Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Expeditions and Preparations

      Metal silhouettes of the party of the Lewis and Clark Expedition stand frozen-in-motion in a field on Patit Creek outside of Dayton, Washington.  On May 2, 1806 the expedition camped in this spot during their return trip from mapping and seeking a northwest water passage to the Pacific Ocean.  A plaque by the road identifies each figure standing in the field and the skills for which they were useful to the expedition during the two-year journey.  Salt maker, hunter, violinist, carpenter, and translator were a few occupations etched on the plaque.  Having just returned from a seven month journey and getting ready to make preparations for a couple of days in the mountains, I was interested in the supplies that Lewis and Clark carried with them.  The field seemed light on supply piles.

    Meriwether Lewis was charged with drawing-up supply lists and gathering the items prior to starting on the journey.  Two tons of stuff was accumulated.  The list is intriguing when compared to what I travel with on my journeys.  Much of what he took is similar to what I take.  With a difference.

   One android cell phone with GPS and a few apps equals this portion of the Lewis and Clark piles:

Mathematical Instruments:

  • surveyor’s compass
  • hand compass
  • quadrants
  • 2 sextants
  • set of plotting instruments
  • chronometer (needed to calculate longitude)
  • writing paper, ink and crayons

Traveling Library:

  • Barton’s Elements of Botany
  • Antoine Simon Le Page du Pratz’s History of Louisiana
  • Richard Kirwan’s Elements of Mineralogy
  • A Practical Introduction to Spherics and Nautical Astronomy
  • The Nautical Almanac and Astronomical Ephemeris
  • a four-volume dictionary
  • a two-volume edition of Linnaeus (the founder of the Latin classification of plants)
  • tables for finding longitude and latitude
  • map of the Great Bend of the Missouri River
     I could feel quite smug about my much lighter load, particularly when I add in the cell-phone's ability to stand in for the mirrors and also the flashlight capability in place of lamps and wicks.

      The Lewis and Clark Expedition gathered tools that they expected to need for their trip of two years.  Fortunately, they weren't relying on me.  I managed to leave these items at home for a two-day trip:  the salt, the sleeping mat, matches or a good lighter, the trail mix, the vegetables, and sufficient blankets.      

      Moreover with the fire level rating on "high" at my mountain destination, the forest service had posted the requirement that one had to have a shovel and an ax to be allowed to have a fire in a fire ring.  Lewis and Clark traveled with 35 falling axes plus 20 more small falling axes and 2 spades.

      I couldn't find my small metal shovel, so I took the snow shovel that I bought last winter in Hannibal, Missouri.  Only in retrospect did it occur to me how useless a plastic shovel might be in a fire situation.  It would have melted.  Silly.  And the ax.  I couldn't find it either, so I brought a similar tool.  Well, kind of similar.  It had a wooden handle and a metal head.  This is a brick breaker. Silly.

     Fortunately, my friend was along.  Art would have been chosen for the expedition for his organizational skills and more level- headed choice of tools.  We stopped once at a rather sketchy-looking second-hand lot.  As he stood to the side of the tool huckster, Art's subtle head shake sideways and askance look told me that the ax offered with the loose head held on by a single nail that he could pull out with his fingertips was definitely not worth any price.

     Later, walking into a Lostine antique store (that I promised would be better-organized) brought  an admirable response. Art quickly picked out a rough-looking used, but sharp ax with a tight head.  Ten bucks.  Good deal.

     After coming home, I kept thinking of Lewis and Clark and their piles of good tools and  puzzled over where my good camping fold-up shovel had disappeared to.  I didn't find it, but I did find this small shovel with a wooden handle that has traveled with me on a few previous trips.  At least it is not plastic!  Maybe I should head back up to the mountains, since I am now prepared with the proper tools.

     Just so long as I don't forget the matches, mat, blankets, trail mix and the salt again, "Silly".

Monday, July 28, 2014

Photos from the Wilds

Scablands  Butterfly
Lostine Submerged River Rocks
Palouse Falls Back Pond Mossy Rock
Hunter Falls Cascade Over Basalt
Glacier Color in Wallowa River
Skyline Hunter Falls Trail
Early Color West Fork of the Wallowa River
Wilderness Food

Slogging Mindfully

     The sound of rushing streams, pine scented breezes and the smell of campfire smoke are settled in my head jostling with the reality of being home again.    

      Art crossed my path back in California at a log cafe as he came off of the Pacific Crest Trail.  He was looking for shelter from sleet, snow and a wickedly strong wind.  I was looking for a breakfast knowing that my camp stove would not light in this wind.  We cheerfully conversed as we tried to ignore the awful bacon and egg breakfast.  The sad meal was served on Styrofoam plates with flimsy plastic silverware. The substantial log booths in the old cafe begged for something more fitting than poorly done food served shoddily. 

      I have read enough accounts of hikers.  Those circling the English coastline, crossing France, tracing the Continental Divide or hiking the classic Appalachian or Pacific Crest Trails.  Art’s experiences on the trail so far were intriguing.  He had walked about fifty miles and already had had an opportunity to assist a fellow hiker who had to be airlifted off of the mountain and then Art had to take a break for a wound received during the rescue operation.  The physical capacity to walk ten or more miles a day seems daunting enough, but keeping oneself going step-by-step mentally would seem harder to me.  It is the slogging that daunts me.

     This past week Art visited me in Washington and we had the opportunity to hike.  Not ten miles a day, but at least a few of miles a day.  So here is my observation.  Art notices details and keeps curiosity alive step-by-step.  This is not to say that he does not prepare well with good equipment and training.  He does.  But it is the mindfulness that he has developed over a lifetime that seems to have prepared him for the long hikes.  Here is an example.  On the last day we were a bit rushed getting back down from the mountains, having lunch and trying to arrive at the Pasco airport for his flight out on time.  As we sat to eat with Art having lox and bagels and me a chicken salad sandwich, he caught himself rushing.  He stopped a moment and said, “Wait, I’m not taking the time to enjoy the stream and this food.  I’m going to slow down.”  Mindfulness.

     I take a lot of photos, but the ones following I might have missed had not Art noticed these images along the trails and called them to my attention.      

     Notice the ring of flowers on this teasel at Bennington Lake.  Art noticed that each flower had rings in different places.

     Mating butterflies, one inside the other’s wings along the trail at Palouse Falls,

     An iridescence blue wasp.  A cuckoo wasp, the likes of which I had never seen before.

     The looming quality of the buttes around the backside of Palouse Falls.

A wispy golden weed along the Hunters’ Falls Trail off the Lostine Canyon.

And the bright orange leaves out of place among the shades of green.

    Mindfulness.  Thanks, Art, now I get how to do the long hikes.  The slogging still might at times seem daunting, but the details keep the mind from slogging. 



Monday, July 21, 2014

The Waitress at Long Branch Cafe

     When will she return for the dishrag hanging on the door?  Will the weathered wooden door be pushed slightly ajar and a disembodied hand slide out to withdraw the rag?  Will she be in trouble for the dishrag being left so carelessly outside?  Will she ever return for the rag or will it remain there, a signal whose meaning slowly rots away?

     Small towns conjure up a sense of place, a sense of mystery. Their deteriorating buildings, painted with a patina of transformations, evoke the changing chemistry of people and metals over years, over decades, and over centuries.  The ordinary becomes the focus of the extraordinary, a story following the last story with the details known by everyone.

     She was a waitress, who knew her customers. She addressed an old gentleman calling him "Honey", when she gave him his change.  She knew the movements that needed to be made, both hers and the busboy's.  "Give 'em water.  Set their places."  Move, implied her slightly exasperated voice.  She was the only waitress on duty and she knew her business.  She was also a smoker.  I could smell it on her black jeans and matching shirt.  I surmised that she was the "she" who left her dishrag on the back door, when she had gone out for a smoke.  In a small town these details are the story.  Her beautiful dark skin and hair matching those of the younger female cook.  They spoke casually, each confident that they could count on the other, that they could even chit chat and still get their jobs done.  Familiar like.

     I don't come here often, so I was happy to find a binder of historical town information on the side cabinet.   Actually there were four or five binders.  I just chose one of them and took it to the counter, where Todd and I sat facing the kitchen and the standing army of condiments.  The cafe was once a hardware store facing a dirt street with a fountain in the middle of the road. The building survived the town's fires, lost its usefulness for awhile and then opened as a local and eventually legendary cafe with its wall of knick knacks and a menu to please any soul.

     Steak (6 ounces) and two eggs (any way you want them) with a side of potatoes (hashed or cubed) plus toast (four kinds to choose from) was only $5.99.   A homemade biscuit came with gravy (sausage, chicken or bacon for an extra buck), and was also only $5.99.  The waitress informed us that the latter is the best selling item on the menu,  averaging over 250 orders per week.  We ordered it.

      The pages of the paper menu were stapled in one corner.  Most items had two prices (whole order or half).  If you lived in this town, you could eat here every day for weeks and weeks and not have the same meal twice, but be recognized every time.  The congeniality of the waitress make me wish that I lived in this little town.

     As in many out-of-the-way towns, there are buildings waiting for business tenants.  Weston, Oregon, has its share. I loved the little green building with its raised eyebrow windows.  It is sitting next to the local picket-fenced library.  The empty buildings up and down the street add to the illusion that the town is open for possibilities.  It would welcome you and your services if you moved to town.  Move here.  Besides there is that cafe just down the street, the one that would happily put your picture on their wall along with all the others and serve you steak for a mere $5.99.

     Little towns have the time to indulge its characters and let people be eccentric and silly.  The doors in this picture are on the side of the cafe.  They were built to let those monstrous boards or metal beams move easily in and out of the hardware store.  The doors are kept closed now and serve as a place to hang the mandated sign: "Handicapped Parking Only".  Note that the sign is handicapped itself, hanging upside down.  Life in little towns.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Danger, Men at Work

     Granted that this is a British sign, laden with typical British deadpan humor, but it seems to say more than it means.  As I passed the sign the men standing around were speaking in that wonderful, incomprehensible Cockney accent, there was no dangerous posing, nothing untoward happening, nothing that I needed to skirt to keep myself safe except that I was an alien female, who loved construction work and therefore suspect of invading a work site meant for the opposite sex only.  I've thought back to this sign many times.

     Way back in 7th grade I took an aptitude test.  When the results came back, neatly typed (this was when typing was the only way to get letters on the page) the test results gave scores and then suggested a few occupations in which I might excel.  Spatial relationships was seemingly my one and only truly outstanding work qualification.  The score was, if I recall correctly, 101%.  The options offered me were "Mechanic" and "Dress Designer".  As we continue to struggle with testing and testing and testing of school kids, I think about this test of my skills.  The test accurately captured a strength and then wandered off into fantasy land. (I dress mostly in jeans.)

     Tests test, but do they test for every factor?  Obviously not in my case.  Take mechanic.  In the first place I wasn't a male in a time when being a female mechanic would not have been the slightest option.  In fact being a female in that profession would have been dangerous!  Moreover, the test forgot to get my hand print.  My glove size is that of a ten-year-old, so my little hands would not have done well with most over sized male mechanic's tools.  Over my lifetime I have given mechanical work a whirl.  My old Volkswagen bug gave me the chance to try my hand at changing distributor points and properly gaping spark plugs, but this was almost child's play with this little car.  I did love the work, but as a profession with my little hand size, no way!  

     The thought that I could be a mechanic I kept to myself.  If a woman's place was supposed to be in a home, I was lucky.  I could be a mechanic in my own home.  Year by year I acquired tools.  One of the first was a small Makita  power screwdriver.  I acquired it at a yard sale.  The young woman explained that the screwdriver had been a Christmas gift from her boyfriend.  It almost ended the relationship. She was so disappointed and offended.  "Danger" that screwdriver said to her. 

      Bear claws, titanium hammers, five-in-one paint tools, shovels with hand carved wooden handles.  These make my heart sing.  My bookshelf includes titles like "One Good Turn: The Natural History of the Screw and the Screwdriver" and "Women Who Built Their Own Homes".   That test didn't say that I would admire a good shovel, covet screwdrivers and furniture clamps, but I do.

Well-designed spot to store a shovel.     
      I worry about the extensive testing that we are doing today in our schools, focused so much on academic abilities.  They miss the complexity of human potential.  Across my lifetime spatial relationships surfaced in my photography and the spatial aspect of visually mapping words and ideas.  They surfaced as a preschool teacher in my understanding of how a room's spatial layout affected the quality of the learning that occurred.  My ability to show children the aspects of spatial design affected their capacity to document their ideas on paper or in three-dimensional construction.  

     I have about the best physician in the world.  He makes me laugh, good tonic any day.  When I recently explained to him that I had had tendinitis in my elbow years ago from hammering on a garage roof, he looked at me and said, "Why would you do that, Sweetie!"  I had to laugh.  The "Sweetie" says it all.  I'm just not dangerous enough to do construction or mechanical work, even if the test said so.

      Every child has some intelligence, some skill that will make a difference in their world.  Testing might not so accurately predict what will precisely happen across that child's lifetime.  In fact being responsible, compassionate or honest may make more of a difference than any academic test results.  

     My spatial intelligence blessed me in ways entirely unpredictably.  I admire a well-designed dump truck and admire the striking design on it's side left by mud streaks.  A sign leaning against a truck makes me picture this hole, that is not a hole, and makes me laugh.  Just walking the neighborhood past a construction site I am enriched. 

The Hole That Is Not A Hole! Ha!
     My life has been blessed by spatial awareness.  It didn't guide my path, it trailed along behind me sticking it's nose into my work, my passions and my life.  The results of tests may be dangerous all in themselves.  Had I become a mechanic as the test proposed, I would have short-changed myself and my life's work of teaching children.

     Danger.  Placing too much into testing. Instead, flip that bucket of possibilities and just "Let's Do It."  Teach well and let children thrive in the multiple ways possible across a lifetime.





Monday, July 14, 2014

Need a Cold One?

A cold photo that is?   
On these days of one hundred degree weather I keep thinking of places like Ice Lake in Glacier Park.
                                                          Snowy neighborhoods in Montreal.
White stuff sticking to the trees whether in Colorado or Canada.
I just want to have cold feet again.
Sit surrounded by snow on a park bench.
                                      Bundle up for a four degree walk along the St. Laurence River.
           But today I'll have to be content pulling out a cold one from the fridge.  Cold photo that is.
                                                           Chilling images for a hot day.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Those Who Get to Play and Those Who Don't

Otto and Zephyr
     The children who visited me last week stirred up an old passion of mine, musing about the differences between children who get to play and those who don’t get to play.  I’m not thinking about the child who has a million toys and the one who has none or the child who plays with lots of kids and the one who plays alone.  No, I am thinking of the children who play wherever and however without being attached to media as compared to the child who is, as it were, duct-taped to a screen.

     Children, who have time to pretend, muck about and tinker and muse, will build maps in their heads that will lead them to a different destination than those whose brain only works in an immobile location in front of a screen.  Brain scans show that children watching TV or videos use mostly only the right side of the brain.  This is comparable to being stuck on the wrong side of the tracks without resources, unable to find the personal, financial or creative means to get a ride out.

     Time.  This is the child’s largest natural resource.  Let’s say you are a child from an impoverished home without adequate time. The time is squandered on video games or television time or maybe just filled with scolding and neglect.  There is a lack of puttering time, worthwhile opportunities to play, practice joyful work, or just sit and think about things.  I’m not saying that other resources and even a small amount of screen time aren’t worthwhile, but supplant free time with no time and disaster may happen.   

     Think of a child’s time as though it were water.  Water in moderation nourishes life and makes living things flourish.  Time's watering let's a child's mind grow through contemplation, curiosity and reflection.  Too little water or too much water both often end in disasters.  The constriction of a child's time diminishes their capacity to develop ideas, self motivation and self awareness.  Too much water ends with flooding and catastrophe.  A child with too much time falls under the old saying of "too much time on one's hands..." leads to trouble.      

     Water and time share another dimension.  Slip a child near water whether it is a little stream, the ocean edge or a bowl of ice and they are immediately awakened to its potential for playing and experimenting.  The beauty of the water's motion, the feel of the water's flow or icy state delight the child.  Give a child time to themselves to play and a child who is accustomed to such bounty immediately sets about to explore possibilities, immersed in time.

      Ask any adult or child about a vacation destination and very likely among their list of places to go will be the ocean, a lake, a river or a harbor.  The beauty of these places nourishes the soul.  Time, likewise, holds the essence of beauty.  There is a beautiful innate quality of time, when it is spent engrossed in activities of one's own making.  No beauty comes from mindless screen time.  Children who have the time to play will grow brains, muscles and souls.  Let children play.  Give them the gift of time, water them wisely.



Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Raising Joyful Boys

     Otto laughed at me.  He had been hanging out of the car window watching his dad rinse the windshield with a bucket of water when he spotted me taking photos. He was in the car ready to travel to his grandparent's house six hours away for the Fourth of July. Already in an exuberant mood, he flashed his best smile.

     Earlier in the week Sean and Naomi had backed into my driveway with their ever so cool foldout old camper.  Their three boys spilled out and all began helping their dad raise the camper shell.  They knew where the tools were stored and how to set up the stairs.  No child seemed without a task and there was very little skirmishing for a turn at an important job. You might be thinking that the three boys were all older than they were.  Their ages were two, four and seven.  Each one handled the tools and knew where things were stored as though they had done these tasks often.  No one whined, no one complained; they just cheerfully went about setting up, unloading and calling to me to see this feature or that.  Sean, their dad, interjected an occasional suggestion or admonishment always in an encouraging tone of voice.  

Otto, age four.
August, age seven.
     All went well until the last step, when the metal rope wrenching the camper top into place, slipped out of a  clamp.  Prior to the last step Sean had the boys stand back just in case, keeping them safe. Work came to a halt.  A quick visit to Billie, the best mechanically-minded neighbor, brought assistance immediately.

Billie, age indeterminate. 
    Billie and I crawled under the camper to make a repair, when who should also arrive, but the three boys!

Otto, August and Zephyr
      So there we were adults and kids all squeezed under the camper.  Nobody was yelling at the kids to get out of the way or acting like their crawling in the dirt under the camper was hazardous or messy.  

     One of the kids offered to take my picture after I took theirs.  There was no fighting about who took the photo.

     Do you understand how rare this whole episode is?  The parenting skills required to raise joyful, responsible and engaged children are many and subtle.  Here is the family bio:

     Sean is a first grade teacher.  Back in the early 1990's he taught at The Kids' Place and became a beloved babysitter for my daughter, Molly.  She called him affectionately Seany Boo.  Naomi is a stay-at-home mom and an avid school volunteer.

     Their children are all distinctly unique.  August, the oldest, loves any opportunity to explain things like how fireworks are made.  Otto was the official dog tender.  He even came up with a solution of what to do with Lizzie while he came to help me set sprinklers.  He put the dog's leash in the camper and closed the door allowing pup to wander only so far on the leash.  Zephyr was in charge of door locks and books.  With the nimblest fingers he managed to lock every door he entered or exited.  (We were all surprised to be locked out on occasion.)  No one yelled at him.  This curiosity will pass.  The family felt like a smoothly functioning whole.

   Healthy families work together and play together.  There was an imperceptible shifting between Sean and Naomi.  Sometimes Sean had the kids off to a park and Naomi rested or Naomi took a turn so that Sean could read.
Naomi pushing August in the hammock.
Zephyr trying out the swing.   
      The children played outside, exploring the stream area, sharing the hammock and the swing.  They pointed out cats, helped each other and ever so infrequently had some minor problem that they often solved themselves.  The parents were conscious of the children's whereabouts, engaged them in interesting conversations and made parenting look easy.

    One afternoon we went to the Fort Walla Walla Museum for a couple of hours.  There was no hesitation to go to a museum even with a two year old and a four year old.  As we wandered in and out of buildings displaying farm equipment and mules, Sean and Naomi allowed the children to help set the pace.  When Sean laid in the grass between the buildings the children came to copy him.  They jumped up once and gathered catalpa leaves to use as fans.  August helped his brothers by reaching up and getting them their own leaves.

    Naomi sat aside enjoying her family.  No need for yelling.  The children were engaged where ever we were.  Since electronic devices were not readily available for the children, no one had to say, "Put away your Game Boy and pay attention.

  Sean parented from a relaxed and loving background.  The children hung around him.  They wanted to be with him and their mom, Naomi.
Sean, Otto and August
     As bedtime approached, the children scurried to get into their pajamas and be ready for the nightly bedtime stories.  I was lucky in that I got to read from some of my favorite children's books.  Each child sat respectfully listening fully engaged each night.  There were no arguments about which books or who choose what.  We just read.  The second night Zephyr eagerly choose a couple of his favorites and so we reread  "Baby Come Out" and "The Catalog".  

          There should be a book about this family, not just a blog post.  The best part would be the photos taken by the joyful boys.  Does your child, if you have one, take photos?  The gesture of letting a child have responsibility for a camera could be an indication of a child being raised to joyfully be of this world noticing working adults, architectural details and the antics of siblings.

Kathy working.
Ceiling fan.
Plaid bottom.
A selfie.
     Do come again joyful boys and lovely parents.