Monday, December 30, 2013

Holey Moley

"Put on your oxygen mask first..."
It's like when you're about to take off in an airplane, the part where the stewardess gives you those counter-intuitive instructions about putting on your own oxygen mask before helping your gasping child. That's what this situation reminded me of. I was pleased with the analogy, and gratified for the guidance.

I was about to prepare a wine spritzer for my thirsty spouse, and I'd just gotten a beer for myself. I was faced with the dilemma of what I should do first, open the IPA, or uncork the Pinot Gri. That's when my questing mind remembered that aeronautical lesson so many of us simply let pass through one ear and out the other. But with enough repetition, the lesson sticks. The answer in this case was obvious: pop open the pale ale. "You can't help others when you are in need yourself" is the takeaway here.

It must be the free time afforded by retirement that lets me philosophize like this, and I'm grateful. The little wheel around which my mind turns these days seems circumscribed by only a few essential things: loving family, supporting friends, keeping healthy and happy, and dealing with those pesky moles.

One of four hills made by moles last night
Yesterday, I counted 21 mounds of newly turned mole earth in our lumpy courtyard lawn. Of course, that was accumulated over the span of six days, but still.

I imagine that this travesty weighs somewhat upon the souls of our apartments' other tenants, but my tolerance is demonstrably less than theirs. About once a week I take a flat-bottomed shovel and with a quick scoop I pick up most of the fresh dirt at each mound and toss it under the rhodies. A few flicks with a broom and all sign is gone of those weird little critters that I hope I never see, with their creepy pink fleshy snouts wiggling sensuously. Seriously yuck.

No offense, though, Moles. Really...

Which charitable afterthought leads fittingly to a deeper contemplation; I think it might be from The Bible*: "As above, so below." Hmmmm.

*Actually, my research tells me it's one of those Hermetic, Theosophic, Masonic kinds of things. 

Friday, December 27, 2013

Test Results Are In

My sweet wife got the phone call yesterday--a day earlier than expected and therefore immediately suspect. Tests, and waiting for tests, and waiting for the results of tests had dragged on for weeks. Regardless of the diagnosis, she was damned if it was going to ruin or even rain on our vacation.

The word she heard has to be one of the top ten Best News words in the English language: Benign. Ta Da!

When I got home a little later and she told me, we laughed and hugged and had a happy dance.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas Eve

I forgot the booze! So, just got back from a quick jaunt to what-used-to-be Petosa's Market with a fifth of Gentleman Jack. The checker and I joked about this almost-omission and wished each other Merry Christmas Eve.

Three jiggers down and my exponential spouse and I realize that someone here at our little apartment complex got left behind and that someone is us. Looking around the courtyard, this is what I realize:

Our creche with the usual suspects
The Little Family left three hours ago in Jesse's car; no sign of Jerry, but he could be bartending. (His sometime squeeze, Not-Hannah, was spotted earlier in the day walking across Petosa's parking lot wearing reindeer deelie-boopers and jingling boots.) Ralph's Subaru is gone. Where? We don't have a clue. Marion is at one of her daughter's houses where the whole clan gathers annually for an Italian Christmas Eve Fish Fest. Warren must have flown back east, so no noise of weights being lifted next door. Poor Crazy Carrie and her Prius could only be at her parents. Dwayne, best guess, is with one of his skanks (not charitable, but true), Sam with one of his many Catholic children.

This place is empty, but we are here together, having a feast tonight--ham, scalloped potatoes, spinach, pecan and cranberry salad, and then, after gingerbread and whipped cream, an early bedtime.

We will channel Christ's love into this evening, and into tomorrow, as always, when we will welcome the daughters for gift exchange and brunch.

Merry Christmas Eve to all!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Dollars to Pesos

Yesterday we ordered a whole bunch of pesos for our annual adventure down south of the border in MEH-he-ko.

We're behind the coconut palms between the orange and white buildings at the right.
For the past half dozen years we have spent several weeks each winter in a little fishing village near Puerto Vallarta. This is near where the classic movie "Night of the Iguana" was filmed.

(Last year I was mouth agape watching a bunch of these four foot lizards climbing from branch to branch in a tree a mile up the river from the cove at the left of the picture above.)

We stay in a penthouse apartment atop several other concrete and rebar additions to the home of a well-connected family in the village.

This is one of your hard-to-find getaways. The only way for people and commerce to get here is by water taxi.  Our balcony patio looks down on the muelle [MWAY-yay], or pier, where the water taxis come and go a dozen times a day.

From here we can watch trabajadores trotting their high and precariously stacked wheelbarrows from the pier up the narrow, winding cobblestoned alleys to tiendas and construction sites throughout the village.

In the morning, if we arise just before the sun comes over the jungled hill on the opposite side of our cove, we can see the unhurried activity of fishermen, and service workers at the many tiny beachside restaurants, as they slowly begin their day.

We usually do little more than just watch the daily round of people, small boats and birds from dawn to night time. Our portion of this activity may (but not necessarily) consist of strolling, drinking, exploring, smoking, visiting, eating, shopping at Hortencia's (mostly aguacates, papayas, limons y tequila), plus various forms of artistic noodling, and canoodling.

We're leaving for our idyl on New Year's Day. This year we'll be there for an entire month.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Cold Coffee or Beer?

It's the shank of a dark, cold and foggy afternoon. I'm coasting on a gymrat high that I want to bring inside and channel.

I know that a quarter cuppa my ultra-strong joe, half and halved, barely sweetened, will keep my keen intellectual buzz going.

I also know that twelve ounces of a pretty decent India pale ale will taste pleasingly bitter and loosen me up a bit.

I'll go with the high/low approach and take both.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Cold Spell With Hummingbirds

Ice at the Victory Fountain, across the street
It's been five or six days now, seems longer. Sunny--that's a plus--but cold. Our trio of crows is sticking close together, more huddled than perched, on the utility pole at the corner. A squadron of Canada Geese has been wheeling around in the air.

One of the Bills--our collective name for all the ruby-faced hummingbirds around here--has been in a territorial snit lately, rattling off a tsk-ing scold at any rival who gets near his feeder just outside my wife's window. He puffs out his iridescent chest, and blindingly thrums his little wings, holding himself in a dynamic but stationary posture of confrontation. The interloper zips away as Bill gives chase.
Bill, being Bill

Between these moments of drama, Bill poses and grooms himself, using the perch as a strop to straighten his needle-like bill. The sugar water in his feeder is mostly frozen; perhaps it's the cold that's making him so tetchy. Whatever--it's not long before we'll see another hyperactive skirmish. As she looks out her window at the nearby rhody upon which hangs the feeder, K gaily exclaims, "This is a hell of a lot better than watching television."

Friday, November 29, 2013

Going Crazy and Being Thankful

"The sparrows, wrens and robins are going crazy," reports my avianophile wife upon return from a trip to the usually deserted plaza down the street, the one that's catty-cornered from the ferry toll booths and across from Gracious Elderly Living. She goes there a couple of times each
Thanksgiving Evening Scene
day for a private moment.

"How do you mean that?" I query.

"They're all up in the trees, making noise and flying around."

"That's another thing to feel thankful for!" I can imagine us exclaiming; such is our exultant mood.


Two days later, the Arctic Cold Front has arrived, and I spy a fat robin under the juniper near The Little Family's front door. Another is perched on a cotoneaster at the top of the steps leading up a few feet from the sidewalk to our courtyard. That bird's just plucked and swallowed one of the plant's tiny red berries.

I share this observation with my astute spouse who opines that those rowdy birds she saw a few days ago were drunk on some fermented berries. Googled research suggests this habit belongs perhaps exclusively to young birds...or maybe they just can't handle the intoxicant like their parents. Another thing to feel thankful for.

Plus, it's another beautiful day!

Nippy today, down on the pier
I'll have to take a walk to the beach this cold and sunny noontime, where I can look over the calm waters of Puget Sound to the snowcapped Olympic Mountain range. My exercised wife has just come from the Senior Center down that way. Since the temperature has been dropping below 34 degrees, an overnight shelter for the homeless has been open there the past couple of nights.

The plight of those less fortunate is something to strive to amend even as we feel thankful for our own good fortune.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Crows Were Gone This Morning

Screamy with Scruffy...or maybe, Watcher
My adorable wife's small posse of crows has just returned; they've been unaccountably missing all morning. All the crows around here were missing this morning--maybe called away by some crow convention up in the high trees in the hills hereabouts.

But now it's almost 2, and they just greeted her in their customarily raucous manner: as she returned from peace vigiling down at the ferry landing, they were throwing their weight around, squawking and pecking at small body parts and detritus in the street.

Led by Little Screamy, they've been cadging food from my generous spouse for the past four months. Originally it was the adolescent-appearing Screamy with the much larger Scruffy who appeared. After being fed in our courtyard, they'd retreat to the roof opposite, where she (we just assumed her gender) would dip her head, and spread her wings as she approached Scruffy, screeching for food. He (another gender assumption) would succumb, and jam some tidbit down her gullet.

At some time in those first weeks, Watcher appeared, mostly behaving as his/her (for some reason, we've never assigned this crow a gender) name suggests--s/he would hang back, waiting diffidently while S&S did the initial crumb cleanup, before swooping down to pick up the remains. With occasional and temporary additions, this trio has remained intact all fall, and it's still led by Screamy, who is no longer little.

Beginning not long after we first saw her, and for about six weeks, Screamy was easily identified by two small tumorous-looking growths--one beneath her left eye and the other flopping like a wattle over her beak. This was the cause of much speculation between my wife and me. She googled for info and found that Screamy was suffering from avian pox (or some such thing), that sometimes led to premature death.
Screamy, hurrying, with pox

Screamy's handicap, and her proud, though often loud and annoying, thirst for living sealed the deal between her and my sucker-for-the-underdog wife. After more than a month of affliction the tumors dropped off, but the human-avian connection remains.

K still complains about the insistent cawing that demands her attention as soon as she opens the blinds in the morning, but she always gives in, trying to scatter the crumbs so that Screamy doesn't get every single one. And Screamy would, too, if she could hold them all in her beak before one of the other two has a chance to scurry in for a wee smackerall.

Thursday, November 7, 2013


One of the pleasant aspects of this temporary librarianship is overseeing the the Where In The World Is Mr. A? contest.

As one of the conditions of being granted a one-year leave for his sabbatical, our PE teacher has been chronicling his and his awesome wife's bicycle trip across the United States.  Every two weeks he posts on his blog new geographical and cultural, written and pictorial, clues for the students to guess his current location. The correct and randomly picked answer wins a $10 gift certificate from Mr. A's favorite outdoor equipment store and sponsor.

Matt has another blog he started several years ago. That's where he posts more, and more personal reflections on this and other adventures. Like the weekend bike/hike trip he took downtown last year, and then across on the ferry to the peninsula, to bike 90 miles on asphalt and gravel to a trailhead where he bivouaced, stashed his bike, and hiked/climbed 4000 feet to the top of a mountain, and then back home again in time to bike 5 miles to school (as he does every day) Monday morning.

Last school year Matt was my personal trainer, and exercise and sparring buddy. He was excellent--knowing just how much to push. He helped me do a lot of good work on my body. Matt knows his muscle groups. I miss him.

Reading about this trip of Matt and Jenny's is inspiring and a vicarious thrill. What sticks with the reader most is their constant reminders of the power and breadth of human kindness, and the beauty of nature.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Frog and Toad

One of the best series of books for beginning readers is Frog and Toad by Arnold Lobel. For one thing, it introduces a gentle, well-written irony to these 4-6 year-olds. Plus, the two characters model friendship and human nature in a very relatable manner.

A half dozen years ago, I put together Toad and Frog masks for Mr. R and I to wear on Halloween as we read to young students. Our school has since developed a core of emeritus teachers, of which I am proud to be a part, whose presence is stabilizing and helpful to the over-worked staff. The Toad and Frog duet was reprised this year, and my friend Toad was played by Mrs. J., our indefatigable and a little bit curmudgeonly retired first grade teacher.

Boy, did we have fun presenting a half dozen stories to three groups of about 60 each kindergarten through second graders. The best compliment I received was from a first grade boy who, after the performance, came up to me and earnestly lisped, "You sounded just like Frog!"

The Patrol

Our School Safety Patrol is comprised of two squads--A and B--each with about 20 members drawn from the third through fifth grades. Each squad, led by a Captain with her Lieutenant and Sergeant, alternates duty every two weeks.

Among the duties of The Patrol are maintaining safe behavior at the back parking lots where eight buses and about 50 cars unload students in the morning, and load them to take back home in the afternoon.  Another group directs in- and egress at the busy front parking lot, and there is a pair of guards at each of the two crosswalks and at the corners of the school building.

For most of the students at our middle class, suburban school, being chosen for The Patrol and rising through its ranks is one of the signal honors of being a Blue Jay. It has largely been fashioned into this elite group, who model and help maintain responsible school behavior, by Mr. R, our regular librarian for whom I have been substituting.

As his sub I have inherited some of his duties. For one, I'm the Head Crossing Guard, overseeing the busiest crosswalk, calling out "Cross!" at the appropriate times. This signals the two brave, short young people at each side of the street to enter the crosswalk, stop flag pointed like a lance. Their other hand is raised in the face of buses, trucks and cars, calling for them to stop. On my "Okay!" the patrols retreat to the sidewalk as I cover their backs.

This past Thursday, Halloween, I felt part of a grand and happy American tradition as I helped usher a good-natured, homeward-bound stream of costumed students and their patient parents across 37th Street. It was a rare sunlit day with a frisky wind swirling autumn leaves down from the high poplars, and off the cherry trees planted along the front of our school. Good times.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Back to Economic Time

Summer came into Fall, and I've been working the past month as the substitute librarian at the school from which I just retired. The job lasts until Thanksgiving, which will add to the coffers for financing some future adventure; we're thinking of a road trip around midwestern minor league ballparks next Spring. Or maybe touring the pueblos and desert blue highways of the Southwest.

Our usual librarian, formerly our District Teacher of the the Year--Mr. R, is spending two months leave in Oaxaca, Mexico. His computer, which I use every day, has as its screensaver a street scene from that beautiful colonial town. His regular Facebook posts present a version of paradise for us here in the rainy Northwest.

But this is a sweet gig--a regular eight to four job, and what to do is already planned out for me. No grading or conferences, no emails from parents, no awakening at night to worry about students, no hours of documenting rationale for work decisions, no meetings and workshops of marginal value, no sweating the new evaluation regime, no arriving and leaving at o'dark hundred. In other words, about as much work as any other regular job, plus almost everyone loves to read.

This temporary job is also a chance for me to spend time socializing with my co-workers, something I always felt hurried at when I was a full-time teacher, always fearing I gave an impression of short shrift. But now, the positive response to seeing me back I receive from all my colleagues has been real sweet, and much more than I expected.

Even so, it's back to economic time, trading money for hours--needing to set the alarm, and drive into work every morning, but since my teacherly attention is divided among every classroom in the school, the emphasis is much more on socializing with other teachers and the many friendly and helpful parents, and The Patrol (about which, more in the next post), than on a single group of 27 ten-year-olds crossing the ocean of fourth grade in the Good Ship Room 307...

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Getting Your Man-Space Skookum

Not so long ago I slagged old guys who polished the floors of their garage. Now I get it. You're retired; you've got time on your hands. Getting your Man-Space in skookum shape is at least as good as many other ways you could spend your day.

I've been thinking a lot about Time with-a-capital-T lately, now that I have so much of it to spend, waste, pass, or God forbid, even kill. But wait, these aren't the words I need. In this post-Economic bliss of retirement, where it seems I have all the Time in the world, I can use it at my leisure.

I. This past Sunday I sat on some rocks at the shore and noticed the tide slowly rising as I tried to divine a pattern to the swells. You've probably done this yourself: you find a distant trough moving darkly below the brim of the biggest wave you can see. You follow its billowing disappearing act until it breaks at the shore.

Don't they say that every seventh wave is a big one? I find that it's actually more like every third or fourth...but maybe that's because this Sound is a hell of a lot smaller basin than the ocean. You can ponder conundrums like this until you lose track of all reason. Then there's only the simple meditative repetition of the act......

Hey! How about I let the tide table dictate the timing of a daily migration to where my favorite configuration of barnacled rocks mimics the ergonomics of an Adirondack chair, there to sit and look out at the water doing its eternal thing?...

"Put that on the calendar, Jeeves! Greater harmony with nature!"

The planes and colors of the bridge really knock me out.
II. I took a ferry ride on Monday, its terminal just down the beach from where my helpful wife was volunteering at our nearby senior center. Those of us over 60 only pay $3.85 round trip--what a great deal for a half hour's scenic voyage each way to an even smaller port than the one in which we live.

I was reconnoitering for a conjugal visit in the coming weeks: a half-day jaunt on the cheap around a tasty lunch at the village brew-pub.

It may be a little too quaint; we'll see. But on the way back we can always lose ourselves in the patterns of the sun sparkling like a happy posse of ducks on the water, the clouds--the way they hug Mount Rainier, the penile towers of Seattle rising above the distant shoreline's bluff.

"Put that on the calendar, Marge--Quality Time!"

Click on one of these last two pictures and...
III. On Tuesday my thoughtful wife and I visited a local Indian cultural center and nearby casino. You can see the takeaway from this jaunt in the accompanying two pictures. Separated by about 150 years they juxtapose the predominant livelihood the Tulalip people have gained from this place--then and now. Salmon to slots. What a difference Time makes, heh?!

A lot's been said and written about Indian casinos but to me they seem mostly like a boon, not only to the welfare of the red people, but also to numerous entertainers who would otherwise be hard up for good paying gigs.

...toggle between them. The same people. Astounding!
IV. I had lunch with my dear older daughter yesterday--another activity in which it's been ages since I engaged. Next week, we will volunteer to kayak around the large urban lake that reflects the city's towers and hills. Equipped with garbage bags and litter-grabbers we will cruise the shoreline, picking up beer cans, the odd bit of styrofoam, and things you'd rather not know.

V. Today my delightful, task-oriented wife and I are talking about how we might become more involved in our community's service and cultural life. This brief discussion is only the precursor though, to our day's main goal: counting the number of trains we hear passing by, on their way up and down the coast. We will count twenty-seven trains between 8AM and 10PM--fourteen hours, so an average of about two trains an hour--nearly fifty a day. We mark their passage by the the whistles we hear blown by the breeze coming up from the shore.

We must hear as many patterns in their warning whistles as there are engineers, but a common one is: two long and pause, until right before the crossing, then two short. After the crossing, there's usually another long...But I'd check that, to be sure.

All these very different ways of occupying our time--barely beginning to even scratch the surface.

Monday, August 5, 2013


Facebook style. Facebook style.

There’s been a bit of a drama tonight with the earwigs. I just killed at least a dozen of them. I hardly ever kill anything but I hate earwigs. I swear to God everyone hates earwigs! 

Just the name is freaky and scary! Like they’re crawling through your hair into your ear with those big pincers! I think that really happened; I think I read it somewhere. 

I did it outside; I wouldn’t have done it indoors. Just to think of their smushed bodies on the bottom of my shoes on the floor right now is Yuck! I think I wiped it all off on the grass. I hope.

When I flicked over the black canvasy thing that covers our Weber, they scrambled out. It was like a jail break, with everybody scattering in different directions, but as fast as they scrambled I stomped on them with the toes of my McFasties. I went back at them if any were still alive and really dug into them until they couldn't move any more. That’s what killing’s about.

I wouldn’t have done it though--as much as they’ve always freaked me out--if they hadn’t been conclusively implicated in the decimation of our basil. That was the tipping point. 

Plus, who wants them breeding on the cover of your grill?

If I see them again, I’ll kill ‘em. 

They’re disgusting.

[After reading this, I realized it was so in the style my dear youngest daughter uses for her Facebook posts.]

Friday, August 2, 2013

Memento Mori, Part Two

Annette's view of her namesake lake
For our final homage to Annette we again took her image in a sandwich bag as a token to leave behind. I realize that its arguably jarring presence pinned to a tree at that pristine site may be akin to driving down a sleepy street with car speakers booming loudly.

And when I step back and think about it, creating a petroglyph in Annette’s honor, or even elaborating the tree carving I made last year, would have been much more fitting remembrances. Or this new picture could have been the centerpiece of a shrine with ribbons and what-have yous. Shiny objects. Mickey Mouse ears.

Well, “What’s done is done,” as my good mother would have said. Mea culpa--my bad. At least I picked a sweeter, much less suggestive picture than the one we put up that first year (and which I can no longer find on Google search).

Note the blue staple gun
After Our Lady of Voluptuous Innocence is snugged to the bark with a staple gun, Bob suggests we say a few words. They will remain private. Suffice it to say that Bob’s heart is more pure than my own. The hike that day, and the lake, were even more beautiful than they had been the first year, but I had felt dyspeptic from the start; I wasn’t in much of a mood for all this.

After lunch we headed back down to the car.

If you are at all like me, at some time in your life you’ve experienced a confluence of events that seem more divinely inspired than coincidental. Something comes from out of the blue to affirm your connection to spirits that are moving invisibly. To try explaining it any other way just doesn’t seem to honor the fullness of our existence. That's what happened on our way back down from the lake.

Memento mori, in situ
We were cutting through the hundred-yard wide low-cut strip under the p-o-w-e-r lines, when Bob, who was behind me, called us to a halt. He had seen the dull and regular sheen of a small black plastic object on the ground, just off the trail.

"Look at this," he said, with excited incredulity. Picking it up, he had turned it over and seen the dirt encrusted face of Mickey Mouse.

I envied this find. Part of me wanted to snatch that geegaw for my own, but as I listened to Bob exclaim I knew I didn’t deserve it. “She heard me,” he chattered. “It’s a sign!” I had to agree, and I knew that little mouse was Bob’s to discover as validation for his greater sincerity and faith.

Like I said, at the time, I wasn't really feeling it.

If I were pressed, right now though, to explain our purposes, in reasoned hindsight I'd say they were to 1) show that someone still remembers Annette Funicello from a half century ago, 2) inform people of her recent death, and 3) ask them to join us in wishing that she rest in peace, to which end there's a heavenly view she has through her pixeled eyes of this natural wonder Bob and I like to imagine is her namesake.

Annette Funicello, 1942-2013, R.I.P

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Memento Mori, Part One

Annette on the Mickey Mouse Club, 1956
Many men my age, entering pubescence in the late 1950s, developed a fondness for Annette Funicello, one of the original Mouseketeers--Walt Disney's personal favorite on the show. The most juvenile reasons for our attraction seem especially immature now that that beautiful and, by all accounts, gracious lady has recently died from complications of multiple sclerosis.

Several years ago my friend Bob proposed that our annual summertime hike be to a nearby alpine lake called Annette. In discussing this plan, the name of the lake brought to mind our innocent inamorata of long ago, pictured so sweetly to the right.

We were initially under the impression that Annette had already died. When we learned she was still alive, we--half jokingly--decided to make the hike into an homage. Undeniably tinged with irony, this act gained a kind of sheepish authenticity as we went along. 

It was a sunny and just cool-enough day when we began. A perfect trail followed Humpback Creek through the hemlock forest, and then switch-backed up to where the rocks of high ridges crumbled slowly into a sparkling green lake.

Four miles, two thousand feet to go
After lunch we posted our tribute: a sandwich bag-encased picture of Ms. Funicello on a tree at the shore. We had forgotten to bring anything to attach the picture so, to accomplish this task, I whittled small wooden spikes that we hammered with a rock through the edge of the bag into woodpecker holes on the trunk of that spruce.

I took a picture of Annette's view from this spot. We imagined her gazing out over the restful waters and gaining some peace from her body-wracking disease. 

At least that was how I explained our dedication in an email, accompanied by the photo, to her website.

To me, all this that we were doing seemed weirdly both cheesy and authentic at the same time, and all of a piece.

Within a day or two I received a gracious reply from Annette's husband.  He had communicated our action and intentions to Annette herself, who wanted him to relay to us her gratitude. We later learned that at this point Annette had not been able to speak for several years.

Approaching Annette Lake
A kind of bizarre but funny side note to this nostalgic exchange is that I was put on a mailing list that led to another female former Mouseketeer living in southern California forwarding to me wacky far right conspiracy screeds. 

Regardless of this unsolicited response, and in the face of our wives considering us to be acting foolishly, we paid another visit to Annette Lake last year. The picture we had left there was gone, whether from human or climatic agency, it was impossible to say. To commemorate that visit, we carved a kitschy slogan into the trunk of a dying tree: “Annette Funicello Forever.”

Somehow we really meant it, too.

On April 8 of this year, Annette died. My friend and I decided that another, final and more sincere pilgrimage was in order. We made the trek yesterday.

[To be continued.]

Saturday, July 27, 2013

A Summer Jaunt Through Oregon, Part 3 - White Water

We fuel up on Dr. Pepper at Fossil's general store.  Leaving town the road gets serious--twisting and climbing.  There continue to be a marked paucity of cars, but we pass a lone cyclist sweating up a winding incline, shadowed by a pace car advertising the Race Across Oregon. This guy must have been either an outlier or lost, for we see no others on bikes.*

It's not long after that, though, that Eduardo begins losing power in fourth gear.  I drop down to third--nothing. Second--still nothing but sputters, until he comes vrooming to life as I downshift to first--thank God--sustains that wee bit of power up into second, and we crawl--barely--over the top of the hill.

Even coasting down the other side, Eddie begins sputtering again, and that's the way it goes for 75 miles and nearly 2 hours all the way to Maupin, most of that on a road that looks on the map like the convoluted slime trail thrown by a conga line of drunken worms.

Eduardo's vapor lock unlocked my own primitive, deeply felt fears of auto abandonment, making every incline we faced a worry it couldn't be climbed, and we would be stranded miles from anywhere, in this heat, at an increasingly late hour of the afternoon.

My trusting and capable wife fortunately did not share in my tension. It was not until we'd finally pulled into Maupin's Oasis Resort, that I was able to relax. A tasty plate of fish and chips and a bottle of Ninkasi's Total Domination IPA worked their magic, although I had to stuff tissue in my ears to keep from hearing a leaking toilet all night.

Surprisingly well rested, the next morning I used a teacher appreciation discount to pay for nearly half the cost of getting wet and having a blast on the Deschutes' white water rapids--Wapinitia, Box Car, and Oak Springs--highlighted in the video above.

Columbia, rolling on
No problems with Duardo this morning, even on the long climbs to The Dalles for lunch. On the afternoon and early evening trip back home, below the travesty of dammed-up Celilo Falls, we followed along the mighty Columbia for a while, the two hundred year old trail of Lewis, Clark, Sacajawea and Charbonneau. Tried to remember more than just the chorus to Woody Guthrie's, "Roll On, Columbia."

It's surprising, though, how long we stayed entertained belting out, "Roll on, Columbia, roll on.  Roll on Columbia, roll on! Your power is turning our darkness to dawn, So roll on Columbia, roll on!!" plus a lot of humming, and then one more time from the top.

*Back home, through the magic of interconnectivity, I discover at that location and time the bicyclist must have been either Robert or Scott Swanson--Team Sloth--subsequently to finish second in the two person relay class of this race in which "competitors climb over 40,000 feet [!] in their 515 mile campaign to reach the finish line in Hood River," according to the website.

Friday, July 26, 2013

A Summer Jaunt Through Oregon, Part 2 - Fossil-Filled Hills

Clarno Palisades near Fossil, Oregon
After overnighting at a McAirconditioned Hotel, we carve a kamikaze trail through the desert center of the state, careening in slow motion among arid hills and cottonwood valleys, on an endless winding road from John Day to Antelope.

We pass under crumbling russet palisades where paleontologists have found fossil evidence of almost unimaginable changes over the past 50 million years, like tiny horses and huge bear-dogs, swamps and lagoons.

For much of this interminable ride--a "Journey Through Time" as it says on the Scenic Byway signs--we have the welcome accompaniment of the John Day River, flashing in the sun, reflecting the blue blue sky.  Outside the watered valleys, only sage and an occasional juniper grow up over dry, bleached bunchgrass coming up sparsely in the sandy soil.

John Day River
It is hot! But we are encased in our cool little car--Eduardo, AKA Duardo, Ed Man, Red Ed, Ready Eddie--who steadies us through to the standstill village of Fossil, and after that's when the trouble begins, in the middle of this strange and isolated region.

[To be continued.]

Thursday, July 25, 2013

A Summer Jaunt Through Oregon, Part 1 - Hippie Sensibility

The rabbit hole doors of Kennedy School
A few days ago my delightful wife and I returned from a four day jaunt in Oregon.  We had our eyes opened in Portland when we spent the night at one of the McMenamin hotels--Kennedy School.

There are three levels to the Boiler Room
The Cypress Bar plays reggae
Anyone with even a little hippie still lingering in their calcium-depleted bones will have a blast wandering the artfully enlivened halls of a 100-year-old elementary school, pub crawling past the principal’s office, wood shop, and more recently installed soaking pool, until finally, drawn by an electric fiddle and guitar, you edge into the darkened gymnasium to dance with strangers and free music.

After an excellent brunch in Lake Oswego with my dear Aunt and cousin, we cruise a little too fitfully down the humidity of I-5 to Eugene, home of the (almost) National Champion Oregon Ducks.

Ken Scott's gazebo
There we visit with one of my charming wife’s childhood friends.  This lady, a former nun, has a very sweet deal living in a subsidized tower of apartments now beginning to accommodate us Baby Boomers. This is where we can take inspiration from the example of still vibrant residents in their late nineties--our parents’ age, if they were still alive.  

Eugene has an excellent transit system, and the large university ensures educational and cultural opportunities. Old hippies--a Willamette Valley constant--drive their pickups from farms and crafty covens, from sylvan havens all around, to Eugene's long-established Saturday street market. 

Our host takes us to a 4-acre garden she tends with many volunteers and a few paid staff.  Annually they harvest 30 tons of organic produce for the homeless and needy of Lane County.

Two of the Three Sisters from observatory roof
On the road again: Over the Cascade Mountains on a jaw-droppingly scenic byway we pass the fantastical metal sculptures of artist Ken Scott, and climb to miles of lava flows still barren after 1500 years.  

At a Forest Service vista we wager that the mountains we see are a majority of the iconic Three Sisters. A little later, we confirm this speculation at a CCC-constructed observatory. Looking like an igneous jumble, the historical landmark blends perfectly into the hard, rough, rusty landscape.

[To be continued.]

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

A Little 'Bombay Suntastic' Goes Down a Treat

The flower beds around here are over-full, even unkempt, but not in a bad way. This is the season when the denizens all lay about under the sun, in various stages of finery or undress, and begin to think about dropping their seeds.

Notice the lavender flowers of the possibly rogue verbena, top left 
Our 3rd and Dayton beds are both bordered by the complementary bluish hues of a petunia and small verbena. Inside and above them, the daisies flounder, spent, having passed over the baton for white to snapdragons, now fully risen, feisty and in their prime.

Golden yarrow punctuates each bed, and the possibly rogue verbena affects a harmony now not shown in the past, rising like fireworks--tiny lavender explosions--above the faded-to-pink milfoil, and orange, shedding whatever-you-call-‘ems.
Salvia launches slender purple rockets at our ankles as we walk by.

Amberboa is but a memory now, the Scabiosa, almost so. And did you hear the Delphinium have all been cut down?

A few azaleas, once admired as harbingers of better times, are now anonymous among a much more vibrant crowd.

The understory is also leavened by a little-seen plant whose name I just learned--Scaevola 'Bombay Suntastic'. Also known as 'Fan Flower', it is a sun-loving, easy-to-grow annual from Australia via Hawaii.

(There is a legend on the Islands that Scaevola came into being through the familiar agency of spiteful gods. To punish a young woman who angrily ripped the flower in two after a fight with her lover, the gods thereafter gave all Scaevola blossoms the fan-shaped appearance of half a flower.)

Finally, apologies to the many worthy plants for whom I do not yet have the vocabulary, and thus go nameless, but not unappreciated.

Let's give it up for all those flowers out there!

[This is the latest post I've made on a blog called "Flower Corners" in our fair town's online newspaper.] 

Friday, May 17, 2013

Getting Ready to Close

My wacky kids celebrating the final days of school, June 18, 2013--two more days until I retire.
[Warning: Contains disturbingly cynical views about teaching.]

This is my first time back here since "Opening Night" was written last September, eight months ago. This post is the other bookend of my final year as a fourth grade teacher. I reached the decision to retire this past winter, after several outbreaks of immune deficiency that manifested in weird ways, like a sty on my eyelid, and a herpes sore on my upper right lip. I was breaking down, and I figured a big part of the cause was the stress of teaching...

Yesterday was hellish--the end of a grueling 4-day-over-2-week battery of state mandated tests for student progress. So yesterday, the students were not in much of a mood for learning. Most rallied to the task, though, except for the usual battery of seven or eight 10-year old boys who pretty much just wanted to horse around. The well-behaved and studious girls were far more subtle in their loitering--quick whispered deskside visits, and notes passed underhand, many with cute little drawings on them.

This year hasn't been easy, but then none of them are. The boys had collectively been considered a handful by last year's teachers. I approached them from the point of view that although I knew they really wanted to do their best as students, they'd gotten into some bad habits...

I don't know. At least they learned to give lip service to our ideal to of paying attention, asking good questions, and doing our best. But I could never accept that, in actual fact, they often did not seem to care about learning. They were comedians or racounteurs first, impulsive, finding it hard keep seated. Nothing new in that. That's the way we boys have always behaved in school.

That's the way I behaved, and still do when I go to professional development classes.

But when I teach, I figure my job is to promote learning about one hundred percent of the time, and, by god, they better pay attention, or at least do a damn good job of pretending. And when they apply that learning, stretch and explore it, their job is to do their best--ask questions if they don't understand, and follow directions.

Even with that hard-assedness, though, my natural inclination is to keep it light, but--with the boys again, almost exclusively--once I start not being serious, the floodgates of juvenile humor and anarchy are unleashed, and are darn hard to stuff back into their unkempt boxes.

So, now, it's another 5 A.M. Friday getting ready for what I hope will be an easier day of work, what with the pull-outs for music and PE--altogether an hour break from the kids before lunch.

In the broader scheme of things, I am proud to have served as a teacher to these 10-year-olds for the past nine years, and it is time to retire, with this good feeling, and the desire to continue to teach, more on my own terms.