Monday, May 26, 2014

Memorial words

All day today, I read "Happy Memorial Day" messages (which, by the way, I don't quite understand) along with many more words of sincere gratitude and thanks to our American men, women, and animals who have sacrificed in our country's name. Yet still, something was missing. As I got my hair cut, drove to the bed store for Memorial Day sales, and walked the dogs in the park, I thought of our fallen soldiers. Yet still, something was missing. Tonight, just before dinner, I shared this with my partner. She nodded and showed me some words by a friend of hers. By nature, these words should never have resonated. I'm not apologetic. I would never suggest that god keep you, me, or anyone. War is not my fault. Yet still, these words, written by a preacher man from upstate NY, finally filled what was missing for me today. "When individuals struggle with things in the same space at the same time, they become a culture that struggles with them." 

By Kevin Hershey: 
This Memorial Day, many people will offer words of posthumous thanks to you who gave your lives in service to our country, and to your family and friends who deal with the ongoing sacrifice of loss. I echo that gratitude. What I want to say far more is, I’m sorry. 

I’m sorry that our world can’t figure out the way to peace. I’m sorry, beyond the giving of your life, there was a need for warriors in the first place, for you to meet. I’m sorry you were asked to make choices that pulled you away from family and friends, a life without fear, and the longevity you might have otherwise had.

I’m sorry, not just in the conceptual awareness of the “world’s” mistakes, but I’m sorry for my own. To my knowledge, I haven’t caused any wars. But, I have let anger overcome me to say and do things I knew were wrong. I have let self-righteousness convince me that I knew what was best and didn’t need to listen to another. I have allowed fear to paralyze me to inaction when I knew action was needed. To me, these are the things at the very foundation of war. And when individuals struggle with these things in the same space at the same time, they become a culture that struggles with them. And when a culture struggles with them enough, the poor communal decisions born out of it become those that lead to war. I would bet that every war that ever was or ever will be, has roots in just these kinds of weaknesses – in people, in groups, in countries, in cultures.

So, to those remembered today, I am sorry for my part in perpetuating the world’s culture of war. I am also a part of working toward the world’s culture of peace. And your sacrifice has given me more time and opportunity to work harder toward the latter. I’m trying. Thank you. God keep you.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Pirates Beware

The prompt:

You’re a pirate on a small pirate ship, that consists of only you, one other pirate and a captain. Recently you ransacked another ship and found a treasure map. After weeks of following it, you’ve finally found the island where “X” marks the spot. Write a scene where you find the buried treasure, only it’s not exactly the treasure you expected to find. 

My story (540 words):

Tis expectations, not cannons, that drown men of the sea, me wise mother phropheted some two score and four years ago when me set down to the water in search of a piratin’ job. For forty-four years, I held those words close to me breastbone and kept me expectations low. Twas likely those low expectations that caused me to be aboard a rickety ship one morning raisin’ me hand to go ashore. For inevitably the time arrives in a man’s life, and certainly a pirate man’s life, when ye is forced upon a decision: swim toward something or start sinking. Ye see, me mother, may she slumber in peace, was wrong. Ye can’t stand in one place too long ‘fore eventually, ye find ye are standin’ in quicksand.

Twas all these years of obeyin’ the captain, layin’ beneath the rails, partakin' in but not leadin’ the plunders that kept me stuck to this rancid cog for so long- a dinghy at most, big enough for one other mate, a captain, and the predictable parrot. Over the years, me noticed even the bilge rats expected better for theeselves, takin’ departure of this miserable yawl for the bigger ships. The ones that promised deep waters and vast riches. Ye take yer lessons where ye get them, I s’pose. Aye, them bilge rats twas how I come to be that day with me hand in the air offerin’ to step ashore whilst me mateys remained at the bow. Other pirates twas in the area and the captain did not liken to leave our vessel unmanned. For word was about- our wee crew had taken possession of the most coveted map on the seven seas. The four oceans too, but that didn’t sound nearly as poetic.

With the map in me pocket, I waded to shore. On me shoulders were the dreams of me captain and me mate- a bigger boat, a larger crew, more swag for grog and the pretty lasses at port. Me dreams were present too, but they were different than me mates. I had a yearnin’ to captain me own ship, sail me own seas. For once, I had me own expectations, and they were risin’ like a strong spring tide, pulled by some power beyond me reckoning. 

The map twas not difficult to follow, and soon me feet stood where X marked the spot. Sweat profused out me eyes as I dug towards me golden future beneath the sand. Me pockets felt weighty, as though they were already overflowed with the riches below-- 

Aye, in retrospect, if pirates had retrospect, the writing twas on the wall.

Me fortune never came. Nor me boat nor me seven seas. Me captain, in his despair, threw himself to the sea. Me matey and I spent the remainder of our days drowning our sorrow in drink and the occasional wench. Rumor has it the parrot took to the streets and spent the last of his life begging for crackers. Ye see, the map proved a fraud. For beneath the X twas no treasure, twas nothing fortuitous or even worth takin'- twas nothing but a picture already fadin’ in color.

Twas nothing but what modern day thieves know as the Mona Lisa.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

When you were three

Recently, I signed up with a website that sends out weekly writing prompts. Because you can post what you write on their site, they suggest keeping your response to 500 words or less. Mine comes in at 479. I'm posting it here because I'm curious to know what you guys think- is it interesting? Hokey? Badly written or what? This kind of writing is way out of my realm! Thanks, Lisa

Here is the prompt I worked on last night:

You wake up one morning to find that you are your three year old self, with your parents again, with all of the memories and experiences of your current life. Write this scene and express the emotion and frustration your character undergoes as you internally try to sort this out. 

My response:

You were three when the owl box was hung. The tree stood about a hundred feet from the living room window. It would be good for owl watching, your father had said. Later that night when you and your sister still believed an owl would come to the box and were checking it every few minutes, she said that it had been there for 100 years and it was very, very old. You asked her what was very old. “The tree, silly,” she said nudging you playfully with her elbow. “If Daddy cut it down, we would be able to count the circles inside to know how old it really is. Maybe it’s more than a hundred. Maybe it’s two hundred!”

You recall that conversation as you look at yourself in the bathroom mirror. As you attempt to conceal another sleepless night, you realize: circles don’t tell shit about age. Circles tell pain. Pain that goes around and around like the amusement park ride that spins so fast it doesn’t even matter when the floor drops out from under you because you’re stuck to the wall. You can’t move. You haven’t been able to move for thirteen years. Now you realize you have run out of concealer and you have to be at school in 15 minutes. You leave with one eye uncovered. Unprotected. This lack of protection is just enough of an opening for the hand of time to slip through and return you to your third year of life.

You understand you are not really three again. You vaguely wonder if you've slipped into some other dimension, one that includes time travel and rabbit holes. You don’t much care; those aren’t the answers you seek. Six months have gone by since the owl box was hung. Like an unfulfilled promise, it hangs in the air crooked and empty. Your sister has all but forgotten it, but you occasionally still look. You are only three, yet you have a patience about you, one that is grounded in hope. 

 This time when you’re three and you see your father crying at his desk or in the kitchen when he believes he is alone, you don’t get scared and run to your room. This time you go to him and crawl into his lap. You ask him what’s wrong. You put your head on his chest and your arms around his neck. You feel his stubbly beard poke through your hair as he rests his chin on your head. His soft lips, the ones he would very soon wrap around the barrel of a gun, kiss your forehead. You wait for him to answer.

Thirteen years later, you are still waiting. Waiting for the owl, and for something to fill the empty space. You have a patience about you. You are beginning to understand: it is this patience, this ability to wait, that will keep you moving.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Ski to Tent (from 7300 foot elevation to 1800)

The Ski to Tent Event!

Blooming trillium poked from the ground. Varied thrush, back from the valleys, called once again from the forest floor, and the river rushed by gray with silt and the promise of spring on its back. Thirty miles up the road spring skiing was at its best. There are days in April that are simply too spectacular, too wonderful, too beautiful to go inside. A plan was needed. Soon, like so many things under the spring sun, one was hatched: The First Annual Ski to Tent Event. If the weather held, I would ski from 9-12 on Saturday, return home, grab my backpack and Wisdom (the dog not the smarts), and hit the trail by late afternoon for an overnight hike along the Salmon River. To merge skiing with backpacking seemed adventurous and a bit out of the ordinary for me. Typically, my seasonal sports do not associate. 

With a predicted overnight low of 40 degrees, I was reminded that it may be spring, and very well April, but it's still Oregon, and still Mt. Hood. A cold night would mean a long night, and with dry tinder and firewood hard to come by in the woods this time of year, Wisdom and I left the trailhead late Friday afternoon with two packs stuffed with firewood to cache along the trail somewhere.  

Guess who got to carry them both? 
Let's just say Wisdom isn't named Wisdom for nothing. 

We hiked in a couple of miles, exchanged pleasantries with a few day hikers, and didn't spot a single backpacker. Pleased at the possibility of being the only ones out there the following night, I unloaded and hid the wood in a tree hollow near where I hoped to camp. There's something about giving a wave to the last of the day hikers that excites me. When their packs disappear down the path for the final time, things, somehow, become wilder yet more peaceful; solitary, yet more connected. You understand that the old growth trees know this in the way things like this are known. As do the fish following ancient waterways in the river below. You understand it's you who must relearn the rhythms of the forest.  

Much to Wisdom's disappointment, we didn't stay out very long. It was back to the car to go home, sort gear for both skiing and backpacking, and get to bed early for the first ever Ski to Tent Event!

The following morning, arguing crows outside my window woke me before my alarm. A bluebird sky stretched in all directions. Directions like down to my toes and out to my fingertips. You know the kind of excitement I mean. I downed some yogurt and a banana, threw my ski equipment in the car, and told Wisdom to rest up for later. The day was underway.

Mt. Hood from the parking lot at Meadows Ski Resort

On the lift for first tracks

With spring skiing, you never know what you're going to get. The conditions are variable, just like the weather. The first few runs were like skiing on concrete, but the snow was amazing once it softened. The black and double black runs kept my quads burning and skis turning. From about 10:30 until 11:15, Heather Canyon had some of the best skiing of the season. The snow was forgiving and fun. The kind of snow that makes you feel like a hero banging out turn after beautiful turn down the empty canyon walls.

The morning, and the ski, of the Ski to Tent Event sped by, and before I knew it, I was back at the car. Instead of my skis turning, it was my mind turning now. Driving home, I ran through my checklist several times for backpacking. Mainly I wondered if I packed enough (and the correct) layers for spring camping. Having never camped so early in the season in the mountains before, the truth was, I didn't know.   

After lunch and a quick dip in the hot tub, Wisdom and I were at the trail head ready for the next leg. 

 Note the t-shirt and overall warm weather look

Now note that the days may grow longer in April, but spring itself still sets early. It wasn't long before I broke into the cached firewood, and the extra clothing too. 

By the time the sun set, I had on wool socks, wool long underwear, soft shell pants, a t-shirt, two long-sleeved wool shirts, and a wool hat. Before crawling into my sleeping bag a few hours later, I added fleece pants, a down jacket, and lightweight gloves. However, the gloves made me hot. I got a kick out of that. All this down, fleece, and wool, but it was the cotton gloves that tipped my internal thermometer. Once I took them off, I was the perfect temperature for a night in the woods in April. You know the problem though? Eventually, I would have to emerge from my warm little cocoon.

When that inevitable moment arrived the following morning, I went straight to my trusty alcohol stove and got some water boiling for tea before anything else.

I would proceed to drink three cups before even thinking about breakfast or a fire. However, I found that a little chill when drinking tea at the river's edge with your dog at your side is actually quite tolerable.  

(Speaking of the dog and for those of you wondering, I checked on Wisdom throughout the night to be sure she was warm enough. Each time I woke up, she was either making happy dog noises or sleeping soundly. No problem there.)

The morning was cold, but pretty. Wisdom and I went for a wildflower walk and spotted wild calla, glacier lilies, trillium, western buttercup, and many other early bloomers that I can't name. Sunlight flowed downstream into our camp. 

After awhile, the Ski to Tent Event came to its natural closing. I slowly packed up camp happy to have gotten out so early in the season and pleased to have completed the goal, although I didn't feel as accomplished as I thought I would. I think it's because the event wasn't as challenging as I anticipated. I'm already thinking about next year and what to do to increase the difficulty. Certainly, we had a good time though, and I can tell you that someone definitely didn't want to come home. 


Saturday, March 1, 2014

Say thank you

She ate a bongo drum while we were in Bora Bora. Not the whole thing- that would be piggish- no, she only ate the drumheads, the animal skins, that were stretched across the two open ends of the instrument. At that moment, everything I'd read, everything I'd heard about her and her kind was confirmed: beagles do indeed march to the beat of their own drum. Quite literally, it turned out, for some of them. They do what they want when they want. It seems so simple really when you write it, but here was our petsitter scrambling once again to get Emmy to the emergency animal hospital for X-rays and consultation. Thousands of miles away in Bora Bora, we tried to stay positive because, despite this little dog's behavior that has cost us in the past 6 months a weekend at the coast, a Jamaican bongo drum, multiple trips to the ER, and thousands of dollars in veterinary bills, we really didn't want her going anywhere. Might as well add our hearts to the list of expenditures, too, because clearly, they're not ours anymore. Eventually, we received word that she was OK; the X-rays came back negative. No blockage or obstruction. As our vet so astutely pointed out, at least she had the good sense to chew before swallowing. 

So, life with the beagle continued.

I often think of that bumper sticker that says My golden retriever is smarter than your honor student. Let me tell you, we have both, and the golden retriever is easy. It's the beagle we're constantly trying to outsmart. After her first trip to the ER, one that included a two night stay for eating 165 glucosamine tablets from an unopened, childproofed bottle, we knew we had to come up with something or else- DUN-DUN-DUUUUUN- she was going in the crate. And Emmy hates the crate. So, out came the baby gate to block off the back of the house, the counters and living room were cleared of anything considered even remotely interesting to a beagle's nose (how could we know the drum would strike her fancy?), and all of the dogs' supplements, treats, and anything else edible were moved to the pantry. The only thing we have to do now before leaving the house is remember to put down a treat-stuffed toy, put up the baby gate, and shut the pantry door. But hey, I never claimed to be smarter than an honor student. That's how I came to be in a panic Thursday night when I realized I left the house and forgot to shut the door. 

Already parked at the Moda Center, I had tickets to see Andre Agassi, my favorite tennis player of all time, play in a one night tournament in Portland. I started calling everyone I knew who had a key to the house, but I couldn't reach anyone. Should I go home and shut the door? Was another trip to the emergency room riding on my decision? I called my friend who was on her way to meet me, but she wasn't answering either. I willed Emmy to stay on the couch and be a good girl, but I also knew that didn't mean much if her own will kicked up and encouraged her to reach high onto the forbidden shelves of the pantry. I tried to remember what was in reach. Could she get to the glucosamine? 

Finally, a friend with a key responded. She could be there in an hour, she said. Oh sweet relief! I was/am still/will always be so grateful. She texted me a little later to say my neighbor was also at the house when she got there. Together they let the dogs out, played with them a little, and perhaps most importantly, shut the pantry door before they left. Everyone was safe, and I got to watch a hero from my youth win one last tournament. Later that night, I made a "thank you video" with Emmy for my friend and neighbor. Emmy was a great performer until I asked her to say thanks. Watch the little stink's body language change when I tell her to say thank you. Such a turd!  


Emmy is also the sweetest girl. You can feel it when she curls in next to you on the couch or when she stops to give you a kiss before crawling under the blankets for the night. You can see it when she walks down the street, tail wagging from side to side, confident that everyone and everything wants to say hello to her. I'm convinced her insides are made of everything that is wonderful in this world. 

I guess that's the thing with beagles- you never know what they have in mind. Sure, there are some constants. You know you're going to get a sweet, funny, loving, little dog who wants nothing more than to be with you, a good friend, but what else? An entire box of treats eaten while you're out of the house? An overdose on glucosamine tablets? A bongo drum gone missing perhaps? Frantic calls to friends? A vet tech once said about Emmy, "She is like a college freshmen who has an all night bender and feels like crap for two days, but next weekend, she's out doing it all over again." I suppose this, this ying and yang, the salty with the sweet, is why people come up to Emmy all the time with open arms, huge smiles, and happy looks on their faces. They say fondly and without a hint of irony, "Oh, a beagle! I had a beagle." Pause. "Once." HA. Just makes me love my little drummer girl even more. 

Every snack you make, every meal you bake, every bite you take, I'll be watching you.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Chartering Bora Bora

After three and a half days of a quiet existence on Taha'a, we say good-bye to the little island and board a fishing boat to Bora Bora. Other than the crew and perhaps some bait, Kimi and I are the only two on board.

Our ride to Bora.

Approaching Bora Bora by air is stunning, but to approach the island by water is to see her shores the way the Polynesians have for centuries. Frigate birds circle above schools of mahi mahi. Terns, wintering here from the arctic, follow tuna through the currents, and on the horizon, Bora Bora sits majestically upon her watery throne. She is the queen of these islands; we, merely her subjects.

Flying fish escort us north across the Pacific. One travels at least 15 feet before falling back to the sea. Even our captain, born and raised on these waters, is impressed. As we draw closer to Bora Bora, green-bottomed clouds reflect the island's lagoon like a road sign in the Pacific. On the low-lying island chains to the south, it is these reflective clouds that guide lost fishermen to land. We, too, are given a chance for reflection as our captain tells of a Polynesian history that, unfortunately, isn't so ancient. He speaks of a culture- no, that's too easy of a word- he speaks of a people, moms and grandfathers, pushed to the edges of extinction. He tells of a group of people who lost their customs, their beliefs, and nearly their language to another man's ideals. He shares all this with humor, wisdom, and I believe, a sense of responsibility- to the past, but also the future.

I ask him what he thinks is the answer. "Well, we aren't going back," he responds. "Nope," I agree. "The answer," he says, "is respect. Respect Mother Earth. Respect each other." The green-bottomed clouds are almost on top of us now. I look up and think about his answer.

If a man, living on a volcanic rock in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, thousands of miles from land in any direction knows this, what's our excuse?

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