Friday, June 27, 2014

Casting Shadows

     As I walk around the block in the morning with pup I pass a fence covered with moss, tipped with nails and shadowed with leaves.

     If I pass this same fence in the evening I notice the uneven boards warped by time, the sound of the stream and the sense that all is not well behind this tall forbidding fence.  The casting of shadows is what makes the difference in the morning.  The patterns of leaves mark the long fence in interesting and sometimes amusing ways.  Mustaches of shadows.

     All of us cast shadows.  I like the word "cast".  I picture an arc of motion, a projection moving high  through space, an optimistic sling of hope.  "Cast" has a sense of intention.  Casting anything at all carries some measure of success.  Casting off clothes, casting a fishing lure, casting a line to rescue someone.  The motion alone denotes action.

     Prior to my passing the shadowed fence there is a group of large boulders sitting in an elegant garden by the sidewalk.  One almost sees the shadows on the rock before one notices the leaves casting them.  We all cast shadows.  Maybe that the shadow is on a rock, unmoving and solid that makes me forget the motion of casting.  The shadow is so lovely that I want to touch it.

     Casting a shadow has become an idiom for causing harm.  This leaf looks like it could have caused a ruffling of intermittent harm.  Small acts of irritation.  Recalling the long shadows of the tall and narrow cypress trees, I think about the intentional acts cast with hope of harming someone.  I am sad that the lighthearted motion of "casting" has become tainted with such unfortunate meaning.

     Casting harm can have long term wrenching consequences.  Casting a shadow that doesn't easily fade any time of day or even any month or year is a shadow of haunting proportions.  Ever the optimist I try to sift through the ways to recast shadows, to teach someone the ways to cast more carefully, thoughtfully and lovingly.  Some sadly never learn.  This generation to that generation casting lessons can cause such harm and hold such darkness.  As I deal with people whose shadows cause grief and who refuse to recast in more lighthearted ways, I pity them.  Behind the fence I heard a dad ordering his child to leave the sun dappled yard and come in to watch cartoons.  As she ignored him engrossed in childhood play, his voice got more threatening and angry.  Long shadows behind a forbidding fence.                

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Local Color

   Lace?  Sculpture?  What is it?  Even if you were from Walla Walla, you might not know where this piece of work is located.  You would have had to see it earlier in the day from the opposite direction heading up hill into the Blues.  It looked like this:

     Standing among the wheat fields the sign was a warning of road closures when the snow blows.  The road behind the sign was rutted, gravelly and curvy.  Seems like every young buck with a gun took a pot shot at the sign.  Rite of passage here in the west.  Gathering a bit of courage and mentally checking tires I headed up the road.  The backward views were stunning.

North towards the Palouse
Line of Trees Along Russell Creek Road
Tree LIne
     On clear days, one can spot Mt. Adams more than halfway across the state.  To the north the undulating hills of the Palouse cast shades as the sun sets.  This drive is only ten minutes from town.  I passed a few cars parked to watch the view and a young couple stopped to eat their burgers from Iceberg sitting in the back of their old truck.  Dust in the air made for a colorful sunset.  Forest fires make an even better one, but I don't wish for those.

    This calf mooed anxiously at the car, as I approached.  He had had the road to himself and wasn't sure about getting out of my way.  So I turned around and slipped back down the hill with the wheat edging the road shining in the light of one of the last long days of the year.

    It is good to be back in Walla Walla.  Guns, sunsets, cows and wheat.  Local color.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Seduced by Work

     I wasn't expecting to be seduced cleaning the old metal table out by the stream, but then I hadn't bargained for the interplay of water, light and the pigment left by the over-wintering black walnut leaves.  I wasn't well-prepared for the work.  I was lacking gloves, a sponge or any sort of cleaning solution.  The red table caught my eye, half covered by a tarp blown back some while ago.  I was out watering the ferns and hostas.  Impatient to have company come join me for lunch or tea, I thought that a quick swish of water from the hose would wash away the black imprints.  Barely a moment into the job, the surface transformed itself into a finger painting surface.  Work?  This wasn't work.  Sheer play.  Seduced.

     Much of my work here at home has a seductive quality.  It is not random.  I have always been very conscious of the light, the placement of windows, and the direction of the wind.  Take the shop for instance.  Once there was a large window overlooking the gardens and willows to the east.  The garage and shop are adjacent and open to each other.  The light of that window insured that one could drive the car into a well lit garage usually without the aid of a light bulb.  I don't know what style the windows were originally, because by the time I arrived the big window had been broken.  A small aluminum sliding window mounted in the center of an ugly sheet of fibre board had replaced it. The sliding window option nailed shut.  Besides looking junky, the window squeezed out the light.

      I think it took a couple of summers of looking to find just the right window.  An old farm advertised windows in among a list of the usual debris of a farm sale.  I bought two and brought them home.  They needed only a slight trimming to make them fit.  Some of the panes were broken and had to be refitted with new glass.  This was my first lesson in tuck pointing a window.  The view now seduces the eye.  Throwing open the big garage doors and the big back door lets in more light and the sound of the stream.  Working in the garage feels good.  I've spent many days out there glancing sideways out to the motion of the trees through the windows.

     Five years or so have passed with a shop radio working in an ever increasingly erratic fashion.  The volume button had slowly worn out it's contact points.  By this past year the radio would only play on either a whisper or a shout.  When I spotted this professional contractor's radio at Rae's yard sale at the beach I couldn't resist for $20.  I have always been envious of these radios.  Maybe it was just the color, or the image.  Anyway, turning it on the sound was smoother and deeper than I had expected.  Now the shop seduces me with music and NPR news once again.

     Our wind comes from the southwest.  Hot summers in the shop can be unpleasant.  The only south window swings open inwardly and welcomes any breeze.  We had planted an ash tree outside the window to provide dappled shade and cool the entering air.  Yet, I needed another window to cast light onto one of the two work benches.  Today as I carried the broken cabinet window into the shop, I was again pleased by the side window added just three years ago.  The light, the breezes and the views make shop work seductive.

     Upstairs there is another work space.  I am not a seamstress, but appreciate a good looking machine.  This little gem is a quilting machine.  Singer made these tiny, but efficient portable sewing machines for quilters.  I have a table machine, but this one is the one I use the most.  The soft little hum, ticking of the needle and the gleam of the black shiny paint are all pleasing.  I was repairing a duvet cover whose seam was coming undone.  The large windows letting in a cool rain-scented smell and pup keeping me company as she looked for cats out the window made work again a seductive activity.

     It is early morning; I'm off to be seduced by work once again.


Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Walla Walla's Dance of Diversity

Troupe Azure, Belly Dancers
      Today as I listened to the radio I caught myself once again being puzzled at yet another conflict of this sect with that sect or this race with that race.  Why can't there be dancing instead of killing?

Estrellas de Mexico
      Saturday was Diversity Day at Pioneer park in Walla Walla.  The event began twenty one years ago as Race Unity Day.  Walla Walla has it's strife, but on this day in this park the differences seem notable only in their beauty, rhythm and color.

      As the belly dancers swirled, the Mexican dancers were joined by a single belly dancer, watching together enthralled.  The sweetness on their faces genuine. Different color same humanity.    

     I was at the first Race Unity Day twenty one years ago.  The gathering at the smaller Jefferson Park drew a crowd to watch the only dancers present, the Mexican dancers.  A small crowd composed almost entirely of Hispanics had arrived to watch them.  I remember  a gentleman as he chided the handful of us whites, "Where are your numbers, we brought ours?"  One foot at a time, one voice at a time, one instrument at a time and one race at a time we brought ours. And worked together to bring others.

Anna and Jesse Burgess with Japanese, Celtic and Walla Walla Music
A  stunningly colorful elder.
A well-appointed African American gentleman.
A  gracefully attired woman from the Islamic Center of Tri-Cities
     The children are our hopes in every society and every country.  Raised to love the richness of humanity, a day like today could impress a young child.

     The music and the motion attracted a single toddler onto the stage.  She appeared in a number of performances in her red and black polka-dotted  outfit, crisscrossing the stage laughing, pointing, and dancing.  There are children in this world who are beckoned to a very different stage.  A deadly stage.  One of prejudice, hate and paranoia.

     This tiny child finally welcomed a second dancer to join in her pleasure.  He was another color.  Another slice of humanity invited to play with her on this stage.  A small gesture to remind us that children see first with the heart, not with the eyes.

     We are lucky in this small town with our stage set for dancing.  One individual at a time invited to join in the dances of diversity.  

Carla Houchin, retired kindergarten teacher and belly dancer as she invited the child to dance.
Anne sharing a laugh.
     Anne Capistany is the Master of Ceremonies of Diversity Day.  Year after year she helps clear the stage from strife and replaces it with a day for rejoicing the qualities in all humans of any race.  Thanks, Anne, for setting the stage once again for Diversity Day.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Silence Behind You

     Any good teacher is familiar with intense, focused working silence. It is glorious.  In an earlier post I talked about working in art classes in silence and traveling with silence.  The dragonfly in these photos sat in silence in my garden, his gossamer wings occasionally rustled by a soft breeze and his tail absorbing the sun.  I thought he would fly with my presence, but he stayed.  There is a time for this kind of silence.

     Seven months I traveled.  I carried silence with me like a treasure in a box.  Cracking open the box silence was what I heard here:

Santa Fe, New Mexico

And here:

Del Rio, Tennessee

     Sometimes there were people, but still silence only lightly disturbed by muffled whispers as in museums or libraries.  Working silences.

New York Metropolitan Museum of Art

Boston Public Library
     Teachers know another silence.  The silence behind you.  I can still call up the silence in St. Louis that comes before a tornado as the atmospheric pressure changes or can only imagine the silence of a tsunami withdrawing the water before throwing it back towards shore.  As a teacher you kept your ears tuned to your back.  Mostly all was well, but on occasion that silence would indicate something coming, something awry.  A child’s hair being surreptitiously cut, a coloring on a wall, a cheating, an intentional act of deception or harm. 

     As I traveled there was an odd unsettling silence from home.  My teacher’s ear caught something.  My home struggled to breath.  I kept traveling.  Beloved friends were silent.  My teacher’s ear caught something.  I kept traveling.  The silence behind me was speaking.  It spoke truthfully.  Something was awry.

     I am glad to be home where I have a lovely abode and many, many dear friends and colleagues.  The silence is broken now.  All of the silences.  Reparations are in order to repair the damages, walls need scrubbing, hair needs to grow again and dignity returned to those who lost it, behind my back in silence.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Derelict Service Stations

     Tucked somewhere in my archive of old black and white photos are pictures of service stations, their attendants standing proudly by the pump, capturing the era of that new fangled automobile.  Grease monkey the mechanics were called.  The service station was where old men hung out, gabbing about the weather and watching for the odd flashy car swooping through town.  Women sat in the car watching the men do the important work of checking the oil, wiping the windshields and pumping gas.  The work was honorable and much admired.  As a child I recall the personal relationship that my dad had with his service station attendants.  They knew him by name.  The service station was a place where men joked with each other and swapped tales.  I can see my dad with a big smile on his face as he washed the windows.  I remember wishing that I could snap those blades back in place and swing the window washing stick so casually.  Afterwards my dad would take me across the street to the butcher, where I would be given one slice of fresh baloney.

     When I think back on my travels around America, old abandoned service stations were frequent sights.  They seemed to be waiting for the sound of clinking tools, whistling men and the smell of grease.  Many of the smallest stations were from the twenties or thirties.  Their wooden doors with multiple windowpanes opened sideways instead of upwards.  The beautiful art deco details attractive even under the pealing paint.  Sometimes a name or a date would be emblazoned across the top.  The name of proud owners of the service station.

     The obvious truth is that little towns got by-passed by automobiles whose gas tanks could carry them many towns away to big towns with newer stations and cheaper gas.  Mechanics no longer could work on any car that pulled in.  Too complicated.  Service stations were service stations.  Dispensing fuel, opinions, and tune-ups.  Service with a smile.

     Gas stations and convenience stores.  The shift in linguistics is telling.  No more service, no more directions, no more schmoozing.  Gas.  No service, but self-service.  Wait on yourself.  Talk to yourself.  America lost an element of civilization when the service stations disappeared.  

     Convenience stores are convenient for the owners, not the customers.  You dispense your own drink or pull it from a cooler.  Need oil.  Buy it by the quart and put it in yourself.  Buy junk food, beer, and sour coffee.  The bored counter employee services without eye-contact, begrudgingly, and rushed.  Need directions?  Don’t ask at a convenience store.  The personnel often are so new to town that they don’t know the territory and don’t care even to look it up for you. 

     America has changed.  We have lost much dignity in the workplace.  We have lost the sense of community in the everyday tasks that brought people together.  We have lost jobs honored for their usefulness.  The abandoned service stations bothered me one after another.  Bye service.  Bye.          

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

My Welcoming Weeds

     Within hours of returning home I was welcomed by a friendly honk as a former family from my childcare center drove by and noticed me weeding the edge of the front driveway.  Good feeling.  The weeds however preceded their welcome waving gaily as I drove into the wide graveled drive.  

     I’m not sure that everyone would spend two hours on the first day back from a seven month trip weeding, but for me there was no better way of saying to the world, I’m back!  When I have company in the summer, we sit outside.  We balance plates, cups and silverware as we head out to the stream under the willow and walnut trees.  Or we sit on the front porch rocking.  Right now the hammock is still stored in the garage waiting for the space under the walnut trees to be cleared and watered.  Waiting to welcome the first round of friends and laughing children.

Notice the fringe of weeds to the right.  Waiting.
      My second day here I squeezed in another three hours of weeding, raking and watering out by the stream with pup watching me.  The work was enhanced by the sound of the stream, a nesting warbler and ducks quacking as they passed by.  Weeding for me is as joyous as visiting a museum.  The result is aesthetically pleasing and there are always discoveries.  Yesterday the angle of my sight from near the ground, where I was pulling up dry weeds, brought me to the attention of white osage orange blossoms.  There is a history to these blossoms.  Walking woods ages ago I came across a huge bush of sweet smelling flowers.  I didn’t know what they were, but I went home and looked them up.  Coincidently I was intending to plant a screen between the new hammock and the sight of the neighbor’s car and garbage cans.  Osage orange seemed to be a delightful choice.  A tiny foot high bush was planted along with pussy willows and some other nondescript bush.  Years went by and the osage orange crept higher, no blossoms to scent the air.  But this year, because I was weeding, I spotted the three low-hanging blossoms from the angle of my work. 


     Coming back to the house I unpacked one of the few gifts that I bought on the trip for myself, a hand blown green vase from Fort Necessity, where my fifth great uncle fought with George Washington.  Returning to the bush I looked for just the right spray.  Looking up towards the back side of the bush I discovered dozens of high blossoms!  Likely this has been blooming year after year and I simply didn’t see the flowers.  Thank you my weeds, for calling them to my attention.  This osage orange discovery was not unlike coming across a particularly stunning pot at the Mesa Verde Museum of cliff dwellings.  

Sara Stein’s father in “My Weeds: A Gardener’s Botany” lived on a couple of acres of orchards, gardens and lawn.  As he grew older he was only capable of weeding an area that each year became a smaller circle around his house; the weeds filling in the spaces he left untended.  “My Weeds..” is a charmingly-written book about individual weeds and how they have developed propagation success stories.  Even as I weed I have to admire the tenacity and boastful attitude of my weeds.  Some try to charm me with their blooms and others just appear lush, as though lush will earn them the right to stay. 

   I have been here in this home for nineteen years.  At a glance I know what weeds to tackle first and which can wait a little longer.  Living near a stream means that I don’t broadcast weed killer that could slip into the stream.  Last spring I deadheaded every dandelion in the yard.  This was no mean task.  Daily I had to walk the yard bending over countless times to pick every flower head that I could spot.  A neighbor of mine had neglected her yard and her dandelions had moved into my yard.  Last year was the year to see what I could do about them.  The neighbor had moved and her yard had been bulldozed and replanted.  Along with deadheading, I slowly began spraying each plant with a mixture of vinegar and water.  I would spray small sections of the yard at a time.  The vinegary spray left behind little patches of yellow ringed with dead grass.  Appropriate grave markers for yellow dandelions.  As I got closer to home from my trip, I began wondering if despite my efforts, the dandelions had returned to mock me.  Happily there are hardly any!  I walked the yard for some minutes before finding this one back in the cactus garden.

     My weeds.  They provide me with a gym under the sky, a focus at arm’s length and a reflective time for my mind.   I’m glad to be home and welcomed by my weeds.