was fine in Portland!" I commented.
Suddenly, the young couple sitting next to me woke up. "Huh! The weather is AWFUL in Portland! They cancelled our flight." A lot of people dont know this, but Portland is named after Portland! "That's why we're flying to BANGOR!" said the woman. "My brother is going to drive over to pick us up. Where's my cell phone?"
"In fact...if we'd known we'd be delayed this long, we'd have rented a car and driven to Portland!" said the man defiantly.
"Well...it appears the weather has cleared up a bit," announced the pilot. We've taxied into the line now...we're currently number 25...." Soon we would be number one and in the air, on our violent and bumpy way to BANGOR!!!!
The world is just one trip out of The Dulles after another, and the most important story is always the beginning, when your mind is a blank slate with no
branches overgrowing it! One minute you're in a skit in Parkdale Elementary portraying a snag and the next you are sitting in the bulkhead on an airplane with a
beaver painted on the tail, the Oregon Express! On your right is a middle aged man reading a hard cover novel and on the right is an elderly man...perhaps he is
eighty. The area around his right eye is enlarged as if an angry fist had hit his skull and stuck. The glass on the right lens of his spectacles is frosted.
Vestavia, Alabama, I am nine, dressed as a pink southern belle made in Hong Kong, and I ring the bell. "Trick or Treat" I announce and a man appears, the bone around one eye massively enlarged. He and his wife give me a cup of hot chocolate. I think he is scary. I wonder if he will die soon.
Halfway into the flight, the old man asks me, "Where are you headed?"
"Atlanta," I answer.
"I'm going to Omaha," he says. "Then I take the bus to Republican. Then someone will come get me."
"Where is it you live?"
"South central Nebraska...Alma...it's not very big. It's on a lake. I've lived there all my life."
"We used to drive through Nebraska on the way to Minnesota from Texas. It's pretty dry there."
"It is! The lake is used for irrigation, and the level is half way down. You cant irrigate without water! This year is one of the worst droughts we've had."
As he chats, I pretend, envision him as a hitchhiker and 23, off on the road, because that's where he is now, on the road. The words flow out of his young mouth like a lahar in spring.
"They had a flood there...back in 1935. It was a big mess!"
"Portland...yep, I was visiting a friend there. What gets me about Portland is that there's so many TREES!!!"
I laugh. Indeed there are trees!
"Earlier this summer, I was visiting a friend in Idaho...first time I'd been there. And then we went down through Yellowstone!!! We looked at the geysers.
"Yellowstone!" I exclaim.
Doors dont open till 4:30pm.
Atlanta.....Crystal Springs Road...the miles peeling away as if from a tangerine!
How different it was here from downtown! The nature preserve was steeped in gentility, surrounded by large homes, churches with big lawns, and even a gated subdivision. I swung into the empty lot. I would not see another person until I emerged again from the woods.
I snapped photos of the tiny stone springhouse, overgrown with moss and algae, the ancient Birmingham waterworks and the still waters of disused ponds, driving off the Forida Short Route the back way through the small forest that crested Shades Mountain...not just that, but stretched like an endless flock of green birds to the south, over Double Oak, to be later picked off one by one, shot like passenger pigeons as development by development made the present the past. I turned and walked along creek, off the asphalt and past the trash cans onto dirt. What trees were these?...tulip tree, I remembered, tulip poplar, tulip magnolia, yellow poplar, someone else calls them.
"You forgot what trees you saw in Maine! Lucky you had a camera! Write 'em down, fool!" I told myself. Here is what I wrote as I climbed up and up:
"Tulip Tree. Hickory. Sycamore. Maple. 3 needle pine long needles, long cones [longleaf, you fool!]. Mimosa sprouts. POISON IVY!! [Looks down at sandals in horror]. VA creeper. [we were now in the upland...you didnt see magnolia in the flood plain] Beech or chinqapin. White Oak. Plant with huge obovate leaves. Sweet gum fruit. Red Oak. Quartzite cobbles. Bush with heartshaped leaves...
"Redbud, you fool!"
You could still hear the sounds of traffic...but you saw nothing but the airy forest, the forest green of magnolia leaves against the brown of trunks. Up here there were more pines. That's how it was in Alabama, pine trees, but oaks and maples as well. I wished that I had written the trees down as I walked in the woods as a child. I turned and picked up a Dasani bottle, and started back down. I picked up a Gatorade, and that was all the litter I had seen on the way there, at least past the flat valley. Over on my right off the trail was a half buried piece of cellophane, turning into a flat glass bottle as I bent over, thick and too small to be a fifth. It had been closed at one time by a smooth stopper or cork instead of a screw top; now it was open and moss and algae and moist air grew inside. I walked perhaps ten feet, then I laid it back down next to a log and walked on down the hill. Near the asphalt path, I took a photo of an old outhouse, nothing left but the toilet standing like a mushroom streaked with algae.
"Sumac," I said to myself. "Castor bean." But I didnt write them down.
Back in the parking lot, a woman sat in a sedan with her cell phone. A man in a pickup was having Fritos and coke for his afternoon snack.
"Tomorrow," I told myself, "I will drive to Birmingham."
But tomorrow was too late in the day. "I'm on Pacific Time!" I told myself. "I'll go to the Cyclorama instead!" I couldnt, though, because it was too late in the day to find a parking spot. Should I try the Arboretum? I drew in a deep breath.
"No, I'm driving to Alabama!!!" For an Oregonian, this is no big deal. Alabama is only 40 miles west of Atlanta. It's like driving to Stevenson Washington to see the local production of "Pirates Of Penzance." My mind raced back to the leading man rushing through the aisles and holding a knife to my throat as I sat in the bleachers. AUGH!!!
As I drove west on I-20, the number of pines increased.
Yep, there it was, Alabama, You Are Entering Central Time, the Alabama Welcome Station.
"We dare defend our rights," read a white marble sign. In front of my mind, the slab turned into George Wallace. I looked back towards the forest and he disappeared. I walked a while. There were a few more pine trees, and some oaks and maples.
I went back the long way, taking a photo of the gas prices at the Shell station I stopped at. $2.24...Roll Tide! I filled up the Malibu (National's definition of sub-compact!), walked past some staring farmers sipping coffee at melmac tables, and bought my gas and a slice of cheese pizza. Then I turned around and there it was, a display with two soup buckets and it said:
"PEANUT PATCH BOILED PEANUTS...REGULAR and TRY OUR NEW CAJUN!!!"
I propped the big styrofoam cup of peanuts on the seat, took a bite of pizza, and pulled away from the pump. An Alabama State Trooper hell bent for coffee put on his brakes!
I drove back the long way, watching the still commonplace houses and fields and forests. I stopped again for a coke.
"I like your TShirt!" commented the clerk, awash in dipthongs. It was the black one with the wolf staring at you.
"It's from Finland," I said. "I like yours too!" It said "For Sale" and gave her phone number.
"Ha ha," replied the woman. "My son gave it to me for my birthday. He's grounded and he wants to get rid of me!"
Five minutes later, I was back in Georgia.
How many 8th graders can you pack into an aveo? Too many to be legal! I thought 4 hitchikers and a dog was the limit, but this record would be surpassed when Erin called to say:
"I have a headache! It's hot! Can you come pick me up at school?" Some parents hear this a lot and others dont. The best way to avoid it is to hide at work or in a place with zero signal, like the Big Lava Flow Wilderness Area. You cant even use a compass there!
But I was bored and sympathetic. In five minutes the little Aveo swung into the parking lot of The Dalles Middle School. There was Erin! And Keenan! And Alfredo! And...uh...at the time I didnt notice who else. But they were all guys...most of Erins friends are guys because she doesnt like pink. My daughter began to violently pitch empty mountain dew bottles, dusty jackets, and Sacred Harp books out of the back seat.
"Augh! Dont throw those tire chains at me!" I requested. "Try the trunk!" It was too hot to use chains now, so she might as well.
"The trunk!" exclaimed Alfredo. It's actually a hatchback. He began to crawl in.
"No one in the trunk...that's illegal!" I countered.
Boy after boy entered the back seat. They were all small...Jordan with his long blond hair reminds me of a little manga elf...except Keenan, step-son of a Montana trucker.
"Say, Keenan, remember when we took James home?," I asked. "We were scraping the ground!" James has a thyroid problem they say, but he's pretty jolly about it, though Erin opines that he is a misogynist.
It wasnt too far to Alfredo's house on 13th. Just before that I started to ask, "Got your seat belts fastened?" But we were almost there. Trampus and Alfredo got out.
"Do you have money for a smoothie?" asked Erin.
"I suppose I do!" I said, jolly mom that I am.
Erin leaned out and yelled "We're going for smoothies!" as we sped away. How rude! But Alfredo just shrugged. Wait though, two kids out and three kids in. That's four boys in the back seat! If I'd had an accident, the State of Oregon would have chopped off my head!"
"Things are different this year," pondered Keenan as we descended into downtown.
"Alex isnt wearing that big coat all the time," offered Erin.
"I asked him once wasnt he hot and he told me that he experienced hot as cold and cold as hot," expanded Keenan.
"Yeah, he told me that too, and I asked him didnt a coat make him colder and he said no it was more complex than that," continued Erin
"And those papers he carried around with him, they were creepy," added Erin.
"I looked at those papers once," said Jordan the Elf. "They were really scary."
Portland, September 2006: Tuition! Every year tuition goes up at PSU, even if you are taking only one course! Where does that money come from? Wells Fargo!
"What are you studying?" asked the bank officer, a calm man with thin blondish baldingness and an accent.
"Hmm..." I answered. Too complicated! "Nordic language and literature."
"I speak a Nordic language!" he told me. "I'm from Holland."
"I was in Holland a couple times." This was back in '96.
"What did you think?"
"People were really nice."
"Of course. That is what we were taught. Could you sign right here?"
"And...almost everyone spoke English, but when they didnt, it was a surprise!"
"Yes...pretty much everyone speaks English well, except for some of the older people. It's because they have subtitles on the TV; in Germany they dub it. In Holland you listen to the English. English is hard, though. When you have conversations in English, you use so many words. If you go to dinner with someone, you have to be saying something all the time. In Holland, we are quiet some of the time."
"Huh, I didnt realize that!"
"This is a beautiful place. You are so lucky to live here. If you are over 65, you can take a course free at the university, did you know that? In Holland, you never go back to school, you are a baker you stay a baker, you would never change what you did. The dentist treats you with the same methods he learned 20 years ago. It's been years since I have lived there, though, maybe things are changing now.
"In Holland, you can walk out into the sea, they have boats that come get you because you can not walk back before the tide comes in."
I wanted to say "Like the Bay of Fundy," but I didnt think it was really the same.
"When you are back there, do that, go walking out into the ocean. Here, I'll write it down!"
He turned over one of his business cards and wrote this:
I found this on the internet: http://www.bamjam.net/Nederland/Wadlopen.html
I have, in fact, walked on the ocean floor every time I've gone to an ocean that had a floor, as opposed to a bunch of rocks. Galveston! Mendocino! Oceanside...and one place that is only a briefly haunting Deja Vu.
"You can walk out only so far and then it drops off," warns a disembodied voice.
But no walk on the ocean floor was more foreign than my phycology class trip to Puerto Penasco, armpit of Mexico.
It was in the spring of 1982, the second and last semester of my ill fated attempt to study Botany at Arizona State. It was not because I was stupid that it was ill fated; A is for algae. It was because...oh heck, that's another story, but as the gene-splicing supervisor of teaching assistants informed me,
"You're not a botanist."
Neither, in his opinion, was anyone else who walked around in living natural rapture exclaiming things like "There's a really stunning Opuntia Bigelovii (Teddy Bear Cactus)...!!!!"
I wish I remembered more of the sultry trip. Our class van barrelled past towering saguaro and gangly ocotillo, past steamy Ajo and on over the Mexican border. We had no problems getting through, or back for that matter, but one woman brought her car and she was worried about her insurance.
"Why are we pulling over at this battered hulk of a building?" I asked.
"The guys are getting some beer," answered Tina, a fellow student who would later confide to me that she wasnt interested in people when they were ill. Soon we would roll over more desolate landscape into Rocky Point, as the Americans call it. In those days, it was popular for Arizonians to go down there in campers or even cars with tents to the beach because it was closer than California. In those days there were fishing boats docked there. Shrimp was cheap. I think I took some home with me.
"Better get some shrimp here!" warned our teacher.
"Oh look!" I exclaimed. "The beach!" Was it trees on the other side of the road? Was it acacia or ocotillo? Or just sand dunes? Toilet paper hung from them as thick as caterpillars on birches along the shores of Superior. That's what happens when a lot of Arizonians camp on the beach. The pale white adobe research station looked more dignified, perched in the dunes like a mansion on the Grand Cayman shore. Wow! It was all a facade. We women were given one bare room with a floor to spread our sleeping bags on. Out the unglazed window rolled wave after wave of white dunes as far as the eye could see until a brown mountain became an island. How stunning!
We spent the weekend wading around after Milt Sommerfeld in the shallow clear ocean identifying and collecting seaweed. Milt was our professor. You can see a photo of him on the internet at http://sols.asu.edu/faculty/msommerfeld.php but he didnt look like that back then. He was younger, and lucky for us he was an exceptionally nice man. I took some slides of the algae and labeled them with names: Colpomena, Codium, Cutlena, Dictyopteris, Dictyotum, Enteromorpha, Gelidium, Gracilaria, Laurencia, Padina, Unknown...oops! Then we would go and sit on the beach and fry in the sun. The folks who were Milt's grad students would hang around inside by picnic tables and press specimens. In the evening, the guys would drink their beer.
I wonder what else we did. I wonder what we ate and what the stories were.
The Dalles, 11PM Tuesday, returning from Portland, I set my laptop on my table and turn it on. Moving to plug it in, I trip over the cord. Wham! It drops 12
inches, hitting the chair.
"Whew!" I exclaim. But no, wait! Why is Windows still loading? And still loading?
"I'm almost sure we can get some of the data off of it." declares the man at WindowSurfer Computers
4 days later, after the techie in India has dispatched me a new hard drive from Texas. After a couple hours on the phone, you get Sanskrit fatigue and all the instructions become plates of spinach curry.
What can be more awful, though, than an accident with the C drive?
"The Canada Drive"
Summer ended that October week in the Columbia Gorge. Like a Dell Laptop losing its innocence, there would never be another carefree Summer of '06. Never ever. In The Dalles, the air was as grey as an Aleutian harbor. The bone boring greyness followed my yellow Aveo along I5 to Hood River, then south up the Hood on OR 35, where the Aveo and the road climbed slowly through browning leaves and crisp harvested orchards. Just past Odell the shroud lifted; Mount Hood rose above us white with snow like a sharks tooth impaled in the azure leg of heaven! Just past this is where he stood, right in front of the old schoolhouse my friend June lived in before she moved to Skagway. He was an immaculate, bearded man in sportsmans clothes. He had a pack and his thumb was out!
"I'm not going very far," I said. "Just to Parkdale." I had a date with fifth graders, to demonstrate the secrets of environmental stewardship! I would do this by impersonating a Douglas Fir tree seeking a mycorrhyzal partnership.
"That's fine...whereever that is!" said the man. "I'm trying to get to Colorado, but I didnt think I'd be doing it this way! My pickup caught fire and I lost everything in it. Golly...I havent hitchiked in 20 years." He paused. "I was up in Canada...in Jasper. Beautiful country! Beautiful!" He shook his head in reverance. "Headed south now, it's elk hunting season and my buddies at home say they're ready to go!" Was he sixty-five? Older or younger?
"I was up in Radium last year...and...uh....went though Banff."
"Huh!" he commented. "I didnt expect to go this way. Did you know you couldnt hitchhike on the interstate here? I was on the entrance ramp, too, at Hood River, and the trooper said 'you cant go this way,' he said 'go down 35 to Government Camp and then south'." The trooper must have pegged my
rider as a tourist...that sure was the scenic route!!!
"I've seen lots of hitchhikers on the freeway," I noted, perplexed. "I do know you cant hitchhike on the Washington freeways!"
"Washington!" he exclaimed. "I got two tickets going through Washington! What's weird though is they tell me there's an AMTRACK station just across the river!"
It wasnt but a few miles further that I stopped to turn at the Mt Hood store. Everyone has to be from somewhere and I am local here. He seemed surprised.
"At least I got to get warmed up," he mourned.
"Ugh!" I exclaimed. "There's a dead dog right over there!" It was large and tan, ten feet away on the shoulder, its thigh red with blood and muscle. But the old man just shrugged and looked through it.
Imagine this...that it's Saturday night and you're cradled in the husk of Burnside, east of Powell's City of Books. You can see restaurants and the Embassy Suites
and a rescue mission, from where you stand in front of the Paris Theatre, waiting to get into a metal show...no, not just a metal show, but one featuring Kamelot
and Epica! Generally, metalheads like to stand in line to read the backs of other hornhanders Tshirts, but the situation is exacerbated by this explanation
delivered by the brave woman in front of you:
"I checked and they said the reason we're standing here is that they were supposed to get here at 2 but they didnt get here till 4 so they are still doing sound checks."
The announcement is a real relief. Who knows when you might get trapped in the wrong line and suddenly a blast of molten air will sweep out of Dante's, past Berbati's Pan and Voodoo DoNuts, and sweep you up in a whirling vortex dropping you down at next weeks Napalm Death concert? Ugh! Kamelot is not a death metal band. Roy Kahn studied at the Oslo School of Opera or something like that.
You're standing there, on the sidewalk. Dusk is falling and a man with matted hair and spikes on his shoulders is rummaging in the dumpster for cardboard and pepsi cans. Ahead of you is a Metal Family, sort of like the Addams Family.
"I've lost my cat of nine tales," worries the mother.
"Try checking the restaurant!" suggests the dad.
Behind you a man in his 30s with studs on his eyebrow is talking to two teenagers with long-hair. He knows a lot about bands!
"I opened a store in Newport where people could buy eurometal albums no one could buy locally," he explains. You figure he must have some sort of day job in software engineering. Sandwiched thus, you remove your camera and balance it on a battered trunk of a Toyota sedan. You say "Children! Dont move!" and you take a photo of Keenan, Sage, and Erin waiting for Kamelot.
"This place used to be a porn theatre," explains the record store owner from The Coast. He is an authority on almost everything.
If the Gravity Room werent so totally barren, you could call it a dive. It is black and there are a few tables and chairs for VIPs. A woman is selling water bottles and pop cans for $1 apiece behind a long railing. I am sitting alone there on the railing because most people dont mind standing up. I've sat through 3 warm up bands, wondering if my three 8th graders are inside or out, is it safer inside with the carcinogenic smoke or out with the seedy derilicts, murderers, and child molesters? In truth, they've gone off to get pizza by the slice next door and in addition will spot and stalk Roy Kahn, but he wont know that. I'm balancing there, drinking a bottle of water, waiting for Epica and its stunning Dutch vocalist, Simone Simons. Simone was inspired to sing operatic metal by listening to the late Finnish band Nightwish, and lists Tori Amos and Ofra Haza among her favorite musicians. Suddenly a middle aged man appears to buy water! He is wearing earplugs. I'm not.
"I see you're wearing a Kotipelto shirt..." he begins. "Where did you get it?"
I like it when people talk to me. I tell him I got it at ProgPower one year but that I missed Timo Koltipelto's band, that yes I saw Rage, with its German vocalist and Belarusian guitarist and they had a lot of energy. We've seen some of the same bands, and I comment on them, but I've never had the enthusiasm to keep track of the musicians and their lives. Those brain chambers were clogged years ago by Scottish strathpey players who ly typical clansmen refuse to vacate.
"I'm from Eugene," the man explains. "If a band like this ever does play down there, they never come back. I ask around and the audience is all from out of town! I try and interest my friends in coming up here, but they just shrug their shoulders."
Progressive power metal can be a lonely business.
I sit and watch Epica from my railing, seated next to a young man with short yellow hair, earplugs, and a cane. I stand on the floor for Kamelot. The plug-free children are backed up against the black stage, on the left next to the speaker. Sage is, in fact, sitting right on the stage. Sage on the Stage! You wish they would pay this much attention in band class!
I love this music, I truly do. I love the complex lights and the incredibly loud volumes. I love the passion. You could say it fills my soul as much as Hoven Droven or Edessa. I wonder why some people turn out this way. Is it a blessing or a curse?
In the car, crossing the Willamette at Morrison, Keenan says: "The metal community seems to be so friendly. When you think of metal, you think of brutal stuff, but these people dont seem brutal."
"Even the little mosh event seemed friendly," adds Sage. Friendly? I had to jump back before my toe got stepped on!
"Mother," asks Erin, "Have you ever seen a hostile mosh?"
"Well...probably!" I say. "There was a sort of mean one at a Floater concert. But I'm not sure they're really a metal band."
But I had seen bigger, wilder moshes. In Flames? Lamb of God?
Outside the former Paris Theatre the symphonicmetalheads are waiting in an orderly, expectant line. Suddenly, the 8-member black-clad family ahead of us breaks out into a cozy campfire song from the olden days!
"Scaramouch, Scaramouch, can you do the fandango?"
Unbeknownst to any of us, however, a rumbling sound is commencing two blocks away on Second. It's in the beer and ale cooler at Kells Pub, and the bottles tinkle as they rattle. Clank Clank! One bottle of guinness stout drops and its spirits roll out...out past the polished wood bar and past the Cigar Room, down the steps and past the Crist Steak House, Berbatti's Pan, and Voodoo Donuts. Ignoring everyone else, it wraps it's tendrils around my feet. In two days, these tendrils will drag me out of Danish novelist Peter Fogtdal's Scandinavian Literature Class, where the students has been sentenced to watch the well-photographed but cheesy movie version of "Smilla's Sense of Snow" by Danish novelist Peter Hoeg. It will pull me down and down into the bowels of Portland, to Kell's Pub, where four years will double up like a woman folding sheets.
"Wow!" I exclaimed to myself. "Now that I have a night class I can go see music again!" Oh come on, silly, can you really see music? "And look, here, in the Willamette Week, Tom May at Kell's Pub! Whoa! I havent seen Tom May since I was in Finnish class!" I licked my lips with relish at the though of Tom's beautiful, deep, Stan Rogers like baritone! So off I walked You really do have to walk, since the parking ramp is about as close as you can park to downtown. I could hear the whistle as I walked into the charming old door. Was that Tom? Then I was stopped cold in the October night. The joint was packed! Luckily there was one tiny table in the very back, by the front door, in front of two guys eating hamburgers and drinking pints of Legendary Southwich. I peered past the bar. There, visible through a small slit, was Tom May, his hair and eyes wilder than ever.
"I need a little help on this song..." began Tom.
"I'll have a pint of Guinness," I ordered. Oops! I remembered I was a teetotler now. Too late, ha ha. I put my feet up on a chair. No trouble hearing...the sound system was cranked up like a banshee in the yuppie din.
"Hands up!" sang Tom. "Throw down those sacks of mail!" Half the people in the room threw up their hands!
When the song was finished, the Vancouver singer asked:
"How many of you are veterinarians?" Almost everyone raised their hands!
"How many of you are Irish?" Only half raised their hands. I just sat there.
Ponder these quandries. You're at a concert and the music is great but it's real smoky. You're at a bar gig, trapped in an Irish veterinarian' convention, and the music is great but the talk noise is horrendous. You have a full set of music in front of you. What do you do? You look back at the dog and cat doctors oozing onto the sidewalk, and at the chartered bus loitering at the curb. You stare at the dollar bills stuck on the ceiling. You pull out your pen and paper, and then write down the songs in order! Like this:
Hands Up!....Red Is the Rose...Portland Town....<switch guitars>...Star of the County Down...<whistle O Carolan>...If You Could Read My Mind...Spanish Lady...<Jameson Whiskey plug>....Nancy Whiskey...Lakes of Ponchatrain <sp>...Drunken Sailor.Pretty close to what he played last time...I knew them all but one!
June 2006, Port-aux-Basques, Newfoundland. I scanned the blue sky, the oil tanks, and the shrubby, treeless landscape that coated the landscape like green fur on dead bone. In my Pre-Newfoundland days, I'd never spent much time visualizing this big Canadian island, but now I knew that Newfoundland was just as stark as I had imagined it. When the time came, I drove my rental Pontiac down the ramp, downloaded my e-mail on the terminal WIFI, and drove east, past the gas stations and the McDonalds, toward Burnt Island. Yep, I thought, Iceland...it reminded me of landing at Keflavik in Iceland, but here the rocks that scraped the surface were white...ancient granitic intrusions...and not new lava flows. I stopped along the roadsides and took photos of tree and rocks. I stopped in the Icelandic....or was it Aleutian...town of Margaree and took a few more. A man walking across the street looked at me like I was crazy. Then I turned around. In the best of worlds, you can drive east from here for a knuckle length on the map and then take a series of eight ferry stops across the south of Newfoundland, where there are no roads there. I wondered at the time what exactly it was that made the middle of Newfoundland vacant of humanity. Whatever it was, I guessed that if you wanted to take the ferry all the way, you better have a self-contained camper van and a months worth of food.
I drove, then, on two-lane Canada 1 from Port-Aux-Basques, which means Port of the Basques. The next few miles brought a stunning change. It was like flying from a rare fair day in Dutch Harbor to grim, grey Anchorage, from azure Keflavik to hematitic Bergen. Even though grim green sabre-like trees would carpet the landscape all the way to the east coast, I refused to acknowledge their existance. I refused to believe that I was not driving on the Iceland ring road. That's what happens when you dont get enough sleep.
As time wore on and both the road and my stomach became progressively more empty, I began to think about eating cod and lobster. Suddenly, signs like this one:
"Stephenville 32 KM Mechanic"
began popping up along the side of the Tradescantia. Stephenville grew closer and closer on the spacio-temporal conveyer belt, which looked in fact a lot like Canada 1. When the time came, I turned off to the west. Soon I was driving through sad brown saltmarsh past grim grey seabeach. Soon I was driving into what I believed to be a giant, deteriorating industrial park. Suddenly, I saw McDonald's! I wondered if they had McLobsterBurgers, but thought not, and continued into downtown. There was lots of traffic there; all the locals seemed revved up for action. The Sun Luck Restaurant was on my left, the Hong Kong Restaurant was on my right. You chose, Judith, I said. I parked in what was left of a the building on the corner, tracing out in steps the tiles and drain of the former bathroom. The special in the cavernous Hong Kong was meat loaf. That's what they mean on the sign by "Fine Canadian and Chinese Food," I guess. I ordered shrimp chow mein.
"Do you want a half order? The regular order is really big," asked the waitress.
It was really great to have someone say something to me, and on the west coast here, people speak real English.
The half order was very big as well. You would have to be the size of a moose to eat the full order. After I ate, I left the cafe, dodged a pickup and took a photo of a green and yellow spotted art car with a front license plate that said:
"Have a Nice Day....Somewhere Else!"
I walked into a credit union and traded my loonies and twonies for Willies. Then I drove back through downtown. I took a picture of the big sleek fighter plane with stars on the side that is suspended on a pole in the park, of the barracks that have been converted into apartments and rehab centers, and of the grey deserts of runway piled high with millions of discarded tires like so many sliced olives. I drove back through the marsh and shoreline and continued north on Canada 1, all the way to Gros Morne National Park, where the rocks were reputed to be wonderful. I had intended to camp but didnt. I stayed at a motel in Rocky Harbour that had WIFI and a hot tub in back. I sat in the hot tub for a long time and thought about Iceland.
Portland, October 2006:
"Mother of the Bride!"
The tiny store might have been a cozy neighborhood coffee shop, but, despite the oval neon "Open" sign, it was not. I peeked through the front window into the room darkened like a badger den. A well-dressed, black-haired woman sat on a couch, going over white order pages. I caught my breath and pushed open the door. She looked up.
"Can I help you?" she asked.
"Um...my daughter in Texas is getting married and my younger daughter is going to be a bridesmaid and she needs a dress," I stammered. "I found your store on the internet, because you have the...uh...brands...."
How many of us can say that bridal clothing is our forte? I was a bridesmaid once, when I had just turned 18, during the onset of my friend Cathy Finn's tumultuous and short marriage to Jim "Fitz" Fitzpatrick. Cathy picked out the frothy aqua dress pattern, a cranky southern seamstress made it, I slowly tripped down the aisle in Birmingham, and then it hung in my closet for 15 years. Yeah, I did also get married myself, but my roommate Joy...we shared a subterranean apartment in Iowa City with plants growing out of the walls...and I made two similar hippie ethereal unbleached muslin outfits for me and Richard. I embroidered the fronts during the University of Iowa Geology Seminar Series, satin stitch and dolomite! Yep, that's what I know about wedding outfits.
"Yes!" replied the woman. "We carry that line! How old is she?" Behind her the little burrow opened into a limestone cavern of gowns and tuxedos.
"Thirteen," I said. "I'll go get her. She's busy reading her Manga book in the little yellow Aveo!"
"Konichiwa! Kami des ka!" I told Erin. She stepped inside, a formidable 8th grade woman of 5 foot 8 with red, orange, and violet emo hair. She was wearing bell bottoms and a brown long sleeve shirt her brother left behind when he went to Finland. Just one of the guys! How about a tuxedo? The clerk showed her the rack of beautiful, droopy gowns. They're just there as samples, because almost every one of them is the wrong color, in this case not "Berry."
"I need to lock the car door...my computer's inside!" I said in a panic. "I'll be back in a moment." When I returned, both Erin and the saleswoman's faces were as limp as the gowns.
"I found one I like," said Erin. "But it's not CHIFFON." The dress looked a little Medieval, and it looked great! But Emma had specified that all the gowns be BERRY CHIFFON.
"I think what you should do is look at our website on the internet," explained the saleswoman confidently. "They look better when they are on people. Here's my card with the website on it."
I sighed. I'd hoped it would be easy. But look at me...stunned that Emily Post prohibits black dresses on the mothers! I had hoped to wear the black velvet dress with the slit skirt that I'd got at the The Dalles High School Cheerleaders Garage sale for 25c! Now I knew it will take multiple trips to St Vincent De Paul before I found just what I was looking for....
"That place was creepy!" Erin told me as we drove off. "And that woman was weird. She was wearing makeup...and she was so aggressive! When you left me there alone I was petrified!"
"You petrified!" I exclaimed. At The Dalles Middle School Erin is known as 'The Enforcer.' "I suppose she has to be very assertive. It is a hard business being a wedding clothes saleswoman!"
Sediment Coring in Michigan, 1981:
The faces on the photograph are faded...but luckily I can fix that up with Adobe Photoshop. I wish I could fix my faded memory! You can see the photo, right now for a limited period, at http://www.myspace.com/raggletaggleterrane. The woman on the left is me, and the boy on the right is Kerry Woods. You can see him here in his current state, which is Vermont!
How good looking he is standing against that midwestern fowl! We were both bound as galley slaves on a trip to the Snake River Plain. Once, on the vast steppes of Idaho, Kerry did a little dance and said, "People think I'm a hippie, but I'm not."
"Yeah," commented Owen.
"I'm a folk dancer," explained Kerry.
"Yeah, I can tell," commented Owen. "You part your hair on the side. Hippies part their hair in the middle."
But before that, it was Kerry's world, not Owen's...a March coring trip to the frigid Upper Peninsula of Michigan....He had a post-doc looking for beech with Margie Davis in The Cities, but before that he had studied with Whitaker at Cornell. Owen had worked with Daubenmire.
"The two big forces in Ecology, Whitaker and Daubenmire," Owen would later muse jovially as we drove to Idaho in his blue station wagon.
The U of M van edged its way on the icy forest roads. Before us, the winter snow lay still across the landscape like smooth sheets of paper waiting for the writing of human feet. We stopped, pulled over and opened the back. We took out our equipment, and climbed over the sparkling snow of a small ridge out onto the frozen lake. The boys...Kerry, Owen, and Jeff...broke a hole in the ice for the modified Livingston Piston Corer. That's why we were here in frozen early spring, because the ice acts as a platform. Otherwise you must use a boat, and boats move with the water beneath. I spread out my tarp. My job was to wrap the wet cores sediment cores that came out of the bottom of the little lake, Brandt Lake I think, in Saran Wrap and masking tape, writing the depth in black magic marker. It was a much colder job than pulling out pollen cores. Men work and women freeze here in the Cold North.
In Escanaba, we got a vacation apartment with a kitchen and luan mahogany wainscoting. Jeff cooked spaghetti on the old stove and Owen and Kerry sparkling with awe unwrapped the magical pollen cores on the formica table, Kerry's long locks pouring over the soon-to-be carbon dated centuries.
The next day we would walk on the waters of Lake Michigan.
"Feels like fall." from the movie "Alice Doesnt Live Here Anymore"
Suzy Skunk was depressed and out for emotional blood. There had been many roadkills these past weeks, her friends laying like discarded penitentiary uniforms along the striped asphalt of Wasco County. She contemplated the bees that still buzzed in the mint patch along the Kitty Katy's Patio, then her sad eyes turned toward the drooping tomato plants.
"Your days are numbered," she accused. "There was ice on top of the Aveo this week. You are goners, she's bringing the new tomatoes, the fruit of your loins, inside as soon as they show a peachy glow. Protective tablecloths lie now on the chairs by the new glass table she got at the Senior Center Rummage Sale, ready to drape you but that is only to mark time."
The tomato plants stood silent, oblivious to prescience.
One year, when we lived in Duluth, we had a bumper crop of tomatoes. We picked them green and brought them inside the night when we were sure the blankets could not be effective. Unripe tomatoes lined the Archean basalt walls of our basement. In December, we could smell the stench of rotting Solanaceae flesh.
One year, when we lived in Texas, it was so warm that the plants lived on, bearing fruit until January. It was a relief when the frost finally came.
I drive again, along OR35 towards the Great Mount Hood. The Valley of the Hood is so beautiful, with the mountain and the fruit trees, that the Jehovah's Witnesses who live there will not notice when the Apocalypse comes. I am headed towards Parkdale, where today we will be engineers converting a fifth grade teacher into a well-adapted woodpecker. Then the children will build their own exotic animals out of plastic cups, construction paper, and donations from Jo-Ann Fabrics. At the end, Owl will tell the class:
"I was watching a TV show on PBS and I learned that chickens have two kinds of distress calls...one for aerial assaults and one for ground assaults."
Then she will ask:
"What kind of plant adaptations have you seen this week?"
And someone will answer:
"The maple trees are turning fiery yellow."
Outside, in the hall, my fellow steward Tick will inform the nominally paid Americorps staff, Owl and Acorn:
"In a few weeks, I must go to my day job at Mount Hood Meadows. I am the Snowboard Director."
I will continue on up south, to Kirakawa Orchards. The parking lot will be almost full! I will select two big bags of apples and pears.
"One forty nine," the Japanese American clerk will say. She is dressed in a fleece jacket. "Big spender."
"But it will take my family a week to eat these!" I laugh.
A man comments, "It would take me two hours to eat those." He has selected two of each variety to give his son on his birthday. What a big box!
"We've got to stop meeting this way!" said Henry as I stopped to pick him up on the entrance ramp.
"I havent seen you in a long time," I replied. "How is your house doing?" Henry lives in a shack on public land, across from the Memaloose Rest Area.
"Great!" he said. "I have my insulation in, and I swapped some of my wood carvings for a used wood stove. I still got that Kerosun heater but its six dollars a gallon."
"Yep," I commented.
"There's a lot of homeless people now in The Dalles. They're still living under bridges. If I was them, I'd be making plans for a winter camp."
"Who's that? New people?"
"No mostly the same. They been here for years. But some new people, from Portland. They gotta go somewhere. They're killing homeless people in Portland now."
"Yeah, I read about that," I said. Death is the wages of schizophrenia.
Barrow, Alaska, July 2004
We walk the bone grey pebble beach of the Arctic Ocean. It is littered with hubcaps and gashed by the ruts of the four wheelers that children drive late into the white night. A strip of pack ice gleams against the grey sky like a long grin
"It's cold," says Erin. She dips her finger into the Great Northern Ocean. It is said that the Eskimos do not learn to swim; if they fall out of their kayaks, they freeze before they drown.
An Inuviak woman approaches, seal-like in her green parka.
"Hi! Are you enjoying your trip?"
"Yeah!" I answer.
"The ice was right here yesterday, and it brought the little fishes. Then the ice moved that way," she points down the shore. "So the fish moved with it." She grins, showing crooked teeth in her harvest moon face. "And with them the fisherman!"
"Do the little fish have a name?"
"We call them 'little fish.'" she laughs. "No one eats them but The Elders. We give them to The Elders."
Suzy Skunk was correct. The apocalypse has come. Ice from the sprinkler system coats the lawn like hail. The grim reaper has mowed down the tomato plants as if by a tornado, the green fruit of their loins swollen and liquid like the toes of an Arctic explorer, the yellow leaves of a nearby ornamental shrub burying them in one night as soil over a casket....BOO!!!!
The Finnish word for November is Marraskuu, Death Moon, Dead Month. In summer, you can look into the lush green Walnuts and Cottonwoods and the one lonely Maple that line Mill Creek and pretend you are in Alabama. In fall, you begin to see the dry brown steppe hills to the west and the pine-oak bluffs to the south. They call it steppe, but here at the transition you dont always see sagebrush, often just grasses.
I have transparencies of steppe in the thousands of slides I am copying, brutal deserty Idaho steppe from the Snake River Plain, from the year that changed my life forever. That may sound dramatic, but every year changes your life forever!
I write Owen in Tucson: http://www.geo.arizona.edu/palynology/personel.html
"'I am standing in a cave with black soil and there is a rectangular pit with a layer of white Mazama Ash on the walls.' Am I making this up? If not, which cave is this?"
And Owen replies:
"That was Middle Butte Cave."
Minneapolis, Spring 1981:
We drive west from The Cities, three of us in Owen's white station wagon, the eco-politician, the boy wonder, and myself, the Jack Kerouacs of paleobotany. (I am, by the way, no deadbeat, but rather Mystic of Crete and Other Wonders of the Ancient Mediterranean.) As the grass grows shorter and shorter, we stop and snap photos at the corn statue in Olivia, at a grain elevator and at a pheasant statue in South Dakota, at the great Oahe reservoir that splits the thighs of the Dakotas like a giant...um...stuffed sausage. In Wyoming, mountains rise like icebergs before the yellow plains. We stop at a sign bearing a picture of a steaming potato with butter and a deer; it says "Idaho Welcomes You. Please Drive Carefully." There is snow on the ground. We set the delays on our cameras and run to pose.
Somewhere in Idaho, as we are walking across the steppe, Owen will muse, "This is where I feel most comfortable. It depends on where you grow up. My father followed the sheep and we lived in a wagon all summer. He was the foreman. We were like gypsies." Somewhere on the trip we will be shown a photo of the wagon, a wringer washer set to one side of the entrance.
"I like the forests," Kerry will comment.
"You know," Owen will continue, "People who do this [ecology] usually grow up outdoors." The outdoors...the plants and the bugs and the rocks...travels like a mind-numbing bacteria into the pores of the skin, seeps into the blood at an early age, never to be exorcised.
"I grew up on a farm in Illinois," Kerry will comment.
I will laugh and feel sheepish. "I guess I like prairies, I like Iowa." At the time I wanted to return to Iowa and look at till in drainage ditches. "And I grew up in suburban Birmingham." The two boys will stare at me. "But there was a big woods right next to where we lived."
Big woods, no joke!
Yesterday the PD sent out an emergency request for a 2 hr sub and I responded, at first to the second hour, but finally gave in and cut half an hour of class, in essence the discussion of the first section of Hanna's Daughters, and did the first as well. I was puzzled, since we have one hour shows. I looked at the schedule which says "Sister's Rock" on the first hour (probably a schedule conflict or illness) and no listing at all for the second! When I finished the show, the guys who were on after me said the host of the latter had been kicked off the air...for language refractions, they thought. "We're safe, though, pretty much, because we do electronica." Well....But many of us are scared here, because KBPS is even more unpredictable than the FCC. As I was listening (not for the first time...but I'd previewed it for my web show) to Jah Mason play I wondered what that p-word was and whether KBPS would call me on an infraction because the track approved the use of drugs ("I've got my weed!"). So far I havent heard a word from the management.....
Outside it is grey November, shining white mist over the grey whale of the Klickitat Hills, raindrops like pummeling knifeblades. The trick is to pass the semis, you have to drive fast enough to get by, but they kick up such a fluid mist you cant see as you shoot off around them hydroplaning like a meteorite. Will you hit the ground intact? It is as exhilerating as russian roulette.
I swing off I-84 and onto 6th Street, at the far end of town by the Munson Paving Quarry. I am going very very slowly and I pull onto the shoulder to allow the car behind to pass, narrowly missing a concrete block planter. As I swerve, I feel the passenger side sinking...sinking...scraping I get out and walk to the other side.
"You OK?" asks the man in the other car.
"Yeah, I've got two flat tires, but I guess I'll just walk it home from here," I answer. I begin to push the Aveo. It is the same size as a bicycle.
The door bell rings. I get up and put my pink down jacket on over my nightgown. It's the guys from the flooring company, come to finish their job.
The stuff below is self-absorbed and really boring for you! I'm half asleep myself, and worried about my tires.
In the winter of '77, just before I got my masters in geology at Iowa, my husband decided to join the Coast Guard. He had always wanted to do that, that's what he said. In the summer, we loaded our UHaul and moved north to Duluth, a grim grey town on Lake Superior. In those days, there was an air base north of town, and there was more shipping. After a while, I contacted Dick Ojakangas at the University at Minnesota at Duluth, who had been one of my instructors at Tri-State Field Camp. Geologists are always required to go to Field Camp, so that the ones who arent rugged and alcoholic enough are weeded out.
"Any ideas on jobs?" I asked.
"Huh!" he contemplated. "I know someone who got a job at the water plant. But...hmmm....you're a palynologist." A palynologist studies fossil pollen and spores. What a narrow field, you say! "Rapp....Rip Rapp might need someone." Rip is an geoarcheologist. You can see him at: http://www.d.umn.edu/geology/people/fsbios/rapp.html . I handed OJ my resume.
The next week I went up to campus again for an interview. Dr Rapp and his assistant, John Gifford, took me to lunch in the cafeteria. I was so nervous, my stomach was in my throat! Usually in interviews I say things like "I dont care how much money I get, I just want to have a good time" or "How do I know? I've never done anything like that!" Silly girl! We went back to Rip's office. I'd like to think there was desperation in his voice.
"Right now, we're working on ancient Troy," said Rip. "What you'll be doing is working on the pollen from soil samples. That way, we will know what plants were growing there. But it's tricky, because some of the sediments are very degraded."
What fun! During the next 4 years I would analyze the pollen from Mediterranean sites. If some archeologist in Minneapolis needed a pollen job done, I would cheerfully open my bottles of lethal hydofluoric acid and tetrabromoethane and chomp into the sediments. I would learn a lot about the pollen and vegetation of places like Crete and Cyprus, but they would never take me there. Now I am thinking I should finally go visit!
I took more courses, too, botany and geology, and inflated my GPA. I went on class field trips as an extra hand. I went to meetings, to the Geological Society of America, Friends of the Pleistocene, The Plains Conference. Life was exciting!
In the summer of 1980, I drove to Orono, Maine for the American Quaternary Association meeting. I've already written that story, earlier this year. It was there, in the cafeteria of the University of Maine, that I met two fun-loving young eco-palynologists from Minneapolis, Owen and Kerry.
"We're going to Michigan and Idaho in the Spring!" they told me. "We'll let you know."
That's how I got to where I am right now....the Snake River Plain of 1981.
Translation! See May 2005 for the original Swedish.
March 2005: My Trip To Sweden!
Sweden! I had just driven over the border. The first sign had said "Nothing To Declare" or "Items To Declare." I wondered if someone sat in the border station, and waited on someone smuggling illegal spirits. The second sign lay just to the right of the road. It said "You Are Driving Too Fast!" Yep, I was so happy that I could read Swedish and didnt need to translate! But only four words...
I started listening to the radio. Yeah, it was true. In intellectual Sweden radio is wonderful! The announcer said "That song comes from Portland, Oregon....Pink Martini!!! "Unfortunately I seldom heard good music after that. Instead, there were many boring, difficult things on the radio. For example, "School busses are too long in Norrbotten! Many are twelve meters now!" I would rather listen to RADIO CITY, like in southern Finland. "Soitamme rockia ja sportia!" We play rock and sports! But I only heard good music on on Finland's loud RADIO CITY. It was so difficult to listen and constantly try to understand Swedish radio.
I rented a little red car in Vantaa, Finland. It was a new Toyota Yaris. This economical car didnt use much gasoline so it cost only a little more to drive than my Windstar. Now we were driving through Kalix, the snow like icing beside the road. Around Töre we turned left and bought a Pepsi Max at a gas station. This cold brown soda pop was my own fuel! Luckily, Red Car didnt need any gas. We continued northward on E10. This road was very icy. I was so lucky that I had gotten a car with studs on the tires! The agent in Vantaa had said "You are going to like driving this car. It has spikes on the wheels!"Indeed. At first there were houses and cabins along the highway and flat white lakes as well. Then a third important sign became visible to the left: ARCTIC CIRCLE!!! We, however, did not stop there. We saw the popular yellow establishment, Tank@Mat and decided to stop in. There I got another soda and a pastry. Then we traveled again. We began to see only a huge forest through Red Car's transparent window. We saw big and little trees and a lot of snow, and were less happy to be in Sweden! With my unfortunate and lonely auto! We didnt see another Finnish car i Sweden.
"Olen iloinen että olen erikoinen!" said my car. She was glad to be more special than the Swedish cars!
Finally we arrived at Kiruna, Iron City, Lappland's Icy Queen. You could see the enormous iron mine situated south of the little city. It looked like a big cake with white icing. Along side the white cake was Kiruna's lake. We bought gas and a stale salmon open faced sandwich. The check out did not accept my visa card, because the pin number didnt work in Sweden. I paid with kronas. I was a little angry. "I hate Kiruna!" I yelled quietly. "Maybe I'll drive to Norway now..." The new road from Kiruna to Narvik in Norway follows the old railway which was built to carry iron ore from Kiruna to the North Sea. Originally I'd planned to take the train, but I thought....maybe I'll wish to rest often and breathe the cold air. So Red Car and I followed the railroad over the beautiful mountain fells and twice we met the fast blue train. When we left Kiruna, there were a lot of green trees, but soon they became bushes. The big spruces seemed more familiar than the naked shrubs. They resembled old skeletons....very ghostly. I had driven over the fells to Mo i Rana four years ago, and it had been the same in the summer. Beside the road there was a big lake, Törne Träsk The book that I got free in Kiruna says that this trip over the mountains is the loveliest drive in Sweden. I don't know, but it was very pleasing! Beside the road there were some towns that were smaller than Kiruna. I think that the hardy people who live here are Sami. There are two ski resorts also and I began to wonder why I had not taken along my old Finnish skis. Because my car was so little!
The mountains became higher...but not truly steep...and the landscape seemed desolate. Finally we arrived at the border. There wasnt anything there with the exception of the signs and a small empty customs booth. I wished that I had a cell phone. I remembered that you can see huts on the big fells in Norway. You can go there if you have an awful crisis. There were only a few cars on the road now. Norway is different. It is a more severe land than Sweden even in summer. The ocean...or really the fjords...are only 15 km from Norway's border! But this curvy road was steeper than Sweden's. I thought about Vancouver Island. I turned to the left and soon we were in Narvik. The sky was dark now. I tried to find a cheap hotel or a hostel. I drove through a beige tunnel to neighboring Ankenes, but found no hotel. I drove back and got a room at The Raddisson, which was very swanky. It was the most expensive room on my trip! I parked Red Car in front of the door. There werent many cars here. I ate dinner at the hotel pub and then I walked around Narvik. The weather was warmer than in Sweden and the stars were brighter. I remembered Austria, for the streets were steep! I walked back and climbed up six flights of stairs. "Fyr mar trappa," Four more flights....said an old man to me in Norwegian, laughing. I could understand Swedish now that I was in Norway! I could read their Norwegian signs also! I woke up in the middle of the night drooling. No...my mouth tasted like salt. My lip was bleeding, because they were so dry and cracked. I washed my face and went back to sleep. In the morning, I saw that it had snowed. And it was snowing. No, the sky was blue now! I picked up my camera so that I could photograph beautiful Narvik. But the sky was white now! Everything was white!
"Do you think it will continue to snow?" I asked the young receptionist.
"I don't know, you can never tell here in Narvik," she said in English, bored.
"I must leave Norway now!" I thought. That was simple until I started to drive over the fell. But at the gate there were five cars, two vans, a bus, and a big Danish semi queued up. The sign said in Norwegian, "Wait Till The Snowplow Comes!" So we waited. Then a bunch of cars came from the east, and the big yellow snowplow turned around. We followed. The sky and road and fell were all white! The plow drove so slowly! We stopped once, because there was a towtruck which was towing a big semi. But soon we were at the border. Sweden rose before me like the bright sun. The plow turned and we were alone. I turned into the red ski resort Riksgränsen ("National Boundary") to buy a little food. There were a lot of people there with their skis or snowboards. They were wet and red and fairly rude! I stopped again at another ski resort called Björkliden and looked at my e-mail on their computer. Then I drove again, back through Akka National Park and the valley of the Torne. At times the weather was clear now, and then the juxtaposition of the vast blue sky, the cold grey clouds, snow like sugar and the finely moving mist over the frozen lake seemed truly beautiful. One could not help but to feel alone. But I was lucky...I was not alone for instead I had Finnish Red Car!!! When we came near to Kiruna, I saw again the tall wind generators and took pictures of them. I tried to photograph the sunlight, but I was not very successful.
Then we visited the famous Ice Hotel near Jukkäsjärvi. This is a Finnish name meaning Jukkäs Lake. Most of the people there were young, and many were American! Now I was hearing people who could really speak English! They thought that I was another guest and greeted me as a good friend!
Everything there with the exception of the gift shop is built out of ice. There is a cold white theatre where you can sit down an watch Shakespeare's cold plays. You can rent a dogsled and drive around on the docile river. You can also use a red "spark" to drive on.
There are 25,000 happy inhabitants in Kiruna itself. The city is Swedish, but the surrounding towns are Finnish and the area is Sami. I stayed at the Yellow House Hostel. I had my own big room, with a sofa and a comfortable armchair! But there was only one bathroom in the old yellow house second floor. There was a bathtub in that room which was wonderful, because I don't like to take showers. In the basement there was a modern washer and drier, which I used. Now I did not need to buy new clean clothes! That was truly pleasant!
After I put my clothes in the washer I went to eat dinner. During the time I walked around town the weather seemed to get a lot colder. I think that was the strong wind, because the temperature outside then had dropped only 2 or 3 degrees. It was still afternoon and fairly light out. The shops were just now closing. I went into a little department store, and tried to find a book about Swedish geology. The only book that I saw had only one chapter about Sweden, and had many publishing dates. I think the author had written this masterpiece around 1960...not especially current!!!! I thought about tearing out the map the useful map, because the worthless book was not cheap. I found wooden clogs that were cheaper than the book. However, I bought nothing. I didnt feel like spending money. I walked around in Kiruna's downtown and decided to try a pizza restaurant by the gym. From my table I could see the shining people who were swimming in the pool! Some cycled in place. I got a vegetarian pasta.
"What is this, then?" I asked myself.
It was pineapple! What? How weird! I drank a pear cider as usual. No...one time they served me pear and pineapple cider somewhere...Finland?
"How's the food?" asked the young waitress.
"Interesting!" I said.
The weather was still terrible. I went to my warm pleasant room and lit the little lights in the windows.
After breakfast, I took pictures of the mine, then I began to drive south through Lappland to Jokkmok and then Vilhemina. Afterwards I wished that I had traveled more in Lappland. If I had planned better, I would have traveled to Rovaniemi and Kirkenes and then to Kiruna.
Most of Lappland's inhabitants are trees and they all watched Red Car on the empty road to Gällivare. I passed a slow Shell tanktruck and a slower car which was towing logs on a trailer...a log truck! By the side of the road I saw a light brown animal.
Look! "There is a moose, Sweden's largest animal!" No...what kind of animal is it...that animal is a ...tässä on iso pora!...a big reindeer...Wonderful!
Many reindeer live in Lappland! Ten minutes later I had decided to look at some beautiful green trees for a moment. When I again looked at the road there were two reindeer ten meters in front of me. We braked quickly and the Saab behind me braked also. The cute animal looked at us and walked away slowly. It was like a big dog. This happend twice, but different reindeer.
After we left Gällivare I saw that the car showed me how many km that I could drive without filling up with gasoline. Augh! I didnt have enough! We were lucky because the little computer was wrong. We tried to fill up in Porjus, but there was only an automatic pump and our PIN didnt work. Red Car tanked up in Jokkmokk and I drank a Pepsi Max and then we were happy travelers again. We wanted to stay around Vilhalmina, but made a wrong turn to the left. Alas we were on the road to the coast. It seemed warmer and soon there were several people and houses. I was sad then but I didnt drive back. Finally we were near Bottenviken around Skellefteå.. Through the town there was a lot of noise and traffic.
We drove south on the E4. I considered a ferry to Gotland, where I had never been. But it was too long a trip. I didnt know. In the winter there is not so much to do in this area. I wondered if I could rent skis. In any case I needed a place to stay. Maybe I could take the ferry from Umeå to Vaasa and stay at the Tropicalanda which has a great swimming pool. But the last boat had already gone. All I wanted was a cheap motel room. I began to look for a room around Örnsköldsvik, where I asked at a big hotel...
"Do you have a room?"
"I'm sorry, we are totally booked!" That seemed pretty British. I saw several hotels in the city center without parking lots. Some that were in the travel hand book I couldnt find. We drove back to the E4. It got dark out. There was a lot of construction on the road. One time I saw a sign that announced a hotel, but I couldnt find an exit. Around Dockstra there was a sign, but I didnt understand that you had to go into the Dockstra bar and inquire. It was late and I felt alone with the big blinding lights of the EuroTrucks. The nearby King Erik's Hotel was darker than the sky with the exception of the cooler. I knocked on the door but no one heard. Out again on the road, I saw before me the lights of a Mighty Bridge. And I remembered a hotel that my children and I had seen alongside the bridge six years ago. I had tried to stay at the hotel, but it was summer and the hotel was full. Where was it....the car and I drove up and up! Finally I saw a building, but no sign. Two young women stood smoking in the icy black parking lot. I asked, "Is there a hotel somewhere?" and one answered "Yes, right here." We walked into the modern building, and I signed in and parked the car. Then I went over to the bar and said "Can I get a pear cider!" I got a sandwich from the glass deli case and took out the salami. Then I ate and drank. It was almost midnite now. The women chatted with me in English. One took the remote control and asked, "Do you mind if I change the channel?" I answered that I didnt care. "Now we have American TV. Sex and the City!" I had never seen this TV show, for I do not own a television. They said that they listened all the time because that was the best. "More and more..." said one woman.
I took my camera and walked over to the window to photograph the bridge. It was so big that I could not take a picture of the whole bridge. Also it was dark out and I could only see the lights. "It's magnificent!" said the older women. Yes....the High Coast. The bridge is the world's seventh longest suspension bridge! In the morning I went to the tourist bureau in the same building. Here I read about the High Coast. During the Ice Age, the thickest ice (3 km) here in all of Europe was right here. Because of this the land sank 800m. The land is rising higher now! Many old bays and and beaches are on high mountains now. That is really interesting! I toured around the High Coast and Docksta and photographed a bay and several mountains with strand lines, but I thought it would be easier to do in summer.
I began to think about Sundsvall. Ian, Erin, and I had stayed at the ski resort there five years earlier. It was summer and the prices were cheap. We walked on the trails where they ski in wintertime. The trails were well lighted. (For the most part we stayed in a tent near Bottenviken.) We had a sauna in our pleasant room in the hotel! I could see Sundsvall's lights skining like stars against the pink and grey sky all night. That is funny, because in Sundsvall there are only two or three hours that truly are night in the summertime. Now in March there was snow and the days were fairly long, so I thought that that hotel Södra Berget would be very popular.
When Red Car and I got to Timra near Sundsvall, I saw a sign on a shopping center that said "IKEA." What!...we swung off of the E4 and into the shopping center parking lot. A lot of shoppers were shopping! I walked into the enormous and full IKEA store. I thought the prices were cheap and wanted to go to the store in Seattle now. They had a self-contained kitchen that I liked, and I thought that it was portable. Maybe you have a summer cottage without a kitchen. You can use that kitchen. (You need to install some plumbing, I suppose) I was lucky, because I could not take anything like that home on the plane! I took a picture of a woman while she was shopping and she started to laugh and talk rapidly to me in Swedish. In consequence I decided to go out into the mall. There were 2 floors. On the second floor there was a boring shoe store with boring shoes. This seems odd, but in Sweden no one had clogs in winter. Maybe that was because it was too cold and they put them on in the house. In Oregon we have clogs all the time! So I didnt buy anything. I went into the bookstore. I couldnt find any books on geology or botany...what are the names of Swedish trees and forests and rocks? As if they cared about that! But I bought two lexicons which were cheap and fairly heavy. They cost 129.00 kr. apiece. "I shall take a book home to a friend," I said to myself. On the lower floor was a McDonalds Restaurant. It was full...a lot of people wanted to eat paha amerikalaiset hampurlaiset....bad American hamburgers. That restaurant is not a vegetarian café. I did not believe that I wanted to eat with them.
I greeted Red Car again and turned right. We drove along the white line and over the grey asphalt. The pale spring sun constantly hung low in the white sky, and as we drove, the sun always lay on the right side. Yep...it was afternoon! I wondered what we wanted to do. I didnt want to go back to Finland just yet. Another sign showed us the next adventure. Falun! I remembered Falun from five years ago....it was so cool then! Was Falun the same under snow? We turned right and into the parking lot of THE BIGGEST STORE IN CENTRAL SWEDEN. But I found only groceries and Chinese junk in that store. They had no clogs.
You have to drive away from the coast, that's obvious, to get to Falun in Dalarna. In Bollnäs there was a lot of traffic, but soon, for the most part, rocky forest stood alongside the road. I followed the wrong route at Viksjöfors but turned around. Soon I was in Falun. 1999....then we had used a campground next to the ski resort and we swam in the Olympic pool. Erin had loved the funny slide. It was too cold now to sleep in a tent. Everything was different in Falun now. In the city center there was no festival with abundant music, plentiful pear cider, and an inebriated, clapping crowd! There were only the black night, the white snow, and a few drunk people now. I remembered the CITY HOTELL which had been THE Hotel! All the musicians had slept there...one or two hours! They were always playing in the lobby. I had recorded them on my MD player. I think I have the fine Finnish musician Kimmo Pohjonen, who played accordion! Michele Delfino, who worked with Northside Records then, had invited us as well to watch Oysterband's special acoustic show. So many memories..."ghosts"....were here! There were unfortunately no musicians in the lobby now. All the music lay on the dance floor one floor up. BOOM!! BOOM!! BOOM!!! The receptionist told me that maybe she could find a table there, but I answered that I wanted to go downtown.
I walked two blocks and found an Irish pub. The bartender was dark and came from the Middle East. I asked, "Can I get dinner here," and he answered, "Yes." The man gave me a menu. The little bar was full, but there were several empty tables. A blonde woman sat and drank a glass of wine at the table next to me.
"Have you got any Swedish dark beer?" I asked.
He said that he would bring one to me. I told the bartender that I ate neither meat nor chicken.
"Try this öringen," he said.
"What kind of fish is that?" I asked. And he said
"That is a redfish."
We were speaking English, and I thought that he had said "ratfish"! That name seemed pretty repulsive.
"RATFISH?" I asked.
"Yes, redfish." There was only this fish on the menu! Was it carp? When he served me, I understood that my fish was like salmon.
Then, I went back and asked the receptionist,
"What is the correct word for downtown, Falus centrum or Falu centrum?"
And she said, "Both."
In the morning, the hotel served a big breakfast because there were a lot of businessmen there. Maybe they are more important than tourists! The hotel had a little room with internet and e-mail free....it is called an affärscentrum or Business Center. Then I went to find Falun's (or "Falu") very interesting museum, called The Dalarna Museum, because Falun lies in the"landscap" of Dalarna. Before this the word meant little. Now I could understand Dal+ar+na. I was so intelligent! It was like The+ Dall+es, where my house was! Indeed! There were many interesting things in this museum. The best was the minimalistic exhibit which showed photographs which were portraits from the early part of the 1900s. They were big new black and white copies, but they were excellent and so detailed! There was one old man who was wearing spectacles of which one of the lenses was broke. He always wore them, because he was old and poor. And there was the photo with beautiful children and happy women. And you can see old folk music instruments like kohorn, spelpipor och säckpipor (bagpipes)...and fiddles. The museum has several rooms with old furniture. And you can see old folk dress.
I went and fetched Red Car at the hotel, and we began our trip to the ferry. We decided that we wanted to go to Åland and that we didnt want to drive to Stockholm. Unfortunately we had no timetable! (Later I learned that the big ferry from Stockholm to Åbo via Mariehamn leaves at 10 o'clock. But the ferry arrives in Mariehamn at 3AM! Our ferry arrived there at 10:30PM!) We decided to travel from Kapellskär. My son and I had used this route in 2000, when we traveled from Germany to Finland and drove along the archipeligo. We saw gypsies at the campground! Red Car and I drove through Borlange, Sala and Uppsala. The weather was warmer here and the snow began to melt. I think that it was around 3 or 4 degrees C out. Around Sala I filled up Red Car and went into the store. The Special was meat, so I got a sandwich with anchovies and plastic with no Pepsi Max. Instead, I bought a bottle of 1% rose wine! I felt fairly drunk after I drank that! I was scared to drive! No...I was so dumb. Somewhere we stopped again and went shopping. I forget the towns name. I saw a shoe store and went in the door. There I saw many clogs, but the sole was rubber...and I wanted wood! Whatever, I took off my strange old noisy blue clogs that I had bought in a gas station in Småland four years earlier. A woman came towards me and said in Swedish:
"Vad kan jag hjälpa dig med."
But I understood only one word, hjälpa...help. And she was too old to speak English, I thought, we were about the same age!
I gave her my old shoe and she picked out a size 39 on the sole. Yep....now I must buy the shoes that also have that size. Huh! However, I didnt like them because they were too quiet. "Sven Johannson's Shoe Factory, AB, Quiet and Light" were the words.
Our old friend the E4 united with us again around Uppsala and we traveled to Arlanda. That was stupid, too, because it was too far. The time was maybe 4:30 PM now and I bagan to wonder when the next ferry sailed. We drove back north and found the right road to Rimbo and Norrtälje.. I started to see several cars from Åland...you have your own licence plate because you are so important and independent on Åland! One, two cars! Hopefully they were driving to the Åland ferry. But when I got to the terminal, there was only a little traffic. I parked and went then into the building and took the escalator. There were three ferry lines: Tallink, Silja, and Viking. I thought that I was late, then I saw several cars waiting outside, queued up to check in!
"Soon we shall travel on the little Åland Ferry and then to familiar Finland! Arent you happy?" I asked Red Car. The car said nothing.
"45 Swedish kr." said the man at the kiosk.
I had taken out my visa card. "Wow! I'll pay cash instead," I answered.
At 7PM I went on board the pleasant boat. I wanted to eat the good Viking Buffet. This buffet and the Tax-free are how Viking Line earns its money. It is expensive, but you get your Lapin Kulta beer free. I think that the name means Lappland's Gold. Many years ago there was a goldrush in Lappland. It tastes a little boring like Budweiser, but boring Finlanders love it! You can get free wine as well, white or red. Or you can have soda pop or fresh milk. There are all kinds of food, for example disgusting meat and fattening desserts. But I chose salmon...smoked and ovenbaked salmon...and the red or yellow caviar!
The trip only took roughly three hours, and soon we arrived at Mariehamn. The little city was so different in March! Where were all the tourists? Only a woman and a Red Car. It snowed softly the dark white roads were quiet. We drove around town and searched for a cheap hotel as always, but it was late and many were closed for the winter. I decided to stay at the Viking Lines hotel, which is called the Park Alandia. I said:
"I am interested in a room," in English.
And the old man....maybe 55 as usual...asked,
Yep, we were in Finland now! He couldnt speak English!
"Yes, I would like to get a room...single...only me..." I was very happy that I had studied Swedish! "How much does it cost?"
"Fifty-five," he answered. I wished that the exchange rate werent so poor. During the Euros first year, you could think in dollars.
Then I heard music! I walked into the pub, where I listened to a musician who sang Golden Oldies for example Simon and Garfunkel or John Denver and played guitar. It seemed to be a good place to be. A large woman in front of him applauded after every song. I sat down at the bar and asked:
"Can I get a pear cider..."
"With ice?" answered the bartender as usual.
I drank my cider there, but moved later. People began to arrive in the dark pub and finally there were not enough places to sit! It was a little hard to move around. A man put his hand on my elbow as he walked by. I felt as if I had become a part of Åland!
The next day we traveled to Finland on the big ferry Isabella. But we could still see Sweden's strong influence. In southern Finland, from Korpoo to Lovisa, the signs were in Swedish before Finnish, and sometimes you could see Lovisabanken or Mattssons Handel. Sweden's earlier history remained in the castle at Häme and Åbo, and in the old buildings in Old Rauma. Not until I boarded the plane would I finished with Sweden!
&&&&&College Station, TX 1986?
I am standing in the hallway of the shiny new Halbouty Hall Annex at Texas A&M. I am talking to my dissertation advisor, whose first name is Anne. I say:
"Do you really think graduate students should be required to go to seminar in order to keep their assistantships?
And she says:
"Don't you think graduate students should go to seminars?
And I say:
"At Iowa we had doughnuts before seminar."
She looks at me without comprehension.
This is the punchline to my life.
I thought right now would be a good place to put it.
What is your punch line?!
Portland, November 2006:
"Erin....Erin!!! I say as we glide down Belmont. Kori wa denke des-ka? Where would you like to eat?"
"Look, Erin...right over there...the new 2 Brothers Balkan Cafe!!!"
I take a hard left in the dismal rain...right before the stop light.
&&&&&Downtown Portland, November 2006:
See it? Beyond that bronze deer creature in the park? The mottled angry clouds through the wet cave of skyscrapers are the same steel grey as the buildings! Below your feet on the sidewalk, the fan-shaped ginko leaves burn like a thousand torches.
"What are you doing out in this terrible weather?" the waiter asks me. Thin and dark already, he is wearing the uniform of Portland waiters, which is black on black. Black is the official color of Portland, Oregon. I'm here at La Bella Casual Italian Dining because I've bought euros for my son in the secretive nearby subbasement of Wells Fargo. Soon I'll go to class and try and think of something to say about "Hanna's Daughters," and even sooner I will order Penne Zuppa, which is Italian for pasta with squash and tomatoes chopped up in cream sauce. Going backwards, I've just been staring at the chic high wall of glass that forms the front of the building, out at people walking in the dismal Rose City dusk and at the five young women sitting in the booth by the high window. They are all wearing black!
"It's not terrible." I say. "It's beautiful."
"It reminds me of the terrible storms when I was growing up in West Texas!" continues the waiter.
"Wow! I used to live in Bryan-College Station! I'm an aggie! Where are you from?"
"San Angelo!" answers the waiter. After that, his voice carries the inconspicuous drawl of a Texan....
Caldwell, Idaho, Spring 1981
"Mother," asked Owen. "Listen to her talk. Where do you think she comes from?"
"Hmm...." her voice brightened. "Idaho?"
"Alabama!" my paleoecological colleague smiled.
I dont know what I expected from a woman who had spent most of her summers following sheep in a battered gypsy caravan. Maybe I thought she would be wearing a flannel shirt and carrying a shotgun. But Owen's mother looked like everyone else's mother. She had short grey hair and wore normal mother clothes.
"My father worked all his life to buy his own ranch. Then he had a heart attack and died. It happens quite a bit, when you work all your life for something and you finally get it." Owen had related all this somewhere along the highway, as if he were describing a scientific phenomenon with a certain fatalism.
Everything was very neat in the house, which may not have been new but seemed that way. There was a wood heating stove in the living room near the chair that she sat in. My bet is that those border collies in the photos are hers.
Later, Owen, Kerry and I would go say hello to Owen's sister, who worked as a nurse in the hospital.
That's all I remember about Caldwell.
&&&&&Life is like russian roulette. For instance, you might play albums from the radio station library a thousand times and be safe and then pick that one flogging molly track. You might back up from a parking place at the Shell Station in Hood River free and clear and then that once some idiot will race by past the pumps and tap your bumper and shoot you a bird. Even then, you may escape unscathed and forget the whole thing. These docile errors themselves become a secondary roulette!! What happens in the next round?
Hazel Z., Queen Mum of the Purple Rhapsody Red Hat, eased her foot onto the accelerator as she passed the last scrap of the The Dalles Urban Growth Boundary. She spun past the jagged targets and spent shells at the shooting range at the base of the Paving Company Quarry, out on to the open highway! Suddenly, looming before her, what was that spry, dark object? A deer? An elk? WHAM!!! KLUNK!!! The horse rolled up onto the hood of her car; the windshield now shattered glass, brown hide spreading like a winter blanket on the dashboard! In blind surprise she heard the second thunk of steel and then Hazel's spirit soared and climbed above the basalt outcrops, flew now above the withering brown oregon oaks and the green ponderosa pines. Then shone the light, as blinding as the white shimmering on a Portland bridge after a rainstorm, and she was in the clouds, leading the freaked-out mare. In the mist before her stood two young men from South County, leading a large black and white cow. A voice not within, not without, spoke.
"This is really weird. I can only have one of these in one day in the Mid-Columbia region! You decide, who will rise unscathed and who will be freed to fly like a redtail?"
Hazel looked at the men and thought of their young lives and the landscape of Black Butte and Full Sail stretching before them. She knew who it would be. It was time for her to spread her wings.
"There is one thing I want," she bargained. "I would still like to be able to go to my Red Hat Meetings."
"You will haunt Red Hat Society Meetings for the Rest Of Eternity!" boomed the voice.
"Well," began Janet, Mary Kay consultant and Queen Mum of the Scarlet Begonias. "This has been some month. First I had reservations at the Sugar Bowl and I called to give them the count and they said they didnt open until 5:30! And then I had it set up at Zim's Brau House...the cuisine is excellent there now that Lois took over...and Judith...she was the last person I called...commented that it was NO MINORS!! I think it's because the bar is right there by the door. So that's why we are here at the ANZac Teahouse."
Hazel floated by her, nodding her head in Empathy. At the window, a woman poured ginger vanilla brew for three little girls dressed in pink. There was an empty chair at the end between Judith and Margie and so she wafted down there, staring wistfully at the cucumber and chicken sandwiches.
"I love your little car," Darlane said to Judith. Darlane was there with her granddaughter, who attends The Dalles Middle School, and her husband's mother as well.
"Thanks! I do too, except when five or six boys are trying to get into the back seat...and the trunk!"
"I remember that! Our son used to run track and we'd take home a bunch of sweaty boys. You'd look at the windows and they'd be steamed up completely and they smelled awful!!! Ugh!...and the older one, he was so embarrassed about everything we did. For instance, the time we picked him up with the pot-bellied pig in the back of the station wagon...you know the reason they are so small is that they starve them. We always got them not as pets...we ate them. Anyway, that day he ducked down so no one could see him with the pig in the car. He was so tall and skinny...it was so FUNNY!!!"
"I've always wondered why people would have a pot bellied pig as a pet...dont they poop on the floor?"
"No..." answered Darlane, "You can house break them. But they're still PIGS!!! UGH!!!"
Hazel glanced back to the head of the long table.
"There were close to 80 Red Hatters at the Service," Janet was saying. "She sure loved to glitz it up, and we dressed appropriately!"
Hazel was so thrilled! But how long would they remember? How could she remind them?
&&&&Portland, 2006, Paccini's.
"I'd like the Shrimp Entree and a glass of water," I order at the counter.
By the time the angel hair-based meal comes, I am almost in a hypoglycemic coma. I stare at the bowly plate in horror and then up at the menu hanging over the counter. They've used some Weird Italian Word for Weird Italian Bacon. I pull out the Bacon, every scrap I can find, and eat what's left.
Chicken...someone could slip me chicken instead of Mock Tofu and I wouldnt even realize that I was responsible for the death of a feathered sqwaulker. But due to aromatic rings, even Bell Pepper fades to a dull pistachio in the face of Bacon. You can still taste it even if you go rinse your shrimp in the ladies room. Squealing pot bellied pigs haunt your whole evening.
I check the Finnish road report for Joutsa every day. It has been white there for quite awhile; the only town where the weather melts entirely is Hanko, the southern port where thousands of poor peasants stepped off from Mother Finland forever. One day the area between the tire tracks will be clear. The next it will be white as snow. Sometimes there will be a car or two or a truck. Sometimes they will plow out the lay-by. That's life in Finland right now.
"Ian!" I wrote. "I knew there was something fishy about Joutsa. I was looking at my photo album since our class is reading the Swedish novel "Hash" and I was looking for photos of Umeå and found this one picture of the Jotsenlampi Rantasipi.* We stayed there!" Yep we stayed there, but as far as I can tell I didnt write about it. That was probably because nothing odd happened there. It was like the west coast of Newfoundland.
*This means something like Joutsa's Pond Common Sandpiper. At the time, it also meant Ramada Inn Resort.
July or August 1999, outside Joutsa, Finland....
"Mom! I feel awful!" shrieked Little Erin as she writhed in agony in the back seat. That's what eating meat will do to you! "I have a terrible headache!" We were headed south from Kaustinen to Helsinki. Rain pounded at the windows and roof of our crowded Fiesta. Rain in the summer isnt unusual for Finland! I stared in panic at the camping equipment jammed into the front seat of the tiny Ford and out the window at the bed icon on the blue road sign. I slammed on my brakes and took a hard right into the waiting arms and canopy of the clean and modern Joutsenlampi Rantasipi.
"We are looking or a room," I said at the desk. The lobby was huge. You could see an even huger lake out the picture window.
"We have a special rate of 600 Finnish Marks," said the desk clerk. That was before the Euro. You divide by 8.
Our room was modern and spotless, as is typical for Finland. There were two single beds and one day bed, a bathtub, and the floor was covered with pergo. At the back was a sliding glass door, and a patio from which you could look out across the summer cottages at the lake. The people in the next room were grilling something on their barbecue while drinking Iso Karhu and smoking cigarettes.
"How's your headache?" I asked Erin.
"Huh?" she asked, her eyes as well as her brother's glued to the screen. In Finland, you can see TV shows from Great Britain!
I laid down on the bed a while and thought about the laundry. Then I went to the desk and reserved another night. They gave me the same Special Rate. Like many hotels, the Sandpiper was half empty in the summer.
In the morning, I washed clothes. In ancestral Finland and Sweden they have traditionally used drying closets instead of clothes dryers in resort areas. These are designed to dry out your damp ski clothes when they come out of the washer. After eight or nine hours you go berserk and remove your clothes from the closet. You take them to your room and hang them on all the chairs and tables and drawers you can find, especially the plastic ones on the patio. That's why they have pergo floors.
"Let's go hiking!" I announced.
The children looked up from the TV screen in disbelief. This is what happens when you do not have a TV at home.
I walked around outside while I waited on the clothes...along the beach of Joutsa's Pond and on every one of the cross country ski trails. I saw guests picking blueberries in the low areas, just like they pick huckleberries here in Cascadia.
Just before dinner time, I stood around the spotless modern lobby. A shiny card announced a special on a blue cocktail, Tropicali Fizzi. Finnish families loitered, waiting on dinner, blue glasses in hand. Why was my life driven by geographic boredom, the obsession with the end of the road? I pretended I was a Finnish mother and that the point of my vacation was to sit around and relax. It was thus that I sat down at dinner to relax as a Finnish mother for one night, at the end of the road. The next day, the road would sprout an extension, like a snake spitting out its tongue!
Sacramento, November 2006.
"Sounds of Silence"
The big propellers of the Alaska Horizon commuter plane whirred like an eggbeater in the dishwater sky. As we sunk lower and lower in the California morning sky, the pain in my post nasal drip-infested eustacian tubes became sharper and more poignant and I became deafer and deafer! The ultimate musical irony in a bottomfeeders life was happening to me! Oh no! I was attending Far West Folk Alliance with plugged up ears!
The conference was a lot like the national folk alliances, but smaller and there were no djs I knew so I could compare notes. Where was Len Holton, Taylor Caffery, on this dreary yet dry day? The hotel rooms were reasonable and lovely. I came home with a whole Raggle Taggle Hour worth of euro-CDs, too! Drat those folks who gave me interactive DVDs and 30 second clips instead of real CDs!! And my husband has started through the stack of singer-songwriters!
"I dont see very well!" said the accordian player for the Hot Frittatas, from behind his dark glasses. That's his band playing Eye-Talian music in "The Bachelor" !!!!
"I cant hear anything," I countered. It's not so much you cant hear other people, really, it's that you cant hear your SELF talk.
"I know some sign language," he suggested.
I move on.
"You need my singer-songwriter CD?"
"Great! I'll play it on my metal show!"
"Sure! I live in LA. Those people live right next door!"
After the trade show there was a reception.
"Is the wine free?" I asked the organizer. I was the first dj to play her band "The Tinker's Own"'s album way back in the mid 90s, so she knows who I am, at least now.
"Yep!" she answered. "We complained to the hotel about the construction, so they gave us this reception. I didnt expect the wine, but...whatever they want to do!"
Free wine is never a good idea for a fake teetotler like me.
Most people knew someone else to talk to. I, on the other hand, knew only two people. One was neo-Portlandite Dick Weissman, who had played with Dave Crabtree ("Dick and Dave") several years ago when I subbed "The Guitar Shop." The other was Irina Rivkin, whom I interviewed earlier this year when she played the Missississsiiisssssiiii...Studios. I grabbed some Chardonnay and vegetarian egg rolls and looked around for a place to sit alone on the chilly patio. On the steps! There was a mellow gent on the other side, next to the railing. My ears...I'd made peace with my ears, so I said,
"What do you do?"
"I play guitar...right now I'm doing back-up for bluegrass. I'm not performing here but my heart is there." He was from San Luis Obispo, where it is never too hot or cold.
"I'm stuck in the past," he told me. "I like James Taylor, Joni Mitchell...."
"They were very popular when I was in college!" I said pleasantly.
"The music now is too complex. You have to think too hard to understand it. But James Taylor! He could do amazing things in a simple way. There is this one E chord...whoa! And the lyrics..."
"'Suzanne the plans they made put an end to you,'" I recited.
"That's what I play to myself, not bluegrass. I like playing other peoples music, but it looks like I will have to write my own. I went and asked at the local coffeehouse and I said, I want to do the old songs I love. He said, 'ASCAP was here and they said, if you play anyone else's music, you'll have to pay $500. So if you want to do that, you can pay the $500.'"
"You wouldnt make that...especially if you're passing the hat," I remarked.
"Twenty percent [?] of the bar tab. Huh! That's not five hundred dollars!"
The next day, my ears were fine. I talked OK to people, though within my subautistic limitations. Then I boarded the 6AM prop plane to Portland.
"I'm sorry," said the pilot. "The engine light came on and to avoid a bloody crash we'll have to go to the gate and sit around awhile." Then I fell asleep, next to a cute man fluent in paniced cell phone conversations. "Pedro! No puedes...malo engino!!" The flight attendants began passing out additional packages of wheat chex and raisins.
The grey waters and condos of the Columbia finally appeared beneath us, and we all breathed sighs of relief. It was then that I felt the familiar stabbing pain in my eustacian tubes!
I cant hear. But I know I am lucky to be alive.
&&&&The rain will not stop for long. I tap my foot and wait in vain for it to bring an interesting new story.
I walk into downtown Portland from Wells Fargo, looking for that special balance between the dual pits of "slow food and a big tip" and starbucks. I stop finally at the Zippy Taco Mexican Grill. I've made up the name due to memory failure, but it's not "Chipotle." I peruse the menu hanging above the counter.
"What's this? Vegetarian Mexican gumbo?" I ask. Mexican gumbo with a choice is the house specialty.
"Without the cheese and sour cream I can make it vegan!" says the young man behind the counter.
"No!!! I need the sour cream, not the vegan!" I laugh.
"Do you want black or refried beans?" he continues.
"Popular Music From Vittula" is one of the star novels of my life. I have translated a whole difficult chapter from the difficult Finnish-studded vernacular of northern Sweden! But almost everyone else in my Modern Scandinavian Literature class is reading it for the first time, in English.
"How do you feel about Niemi's poetic descriptions?" Gunilla asks a student who has remained too quiet. The trick in class is to mouth off about the question YOU want to ask yourself! That's the one you know the answer to.
"I think he's overdoing it. It's distracting," she says.
UGH! I fall off my chair in agony, but no one notices. There are two schools of thought concerning imagery. When I write these stories, I could be of either school. Right now I am using no distracting images. But when I read, I would like the artist to paint a picture with words, to be a stunning cinematographer. I creep under the tables and strangle the young woman. No one notices that either. This sort of stuff is a form of magical realism.
I can joke about this because I am a de facto FL major, whereas the young woman is working on a masters in creative writing!
I am driving on the wet I-84...last week, but still present in my mind... past Rowena and just shy of the Discovery Center-Dalles West Exit. On the freeway, I try and keep just below 70, but right at that one moment I was doing 71. Suddenly, to my right and sequestered in basalt...I see the black darth vader hood of an Oregon State Trooper!! Oh no! He pulls out squarely behind me, his lights flashing!
Then he passes, speeding on past me. A second later, vehicles begin to fan out into the left lane: an old green bronco with Washington plates, an old white rabbit with two bicycles on the roof, a big red semi from Carrollton Georgia with a peach on its plates and Atlanta on its mudflaps, and then myself in the little banana-toned Aveo from Hood River Chevy. The hawk has caught a new red Yukon!!!
&&&"Where are we going this year?" asked Erin. It was the day before thanksgiving! Unlike normal people, our recent family Thanksgiving tradition has been to escape Turkey Day!
"Uh...dunno," I said. "I forgot all about it." But I hadnt forgot the wild Alaska salmon still sitting on the shelf at Freddy's! Yum!
Vancouver! The dark skyscrapers of Robson Street rose before us like dead snags in the flooded Columbia, caramel colored in the early night. I mused upon the words of the customs agent:
"You two related?"
He looked at Erin anxiously as she and Alfredo...or was it Trace?...frantically jabbered away her last free minutes before Rogers slid silently into the phone like a computer virus...along with its huge fees and GSTs.
"She's my daughter," I replied.
"Oh, OK, then, eh? Have a safe trip, eh!" ID? Passport? Hockey stick?
But now I faced a young desk clerk with spiky hair and neurotic eyes.
"Do you ladies know about the water?"
"Uh...we just heard some of it from the people right over there."
"Aha!" he replied, his voice accelerating and his eyes spinning. "You're in for a treat! None of the water here in Vancouver is drinkable due to the contamination of our reservoir due to torrential downpours of the previous week. It is better than it was. For a couple days, you could not get a cup of coffee anywhere. Only Seven Eleven was able to persist by virtue of its amazing triple filtration system. Even Starbucks was in deep trouble...all you could get was a steamer."
"They got what they deserve," exclaimed Erin spitefully.
"Your room is equipped with two bottles of water. After that...if you are a heavy water drinker I suggest you visit the drug store down the street early on."
We parked the Aveo and elevated up to our room. Erin sampled the adult cartoons and the high speed internet. I went over to Sayonara Sushi, ordered the BC box and a Granville Island Pale Ale, and scanned the warped cartoons in a newspaper. A homeless man was standing outside of an empty Starbucks, brewing coffee to sell from the water rushing out of a downspout. When I got my dinner, I was very thankful! Afterwards, I walked around looking for bottled water and a ramen bowl, as well as a machine that would actually give me Canadian money. The guys ahead of me in line were a couple cute young drunk dudes buying cigarillos.
"Where's the smokes?" slurred one of them as he swayed in front of the cash register. The other gent swayed and shrugged.
"Right here," said the Indonesian clerk, rolling his eyes and pushing the little cigars a few centimeters closer. "Right in front of you." I rolled my eyes as well. The clerk smiled at me.
What exactly did we do that next day that was so exciting? We'd already escaped Thanksgiving! Erin went shopping for Christmas presents and I paid for them. Then we went to Chapters, which is like Borders, and Erin set out to read 3 shelves of Manga Books. I walked over to HMV, determined to buy 3 shelves of CDs.
"Gasp!" I exclaimed. "Twenty seven dollars!" The exchange rate is not what it used to be. I walked back through the crowds and looked at the people...Orientals and Canadians, thin, chic women rushing past in their spike heeled boots. A lady my age wore a long black velvet coat and a long red velvet scarf. I would like to buy one, trade in these baggy blue jeans from Fred Meyer! I opened the door of the drugstore, determined to cure my ragged chapped lips and feed my diet coke habit. The man in front of me in the check-out line was swiping his debit card. Once...twice... The clerk rolled her eyes.
"At one o'clock today, all the credit card computers in Vancouver went down. At four-o-seven, they started working again. But it looks like they're down again," she told him.
I always pay in willys and get change! Lucky!
I walked back through the grey afternoon to the hotel and checked my mail. There was a huge grey gull on the grey balcony. Beyond it, the snag trunks looked like an army of woodpeckers had been at them, pecking out doors and windows to get the bugs out.
I walked back to Chapters and rode the escalator. Erin was on Shelf Two. I perused the NEW BOOKS display and picked up a photoessay on eating disorders. It was a great book, but really depressing. By the time I had devoured it, Erin had finished the manga section and it was time for us to abuse some food. We stopped at a Thai restaurant, where all the water was bottled. I ordered a Singha beer and Erin got a thai iced tea.
Back in the hotel room, we looked down into the night. Hundreds of bicyclists were gliding by, headlamps beaming like shooting stars. Some were wearing capes! Erin snapped some pictures.
"Look, Mother," she said. "You cant see them in the photos!"
Like ghosts or electrons, there were only faint grey and orange and white smears on the camera screen where the cyclists should have been
I had been putting this...getting my tires changed...off all week. But today there is a "chains required on vehicles over 10,000GW" requirement at Hood River! That means something if you're driving on the freeway, it's a clue as to how you and your little Aveo are supposed to act. Here in The Dalles, it is 38 degrees and the roads are black even though the lawns are white. But today is a snow day at The Dalles Middle School. That too is a clue as to conditions in the Wasco County Outback.
Getting your snowtired rims changed at Nelson Tire Factory is like checking out at Grocery Outlet with two cans of Finest Garbanzo Beans and a bottle of $1.99 Neese 2003 Chardonnay. You still have to wait in some line behind people with only the one set of rims who're buying food for their family reunion. You study for your exam, pronouncing words out loud like Åsne Seierstad. You ponder why the white Burlington Northern truck behind you is in line, because it already has spikes on its tires. Nothing else to do, bored, you reckon. Then, two hours later, you're next in line. You start your engine, and the guy in the blue Nelson jacket backs a black Suburu sedan into the bay. That's another half hour right there. You shut your engine off in a minute or two. It was great having the heater on!
Suddenly the supervisor bangs on my front window! I look up from reading the Police Report in The Dalles Chronicle. The best anecdote is an old guy from Dallesport, WA being refused service at somewhere like Subway or MacDonalds...you never know the exact address. He angrily pissed on the floor and left. The clerk called the City of The Dalles Police and they charged the man witb disorderly conduct.
"You got 'em on rims and everything?" he asks. If they're mounted, it's free, as well as speedy!
"Yep!" I repeat. I vision having to mop up something like that. Ugh!
"So...When we get done with your car...can I get in and you can take me away from here?" There is a maniacal look in his eyes, and laughter in his mouth.
"Uh..." Then I realize he's kidding.
"It's just that....We've had all sorts of problems today." He shook head. "For instance that Suburu. The tires scraped. So we had to get different ones."
Every month, we have a station meeting in the chic-ly decorated portion of the student union, on one of the floors that has windows. The only windows in the subbasement studios of KPSU radio are on inner walls. If you had windows to the outdoors, all you would see is deeply buried Willamette flood plain sediments. This sense of natural light decor leads to a special feeling of specialness amongst the djs and equipment geeks.
"This is my last week as station manager," announced our station manager. "I am spending the next term in SPAIN!!! I'm outa here....hWAHAHAHHAhaha!!!" Everyone expressed their sympathy! But many of the younger djs were jealous. That's their goal...to get out of Portland State, degree in hand.
"But...guess what! We caught our CD thief!" said the station manager.
"We should have 20,000 CDs, but we can only locate 17,000," amplified Aaron, the fourth music director in five years. Because we are a student station, over half of the CDs that come into the station are indie...emo, even. Aaron's task is to find someone who will listen to all those CDs. This is a problem when over half of the djs are groovin' to stuff like reggae, electro, or Agalloch.
"Dis dude has this voice of an off-key duck, why does he botha to sing anyway?" is, for example, what it says on this emo review from DJ Gangsta. "One half star."
"Too tame.The death vocals are really cheesy and pedantic...flaky toy piano!" says the emo review from DJ Chainsaw. "One half star."
That makes it easy for DJ Aaron...one clean toss.
Our station manager continued. "He was selling CDs to one of the record stores. The jewel cases had our review labels on them. The clerk copied down his drivers licence and called the cops."
Suddenly supernovas began to go off in the big room? Magical Realism? Migraines?
"It's the fire alarm," station the station manager. So we all left.
"What if you just broadcasted random people singing?"
Stagnant air alert in The Gorge! Yep, the stagnant minds have found their match! The snowy mix of fragrant smoke from wood stoves and ammonia fumes from the upriver beef factories rolls down the river like an avalanche along a glacier. In the short view ahead, you can see the new spring grass at the side of the road. Spring comes to Klickitat County like the winter wheat.
I pull into Murdock Mini Mart and fill up with gas. It is one of the last stations here where you can fill up before paying. I like that. I go in, pick a Diet Mountain Dew from the Cooler and then pay.
"You have a ring just like mine!" the young clerk says. She has dark hair and fine features and a thin wire in her lip, like braces gone berserk! She stretches her hand so I can see.
"You have a claddagh too!" I exclaim. Hers is finely sculptured in white and yellow gold. Mine is silver, a cheap purchase at NTIF ten years earlier. "Where did you get it?"
"Is that what they call it? I got it from my aunt for graduation."
"Are you Irish?" I ask.
"Yes!" she smiles.
On the road I think of the punchlines of my life. Like Timo Tolkki, guitarist for the Finnish band Stratovarius, I perhaps think too much!
In any event, these punchlines seem to beat disinterest into whatever they're punching, steering me into a wasteland like the one around Roosevelt, Washington, where they have the big transfer station.
"Tracing one blue line in a land so wild and savage."
Here's the punchline for Folk Alliance. I'm not sure what year it was, but it was at a time when I was heavily into shape note singing. Maybe it was Nashville. I was talking to a congenial traditional singer from somewhere in the Midwest. I said something like:
"You know, I liked the first one the best...the one in Toronto. They had a lot of Celtic music, plus they had a contra dance and I went to a great traditional singing with Ed Miller."
"Huh!" said the woman. "You missed the contra dance! But they're doing a song circle tonite! Why dont you contact this other traditional singer whose name you wont want to recall when you write about this conversation!"
The other traditional singer whose name I did not want to recall spoke hesitantly, her eyes rolling in a panic. "Yes...there...is...one, but it's really for...." Her voice trails off in my mind. For who? Real people? Aw heck, probably for people she knew. Except for Tim Erickson, shape note singers are unknown faceless ghosts hovering unanchored in the folk music world, tossing our ones and fives...even a twenty for a convention...into the basket each time we sing.
The wedding day clock is ticking for a young woman in Texas...it's easier for us Oregonians!!!!
At one time, maybe 50 years ago, a useless dead end street stretched its dead end way through our present garage all the way back to Mill Creek. That's why our front door faces east and not north to 9th Street and the present halfway house for schizophrenics. During the 60s, someone dumped a garage on top of the street. Now, Jehovah's Witnesses, insurance saleswomen, and UPS deliverymen worm their way over dandelions to the front-facing but disused door of our former garage, past the garbage can and the old fiberglass showerstall, and bang on the door. If someone is inside the room...which I am now...she will walk over by the fusebox and the cat litter and she will open the door.
"Is there a light out there?" the saleswoman will ask.
"No," I will say, and shut the door again. I dont want to buy car insurance or a new windshield. I'd like to buy marijuana. No one has offered to sell me marijuana since 1972. I'd like to smoke marijuana again before I die. I can remember in the Hoosier summer of 1971 how I was driving very slowly down College Avenue in Richmond and that cat...or was it a squirrel...was walking very slowly across the street and I slammed on my brakes in slow motion, as if in a very fine soup. But my guess is that no one will ever figure I'm the type and come to my door. Darn!
Maybe the UPS man knocked, maybe he didnt, but the flat box was there by the disused door. Erin opened it and gasped.
"Go try it on!" I said.
"Wow!" she said. "Look how it twirls around!" The bridesmaid's dress was deep red and strapless. "There's a layer of chiffon and a layer of some other stuff and another layer of chiffon! But it's dragging on the ground..."
"You need to wear heels with it," I suggested. "There are some for $11.99 at Fred Meyer!"
"I was a bridesmaid once," I told her. I figured I had to say something before she got too dizzy from twirling around. "Come in here and I'll show you what my dress looked like." We went over to the bookcase where I keep my ever-expanding photo book collection. Whoever said digital cameras save you space was talking about someone else. I pulled out the ugly brown plastic 3 ringed binder paged with construction paper. The first few pages held faded black and white polaroids from my senior year in high school, where we were working on the German club float, a black crepe paper tank with swastikas on it. The last pages were from the year after college, when I goofed off and worked at the phone company. Six years in one book!
"What an ugly dress!" exclaimed Erin. Long aqua crepe with a blue bow under the bodice. It looked OK to me at the time. "Do you still have it?"
"No...it hung in my closet at home for a long time. Then something had happened to it." Something had happened to my memory as well. All I could remember of the wedding itself was walking down the aisle at some upscale old mansion in the Southside of Birmingham. The bride was a Unitarian, so she didnt need a church. I felt nervous, like I was on stage. That was the only time I was in a real wedding, as a bridesmaid. I myself had a hippie wedding and potluck. Always the bridesmaid, never the bride!!!
"Who's that?" she asked. We were moving on rapidly through the short years of tattered construction paper and color polaroids.
"That's Seth Schlotterbeck. He was a geology major at Earlham," I answered.
"I thought it was Dad!"
"Nope," I said. I knew who all those people in the book were. Some people were nobodies, some friends. I wanted to point out who I'd had crushes on, who I'd slept with, who I'd been in love with, but I didnt. I was afraid to.
"Wow! What a cute picture...and there...I wish I had a body like that!"
"Yeah..." I commented. "I weighed about 100 pounds then. But it's too bad I had wet hair and wire rims on."
Somewhere late in the book...somewhere in Des Moines, I pointed at a group photo from a post-sledding party. "That's a joint he's got," I remarked.
The fateful e-mail from my daughter Emma came around noon. It said "I have decided not to get married Saturday."
I wrote back and said, "Try and get as many refunds as you can."
What can you say? Besides that it would have been a lot less painful for everyone if I had spent the money to replace the shag carpet in the bedrooms with engineered wood flooring.
"MOM!" said Erin when I answered the sound of samba rhythms. "Can you pick us up at school?"
"Yeh...but listen! Your sister isnt getting married!"
"Wahoo!" yelled Erin. She would be ours for a little longer!!! Even in Texas....
Unbenownst to me, however, Erin had her own problems, aside from wondering if the red crepe bridesmaid dress would still fit her when the prom came around. Yesterday, when she'd been sick at home with a bad caffeine deprivation headache from me not buying her a mocha smoothie, her clique of friends as circumscribed by the reed section of the The Dalles Middle School 8th Grade Band had been split asunder in the lunchroom. Now she was the center kingpin, balancing the hostile clarinets and a flute on one arm, the uncommunicative saxophones on the other. What had happened?
I'd often hauled these gallant musicians in my Aveo to Holstein's Espresso after school, stuffing 4 or 5 kids illegally in the back seat. On Friday night, we'd happily eaten supper with some of them at the Tijuana Tacqueria in the old Ixtapa Restaurant location Downtown The Dalles, stuffing 4 guys into the back seat. It was a well balanced experience crowned by fried ice cream...Erin and Alfredo on clarinet, Justin and Keenan on sax. Alfredo was especially eloquent in his "Gracias" es.
"Alfredo always makes a 4.0...he must be a smart guy!" I comment to Erin.
"Huh! This term he got into Language Arts for Spanish Speakers! He said it was a really easy A!"
"Does Alfredo speak Spanish?" I asked, astonished. Sure, he was born in Mexico, nonetheless he was a real smart hombre to get into that class!
But listen...my daughter received the highest score test in the whole seventh grade for writing and it sure wasnt from taking Language Arts for Texas Speakers. So there, Alfredo!
At dinner, over vegetarian chili and chips, Erin reconstructed the rift, utilizing containers of pepper, salt, and garlic. I always put extra garlic in my chili.
"Keenan always has the nerds following after him. They are always eating lunch with us...see here's the tables, see Justin, represented by a can of pepper and Keenan, represented by this jar of garlic powder, at this table. And here I am, the salt."
Keenan, you may remember, is a powerful six foot tall thirteen year old step son of a Montana trucker. Justin is a mysterious almost as tall willowy boy with long strawberry blond hair. He lives with his grandmother in a trailer park. Keenan and Justin both play sax.
"What defines a nerd?" my husband asked, always the devils advocate.
Erin sighed and rolled her eyes. "Tom...he keeps poking people. You cant have a conversation without him poking you incessantly. You go to another table, and he follows you and then he pokes even harder. And...whats his name [yeah, I forgot] just says stuff like "Did you see the new Nintendo game? I achieved the sixth trident level by slaying five dragons."
"Those arent nerds," corrected my husband. "Those are gamers."
"Sounds like your brother....they probably heard you were Ian's sister, " I commented. Ian is now safely in Finland, downplaying the games and guzzling practically legal Heinekin and Vodka Punch at parties. In Mother Finland both the driving and the drinking age are 18. I say this because I have a photo now of him from photobucket with a plastic glass of beer in his hand.
"So Keenan gets up and goes over to Sage's table, she's sitting there with [three clarinet players,] Alfredo, Jordan, and Trampus." Poor Sage, a lovely 5'8 pseudo goth woman in black, daughter of an Idaho hairdresser, is the lone flute player. "The nerds follow him, as usual."
All sorts of nerdy objects bounced their way across the dinner table.
"'Go away!' Sage shouts. 'You have become increasingly emotionless and insensitive, Keenan!'" At least he's not an emo!
"'I am tired of you nagging at me about these nerds, Sage!'" explodes Keenan. "I cant help it if they follow me!"
And hence the split, cast in brass.
Yep, here we all were, Casa Rodriguez which used to be Gina's in downtown Bryan, Texas...Richard and Judith and Erin from Cascadia, Aunt Donna and Cousin Seth from North Carolina, and Emma and Little Victor from a rundown duplex over by the East By-Pass. We were hanging around at what someone said was the best Mexican Restaurant in town, eating enchiladas and other Mexican stuff. I...and I alone...was sipping on a margarita on the rocks in a mug with salt like Jimmy Buffet. Margaritas are great if you want to pretend you're somewhere else, like your daughter's wedding. Everyone else at the table was sort of relieved. Oh, but I am such a romantic!
"This soup is really good...I think it's pork," said Aunt Donna.
"This is a really good burrito!" exclaimed Seth.
My shrimp cocktail was sort of like shrimp and avocado floating in cocktail sauce. Huh.
There's a mystique to this lazy tired Texas Main Street. History-conscious Entrepreneurs have tried to scrub it as clean as the streets that run past the Olive Garden or the Hilton in College Station, nearer to A&M. But it's as dusty and wide as the day we moved to Bryan.
"The Woolworths is gone," I said to myself. I lived here so long ago that I could remember impoverished shoppers behind the old modern white facade, back in the early 80s. In those fateful days stores...including Woolworths...hung on like Swedish tourists against a swift rushing tsunami tide...south...always rushing south along the flume of Texas Avenue and the East By-Pass.
Then they lost their grip entirely and were washed away.
"It's not Portland," I observed.
We drove past Catalina Hatters.
"Do they really make hats there?" Erin asked.
"Yes they do!" someone answered.
"Can we go to that place where we used to go fossil hunting?" asked Erin in my random near memory. Oh no! I'd forgotten!
"I'm just wearing flip flops!" observed Emma. I smirked in revenge.
And so Emma and Red Van both...the old red Windstar whose oldometer now topped 203,000 miles...who knew how many kilometers!...changed its course to turn West toward the Brazos River and the Type Section of the Middle Eocene Stone City Formation!!!!
[to be continued]
Texas, Dec 15 2006: Past all sorts of things. Red Van drove along Highway 21 and we saw all sorts of things.
"There's some cows! You dont see cows every day where you live now!" said Emma pointing at a pasture.
"Well, not in town, but south of town there are ranches," I countered. But she was right. When we lived in Texas, you could see cows every time you went to the mall. In Oregon, however, cows are banned by the Gorge Scenic Commission. I was not sure, however, that this was a good reason to move back to Texas.
"Texas!" Erin would say with great feeling a week later. "Texas is beautiful. I love Texas. There are too many rednecks here."
But most notable was the polygonal Chevron station at Smetana, They had built two stories for dancing, only to discover that the second story was rated for two people. The concrete floor was too heavy!
Across the bridge, across the Brazos County Line now....Emma the ex-bride swung right through cane into the dusty lane where fisher folk park. From the bridge, we could see people combing the banks of the muddy Brazos.
"So this is a REAL fossil collecting area!'" exclaimed Aunt Donna from North Carolina. Or I should say Dr Aunt Donna, because she has a chunky degree in Ecology from the University of Minnesota. Now she is an epidemiologist and she loves her job. She is a lot smarter than I am!
"Yep," I said. "The fossils are really tiny. I wrote a paper on this site, but it was on pollen...." For a while I couldnt remember anything that I wrote, but as I walked it came back to me. "This is the type section of the Middle Eocene Stone City Formation." That's what I should have said immediately. But instead I said:
"Watch out for snakes....the cottonmouths are poisonous!" Then I began to look for a container to hold the fossils I found. Suddenly, my husband Richard held up a styrofoam bait bucket with the side knocked out.
"Thanks!" I said.
Then we all walked through the cane and descended the muddy cliff. Below me, through time, boys and girls harvested white scaphopods and high spired gastropods no bigger than your fingernail from silty mud. Dan Miller waded in his snake boots during a high water year and Bob Stanton hypothsized on storm layers. Gentry Steele dusted silt off a mamoth that had been found sticking its bones out of a cliff. Two Danish palynologists collapsed from heat stroke during a summer field trip.
"That's the limestone layer..." I told Donna. "There are fossils in it, but you can't get them out. Down here, now! the silt is unconsolidated and you can pick them out. The reason that they are so small is that the environment was very stressful."
Suddenly a young man appeared in front of Donna.
"Hi! Looking for fossils?" he smirked. "I've just got my AA from Blinn College with a concentration in geology! This is irrelevant to the fossils but there are some nice selenite crystals beyond that bend there!"
He didnt look at me and I kept quiet, staring at the mudcracks.
For minutes on end, we were in heaven. Erin and Cousin Seth were way ahead of us, chunking cobbles into the Mighty Brazos. My husband pretended to be a cosmic wanderer, hanging onto a long stick and staring out into the river. Emma was pulling Baby Victor out of a deep squishy field of great mudcracks. A relative of the Blinn graduate held up a long blobby stone and remarked to a companion, "I found a fossil stomach!" The sun pitched out pink rays onto the highway bridge and I pulled out my camera to take esoteric photos.
But after that I began to sift through the dark silt, picking up more fossils and dropping them into the white bait bucket that shone like orthoclase feldspar in the waning minutes of the warm winter sun.
I have a zip lok bag of those critters right here, freezing in the Oregon December!
There have been Christmases where I've cut and pasted charming exerpts from my ancestors diaries to brighten up my radio playlists. I wish I could do that this year, as the M and especially my decapitated S keys on my Dell Inspiron make writing anything ele frutrating. How did that happen o uddenly? Unfortunately I've run out of diaries!
Yep, it's Christmas Day, and I'm speeding down 9th Street here in The Dalles and I' m running into the house excitedly to say this to my two remaining family members:
"Denny's is open!"
We thought they were closed, and we would be eating cheese 'n' onion perogie and asparagus hot dish. As it turns out, the cafe is just too busy to answer the phone.
There's not too much you can say about Denny's and its dark-eyed waitress Scarlett on Christmas Day, except it's not the house that you've been hanging around in all day with a couple of other scrooges, including a teen ager obsessed with downloading ring tones on her brand new cell phone....other than there are a lot of people eating there for one reason or another.
Suddenly a group of young people sits down at a long, compound table.
"Seniors!" exclaims Erin forbodingly.
Then one of the boys says, "I'm not hungry," and bolts for the front of the restaurant.
"Me either," says a second and then a third. The remaining students move to a booth behind us and do nothing else odd or exceptional.
We'd had our de facto Christmas dinner the night before at a party held by a new Google Employee and his wife, who were not going home to Portland for the holidays. The wife's parents had come up from Florence, on the coast, to visit and cook. There are a lot of new Google (formerly the O2 project) employees (including my husband!) here in The Dalles because there is a new hyper-electrified Google facility down by the Mighty Columbia. What a great place to meet single computer gamers this pot luck was! We had turkey and ham (not me!) and one of boys made lobster bisque.
"How was the soup?" he asked.
"Terrible," I laughed. "That's why I had two bowlfuls!"
I wondered if the hostess' parents were younger or older than me. It was hard to say...I used to always know who was about my age, but not anymore. She's blonde...or is she? After dinner Erin went down to the basement to watch the charming kid's movie Domino (great photography!) on a 120" screen with a young programmer from the Indian subcontinent, and I talked to Mom and Dad.
"How do you like it here?" the wife asked. "You've been here a lot longer, I hear...."
"I dont!!!" The Dalles is so small that all my stories start to repeat themselves. "How do you like Florence?"
"We love it...the weather is great.....and the trees are green!"
"And..." said the husband..."it doesnt snow like it does here. Coming from Northern Idaho as I do, I hate snow. I hate to shovel snow."
"You made that salmon dip...I guess you fish a lot...."
"Yep! We hike and we fish for salmon, up the rivers when they come to spawn! The Siuslaw, mostly, but we sometimes go up around Bandon now!"
I hoped that Santa would not a-Bandon me, and bring us Florence, Oregon for Christmas!!!
Ray walked down the West Dalles exit to I-84 and stuck out the thumb that wasnt holding the insulated coffee mug. What an experience! He'd been visiting his kids in Salem...he'd rented a hotel room for Thanksgiving and then he couldnt stand to leave them, but then he finally did. Yeah, he was at last on his way back to Montana and it was dark and it was raining and he went to pass this semi, this blunderbuss of a truck, mist from the semi-tires hitting him on the windshield so he couldnt see going 70 you had to go 70 to pass the trucks and then he could feel his new 98 taurus slow down like through pancake syrup and then he swerved to the left hit the barrier that split the lanesthenbouncingoffgodyoucanthitthesemiRaysoheswervedwhirlinglikeadervishinthemiddleoftheshininggreyroadlightscomingathimlikebulletsyouredeadRaythisisitinthenight. Finally the gleaming station wagon came to a rest in the mud and grass by the exit ramp to the Memaloose rest area. He was glad he was alive, didnt care about the car, he knew the lights of The Dalles were ten miles down the road and he just wanted to get out of there....
The woman in the yellow car slowed down and he, the thin red haired man with the coffee mug, smiled. Yay!
"I'm Ray Johnson and I just need to go out to get my car that I wrecked last night," said Ray. "I got a bus ticket back to Montana and that dont leave till four. So I'm gonna see if I can get someone to tow it in..."
Ray got a lift from a semi, which surprised him, and the manager at Denney's let him sleep in one of the back booths....back in the NO MINORS area where they had the Keno games. He walked downtown in the morning. There werent any storage lockers at the bus station, but St Vincent De Paul let him stash his bags and DVD player with them.
"Me and my wife split up last year..." Ray began.
"How many kids do you have?" I asked.
"We got four...the nine year old passed away this year. He trashed out his sister's bike and stabbed a hole in his windpipe. We couldnt take it. I just wanted to get away, I didnt ever want to see the house again. My wife didnt want to leave. I guess we'll get back together someday.
I slowed down when I saw the Memaloose rest area. I drew in my breath when I saw the car. It lay upright in the lawn by the eastbound exit ramp. There was a red sticker on the back windshield and the left back fender was dented and scraped.
I pulled to a stop.
There were blue skies today in Portland, though the sun had been captured behind a hazy ribbed cloud. Had you been driving along the freeway above the Willamette, you would have seen lethal Mount Hood rising white like a climber's tent to the right, and to the left the rounded white pants knee of St Helens. Ahead of you would be the low green, snow-frosted mountains of the Washington Cascades. Then you would have lost them all as you descended onto I84.
The hazy blue skies continued on into the gorge, until finally an ominous cloud stretched ahead like cotton candy or asbestos insulation pulled from the Oregon cliffs to the Washington mountains. At first, the view up the Columbia was like a snapshot through milk glass. After that, the sky just looked like a constant wave of dirty water from our washing machine.
But before that, just past Multnomah Falls while the sky was still blue, I looked over at Oneonta...a long creek gorge through the lush lowland mixed conifer hardwood forest...known for its incredible diversity of plants. In the spring, I'd hiked here with Ian's natural history course on a field trip, as a guest, not a chaperone. When kids get that big, they dont need chaperones anymore. Outside it was raining and green, and the Columbia faded into foggy monotones. But by the time we got to Oneonta, the landscape glowed with a strange white light. I took a great photo of Ian there, as he walked upstream with the others in his orange raincoat and black binocs. The Japanese exchange students chattered on behind me.
We turned around at the falls, crossed in wonder, and then headed north again. Everyone stopped and sat on wet moss covered boulders to eat their lunches.
"Did you see that coal seam?" asked Mr Egge.
"Duh, no," I said and walked back. The tiny seam was in a wet nook in the basalts.
"And the penstemons...where were they?" I asked.
"You didnt see them?"
"I learned my plants in Minnesota!" I fumbled.
"I learned mine in Idaho [?]," he answered.
Then we began to walk back to the bus. Suddenly, sliver of grey steel moved like stealth down Oneonta Creek, in a split second of perception it became a blue oragami bird.
"What was that?" a student asked in awe.
"Was it..." another exclaimed.
"Yes," said Mr Egge. "It's a Great Blue Heron."
The heron perched on a log. I took two photos. Both blurred in the excitement.
I am gennett at gorge dot net