Adventures and Ramblings:
Here and Now the month is February and the year is 2013.
So much has happened, yet as a dear friend said, “at least I’m on the sunny side of the daisies”.
Details of my personal life are irrelevant, other than to point out that drastic changes have resulted in much soul-searching and enlightenment-seeking.
Many years ago, a back injury laid me low for about a month. During that time, many well-meaning locals offered tips on which doctor/practitioner/shaman/guru I should seek help from. In the end, time and the skilled hands of a traditional chiropractor got me back on my feet and functional, but in the process I was exposed to an astounding variety of traditional and “alternative” means of dealing with back pain. From the “foo” on the left to pharmaceuticals from the right, the range of differing opinions had a very large range.
But that experience was nothing to the deluge of support from locals currently. Word of my trauma and drama spread among island associates and soon a plethora of self-help books arrived. A sincere thanks goes to all the well wishers, this support was instrumental in recovery, so far.
Two stand out from the others: “The Art of Happiness, a Handbook for the Living” by the Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler, and “Gates to Buddhist Practice” by Chagdud Tulku.
The Dalai Lama instructed that kindness, empathy and compassion are the keys to inner happiness. Showing these traits to others brings peace and harmony to all.
Chaghud instructed that there are four principles that are keys to enlightenment. First is being thankful that you are born human. Second is that nothing lasts. Third is that virtue enhances karma. Fourth is suffering is an inevitable consequence of life.
Trying to live the former and comprehend the latter have brought some relief to the angst recently experienced, especially late at night when sleep is disturbed by regrets of the past or worries about the future. The past can’t be changed and the future is unpredictable.
Novice attempts at meditation have been better than none. The first step is just to stop the barrage of thoughts. Like a three-dimensional train-yard full of trains each going far too fast and making much too much noise, the sleepless mind rattles and wrestles with one rampaging thought after another.
From the readings, the skill of stopping the trains has begun to be learned. By simply focusing on Nothing, Nothing at All, the trains stop and then disappear, and remarkably, sleep usually results soon. The wasted hours of tossing and turning seem to be things of the past for the most part.
According to the readings, the next step is to learn to focus the attention on what is important, rather than just turning off all thoughts. This step is supposed to evolve naturally rather than be forced.
In the meantime, the newly found peace of mind is truly welcome. The personal loss is probably irreparable, but coping with the loss is at least now more tolerable.
Nov. 2012, Revised 1/13
I’ve been doing lots of writing with the idea of publishing a book instead of just rambling on the webpage.
Stay tuned. This may or may not come to fruit.
Orcas Horns are sounding great. See the Music Page for updates.
Where does the time go? Geez, the last entry was a year and a half ago. Part of the time problem is the Bat Hotel. More on that, soon..
Dear Funny Times Editor,
OK, so you didn’t print my last contribution on the Future of Sports even though I thought it was superb. Sigh. OK, so I didn’t include a stamped, self-addressed envelope… surely that wasn’t the only reason that fine piece of prose wasn’t printed in your fine publication. Sigh and sigh again.
Nevertheless, undaunted, I humbly submit the following….along with a stamped, self-addressed envelope…..although the fine-print didn’t specify to whom the self-addressed envelope was to be self-addressed to.
Nevertheless, hope you enjoy the following enough to give it some ink in a future Funny Times.
Aka: Rusty Peavy
By Rusty Peavy
As Lame Duck season approaches, one must wonder what January surprises out-going president W. Bush will spring on us before he vacates what is left of the White House. His handlers and advisors have recognized that unless he makes some drastic moves in the waning days of his administration, his legacy will worth about as much as Barry Bond’s home run record. So in order to improve his soon-to-be historical record, he will no doubt make some important decisions before the January 20th deadline.
After consulting with several reliable soothsayers, futurists and crystal balls, I submit the following as viable possibilities:
All National Wildlife Refuges will be privatized under the joint supervision of Mobile/Exxon and the National Rifle Association.
All National Forests will be made available to the public in five to 20 acre parcels via eBay.
From those sales, everyone who paid federal taxes in the past eight years will be given a full retroactive refund, starting with the top incomes and working down until the funds are exhausted.
The government support of ethanol for fuel will be expanded to include methanol for fun.
Iraq will be given to Haliburton.
To bolster stocks of military suppliers, Iran will be slowly invaded, with great shock and awe.
Moscow and all Russian military posts will be nuked, just because.
The country of Georgia will be declared the 51state and renamed The Other Georgia. A security fence with their neighbors will not be necessary. (See above.)
All Americans with funny sounding names will be re-christened with normal sounding names; for example golf-ace Vijay Singh will then be Vinny Smith, baseball-star Ichiro Suzuki will then be Chip Jones, and ex-politician Barak Obama will then be Bob O’Brien.
Offshore drilling will be authorized off all shorelines, both fresh and salt-water.
To further bolster the economy, The Environmental Protection Agency will be disbanded.
The Endangered Species Act will be nullified to stimulate resource development. Administrative savings will then be used to establish the Stem Cell Protection Act.
The Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act will be put under the auspices of the Federal Trade Commission so that air and water can be traded as futures commodities.
To prevent the spread of Avian Flu, all migratory birds will be declared game species with no bag limits.
There will be a national bounty on wolves, coyotes, bears and owls; just because.
Fishing will be open all year round with no limits or license requirements.
Whales will be declared organic health food and served in federally subsidized school lunches.
New Mexico and California will be returned to Mexico in exchange for banning all undocumented aliens from the remaining states.
Both the U.S and Mexico will jointly administer Arizona.
Washington State will be traded to Canada in exchange for Ontario.
Texas will regain its former status as an independent country.
Texas borders will be modified to include Oklahoma and Louisiana. Combined, they can now join OPEC.
The U.S. dollar will be put back on the gold standard.
The White House will relocate to Ft. Knox, Kentucky.
All coins minted after 1964 will be turned in for new ones made once again of 90% silver.
All recreational drugs will be legalized for people over the age of 65.
Three years of military service for all 18 year olds will become mandatory.
All persons applying for bankruptcy will be sent to Guantanamo Bay (renamed Camp Fresh-Start) for water-boarding and re-education.
The Democratic Party will be declared a terrorist organization. Howard Dean, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden and Nancy Peloski will be sent to Guantanamo Bay (See above.)
But Possibly the most dramatic and exciting January surprise would be for Dick Cheney to arrange for George W. to be declared mentally incompetent, forcing Vide-president Cheeny to take over as commander in chief. His first act as the new president will be to declare martial law due to impending terrorist threats (See above.), and as such suspending the Constitution as well as the results of the previous fall’s election. In a matter of days, we’d have all forgotten about George W. bush’s reign as commander in chief.
A variation of this would be to fake George W.’s assassination (perhaps Squeaky Fromme and/or Sara Jane Moore could be granted a three-day furlough and given an Olympics starter pistol), thus leaving Dick in charge much more efficiently than going through the formalities and legalese needed in the previous surprise scenario. George W. would take on a new obscure identity, perhaps as a Seattle Supersonics memorabilia distributor.
So fellow Americans, put on your protective headgear, and button up your overcoats; this January is bound to be one exciting toboggan ride.
Future of Sports
Sports are getting a little weird these days. For example, the International Olympic Committee recently announced that body fluid samples taken from athletes during the 2008 Beijing Olympics will be stored for up to eight years. This will facilitate subjecting the specimens to illegal substance detection tests that have not been invented yet. Presumably, this means that in six years, a 2008 gold-medalist could be disqualified for taking an illegal substance that is currently undetectable. The athlete could even possibly be disqualified for taking a substance that becomes illegal in the future. Future Olympic competitions will be so closely scrutinized for chemical foul play that a sense of purity in the human form will become honestly appreciated. When someone sets a new high-jump record we will all know that only real human muscle, effort and training are involved.
On the other hand, despite the increasing sensitivity of testing, athletes continue to seek a chemical edge to enhance their competitiveness. The urge to compete well and win still drives some athletes to risk the professional consequences of being caught, as well as the physical consequences on their own bodies. Medical technology is also making astounding discoveries in the fields of bio-chemistry and prosthetics. More and more, officials are forced to consider new rules on tough questions such as whether an athlete wearing an artificial leg compete as a runner. Such a case was recently ruled in favor of the athlete with an elegant, high-tech prosthetic device from the knee down. This ruling has the potential of opening several cans of worms. So, if wearing eye-glasses while playing basketball is fair, then so is running with the aid of a titanium tibia.
Clearly, like so many things in our 21st century world, sports are changing quickly. Soon, the Olympics will have to split into four separate divisions.
Division One, “The Organics”, will be for athletes who are 100% human with no enhancements, like the sports of today strive to be. Testing in the future will have become so thorough that there will be no chance of athletes taking steroids, stimulants or any other chemical deemed inappropriate or “unnatural”. They will have regimented and supervised diets and not only blood and urine samples, but also DNA testing to make sure they are all human.
Division Two, “Enhanced”, will be for athletes with artificial body parts. The same chemical and genetic rules and testing will apply as in the Organics Division, but technological prosthetics and add-ons are included. These will, of course, go way beyond the replacement limbs that are starting to show up these days. Imagine what hydraulic arms and legs could do in field events; imagine swimming with mechanical lungs that get oxygen directly from water, or para-glider wings on ski-jumpers, or Kevlar body-armor for wrestling and boxing. Rules stipulating what energy sources are fair will perhaps need consideration. Also, rules for what percent of the athlete must still be human may be needed, or the division will become just robotics vs. robots. Perhaps there will be a Division Two-R just for athletes who are more than 85% robotic.
Division Three, “Chimeras and Mutants”, will be for athletes who are composed of genes from non-human species or genetically modified human genes. The same chemical and prosthetics rules and testing will apply as in the Organics Division, with the exception of DNA composition. New mutations from genetic engineering will greatly increase human leg and arm capabilities. Genes from other species may also be included in with the athlete’s DNA code. Wings, gills, fins, horns, tusks, tails, multiple-limbs, multiple-eyes will all be allowed, as long they are a part of the athlete’s metabolic system. Living tissue must make up the enhanced body parts. Legs of runners, arms of wrestlers, eyes of archers; all could be enhanced as chimeras. Imagine an athlete with gazelle legs lining up against an athlete with cheetah legs. Imagine wrestling matches between athletes with python genes. Imagine a linebacker who is part-Doberman Pincher. Imagine a ski-jumper with bat wings. Imagine a water-polo goalie enhanced with some octopus genes, or a swimmer who is part-dolphin, or even an ice dancer with some graceful swan genes included.
These first three divisions will be fascinating to watch, won’t they? But they will all perhaps be over-shadowed by Division Four, “Unlimited”. Unlike the heavily regulated sport of Unlimited Hydroplanes, this division of future sports will truly be unlimited. In Division Four, there will be no testing of any kind. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” will be the motto. Competition will be among athletes of all kinds; chemically enhanced, genetically modified, robotically assisted…anything goes. Just imagine the Division Four 100 meter dash. Who ever, or what ever, poise at the starting line…the gun goes off, and in a blur of motion, the athletes zoom toward the finish line. Fur and feathers fly, legs and appendages of all kinds beat and pump until one rocket-assisted man/antelope crosses the finish line barely ahead of the jackrabbit/motorcycle hybrid. The crowd goes wild as the new record is announced. Losing teams gnash their teeth, slam their laptops and rattle their radiators as their geneticists, chemists and engineers start planning for upcoming events.
So if you think that sports are getting a little weird now, just wait a couple years. In the words of the late, great Hunter Thompson: “When the going gets weird, the weird go pro.”
Geez, no time for new entries all winter….. must slow down … must slow down.
Tag, You’re It
Frank Zappa has been dead for over 13 years now, but last Friday night his spirit was certainly among us as five tremendously talented musicians, including the legendary Ike Willis rocked The Church House.
Ike not only played in Zappa’s band from 1977 until Frank’s untimely demise in 1993, he was also Frank’s friend and confidant. It is Ike’s distinctive baritone voice which is heard on classic albums such as Joe’s Garage, and excellent tunes such as Outside Now and You Are What You Is. They shared surveillance by the FBI among other experiences. Just a week before Frank died of prostate cancer Ike met with him, and was told quite explicitly, that Ike was to keep the spirit alive.
“Tag, you’re it”, said the dying FZ.
Keeping the spirit alive is not particularly easy. Frank’s compositions are extremely complex and vigorous, and they are also not part of the public domain, far from it. The legal rights to all of Zappa’s work are owned, controlled and protected by his family and
estate. It is difficult to keep a spirit alive when it is corked in a bottle.
This pains Ike to no end. He’s been hassled by the estate similarly to the way he and Frank were hassled by the FBI. How ironic. The Zappa estate probably thinks they are protecting Frank’s work from the Business Abuses that he railed against so emphatically. Frank’s battles with the music industry are well known, so it is not surprising that his legacy is carefully guarded.
But Ike and his fellow musicians are as close to the Real Thing as probably exists today. They walk the walk and talk the talk. They not only know the songs and play the notes; they too are very aware of the spirit of Zappa and do a superb job of mixing spontaneous craziness with disciplined musicianship. The Church rocked for three hours without a break, stunning and delighting the blessed guests lucky enough to be in the audience. The band wasn’t just a Zappa band knock-off, pretending to be Frank and his cohort of merry-makers. They used the spirit; they lived the spirit; they let the spirit take them to the place where creative juices mix with technical expertise to create the musical magic, which only comes from Frank himself.
Ike’s voice is still strong although the years have left some scars and road-wear. His guitar playing is uniquely his own, but he is so knowledgeable of Frank’s style that at time the hands which made the guitar scream and wail didn’t seem to be his own. The drummer had the energy of Bozzio and the precision of Wackerman. The vibe/flautist had the amazing speed of Underwood and also the rockin’ voice of Mann. The keyboardist looked more like a fresh college-student than the outlandish Mars, but the riffs and licks were all there. Mentioning the musicians’ names is a temptation because they certainly deserve some recognition for their astounding accomplishment, but legalities being what they are, prudence suggests they remain anonymous. They’ll get their just rewards sooner or later; talent like theirs doesn’t go unnoticed or unrewarded for long. Their soulful rendition of Outside Now was particularly memorable. Unlike his playful jolliness on some of the lighter, more humorous pieces, Ike’s powerful vocals communicated the pain felt while by a man stuck in jail, as the relentlessly repeating background pattern in (in 11/4) reflected feeling the burden of time, ticking away slowly as the days pass.
Like a cross, Ike carries the burden of Frank’s final instructions. After the show he told stories as he and a few of the guests mingled in the Church House kitchen. I listened with awe as he described how he met Frank, how they worked together, and how the government harassed them for Frank’s outspoken ridicule. It was fascinating. Ike confessed that doesn’t read music, and so had to learn the complex riffs and patterns by being told what notes to play, and how many times to repeat each phrase. From his performance it was obvious that his sharp mind and discerning ear learned the music well. Transcribers then had the task of recording the specific notes for the other musicians to learn. Later in life, Frank of course wrote note whole symphonies, but in the beginning it was just the guitar, the ear and the mind. This is probably why Ike can conjure up the spirit so easily; it is engrained in his cerebral tissue.
And the Church House? What is this all about? A very benevolent and generous artist/computer programmer purchased a falling down church and invested his time and money into its restoration. Restoration isn’t really the right term for what he’s done. Salvage and remodel are more descriptive terms. The place is amazing. The chapel is now a large concert/dance hall, decorated with large, realistic looking squids and unique wire silhouettes of abstract faces. The many bedrooms are comfortable and cozy. The kitchen and bathrooms are elegantly simple. The master bedroom is heavenly and several nooks, crannies and side-rooms are set aside for meditation, reflection or working on art projects.
The owner and his partner are wonderful hosts, humbly welcoming guests and catering to their needs with smiles and hugs.
As Frank might have written and Ike may have sung, “We need some mo’ like dat.”
The Gravity of the Situation
So Jennifer, not her real name, OK maybe it is her real name, it doesn’t matter, stepped off the trail into space. Nothing was beneath her pretty L.L. Bean hiking shoes. No rocks, no trail, no little pine needles: nothing except air.
Gravity, of course, took over immediately, pulling her lithe mass downward towards the earths massive mass. The collisions of the two masses left the earth only slightly scraped, but it left Jennifer scraped up quite a bit.
Why did Jennifer step off the nice forest trail into the air? Because the view here in the park is so totally magnificent that she was distracted from looking where she was walking. She is lucky to only be scraped up a bit rather than have her molecules rearranged to the point where life-supporting metabolism ceases to function. Considering how magnificent some of the vistas are around here, it is surprising that stepping out into the air isn’t more common. But Jennifer was distracted by the view and did indeed step out into the air and became rather scraped up.
So there she was, lying at an awkward angle on the steep, gravelly slope, bleeding from one knee. The epidermal layer of her hands, elbows and the other knee had been quickly removed by the gravel as gravity pulled her toward earth massive mass. Raw dub-dermal skin was exposed and coated with a thin layer of soil. A few bits of gravel were imbedded, and ground painfully into exposed nerve endings. Dendrites, they’re called, and although Jennifer may not have know this bit of biological jargon, she knew quite clearly that pain was shooting to her brain from multiple locations. She was not a happy camper.
Here at the park, we greatly prefer happy campers to unhappy campers. We also greatly prefer campers who are not scraped up and bleeding to those who are scraped up and bleeding. Fortunately for Jennifer, she was not hiking alone. Her friend, let’s call him Chad, which may or may not be his real name, helped her scramble up the slope, limp back down the trail, get into their cute little Honda and drive down to the park registration booth where they politely asked me where the First Aid Station was.
Rather then tell them that there is no First Aid Station, I first inquired if this was enough of an emergency to warrant calling 911. No, they just wanted some first aid. When I have had to call 911, I’m always amazed how fast they get up here and how truly professionally they are able to handle all sorts of medical emergencies. But Jennifer was adamant, saying that just a little first aid would be fine. After parking the cute little Honda over by the firewood bin, she hobbled over to the registration booth with the helpful assistance of Chad. He seems to be a keeper.
Once inside, I looked her over quickly, and was almost tempted to tall 911 with or without their consent. Not only was she scraped up and bleeding, she looked a little woozy, as if shock was just around the corner. I don’t mind a little bleeding, but I’m not well equipped to deal with shock. She was speaking coherently though, so I directed them back to the restroom and instructed them to first wash the soil and gravel out as best they could using the anti-bacterial soap and some paper towels. Meanwhile I got out the first aid kit. A few minutes later, they emerged and she sat in the chair in the lobby as directed. She was in a very cooperative mood and was looking forward to some relief. Putting on my “AIDs” gloves (one can’t be too cautious in these situations), I first sprayed a mild antiseptic/anesthetic on the scrapes. It only stung a little and brought near instant relief from the rash like skin abrasions. Then I gave her an antiseptic swab and instructed her to use it to scrape out the remaining gravel and dirt. She would have preferred that I do this chore, but no, she has to do it because only she knows how much pressure to exert on the exposed tissue, and because frankly I don’t like touching strangers under any circumstances, not even Jennifer.
She obediently did as I instructed while I got out some bandages. After applying a bit more of the cooling spray, I wiped off the wounds with a sterile gauze cloth. It hurt, but Jennifer was brave and knew what had to be done. Soon the wound appeared more or less cleaned out and I applied some sterile compresses to her knee, some band-aids to her hands, and a bit more spray on her elbow. Two drops of blood stained her L.L Bean hiking shoes to remind her of her indiscretion.
Once patched up, I had Chad write up a report on the incident, knowing that my boss would want a full report for his files. He then gently helped her walk back to the cute little Honda, and carefully helped her into the passenger seat while cooing condolences. Yep, he’s a keeper and my guess is that Jennifer knows it.
So what is the moral of this story? Prudent hikers should stop and gawk at the beautiful vistas rather than walk off the trail into air.
Two Sides of the Coin
Save now; invest now; retire later.
Work and work now, relax and breathe later.
Fifty-two and a half and counting.
Sixty-five is only twelve and a half years away.
This year’s second graders will be graduating.
Scrimp now to live free later.
Stock market is down.
IRAs are losing value.
Where does the money go?
Trust the market.
Pay income tax later.
Give hard-earned income to strangers.
Hope for the best.
Bears eat, bulls charge.
They battle on our turf.
Live now; spend as needed; retire never.
Work and play now, relax and breathe now.
Fifty-two and a half and feeling strong.
Sixty-five may never come.
This year’s seniors need to graduate.
Live well now to live well later.
The stock market is irrelevant.
IRAs are an illusion.
The money is in my pocket.
The market is a liar.
Taxes are inevitable.
Spend hard-earned money on friends and loved-ones.
Live for the best.
Bears and Bulls: both are edible.
They battle far away.
The Great Secret of the Tao Te Ching
An old friend resurfaced recently. From out of the small, but chaotic assemblage of material good in my position, a pocket-sized paperback edition of the Lao Tsu’s Tao Te Ching came back into my grasp.
Intentionally dog-eared page corners mark particularly memorable passages from previous encounters. What is the Tao? This New English version is by Stephen Mitchel, and has been used by simply opening it up as randomly as possible and see what words are offered. What is the Tao? I just randomly opened it to #70:
My teachings are easy to understand
and easy to put into practice.
Yet your intellect will never grasp them,
and if you try to practice them, you’ll fail.
My teachings are older than the world.
How can you grasp their meaning?
If you want to know me,
Look inside your heart.
It teaches how to be.
We are, after all, human beings, not human doings.
Liberating in its approach to life, the Tao allows a person to lead without leading, to teach by not teaching, to own everything by having no possessions; to leave nothing undone, by doing nothing. In the preface, the author makes the analogy to when an athlete performs superbly while not having to consciously think about and force the movements. There is an elegant flow to being in the zone, as Michael Jordan and others have described. When the hoop seems as big as a car. Playing jazz is like this, too. When the vibe is flowing, nothing is really being done.
Stephen Mitchel explains, “The teaching of the Tao Te Ching is moral in the deepest sense.” “Lao-tsu’s central figure is a man or woman whose life is in perfect harmony with the way tings are. This is not an idea; it is a reality, I have seen it.” The Tao shows “the central truths to the art of living”.
So from time to time, this old paperback has been picked up and often with eyes closed or at least looking away, it is opened.
One day, however many years ago, probably while studying to be a teacher, the following passage was revealed.
For example, here is a dog-eared page, #17, which tells about the art of governing:
When the Master governs, the people
Are hardly aware that de exists..
Next best is a leader who is loved.
Next, the one who is feared.
The worst is one who is despised.
If your don’t trust the people,
You make them untrustworthy.
The Master doesn’t talk, he acts.
When his work is done,
The people say, ‘Amazing:
we did it, all by ourselves!’
And now, after watching many, many students achieve and excel in my science classes, it is obviously true. Facilitating learning is not the same as instructing.
As one lives the way of the Tao, a strong suppleness develops rather than a stiff resistance to life. This is not really surrendering to adversity, but rather effectively thriving.
Men are born soft and supple;
dead, they are stiff and hard.
Plants are born tender and pliant;
dead, they are brittle and dry.
Thus whoever is stiff and inflexible
is a discipline of death.
Whoever is soft and yielding
is a disciple of life.
The hard and stiff will be broken.
The soft and supple will prevail.
Many analogies to life can be read into this verse.
A nagging question, of course, is whether like beauty, the wisdom of the Tao only exists in the mind of the beholder.
Last semester the class was shown a video on evolution in which a series of simple line drawings elegantly flowed from one being into another, reflecting the changing life forms found in the fossil record. A team of small bacteria-looking creatures morphed into a primitive cell shape, which morphed into a jellyfish, then a worm, then a fish, then an amphibian, then a mammal, then a monkey, then a human. A baroque style cello tune accompanied the cartoon. It fit the changing images perfectly. One morning, the video was played with the class stereo on rather than the TV sound. This time a jazz piece fit perfectly with the morphing images. We tried it again, with a full orchestral version of a Bach fugue. The morphing images fit even more perfectly. We tried other music. They all fit.
Our minds were making them fit. Our mental need to make sense of the sounds and images created parallel moments, so that regardless of the music, the images seemed to fit.
Perhaps the Tao is similar. Perhaps the passages are so indistinct and amorphous that our minds make them seems astoundingly pertinent to the parallel chaos in our lives. Just as our minds need the changes in the drawings to match the changes in the music, perhaps too our minds seek out random moments of synchronicity between the Tao and our problems and challenges that the inspiration we seek is achieved. Needing and wanting to be a teacher, I gained some insight by randomly bumping into Tao phrases and applying them. The need creates the solution.
Reading the Tao selectively, one eventually covers it all. There is an overriding theme of achieving contentment in life by letting go. The best leaders lead without leading. The best teachers teach without teaching. The best way to seek is to not seek.
What would a country be like if the citizens lived by the Tao?
If a country is governed wisely,
its inhabitants will be content.
They enjoy the labor of their hands
and don’t waste time inventing
Since they dearly love their homes,
they aren’t interested in travel.
There may be a few wagons and boars,
but these don’t go anywhere.
There may be an arsenal of weapons, but nobody ever uses them.
People enjoy their food
take pleasure in being with their families
spend weekends working in their gardens,
delight in the doings of the neighborhood.
And even through the next country is so close
that people can hear its roosters crossing and its dogs barking,
They are content to die of old age
without ever having gone to see it.
Wow. My summer job in the local State park wouldn’t even exist. Everyday I see hoards of people desperate to get away from where they live, hungry to smell the trees, hear a brook and see a deer. They plot and plan for months, buy expensive gear, tolerate clogged highways and long ferry lines, and finally they arrive at my little registration booth, tired and awed. Days later, they trek back to their urban jungle, refreshed, but depressed at the thought of facing their forced lives in a place they don’t want to be. Perhaps the planet is too small for us all to within the Tao. Perhaps people just need to tend their gardens a little more and surf the Internet a little less.
Other sections of the Tao seem to imply other perspectives, but with the same underlying themes.
A good traveler has no fixed plans
and is not intent upon arriving.
A good artist lest his intuition
lead him wherever it wants.
A good scientist has freed himself of concepts
and keeps his mind open to what is.
What is a good man but a bad man’s teacher?
What is a bad man but a good man’s job?
If you don’t understand this, you will get lost,
however intelligent you are.
It is the great secret.
Or perhaps is it all just self-fulfilling prophesies. Is the Tao like the daily Horoscopes in the paper, so vague that believers can read into the words what they want to hear?
Or perhaps is it a form of synchronicity. The seeking of the secret creates the secret. Hmmm. Now that is a rather Taoist perspective. In that case, the only way to find it would be to not seek it, but rather just look within and Be.
I’m Not Sorry
Each New Year’s Eve, I make a resolution for the following year. Sometimes this resolution has an impact on my life, and sometimes not. Most of them I can’t even remember at this point.
One memorable resolution was to try to stop saying the word “I”. That is a very interesting exercise in mental control. According to one English analyst, “I” is the most common word used in the English language, an interesting reflection on how self-centered our modern culture has become. From time to time, this exercise is still attempted, and many times it is very interesting to note this pattern of speech in others. Teens are especially guilty of this pronoun usage, possibly because from their developing perspective the Universe revolves around them.
One year the words “would”, “should” and “could” were avoided, because they all revolve around the concept of guilt. That was difficult, but an interesting challenge which continues to perk up every now and then
But this year’s resolution is similar, and has been very interesting and continues to be a challenging philosophical exercise.
The resolution was to stop having to say, “I’m sorry.”
The goal was to live life so deliberately and so thoughtfully, that saying I’m sorry would never be necessary. To never do stupid things, to never hurt someone’s feelings, to never have to wish that time would reverse itself so that the moment could be redone better. Living without regrets is the goal, and working toward achieving this has caused a great deal of reflection and at times inspiring behaviors that have turned out to be quite beneficial.
There are many examples of how this has developed. One of note is when I accidentally bump into people. If being clumsy or not paying attention caused the bodies to collide, a polite “excuse me” would work, but to say “I’m sorry” implies a sort of remorse. There is no remorse. We bumped. It happens all the time. Sometimes I’m clumsy; sometimes I don’t pay attention and bump into people. It happens.
A more specific example is here at my summer job of registration ranger at a state park. Campers must drive up to the little booth, give me their booking number or name, and their reservation comes up on the computer. If they don’t have a reservation, they may still stay in a campsite if one is available. In either case, a required bit of information is their vehicle license number, their license plate. As in a hotel or motel, knowing which vehicles are supposed to be here is a part of security. Here in the state park this is particularly important because there is a limited amount of space, and only two vehicles are permitted on each site. So all day, I record their license plate information and in the evening the park rangers who patrol the campsites get a printout of all the sites showing which vehicles are supposed to be in each site.
Along the little driveway leading up to the registration booth is not one, but two signs which clearly state that drivers need to know their license plate information for registration. The need for this information is also clearly spelled out on the information page that comes with their site reservation.
So, as you can perhaps predict, many drivers still don’t know their license plate information when it comes to that part of the registration process. When I ask for their plate numbers, they are clueless, and must either fumble through their glove-box looking for the vehicle registration form, or get out of their vehicle, walk around to the back of their vehicle and look at the license plate.
In the past, I’ve said, “I’m sorry” when they are forced to fumble around or get out and walk around to the back of their vehicle. Apologizing for the inconvenience seemed to just roll out of my mouth. But not any more.
They were clearly warned that this information was needed.
It is no fault of mine that they ignored the page that came with their site reservation. I’m not sorry that they must now scramble for the information, having ignored the two signs along the little driveway. I’m not sorry that they have to fumble through the chaos of their glove box. I’m not sorry that they actually have to get out of their vehicle and walk around to the back and look at their plates.
I just look at them and patiently say that this information is needed for registration in the state park and then wait until they provide it.
This feels so refreshing, so honest, so clear, and so straightforward. I’ve done nothing to apologize for, so no apology is necessary.
Another example is talking about the stock market. The market took a real tumble this week, falling over a hundred points. This caused my humble investments to lose a significant amount of value. In conversation with others, saying I’m sorry is so absurd. Those investments were made knowing full well that the market goes up and the market goes down. It can even disappear completely, wiping out years of investments. It can also go up, earning me money for doing do real work at all. Regretting the decision to make those investments is just beating myself up unnecessarily. The risks were known, the market fluctuations were expected, so to say that I’m sorry for having made the investments or that I’m sorry that the market took a tumble this week is inappropriate.
Bad things can happen to people. One nice lady had her new car’s transmission die half way up the mountain this week. I almost said, “I’m sorry” when she told me her sad tale and described how very expensive and inconvenient the solution to this problem was going to be. Not that I’m cold hearted. I’ve had vehicles break down and truly empathized with her problem. But I’m not sorry. I have nothing to regret. Instead, I just helped he make a whole lot of phone calls and wished her well as the solution was worked out.
This little game of avoiding “I’m sorry” has also been very beneficial in my day-to-day life. Several times, when making choices about this or that, I make the decision based on the outcome having no chance of making me regret it. It makes me think a second time before taking an action or speaking a thought.
Here is an example of a very difficult decision that came up recently. I’m in a very fun band, know and The Sons. This band consists of three saxophones and a drummer and we can rock. I play baritone sax, holding down the bass line of our repertoire of funky/punky jazz while the lead and harmony parts are superbly played by two much younger sax players. None of sings lyrics, although some of the songs we play do have lyrics in the original versions. Recently, the other guys wanted to do a medley of Prince songs. Fine. Prince has composed some very good tunes which we could do fine versions of to the delight of our audiences. The boys wanted to shout the lyrics in the middle one song though, and those lyrics contained the F-word, and not only the F-word but also the maternal version of the term. I am not in favor of this. Not only am I a respected member of our closely-knit community, I’m offended by anyone publicly using the F-word except under extreme circumstances. Extreme circumstances are why foul language exists. To include such vile profanity is not necessary in my opinion and I loudly voiced this opinion to my fellow band members during rehearsal.
The other members of the band are significantly younger than me, and significantly more rebellious. They are also not as concerned about social respectability as I am. We had a heated argument, which is unusual for us. In the end, I decided that I would of course not join them in singing this refrain, but would not boycott the performance.
At the performance, the song was played and when the refrain came around, the other loudly sand the profanity. They reminded me of immature junior high boys being naughty. While they, in my opinion, made fools of themselves for no good reason, I turned by back to them and continued to just play the bass line. At the next break, several members of the audience told the other sax players how much they enjoyed the raucous rebelliousness of us playing the controversial song. Other, older members of the audience, who know me well, came up to me and said that they noticed that I was not part of that vile immaturity. I was embarrassed, but did not apologize. I didn’t write the song, I didn’t participate in the vulgarity, and using body language made it obvious to the audience that I didn’t approve of the others’ behavior.
I have, however, decided that I’ll not play that song with the band in the future. Such rebellious immaturity is not in my nature at this middle age, and either I’ll sit out that song or quit the band entirely. Am I sorry I stayed on stage during the vulgarity? No, I needed to see what the effect would be. Having gone through it once, I’m sure that it is an experience that is not worth repeating. I have a line of respectability and if crossing it means not playing along with these otherwise brilliant musicians, I’ll quit the band with no regrets.
So in conclusion, this year’s resolution has proven to be very insightful. Next I may combine all three mental exercises and avoid saying “I”, “could”, “would”, “should” and “I’m sorry” all at once. That would really force me to think about what words come out of my mouth, and perhaps teach me more about living deliberately: Maybe next year.
Café At the End of the Earth
Being a more or less round planet, any location upon Earth’s surface could equally claim to be at the End of the Earth. However, the Doe Bay Café on the northeast shore of Orcas Island is remote enough and unique enough to have special claim to the title. Not only is the view out over the north Puget Sound stunningly scenic, not only does the Café ooze with alternative culture, but also it was my pleasure to be there on an open mike night.
The gently tattooed cook/waitperson explained the procedure for procuring some sustenance; request orders at the counter, glasses are over there. On each forearm was a coil, like a watch spring, each not quite a mirror image of the other. Pizza and salad made up most of the fare, so I ordered a salmon and green chili pepper pizza and a cup of passionate peach tea.
Not seeing either of my fellow Sons, I picked up a thick science fiction book lying invitingly on a small table near the door. Settling into the booth near the stage, I scanned the intricate cover. Space ships came and went from a dense city of domes and towers beneath a huge planet on the horizon. I opened the thick book at random and began reading about a faraway place in a faraway time. The book was a best-of-the-year compilation from 2005, and after several random passages were ingested, I did marvel at their skill in writing. Excellent lacing of details with just the right amount of convoluted sentence structure and intricately laced sub-plots.
Soon my piping hot pizza and passionate peach tea arrived. Moving the burner onto an adjacent chair (did I mention that I brought a portable CD recorder along to Open Mike Night?) I settled in for some dinner. Most of the booths were occupied, most were locals, but about a third may have been from another planet: off-island.
Orcas Island is an island, you know. A real one, with no bridges to the mainland at all. The ferry trip from Anacortes, Washington takes more than an hour in the big, lumbering boats. Doe Bay Café is so far out on remote Orcas Island, that most locals probably don’t even know there is an Open Mike Night on Mondays throughout the winter. The Café is so far out there that analogies to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’s Café at the end of the Universe seem natural. Relatively speaking, Dr. Einstein of course would note that each part of a multidimensional and quite feasibly infinate universe is equally likely to be the center or the most distant point….depending on one’s relative position and velocity. So why not here? Why not now?
The pizza was outstanding: thin crust, perfect size for one hungry guy, and the combination of salmon and green chili peppers was uniquely delicious. Baked to perfection, the topping was just short of seared, and beneath the array of cheeses, the Northwest salmon and Southwest chili peppers blended like practiced dancers doing a jazzy cha-cha. It was yummy.
Before the last piece was enjoyed, fellow Son, Al bounced into the Café with a newly shaved head contrasting a sparse and scruffy beard, carrying his tenor saxophone casually. After mutual greetings and salutations, he suggested we retire to a practice room below. So grabbing my baritone saxophone (did I mention that I’d brought along a baritone saxophone? A 1971 King Super-20 baritone saxophone?), I followed him out the Café’s front door, across the courtyard bathed in the gentle, February evening drizzle, down the algae-slippery steps, into a small, long room lined with books and games arranged loosely on shelves. A row of windows no doubt opened onto a world of coastal forest eye-candy, but tonight the view might just have well have been into the bottom of a deep space black hole. To morph prose from both Charles Schultz and Douglas Adams, “It was a dark and stormy night, at the Café at the End of the Universe.
Two very polite and self-proclaimed gay men sang together on the sofa. Their voices were rough, and blended only tangentially, but what they lacked in musical talent they compensated for with bubbly personality. From down south in Olympia, Washington, they had traveled way out to the edge of Orcas Island to play at Open Mike Night. Flaunting the limits of the improbability drive, they planned to perform two tunes later in the evening by Prince, accompanied loosely by mandolin.
Interesting and unique, but Al and I had work to do. Whipping out his tenor saxophone as I assembled my baritone saxophone, we soon blasted that wimpy mandolin into nether ether. It wasn’t even a fair fight. No match at all. As Al and I rehearsed a couple of our Sons’ sax jams, about all the gay guys could do was stare slack-jawed.
Somehow, Madrone’s name came up. You know Madrone? He’s one of the Sons? The mandolin player giggled his way through a tale of dancing chest to chest with Madrone just a couple weeks ago at a hot and sweaty 70s night revival at a loud club in Seattle. While not openly gay or even bi, the Amazing Madrone is no stranger to alternative behavior at party occasions. And as the lead singer and wash-tub bass player for the intergalactically renowned Slappy Tubbs band, he ecstatically lives out the wildly abandoned, free primal being that his audiences can only enjoy vicariously. But no, he’s not gay as far as I know, just free of inhibitions. More on him later.
The practice room was too warm, not quite as bad as Venus, but far from comfortable. A gas stove needed its thermostat turned down, even the Prince singers were too warm and we all returned up the algae slippery steps, through the Northwest drizzle and back into the lively Doe Bay Café at the end of the universe.
The host, Carlos, got things going with some acoustic guitar folk singing. It was bad. OK, maybe it was good, but I have a low tolerance for any music remotely like Niel Young strumming away about pathetic drug addicts. I don’t know if Carlos’ lyrics were about drug addicts, but the strumming seemed to go on for multi-dimensional millennia. I refilled my cup of passionate peach tea and waited out the storm as all the other extra-terrestrial beings in the room nodded in appreciation of Niel’s Bore.
Al and I continue to strategize. OK, first, I’d open up with a rambling solo and then settle down into a perky, jazzy, no-particular key bass line loosely based on the key of G. He’d then join in and we’d warm up for a while and call it a first tune. Then we’d rip into our funk/punk jazz set.. And when Carlos finished his five or six forgettable songs, we did just that. We hoped that Madrone would show up to add his alto sax energy, and before too long, he did just that. In the cosmic café packed with strange looking aliens, we raised the roof. Hair and antennae were swept back in the saxophonic onslaught. Force fields were adjusted and gravity shoes were turned up a notch. No mournful strumming here and now: full speed ahead, set phasers on stun. To boldly go where no sax has gone before …..
Up next, alien figures with mandolin take on a Prince medley. Fasten your chin-straps and secure your gravity boots. The Café at the end of the Universe is starting to twitch.
and the beat goes on… December 9, 2006
Geez, it has been over a year since I updated this website…. where does the time go????
Yes, lots of adventures have been had and enjoyed, but time to write about them seems so scarce. One of my New Years’ Resolutions is going to be to write more for this site. Thanks to the readers who contacted me and asked for more of my words. Makes me blush.
So today I added new sections on Music and School work, and updated the photos.
Next, I’ll find some time to write….. maybe over the holiday break….whew… time sure zooms by in a blur.
For Dad, who passed away on October 21st, 2005
Dear Friends and Family,
Dancing with the Fox
As Madrone improvised on sax and young Anthony kept the pounding rhythm steady, a young man named Dustin Fox recited his original poetry to the sold out house. Dreadlocks swayed from his young head as remarkable words of insight came from his mouth. A didgeridoo droned, a dumchek counter-beat and a backbeat pulse thumped from an electric keyboard. The place was rocking. The crowd was engaged and the scene was here and in the Moment.
Lyrics of life, thought-provoking prose, poetic irony wrung out audible sighs and moans from the plugged in audience: reminiscent of a revival meetings chorus of amens throughout a passionate sermon.
He’s a preacher, a teacher,
A distant planet reacher.
A rapper, a rocker,
A scat-jazz bopper.
The message is simple,
Same as before,
Same as it always has been:
Live in peace, live in love, respect each other, and respect our environment.
Far from lavishing in the spotlight, he remained humble up on the Performing Arts stage. It’s Not the Messenger, It is the Message. It is not about looking at the Fox, it is about looking in the mirror.
And the audience took in every word as if it were food itself. Hungry for encouragement during the hate-filled, life-consuming corporate take-over promoted during these years of Bush, the gentle souls in the audience swayed and smiled and danced in the isles.
The band had rehearsed high up in a seaside loft several times, bringing out a superb effort by the young drummer, Anthony. He kept it Moving, Moving, Moving. At the other end of the spectrum was the Amazing Madrone on saxophone. What he lacks in organized discipline he more than compensates for with his spontaneous jazz improve skills. His orange Mohawk/spike hair was a similar contrast to Anthony’s crisp trim. While Anthony precisely pounded out the driving
And on keyboards, tenor sax and baritone sax was…… me. Like the lyrics in the old Talking Heads tune, I was frequently wondering How Did I Get Here? Armed with my trusty 88-key controller and an old Oberheim rack-mount synth,I just filled in simple bass lines and melodic chord progressions. Nothing too fancy, of course. Not only are my keyboard skills limited, but also the focus that night was on the Fox and his messages.
And he was truly magical. At the end of the encore, the crowd was begging for more. As the sated crowd dispersed, the smell of the burnt sage Dustin had anointed throughout the seats still barely lingered.
Dustin Fox’s father, Dave, was good enough to record the show on DVD. They are available through him via firstname.lastname@example.org . Someday, I predict that Dustin Fox will be a star among stars….perhaps having a copy of this first DVD recording will not only be food for the soul, but also a veritable collector’s item. I was proud to have been a part of the production and hope that some time in the future I’m again called upon to Dance with the Fox.
Check out www.michaelsbridge.com .
So here I am, nestled alongside a beautiful inlet on Sucia Island. Goslings waddle with their parents over the dark mudflat, making little flapping noises with their webbed feet. The warm spring sun has finally broken through the clouds making my campfire no longer needed to take away the damp morning chill. A half-dozen oysters await nearby, ignorant of their one-way invitation to lunch later today.
What a charmingly remote place, what a stunningly beautiful day. I feel truly blessed.
According to the ranger, people have been visiting this island wonderland for many years. Natives gathered seafood from these pristine shores eons before European settlers arrived. Second growth forest now blankets the slopes as nature slowly recovers from the wholesale cutting of the old-growth forest about a century ago. Remnants of an old quarry rise starkly out of the shoreline, evidence of the once thriving business which supplied mainland settlements such as Bellingham and even Seattle with building and paving stones. Several yachts are anchored just offshore or tied to the dock…I wonder what these idle rich folk do all day. Plain old me, I’m content to just sit on the shoreline and watch nature do her dance.
A crow drives an eagle from its perch above the fossil beds. How many millions of years ago did this huge ammonite thrive? Warblers twitter in the shrubbery as a male Rufous Hummingbird impresses a lady hummer with his aerial finesse. Giant sea stars, some gold-orange and others grape-purple hunker down between rocks awaiting the return of the tide.
Ah, Sucia. So remote. So pristine. So peaceful.
Born just a few weeks ago, juvenile birds are now adolescents. These nearly adult birds have most of their adult adaptations fully formed, but are apparently clueless about how to use them.
The young herons stood knee deep in the rising tidal water, watching their parents stand quite still, peering into intensely downward. The teen-birds stood out from the adults, not only because of their slightly smaller size, but more obviously by their gawking around at the scenery instead of searching for dinner. They are used to being fed in bed, back at the nest high up in a tree among the others at the rookery. For perhaps the first time they have joined the hard-working adults along the shoreline, but although the teen-herons have all the physical characteristics of the adults (sharp beak, keen eyes, long legs, and sky-colored camouflage), they lack the hunting skills necessary to put that fine combination of adaptations to use. Slowly, they figured out that their parents are no longer going to just give them the little fish even though the adults were finding an abundant supply. Nope, begging no longer works, so little by little the teens started to look down into the shallow water and see that lunch was just beyond their toes. Correcting for the light distortion must be difficult, because as long as I watched them, none of the young herons were seen actually catching a fish. Nature is a fine teacher though, and hunger is a strong motivator. In time, another generation of herons will figure out the tricks of their trade, leaving behind those loser who don’t.
This pattern of teen frustration over their parents stopping the free lunches is repeated throughout the avian world during early summer. The young towhees chase their parents over the lawn, repeating their wing-fluttering and beak-gaping behaviors which used to work so well in the next. But to no avail. The parents have done their part and are now barely tolerant of their teens’ pestering, preferring only to go to the good food bushes and teaching by example. Mother and father pileated woodpecker do a fine job of protectively corralling their teens as they clumsily fly from tree to tree, and like the towees teach by example by pecking at trees and logs and eating right in front of their progeny, while ignoring their whines of frustration.
Probably the most dramatic example of this avian weaning process can be seen in the Caspian Terns. Terns look like gulls, except for their pointed wings, sharper bills and sporty-looking black head feathers. Adults have a distinct caw-like cry which they obviously use to keep in touch with their nest partners. Expert aerial divers, terns hover above the water until a fish lunch is spotted, then by tucking in their wings and diving head-first into the sea they attempt to nab a luckless fish. Adults are successful perhaps about 35% of the time; teens can do little except follow the adults and beg pathetically for hand-outs. Teen-tern cries are higher and more shrill than the adults’ cry, so even at a distance differentiating teens from adults is easy. All along the shoreline, teen-terns can be seen literally chasing after the adults begging for just one more fish. But no, the time for that kind of support is gone. Time to sink or swim…. time to hunt or be hunted… time to get your act together and make it on your own. Or die. That is the only way to insure that the next generation is tough enough to pass nature’s test.
Does the pathetic begging of their offspring tug painfully at the hearts of the parents? Does the urge to give in and feed them just one more fish override their adult instincts?
If so, I don’t see it. The parents remain strong and aloof, apparently knowing that graduation comes soon if the lesson plan is followed.
Applying this principle to us humans, perhaps we should just turn teens loose when they are 14 instead of forcing them to stay in school. Few of them really want to be in school. Many are slackers who do the bare minimum necessary to slough by. Many of the A students are simply good at earning grades. Little real learning happens with either group. They are hungry to get out or hungry for grades, but they are, for the most part, not hungry for learning. So let’s turn them loose for a while, challenging to make it on their own in the real world. After they’ve been roughed up a little by a few predators and starved a little by not knowing how to properly secure resources, perhaps they’d be more motivated to learn a few lessons in school. Show me a teenager who is tired of flipping burgers for minimum wages and sleeping in dumpsters, and I’ll show you a teenager who is ready to learn some math and science. Are human parents willing to be strong enough to lock them out of the fridge and stop buying them everything they want? Are human parents able to see past the trap of providing everything in the hopes that their kids will like them? Hmmmmmm.
I’ve not fathered any children, so I’m not in a realistic position to analyze this from a fully informed position. Yet, from the natural world around us we see that this system has been working for many species for many eons.
When the check came for $6,750, I was hopping happy to have finally sold the acoustic bass for the local symphony. Inheriting it from the nuns who founded the little orchestra, the island-locals trusted me to sell it for them. Hoping to use the proceeds for more music, lights stands and other sundries required by a small, non-profit musical organization, the members were equally delighted when I told them of the windfall.
But it was not to be. The day after I informed the buyer in Toledo, Ohio the his check had arrived and that I was arranging the extensive packing and shipping this beautiful bass required, when he sent another e-mail. It stated that a tragedy had happened; after the bombing in London one of his relatives was missing. He had to leave suddenly for England and was therefore unable to purchase the bass. He apologized for the hassle and said to keep $500 of the $6,750 he had sent, and then wire him the change. He then sent detailed directions on how to wire him the money.
Feeling sad about not making the sale, and also feeling sad about the buyer being a victim of the London bombing, I went to the bank to make the arrangements.
The local banker was far savvier than me. First, they said that it would take two weeks to a month for the check to clear, and in the interim I’d be fully responsible for covering it. Translation: if this is a scam, and the check bounced, I’d be out the $6,750. Geez, I felt so stupid.
Still wanting to believe Carlos, I sent another e-mail, asking why he didn’t just wire me the money in the first place since he was so knowledgeable about wiring money. I also expressed my doubts about his intentions, and also sent my concerns to e-Bay, and to the company who had issued his check. Both replied with extreme doubts about the authenticity of the buyer’s claims. E-Bay dropped him as a customer instantly.
Carlos never replied to my last e-mail, so it seems like he is a thief. I wonder how many other people have fallen for a scam like this?
So I went back to the bank, and asked what would happen if I opened a new account with the check for $6,750. The banker replied that if the check bounced, I’d be charged $10. So I did, and a week later it bounced; so far I’ve not heard from Carlos. And I still have a very nice bass for sale.
And I’m more than a little wiser about the entrapments possible in this Brave New World.
The Benefit of Battleships
Once upon a time not very long ago, there was a man who built battleships, governed a city, burned out, bought a mountain atop an island, retired, lived a long life and then gave the mountain to the State of Washington as a park.
Would this grand view of north Puget Sound be accessible to a commoner such as me were it not for these twists of history? Perhaps some other millionaire of the last century would have purchased and preserved this densely forested peak above Orcas Island, but perhaps not. Most other prime spots on these majestic islands are locked up in private ownership, while some are so tightly preserved as wildlife refuges that no one is allowed to set foot upon them. As the teeny tiny sailboats in the distance glide slowly between the emerald islands, an olive-sided flycatcher asks, “whip-three-beers?” Tourists, total strangers to each other, take turns taking pictures of each other against the striking background. “Is this thing on?” “Do you want a second one, just in case?” Will you take our picture next?” the high-tech digital cameras click and beep as pieces of time get captured on memory-sticks.
Thunderheads float above Vancouver, British Columbia. To the northeast is Bellingham nestled against the waters’ edges at the foot of the Cascade Mountains. Mt. Baker pokes its cinder cone skyward in the background. To the southeast is Anacortes, with its forest of refinery smokestacks. Farther south beneath the subtle haze is Seattle and far off in the distance is the tip-top of Mt. Rainier. To the southwest, another volcanic peak, Mt. Olympus joins its now dormant relatives in the great wall of Olympic National Park. Obscured by the forests and mountains of southwestern British Columbia the Pacific Ocean pounds the rocky shoreline. Such a grand view atop such a beautiful mountain.
All this view is courtesy of Robert Moran, builder of battleships. Big guns on metal hulks, built to wage war against Kaiser Wilhelm’s hoards at great public expense. The trail of money from the pockets of the working people around the turn of the last century, through the federal government, to the shipyards of Seattle, to the pockets of the governor….ending eventually with this picnic table atop Mt. Constitution upon which I write this story, must be full of so many twists and turns of fate that a recounting is surely impossible. But like the improbable evolution of our species from one-celled protists, the end defies the means. Defying all of this improbability, the park is currently safe from the destruction of human “development” and available for the enjoyment of all who have the time and means to get here.
Gasoline is nearly three dollars a gallon and the ferry ride can easily eat up fifty to over a hundred dollars depending on one’s vehicle size. But once here, visitors find the campsites cheap, the water pure, the air delicious and the view simply stunning.
Is it right to build battleships? Why does our species wage war against itself? Are the battleships the motivation which drives invention which generates wealth which then gets philanthropically spent to preserve nature’s beauty for public enjoyment? How twisted…how bizarre!
I’ll bet that territorially minded olive-sided flycatcher doesn’t belabor such thoughts as it continues to implore, “Whip-three-beers?”
“Wow, what-a-view,” answer the visitors as they round the last bend of the trail and behold the vast panorama around them. Person after person states nearly the same response, sometimes in languages from distant lands, voices dropping to nearly a whisper.
Violet-green swallows dart among the treetops, around the stone observation tower and down the steep slopes to the dark blue lakes far below.
The interpretive sign within the stout tower explains how near the turn of the last century a doctor convinced the then 47 year old Robert Moran that the stress of his life was leading directly toward heart failure. Perhaps this was indeed the case, but I suspect that the middle-aged industrialist knew when it was time to back away gracefully and carefully from the business of mixing politics and warfare, kick back and enjoy the peace that undisturbed nature can provide. Either way, he was blessed with a long life, ending at age 86 in 1943… more than 20 years after the U.S.S. Nebraska was decommissioned and sold for scrap.
Scanning the post-card perfect horizon, my nearly fifty year old eyes wonder if future generations will learn to live peacefully with one another, enjoying rewarding lives within balanced ecosystems, or if the business of politics and warfare will continue to dominate societies. Will the cities continue to gobble up what is left of the natural countryside until only rare pockets of set-aside parks are left?
How many more battleships do we need to build to save what little is left? Will the war in Iraq spawn new millionaires who will buy up the last wild places on the planet and preserve their pristine beauty for future generations? How twisted. How bizarre.
“Will you take our picture?”
The crowd was stirring as the appointed starting time came and went. Perhaps a hundred conversations all converged into a cacophony of restlessness. Then the lights dimmed, the crowd quieted and the magic began once again at the Orcas Theatre and Community Center.
This weekend the Choral Society is gracing the stage, filling the auditorium with more than fifty strong voices. Vivaldi’s “Gloria” ebbed and flowed over the appreciative audience. A small concerto of strings and winds accompanied the elegant Latin lyrics. Soloists boldly walked to the stage front and skillfully sang the ancient music. I’ve been here only four years, but that has been plenty of time to recognize the local faces in the chorus: a librarian, a computer technician, a doctor, a dish-washer. Seemingly just plain folks blossom here at the Center.
Of the nearly all of the four thousand or so year-round residents, an amazing proportion are musicians and artists. Last weekend this stage hosted a superb folk group, next weekend the community band will nervously take the stage.
Teens vie for parts in the upcoming production of Romeo and Juliet back in the Black Box room. Astoundingly creative pottery graces the lobby walls, eye grabbing photos adorn the bamboo-floored meeting room adjacent to the performance hall.
When the last notes were sung, the center buzzed with hundreds of conversations, this time accented by the crunching of cookies and sipping of punch. This island is such an amazing place.
They clamor raucously for position at the cedar box full of seeds. Such a plethora of nutrition, fresh and dry from the late fall squall. Jostling for position they squawk and chirp while posturing offensively or defensively. What tough little critters they are…fierce miniature dinosaurs with feathers.
No doctors, no antibiotics.
They sleep in the interiors of shrubs.
Predators seek them for lunch.
Members of the finch family, Fringillidae, they are finely honed competitors. Experts at flight, they can dart through foliage or migrate seasonally. Finely crafted beaks along with deftly wielded tongues pry open the seed pods faster than an eye blink.
Such a stormy day.
Such tough little beasts.
Here, have some free seeds.
Few things hold their value like a Selmer saxophone. Even a shallow internet search reveals that if you know what models to look for, buying a quality Selmer saxophone is not only acquiring a medium for musical expression, but also long-term equity.
For over 40 years, I’ve been playing saxophone. Wow, where does the time go? While still far from honking at the professional level, I have acquired some dexterity on the curved beast. My instruments currently are a baritone saxophone, (King Super-20, purchased new in 1972), and a tenor sax (1959 Martin, purchased used only a few years ago). Both are fully functional despite the use and abuse I’ve subject them to, but after internet surfing it became quickly obvious that many horns of far better quality are available.
Of particular note are Selmer Mark VI tenor saxophones from the late 50s and 60s. Not only are they priced far above other vintage saxophones, they consistently sell quickly. On e-Bay, for example, no other brand or model seems to stimulate the calculated bidding frenzy of a 40 year old Selmer Mark VI. The Mark VII of the 70s is always noticeably less popular, and saxes of all makes older than the 60s are hit and miss, apparently mostly miss.
The Selmer company, both the American brand the now independent Paris brand are using this popularity to their advantage in the production of new models. They market the Reference line, referring back to the models of the past in their advertisements for 64’s and 54’s. And of course new models are very much the standard against which other brands like to compare.
Yet one can only learn so much on-line. A critical mass was reached in late fall, 2004, when I ventured off-island over to mainland America in search of real-live Selmer saxophones to play.
The first music store was disappointing. They specialized in pianos, but did have a brand new Yamaha tenor sax for about $1,000. With their permission, I put attached my trusted Otto-Link gold mouthpiece and alone except for the salesman (geez, he was maybe 20…) and a patron (the dear lady was perhaps 70), I honked on the Yamaha for a while. Mechanically sound, the shiny new sax easily accommodated my exaltations. The dormant piano strings surrounding the isles hummed along sympathetically. The lady was charmed and the young man appropriately assertive in proposing a sale. Explaining that I was just shopping, I left and headed to a far bigger music store.
There on the wall were several brand new Selmer tenor saxophones. Two were shiny brass, and one had the new matte finish. Their price tags showed that they were all triple the cost of the Yamaha, and one of the shiny ones, a Paris model was nearly quadruple. With the permission of the young sales-clerk, I took them one at a time into the practice room and proceeded to honk. But I didn’t really honk right away; first I held each one in my lap and inspected the craftsmanship. They were all true works of art: excellence in brass, cork and leather. For more than a century, our species has refined and perhaps perfected the basic saxophone design. In my hands were examples of the art’s current apex.
They played well… I know… duh. Although two of the three were in need of key adjustments (the matte model had a weak spring on the low C# and the lesser of the shiny ones had a squawky low D#) they were all three unarguably superb works of mechanical art. The third one, the Paris model, was especially well constructed. With ease, it responded to every note from the lowest honk to the highest wail, from blast to whisper, it was flawless.
I also tried another brand, called Cannonball out of Salt Lake City, Utah. Weighing noticeably more, it was functional, but compared to the Ferraris I’d test-driven previously, it was a Ford pick-up. And theYamaha? Having many ancestors with ties to the musical instrument business in Elkhart, Indiana (home of Martin, Selmer and Conn, to name a few local brands), I can’t see me buying a Yamaha despite their obvious good quality at a reasonable price. No offense, Japan, but I think there is a Selmer in my future… and no offence Elkhart, but it may be a Paris model. Go figure.
In conclusion, here and now, I remain content with my 1959 Martin for the short-term. While lacking the luster of the new Selmers, the antique (just four years younger than I am!!) does play all notes reasonably well and is fully paid for. Four thousand dollars is a big pile of clams for what is essentially a shiny new toy. And more importantly as of this writing, I’ve not yet had the pleasure of test-driving a vintage Mark VI.
Nevertheless, supportive readers may still send non-tax deductible contributions for replacing the Martin to me at POB 1892, Eastsound, WA. 98245.
Just a Little Burp
Sitting alone in the designated sitting area on the designated bench, I scan Mt. St. Helen’s volcano-scape intently. Here and now, from my humble perspective, would be a good place and time for a medium sized eruption. One big enough to feel the earth shake and perhaps perceive a distant shock wave, big enough to blast tons of ash upwards through the late fall sky, then arcing northeast in a massive, distorted mushroom cloud. The gentle marine wind from the southwest would ensure that the silica-laced ash would rain down on all those NASCAR-loving Bush-supporters to the east of here. Those short-sighted Neanderthals could use a good douse of reality.
But I digress into political-losership…
Maybe this huge, snow-capped dragon is about to truly cut-loose, blasting immeasurable amounts of pen-up geothermal energy, spewing toxic smoke and belching rivers of oozing, searing magma down all sides.
Here and now, I’d sure get some good photos of that. As it is, I’m fairly content with seeing the bright sunlight sparkling off the sheer-flanked mountain, with just a wisp of steam coming off the new lava dome.
Suddenly, I’m surrounded by a band of tourists. Like me they are staying on the designated trails. Most move on, one stays behind enjoying a smoke. I think I geeked them all away with this laptop… so it goes…
Steam wafting up from the core is obviously different from the surrounding clouds, and now that the morning fog has totally burned off, the steam stands out against the starkly defined crevasse of the inner cone. Yes, the wind is carrying the volcanic emissions east, northeast. If today was the day, Hanford would be perhaps be blessed with a couple hundred feet of volcanic debris, altering several political problems at once.
Lush greenery covers the once devastated valley below this designated outlook area. The huge eruption of 1980 blew northward as well as upward. Scanning the ridgelines to the south, I imagine the eruption forces funneled through the terrain, cresting ridgelines and roaring through surrounding valleys.
Here and now the sun totally breaks free of the last of the marine cloud-bands and I bask along with the other wildlife. Uh, oh here come more tourists. Their digital cameras beep and click as there heres and nows get captured. Like me, they’d have the chance to capture award-winning photographs if that simmering caldera decides to put on a show.
But not too big, or at least not too big in this direction. What good are capturing moments on a digital camera if the little memory chips inside get turned to molten magma. None. So at the least I’d like to survive the blast somehow, and at most I’d like to drive out of here in the comfort of my decked-out camper-van, out-racing the torrential lahore all the way to the Columbia River, then coasting north with history making photos.
But back to here and now, more steam swirls inside the cone. Extending the sides of the cone upward, imagining the pre-eruption height is easy. Clearly, the top third of a very large mountain is missing. (A model made of mash-potatoes with one side collapsed leaving a trough where the gravy leaked onto the plate could easily be constructed in the relative safety of your home for those readers not yet tempted to travel up here on a visit.)
A lone helicopter zips southward, not venturing directly into Mt. St. Helen’s snowy peak area. Last month’s “volcanic event” may still have officials restricting air travel to designated air-space. Such a scary place, everyone must be so careful. Don’t travel out of the designated areas or else something bad might happen. Of course the fragile ecosystem might be damaged by the hoards of tourists who soon will be visiting this designated destination point. They will pay their $3 entrée fee and marvel at the digital interpretive exhibits recreating and explaining the volcano from every conceivable angle. But should they want to venture out of the designated areas, they will surely need a permit if/when the Powers-That-Be decide to allow such recklessness.
And then there was a little puff of steam, and then a couple more. For perhaps an hour the little puffs of steam spurted out of the hot mound of building lava. The cameras clicked and beeped. The sky was bright, the forest dappled with fall colors, and the mountain stirred. A column of dark gray smoke arose suddenly from the snowy crater. As the sooty steam crested the ridgeline, the marine wind created swirls and eddies as the column became diffused across the Cascade Mountains. A helicopter swooshed in from the north and just as suddenly swooshed away to the south. The crowd oohed and ahhed in awe as their cameras clicked and beeped enthusiastically. For perhaps a half hour the majestic mountain exhaled into the sunny sky, then rather abruptly stopped and within just a few minutes the marine breeze cleared out the cone and all was again serene. Thanks, Mt. St. Helens. That was just what I was hoping for….just a little burp for the cameras.
How many visitors to Mt. St. Helens notice that most of the decaying stumps around the blast zone have flat tops. Volcanoes don’t leave flat tops when then bowl over trees. Only chain saws leave flat topped stumps.
Between all the electronically over killed interpretation at the visitor center is the fact that the timber around the site was in fact mere saplings growing after a clear-cut. Most of the timber devastated by the 1980 eruption was smaller timber, recovering from the far more destructive force of a century of white-man forest mis-management. Hoping to treat our national forest treasures like their own private farm, the timber industry looted and pillaged millions of acres beyond the area blasted by the volcano.
And who of the visitors are told of the wholesale destruction of surrounding forests just after the 1980 eruption. Private timber companies “salvaged” thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of acres of lush northwest forest in a chain-saw feeding frenzy.
While the wood fiber may be a renewable resource, the dynamic forest diversity of a native temperate rainforest is only a distant memory in today’s tree farm.
But who cares? Certainly not the middle-America NASCAR morons who re-elected the lying lackey George W. Bush. But they are such a majority! I might just as well be spending my time lecturing the tube-worms who filter feed for a living along the oily docks of Puget Sound. The whole scene makes me quite ill.
A Country Breakfast
Outside the urban craziness is a peaceful rural scene with small restaurants where a traveling man can walk in, buy a local paper, sit by the window and feel totally at ease. The hostess may be cousin Sally, the waitress may be Aunt Meg, and the cook be cousin Bob…the one who is doing much better these days.
The menu is predicable. Whether the chick-fried steak omelet or the two-egg special is ordered, there will be no surprises here. The country western music swings quietly out of the sizzling kitchen. Fresh coffee is offered frequently, the bill is always reasonable, and the toothpicks taste like mint.
Life is good on the road if one knows where to find it.
Far From Fallujah
Sitting in a perfect mall near Seattle, I’m as far from the fury in Fallujah as can be imagined. Geographically, that dusty battle ground is truly on the opposite side of our planet. But in a far more tangible sense, we’re at opposite ends of a great machine which has evolved. While our smart bombs rain down on the “insurgents” holed up in the ruins of the ancient city, shops here spill goods opulently out of their glass, brass and crystal showcases. Several genres of background music blare at once; the air is sterile except for the smells of perfume and coffee.
The machine sucking the planet dry has here an outlet, an orifice, a duct. Like a crushing black hole emitting worm-hole traveled particles out into a new dimension, the exploitation of the planet’s resources are spewed out. In tidy little plastic bags, made of petroleum hard won by the marines in Iraq, the goods leave the Holy Shrine of Mall. No, not a machine, it is a cult.
The deity of this modern Mecca is clearly female in character, with each creche-like shop a reflection of one of her many moods. How she abhors her rival, Mother Nature, who hides in the flower pots and spidery corners. Asphalt surrounds Mall’s enclave. Chemicals keep her clean.
While warplanes “soften” the target areas of Fallujah, geriatric zombies paced the floors of the shrine before the designated hour of commerce awoke the temple’s disciples and evangelists. As the alters-of-commerce chimed to life, the elderly walkers settled into their pews near the designated eating area. Soon the congregation arrived, and began their ritualistic roaming of the isles. Goods grabbed their attention, and after making a suitable offering at the appropriate alter, they joined the elderly Zombies in the place of grazing, where the air is thick with the smell of animal fat and salt.
Young sales-clerks wearing plastic propeller hats twist plastic balloons into animal shapes to attract children to their photo shop. Victoria shows her secrets. Hallmark has a card for the occasion.
Meanwhile, death comes to soldiers on all sides in Fallujah. Hot lead and exploding plasma bring destruction to those who defy the machine’s New Order. Mother Nature recoils in horror while Daughter Mall shrugs and orders another latte with cream.
How Do They Know?
Tonight, a hatch of new queen and king ants launched themselves from a small hole in the dock steps. Not one went out into the salty, blue sound. Half went north along the shore and half sent south. They settled into the shrubbery as the sun set. The song sparrow only got a few, but seemed to relish each.
Scientists theorize that natural selection caused those who happened to have the right genes to survive better than those who did not. The ants who ventured out into the water became fish food rather thus ending the line. If too many went north or south, they did not thrive as well as those who spread more evenly. Those who hatched too early in the day became sparrow food. Over time, those with the most successful adaptations passed on their genes more frequently until today, the survivors are superbly honed to thrive.
But the more I watched them emerge into the outside for the first time and without hesitation disperse out over the forest, the less it seemed like science and the more it seemed like pure magic.
Entering a new school year, teaching biology and environmental science, I set the goal of not only teaching the science of it all, but also the magic.
Late in the evening on the fourth of July, I ended up at a party up on a steep
hill overlooking Newberg, Oregon. An old friend had invited me to join him and
his family there as I blew through town. It was a good time really, good people
with good kids all having a small family get together at a modest home tucked
back in the forest.
The teenage boys had built some fireworks, and as the adults and little children
watched with nervous awe, the pyrotechnics were dispatched.
One lad, with a superb flair for showmanship, held up each creation, told the
name they had given it, and offered bits of trivia about its design and function.
Most appeared to be modifications of the locally available safe-and-sane variety,
but with a little duct tape and a little teenage mischief, the end result
was amazingly entertaining and exciting. Mom put on Wagner’s Flight of the
Vulkarie (sp?), that stirring, semi-demonic tune, perfect for the occasion.
The wind had picked up, so the adults limited the boys to setting off only
fireworks which did not fly up into the air. Although disappointed, they made
the best of it, not wanting to setting woods on fire anymore than anyone else.
One highlight was when a very muscular youth took off his shirt, and artistically
spun and twirled a long stick with many sparklers on each end. His youthful
physique was superbly matched his bravado as the smoke and sparks swirled about.
Another fine moment was when one creation blew up a little too much and sent even
the teens running for cover.
As the larger fireworks danced in the sky all along the valley below, the small
time exhibit at that little party was a pleasant reminder of the pleasant
goodness of friends at a gathering.
Late yesterday afternoon I managed to miss my exit for gas in Ashland, Oregon.
Doubling the hassle was the seven mile hill the van had to work its way up just
to turn around. Once heading downhill, I saw a rather desperate looking hitch-
hiker, who was very enthused when I slowed to pick him up. He had just given up
going the other way and had hopped the median strip to head back to Ashland.
When he found out that I, too, was actually heading south instead of north, he
was very pleased and told me about a big music festival in Quincy, high up in the
Sierra Mountains. So lacking any other clear destination, I decided to go there.
He claimed to be a shaman, hailing at one time from New Jersey. On and on he
talked as we cruised through the hot agriculture areas of northern California.
Mt. Shasta floated by, majestic and imposing with its near perfect central cone
and surrounding offspring. By midnight, we were up in the mountains, camped
alongside a small river.
The High Sierra Music Festival
At the very end of my first full day in California, my feet were filthy and
beaten from having danced with abandon in a big grassy meadow to the eclectic/
electric music of Left Over Salmon. Perfect.
Many people are natural dancers. Lots of them were at the festival, creatively
interpreting the already creative music into artful, graceful kinesthetic
patterns which are both a joy for them to do as well as a joy to those standing
near to watch.
I’m not one of these people, preferring to perhaps gently sway or approvingly nod
with the beat. When others are around, I feel shy and inhibited about expressing
physical interpretations of rock music.
But after dark at the festival, when the only the lights of the stage and the
eerie iridescent glow of the hula hoops, juggling balls, ribbon swirls, face
paint and even the hovering balloon octopuses and aliens; when the pulsing
boogie-funk of the rip-kicking band goes right through my shirt like so many
neutrinos through space; when a glass of wine or two can be enjoyed knowing that
not only is it now safe to partake in such a beverage without it interacting with
the sun to cause total head-throbbing lethargy, but also because there is no need
to drive home later, the van being safely parked just over there in the free lot;
yes then when all the pieces are in place I do dance with abandon, freed from the
usual discomfort of thinking others are watching and discreetly snickering at my
Days after the concert, having both gotten more comfortable with dancing as well
as observed many others dance, I conclude that I actually dance well. Most
others have no sense of rhythm nor melody. By and large they just stand facing
the band and contort. Some contort better than others of course, but they seem
detached, apart from the music instead of involved and a part of it.
When I finally reach my groove, shoulders, hips, feet and hands are all aware of
not only the basic beat, but also the tune’s time. Is it in four? Is it a funk
with the accent beat on count one or perhaps a blues tune with accents on beats
one, four and six. Do the key changes come every eight measures? Is there a
repeating pattern which underlies the solo? Is the section reaching a transition
to a new phase, sneaking down to a pulse or crescendoing up to a crashing climax?
Each of these elements go into the movements of the interpretive dance. The
dance fits the music and in doing so creates an ecstatic connection with both the
creative music and the magic of the moment.
Someday, perhaps concert goers stop just staring at the musicians (After all, how
many bass or drum solos must one see before they all look the same?), and start
looking around at each other, picking up cues on the structure of the song, and
beginning to move in all directions along with the rhythm, the melody, the
counter melody and the natural ups and downs of the song as well as the passion
of just being free and alive at a wonderful show.
But hey, to each their own. I felt lucky to finally find my groove, such as it
is, and feel comfortable dancing in my own way without inhibition. So what if
only my finger-snapping matches the music?
With sun-glasses askew and hat tipped back, the scruffy haired youth slowly made
his way up the steps in the sheltered, shady grand stand. Nearing the top, he
moved across the rows of seats until he was a little isolated from the others.
Laying down his pack, he put his feet up on the next row and sighed deeply. Ah,
relief from the sun at last.
The view below was a flowing, dancing, hopping, sprawling, colorful mass of
people centered around the huge stage. Flags flew in the breeze as a cacophony
of festival sounds swirled through the trees.
Opening his pack, he dug out his ornamental glass pipe, filled it with his
favorite herb, and settled back into his own, private buzz.
His T-shirt? “Rehab is for Quitters.”
I fail to understand how it is necessary to smoke oneself into oblivion when the
music festival is so entertaining and interesting all by itself. Oh well, to
each his/her own.
After the last of the organized music was over, little parties sprang up all over
the festival grounds. Groups talked and laughed while walking around the closed
fairground buildings and through the small city of nylon camp-tents.
The air was full of ganja, tobacco and dry, California dust, except for one place
in particular. Off to the side, back by the Jammin House, back by the port-a-
potties was an open area where the freaks, bohemians and gypsies gathered to
watch a pair of young people put on a dazzling display of bravado and grace.
He was dashingly handsome, with a short beard and dark hair pulled back and
dressed in pantaloons, a loose tunic and a vest. She was dressed similarly, but
filled them with decidedly more feminine lines.
In their hands were long batons, perhaps five feet in length whose ends were
bound and wrapped torches wildly ablaze. Twirling them in arcs, the couple
danced with passion in a masterfully choreographed courtship ritual. He was a
bold and talented man, cautiously approaching a powerful and beautiful woman,
well skilled in making a suitor prove himself worthy
While their moves were superb, one moment embracing while twirling the flaming
batons in tight coordination and the next moment pulling suddenly apart and
facing off like a bull and a matador. Like an aggressive tango or flamenco duet,
the dance had an aggressive edge combined with an animal like mutual attraction.
Most amazing of all was her expressions challenging him to be worthy, to show
that he was not only fit and assertive enough to earn her attentions, but also
respectful enough. Looking him straight in the eye, then meeting his advance
half-way joined him in a complex series of perfectly synchronous spins and
struts. All the while the flames traced the couple’s every move with deadly arcs
of heat and light. Smoke swirled in the evening air as the audience stood spell-
bound by the excellence of this couple’s dance.
Then, just as the couple’s mutual attraction was acknowledge in their smiling
stares into each others eyes and matching flame pattern, the dance ended and the
night sky swooped in as the batons were quickly rubbed in the dusty gravel. In
an instant the two dancers blended in with the other yahoos, bozoettes and
innocent bystanders. In a moment the dazed crowd awoke from their stupefied awe
to start applauding and cheering, but there was no one left to cheer. Only the
lingering smell of torch smoke and the stunned memories of the audience remained
as evidence that anything had happened at all.
Hailing from Seattle, Washington, the Circus Contraption troupe delighted the
crowds throughout the four-day festival. Not only were they superb performers
with outstanding acts of humor and skill, they were also fascinating individuals
all working together under extremely difficult conditions.
The woman on the high bar, whose strenuous morning exercises were as awe
inspiring as was her sensual performances, and the ring-leader, whose senses of
timing and humor were constant catalysts in every aspect of the production,
clearly were the back-bone of the troupe. Yet each individual, each clown,
musician and roust-about contributed well to the overall quality of the gestalt.
Together, they do the tradition of circus a great honor by not only holding on to
some time-honored traditions such as juggling and tumbling, they also improvised
many new, modern and creative elements into the show. Particularly fascinating
was how their performances changed from late-morning workshops to afternoon
children and family shows, to the late night silliness and adult humor brought
out in the midnight shows. The rousing round of Spank the Audience had everyone
belly laughing with delight and surprise; nothing like a little BDSM to tickle
Meeting them in person in the morning or between shows brought out completely
different sides of each person, best illustrated by getting to know the ring-
master himself a bit while lounging through breakfast. Picture a small, grassy
area, perhaps 100 feet in diameter. Along the north edge is the circus bus, a
rather tired looking although well decorated diesel behemoth and several smaller
tents. Next to the bus, the iron triangle of the trapeze support bars define the
stage area, with arms extending about 20 feet into the air supporting a single
trapeze bar. A small canvas tent roof covered the band area, and in the comfort
of its cool shade I conversed with the troupe about my survey.
But more on that later.
Suffice to say that the fine folks at Circus Contraption bring the art and
entertainment of a music festival to a higher plane.
Yet they were also just plain people, brutally honest about the routines and
demands of life. One example is the beautiful way that three breakfast plates
seemed to feed all twelve of them over a course of about two hours. Life is
tight, intimate and very, very honest under these circumstances. Obviously,
their love for performing and their reverence for the goddess of Circus made it
On the other hand, I met them on near the beginning of a long summer tour. I do
hope to be able to catch up with them later in the tour and see how things
Heard in the Phone Line
“Now that I’m out on my own, partying isn’t as much fun as when I lived at home.
It is, like, more fun when there is someone telling you you’re not supposed to do
“I’ve never woke up in the morning wishing I’d gotten really drunk the night
“This festival ain’t nothing like what we used to have up in Bear Valley. About
all that is the same is the disorganization of the organizers.”
Timmy Smith, editor of Weekly Freak, Box 362, Spring Park MN. 55384
I met him at one of the music stages and was impressed with his little publication. He graciously invited me to submit some appropriate articles, perhaps like the following:
An Open Letter from Mother Nature,
Greetings. It warmed my heart to see you all have such a wonderful time at the High Sierra festival. Seeing you dance and smile, living peacefully with everyone,
and doing such a good job of cleaning up makes me smile from deep in my soul.
Here are a couple tips which I think you should consider though.
Men, try more dancing and romancing and less toking and joking.
And you women, how about a little more squeezing and pleasing and a less sleazing
Relax. Touch. Kiss. It is all good.
And while your little bits of pee in the bushes does me no harm, I would
appreciate it if you’d stop leaving those nasty cigarette butts lying all over
me. They itch and look terrible.
Thank you for moving down into the big field near town. When you used to meet up
in my more private parts, well, you know how delicate my private parts can be.
The good vibrations and positive energy you all generate gives me hope that the
future is not all grim. Sometimes I think your kind is going to strangle the
life out of me. Your “developments” feel like a cancerous growth and your toxic
waste is poisoning me.
Yet, all may not be lost yet. Many of you do care about my health, and I truly
appreciate your concern.
But will you stay content to just enjoy what is left of me, or will you take
those good vibrations and positive energy home with you and start doing more to
keep me from wasting away?
Do the right thing.
Mother says so.
Mark Twain came to mind, for when in California he also noted the abundance of black flies . The seemingly endless supply of them was one of his observations and was his curiosity about what they do with their lives if there are no people around to bother.
Here at the festival, the black flies are only a mild annoyance. My respect for
living things gets strained when insects land on me, but it is only pushed to the
breaking point when I’m seen as a food source. These flies did not bite, so I
was content to only shoo them away. This of course over time got to be a hassle,
and the final solution turned out to be to carry lit sticks of incense. Looked
cool, kept the flies away.
So overall, the High Sierra Music Festival was superb. Suffice to say it was an
enlightening experience, to say the least and I do hope to return next summer.
Currently, I’m at a rest area alongside Hy. 95 about 100 mile north of Las Vegas.
The desert is absurdly hot, and I drip sweat while munching a bit of lunch. Yes,
thanks to my travel savvy and experienced planning, I’m at the mouth of Death
Valley in mid-July in mid-afternoon. Hey, if you’re going to do something, might
as well do it right, right?
So as I was saying, it is hot. Very hot and very dry. Around the entire
panoramic vista, surrounded by distant mountains on all sides, the only trees in
sight seem to be the thirty or so shrubby cottonwoods here at the rest area, and
they obviously wish they were somewhere else, too.
The van is running great.
Two fine days were spent resting at an old college roommate’s home. His and his
wonder-wife were superb hosts in their fine home on the edge of town.
Or at least it was on the edge of town. Now it is nestled among hundreds of
homes each on about a one acre lot. Elk, gophers and a variety of other native
wildlife battle humans on this edge of “development”. Gardens and pets steadily
replace the native ecosystem.
But it was a good visit with good friends, and I got a chance to get on line at
the university library. In addition to checking e-mail, I checked the number of
hits on my web-site. Geez, as many as 90 a week show up, some as far away as
Turkey, Japan, Chile and Europe. Hi there. Who are you people? Feel free to
send me a greeting via e-mail.
Clouds mercifully moved in during the late afternoon, bringing much needed relief
from the sun’s scorching heat. Siestas are not a luxury, they are a valuable
part of a good desert survival strategy.
Today’s cruise started in the park-like ponderosa pine forests around the
volcanic peaks near Flagstaff. The cool, forested volcanic plateau quickly
dropped off into the surrounding sedimentary rock covered with shrubby desert.
Not wanting to lose too much elevation, I skirted the edge of the rim for the
rest of the day and ended up at a very panoramic campsite right on the edge of
the rim overlooking a huge vista of the surrounding low lands sloping down to the
south, down into the brutal true desert. Unfamiliar bird calls echo down the
steep canyon as I sit perched on a big rock, trying to catch up on writing out
field notes. So far, I’m only on page two out of the twenty taken during the
Writing atop the rock, with the crickets, birds and rustling trees has been
wonderful this evening. Looking out over the forested landscape, down into the
dry desert shrub-lands, I can see how many tribes of people have come and gone
from this land; how they have each tried to merge their own culture into the
harsh, dry, rugged ecosystem, and have each faded away, leaving now white folks
in expensive vehicles supported by elaborate technology and home-improvements,
parked here and there far enough apart to not hear or disturb each other, in
isolated groups, drinking beer and wine around campfires, listening to digital
country western music with their cell-phones on remote-alert.
We wave as we pass on the dusty roads.
Nothing like a small explosion in the early evening to get my attention. From
the next camp over, perhaps 200 yards away, I clearly heard a distinct explosion
around sunset. It was not a pop like a gun, nor a boom like a big firecracker.
It was a whump, a dull but powerful thump-like sound.
Cautiously, I let my curiosity lead me over to their camp site. I’ve frequently
dropped in on neighboring campers, always with positive, friendly results, but
this time I approached with unusual wariness.
Had I wanted their scalps, they’d have been mine. In the darkness they had no
chance of seeing me approach, the blaring stereo masked what little noise my
sneakers made on the dry forest floor, and the dog was asleep.
Not wanting to startle them, I hailed a hello from perhaps 200 feet away. They
were typically startled, but welcomed me with handshakes and how-ya-doings and
I asked about the explosion and they both groaned. Yes, my suspicions were
correct. Gasoline had been used to start their roaring campfire. Not only had
they used white gasoline, but they had used a lot of it. One of the two young
men was fairly seriously burned on his hands and face.
First aid kit? Nope. So the wounded man and I returned to my van where I shared
some ointment with him. By the light of the flashlight, he smeared the goop over
the tender skin. He was quite lucky, only receiving first and second degree
burns, but it was obviously very painful for him. He was most appreciative of my
assistance and as he made his way back to his camp, followed by his nearly
useless dog, I pondered how some lessons can only be learned the hard way.
The urge to move on and travel is difficult to contain. Sometimes menial tasks
must be created to keep still long enough to get connected with the here and now
This lovely campsite, with its colorful rocks, its peaceful and fragrant pines
and its outstanding view of the valleys and canyons below, was littered with
fluorescent shards of broken clay pigeons. Being only clay, they posed no real
pollution problem, but their fluorescent orange color made them an eyesore on the
land, an insult to nature’s beauty all around.
It took a while to meticulously pick up each broken bit, but in the end, not only
was the campsite far more attractive, I had found the stillness necessary to find
the here and now of the place.
Hmmm. The path to Being may sometimes include Doing.
Here and now this is a fine place, and I truly feel lucky to be healthy enough
and resourceful enough to be able to experience this place at this time.
Three ravens glide by and offer their morning greetings.
The Low Desert
How truly dreadful.
What the hell am I doing down here?
The heat is awful, not even letting up at night.
Were it not for my desire to visit with a family in Tucson, I’d be nowhere near
So it goes.
Phoenix is sprawling, gobbling up the flat desert with uncontrolled abandon.
There seems no end in sight, just more and more homes.
Retirement communities with green lawns are the new habitat for rabbits and
quail, both of which are very abundant.
I seek shelter in the public library, as do many local transients. It is only
by the graces of the gods and my absurdly good luck that I’m not one of them.
Birding at Uncle Louie’s
OK, so my plan of birding at Saguaro National Park was a total bust due to the
absurdly brutal temperature. Nevertheless, while chatting with Louie and Janet,
I was pleased to see several fine desert species of bird at their feeder. Inca
Doves, White-winged Doves, Gambel’s Quail, Gila Woodpecker and even a Black-
chinned Hummingbird all entertained us in the little patio out front.
Not too many years ago, I’d have declined my dear uncle’s invitation to attend
church with him, but these days I’m not leaving any potential doors to
enlightenment unnecessarily closed.
Huge, rough hewn beams transverse the ceiling, supported by ornate columns. An
awesome collection of pipes and horns dominated the rear wall, and from them came
the stirring sounds of a pipe organ in the hands of a master. Up front was a
simple alter, covered with decorated cloth. Clergy, in their long, white robes,
sat to the side.
Many years had passed since I’ve attended a formal church service, but the
routine was familiar; songs, lessons, songs, sermon, songs, communion, prayer,
songs and then finally the recessional erupting again from the pipe organ.
Nothing particularly noteworthy of any single part, yet right in the middle of
the service, during the communion, I got this deep, nearly painful lump in my
throat. Much to my surprise, my vision was soon blurred with tears, and as my
uncle slowly shuffled down the center isle to partake of the sacrament, tears
actually rolled down my cheek. Was it the music, the childhood memories of
church, or even the emotions stirred by seeing my dear uncle, now old, move down
the isle with such devotion and faith? Writing this now several days later, I
can still think of no clear answer, but at the time it felt like an
uncontrollable response to being in a sacred place surrounded by true believers.
This welling up of emotion lasted for the remainder of the service, and
afterwards left me barely able to speak when Louie asked me if I’d like to also
join him for Sunday school. Declining, I sat quietly in the shaded courtyard,
just breathing slowly and marveling at the sensation.
Even now, days later, as I write this short description, the same feeling begins
to constrict in my neck.
What on earth (heaven?) is going on??
Because they are such dear friends, as well as family, the folks who were good
enough to share their home with me during this phase of the trip will be spared
detailed descriptions of my visit.
Generically speaking though, these people are without a doubt, two of the best
parents I’ve ever met.
They knew right from wrong, had clear rules and expectations, and were not afraid
to say no and stick to it. Humbly, they rebuffed my praise and admiration, but
they don’t understand how many truly dysfunctional and socially harmful families
there are in our country.
Perhaps they can be coaxed into describing their tactics and techniques. Surely
there are thousands if not millions of parents who would greatly benefit from
their experience and wisdom.
One goal of this trip was to visit the car salesman who sold me my True Blue van
back in 1988. He has now worked his way up through the business and is now the
head of the sales division at a large lot. Hoping that perhaps he could arrange
a new(er) vehicle, I wanted to make sure to touch base with him while on the
El Paso is not a particularly popular summer vacation place. The air is absurdly
hot and dusty, the town is a mish-mash of concrete and cacti, and the chaotic
squalor of Juarez, Mexico is just to the south, laid out like a third world
buffet of industry, suburbs and slums. Earth has been badly scarred here and
there is not end in sight. Building and construction is everywhere, and like so
many other places visited so far on this trip, the natural landscape is being
pushed farther and farther back every day.
Perhaps it is wrong to be judgmental. Is the bustling human settlement now
sprawling over the rough, dry landscape not somehow better than the lizards,
cacti and hot gravel that was here before? Where once only sparse desert could
thrive, two huge cities full of people now exists. Lush exotic plants of a
million varieties live among the people and the extensive farms and feedlots
surrounding the settlements provide food for many times more people than the
What is wrong with this picture?
In a great book called the Fifth Miracle, by Davis, the concept of Newton’s law
of Thermodynamics is applied well to the evolution of both cells and technology?
If entropy is a one way trip to disorganization and absolute zero, then how can
organized cells and complex machinery arise out of disorganized energy and simple
atoms? The author argues that on a cosmic scale of absurdly large proportion
over a nearly unfathomable long period of time, that Newton’s law is not
violated. Instead, there must be a balancing amount of disorder and chaos
somewhere to balance out the movement in the other direction. yes, computers
exist, but at what global impacts? There must be a large amount of environmental
degradation for such things to exist.
This same principal is evident in the El Paso/Juarez valley as well as all the
other sprawling communities creeping across the landscape I’ve seen on this trip.
The pesticides, carbon dioxide, metal wastes, etc. etc. etc. which are by
products of this seeming abundance are heavy prices to pay for all this
Yes, Henry David Thoreau is still right. More is not better and the key to
happiness is to simplify, not to complicate.
Compounding and perhaps even shadowing this part of the Big Picture is our ever
increasing population. The near total disregard we show for nature and wild
places might not be such a profound problem if our numbers were small or at least
not exponentially increasing.
So while on the surface, these giant cities, bustling with cultural enlightenment
and societal interactions, decorated with exotic landscape vegetation and mutant
pets, appear far more productive and vigorous than the surrounding dry desert,
the price for this seeming contradiction to Newton’s Law is actually just a
mirage. The true nature, including the hidden costs and long-term impacts, is
one of chaotic degradation not “progress”.
The twinkling lights which fill the valley with sparkles are mere flashes of
cosmic turbulence, soon to be replaced once again by the cold reality of inevitable
entropy. The sadness is not the inevitability, but rather in the fact that we,
the supposedly Thinking Ones, may have the intelligence to coexist with our
surroundings far more harmoniously than we are. We’re like children trashing our
rooms rather than adults managing our estate.
Port Townsend Blues
In the quaint town on the Sound, for two days in early summer, the Blues ruled.
During the day, it was a family event with act after act making the audience sway
and tap, smile and sigh, and clap loudly as the performers invoked the spirit of
the blues through their instruments. The musicians were mostly blacks and the
audience mostly white, but the power of the blues transcended this difference with
the magic of a three chord progression.
Listening to the many performers, I was struck by how passionate the blues are
and how the skill is not necessarily in the dexterity of the musician playing his
or her instrument, but rather by the passion and emotion drawn out by the way the
lyrics blend in with the familiar three chord patterns. Humor, irony, love,
hate, injustice, revenge, fear, desire, and the rest of the range of human
feelings were all miraculously milked from that familiar three chord pattern.
Two distinct performers stood out from the others; one was an African shaman,
and one was a Canadian prodigy. Both transcended the three chord blues and
elevated the art to astounding heights of excellence.
The shaman was named Djimo Kouyate. Dressed in traditional African garb, a long gown
decorated with colorful patterns of orange and black, he gave off an aura of
tranquility and divine understanding as he peacefully perched on the wooden
chair. The first instrument he played was called a Kora. The sound chamber was
a large gourd. From its top was mounted a long wooden neck, perhaps four feet
long, which had a slight arc inward. Between the pegs at the top of the neck and
the bridge protruding from the gourd, were 23 steel strings. Grasping two long
pegs with his lesser three fingers, Djimo held this ungainly contraption on his lap
with the neck sticking straight up. With his thumb and forefinger he then
plucked the strings, 11 with his right and 12 with his left. The sound which
flowed out was heavenly, rather like a blend of harp and sitar with a distinct
African feel, playful and light yet rich with culture and wisdom. With his
angelic smile and peaceful demeanor, Djimo charmed the audience and brought a much
appreciated sense of origins to the art of blues.
The second musician took the art of blues in a totally different direction.
Michael Kaeshammer, a very young looking Canadian man, totally dazzled the audience with his
truly excellent piano playing skills. Obviously trained in classical piano from
an early age, he used his technical expertise to playfully romp over a variety of
blues modes, from Steven Foster to Thelonius Monk. His left hand expertly laid
down the boogie-bottom while his right danced over the keys with creative
abandon. The audience was stunned. Obviously we were in the presence of a
master, a rare individual who not only had the skill to play that nine foot
Steinway piano to its full 88-key potential, but also a creative genius who could
weave themes and musician punch-lines together to form astounding patterns and
And his demeanor, quite unlike the benevolent preacher aura of Djimo Kouyate, was that of
the kid next door; friendly, impish and a little shy, as if he too was amazed by
what came out of his fingers.
Far from the repulsive “look at me, aren’t I great” attitude exhibited by one or
two of the other musicians (most notably Tony Coleman, the ego-starved leader and
drummer for the Tony Coleman band) both Djimo Kouyate and Michael Kaeshammer showed a humility and grace
which greatly enhanced their excellent musicianship.
At night, seven local bars/clubs all had music until far into the night. Friday
night, I bounced from club to club, watching the crowds dance and drink.
Saturday though, I parked my butt on a stool at a place called the Upstage,
to again see young Michael play his magic. He, of course, was the last pianist to
play there that evening, but unless I wanted to risk losing a seat with a view of
the piano, I had to wait out the first two acts. First came Anne Wooden, a white
woman from the Puget Sound area, who was playful and certainly skilled enough at
her art to be entertaining. Then came Big Joe Duskin, an older black man from the deep
south who made up for his less than expert piano skills with his authentic feel
for the blues. Crooning out his tales of heartache and pain, he brought an
authenticity to the art of blues which formed a base on which the more modern
players’ art could be compared. Finally, after midnight, Michael entered the bar
with his boyish, disarming demeanor. But there was nothing childish or innocent
about his playing. With abandon he wrenched complex jams from the black and
white keys, fingers pounding, then tickling, then caressing, then crocheting
intricate counter-point extravaganzas: all with a humble demeanor which sometimes
just expressed mutual amazement
Laden with rainforest silt, the Hoh River flows in three channels past Cottonwood Campground. The ocean is just barely too far west to hear over the Hoh’s gentle churning. Gravel islands piled high with driftwood logs separate the channels, each flowing at a slightly different rate. The nearest one is the slowest, the middle the fastest and the farthest one is the Momma bear. Just right. A bald eagle perches near the top of a sapling, surveying the scene royally. Drizzle trickles down as river breezes fan the understory’s fern and thimbleberry leaves.
Only one other camper is here today, a smattering of tents and tarps with no vehicle, possibly fishing folk enjoying the day in driftboats which will ease into the campground this evening. Cami and Todd and their two slacker dogs have moved on. We did have a good evening swapping stories around the campfire last night. In their thirties, the robust couple were on the road, voluntarily homeless like me, Being in the outback of the Northwest. They claimed their secret of staying together as a couple is due to their reluctance to actually get married. At least that is what Todd said. We marveled at how many single moms there are among our generation and how absurdly difficult their lives are. It does take a village to raise children. Perhaps public schools will evolve more into boarding schools to liberate both the overworked single moms and the lonely guilt ridden single dads. Maybe they’d have the time and energy to rediscover why they fell in love with each in the first place.
This morning, the distant roar of angry sounding big machinery is a reminder of the industrial exploitation of the surrounding rainforest. While the mammoth trees in the nearby national park are safe, the surrounding “managed” forests have been cut and plundered for many years. Regrowth varies but the overall look is that of a very bad haircut.
But here at Cottonwood campground, all is lush and beautiful.
Driving out, I notice that the radio’s search/seek mode can’t find any stations. Cool.
All along the Columbia River are huge hydroelectric dams. Except for the forty miles of river which still flow through the Hanford Atomic Reservation, the river has been transformed into a series of reservoirs. From these basins, irrigation water is pumped inland changing the naturally dry grassland and sage shrubs into seemingly endless network of farms.
One of the largest dams is the one at The Dalles, Oregon. Even after doing its job of turning the massive turbines to make our electricity, the water still emerges with astounding force. But apparently, not enough. Either through conspiracy or by default, we are facing an electricity supply problem. Burn oil, our president says.
Meanwhile the wind blows up the Columbia River gorge with enough constant force to allow a windsurfing community to thrive. Why are there no wind generators atop the dams? They are already ugly with wires and whatnot, so some fan blades peacefully changing wind into electricity might be an improvement.
Why isn’t this happening?
The Powers That Be can’t own the wind. We wouldn’t be their slaves quite as much, with our arms still dripping as the oily syringe is inserted again today.
n a remote pocket of Washington State, up along the Strait of Juan de Fuca, is a very unique little resort called SilverKing.
I found it by accident while wandering about on June 8th, 2001. Surrounded by heavily gated private timberland, the entrance gate is only marked by an old, fading sign. At the bottom of the short, winding gravel road is a spectacular view of the Strait of Juan de Fuca backdropped by the forested coastal mountains of British Columbia. A crude, square boat basin of piled rocks juts out from the shore. To the east is flat, mowed area, perhaps four acres in size, and beyond that is nature’s wonderland… but more on that later.
Meeting me at the run down office was a mild mannered young man with long hair and a scant beard. He was so laid back that visitors are instantly at ease. Relax, chill out. You’re on vacation.
“Sure, go pick any site, pay whenever. I’ll be around,” he said quietly with a little side grin.
Only five other RVs were in camp, which could easily hold ten times that number. The showers and restrooms were closed, but well maintained portable potties were strategically located here and there. Power was available at many sites, but no water. I picked the lone site way out on the rocky wall surrounding the boat basin. Perfect.
Over the next two days, I was awed by the surrounding tide flats, delighted to fish from the kayak out in the choppy salt water and entertained by local good old boys around their campfires. But learning the history of the place is what sticks with me later.
In the late 1800s, the U.S. government basically gave away huge chunks of virgin forest here along the mountainous slopes of northwestern Washington to homesteaders. Groups of these hardy folks formed cooperatives, some of which worked out and some of which didn’t. The collection of families and churches who founded the nearby town of Port Angeles dissolved in a decade, while the settlers who formed what would become the Merrill Ring company have evolved into a powerful conglomerate controlling thousands of acres of prime land.
This particular piece of paradise was the dream of Morris Van Der Lack (sp?). Interviews with the campground manager, Dustin as well as with a couple local fishermen provided some historical insight. In the early 60s Morris had a dream of breaking away form his job with the phone company and developing a landing for folks who wanted to fish for salmon and halibut just off shore. There was no dock closer than Port Angeles, and with just a little work and good luck, he had the vision of carving out a boat launch and campground from the steep, rugged countryside. He started out by simply helping folks launch their fishing boats with his old tractor, hauling them in and out of the uncooperative tide lands. But he hauled in rock and carved up the land until a crude but effective boat basin had been constructed. Water permits were difficult to secure, so he tapped into the nearby stream and diverted enough of it into a storage tank on the hill to keep the restrooms, showers and water hoses working.
Then Morris’ wife died. While I know nothing of her, her passing took the wind out of Morris’s sails. She must have been wonderful, and I feel for his loss. It is painfully wonderful how much a good spouse can make or break your dreams.
The landing was bought by Old John Haller in the 70s, and he turned it into a thriving business. Three hundred sites were were packed into the mowed flat and numerous boat slips lined the basin. In those days, limits on fishing were lax, up to 18 slivers per day was reported, but enforcement was sparse and tales of fish taken by the hundreds still bring back a sparkle in the older local’s campfire tales. One can only imagine the parties and campfires which have echoed off those forested slopes over the years.
Soon after Old John’s son, Little John Haller inherited the business, things began to fall apart. First came the kelp cutters, huge harvesting operations who raked in acres and acres of kelp for use in food products such as nutrient agar and ice cream. The septic system finally failed and fuel leaks from the gas storage tanks were detected. The EPA and other official Powers That Be stepped in and closed the place down. In the early 90s it was repossessed and sold by public auction to….
The Merrill Ring Timber Company, owners of all the surrounding forest lands. Local rumor is that they envisioned a very different use of the land; to expand the site into a log boom. This had the potential to save lots of money getting their trees to the mills by floating them along the strait rather than trucking them along the narrow, twisting roads.
Officialdom halted this environmental disaster though. Permits for such a development on the fragile coastal tidelands were not able to be secured and the campground sat still and locked for about seven years.
Then, according to Dustin, in the early 90s the Merrill ring Company contacted his father in Port Angeles. He had run a successful RV repair and supply business for many years. Would they be interested in managing the camp if it were reopened?
So although there is no running water and the fish freezers have long ago turned to rust, the campground is again alive with the sounds of happy campers reveling in the day’s catch.
Yes, there are still fish out there to be caught. If a fool like me in a small kayak can land several rockfish in an afternoon, anyone can. The experienced locals of course have fine powerboats which they launch at the boat basin when the tide is higher than the accumulated silt. Off to Pillar Point they go in search of halibut this time of year, but soon it will once again be salmon season and the run is expected to be a good one. Dustin hope that their third attempt at drilling for freshwater will be successful, but if not, he is astute enough to know that sustaining the low but steady level of visitors the place can currently accommodate is more than enough to sustain him and his charming lady Juli (who has “Lucky” tattooed on her hand for obvious reasons) for as long as they wish to stay. In the winter, they work on their dream house in Maui. Geez.
Now, what about that natural wonderland? Thanks to those Regulators and Officials who made life so rough for the early developers by limiting their semi-chaotic exploitation of the land, the stream is teaming with trout and the rocky shoreline of the strait is astoundingly alive with sea creatures. Limpets, chitons, oysters, clams, several species of crabs and a huge host of smaller creatures who support the food chain thrive. Several times, while carefully walking over the algae covered rocks I was stopped cold in my tracks by the bizarre creatures who live there. Above it all, a bald eagle perched in a tall tree. Herons stalked the shallows while murrelets dove just off shore. It was particularly interesting to listen to the crabs. With each step, all the crabs in the general area retreated a few inches into the nearest nook. Any step in any direction triggered the same response; the sound of their shells clacking on the rocks made an unnerving snapping sound all around. Waiting only a few moments though, it was fascinating to watch them slowly emerge from their hiding places and take up where they left off, vying for territory, munching on algae and keeping a wary eye out, literally, for predators.
Those shorelines are probably have the highest degree of richness and diversity I’ve ever seen. Hopefully we will manage them well forever.
Whooping with the Locals
It was a day of rest and recovery, a morning bike ride along the docks, a huge lunch at a Chinese buffet, a long nap in a cheap but clean hotel, followed by watching the Lakers beat up on the 76ers, followed by a trip to the laundry-mat, I ended the day by having a beer at a plain looking tavern. The thump of bass and a sign advertising karaoke was enough to lure me in for a little local culture and the place did not disappoint.
Kelly, the bartender was the most bouncy, friendly lady I’ve perhaps ever met. Everything she said was loud, she danced between tables and hugged everyone as if they were old friends. Between cigarettes she served food and poured beers. Soon, the place had about 25 locals mostly sitting together around a line of small tables. Obviously, no one except perhaps Kelly the bartender had done any exercise so far this millenium, but they were a happy lot.
The karaoke guy didn’t have to do a whole lot of coaxing for singers with this crowd. With only a couple beers under their belts, they started putting in requests. It was so sweet the way they did their best to sing. Some were almost good and some were almost bad, but all were given hearty rounds of applause at the end of their selection. One woman was particularly good at singing Melissa Etheridge songs and one man did quite well on a couple country western numbers. One awesome highlight was Kelly singing part of her song on her knees singing up into a mike on a stand. It was quite possibly the most erotic karaoke I’d ever witnesses. Before long, she even managed to embarrass herself and went back to standing. Geez. They don’t make many of that model anymore.
Nearly everyone sang along on every song, and when the main singer faltered or got lost, everyone was supportive by just singing a little louder. My clapping was acknowledge and soon folks were smiling at me, making me feel quite welcome. One good old boy invited me outback for a toke, which I politely declined. Wearing my US Army jacket seemed to let him know I had a reasonable excuse to turn down this obvious sign of local hospitality.
The karaoke guy then surprised us all by doing an excellent performance of R.E.M.’s It Is The End of the World as We Know It. I wonder how many hours he’d spent practicing and whether or not he was tired of singing it. As he glowed in the loud praise afterward, he clearly had no regrets for the work of learning it all and clearly loved to sing it every chance he got.
By the time I’d enjoyed three beers, ladies outnumbered the men about 4 to 1 and were looking too friendly. Time to move on.
Returning to my little room, I slept like a rock until dawn when the garbage truck lumbered down the back alley. Ah, Urbania. It doesn’t take long to tire of it.
Despite the splittingly chill weather, tourists crowd the street. As always, the many shops provide excellent entertainment and the exchange rate makes shopping a bargain. But I’m not here for shopping, but rather for the simple joy of absorbing a different place; and this is a different place.
Victoria is Canadian, that difficult to describe flavor of being that is easily acknowledged but impossible to define. The money feels light and odd in the hand and there is a slightly international feel to the inner city which is not found in the states. India, China, Viet Nam, Korea, Italy, Germany, Ireland and many other cultures have stores or pubs emitting their distinct cultures.
But today, the weather is challenging, feeling more like a blustery fall day than a pleasant day in late spring. So it goes. A wool jacket and small umbrella makes travel comfortable.
Internet cafes are a new addition to the district. One, down in the business section costs $10/hr, but a far funkier one was found on the upper floor of an art studio which charged only $6. Of course, it is prudent to pay for as much as possible with plastic so that the correct exchange rate is automatically deducted from purchases. Bohemians seem to congregate at both places. To what corners of Cyberworld do they surf? A little known fact about such public on-line places is that it is fairly easy to go back and see where the previous use went, unless that is they know how to empty the memory cache and erase the history files like I do. Still though, nothing is secure, so it is best to avoid all personal communication as much as possible.
Salmon burger for lunch at an Irish Pub was followed by more walking about. Pathetic street beggars are on most corners, oblivious to the cold, damp weather. I don’t mind tipping the musicians a little bit, but the out and out beggars bother me. On and on. Sea planes buzz overhead, huge ships and yachts compete for space in the harbor and homes line the hills for as far as the eye can see. This is an odd thing about southern Canada compared to northern United States. Southern Canada is very built up and urbanized while much of northern United States is wilderness. Compared to the awesome display of nature seen just a couple days ago at SilverKing, the waterfront of Victoria is a concrete disaster.
Several independent art and antique galleries were visited. While the pieces frequently call out to me and at times is even quite moving, it is such a relief to be out of the possession loop. When one lives in a van, collecting art and antiques is not a possibility. On all but the highest level is it all just Stuff, able to be appreciated without having to posses it.
Hologram shops, Indian sweater shops, W.W.II junk shops, S/M shops, tattoo parlors, chocolate shops: everything can probably be bought here if one can find the right little store. The sky lightens and the tourists’ pace relaxes as sunglasses replace umbrellas. I’ve missed the three o’clock ferry and need a nap, or perhaps another cup of coffee.
Time flies while shop hopping. Torrential rains have alternated with bursts of sunshine. Maybe it is spring up here after all. During one squall I share my little umbrella with a stranger. She senses I’m more or less safe and enjoys the temporary shelter while chatting about how this is all her fault for having complained so long about the lack of rain. Obviously, self-centeredness is not limited by international borders.
After walking about (a-boot) all day, a disturbing trend emerged. The quaint shops which attract me to this huge city are being slowly replaced by commercial caricatures. The raggedy walled, tilty floor originals are being made-over into glossy imitations in malls. There are even pseudo headshops, minus the pornographic posters and obvious marijuana references, but complete with psychedelic posters and rock-star T-shirts. Name brand superstores such as the Gap now replace the funky second hand thrift stores. L.L. Bean replaces the dark, crowded outfitters hole-in-the-wall.
So as the afternoon wanes, I retreat to my little Irish pub and have another overpriced beer.
What stands out in Pt. Townsend as unusually noteworthy is not just the old
architecture. Sure, the 19th century buildings along the waterfront are
fascinating to inspect; they just don’t build them with that much style and
character any more. Sure, the newer buildings in the big cities have more flash
and new-fangled designs, but the local ones in Pt. Townsend reflect time-tested
elegance and grace.
An no, it is not the shops which thrive in these historical buildings. Sure, the
shops along the street front are fascinating to explore, with their display cases
are full of an amazing assortment of baubles, bangles and beads and their
shelves lined with a magical eclectica of rare books and fine antiques. Modern
mall shops may have more flash and new designs, but they certainly lack the
quality artistic merit found in these shops; they just don’t market things these
days like they used to.
But in Port Townsend, what is most unique is not the 19th century architecture,
nor the interesting shops full of eye-candy which grace the old buildings’
interiors. What made this tourist town stand out more than the others were the
wonderful women who own or work as clerks in the shops. From young to middle-
aged to older, these women showed cordial style, gentle grace, liberated self-
comfort and a wise demeanor which together made them each magically glow with
both inner and outer beauty. Like water on a parched plant, they invigorated my
traveling soul and helped inspire me to pursue further enlightenment.
Thank you ladies. Thank you for your presence.
For a week, I house-sat for dear friends while they honeymooned. This place, our state’s capital, is truly unique.
Two distinct cultures coexist harmoniously here. One is the well-dressed crowd, professionals associated with government or related parasitic organizations; and the other is the ill-dressed crowd, freaks and gypsies associated with no discernable groups except themselves. Grunge has become a lifestyle among then, yet surly and otherworldly as they look they are as friendly and easy going as are the suits and ties. All mix for lunch in the park, pass each other on the street, and shop in each other’s stores with a nodding live and let live attitude.
The streets are absurdly entertaining to bike through, as has been my habit during this week. Wonderful scents waft out of exotic shops with wonderful names like Radiance and The Archibald Sisters. Orange and blue haired youths with too many tattoos sip coffee and chat politics while secretaries in sweat suits jog by on their lunch hour. OK, they’re not really jogging, but they’re walking vigorously. OK, they’re not really discussing politics, but they could if they wanted to.
The crossovers are fun to find, too. These are folks who live in one world, but work in the other. Occasionally, one sees a woman in heels and sports coat, with just a hint of a chain tattoo peeking out from under a sleeve. Or sometimes one sees a clean young clerk reading the biography of Tesla in a bookstore, surrounded by bohemians and bozoettes, who just needed a job to get on to tech school next fall.
Children romping in the city park fountain is always worth a stop. Creatively the water spurts straight up from holes in the pavement in dance-like patterns. The squealing caused by these globby jets can be heard for blocks.
The sound of an electric guitar attacks through the early evening air like a jet across a quiet beach. The player wails and whoops, screeches and howls, winds that thing up and then lets in all unwind, up and down the neck, riff after fir the player wrenches a wall of sound out of his ax. Luckily for my nearby ears, the player has apparently been doing this for quite some time and thanks to these diligent nightly practice sessions, is very skilled. Technically the machine is being mastered. The riffs and runs are starting to flow easily; what is missing at this point in the players development is passion: that astounding ability to emote through the instrument, not just play the notes. With luck and more practice, perhaps the player will master that skill, too.
Just for comparison purposes, I went to a local establishment for karaoke one Sunday evening. After the totally entertaining evening in Port Angeles a couple weeks ago, I looked forward to a similar display of skill and pathos. Wow, was I ever disappointed.
The Olympia locals may look cool and/or have important government jobs, but they can’t sing worth a piece of lint. Song after song was dreadful, and while some were obviously making a joke out of the occasion, others were really trying to sing for real. The gay guy in the lumberjack shirt could have done a superb job of singing I Feel Pretty in his deep baritone voice had he practiced just a little. But no, the comic effect was ruined by his total lack of pitch and his constant need to study the lyric’s board. A bleary eyed geek guy could have done a superb job of talk-singing Johnny Cash’s I Walk the Line, but even with the prompting screen and others singing along, he got hopelessly lost. A fairly attractive lady got up and butchered an already whiney alternative tune with the pathetic refrain I Want to Win, crooned over and over and over.
Compared to the folks in Pt. Angeles who obviously spent way too much time singing their favorite tunes in front of a mirror holding a flashlight for a microphone, the Olympia locals spent way too much time watching TV stoned.
I took little solace in my $4.75 glass of stale Merlot and left early.
The Farmers’ Market near the docks is always a fine time. Thursday through Sunday the vendors attract locals from all over town. Vegetables, flowers, trinkets and sandwiches can all be purchased at reasonable costs. Local musicians can park and hope coins are tossed into their open instrument cases, but only for so long and only in their designated places. The market is hip, but in a regulated sort of way. Some days, bands perform on the little stage and often are quite good. Local acoustic bands, such as the amazingly talented Makadonians playing their middle-eastern jams, are real crowd pleasers as can be seen by the toddlers gyrating uncontrollably in front of their more inhibited parents. Recently, I’ve been surprised to hear touring bands from other countries play there too. A Peruvian band featuring bamboo flutes was delightful, as was a soulful steel-drum band from the Caribbean. What eclectica.
One stand at the market, which always caught my eye, was the tie-dyed shirt booth. Year after year I walked past, but for some reason or other never ventured to get on of the obviously psychedelic apparel. More than just shirts, they now sell baby clothes, jogging pants and a wide variety of dresses: all tie-died in the most outrageous, eye twisting patterns. This year, I finally bought one, a rainbow colored swirl looking either like a nebula roaring into a black hole, or a day-glow polychete having an epileptic seizure. If one can’t enjoy wearing such a creation in Olympia, then no where is truly safe.
And perhaps the latter may be the case. The day after buying the trippy shirt, I donned it and headed into town for my daily ride. Cruising the streets was not a problem, but some very unusual vibrations were created in the park. It was after the yuppie aristocrats had finished lunch and were back in their cubicles. The aliens, gypsies and goths were finally dragging themselves out of bed and were beginning to congregate. Goths in particular, have a tough time knowing what to wear on hot days and always end u looking like vampires caught in the sun. Others tossed Frisbees or sat laughing in suspicious circle. Like a couple others, I parked my bike and kicked back on the lawn to catch a few rays. But soon, watching others watch me, I had the distinct feeling that I made them nervous. Noticing then that my brand new, farmers’ market, tie-dyed shirt stood out like a debutante trying to look cool with a cigarette. With my clip on shades, my newly grown goatee, my deluxe mountain bike and my brand new hippie shirt, I think I must have make them think that I was perhaps an undercover cop doing a bad job of looking local. Geez. How dreadful. On one hand, I was mortified at being so un-hip among such obvious hipsters. On the other hand, it was their problem not mine so just to make the most of the absurdity of the situation, I took out my small black notepad and pretended to discretely take notes on them.
On and on.
Daily bike rides and long naps have been the routine here in Olympia this week. One exception was a second trip to the local karaoke establishment to give the locals another chance. With only a few exceptions, I was not disappointed. Although there were still a couple obvious fools who should have stayed on their stools, several very talented and extroverted performers spontaneously arose from the audience and karaoked.
One stand out was a woman who reminded me of a young Sally Fields except with long hair. Through her happy smile she superbly sang a high, hauntingly disturbed song by Tori Amos. A second singer, a woman with nearly orange hair, stood with her hand on her hip with her pale shoulder’s intricate tattoo displayed prominently exposed, and crooned a perfect rendition of Patsy Kline’s Crazy for You.
Both of these performances were truly a tribute to the awesome diversity among us and the spectacular potential our species has for artistic expression.
So while not offering an apology to Sunday’s karaokeists who stunk up the place, I do offer praise for the Thursday crowd and upgrade my evaluation of the Olympia scene from C- to B+. Perhaps a couple locals from Pt. Angeles might come down and show them how to earn at least an A-.
On the Road
It has now been about two months since my house sold. What a relief. Ghosts of my ex and her daughter haunted the place. They’re having a new life in Spokane and I’m now finally free to try to find a new one, too.
First, I went down to Florida to visit family and help my folks with some house chores. The weather was oppressive and the countryside devastated by “development”. While good to touch base with family, it was also good to fly back to the cool, damp comfort of the Pacific Northwest.
Next, I went to Pullman where I discussed my Ph.D. proposal with my reverend mentor Dr. Franz. There is a need to link spiritualism with environmental science if we are ever going to influence the behavior of individuals toward making more nature-friendly decisions in their lives. Dr. Franz was interested, but felt it was out of his area of expertise. Suggesting that I incorporate some GIS data to help communities identify critical habitat, he encouraged me to continue to look into the idea. I left feeling like the job is going to be huge.
Back to the beach, I’ve been meditating on where to go next. Yes, it is quite a luxury, one I do not take lightly. What new adventures await?
(The only article my dear editor ever refused to print in the South Beach Bulletin)
A few weeks ago I wrote about the sheer stupidity exhibited by some young men driving recklessly and illegally on their ATVs. Their behavior was labeled stupid because they not only created a danger for themselves but also to many innocent bystanders and also degrades our natural environment. This week, I’ll be describing another type of behavior called folly. It has many elements found in the concept of stupidity, but lacks the direct threat to the safety of others or destruction of the environment. Folly only puts the thrill seeker at risk and is therefore less stupid, right?
I do not recommend nor condone the thrilling activity described in this article. Do not do this and if you do you do so at your own choosing. If is folly. It tempts fate to reach out and inflict pain, injury and even death.
And that of course is part of the attraction. Like bungle jumping, hang-gliding and many of the events known as Extreme Sports. There is a wonderful thrill in flirting with disaster.
The recent Penguin Plunge had some elements of folly, despite the rescue crews, ambulances and many watchful eyes of loved ones from the shore. The flushed faces of the invigorated participants as they returned to shore after tempting fate in the cold, churning surf beamed with vigor and adrenaline enhanced enthusiasm.
My folly is far less public and far more dangerous; I like standing on piles of driftwood logs as the rising tide lifts them. As the powerful surf heaves the massive logs upward, it is truly a heart-thumping thrill to stand upon them and ride it out. Single logs are good, but riding whole log jams such as the big one at Jacobsen Jetty is absolutely superb. Pure folly.
Knowing that one bad decision, one misplaced foot, one off-balance twist, or one unlucky slip on the slippery rocks could easily result in a leg, arm or chest crushed between the shifting logs; knowing that being pinned beneath a heavy, water-logged stump would insure a chilling death by drowning as the next wave came ashore; and knowing that there is no rescue crew or crowd of concerned loved ones watching from the shore; all together these create a tension which brings my heart to my throat and surges of adrenaline and endorphins shooting through my tense veins.
Experience teaches some tactics. Studying the patterns of the incoming waves intensely, one can learn when it is safe to inch forward between surges. Always know the escape route. There is no shame in retreating too soon. When the logs begin to rise from the surging wave, knees must be kept flexible to absorb the motion much like a skier glides over a mogul. Arms are extended out for balance. Branches snap and logs groan as the wave retreats and deposits the tangled trees into their new precarious position. Breathe slowly, watch everything all around, Make no assumptions. Think, move carefully. Watch the wave, feel the lift and roll, adjust carefully, ride the surge.
Returning to the safety of solid ground, the glow of being alive, the thrill of experiencing all of ones senses simultaneously and the feeling of victory all blend together into a wondrous, life-loving exhilaration. In a Zen like balance, it is as if one can not really know the reality of life unless it can be balanced by knowing the reality of death: beauty is only appreciated in contrast to ugliness, sweet compared to tart and love compared to apathy.
Once again, I do not recommend that anyone else tempt fate with this form of pure folly. But I challenge all readers to find their own folly, and experience the thrill of being alive by flirting with disaster, just try not to endanger others or ruin the environment, OK?.
See you on the beach.
I hadn’t been that dirty ever, possibly not even in infancy. Two hot showers for me and a long-cycle cleansing in the washing machine for my clothes were needed to begin to feel like I was even beginning to get an upper hand over the microbes world I had invaded.
Life, as we usually perceive it, consists of shore pines, beach grass, sea gulls and occasionally frogs and earthworms. Perhaps a member of the fungus kingdom makes itself visible now and then, but for the most part it is large plants and animals which dominate our consciousness. They, along with us, are only the tip of the iceberg of life. In terms of quantity, diversity and abundance bacteria dwarf us all combined. Their ecological impact, both now and over time, is still much more significant and long-lasting, although us humans are catching up some in this regard. They are bacteria, kingdom Monera and we are just guests on their world.
While many are benign to our existence, many are beneficial and many others cause deadly diseases. They live in the soil waiting to infect a cut, their endospores float through the air waiting to land on butter left out over night, and their thrive in our digestive systems entrance to exit. Interestingly, they are well contained there and rarely get into other tissues to cause problems if reasonable care is taken in cooking and personal hygiene. Venturing beyond these normal barriers is risky at best, but sometimes it is necessary.
The first sign that I would soon be dealing with their world instead of mine was when the toilet’s handle did not trigger the usual enthusiastic response from the porcelain shrine. It was slow and sluggish and odd noises gurgled from the bath tub drain. Like the vast majority of home owners along the shore, a septic tank system is used to initiate the recycling of household wastes. Digestive bacteria living in the tank do a wonderful job of reducing bulk and toxicity and with the assistance of a good leach field can effectively treat all sorts of household sewage. When that system no longer functions, one might as well call the banker before anyone else.
But first, being a descendent of curious monkeys, I had to check things out on my own. Luckily, I am able to get under my house and easily inspect almost all of the plumbing. Others are not so lucky and must tear our floors and walls, or excavate vast caverns under their ailing home. Yikes. So much for that early retirement.
By tapping on the sewage pipes, I could ascertain that they were all full, right down to the point where the pipe went through the foundation concrete. Starting at the other end of the line, after killing many plants and displacing many small animals with my crude metal digging tools, I uncovered the septic tank top and peered inside. Home to millions of microbes, my presence was clearly not a good idea. This is their world, not mine. The level of the contents was near the top, but not at the top: perhaps two to three feet down.. Yet, it was close to the level of the backed up pipes, so based on my near zero experience in such matters, I concluded that my leach field had failed and that the entire system was backed up as a result.
Before laying into the yard with a shovel, I thought it prudent to consult an expert. Picking the contractor with the biggest ad, I ended up talking to John Brumfield himself, owner of Brumfield construction. He listened patiently as I described the symptoms and suggested that it might not be necessary to contact the county Health Department, to get the official forms, to arrange for a inspector to evaluate the problem and tell us the what and where necessary to fix the problem. Nope, Bob said. Because the level inside the tank was not overflowing, he didn’t think the leach field had failed, but rather that the line was blocked.
If he was right, then this was a problem I could potentially fix rather than alert the government to the problem and then hire contractors to do the dirty work.
No stranger to work, and no stranger to making absurd mistakes in the pursuit of home maintenance, I reluctantly started digging up the sewage line from the septic tank back toward the house. The line was not that deep and the soil was very sandy. Again, I felt lucky compared to many homeowners who faced longer distances and deeper, rougher soils. Eventually the entire line was exposed and careful tapping revealed that the problem was located right where the pipe came through the foundation of the house. My plan was simple. Rent a “snake” feed it down the sewage pipe from the inside, break the clog free and be done with it.
Opening a pipe to feed in the snake resulted in sewage spewing out in a great fountain under the house. Wow. Nothing in my life had quite prepared me for this spectacle, especially illuminated by flashlight. Apparently, things were quite backed up. Quickly closing that pipe off, it was obvious that the clog would have to be removed from the other side.
Returning to the land of light, I saw the extent of my exposure to the moneran kingdom. Not too bad. The mess under the house was quickly sinking into the sand and perhaps some sanitary cleanser would nullify the effects of the rest. Do they sell Pine Sol by the drum?
The outside plan was simple. Saw the plastic pipe apart below the clog, then loosen things up with the snake and the hopefully get the pipe back together before the surge can leak too much. Phase one went well. The hack-saw easily cut through the plastic pipe. Again, I felt lucky compared to folks with metal or ceramic pipes. Phase two with the snake yielded only a disgusting trickle (small as it was, it no doubt carried millions of microbes out into the land of light and air for the first time in hundreds of generations), so phase two-A was put into place by blasting the garden hose up the exposed pipe. This was no time for Freudian analysis. Just a few moments of this treatment yielded remarkable results, so remarkable that phase three, the rejoining of the pipe was absurdly difficult. In no time at all, I was standing ankle deep in raw sewage mixed with several million generations of potentially pathogenic bacteria. As I scrambled to put the splice sleeve in place, I cursed my college education once more: this time not for ill-preparing me for home maintenance and other useful real-life skills. No, this time I cursed higher education for teaching me all about Escherichia coli, cholera, typhus, hepatitis, and various forms of dysentery. Truly then and there, surrounded by more monerans than one could shake two sticks at, ignorance of bacterial pathogens would have been nice.
The gods of home maintenance smiled upon me that day for not only did the pipe go back together fairly quickly, but the line drained easily into the tank and everything was back to normal. The monerans are back to happily living inside my intestine, inside the house’s intestines, and inside the septic tank where they blissfully do their job of digesting waste and recycling water with little care about life outside the confines of the concrete walls.
The cause of the clog seemed to be laundry soap, although perhaps the readers will forgive me for not being too scrupulous in my scientific analysis of the residue. Before burying everything, I made a mental note to use a little less and to take extra steps in maintaining my septic system. It is a living system and if properly maintained will last for a very long time.
For all you septic tank users, here are some good tips.
Think of your septic tank as household pets. They are alive and for your own good they need be kept alive. Put no poisons down the pipes, no paints, no solvents, no metals, no pesticides, no herbicides, nothing which would kill a pet. Some soaps are OK, some are not. Read the label and when in doubt, err on the side of caution. Secondly, avoid putting anything in there which will not decompose by bacteria, for example plastic, or like in many beach homes, sand. Hose off in the yard when after returning from the beach before getting in the shower.
Experts disagree on whether or not products available in stores which enrich the system, either by adding bacteria or by adding digestive enzymes, are beneficial or benignly redundant. I take no chances and add some periodically.
So the lesson here is that an ounce or two or prevention is worth several gallons of absolute yuk at the least, and a cost of thousands of dollars at the worst.
And again, my sincere thanks to John Brumfield for his wisdom and insight into these matters.
Labor Day Weekend 2000
Welcome to the real world, part one.
OK, so who’d have thought I’d be working behind a cash register this afternoon? While most folks are creeping along in bumper to bumper traffic trying to get somewhere to recreate on this Labor Day weekend, I’m filling in as a clerk for the local store. So far so good, although operating the little cash register is surprisingly difficult. So many buttons, and the damn thing screeches at me if I don’t follow correct protocol. Yikes.
This is like a dance. The moves are standardized, with little room for improvisation. There is the Is That Everything stage, followed by the Recording of the Stated Price stage, followed by the Categorizing of the Declared Purchase Items, followed by the Manipulation of the Machine Stage. This is where most problems arise. Correctly entering the price is somewhat made easier by most items having price tags on them. Candy is an exception though, so kids with fists full of candy and change all mixed together do slow things down considerably. When confused, I ask them for help and they lie about candy prices. When they’re confused, I take all their money and say thank you.
So far so good. It is good for me to take each thing slowly, one at a time, and think about the dance.
After the Manipulating the Machine phase of the dance, we go into the Passing of Money. They hand me theirs, I state how much it is, I lay it out where we both can see it on top of the cash drawer,I then punch in the amount of money they have presented me, and the Machine tells me their change. So much for all the advanced math I was forced to learn in school. Calculus? Trig? Statistics? All useless. As long as I push the right buttons, the Machine takes care of it all. I then count it out to them and ask if they want a sack. Only then, while putting things in the sack is it appropriate to break out of the dance and improvise a little conversation. Weather is a safe topic as is kids returning to school; the presidential election is not nor is abortion rights.
I’m learning to speak slowly and deliberately and thinking about every move I make. Sure, I’ve been doing this dance as a consumer for years, but like suddenly having to switch roles and lead, the new steps take a while to learn.
After several hours, my back and feet feel a little tight, but mentally I remain alert. It feels like a real job, where one actually earns one’s wage. Odd, how teaching never really felt like that.
There certainly are a lot of details around here that need to be attended to. Lots of little things…..
Twenty four hours later, after working a non-stop 9 hour shift, it feels much less interesting. My feet are tired, but my spirits are good. This is an honest job though and the theater of it remains fun. Today, I found an Oldies rock station out of Astoria and played name that tune, name that band, or for the ones with not only good musical knowledge but also intact memory synapses we played name those musicians. It was delightful to see grown men and women leave smiling and proud because they correctly identified Lighten Shade of Pale, Boston or Ginger Baker. Like, yeah, there is still some gray matter up there…
And they buy such crap. Chips, beer, cigarettes, candy, pre-fad burritos, pop, chips, half and half, charcoal, marshmallows, tempura batter mix; topped off with renting a video they’ve probably already seen on TV. Yessiree, we’re having fun on vacation now. But I smile and try to do my job well. They are paying for my Being….. Thank you very much.
Everyday, year after year would no doubt become a drag, but here and now it is a fine way to spend a Labor Day… laboring.
Monday, August 29th, 2000
Tribute to Kurt Cobain
Yesterday I was cruising through Aberdeen, stopping here and there to try to
sell ads (two maybes if I resubmit with changes), and stumbled upon a Kurt
Cobain shrine in a muffler shop. Yes. One side of the concrete room was an
active muffler repair shop and on the other was a draped room. Inside were
incased 45’s by The Doors, The Grateful Dead, and of course Nirvana. A
black light oozed out-of-this-worldliness from the ceiling. A life size statue of Kurt
Cobain was the room’s focus. Tearfully singing while playing a guitar, the
stringy haired local boy was frozen in time. A brief fire in the pan of
modern music and sub-culture, Kurt’s karma emoted from the sincere
appreciation shown by the artist: Randi, wife of Bob Hubbard, ex-monster truck
driver, owners of Hubbs Muffler Repair, Aberdeen, WA.
There is more.
A free, after school art class has contributions on the walls. There is an
outstanding portrait of Jimi Hendrix wailing a guitar solo to the heavens,
waist deep in a sun-lit field of tall lawn. There are more images of Kurt
Cobain. In one corner above the biohazard zone around the coffee-maker is a
truly exquisite figure, elfin and magical, female and enchanted, holding a
scales. What does it mean?
Newspaper articles describing the couple’s frustration of trying to
compete/perform on the Monster Truck exhibition series a few years ago are
found clustered on wall under some steps. They are adamantly against all chemical vices,
not only obvious no-nos like heroin and cocaine, but also right down to
tobacco and wine coolers. They made tough choices about sponsorship and
were basically washed out, or chose to drop out, of the car-crushing world
of monster truck competition. Describing their responsibility to children,
who were more often than not totally thrilled by real trucks acting out
their sand box play games for real, the articles described stories about the
couple’s distasteful reactions to being pressured to advertise cigarettes,
beer, and wine coolers. Kids quickly pick up on what is supposed to be
written on the cool vehicles…. The frustrated couple are dedicating their
efforts to drug-free living, apparently motivated by the drug-enhanced
deaths of Jim, Jerry, Jimi, Kurt, et al.
As I gawk my way from one wall to another, the lightening like flashes and
the snap/popping sound of arc welders echo off the stark concrete walls.
The smell is acrid: ozone I suppose. The small truck being worked on looks
like it is being held together by rust. Bob is talking on the phone and is
oblivious to all else. Sparks fly from his frazzled hair.
The stones used in the making of the Kurt Cobain statue came from under the
Chehalis River bridge in beautiful bombed out Aberdeen, right from the spot where
Kurt slept during his street days here. It is both hokey and very moving.
It’s hard to differentiate sometimes. The air is full of sincerity and
Another strain of consciousness on the walls focused on dead firemen.
Newspaper stories about the heroic and horrible deaths of strong, clean
young men, good husbands and fathers, who died from excessive exposure to
heat and gaseous by products from uncontrolled oxidation reactions while
saving the lives and property of others adorn the walls. Inspired by these
tragedies, the same theme is carried over to a slightly bigger than life
concrete/clay/iron statue of four firemen, about 80% finished, standing next
to the small elfin goddess of justice. Their bodies are fully formed, but
their hands and faces are smooth… not yet finished, partially completed.
In a rare jolt of brutal reality, instead of the partially completed statue,
I saw the rapidly frying bodies of brave young firemen, their hands already
burnt to the bone and their facial features no longer distinguishable. Too
awful to think about. Too real. Inspired art has unexpectedly and
uninvitedly touched my core. Like flinching from a dentist drill, I turned
quickly and saw that my choices were dead rock star, dead rock star, dead
rock star, monster trucks, or fire-spitting, lightening flashing, ozone
emitting muffler repair. Or the door. I left and felt the bright sun of
the land of the living fill me with relief.
Monday, Aug. 22nd, 2000
Late yesterday evening after my walk down to the beach, the car would not start. Just a sickening click sound instead of the chirpy, zippy sound of the starter starting whatever it starts when I turn the key.
No, I’m not really that ignorant of car parts and inner workings, but for the vast majority of my problems with cars over the years, I’ve relied on taking it to repairmen. Always men… I’ve never even seen a female car fixer. Have you? Maybe one if you’re from Indiana or something. My experiences with broken cars have been unpleasant and expensive. Sometimes I think there should just be a dash light with a picture of a wallet on it. When it comes on, go to a repair shop and hand them your wallet.
So far into the dark of night, I turned the key, jiggled wires, jumped electricity from the giggling Chevy van (she loves it when the car, a foreign made Subaru XT6, is ill), and made Faustian deals with several supernatural beings if they would just make this engine kick over.
To no avail. The turning of the key only resulted in dismal clicking noises, although the dash lights enthusiastically lit up on cue. No starter noises, no resulting engine surge… just clicks. Depression started to descend.
Now, before I continue this tale, I’ll disclose that currently, less than 24 hours since the non-starting of the car and the resulting mental angst it caused, I am now shirtless on the front porch, a cold half-full Rainier beer perches seductively next to me, Led Zeppelin I (!!) is soaring out of the open windows and the car starts every time the key is turned.
It was a restless night, my mind not at all liking the the turn of events. This next Friday, I’ll receive my last paycheck from teaching. Teachers get paid monthly, even during the summer. Having turned down a local position offered by nearby Aberdeen, another bridge was burnt in my move away from teaching into, into, whatever. This quest for being has left my heart light and free, and has blinded my mind to much of the things which used to be important… but how long can this last? Where will it end up? What about insurance? What about retirement? What about career advancement? What about investments?
Oh do shut up.
“Been dazed and confused so long, it ain’t true,” screams Robert Plant on the windows and across the neighborhood of empty vacation homes. The only other true year-round resident are the couple on the property across the intersection. He is a military helicopter maintenance supervisor and she is a professional photographer and abuser of Barbie dolls. (Merrillphoto.com ) fine folks and delightful neighbors if there were ever were some. Well they’re gone and I don’t care if the cats under their house like Jimmy Page or not.
I stray. It was a long sleep-interrupted night. Thoughts of another vehicle repair bill just when I’m trying so hard to be efficient and frugal, to achieve a low-level balance between social economy and biological ecology made me worry and fret. The thought of another expensive auto repair bill triggered all sorts of what-ifs and worse-case scenarios. It has been so many years of working within an institution that worries about fitting into the real world and actually earning a living with my skills outside of “teaching”. So many years of Doing and so little Being.
Teaching had become a chore, more like tricking reluctant teens into learning with creative activities and entertaining presentations than really participating in meaningful education. The few who really put sincere effort into learning were swallowed up by the inhabitants of the middle and lower ends of the curve. Not that there weren’t some delightful and fine people who flunked my class. I came to know and appreciate many alternative youths, but they gave me no joy as a science teacher. Just decorated slackers for the most part.
So it was time to stop. And here and now I can’t think of any other job, career or profession which attracts me. As fall approaches, I recall the story of the ant and the grasshopper and look again at the single cord of firewood.
Like the punch line to a Woody Allen joke, my restless sleep was too soon interrupted by the guy here to paint the top floor studio walls. Bob: a nice guy who was swapping me some labor for some furniture… the rural underground economy.
He painted for two hours while I called shops for estimates on electrical repair of cars, my insurance agent for coverage on towing check (yes up to $100… local towers started at $130 for the 33 mile trip to the shop in Aberdeen.), and finally part stores for starter prices… $140; is this good or bad?
Bob came down and asked what I was up to, and offered to take a look. As he picked and probed at the motor, I realized that car engines are the domain of men. Learning the secrets of the tubes, wires and blocks of steel is like a rite of passage without the ceremony. Over time, men must learn how to fix cars to the best of their abilities. Not just to save money on repairs, although that is the motivator for many, it is just on of those things that men get to do.
And watching Bob dive in and check this and that, I felt left out. Bob declared that it was probably a bad starter. It was on top of the engine, so it would be easy to take it our, run it down to the local part store where it would be checked out, then buy a new one if needed and bolt it back in.
He said he’d be back later if I wanted him to help. Piece of cake. Happened to his buddy’s truck and it was much worse to get it.
All morning and into the early afternoon, I busied myself with other things, taking no time at all for Being, just doing and doing to burn off energy from the car angst.
Returning around two, I soon after answered Bob’s phone call. Sure, come on over.
We unhooked the battery’s wire clamp on positive terminal and then took off three nuts, on bolt, and two wires. Suddenly Bob was holding the suspect starter in his hand. I felt like a young intern watching a skilled surgeon performing a heart-ectomy. He then left, saying I should get it checked and he’d call tomorrow to see what’s up. Rambling off in his ’87, orange Toyota Rattletrap he flicked another cigarette butt on the road.
OK, I wasn’t going to take up cigarettes, but I decided to go for having the still pulsating internal organ to the part store for a check.
Entering the store, holding the part with black blood streaked from fingers to elbows, I was easily recognized and categorized by the priest behind the counter. I didn’t have to say much, which was good for I really didn’t want to call some part by a wrong name here inside one of the man-shrines of our culture. (Does anyone really buy those top-less babe air fresheners? I wonder what they smell like?) I had memorized several key words and concepts: solenoid, starter, Bendix gear, flywheel, ignition, ground. I hesitated saying flywheel at the appropriate time, but luckily got it out before having to resort to moving my hands in circles and calling it a thingy. Such blasphemy.
Emerging from his own private laboratory, decorated with more pictures of partially exposed, but not rudely displayed pictures of women posing with power tools (Some of the traditions and dogma of the man-shrine are clouded in mystery and legend. Who are these goddesses of the man-shrine and what are they going to do with those chrome-plated pneumatic tools?), and proclaimed that the starter is fine. Maybe it was a cable he patiently offered. I bought a cable and headed back to the carnage in my driveway.
Carefully, very carefully, I connected the still removed starter to the battery. It worked. Then, using the jumper cables, went around the suspected bad cable… still worked. then I ran current through the suspected cable… still worked. No need for even a new cable. There was no logic to the system at all. When assembled, all it did was click. When disassembled and operated independently, the components all worked.
Nothing left to do except carefully reassemble the parts inside the engine compartment. Sprawled across the engine, feet hanging out the front over the bumper, arms buried deep inside the engine, and teeth holding a flashlight, I had a brief vision of one aspect of true manhood. Schools don’t teach much about what it takes to be an adult man or woman in our culture, but they spend years learning the names of the parts of speech, the history of Europe, and math skills they’ll never need. But ask any graduating senior what it will take to be a successful man or woman and they, like us before them, will be quite clueless.
When all was rebolted, rewired and repaired, I turned the key and the engine roared to life. A wave of holy rapture filled my being. Not trusting it just once, I shut it down and turned the key again. Again, the engine roared to life. Ah, the bliss of successful engine repair.
OK, so I have no idea what Bob, the high priest at the part store or I did to fix the problem. Bob may have adjusted something I didn’t know about or I might have cleaned cables up enough to reconnect some current. Or, more likely, the jolt of life in the lab of the high priest of the man-shrine reinvigorated the stuck starter. Or perhaps it was divine intervention. I have no clue, but time after time, the car now starts and as LZ I concludes, it is time for another Rainier and LZ II. Maybe I’ll learn to be an auto mechanic.
Wednesday morning. The next day.
Zoom, it started right up at home. Zing it flew me to town with power and ease.
Click went the lifeless starter when I tried to restart after running an errand. Geez. Serves me right for gloating and being sacrilegious toward the power-tool goddess at the male-shrine.
Wrapping a rag around a steel file, I connected the poles on the solenoid. Lamely, it started. OK fine, at least I won’t be stuck in town needing a tow. Another errand, click, but this time the file trick had no effect. None. More fiddling, more key twisting, stress starting to be felt in forearms, thoughts of having to keep that expensive appointment at the holy-temple of the esteemed automotive-electrical-specialist. Another try with the file. Zing, it starts. Next time. The key even works. I just don’t understand. It is not consistent. It keeps changing the rules and giving me conflicting messages. Geez. The car is starting to remind me of my ex-wife, and cost about as much, too. This is not a put-down necessarily, both the car and her have some fine and admirable qualities, but consistency and economy are not two of them.
Tuesday, August 15th, 2000
Wow, what an unusual day.
What started all this was my inability to drive two cars at the same time. Yes, I can do many things at once, but this is still far from my reach.
Moving back to the coast was as complex and difficult as any move, but being one lone person having two vehicles is a complex problem. The solution came in the form of a used car lot. I negotiated a higher percentage rate than normal for the lot owner if he should be lucky enough to clinch a sale, so parking the sporty little XT on his lot was not a total abuse of his position. But after two months, it became obvious that my selling price was too high and it was time to get back to the Central Cascades and reclaim my Rocket.
Yes, the Rocket. That little Subaru XT truly hauls butt. The Rocket. It is light-weight, has a nasty six cylinder engine in it, and has a whole bunch of buttons to keep me occupied. But how to go get it? One hundred fifty miles across some of the worst urban congestion in North America, the Puget Sound Basin, was truly going to be a challenge.
Armed with several credit cards, I set off at 4:30 this morning with my neighbor, Bob. He is about my age and works at an Army base near Tacoma, commuting there on Tuesday mornings and returning home for the long weekends. Life could be worse. We chatted and drank coffee zooming across Grays Harbor County. We were bedazzled by the huge lights surrounding the new prison: Geez. Why not just turn them on when there is an attempted escape. Better yet, why not leave them off and let the escaping convicts try to survive in the swamps and clearcuts? Give them a couple days in the swamps and backwoods; jail will look like a pizza party by comparison. Nature here is fungoid to say the least.
On and on he drove, finally letting me off near the Army base. Standing at the entrance ramp to the bustling interstate highway, I had a moment or three of nostalgia, thinking back to the 70’s when I routinely hitched from Colorado back to Pennsylvania at holiday breaks. There is an art to hitch-hiking which makes the trip a true trip. Rule one. Smile. Rule two. Throw that thumb out there like you mean to get somewhere. Rule three. Smile and show open arms to all attractive ladies. No, they still won’t pick you up, but they will smile back.
Seven rides later, seven men, seven stories, seven acts of kindness later, I was in Monroe and back in the Rocket. It was truly glad to see me. It fired up, squealed out of that sales lot, zipped me home in no time flat, and currently is happily snoring in the front drive.
Each ride had a story.
The first was a man in his late 60’s, who installed insulation. He was tired, and wished he had made better decisions in his youth and middle years so he could be retired by now. He scared me. I truly hope to not be installing insulation at his age, but taking this time off from work does sort of point me in that direction.
The second ride was from a geek who worked as a gopher in a medical lab. He carried his Bible on his sleeve, but was a fine driver. While the interstate was backed up and blocked, making it look like a long, narrow parking lot, he knew the back-roads and let me off right on the edge of a difficult intersection.
One can not hitch on the interstate highway in this state, but one can from the entrance ramps. Smiling like an imbecile, saluting the rednecks and urban cowboys, and offering open arms to the ladies, I perched at the troublesome intersection. Soon though, a chain-smoking born again non-drinker picked me up. Amen brother.
From the next entrance ramp, two young men, alternative types, picked me up, offering the back of a Pinto for a place of reclining. It was cramped, but they took me 50 miles up and over Tiger Mountain Pass. They youthful holism and pseudo-intellectualism was barfy. “It is all one, you know man?” Yes, boys, I do know but you don’t want to hear about it…
Next came an old golfer who talked about fishing in Westport in the good old days. Then came an obnoxious native who talked about all his money while smoking Pall Malls. And then, at only 10:00 in the morning, I was at the lot.
While I do not recommend hitching in general, especially for ladies, it was refreshing to meet such good Samaritans along the way today. Thanks.
Wednesday, August 8th, 2000
About the only adventures I’ve been having recently is cleaning up the house after the renters moved out. Judging from the horror stories of others, it could have been worse, but then, it could have been better. What on earth made them think that throwing the ax into my trees would be OK?
The van is having electrical problems and selling ads for the paper is interesting but slow. Time to stay chilled and enjoy the beach some more.
Friday, July 21st, 2000
Back in the Market.
Same spot as last week (see following entry dated 7/14/00), new “Good Advice” sign, a nicer hat full with some bait change in and a bag of give-away peanuts.
1) Fruit seller slowly backing up in fork-lift. Greets me, asks if I’d be giving more advice today. Yes, perhaps a little. Did he want any? Sure. It would be a good idea to say beep over and over in a fairly loud voice when backing that forklift around the market. Good advice, he laughs, but doesn’t do it.
2) Herb-lady and daughter (?) join me at the table and eat breakfast burritos. I advised her to floss. She says she does, just before going to the dentists and laughs. We talk about the rapidly lifting morning fog. She’s originally from San Diego, and recalls when it would be sunny just inland, but foggy and chilly right on the beach. Yes, I agreed and told her about the beach house. Gave her a card.
4) Senior lady, stops and reads the sign. Need some? No, you’d have to talk to me all day if I stopped. We both laugh.
5) Middle-aged, overweight man: Stops, reads sign, looks puzzled. Need some? Want a freebie? Another younger man and his son walk by, he smiles and understands. When I advise the older man to floss, he shakes his head and slumps away. Must have thought I was just some loony.
Although business is slow, I find myself sitting here, reading the paper, just smiling and smiling.
6) Herb-lady walks by and explains how her daughter made her go get a bowl of rice from the vendor because the daughter was sure that the vendors didn’t like her. She was laughing at herself for being such a mom.
7) The slumping man returns and starts reading from a small, pocket sized spiral notebook: “A farting horse will never tire, a farting man is the one to hire.” by late father in law; ” A committee is a cul de sac, down which ideas are lured and quietly strangled.” Sir Barnett Cocks 1907; “The difference between the possible and the impossible is the measure of man’s will.” Phillip Ahn from the movie Battle Hymn with Rock Hudson and Martha Hyer; “Savory when mixed with honey and pepper, is a powerful aphrodisiac.” From the book Bella Tuscany p. 129. by Mayes. We chat for some time. He’s an English teacher in Korea, back in town to check on his rental property and to breathe in some American culture. I give him a Canadian dollar (a loony!) for his quotes. He questions this and I explain that people tip me for information so I should tip him. He laughs and drops in a new Sacajawea gold-colored dollar. We talk some more about his desire to teach in the US, but although he has a Ph.D. and many years experience teaching English as a second language, he can’t get a job in a public school without a teaching certificate. He then tips me a Korean Yuan coin, worth about a dime and says he wishes he could leave a ruble, because he’s been to Russia. He then slumps off.
8) The fruit seller, Mr. Beep, comes over, offers me a taste of a superbly delicious peach, and requests that when people seek advice I advise them to eat more fruit. He’d keep me stocked in fruit to eat all day. We laugh and I tell him no problem, even without the bribe.
9) A harmonica player takes up residence nearby. At least he knows how to play. Rather pleasant, Steven Foster-like pieces of Americana.
10) A heavy couple badly dressed with faces full of fruit laugh at my sign but do not respond to my welcoming gestures. Everyone needs good advice, she shouts over her shoulder as they walk away.
11) Older couple, 60s, smile and approach. What do I have to offer? Floss. Drink lots of water. Eat lots of fruit. He smiles and says he just had some cherries. I ask if this is his wife? He says yes, I advise him to always buy her whatever she asks for. He says he didn’t just get off the boat, and already knows that one. We both laugh. What about stock tips? Buy low, sell high. He and especially his wife laugh and he drops in a quarter.
12) Two shaded, buffy policemen saunter by. Need advice? No, one says, I get too much of that as it is. Married. We both laugh. I notice that even their little blue short socks say police on them. Cute.
13) Young lady approaches and asks how long I’ll be here. She wants to chat, but doesn’t get a break until closing. No problem, I’ll be here. She scampers back to the fruit stand.
14) 30s man pushing a baby in a cart smiles at the sign, comes over and asks for general advice rather than specific advice. Floss, drink lots of water, eat fruit. He laughs and says it is about time the Market got an advice booth. Thanks, I say laughing.
15) Lady in shorts at fruit stand sees sign, smiles and waves shyly.
16) The violin player who has now replaced the harmonica player is playing things like Chopsticks and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, but playing them well.
17) Little girl reads my sign aloud, loudly, like she is practicing reading. I ask if she needs some advice? Shyly, she backs away into a safe, shady corner between two peach crates.
18) Well traveled couple chat for quite a long while about their experiences with Ugly Americans. Quite interesting, listening them to describe how little, well intentioned gestures like paying a shoe shiner $2 instead of the going rate of a quarter plays havoc on local economies. A base they were living on paid maids $3/day. Local nurses were not being paid that much, so without meaning to harm the local community the base was converting nurses into house maids. On and on they talked. Funny stories about what is it like in a foreign market and understand enough of the local language to comprehend what the vendors are saying about the tourist shoppers, thinking that they don’t understand. They are frightfully rude, calling people obscene names while smiling ear to ear and selling them overpriced goods. Finally dropping a quarter in the hat. I gave them no advice, just an ear. Perhaps a new business is in the making. Listening.
19) Good buddy Steve shows up and eats his lunch at the table. He is taking a lunch break from his landscaping business. We talked about his salmon fishing trip to Westport. He caught two silvers and was delighted. Never mind the fact that each of those fish cost him about $90 if all the costs are added in. One doesn’t go charter fishing to catch fish, one goes to experience the adventure: to Be.
18) The young lady at the fruit stand comes over with her lunch. OK, she says, this is a test to see how good your advice is. She is moving to Bellingham to start college, has a local boyfriend who she likes, but she thinks she wants to dump him without hurting his feelings. We talked about her heart. We talked about the many new people and experiences she is about to have with this new adventure. In the end, she decided that no, her heart was not enough into this relationship to ask him to join her at college or even to maintain a long-distance relationship. Dumping is too strong a term for what she has in mind, she wants to “just be friends”. I advised her to collect her thoughts on the matter and if her heart is truly not into this, then she needs to be honest and let him know. Perhaps on a walk along the peer. We talked about the possibility of him proposing as a desperate means to either get her to stay or to tag along. She is quite sure she is not ready to be married, and especially not to him. Yes, I again advised her to be kind but be honest. She left two dollars! I feel like I just passed the bar exam or made the Olympic team.
21) Tan, short-haired man in his 30, shyly hangs around for a few minutes, then strikes up a conversation. He turns my sign around so “people don’t think I’m here for advice”. Hmmm. Wonder what his hang-up is. He is a wealth of knowledge. He strongly suggests I read Victor Frankoe, Man’s Search for Meaning. Discusses this and many other topics with an unhappy young man, 35, recommends Thomas Moore’s, Soulmate: had him in tears. Ate peanuts. John Brewer in Bellingham, superb guitarist. On and on he talked. His job is unique, hired by the State to hand draw pictures of historical buildings in State Parks. He travels from park to park, documenting the architecture and condition of historic and potentially historic landmarks. He likes it: his name is Gunar. He thinks that finding a wife, making some kids and raising a family will make him happy. We talked about natural history and why he might be feeling this way. He had a firm handshake when parting.
22) Two chubby sisters, got free peanuts. To the little one I advised that she always listen to her big sister. Boyfriends may come and go, but sisters last a lifetime. For the bigger sister, I advised her to be careful who she kisses. Blushing, they each got another peanut and left.
23) Hey where do you get a hat like that? Asks a rough looking dude. In Tacoma, I reply.
24) Painter with son, described making a huge mess in his kitchen by dropping a container of paint. It got all over everything including some new carpet. A couple probing questions revealed that he was mixing paint in the kitchen and then pouring it into a sprayer then going outside to spray a fence. I advised him to mix paint outdoors. He gave me two quarters.
25) Very large man and wife sit down, ask if I’m for real and I assured them that I was. (especially after passing the fruit stand girl’s test.) He said he needed advice about his workers. They were unhappy and he had a high turnover rate. He was the transportation supervisor for a small rural school district. The bus drivers were just not happy in general. A few probing questions revealed that they may not be feeling very appreciated, and were especially frustrated over a lack of follow-up on discipline problems. They just installed video cameras. I advised him to take their complaints much more seriously and to follow up with frequent communications with parents. He thought this was wonderful and put several coins in the hat.
26) A tired, hot mom parked two boys at my table with snowcones. When she left, the boys asked what I do and after listening to my explanation asked for advice. I advised them to always listen to their mothers. She will love them no matter if they are good or bad and will always have their best interests in mind. Even when they’re grown ups, they should listen to their moms. They thanked me sincerely and put two quarters in the hat! Their moms returned and were pleased that the boys had not been causing me any problems.
27) Lady from another flower booth, comes over and talks about how frustrated she is with her oldest who just graduated high school. She wants him to get a job, get an apartment or go to college. He is slowly getting it. She was talking the right talk, but was hesitating to walk the walk. I advised her to stick to her guns. Be strong, if for no other reason than to set an example for her younger ones to see. Unless she wants kids handing around the house after graduation, this is important. I advised her to start working on remodeling “his” bedroom into her new study. She was charged and felt good.
28) Young woman, asks what kind of advice I give, I said all kinds. So she unloads her story about her father who she has not seen since she was very small, who now, out of the blue, wants to meet her and establish a relationship. He has even offered to fly her to Florida or to fly up here to meet. She is cautions but curious, she clearly would like to know a father, but memories of him being loud, abusive and even violent gave her serious concern. I encourage her to continue to exercise caution. Why is he contacting her now? Who is he? What are his intentions? I advised her to ask him some direct questions. No phone calls, she remonstrated. She said she has trouble talking with him emotionally pointing to a the base of her neck. I was truly touched. After a moment, I advised her to organize her thoughts into a good letter and send it. Until some more information is gained on this situation, I advised her to do nothing more at this time. She smiled said thank you, shook my hand, took my card, and put a dollar in the hat.
Nearing three in the afternoon, market starting to fold down. Total money take for the day? About seven dollars. The experience? Priceless.
What a hoot.
Sitting at a Picnic Table with a sign that simply says
Behind the sign is my hat with some change in it and a couple of dollars.
1) Single woman: stock market: should I buy just one stock or diversify: ans. get professional help, start with mutual funds
2) older lady: couldn’t think of a question but was pleased to take my card.
3) Two moms: kids sat and ate fruit and we chatted about flossing, toothpicks and doing what mom’s say. Got a dollar!
(This is quite a bit of fun. I’m smiling and laughing while reading the paper.
4) Bearded man: just wants to sit. Wife joins, looks a little distressed, man asked where restroom was, I directed them well.
5) Weed-cutting crew on break walks by, all in green shirts, needed no advice but asked what if it is wrong advice, doesn’t happen much, I retort. We all laugh.
6) Clean-Up worker, teen with ponytail: chatted about Alpha-Smart, didn’t want card.
7) Chatted with passing by woman from green-shirted lawn crew, said she’d love to stop and chat but break is over, told her I could write late notes, we laughed.
7) Three women walk past, laugh at my sign.
8) Snagged young woman, 20s, talked about flossing; a friend of hers came back and interrupted us by saying she has the task of rescuing her. Pulled her away by the sleeve.
9) Woman, late 20s with five year old boy, has bandages on both legs, I ask what happened, she explained that she “had a fight with her fence” that morning. Several bandages and lots of tape adorned her legs. I advised her not to do that because it can really hurt. We both laughed.
10) Older lady with sack of fruit laughs, approaches, asks what kind of advice, I say any kind, what can I do for you? Didn’t know. So I recommended she floss frequently. We both laugh.
11) Two tattooed youths sit and chat, laugh about writing a book to get buy. No, I retort, writing a book won’t support you, but selling one will. They stay for a while.
12) Young man with short beard: so what do I do, is this for a donation. Not necessarily, I explain, Some folks pay a lot, some pay nothing. What kind of advice? General or specific? Yes. We laugh and he walks away.
13) Teens continue to chat about traveling. Flute player parks under a nearby tree, plays what I think are Irish tunes. Older man sits next to me, across from the teens and sips a brew in a bottle through a yellow straw. He’s joined by a mid-20s woman who brings him a lunch/roll..
Teens leave in about a half hour, waving. The older man starts chatting about birds, ends up taking a card for the beach guest house. Tipped me 24 cents!
14) Bob and Toni Hubregs: old friends from Aberdeen teaching days. Had a fine chat, loved the idea of starting a sub union, interested in hiring me to sub. They were immensely jealous of my life of freedom. Very cute little girl beeped the bike horn.
15) Group of young hippies sit for lunch, we chat about Alpha smarts, they took the address along and were very interested in my beach guest house idea.
16) Robin Barnes! and his son and daughter in-law. How bizarre. He’s the man who built the beach house! We chatted about the house and about his wife dying.
17) Steve Ridgeway, brother of dear Balch lumbered by. We chatted about a Mak gig at WolfHaven this evening. Well, that clinches what I’m going tonight. He is all excited about salmon fishing next week. Asked for advice about picking up women. I told him to be himself, be natural and be friendly. Smile and ask if she is having fun yet. He offered to pay for the advice, but I refused. Advice is of course free to friends.
18) Two grumpy men brush me off. Older people shun my new business. What could I have to offer them??
19) Couple sits down to eat lunch, apparently brother and sister, he is talking about setting her up with a blind date, I listen in for a while and then offer her my card. She laughs.
20) Her name is Angela, she is a supervisor at L&I in Tumwater. We talked about Being instead of Doing. She doesn’t know what to make of me. Soon her attention strays back to her friend who is now chatting with another L&I worker. Geez. What a life.
21) Three young hippies, two males and a female stop by for advice. I recommend that they floss. Yeah, but. The girl smiles and the other guy says that’s it? You make money telling people to floss. Yes, and with other advice. they all laughed and sauntered off.
22) Beth, age 53, single mom. Talked to me for over an hour about her efforts to raise three teens. Yikes. In particular, she’s frustrated with an autistic 17 year old who suffers from agoraphobia among other things. After a great deal of listening, I advised that she start preparing him for emancipation at age 18, and to start thinking what she wants and needs, not just what her kids do. She talked and talked some more and then left me, thanking me for the advice and leaving two dollars!
Packing up when the market closed at 3:00, I smilingly reflected on the day. Quite unique.