Sunday, February 7, 2021

Quonset Huts and Why They Evoke Nostalgia


I frequently pass this Quonset hut, a WWII relic, where it sits on the edge of a sketchy industrial area on the edge of town. It looks lost and lonely most days, but none more so than on a foggy one. Every time I notice the hut, I think of my dad and his long ago military service. 

I've tried taking the hut's photo before, but I couldn't seem to catch its sense of uselessness, illustrating I hope the passing of the necessity for buildings constructed for purposes of war.

I admit to a certain nostalgia about WWII. This would seem to be in conflict with my aversion to military endeavors, but after some thought, I have concluded that my feelings of nostaglia, a word derived from two Greek words: return home and pain, has to do with my appreciation for a time when a frightening challenge was met with competence and some measure of grace. 

My father (third in line) with his sleeve rolled up, his jacket casually tossed over his shoulder, and a slight  smile on his face conveys the spirit with which I speak. I have no doubt that my father would have preferred to continue his schooling to be a forest ranger, but within two weeks of Pearl Harbor he enlisted in the Army-Air Force and was sent to England for three years. In almost all of the photos of my dad during the war—a night with fellow Coloradan soldiers at a U.S.O. event, sitting on a bench with a WAC by some river, and standing in a heavy overcoat in front of the Louve in Paris—he is smiling. I know that he experienced and saw things of which he did not speak and certainly would not have left a smile on his face; and for me not seeing these things likely skews my impression of the War. 

(This photo reminds me that this is the spirit with which I wish all Americans were approaching getting vaccinated for Covid-19. Just do it.)

I am reading a book about President John Adams and in it is mentioned the fact that silverware was melted to make lead bullets during the Revolutionary War. In both the First and the Second World Wars the practice was repeated with all kinds of metal. Somewhere in this world there are silverware and sewing machines and coins and bumpers all which contain traces of metal once used in implements or accessories of war and previously might have been silverware. When I notice a Quonset hut, a steel-sided structure, I know that it speaks of sacrifice of something gathered and given up for the cause of winning a war. Consider how lovely it will be when the sole purpose of recycling and repurposing will be to take something made in peace time and use it to make the world a better and more equitable place. When we skip the intermittant stage of recycling to make war implements. 

During WWII the Lionel toy company switched from making toy trains to making compasses for warships and the Mattatuck Manufacturing Company switched from making its stock upholstery tacks to making  cartridge clips. This is the stuff that I admire. The making of the Quonset huts in huge quantities falls into the same category. The unified effort of ordinary people, sustained and focused, is what bolsters my feelings of nostalgia for the war in which my father fought. 

I love Quonset huts for the elegance of their swooping curve, an imitation of a rolling hill. I love that they were repurposed after the war as temporary houses, as roadside cafes, and mostly as farm sheds. I love that their easy-to-construct design makes them portable. Mainly, I love that they exemplify the good qualities of American democracy, our intentions to make the world right. And as always, I love that they remind me of my dad.

Thursday, January 7, 2021

I Must Be Off/Packing Silence

In this time of Covid-19, the thought of traveling for seven months is just that, a thought. I recently had a piece titled "Packing Silence" published on the travel site I Must Be Off — Where To, Friends?  Although none of us are loading the car and rounding up the dog for a journey, most of us are dealing with silence within the walls of our abodes. Depression is on the uptick and silence is one of the culprits. 

I have always had a comfortable relationship to silence. Not that I don't resort to podcasts or music to accompany through tasks, but mostly I find silence a resource. It allows me to observe my surroundings more carefully or to think about my writing undisturbed.

Please read the piece and share it with anyone who might appreciate some humor and thoughtfulness on the subject of silence. Here is a link to the essay:  I Must Be Off/Packing Silence.

Christopher Allen, the creator of the "I Must Be Off" website, is an award-winning author. Do read some of his pieces and guest contributions or watch the videos. His website lets you travel vicariously. 

Take care. Stay safe.

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Pandemic Canyon Photos: Walla Walla Valley and Mill Creek

This year feels as broken as our city's water lines were broken in February's flood. The river jumped its banks a short distance upriver from me and ripped apart the pipes bringing clean water from the watershed to Walla Walla.

As the pandemic loomed a few months after that record flood, my world became as narrow as the canyon where I live. Only occasionally did I venture to town or take a trip to the Wallowa Mountains for a day or two of camping. Slipping into town for groceries, the smoke of this summer's enormous fires made it seem like some end time was upon the world outside the canyon.

Oddly, the two most depressing photos that I took this year, so expressive of this haunting time were of the muted gold smoke in the valley in the photo above and this one of fog on Scenic Loop rim. 

But notably, instead of feeling like the world has become more dismal, this pandemic has made my nearby world seem larger and richer. It has happened in this way. I have taken up the habit of daily walks. Sometimes south into Oregon on a dirt road all the way to the Tiger Canyon Bridge or in the afternoon on a little road on the sunny-side of the canyon across from my cabin. Or recently all the way up Scenic Loop. The following photos show nature carrying on without regard to the state of the world and evidence of humans working, hoping, and expecting the world to continue. 

A Leaf Platter with a Serving of Raindrops

The Grinch Resting on a Downed River Alder

Leaves Frozen under Ice (Maybe My Favorite Photo of This Year)

Men at Work

Design by Flood 

Mailboxes Doing What They Do Best. Waiting.

The Next Generation Testing Waters

Pine Needles in Ice

That's it. Well, one more. Apples waiting for deer.

Friday, November 27, 2020

They Will Remember the Carrots


Sixty years out, I think, they will remember the carrots:
how delicious they were,
fresh and crisp, newly dug and scrubbed,
pleasing in their shades of 
a muted purple, an orange and a nice turnip white.

Sixty years out, I suppose they might remember the color of their
how while they sat in their family van
they watched their mom
beg through her missing teeth, her dark eyes sad.
She had begged to five cars in a row and not even one occupant had handed her a single
dollar bill.

And then the carrots came
The sons ate them while
they waited for
the return of the woman
who gifted the carrots.
She, who drove an older-model Subaru,
not looking too prosperous.

She had said (and they hoped it was true) she would
go to her bank and return with the remainder of
the cash they needed
to get home
to Mt. Vernon
on the far side of the state.

They had slept cold in the car the night before
in a parking lot,
whose lights were like
spotlights in a prison yard
prying open their eyes
at each turning of their stiff discomfort.
The carrots in their carrot burrows,
early fall, frost-free,
had slept better than them.

With a faint and desperate smile, the mom said to me,
"The water pump it gave out yesterday.
Took all my money to fix it.
I have three kids there in the blue van.
So far, I have gotten fifty dollars,
but I need
seventy to get home."
Nodding slightly towards her kids she hurriedly added,
"And I'll need to  get a little extra to feed my kids."
She smiled when she remembered her kids.

"Do you have a twenty?" she asked.

The single mom (she told me she was a single mom) with
her smile circumnavigating her missing teeth
asked only for a twenty.
She could have asked for
a fair wage,
guaranteed income,
health insurance,
clear air, water, food, or
affordable housing,
but she only asked for a twenty (and a little more if it wasn't an inconvenience).

Rifling through my wallet, I didn't have a twenty.
But if she waited, my bank wasn't far.
"Oh," I said, "while you wait, I have some organic carrots!
Take some!"
She looked surprised
and said No at first (maybe remembering her missing teeth.)
But then, you know,
the carrots were so beautiful,
and her sons hadn't eaten much, so
she reconsidered with an amused
grin, "Well, I'll take just a few."

I couldn't give her what she really needed.
It might be sixty years out or maybe more,
maybe centuries,
no mothers beg
in parking lots
while their dear chidren watch anxiously.

Her sons, all teenagers (12, 14, and 15),
will look back as old men and
maybe they will remember the extra twenty for food
or the gift card for Subway
(enough still on it for three
twelve-inch-long sandwiches—
each one longer than any of the carrots).

But I hope they will remember
With some amusement
their fortune turned on the arrival of
three carrots:
one a muted purple,
one an orange,
And one a nice shade of turnip white.


Sunday, November 1, 2020

Rural Postal Disruption


The flood was an enough of a problem for the mail carriers. The rain swollen and swift river carried rocks and boulders as though they were rubber duckies afloat in a pond. The river left its banks carrying its load of rounded basalt rocks,poured waist high through woods, and carved a new bed from the old roadway, making it impassable for mailmen. Uprooted trees fell, and one of them bashed a lone-standing mailbox with a glancing blow. By the time the waterline and roadcrews had replaced the broken watershed piping and repaired the road, this mailbox was left stranded across a gully with its door left ajar waiting for mail. Its flag missing. It swoopy new shape making it look like a sculpture in a a garden of a modern art museum.

But even before the newly appointed United States Postmaster began having mail-sorting machines dismantled in August and cut postman's hours to disrupt our upcoming election results, (I can't believe I just wrote that sentence.) another disruption was under way with that lone mailbox standing over the gully. The hazard arrived quietly and at first was small. It's silver gray tones blended well with the metal of the mailbox. It grew larger, filling most of the box.

Paper wasps construct nests by scraping and chewing wood fiber into a pulp and then layering it to make internal hexagonal cubicles enclosed in an exterior that looks similar to the flakey crust of a croissant. The nests are beautifully engineered.

These particular type of wasps are wonderful to have near gardens, where they catch small pesky insects that cause damage to plants. The wasps are not aggressive unless they are having to defend the queen in the nest, like those queens whose nests are located in mailboxes. All summer the wasps created one last hazard for any mailman intent on doing his duty to that lone mailbox.

But fall is here. We have had our first freeze. All of the paper wasps have died now. Except the queen. She will winter over in a snug place. The nest remains, intact and nonthreatening. Quite beautiful, really.

And the threat to the postal service of our democratic nation? 

The aggressive dismantling of what we have assumed was non-political. Well, go vote. It is too late to mail your ballot in many places (due often to more poltical shennigans), so GO VOTE—in person or drop your ballot in a drop box. VOTE. 

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

A Slow Loss. Inevitable. On the Passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.


Some losses are so sudden there is no anticipation attached. The death of Ruth Baden Ginsburg was of the worrisome slow and inevitable kind. I began worrying back when she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2009. My husband's death of the same type of cancer left me no choice but to worry. Her recent abrupt passing was attributed to complications of pancreatic cancer.

Her death coincided with a recent trip of mine to Wallowa County, where the barn in this photo reminded me of slow deaths. I always forget about this barn until I round a corner and see it butted up against the road and am caught by surprise that it still stands. The roof has been disintegrating for a few years, and more panes are broken each time I pass. It is inevitable that it will fall.

What strikes me is that this is not a private ruin. It might be privately owned, but its demise is a public one. Its eventual fall will be mourned by those living in the farm house sitting next to it, but many individuals, who will be unknown to the owners, will also mourn its loss. Like Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death, this will be a community loss.

Building have degrees of integrity, of usefulness, and beauty. When I pass this barn, I think about all the horses who were sheltered by its walls. The hay fork (you can still see it hanging below the apex of the ruined roof) reminds me of the farm hands, who were surely pleased with the ease at which their work could be done. Inside their labor was lit with the generous light from the south-facing windows. A pleasing place.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg also emboded high levels of integrity, usefulness, and inner beauty. Qualities which led her to  be the first woman to lie in state at our nation's capitol. As a woman, her work as a Supreme Court Justice had an impact on my rights to own a home or get a charge card both without a male co-signer. I often use a charge card now. I charge for books, replacement windows, hot spicy cocoa, and airline tickets. I swipe and accept charges as effortlessly as I put on my shoes in the morning. But without Ruth Bader Ginsburg's work, these simple actions would not be possible under my name. Her work has made my everyday life and those of all American women much easier.


No one cosigned for Ruth Bader Ginsberg's legal understandings. She studied and made her own decisions with her sharp mind in a professional field dominated by men. She made her way up the ladder, looking out those calm and thoughtful eyes. In the last few years, many of us held our breath with the news of her each new illness or  fall. Her passing is a public loss. A loss grieved even by those who were often in opposition to her ideas on the Supreme Court. Like the old barn (once it collapses at last) I will hold both of them – a beautiful old agricultural structure and an intelligent woman – in my memory. 

Rest in peace, the woman who made it possible for me to sit in my cabin in the woods.

Sunday, August 16, 2020



  Years ago, I remember being admonished to put the heaviest part of a load over a truck’s back wheels, so I was careful a few weeks ago to put the Ponderosa pine in the proper weightbearing location on the Umatilla County’s flatbed vehicle. I don’t work on the Umatilla County road crew, but I do walk up into Oregon from Kooskooskie and notice what they are about. When I took the photo of the flatbed and the pine, it reminded me of photos from the 1950s. Back when it seemed possible to do any sort of feat, even load a Ponderosa upright in the back of a vehicle and show it off by hauling it down say Walla Walla’s Main Street for a Labor Day Parade. I changed the photo’s color to black and white adding to the illusion. And yes, this truck parked in front of a Ponderosa pine is an illusion. 

Illusions sometimes are frivolous, fostered for humor or delight: the slight-of-hand of a magician’s tricks, the peek-a-boo game with a baby, or the tongue-and-cheek banter about who is better at golf – when everyone knows who it is that always wins.

Illusions can inspire. In the children’s book by Jabari Asim, Preaching to the Chickens: How Civil Rights Legend John Lewis’s Humble Childhood Incubated His Heroic Life, the recently deceased Congressman John Lewis created an illusion for himself by preaching to chickens on the sharecroppers farm where he grew up. Along with nine siblings Lewis grew up poor. He loved the word of God, the verses from the Bible, and hoped to one day be a preacher. The illusion of his flock (literally) listening to him as he joyfully prayed for their wellbeing, inspired his life-long optimism and activism. In his early forays for political justice, in a time when a Black man rising to political positions in the South was unheard of, he created another illusion for himself and eventually he made it a reality.

Here in my hometown of Walla Walla, we have our own form of illusion at work. At a recent Black Lives Matter event, Walla Walla City Councilman Riley Clubb noted that in the last many years, construction of houses have mainly been “large single-family homes.” They are attractive and give the illusion that our community has a healthy stock of housing, but in reality we lack diversity in housing options. This lack of choices impacts families of color to a greater extent, partly because many experience discrimination in the housing market. Clubb encouraged those at the event to support the construction of a variety of housing stock and be willing to create diverse neighborhoods where single-family housing is interspersed with multifamily structures. He asked us to imagine planning more Walla Walla neighborhoods, like our Catherine Street, beautiful in its mixture of homes, apartments for seniors, and condos.

John Lewis asked us to make “good trouble.” Walla Walla and many other cities in America could do so by taking the illusion of good housing and make it into a reality.