Sunday, December 31, 2017

The Face of 2018

The jade face of a Buddhist statue on a bookcase absorbs the morning light across from where I sit and write on my couch. When I look up, the Japanese monk’s Mona Lisa-like smile seems to me as if it approves of my work.  In these last few days of 2017, an unsettled year, I have been thinking I might try cultivating a new look.  I think it might resemble that of my jade statue – a face that appears serene and wise, but amused. 

The statue has had its share of unnerving events and ought to be a worthy model for me.  It is after all an immigrant to America, of a revered religion - but not Christian - does not have white skin (rather a pale green), has a chipped foot – a pre-existing condition – and was once suspected of being a terrorist weapon.  Any of these might have gotten it in trouble during the year of 2017.  Particularly the charge of a terrorist weapon. 

“What do you have in your bag?  A weapon?”  Scanning the x-ray of my carry-on bag back in the 90’s, the security guard mistook the Buddhist statue for a cudgel or possibly a gun.  He unwrapped the jade monk from a t-shirt and set it on the brown tray.  Accused of being a potential assault weapon, my dear statue stood stock still.

“Oh,” said the security guard, disarmed by my monk’s smiling face.  Even that man, I could see, was relieved not to see another gun.  (What is with all these guns?  Isn’t the faith in the bounty of spiritual dialogue sufficient to solve most of the world’s problems?)  My monk dispelled all tension with his quiet grin.   

When my Aunt Margaret told me to choose one thing from her possessions in appreciation for helping her move from Virginia to North Carolina back in the early 1990’s, I immediately sought out the Buddhist statue and cradled it in my arms.  As a nurse, she had received the gift from a private patient.  I was uncertain as to the statue’s sex.  Male or female?  Its hair was in a bun, so female?  It held a stick with a mop-like top and wore a gown or a robe.  For some years, until I knew better, I called it my Mop Lady.  My monk endured the altering of its sex and my mocking with its smile.

So, this coming year, regardless of threats, of insults, of tweets, of sex scandals and more killings with guns, my monk and I will persevere with insistence that the unfortunate turn of events of 2017 will pass, and we’ll smile together knowingly.  2018 might just be a good year for putting on a new face to the world.      

Sunday, December 24, 2017

"Merry Christmas" in Mouse

"Merry Christmas" in mouse said the tracks between my shed and the Ponderosa pine. Yesterday morning, I had gone outside to read the night's traffic report.  A handful of deer had been kicking aside snow to get to ivy, a rabbit had hopped towards the road, a raccoon had meandered through, and the mouse trails rounded every building.  The scratchings of bird feet made delicate marks in gatherings where the snow met the edges of dirt under the pines, as if the birds had been dancing at dawn.  My yard's fresh snow was bisected with so many animal trails that it resembled a Seattle freeway grid.  Such is the winter commute to my holiday abode by my wild guests.

I am home this year for the holiday season.  Like this elk I spotted from the end of my driveway, my feet are grounded in winter.  I didn't even bring a tree inside the house.  There are trees all around me.

I put the string of bubble lights in my front window instead of on a tree like in the past.  Leaning against the cold panes of glass, they can't seem to get warm enough to bubble consistently.  I don't mind.  The color is sufficient.  Have you spotted the deer by the car yet?

Lizzie and I curl up inside.  The temperature was 11 degrees last night.  Although she wears her wool coat, she doesn't like this snow on her feet.  When Art and I took her for a walk along the river a few days ago, she refused to walk far and had to be carried.  (Sometimes, I question whether she is actually a Scottish-English breed or not!)

With glorious sunlight on the newly-fallen snow, I took a short walk up the river.  Without Lizzie. 

And without Art, who was hiking the loop high around a knoll across the way from the cabin. He was up where we had heard a cougar on Thanksgiving Day.  He saw the tracks of that elk above, but heard no cougar.  He saw no animals, just clouds drifting across the mountains. 

I have celebrated so many winter holidays, but this one seems particularly memorable.  Tomorrow Art and I will sit to a meal of cornish hens, zuchini, sweet potato balls, brussel sprouts and an orange cake.  Tonight I'll go to sleep with dreams, not of sugar plums, but of frosted trees, the sound of a river and images of the tracks of wild animals.  Glorious stuff.

Before I retire on this Eve, I wish all of you:
"God Rest Ye..." in raccoon.  

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Undiminished and Evocative Buildings - Derelicts

In a shoulders-back stance, this military barrack guards the blue sky and wheat fields, even while its uniform of white siding falls askew.  The original balcony brim is AWOL and the sliding aluminum window is too tiny to see its fearsome future approaching.  One day the structure will be demolished.

Built by men long dead, inhabited once by young airmen wearing perfectly creased pants, and cotton t-shirts with rolled sleeves, the barrack is now a storage unit for a jumble of Melmac dishes, 1970’s polyester suits, and albums filled with black and white photos.  Pushing aside the boxed remnants, I imagine the former residents lounging on bunks, their fears of combat exhaled in cigarette smoke and joking.  Old buildings like this one are inhabited.  Not with ghosts, but with character sketches.

New buildings don’t have the same effect on me; no people wander their corridors in my imagination.  Take these rooms.

The Pollyanna Hotel, one of a number of the iterations of a corner building in Walla Walla was recently opened for tours.  It is slated to become a boutique establishment in the next year or so.  A couple hundred people walked its rooms during the tour. On occasion, when I found myself alone for a few moments, the rooms were visited by imagined salesmen in felt fedoras or women in gray suits with white blouses looking down at the traffic below on Main St.  No furniture or draperies were necessary to make my characters more realistic.

The inhabitants of McFeeley’s are different.  I visited the bar once.  My presence dropped the average age of the afternoon drinkers by thirty years.  At the time, McFeeley’s was a building on the precipice of an era.  The patrons, all men, hunched over glasses of booze held in their mottled workman’s hands.  The light from the north-facing windows stopped short, as if protecting the drunks from unwanted glances.  The bar was warm.  Cozy with light glinting off bottles lit by bar signs and the occasional flare of a match.  When the men were done, they paid upfront, dropping change on a handwritten bill before retiring next door to McFeeley’s Hotel.  Today these characters are our homeless, locked-out of lodging all day to wander cold streets drinking from bottles in a paper bag.

Given the options for some of today's alchoholics, McFeeley’s hand-painted and fading sign located just under "The Biggest Little Tavern in Town" holds truer than when it was running:       

 “You have visited the rest, now visit the best.”   

Some abandoned buildings are derelict too soon.

And some yet may recover like the former Pollyanna Hotel.

#Black and White. No people. No comment.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Savoring Unfulfilled Aspirations - What I Meant to Do and Didn't

This week on my birthday, I woke up thinking about the things which I meant to do during my life time and didn't.  Having gone to the Pendleton Round-up last week, it was easy to begin my list of unfulfilled aspirations with wanting to be in a rodeo.  The notion is is not about reality.  I am five-feet tall and I weigh around a hundred pounds.  I can count the hours I have sat on the back of a horse on an oven timer.  However, given that I considered buying a white cowboy hat, changing my sex and learning to whip open a heavy gate— behind which is a raging bull — marks the psychic of an optimistic and well-read American female.      

Riding the bull was not on the list.

But smoking was.

I read enough westerns and saw enough western movies to understand smoking was cool.
Had I become a ranch hand, a mechanic or a bronco rider, I might have had to learn to smoke.  (Chewing tobacco held less attraction.) My aspirations in becoming a smoker were fleeting and brief.

The lovely part of an aspiration is that it can be satisfying without it becoming reality.  This was certainly the case of smoking.  I recall reading about women smoking to express their freedom, leaving rings of red lipstick on their cigarette butts in glass ashtrays in jazz clubs.  Seems like that era has passed, and I am grateful that I missed the opportunity.

I do wish I could have worn red lipstick though.  My mom wore it so well.  Absolutely, one of my aspirational goals.  But thin lips makes red lipstick look like the slash of a red pen grading a paper.  With my lips, I would have received a D.

My mom played a piano, and she had me take lessons from a neighbor.  My teacher gave me ceramic animals as a weekly reward.  I remember particularly the little family of skunks.  Unfortunately, I had to give up my aspirations when my hands couldn't spread wide enough to play the chords.  The best thing about wishing one could play an instrument is that there are so many to select from.  So many aspirations.  Each one harboring a feeling of optimism and possibility.  Love instruments.  


I also wanted to drive a really old truck on bumpy roads.  A cross between work and joy riding.  I did have the opportunity to drive a farm truck bought at an auction up to Spokane.  The truck rattled loudly over the radio station, which being stuck in one position without a dial to change it, played only Western music.  I sang along.  Another aspiration.  Ordinarily I detest singing, but with the cover of the truck noise, I didn't sound so bad.

I have aspired to study at Oxford or I would take Cambridge.

Be a fish monger, a forklift driver or the caretaker of an old building.

                                                      Sell books.  In Paris would have been fine.

Drive trains.

Be as sharp-eyed as my dog.

Build gorgeous things from wood.  

Each aspiration has left me pleased that I thought of it.  A few.  Likely more than a few were fulfilled, but the preponderance of unfulfilled aspirations were good.  I am not done creating potential aspirations.  The mere thought of another one is satisfying.  What about spending a straight twelve hours at Powell's Bookstore?  Or take a photo that wins Grand Prize at the Fair.      

I hope before my next birthday that I will round-up a cache of new aspirations, open the gate and let them go.  A most satisfying exercise.  Give it a try.  

Thursday, August 10, 2017


They never call.  They just drop by.  And expect to be fed.

When I lived in the suburbs, it seemed to me all the bears were gone.  And much of the wildlife.  But here at my cabin the branches swaying out my bathroom window signal company has arrived.  This orphaned cub in the photo above has come three times this summer for servings of cherries.  He will come for apples next and then plums.  On the slope which I walk up to my hillside garden barrels, there is a pile of eleven plum pits - the remains of what last fall was a pile of bear scat.  

The deer sweep up my road, stop to browse on the ivy, and slip down to the river for a drink.  My dog listens for them and hopes for a sighting.  Their company a diversion.

Wolves, moose and a cougar all make my mountains their location for meals.  I am surprised at the diversity.  A moose was born just up my road a half-a-mile a month or so ago.  A cougar took a goat for a mid-night meal last week at a hillside meadow close by, and wolves feasted on elk in the high snowy meadows this winter.

Even while sitting in the river on a hot day, company arrives.  Water snakes sunning on the rocks by my hand.  Fry - slashes of black - feeding on some watery bounty beneath my feet.

A Pacific Slope flycatcher nested in the eaves of my cabin and would sing a little ps-seet, pt-sick, seet as it flew about feasting on bugs above my patio.  It was joined by a family of violet green swallows, the young ones fledging in tight circles past my chair.

Swallowtails fluttered past on their way to flowers in my garden.  My company is good.    

Even my dog gets into the mode of dropping in and eating, as if she were company.  In the past couple of weeks, she had invited herself to eat bacon grease, popcorn, a coffee and chocolate granola bar and dried eggs.  Some company is bad.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Guilty of Admiring Jet Stream Skies

Guilty.  I was guilty of admiring jet stream skies while on a field trip to behold the bounty of flowers found in the Blue Mountains.   Pollution versus nature.  If I were trying to defend my case, I would argue that I was admiring the wind and its capricious redistribution of man's trailing lines of waste.  I wasn't glorifying pollution; I was merely noticing the properties of a natural phenomenon.  It's a point of artistic translation.  

The flowers competed for attention.  Without guile or avarice, they flourished in this year of deep snows and bountiful rainfall.  Evidence of their tenacious hook on this earth.

Yet, as species are under stress, those jet trails seem to mark x's ...

...for the spots in which flowers are diminished in number or being scorched into non-existence.

The day's sky was a rare full-on blue atmosphere.  The group of Audubon members stopped on a small plateau to eat lunch and chat.  We looked for bears and listened to birds.  Our hosts for the field trip, Jeff and Cheryl named species after species.  Their knowledge astonishing.  All of us worked at remembering the names; as if by naming and noticing, we could with linguistic skills keep the plants from disappearing.

Jeff took us to see phantom orchids in a densely wooded area.  These orchids have no chlorophyll, hence, their stalks, leaves and flowers are white.  As forests diminish, this northwest native species is becoming scarce.  The ones we saw were just beginning to bud.  They resembled something.  Oh, yes.  Their stalks were like the trails of white jet streams.