Saturday, August 18, 2018

Close-up Views of the London Area

From Trix-colored bricks along a lane in Twickenham to polka-dotted leaves in a Kew Garden conservatory, little views like these are everywhere in the London area.  This selection of photos includes the moss-covered walls of a lock, a painted word on a Thames River bankside, and a modern-art-like wall in Hampton Court Palace.  As tiny as this collection is, it manages to convey the history of Britain and its capacity to attract people, words, and objects.  Notice the porcelain of a French pissoir in the gardens of York House, a pile of iron in a shipyard on Eel Pie Island, the odd word "loo", and a plate of the Italian dessert, Tiramisu, ordered in a restaurant on a cobblestone lane.

Take a moment with each little view.  Pretend you are traveling with me and can see what I saw.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

London Through Fisheye Lenses

If I were a cod and bobbed up in the middle of the Thames in central London, I would be amazed.  Having recently bought a fisheye lenses, I have been envious of fish and their (supposed) perspective.  A three-hour trip from Westminster in London to Hampton Court Palace gave me the opportunity to practice seeing like a fish.

We began by slipping under the Westminster Bridge at low tide.

Before we left the dock, I stopped to examine a gorgeous monument to WWII with a familiar quote by Churchill. 
A sprinkling of rain made empty viewing chairs for awhile.

One of two locks.
As we progressed up the river, we saw more trees, houses and boating club

Perfect clouds.
Yew trees in Hampton Court Palace. 

And just for fun...a fisheye view of a tube station.

An edible fisheye!  A cronuts (cross between a croissant and donut).

Friday, July 20, 2018

Where I Sit to Write

Steven King wrote his first successful book at “a child’s desk in a trailer laundry-closet”.  However, once he became financially secure, he tried writing for six years at a large desk in the middle of a room with a good view, but he failed.  He then switched to a more modest-sized desk in a corner without a window and began getting published again.  In his book that is titled On Writing, A Memoir of the Craft, his first piece of advice for writers is this:  “… put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room.  Life isn’t a support-system for art.  It’s the other way around.”  

Annie Dillard has similar advice in her book, The Writing Life.  She wrote that book in a primitive cabin on a remote island at a desk against a wall.  Dalton Trumbo, a writer from the last century, preferred writing in the bathtub. 

When I moved into my cabin, I ignored all their advice and examples.  Instead, I counted the places where I could sit with my computer or pen and paper and write.  I counted twenty-one places or twenty-two if I counted the bathroom facility. It has a nice view of an old lamp reflected in the glass subway tile of the tub.

Although there is merit in the advice of the above writers, I think the difference for me is the bounty of time and place.  Last year when I felt pressured to complete a manuscript, I set a strict writing schedule, turned off all media, and sat in one particular chair. 

But most of the time, I can let my mind or eyes wander.  Even Annie Dillard suggests taking a walk when the work seems stuck.  Living in the woods with views out every window and with the sound of the river a constant, I can take walks without moving from my seat.  The rock by the river in the photo above (seat number twenty-three) is the ultimate writing place from which to wander.

The ouzel birds wing past and the tall bankside grasses wave as a breeze wafts down the river.  Periodically, particularly with the air temperature in the nineties, I dip my feet in the cold water and watch the water striders for a moment as they stroke and backstroke in the eddies.  But mostly my attention is on the words on the screen.  Intent on the work, I am surprised when I look up an see the river coursing by – having forgotten its existence while I concentrated.

My writing rests on the skill of making connections between the ordinary and the unexpected.  This braiding of ideas is like the motion of my river.  As the water rushes over and around rocks, its currents are disrupted and then refolded into a new alignment of molecules pushed downstream or into backwater eddies.  Likewise, when ideas rush by and I can’t quite catch them, I look up and take a mental walk.  Meanwhile, my brain sets to work like it is the Corp of Engineers, damming the flow and channeling the thoughts, all without much assistance on my part.  When I return to my work, the ideas are waiting, stilled into a pool of thought.     

When the weather is warm enough in the spring, I often write mornings in a red wicker chair on the guest cabin porch.  As summer months arrive, the violet-green swallows, who nest in the cabin eaves, attempt their first flight.  If I am lucky, I am sitting in the chair on fledging day.  The young birds wobble past me over and over on unsteady wings.  By the second day, they circle the main cabin.

Can you spot the swallow?  The white spot against the house?

Here is a close-up view of the bird in the photo above.
By the third day, I can only spot the young swallows high against a deep blue sky.  I’ll admit I get less done than usual during the fledging week.  (And if the bear cub is in the cherry tree one cabin over, I get even less done.)  

On evenings, like tonight, I can be found in one of the green plastic lawn chairs left by the previous owners.  The final rays of light brighten the high hillside meadows across the canyon. The dog snuffles as she chews the bone she borrowed from the dog next door. Birds twitter, settling for the night.  After a while, I glance up again and the sun is now off the ridgeline and the sky is a soft gray.  I notice that the car in the evening light looks less like it needs a wash. Shortly, it will be dark though and it will seem like I am writing – as advised – in a corner without a view.  That is unless there is a moon rise.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Finding the Rare One – An Audubon-Sponsored Wildflower Trip to the Blues

Which way?
This way?

Yes, this way.

A glorious day of hunting wildflowers in the Blues with our guides Jeff and Cheryl Fredson was a day of discoveries.  The flowers were bagged one by one with checkmarks on a list prepared ahead of time by Cheryl.

Early on I lost my yellow, #2 pencil in a field of flowers. When I backtracked to locate it, I couldn't find it, but I spotted the tip of a pencil under some wild strawberry leaves.  Here was my replacement writing implement. A rare first find in the woods:

Although the flowers were absolutely the highlight of the trip, the trees offered their own version of sensuous and lovely.

Pine Tree Buds Opening
The emerging buds of a pine tree (above) appear as if they are the petals of a flower, but the cone flower below is a flower with green petals.  A child once asked me if there were flowers with green petals.  I thought not.  Shortly afterwards,he spotted one of these green cone flowers alongside a road in the Blue Mountains in Oregon.  Proved me wrong!

Western Cone Flower

Green can be a most sensuous color.

Leaves of the California Corn Lily - Common in Target Meadows, OR
An unidentified bug coming in for a Landing on a Corn Lily
Alpine Mitrewort

The blossom of the Alpine Mitrewort (above) is only an eighth of an inch wide, but a very tiny bug would appreciate the beckoning arms.  The plant with a backdrop of green is easy to overlook by humans.  We found it by a tiny stream in Target Meadows.

Least you be tired of green, here are a few of of the other flowers that we saw:

Big Head Clover

Skyrocket Scarlet Gilia and Harsh Indian Paintbrush (orange)

And a rare flower – previously unlisted on the Umatilla Forest Species List – a Silver Crown Luina:

At least, that is what we are hoping!  These are normally found in the Cascades in Washington and into northern California.  Cheryl is returning on Monday to check again.  Fingers crossed.  A new rarity for the Blue Mountains!  

A Silver Crown Luina?  I would have named it the Wild Hair Flower.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Portraits of Americans – with Our Lawn Mowers

My lawn is a four-minute mowing job.  The length of the task barely qualifies for being worthy of documentation, but the lack of such a photo in my albums would puzzle my descendants.  I come from a line of Americans intent on posing with their lawn mowers, snow blowers, and shovels.   My distant relatives Arvilla and Walter Jones (below), are dressed in their church clothes for a formal portrait with their reel mower.  I think a good title is Patriotism with a Mower. 

Early lawn mowers, designed and constructed in the 1830s in England, were made of cast iron. They were so heavy that they often required one person to push and one to pull – giving them the moniker of “man and boy machines”.  

My dad loved mowing.  He enjoyed being outside, getting some exercise, and basking – in a humble sort of way – in the quiet admiration of his family, neighbors, and passing cars.  He loved all aspects of yard care. Seeding, sodding, thatching, fertilizing, watering, and weed killing.  But the American family pastime, yard care, was deceptively complex.  
“My, my, your children are growing like weeds,” said uncles, and neighbors, and the men at the hardware store.  Patting us on our summer-bleached hair, our heads soft and golden as dandelions, the salesmen at the hardware store touted to my dad the merits of the best and latest in weed killers.
“This here weed killer, just the strongest.  Kills them weeds right off.  Yup, growing like weeds, these kids of yours.”
We shook our tousled golden heads in puzzlement.  Adults were so odd.
The chemical and pesticide firms were led mostly by men back then.  Their marketing efforts touted the glories of green grass and robust flowers.  They printed on the labels in type, as tiny as the edge of a blade of grass  – if they did so at all – the unpronounceable names of poisonous ingredients and their hazards.  They hoped the buyers would associate size with significance.
      Excerpt from my memoir in progress, The Education of an American Houser
The sound of lawn mowers, baseball announcers, and the clink of ice cubes was the fond background noise of my childhood and youth.  Only later, when cancers became common and I owned my own lawn, did I decide to cautiously use weed-killing chemicals.  My quarter-acre lawn was never the dense and bright green field of a well kept yard, but I mowed and pulled dandelions by hand.  It was my neighborly duty. Some might say patriotic duty. 

By the early 1950s, reel mowers were replaced by lightweight, gas-powered lawn mowers that "even women could use”.  A gas can became a necessity in every American toolshed or garage.  I didn't often see my mom (above) mowing, but she loved wearing the gardening clothes the American fashion began marketing for the modern, suburban woman.  Shorts, capris, halter tops, and tennis shoes appeared in catalogues and local department stores.  They were a boon to the clothing industry.  Although girls rarely mowed, they wore similar outfits as their mothers. The style of clothing suggesting that being active was okay for females.    

Meanwhile, men and boys began wearing their t-shirts (formerly their underwear) as outer wear for doing the yardwork.  The style gained favor up and down the social order, making it harder to discern someone’s economic standing.  A very democratic move.   

In the fall some of my family used leaf blowers and in winter snow blowers (like my Uncle Ted above).  They all celebrated the machines that made us proper American citizens. 

There is much to admire in yard care work: the ingenuity of the inventors, the production of the machines, the creativity of the chemists, the changes in clothing for women and men, and more recently the leg-up to becoming citizens for hardworking (primarily Hispanic) lawn maintenance crews.  

But there is a downside. America now has over 40 million acres in lawn.  An astonishing figure!  Every weekend approximately 56 million Americans mow their yards using 800 million gallons of gas a year.  Gasoline spilled, when tanks are filled, pollutes groundwater. The inefficient, small engines emit pollutants into the air and also contribute to noise pollution and hearing loss.  (Facts from Clean Air Yard Care, 2018)  Moreover, as riding mowers gain a majority of the mower market, the earlier benefit of aerobic exercise decreases.  The next generations of Americans will be challenged to redefine the look of yards or how we care for them.  Chemical companies are already working on growth-inhibiting products for grass. Solar-powered mowers are becoming available.

This little guy, in the meantime, is learning to mow my four-minute lawn with a reel mower.  Documentation of mowing machines continues in my family.  We are not done with lawns, yet.  We might not have a flag to wave, but we have mowers to push.  

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Study of a Big Chief Bottle and a Clutch of Peony Buds

As I reached to click off a lamp last night, I noticed tiny bubbles clinging to the stems of peonies displayed in an antique, embossed bottle.  A half-an-hour later, much past my usual bedtime, the light got switched off.  This is the series of photos that resulted during that space of time.  The post includes a little information on the history of the Big Chief soda bottle brand and of peonies.

 Isn't this lovely?  The bubbles almost look like tiny, clinging creatures.

 The bottle says BIG on one side and CHIEF on the other.

Old bottles, even mine with its thick and heavy bottom, have chips.  As I looked for information about these types of glass containers, I came across a conversation in which an older gentleman described where he looks for bottles. He said he searches along old roads in his locality, looking approximately a foot under the leaf mold around oak trees.  His theory was, much like what happens today, bottles were aimed at trees, tossed out as litter from passing cars.  My bottle has very thick glass, so it likely hit a rock instead of a tree to make a chip of this size:

I put my bottle on a red coaster to highlight the swirls and to emphasize the thickness of the base, but here is another view of the same chip.

The patent date is Dec. 29, 1928.  The Big Chief emblem, a flavor branding, was purchased by soda companies.  They were then free to manufacture the bottles in various sites around the United States.  Some bottles have the place of manufacture embossed on the base or lip.  Mine has none.  Some of the bottles have paper labels and are not embossed.

On my bottle, this portrait is displayed on both sides.  There were a number of variations of this face and headdress made.

The patent date does not indicate the precise date the bottle was made.  A company buying the branding would make its own version to fit what they produced.  The variety of embossed designs was possible only when bottle-making machines became more automated and required less-skilled labor.  Cherry, strawberry, lemon, lime and orange flavors were a few of the types of sodas bottled under the Big Chief name.  The brand was available from the 1920s through the 1950s.  These bottles are now considered to be "common" among bottle collectors.  The attractive design and Native motif made them popular items for people to keep as treasures.

On June 2, 1924, five years before this patent was awarded, Native Americans were finally granted full citizenship (although it would be many years before every state made the right to vote a reality for Native Americans).  It seems so strange that a fascination with the Native culture by European transplants took so long to translate into full rights and benefits under the Constitution for the original inhabitants.

Peonies are also native to the Americas, found in the Pacific Northwest.  I always associated them with China and Japan, so I was surprised to find that, like the Native Americans, they too were here before the European explorers and settlers.

And the water, and the air and the bubbles... likely native also!

 And this is the last photo before the light went off.

A credit for the gift of peonies goes to the Lapp-Floyd family.