Sunday, December 30, 2007

When the Time Comes...

IMG_0066 copy

In Blackwater Woods (excerpt)
by Mary Oliver

To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

My grandma died last night. She was 89. When I talked to her a day or so before Christmas, she asked as she always asked, "When do you think you'll be coming to visit?" I couldn't say. I was prepared to take a leave of absence and help care for her if needed. She'd been under 24 hour care for a couple of weeks. My mom, my aunt, and a few friends were sharing caregiver duties. Mom told me that grandma was more confused, couldn't remember something that happened an hour before, but she could remember big pleasant things, like my calling. Mom tossed out the Alzheimer word, but it sounded more to me like the withdrawal that comes before death. The happenings of this physical world become less important. It also seemed Grandma was getting less oxygen, her lung cancer depriving her of that brain food. Mom told me they had a nice Christmas, with everyone remembering old times.

Now I am thinking about going back to Wisconsin, of visiting the house without my Grandma there. As much as her absence, I am thinking about the dismantling of her house, her big house that she'd always wanted, filled with the keepsakes of five generations. I think of sleeping for the last time on the bed that was always "my bed," and before my time, my aunt's bed. I think of the bed my grandma and grandpa shared for years, and my grandma alone for another decade. Who in my family will take these, or will they be sold, the past lives of these objects meaning nothing to the new owners? So many photos, scrapbooks, pieces of a life, how will they be scattered? We each will receive pieces of her, physical mementos, reminders for our hearts.

My grandma (and grandpa) and their house were always a refuge for me and my brothers. Theirs was a place we could find unconditional love, treats (ice cream every night), and none of the negative judgements. Even as I let her go, she will always be a part of me.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Better Together

Today, like any other day, we wake up empty
and frightened. Don't open the door to the study
and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument.

Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.
~Rumi ...translated by Coleman Barks
Today Steve and I celebrate our anniversary. We officially married on December 27, 2002.


Notice the date just before the end of the year. We bought our duplex together that year, and when we thought of the complicated tax preparations, we decided to make it a little easier. So many legal documents are rolled up into that one signature. I know, that doesn't sound very romantic. From our point of view, we didn't and don't need that document to forge our commitment and love for each other. I was a little ambivalent about it, thinking of my gay friends who cannot get married and resolve so many legal matters in this way. This morning Steve and I were saying it didn't make much difference to us. In fact, we've never had anybody question our right to speak for each other. All we have to do is say we're married and the doctor will tell all, or the insurance will cover us.

Steve took this photo of us Christmas night. He spent Christmas day with Krissy. He asked me how my day went, and noticed my lack of enthusiasm. I didn't want to say so, but I'd been feeling lonely. I didn't want him to feel bad about spending Christmas Eve with me, and Christmas day with Krissy. In the end, I was glad I confessed, because allowing the words to come out, I realized my pain was about something deeper than that. I'd meant to do so much more on my vacation, and I missed him that day as a distraction from the things I didn't do. Also, we were going back to work the next day. His sabbatical over, we'd have no more relaxed days together, very few chances to dine out for breakfast. Thus the look.

As he left for work today, Steve said, "Don't spend all day reading a sad book of poetry." He'd seen the book in my hand, Risking Everything: 110 Poems of Love and Revelation.

I said, "It's about love!"
He said, "And poems about love are sad. At least bittersweet."
In a way he was right. Poems about love, or more especially about revelation, are about death. This will all go away.

I don't see it as sad, though death still scares me even after 20 years of a Buddhist practice. I see it as a reminder to let my divinity shine.

I'm not doing that when I'm wallowing in loneliness because I'm seeking distraction from inertia. Sometimes I escape in reading, as Rumi cautions against. Often I escape in TV. I watched way too many Christmas movies this year, even though there are only a few types: Santa (Miracle on 34th St), Love (A Holiday Affair), A Christmas Carol, and It's a Wonderful Life. I suppose I could include a magical category, but those can usually fall into those other types. At least all those holiday movies were uncomplicated fun, and always had a happy ending.

On February 7 it will be our 10th anniversary of the day we first met. For me, it was love within a couple of days. Steve declared love a few days after that, but admitted a few years later that he was slow to feel his was a deeper love. He is careful like that. It is easy to love him. If we're walking along a sidewalk, he will reach out to touch me, or put his arm around me, and I think, oh my, am I showing my love enough? I need to reach out more. and I reach out to touch him. It goes like that. Neither of us ever seem to think, I do too much. Rather, we keep trying to do more for the other, and my gratitude never ends.

Between us, it is not the way Marge Piercy says in "To Have Without Holding":

"It hurts to love wide open
stretching the muscles that feel
as if they are made of wet plaster,
then of blunt knives, then
of sharp knives."
[snip] have
and not to hold, to love
with minimized malice, hunger
and anger moment by moment balanced.

I don't find that finely tuned tension that Piercy writes of. Rather, I feel that we amplify each other, bring out the best in each other. We have each other, and like Piercy, we do not hold tight. We value the autonomy of the other, and the returns are so sweet. When I have loved others wide open, there has been this pain of stretched muscles, but with Steve, who so generously met my passion of a few days, I found warm embrace. We have found the sweet trust of non-ownership. We don't expect or want to be the only one, the soul mate, the one who is entitled, and through that not-holding, we find a peace that comes with never losing each other.

Tonight we went to the restaurant where we got married 5 years ago, Takahashi. We go there often, but tonight after reading these love poems, and remembering our 10 years together, I was excited about revisiting the night we tied the knot. Our same waitress was there, and when I said, "You'll never guess what night it is," she said, "Would it be an anniversary?" She told us there have been three marriages, three proposals, and when Steve asked, thinking of course not, "Yes, there was! One divorce." They wanted to give us free ice cream, but we didn't feel up to ginger, green tea, or red bean ice cream.

We decided to get dessert at Palio. A chocolate mousse tort for Steve, Red Velvet Cake for me. Divine. Once home, we finished the Scrabble game that we've been playing for over a year. We usually only play this travel Scrabble at Takahashi, and lately the food has been arriving much faster.

Santa was very very good to me

This was the last photo I took with my old camera:
new camera: Canon PowerShot Elph

Santa gave me this new camera with 8.2 megapixels and anti-shake technology. I don't know exactly what those mean, but I do know I can capture our cat so you can get a glimpse of her cuteness now. Old camera just gave us a black blob. I kinda knew Santa was bringing me this gift because we looked at various cameras in the store.

This is the first photo I took with my new camera:
first photo with Elph: snow on Xmas
We had a tiny bit of snow on Christmas Day.

Among other things we had this
for our Christmas Eve dinner.

Steve asked, "Are we having that dragon food?"
"Dragon food?"
"You know, that thing you got at the farmer's market that looks like a dragon."
"Oooohhh. I think of that as the fractal vegetable."

For the life of me I couldn't remember the name of it, but I kept thinking of Brendan Fraser reading "Dragon Rider" and talking about the humunculus. The folks at the farmer's market told me it is the father of broccoli and cauliflower. I don't know about that, but I did find from some creative googling including the word fractal that it is called Romanesco. I like Dragon better. It tasted a bit like cauliflower, only more green, that is, bitter. I liked it, Steve not so much.

Goodbye, old camera. Steve wants to have it.
old camera: Canon PowerShot 3.2 megapixels

Steve's dad gives him a Christmas carving every year. These and the tree make up most of our Christmas decor.
christmas carvings

Monday, December 24, 2007

Winter Colors

May all beings be happy. May all beings be at peace.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Breakfast Around Town

I've been on vacation the last couple of weeks. I meant to do a bit more writing buuuuttt we all know how that goes. I also meant to spend a bit of time with Steve while his sabbatical vacation wound down. It's been nice to relax, get some things done around the house, and go out to eat together. Steve's been on a breakfast food kick, so we've been going to various diners around the city. He's found that if he eats a really big breakfast, his day goes better. Me, I have more energy if I have a light breakfast of fruit, and I usually like to eat the traditional breakfast food for lunch.

We found that the restaurant around the corner, Sckavone's, the place I like for an easy-going place to hang out, use the wifi and maybe have a spiked Italian soda, has a decent pancake, along with the other breakfast usuals.

Steve's really been into the pancakes. I usually like eggs, potatoes, toast, but like a taste of the pancakes. I get to have a few bites of his. The best place for pancakes was, wait for it, The Original Pancake House. I don't mean The Original Hotcake House, a place closer to home that we don't like to go to anymore...they have great pancakes but cheap syrup and bad coffee. I don't mean just any Original Pancake House either, but the original Original Pancake House. We saw the chain featured on a travel channel Top Five breakfast show. Krissy got the chance to go with him first when she took some time off work last week. (Steve took my photo at TOPH.)

Steve told me he used to go all the time to TOPH when he was a kid in Aurora, Illinois, and here I thought he'd first heard about it on the show. He just hadn't tried it here in Portland because there usually is a seriously long wait. In Aurora, he told me, they never had to wait. He went there with his grandpa, who was a cop. The waitstaff always hustled them to a table, and somehow he got it into his child's head that people were waiting because they wanted to wait. If he'd known they got to skip waiting in line because his grandpa was a cop, he'd have been embarrassed.
Another day, we tried TOPH again, but this day the wait was indeed too long, so we went to a diner a few blocks away that serves breakfast all day, and which we'd figured was a backup plan for people who couldn't get in down the street. The Golden Touch became our own backup plan. I was fascinated by the decor, most of which didn't seem to have changed since mid-century. The food was good enough. Steve appreciated that his over-medium eggs were actually over-medium, and not runny. I especially liked my lunch choice, which seemed to me a carnivore's attempt to provide a vegetarian option without being too familiar with usual vegetarian offerings. It was called a veggie melt, and was scrambled eggs with onion, peppers, some other vegetables maybe, and cheese on a sandwich. It never occurred to me to put scrambled eggs on bread before, even though I like a fried egg sandwich.
Before I get to today's restaurant, let me think. Did we go anywhere else? We must have. Well yes, of course, we went to Genie's several times over the course of Steve's vacation. Gotta love their Eggs Benedict.
Funny thing is, Steve just walked in, and he told me he's been wanting to go to The Original Pancake House for oh 15 years. He's mentioned it to me, to Krissy, to previous girlfriends, but none of us expressed any particular interest in going there. I don't remember. Maybe he pointed to it in passing and I didn't know what he was pointing at. Suddenly within 24 hours both Krissy and I wanted to go there. I was interested because the tv show featured the Dutch Baby pancake that came out of the oven kind of like a souffle. I'd never eaten such a thing. Steve got the buttermilk pancakes, yummy unto death. I want to go back to try the sourdough pancakes.
Oh, there was at least one late night visit to the Jubitz truck stop. We were reminded of that place because of another travel show, the top 10 truck stops around the world. What a hoot. Steve liked the diner food there more than I did.
I'm sure I'm missing someplace. Today, we went to Sanborn's. Krissy introduced Steve to this place. The pancakes were great, I got my usual taste from Steve. I decided to go for the breakfast burrito with a mimosa. I remember getting breakfast burritos in the sleaziest casino on the river in Laughlin, NV sheesh 18 years ago, Don Laughlin's Riverside Resort Hotel and Casino. (That place incidentally is where I saw Dick Tracy and got my T-Shirt for a ticket. The theater inside the casino served booze before serving booze was cool in movie theaters. If my ex secretly reads this, that will take him back.) Quick things with scrambled eggs, beans, cheese, and green chiles. This was not that breakfast burrito. I could choose my insides, and I chose eggs, green chiles (of course), and jack cheese. On the outside I also got black beans, sour cream, guacamole, mango salsa, and lime. And Santa Fe style potatoes on the side. Yum. Mee.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Book Group: The Last Town on Earth

The Last Town on Earth by Thomas Mullen was suggested for our library book groups by the Multnomah County Health Department. If a book group chose to read this, the department would contribute the books, and send a pandemic health department expert to the group. We chose this for our November read.

Jessica, our pandemic expert, was excited about this opportunity to work with the library. She loves the library, and participates in Everybody Reads as a library patron. This was her brainchild, and she hopes to make something like this as big an event as Everybody Reads. (Believe me, it is big here in Stumptown, known for its readers. I've had people stop me and exclaim, "Oh, that's the book everybody's reading, isn't it? Do you like it?") The health department? Not so well-known. She was excited about the greater visibility the department could gain by partnering with the library. She'd heard the author on NPR, and took it from there.

The Great Influenza, a non-fiction book about the 1918 flu pandemic, was considered for this joint venture, but she and the other planners felt this fictional account would be more approachable.

Up to a point, it was. We readers enjoyed the background history we learned, not only about the flu epidemic, but about the unions, the Wobblies, feminists, and their influence in the Pacific Northwest. As a group, we felt the characters and plot failed to live up to the subject. (It's unusual for us all to share the same opinion, to be fair our numbers were small just before the Thanksgiving holiday.) I tend to enjoy a plot that is driven by interesting characters. This seemed more to us like the author had a plot in mind, and created characters to fill those roles...not so believable to us. One person summed it up, that it seemed to be written with the movie in mind. She already knew the actors: Tommy Lee Jones for the town's leader, Jude Law for Graham, the stiff-upper-lipped young man just trying to protect his family. I was a little annoyed at the implication that an attempt to create a utopia was doomed due to human nature. Another felt the book started out well, but then got too simplistic.

One of the first things Jessica told us is that this story is a good illustration that quarantines don't work. I'd been wondering about the effectiveness of the masks. Wouldn't a sick person contaminating the outside of a healthy person's mask still manage to spread the disease? Just so. It would be more effective to have sick people wear the masks. The 1918 flu epidemic was what they would call a "category 5" flu. The world hasn't seen such a flu since. There were some global pandemics in the 50s and 60s, but not like this. Recently it was discovered that this flu did indeed come from a bird. (They got samples from bodies frozen in the permafrost.)

The bird flu existing now is difficult to pass from person to person, but a few cases have. As to whether there will be a bird flu that is easily's a crap shoot. Jessica told us plans would trigger if "anywhere in the world a confirmed cluster of a new flu" has a certain "fatality ratio." Plans can't include a vaccine really, because we can't predict the strain of a pandemic. Part of the problem in 1918, the US government so controlled the media that communities couldn't learn needed details about what worked in other communities.

We learned that here in Multnomah County, the "community mitigation strategies" for a category 5 pandemic come from the best practices that cities and towns took in 1918. Portland happened to utilize these, and didn't fare quite so badly.

These practices are:

  • multiple social distancing strategies (don't get too close)
  • cancelling school classes for up to 3 months
  • urging businesses to stagger shifts so less people are working at one time
  • if an individual is sick, urging families to stay home voluntarily

Another health dept expert, Amy S, has been perusing the archives about the 1918 epidemic in Portland. The first case of "Spanish influenza" in Multnomah County was reported on October 15, 1918. Because of the US media blackout, the big news coming out of Spain made it seem as though it originated there, thus the name. In the Oregonian, on September 29, 1918, 85,000 reported dead in Boston. In Portland, shipyards were affected, businesses "concerned as to the loss of ship production."

Challenges faced in a pandemic? Jessica said, "The closing of the schools: teens get antsy." [spoiler alert] In the book, 20-something adults were the culprits when they got antsy. Also, the global nature of businesses. For instance, if the health department seeks cooperation from businesses in closing the Lloyd Center Mall, they may have to call owners in China. Jessica was clear that Multnomah County doesn't have the authority to enforce martial law, nor did it seem she wished for it. She emphasized that within the department they work towards consensus. Her overall message seemed to be that best practices involved cooperation, not authoritarianism.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Book Group: Three Cups of Tea

Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace...One School at a Time by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin. (The book was written by Relin who interviewed Mortenson extensively. Mortenson was...and probably still is...too busy to write a book himself.)

I read this in October, and had the honor of presenting the author, David Oliver Relin, at our library book group that month. He will be speaking one more time for Multnomah County Library at our Writer's Talking Series on January 19.

Before the event I did some googling, and found Greg Mortenson was sought out for expert information when Pakistan's 7.6 earthquake occurred in 2005. I was eager to ask David if the schools and the bridge that Mortenson helped bring into being were still intact. They were.

Haji Ali said, blowing on his bowl, "The first time you share tea with a Balti, you are a stranger. The second time you take tea, you are an honored guest. The third time you share a cup of tea, you become family, and for our family we are prepared to do anything...even die," he said, laying his hand warmly on Mortenson's own. "Doctor Greg, you must make time to share three cups of tea. We may be uneducated. But we are not stupid. We have lived and survived here for a long time."

Greg Mortenson failed to climb K2, and while he headed back down the mountain, he took a wrong turn, missing the bridge that would take him to the village where he'd begun the climb. He found himself in Korphe, another village not found on his maps, and the people there welcomed him and brought him back to health. He happened to ask them to take him to their school. There was none. The children met under the cold sky and used sticks to write in the dirt. From that point he made it his mission to bring schools to those remote mountain villages in Afghanistan.

The people there welcomed secular schools that also would teach girls from the non-profit that Mortenson founded, Central Asia Institute, or CAI. The Pakistani government didn't bother with schools this far removed. But before they wanted a school, the villagers wanted a bridge so they could build the school. That bridge not only helped bring the school, it changed the lives of the women in the small village. David Relin told us marriage is a big deal there. When a woman leaves her family to live with her husband, she may never see them in her life again. One ridge in these mountains might as well be a hundred miles. This little bridge allowed them to visit their families on a weekly basis.

Excerpts, an interview, and audio with Mortenson can be found on Beliefnet here. From Beliefnet:

Often I ask the children, or the elderly, “Why are you doing this?” They’ll say, “This is what Allah wants,” or “This is what is right.” Over here if you ask that question to somebody, they’ll say, “Well, I’m doing this because if I do that, then this will happen and it will lead me here.” It’s very linear. Over there they rely on their faith and consciousness I guess you could say--thinking from your heart.

Has that become stronger for you also?

Well, certainly. The more I do this, I rely on my conscious and my faith. It often drives people here a little bit crazy. But I realized that things can work, especially when you have a dedication to something, and you’re driven by your heart and your compassion for something

David told us that CAI would never be something big like Mercy Corps. (CAI, I can just hear the conspiracy theorists...) That is probably for the best. What makes CAI work are hands-on partnerships that Greg creates with the people he helps. David said it is an example of the kinds of organizations we need to cultivate peace. Still, compared to Saudi oil money (that funds the Taliban madrassas), it is a drop in the bucket.

Greg Mortenson said in Parade, "If we try to resolve terrorism with military might and nothing else, then we will be no safer than we were before 9/11. If we truly want a legacy of peace for our children, we need to understand that this is a war that will ultimately be won with books, not with bombs."

How many times do we have to say that? We pacifists have been saying that all along. Why then do they keep dropping bombs? There is an amusing (now) incident in the book where Greg is interrogated by US investigators who obviously have little clue about the Pakistani and Afghani people they want to know about. They asked Greg if he'd ever met Osama.

David began his talk by telling us that he'd been to all kinds of groups in the previous several months. No matter the group, everybody is fed up with the war in Iraq and the "war on terror." He said, "The enemy is not Osama, Sadaam, the enemy is ignorance. We're going after the wrong enemy." He said we need to turn our attention to the root causes of terrorism, poverty and the need for education. He told us one of the things we could do to counter our own ignorance is to "try to remain sensitive to the phrase over there." So much of what passes for news encompasses anything in the Middle East as "over there." Any bad thing is "over there."

To one book group member's wish that we would address our own poverty here in the US rather than meddle in other countries' affairs, David countered that he's done work on child poverty here in the US. The poorest area in the US, Star County, Texas, is rich compared to these poor mountain villages in Pakistan and Afghanistan. (That just brings us back around to how simple, and cheap, it would be to stop war and foster peace.)

David clarified an important piece about Afghani politics for us. The Taliban are thugs and gangsters who want payback. (Want another example of that? Read The Kite Runner.) You want to do business, you pay your dues. They don't really care whether girls are learning. This surfaced in the book about one of the fatwas put on Greg's head: the local gangster just wanted some kickback.

David kept himself out of the book as the author, it was all about Greg Mortenson. In the beginning, he does chronicle his first hairy helicopter ride piloted by Brigadier General Bhangoo, who had been Pakistan President Musharraf's personal pilot. He told us that sadly, General Bhangoo had died in a plane crash several months before this October talk. The man was flying an ultralight around K2, intending to fly it around the world.

Other tidbits: David's main translator was Ghulam Parvi, one of Greg Mortenson's main supporters and important local staff of CAI. He said he is a "personal repository of Balti culture." Freaky moment: ibex head in the helicoptor. If I remember right, it was someone's illicit dinner. Ibex are protected, but, um, General Bhangoo has his connections. David showed us some of his photos from the book, and some extras. One he particularly felt needed to be remembered, a photo of the fateful bridge that Greg Mortenson missed when he found the village of Korphe.

The teachers in the schools are graduates of the schools. They have an equivalent of a 5th or 6th grade education, but that is what the villages need, along with basic hygiene and health knowledge. The teachers then get teacher training workshops during the summers. The earthquake zones "are still a nightmare." CAI dropped tents at the sites of the schools that crumbled. If someone wishes to sponsor one school, David told us, CAI asks for $50,000. That's $25,000 to build it, and $25,000 to keep it running and in supplies for a decade.

David began each chapter with a quote. I especially liked this one, and thought it summed up the wise simplicity of the people that Mortenson grew to love:

No human, nor any living thing, survives long under the eternal sky. The most beautiful women, the most learned men, even Mohammed, who heard Allah's own voice, all did wither and die. All is temporary. The sky outlives everything. Even suffering. ~Bowa Johar, Balti poet, and grandfather of Mauzafer Ali.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Movies Seen

Mansfield Park (BBC) (1983 miniseries)
This is BBC. So the sound quality isn't that great. So there aren't dramatic Hollywood plot points. The actors can really act, and the writing of Jane Austen is allowed to shine since the story doesn't have to fit in an hour and a half. Normally I would be frustrated with the very prescribed motions of the society this poor girl, Fanny Price, must navigate. But Fanny made it work for her, and the story was really about the expression of love within this structure. Fanny inspires love because she makes herself so indispensable to the ones she loves. I felt so light-hearted and happy after watching this, Steve said I should watch more things like this.

The L Word Season 4
This series is addictive, what can I say? Lesbian drama. The twink-girl slut of the first season is now the responsible older sister doing mom-like things. Not quite as many sexy scenes, but they're still there. A cute chica named Papi with old-fashioned Latino charm has taken her place as the largest hub on the chart.

Tivo suggested the second (see below) so I got the first from the library. Very dark and blue and gothic. Vampires and lycans came from two ancestors originally infected a long time before. They've been at war for centuries, and plots and betrayals could mean the end of the vampires. This would be another one of those gaming-influenced movies, a lot of rapid-fire gunning, endless enemies and copious mowing down of bodies.

Underworld: Evolution
A continuation of the story, in which the human Michael, now lycan, and the vampire lycan-hunter Selene seek to find their origins and prevent the uber-vampire from awakening his more deadly brother who is the original Lycan. Michael is very special, descended from both branches of the werewolves and vampires.

Interesting crossover: the actress who plays a vampire that helps Selene in Underworld is the actress who plays the human love interest and crime-solving reporter in a new vampire show, Moonlight. I've been watching that too, not bad, pretty people, but as far as pretty people solving mysteries, nothing so exciting as Veronica Mars. (Just watched the final season on DVD.) There too is another degree of crossover. The simmering bad boy vampire friend of the good guy vampire in Moonlight is portrayed by Jason Dohring, the simmeringly compelling bad-boy boyfriend of Veronica Mars. I keep waiting for Moonlight to give his role a bigger, more edgy piece of the plot.

Dark Angel "They designed her to be a perfect soldier. A human weapon. Then she escaped. ...she must fight to discover her destiny."
Tivo recommended this from SiTv. It was playing every day, but only lasted two seasons, so I'm already done. Too bad, it was a neat sci-fi plot just beginning to hit its stride. Genetically engineered kids broke out of a secret military project and years later are finding their way in an economically crumpled Seattle. In the second season, a cabal of other naturally-born uber-humans begin to emerge as the bad guys.

Splash updated for Generation Y. Or would that be Z? Anyway, mermaid story for teen girls. Steve actually watched this with me rather than move to another room. I guess he wanted to encourage me to watch light-hearted fluff rather than those bloody murder movies. It was nice (hearing Meg Ryan in my head saying that).

Librarian: Return to King Solomon's Mines
I was excited about this, another made-for-TV movie about The Librarian. The first one was campy B-movie fun, with a geeky Indiana Jones type saving the world through archival librarianship. This one was calling it in, filling in the blank with the required plot points and action gags. There could have been some simmer with the geeky archaeologist who could be a cheeky love interest (cute how they sparred over how many PhDs they had) but it was just a piece of the plot, thrown in for a little spark.

Sweet Charity
The best part was Sammy Davis Jr. Ah, to have seen him in concert. Steve was that lucky.

I liked this as a musical well enough. There was something familiar about Sammy's piece, Rhythm of Life. A few days later it came to me, the repeating tune comes up in one of my favorites, The Nightmare Before Christmas, in Kidnap the Sandy Claws, I believe.

You know, this gets me, the whole suing over stolen musical riffs. There's been a long tradition of piggy-backing and invocation of influences in music. It's wildly rampant in musicals, even a bit required. So why do artists get sued over the use of another artist's tune? Art influences and builds upon itself, no individual creates in a vacuum.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Books Read

I'm just about caught up with reviewing the books I've read for the past couple of months. Coming soon, the two from my book group that I want to spend more time on. One included an author visit. I took notes.

I plan to keep adding more to my goodreads, at times even adding some I read way back, as well as some I've already kept track of here.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
I'm inspired to read Sherman Alexie's other books. This is his first book for teens. It's gotta be tough straddling two worlds. Rather than blaming all on racism, you get a glimpse of the difference in rules that teens live by that the 'part-time Indian' must navigate.
This is fiction, but fairly autobiographical. I couldn't say it better than Sherman Alexie himself, see this video.

Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale
I love a good fairy tale, and this was one was based on one I do not remember encountering before, Maid Maleen. A princess is locked up in a tower for seven years because she won't marry the king that her father chose for her. She says she loves another. At least she has her maid. The author encountered the tale while seeking inspiration for another book, and found herself asking questions about the maid. "What did she do to deserve such punishment? How did she feel about being locked away?" Ms. Hale was frustrated, so she wrote the story herself, about the maid. We also get to find out why the princess was so adamant about refusing to marry that other king. As the title reveals, they don't spend seven years in the tower in this tale. An interesting side note, while the author made this all about the maid, there are other similar fairy tales that really do have the maid taking center stage.

Poltergeist (Greywalker Book 2) by Kat Richardson
I liked the world created in the first book, the Grey intersection between the regular world and the world of magic and spirits and beastly creatures, but I thought the style could get better. I decided to check out the second to see if the author improves. Not really. She relies on our previous introduction to the Grey to give us a fairly standard poltergeist mystery. I think I'll catch up on Anita Blake instead.

Tale of Despereaux (audio) by Kate DiCamillo
I save my audio books for walking. We've had some windy rainy weather here in the Pacific Northwest, and while it wasn't quite so bad here in Portland, in other parts of the state tens of thousands of people were without power for for several days, and floods made rivers out of streets and basements. I liked this book, but it wasn't quite compelling enough for me to brave the rainy sidewalks or finally join the old-school gym a block away. I imagine it might be more compelling for the readers of intended age.

The reader is talented, takes on different voices for the different characters. As narrator, he addresses the reader, or in this case, listener, directly. This mouse, Despereaux, prefers to read books in the library rather than eat them, like other mice. He also gets unusual ideas for a mouse from a book he loves that begins, "Once upon a time..." Since he lives in a king's castle, he doesn't have to go far to find a princess, and a quest just like a knight.

The Obesity Myth by Paul Campos
The western world and the United States especially is insanely preoccupied with dieting. Normal weights of normal people are considered overweight. People believe being "overweight" will cause them to die young. Some doctors still believe this. People undergo life-threatening surgeries that induce starvation diets so that they will lose weight. The multi-billion dollar dieting industry continues to sell its message even while more people catch on that diets don't work. Like Eric Oliver with Fat Politics, Paul Campos began his research believing the obesity myth and he just wanted to get to the bottom of it. What he found instead were fictions and obsessions. I'm sure I will write more about this. Meanwhile, some of the myths can be explored here. I'm considering buying this book for people I know who still waste time and self-esteem worrying about their weight.

Searoad by Ursula LeGuin
My favorite author only gets better with age. Her usual sci-fi genre is only hinted at in this more literary work, with one character escaping into the fantasy of an other-worldly hero that needs her help. Each chapter could be read separately as a short story, in fact I read the one about the librarian's affair with the bookseller in a collection of stories about libraries. Each story focusing on a character weaves the history of a town on the coast, a story of women embodied in metaphor. The foam women "lie at the longest reach of the waves, rounded and curded, shaking and trembling, shivering hips and quivering buttocks, torn by the stiff, piercing wind, dispersed to nothing, gone." The rain women "are tall presences of water and light walking the long sands against the darkness of the forest." A person can rest a while, watch the tides, observe the town through the lives of these women. Save time for musing, Ursula is worth it.

I Sold My Soul On Ebay by Hemant Mehta
At first he resisted the moniker, but as the media that picked up his story wouldn't let it go, Hemant finally embraced being known as the guy who sold his soul on ebay. While in college, he helped the University of Illinois in Chicago establish its first secular student group, Students WithOut Religious Dogma. As part of his effort to establish respectful dialog with religious people, he sold his time to attend worship service to the highest bidder on ebay. For every $10, he would spend an hour in a church. His time sold for $504. The winner sent him to several churches in several states, and what came out of a was a critique for Christians on how approachable their churches are. I personally would not like the churches he liked for the reasons that he did (entertainment?), but I thought his friendliness quite admirable. This guy is worth watching as a spokesperson for us non-god types.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Books Read

Sutras of Abu Ghraib by Aidan Delgado
I met Aidan in 2005 when he was giving a lot of talks on why he was a Conscientious Objector. He must have been working on this book at the time. He was struggling with a new-Buddhist dilemma that he wasn't doing as much meditation. After reading this book, I could see how that could be a struggle. His Buddhist practice, which included study and meditation, were what kept him sane in the insane world of occupied Iraq.

It was clear then when he said the lack of armor was not as scary as the pain in his heart over carrying a gun. He felt such relief when he put that gun down, the tough time he got from the other soldiers were as nothing compared to it.

It was clear now when I read the book and got more details of how he expressed his misgivings.

Aidan's book is not so much a war memoir as it is an introspection. It is exactly the sort of introspection that underlines the fact that a spiritually-minded person must separate himself and his spirituality from the deeds he is required to do in war. If you truly deeply in your heart believe it is wrong to kill, then if you are a soldier you must do something to reconcile yourself. The war machine encourages this. You must make the enemy less than human. You must absolve yourself from responsibility by telling yourself you are following orders. You cannot look deeply at how it makes you feel to hurt another, in fact you must learn to like hurting another.

This causes post traumatic stress disorder in soldiers, but is hardly acknowledged to do so. Aidan could no longer separate himself, with his earnest beginner's mind caught up in the Buddhist way. Oh, and there are people who are soldiers because they want to hurt people. Aidan witnessed plenty of those.

And then they come home. (That is not part of the book, but is something to think about.)

The Golden Compass (audio)
I read this book around the year 2000. I read all three of the trilogy in about a week...they are that brand of fiction that is like a drug you can't say no to. You can't put them down, you read until it is gone, and then you wonder why you can't stay in that world.

This time around I listened to it. The readers are more like actors giving voice to the characters. Listening forces a person to slow down, absorb the details, and I love the details. The only chalkboard screech: when I read it, my inner voice read "daemon" as sounding like "die-mon" (like the Greek would be) whereas the British pronunciation is "dee-mun." That gives you a completely different feel to what daemons are, and to me they are more like the Greeks intended: a spirit personification of a person's inner self.
On the other hand, while I did chuckle over the turning of Christianity on its head, I didn't really feel it was all that subversive until I got to the third book. (It builds.) I didn't know the author really was anti-Christian. Now, with the movie out, more people are aware of this and making sure readers are I did pick up on more of those details, and which makes me think the author did intend the devilish pronunciation.

One Dark Body by Charlotte Watson Sherman
The spiritual holds as much shape as the physical in this book. Raisin is born wrinkled due to her mother's failed abortion. Her mother left her to be raised by a foster-mother. When her mother comes back to Pearl, Washington, Raisin wants nothing to do with her. Other-worldly spirits have as much to say about it as the living people. Mystical and poetic, this follows in footsteps of Zora Neale Hurston.

Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer
The scientists know that a giant meteor is going to hit the moon. The media is celebrating it. Kids are given assignments to write about it. What they don't expect is that it will knock the moon closer to the earth. The first indication that all will not be as it once was, crazy thunderstorms. Then tsunamis. Miranda writes all about it in her diary, just a teen who loves ice skating and sports. Cities are lost,volcanoes come awake, the earth shakes, people starve, but because this is a teen novel, I'm fairly sure Miranda is going to make it through.

The author gets a few digs in at the Bush administration (unnamed) and apocalyptic ministers. I thought the implications that this sporty girl was more likely to survive because she continued to exercise while she was starving was a bit off. Some of it seemed to be a lesson on how to survive such a worldwide calamity, which I find fun.

Circle of Magic Quartet by Tamora Pierce (audio)

Sandry's Book
I like the way this series relies on all four characters to save the day with their special magic, but each book in the quartet especially needs one of the children to rally her magic. In this the first, Sandry's natural ability to weave both relationships and magic is the key to a good ending.

Tris's Book
Tris is the first to see magic with the help of a spell by her teacher, but the other children soon pick it up from her. This happens between the four of them: they are indelibly linked through their magic. Tris must learn to guide her weather magic so they can all defeat the pirates.

Daja's Book
Each of these books has a pattern. The natural talent of the child-mage experiences a growth spurt through accident or instinctive need, and then the child-mage must learn to nurture and channel that newly-found ability to save the day, with the help of the complete circle. Daja's talent experiences this growth spurt when she gets it mixed up with Briar's green magic, and she grows a metal tree.

This magic metal tree is so valuable the traders that want it must barter directly with her, even though they have done their trader version of ex-communicating her as bad luck. It's a great lesson in creating a place in the world on your own terms. Tamora Pierce is great for that for girls.

Briar's Book
Briar's magic comes from plants, and by this the 4th book, how he draws upon it is well established. Now he can read, and must learn to channel his magic more methodically. How is a plague dealt with in a world with magic? Magic helps provide a few extra layers of protection and remedies.

Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke, audio read by Brendan Fraser
I was hardly aware this was a translation as I began listening to this engaging book. A good bit of the magic came from the reader, Brendan Fraser. I'd put it on my ipod, and at first I wondered who could be that talented, sexy, multi-voiced reader? He changes accents on a dime, from a Scottish brogue to Texan drawl, squeezing out the accentless Hollywood narrator voice all in the same breath.

A dragon, a brownie, and a boy set out on a quest to find the home of the silver dragons. They are helped on this journey by rats, an English scholar of fantastic creatures, and a djinni, among others. They must contend with an ancient nemesis, details of its dangers lost in the ages, and its spy right in their own backpack.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Chris Matthews on the Daily Show

The writers' strike has given us all a vacation from new Daily Shows and Colbert Reports. (you don't pronounce the S at the end of that, do you?) That is how I usually get my news. While I'm sure something terrible is happening that I'm missing because of this, it does leave me with an hour less of TV per day. Unless I missed it the first time around.

I missed this one that aired October 2nd, an interview with Hardball's Chris Matthews. It's worth a second view. Jon Stewart tells Chris that his philosophy of life is sad. What is incredibly surreal? Chris is shocked that Jon would actually say that. In Matthews' new book he tells us we would do well to live life like politicians. It will help us get ahead in life. And yes, he means by using duplicity and the narcissistic charms of disingenuousness. And he's shocked that Jon finds that incredibly sad. I love Jon Stewart.

I wasn't the only one who found this noteworthy. So did the Huffington Post. The Post is slightly kinder to Matthews than Stewart. Not so at Raw Story.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Mipham - What About Me

Did you like the item I posted that I wrote almost two years ago? I wanted to give some context to this video. Talented Rinpoche.

The Spiritual Director of Shambhala

I wrote this early in 2006 for the NW Dharma News. One of the perks of a volunteer writing gig, you get invited to attend own small version of a press pass. It was interesting to me that this teacher attracted quite an audience. Something about Tibetan teachers seems to attract an automatic celebrity status among certain Americans.

Sakyong Rinpoche

The head of the Shambhala lineage and spiritual director of Shambhala, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, visited Portland in January to give a public talk and book signing for his latest book, "Ruling Your World, Ancient Strategies for Modern Life."

Born in 1962 in Bodhagaya, India, he spent his early years with his mother in a Tibetan refugee village. Later he joined his father, Chogyam Trungpa, in the West. The Rinpoche holds the Mukpo family lineage, descending from the Tibetan warrior-king Gesar of Ling. He holds the Kagyü and Nyingma lineages of Tibetan Buddhism, is the incarnation of Mipham the Great, who is revered in Tibet as an emanation of Manjushri, the bodhisattva of wisdom, and he is also the lineage holder of Naropa University.

In 2001, Sakyong Mipham visited Tibet for the first time. Huge audiences gathered to hear his teachings and receive his blessings. Through the Kunchok Foundation, he is now gathering support for Tibetan schools and orphanages.

With roots in the East and the West, Sakyong Mipham is an artist and poet as well as Buddhist leader and teacher, and he enjoys golf, running and horseback riding. The inspiration for his newest book, "Ruling Your World" are the ancient Buddhist teachings, but he joked, "I've been told 'ruling your world' doesn't sound very Buddhist." He emphasized that "everyone can have wisdom, compassion, loving-kindness…these are innate parts of our being. Life is a process of actually bringing that out," but we don't have to leave the world, become monastics, to do so.

Sakyong referred to the dark times we live in, where aggression is considered the only way to respond to certain world events, where the suggested response of compassion is treated dismissively as naïve, even though we all know and instinctively understand this law, as Sakyong said, "Karmically speaking, once you use aggression, only painful things will come about. Pain for the other person and pain for oneself."

Sakyong's message was that there is a way for each of us to rule our world. "This inherent mind that we have is the wish-fulfilling jewel. …The jewel resides in the heart." One of his teachers, "literally the wise old man on top of the mountain," said "You can solve all things with gentleness." Later he said, "If we begin to see the pattern of our lives, our mind is very powerful. If we want to change things in our lives, we have to act. We have to engage. Particularly we have to engage with our intention of mind to mindfulness and awareness."

"Really true genuine happiness in the sense of a fulfilled life actually depends on an attitude of caring for others. Uplifting others. Altruism in this particular way. It's not that we stop caring about ourselves, but when we hold our mind and we think just about ourselves, then the mind becomes very small. …When I meet great teachers, the sense of their open-mindedness and compassion is very impacting. …Everyone has these qualities; the process is that we have to bring them out."

When it is put so simply, it is hard to understand why we collectively continue to spin around the wheels of greed, anger, and delusion. Sakyong said, "If we become self-absorbed, we become tired so easily. But as soon as we have the intention of helping others, the potency and the power comes."

I guess I would ask, how do we respond to the disdain inherent in dark times, as that disdain seems to keep people from noticing and appreciating this experience of small self versus big self. Perhaps Sakyong's answer is his oft-repeated message that we don't have to become monastics to do so. We each have to create the change, and urge the change in those who represent us. Peace of mind, and peace between each of us is not just for the "wise old man on the mountain."

Movies Seen

This is the kind of movie that I think of as a video game plot. Set in a flashy futuristic world, hot chick in latex must retrieve a certain thing and kill her way through all who would stop her. She seems to have many lives, and special drugs or gadgets that seem to give her special powers. Bad but compelling enough to keep watching.

Pursuit of Happyness
Based on the true story of a man who always knew he would never live his child without a father, unlike his own father. His struggles to earn enough money selling a piece of medical equipment that hardly any doctor wants, and his wife leaves him. He insists he keeps his son. Through persistence, charm, and intelligence he gets into a finance internship, and before it is done (without a guarantee of a job) he and his son are homeless.

I really liked this movie, love Will Smith, but did there have to be so much running?

Clerks II
I barely remember seeing Clerks. I remember the dialog was a bit tedious at times. I wasn't sure I would like the sequel, but it was good enough. No longer tedious. I was delighted to see supporting actors from my favorite sitcom, Earl and Randy.

The book was written by a teenager, and is very popular among the fantasy-loving set. While I am in that set, I've had my doubts because it was written by a teenager...not to mention that fact that I don't want to look too hard at the success of a teenage writer over my inability as of yet to finish a book.

Is it bad of me to be glad that the movie was horrible? The plot is one you could expect of an untried person, lacking the complexity I enjoy from an older writer. The screenwriter couldn't save it.

Oh yeah, it's about a young man who saves an egg, nurtures the dragon, and together with their special link as rider and dragon they save the day. Tivo recommended it.

Reign of Fire Recommended by Tivo after Eragon. Lately dragons in movies are the good guys, but not in this one. An ancient nest in London is disturbed and they start breeding, and lay waste around the world. People are reduced to defensive fortresses. Attempts to grow food are quickly incinerated by the dragons. A fortress outside of London is visited by the Americans, strangers almost as feared, but the Americans have a strategy that works to kill the dragons, and the two groups make plans to kill the stallion of the dragon herd. Scary with a bit of a Mad Max feel, good that way.

Post Impact
The Tivo has learned well our predilection for scifi and apocolyptic movies, but has yet to learn discernment. This movie makes Hollywood standard look like fine art. A giant meteor hits the earth, that was just the prologue. The intrigue comes 3 years later, or is it 5, when a microwave weapon satellite is re-activated and in the hands of some unknown hostile. The controls are in Berlin, the heart of the nuclear winter. The day is saved several times by the dog and the child. I suppose this is the German version of a B movie, beyond bad.

The pattern of the Tivo begins to emerge.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Behind the Scenes

While it seems I've been laying low, I have been busy doing stuff in support of Buddhism, and busy procrastinating from doing that stuff with many hours of tivo. (Tivo is going crazy with all sorts of suggestions since Steve upgraded our box.)

Most noteworthy, I'm working to enable the development of a Buddhist support network for ex-prisoners. My sangha, Dharma Rain, wants to have this happen as a natural outflow of its fifteen year involvement inside the prisons. My BPF chapter wants to help this happen as a piece of its effort to increase cross-sangha engaged practices. I want to see this happen as something that could be the seed of my community organizing idea. There wasn't much enthusiasm for the idea of a challenge, but this beginning could allow for an organic process that builds into an Engaged Buddhist Consortium, or Collaboration, or something like that.

I've also arranged the next BPF meeting. We're going to do our one "business" meeting of the year (at least it seems to have become that) in which we reflect on how we do things and how that's working for us.

I also finished my articles for the NW Dharma News. It is now an online newsletter, no longer printed. You can check out the last one here. I will only have two little news stories in the next one, including one on the collaborative effort for ex-prisoners. (The stories that I'm involved with are the most difficult to write.) While this issue is freely available, the next one will supposedly be available only for members. I'm not sure how well that will work out for the NW Dharma Association. I think it should be free to all, and people will reward the Association by becoming members. I think if the Newsletter is openly available on the web, people will find it via Google searches for specific local Buddhist news. If the access is password protected, how will strangers find it?

I keep advocating, and things are still in flux. They just launched the rest of the website redo. It could still happen.

On other fronts, I'm a terrible housekeeper. Non-perishable groceries still sit on the kitchen table, waiting to be put away. I'll spare you the rest of the kitchen details.

But I've also been reading a lot. I joined GoodReads, recommended by mmkeekah. I've listed books there, but have yet to write the reviews. As the backlog piles up, I find yet more reasons to procrastinate.

my 'recently-read' shelf:

Monday, November 05, 2007

Fall Colors

I found this neat slideshow via For more of my fall colors photos visit my flickr page.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Neahkanie and Nehalem Bay

I really quite enjoyed our vacation along the coast last month, but something I missed was the leisure time to walk on the beach. By some dumb stroke of luck somebody cancelled and I won the drawing for two nights at the library cottage. During the three days/two nights there, I got the chance to walk on the beach four times. I've been fortunate to visit here about once a year since Steve and I started going.

There's always something different about the beach. This time there was a giant tangle of seaweed. These things are about 30 feet long.


Somebody left an art installation on the beach:

hide arranged on driftwood

I like to visit these rocks during low tide. Once upon a time there were at least three, and this the tallest was 4 to 5 feet above the sand, the size of an easy chair. I'm not sure if people truck in sand to replace sand lost to the ocean, or if the ocean shifts sand back to the shore. During high water, the rocks would be submerged. I wonder if I will find them at all on my next visit.

I also enjoy observing the gulls as they drink the fresh water from the creeks emptying into the ocean.

I was particularly drawn to the rocks. Perhaps I developed an affinity after the Shasta Caverns. I was climbing about on the rocks on the north end of Neahkanie beach when the low water tide turned around to seek high water. Whoops, almost got wet.
The sunsets were glorious.

setting sun Neahkanie beach

Steve had the neat idea to take photos of details of the cottage that he likes to remember.

Steve's little things about the cottage old wood windowsill
I decided to steal his idea and take a few more of my own.

little things about the cottage little things about the cottage

On Thursday, our full day there, we visited the Cart'm recycling center

Cart'm recycling center thrift store garden bed

and the Nehalem Bay State Park, Steve's good idea.
Nehalem Bay

We saw a total of eight deer.

doe near cart'm stag in dunes

nehalam bay state park beach north view
For the slideshow of all the photos, go here. There are many more favorite things, and more visions from the beach and state park. Turn the titles on if you want to see more explanation, off if you just want to see the many photos.
neahkanie mountain rock beach

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Coast Vacation 5: Shasta Caverns

Since we couldn't go to Crater Lake due to snow, we decided to give the Shasta Caverns a try. Whenever we stopped somewhere, whether a tourist spot, restaurant, or hotel, Steve would peruse the sightseeing brochures. I usually would forget about those. That's how we found out about the Caverns. Funny thing then, looking at the website and in the brochure, I couldn't find out how many steps were involved. Could we handle that many steps? I called to find out. Funny thing now, I can't remember how many steps there were exactly. 460 some odd steps. I said to Steve I didn't think we were up for it. I can walk here there and everywhere, but going up that many stairs? Both of us have been living with fall allergies, and my asthma would easily be triggered. He disagreed. He thought we could do it. We decided if we made it there in time for the noon tour, we would go for it. That meant getting checked out, finding breakfast, and driving for about a half hour by noon.

We got there just in time. I figured, if anything the little boat trip across the lake would be nice, and I was supposing there could be a way to turn back if needed. After the boat, there was a winding bus trip up the mountain. The view up there:

Lake Shasta, large marina

We learned a few things on the way. That marina off to the right is the second largest on the lake. The I-5 bridge that crossed over the lake is 300 feet tall, but most of that is underwater. It was built on top of the bridge already there before the lake was created.

I-5 bridge over Lake Shasta

Julie, our tour guide through the caverns, informed us there were two rules. Do not touch the rock, and no food or drink allowed, except water. The rock is living rock, formed by water and minerals passing over it. If we touched it, the oil from our hands would create a seal and the rock would die in that spot.
She told us all about the different formations, many more than the familiar stalactites and stalagmites. There is peanut brittle, a rock formation found on a cave floor that looks like its namesake. It is formed when water sticks around a while, so rock forms on the surface, kind of like ice. When the water recedes, the rock settles and breaks. There are soda straws, hollow and the width of a drop of water, hanging from the ceiling. There are helictites, which go every which way. When stalactites fill in next to each other they become draperies. Draperies become flowstone. The caverns website has more description in a handout for teachers here.
These draperies sparkled.
drapery cave formation
As it turned out we didn't do too badly. There were a few other people for whom the many stairs were at least as difficult as for me. The first big flight was 50 steps, and the longest 80 steps. After the 50 we were given the option of taking the shortcut back down and waiting for the group. No one took it, not even the lady with a cane who had braces of some type, or perhaps even prosthetic feet. We all wanted to see all the caves. It helped that I used my inhaler as a precaution.
The original explorers did touch the rock. It was tradition back then. They used carbon from their lamps and left their initials with their fingers.
129 year old grafitti
That's Nobember 11, 1878.
I was very happy we did it, nonetheless, I saw this with relief and a feeling of accomplishment.
exiting the cavern
Lake Shasta was particularly low. The tour company had created a road that led at least a quarter mile into the lake bed from the original shoreline. They took us down to the boat in a shuttle.
low water low water
After the caverns it was time to go home. We were ready, even if it meant an 8 hour drive.
Along the way I would snap pictures from the car. At first Steve thought that was pointless, that I couldn't get any good photos from a moving vehicle. I told him sometimes I was surprised. Sometimes it allowed me to see something my eyes didn't catch. Ah, the advantages of the digital age. If you snap enough times, something works out just right. There were a couple things I saw but did not capture that I especially liked. A couple of cow sculptures, made from scrap metal, and a dragon, also from metal, perhaps at the other end of the same ranch. Steve saw the dragon and pointed for me. At the time I was listening to Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke and marveling at the sexy voice, wondering who that was who could jump from southern to western to english to scottish accents in a breath. While the metal dragon in the book was bad and the silver dragon good, I feel sure that this metal dragon is good. More on that later. Oh wait, here are the cows. And that gave me the clue on finding the dragon. Here it is.
One thing I noticed about snapping pictures, the mountains seem to stand still while the foreground constantly changes.
view from I-5 view from I-5
If you have doubts about the walking of mountains it means you do not yet know the walking of your own self. It is not that your self does not walk, but that you do not yet know, have not made clear its walking. And those who would know their own walking must also know the walking of the blue mountains. ~Dogen, Mountains and Rivers Sutra
See the full slideshow here.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Coast Vacation 4: Avenue of the Giants

That night we spent the evening in Eureka. Oh, wait, how could I not mention the Sky Trail at the last stop? I thought I'd be OK, but once I got in that bucket held by a wire, I got a little scared. Steve said, "Why'd you wait till now to say something?" He wasn't too thrilled himself about it. My photo taking in the little tram made him nervous. Me too, to tell the truth. Once at the top, the view was worth it.

The best views we had from our hotel were in Bandon, and here.

We also had our best meal in Eureka. A gritty-quick google search unearthed Avalon. Their website doesn't even list a closing time; I wasn't sure we could get in. I called, got an enthusiastic yes. We shared a specialty appetizer pizza with local gourmet cheeses and I had roasted vegetables and mushrooms fresh from the farmer's market. There were homemade beet chips. Step aside, Terra Chips. Steve enjoyed his steak with potatoes. We shared a bottle of wine, I drank most of it as it went down so easy, a fine pinot noir from Merry Edwards. Because I was feeling it, I joked to the waiter that it was going down like juice. Steve was embarrassed at my gauche comment, but when the waiter came back he told us about wineries selling specialty juices. See, I wasn't feeling it that much...I still remember that after a month. I opined to Steve that a vacation had to have at least one exceptional dining experience, and then realized how lucky I am that I can have that. Oh, and the creme brulee. Oh wow. The candied sugar crust on top was over an eighth of an inch thick, and the creme unlike any I'd had before. (For those readers that can't afford the fine restaurants, just go for the dessert. Go for the creme brulee.)

We noticed at least two small buildings in Eureka with this style of architecture.

Eureka coffee house

This place roasted their own coffee, and it was good. (Steve had the coffee, I had the chai.) From the free postcard I learned this is an award winning building designed by Joel Miroclio.

OK, on to more redwoods.

We already had the brochure for Avenue of the Giants, but of course we stopped to see the sign at the beginning.

Entering the Avenue of the Giants

We had several stops on this 30 mile stretch of road. First, the Immortal Tree. She survived lightning, loggers, forest fire, flood, and tourists. I have noticed when hugging or touching such trees among trees, they have different feels to them. After all she'd been through she is still friendly. She is stronger than us mere quick-living humans. Maybe it's all in my head, but the baby tree in front of her had a lighter quicker energy.

Immortal Tree

When we first got to the redwoods the day before, I hugged a tree at the trail's beginning fork. The energy felt prickly to me, grumpy, I thought maybe too many people still buzzing with human world sparks came along and disturbed her. Later along that same trail, another tree felt more comforting and welcoming. I think that was the one where Steve took the photo of me.

When I hug a tree, it takes me several moments to get into their space rather than my flitty quick moving (compared to them) energy. I feel my thoughts slow down, I think of the time they've lived through, and slow myself down accordingly. Sometimes I can't. Sometimes, especially when I first start doing this, I can't find my breath. The tree's space and time is too breathtaking. If I allow myself some time to embrace the bigness, I get a better feeling for the majesty coursing through this great living being's cells.

Since this vacation, I've been pausing to connect more often to certain trees while I'm walking in the neighborhood.

The next stop, or rather a pause, a rolling stop, the Drive Thru Tree. Actually this was the second one we drove through, but the first photo to turn out.

Shrine Drive-thru tree

Finally, the One Log House:

inside one log house

After the Avenue, we drove back on Hwy 101 to Eureka, and from there over to Redding. No view from the hotel, just a place to sleep. The beds were the best, Red Lion. The road through Six Rivers National Forest was as winding as a passenger could wish for, and a driver would not.

Six Rivers National Forest

See the full slideshow here.

One more day before our fabulous coast tour was over.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Coast Vacation 3: Trees of Mystery

Steve saw the redwoods years ago with his first wife. They went camping. He knew that our first stop should be the National Park Service in Crescent City. This was Wednesday, October 3rd, and on that Friday we planned to drive to Crater Lake. The forest ranger told us the Crater Lake rim drive was closed due to snow. Uh-oh. Steve knew of a trail through a grove of trees that led to a river. The park ranger told us how to get to Stout Grove. This was an amazing first view of the redwoods for me.

redwood first view

When I began seeing trees growing on trees, it finally sunk in that I was seeing trees unlike any I'd seen before.

mama holding baby redwood

See the Stout Grove slideshow here.

Some years back we spent a weekend on the Washington coast, and went to the Hoh Rain Forest. I learned then (that carefree weekend before 9/11/01) that those old growth trees have a life and afterlife of thousands of years. After they fall, baby trees and other plants grow on the tree's carcass. The roots grow down around the trunk and reach into the ground. The mother tree eventually decomposes completely, and often there will be a line of full-grown trees along the line of her trunk, a cozy hollow tree-root cave under each of their trunks.

We saw something similar with the redwoods; many plants and baby trees grew on or alongside the fallen trunks. I noticed though that there were no root caves. Instead, smaller trees grew right next to living trees, on living trees, alongside dead trunks. I wondered about their roots, how deep they went. Later on during our trip, I learned that redwoods indeed have a short tap root. They reach for the sun, so a tree could grow from a burl straight out from another tree's trunk, and then curve upward to reach toward the sunlight. The tree growing on tree seemed to have no roots at all.

From the Stout Grove we drove to Trees of Mystery.
The candelabra tree is an amazing example of baby trees growing on another living tree. We saw other examples like this, but none with the audio tours at Trees of Mystery that sounded like old elementary school teaching films.
Candelabra tree
The light in the forest was too dim for my photo of the Cathedral Tree. That was a popular spot for people to get married, the Brotherhood Tree had some little wooden mementos as well.

Brotherhood Tree

Considering we so often saw baby trees growing next to old trees, I don't think the Cathedral Tree is all that mysterious. At some point there was an old tree with baby trees growing around it. Eventually the old tree died and decayed, and the rim of small trees was left. Or so it seems to me, I could be wrong.

Here's the smaller baby cathedral:

baby cathedral tree

You can see the full slideshow here. Included is a gallery of Bunyan legend carvings, and if we pushed the button on the sound boxes, we heard the tales of Paul Bunyan and his logging adventures.

The one I remembered from my childhood grade school reading was not mentioned. One time Paul Bunyan had a real hankering for some flapjacks, but how could they fry them? Somehow he had a giant frying pan. All the little people strapped slabs of lard under their feet, and they skated around the fry pan so Paul Bunyan could have his flapjacks.

Steve wanted some of Sourdough Sam's soup.

They had a great map at Trees of Mystery. Steve was disturbed, and so was I, that this original piece of art wasn't more protected. The owners don't seem to know what they have.

Slideshow of the map here. Steve took most of the map photos. A detail below:
bear near Seattle