Thursday, December 31, 2009


It's New Year's Eve. No drunken revelry here. No fireworks. A yummy seafood meal sits in the fridge. Snowshoes and ski poles perch on the hearth, ready for a late-night trek to welcome the coming year. Resolutions, including that of more time at the gym, hover. To the dog, though, it's no big deal; it's just one more day.

I gather my Martha Stewart "Living" magazines for January, almost two decades' worth, to see what an astute home-keeper like me should be doing. Yes, Martha tells me, it's a time for purging, renewal, discarding, affirmation. It's quite the magic time, this precipice of leaping out of an old year into a new.

This is Japan's biggest holiday, full of "Forget-the-Year" parties. Given 2009's sorry fiscal report card, this makes sense. Who'd want to remember 401K statements with smaller balances than those at inception a decade earlier? Who'd want to re-run the unemployment figures, the equity dives, the crazy crookedness of CEOs charged with shepherding our funds? Not me.

I'm all for forgetting some parts of the year, but not all. I do NOT want to forget Ozomatli concerts with my daughter! Ozo's music and presence soared us. I do NOT want to forget time with my mom and my uncle, vibrant, engaged, charitable, graceful. I do NOT want to forget running with my golden retriever: we found new trails in the most common spots in this town. Who'd ever suspect these little wilderness areas exist within city limits? I do NOT want to forget getting my poetry in print. Don't care if I make money: just want to share my words. I do NOT want to forget the many miracles that greet my every day. How blessed I am. How very blessed I am.

For the new calendar...yes, I resolve. I'll be better. I'll try harder. I'll work longer, sustain more, grouse less. Yes. I resolve. You'll see.

Not one to forget the year that's passing, I'll welcome the new one like an old friend. "Come on in! We have so much fun ahead of us!"

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Water's Magic

"If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water," penned one of my favorite authors, Loren Eiseley. The essayist followed this assertion with his own wizardry, sharing the image of his floating on his back on the Platte River and feeling himself "sliding off the vast, tilted face of the continent." These are words I read three decades ago, yet they've stuck. They're here, I think, because of their truth: water is a magic substance.

It's not just that water is essential for all life (that's pretty significant), it's that water can take so many forms, can have so many impacts, can make or break a landscape, can create images that take away a breath or two. A Japanese writer, Masaru Emoto, has photographed water forming into ice crystals and published some astounding assertions in his book "The Hidden Messges in Water." Emoto maintained that ice crystals form differently depending on what they're exposed to. Water that is exposed to beautiful music forms lovely jewels of symmetry, while water that is exposed to harsh (heavy metal) music forms asymmetrical, homely crystals. Water that is spoken to kindly, hearing phrases like "You are beautiful," forms beautiful crystals, while water that is spoken to with derision ("You are a fool!") or is ignored forms homely, misshapen crystals.

Emoto's message is pretty simple. If we express love and gratitude to water, its crystals are sublimely beautiful. If we are unkind or indifferent to water, its crystals lack the splendor and stability of those formed in the face of benificence. The writer expands the thought to all things on the planet, plants, animals, humans. Remember how we were told in the seventies to talk to our houseplants? Emoto asserts that this is sound advice, as long as our messages are good ones.

Academic scholars have poo-poohed Emoto's work but that doesn't deter me from thinking he has some fine hints for us. If we are grateful and loving to all of our surroundings, we have a positive impact. If we don't ignore, but acknowledge and praise, the elements that give us life, what harm can come?

My first prayer of each day is made to the heavens, when I let my golden retriever outside. I praise the beauty of this creation and give thanks that I have the miracle of another day. Here, indeed, is yet another chance to do good! Maybe my praise, my kind thoughts and prayers, will impact the planet. Maybe, just maybe, my comments "You are beautiful" and "Thank you for this day" will make water decide to take on some stunning crystalline shapes.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Snow Duvet

Just spent three days blissfully meandering with my dog Sadie in the snow. Loved it. Submitted prayers of gratitude, over and over, for this chance to be in the white world with a creature so fully tuned to her surroundings.

What, I wondered, made this so magical? What, indeed, was so special? What that had not been already been mired in the sticky sweetness of cliche? I think it was the edges. When snow falls, crispness is filmed. No more ninety degree angles; it's all about curves and roundness and ambiguity. Can't tell where this ends and that begins, which is a good feeling. Sadie and I like that blur.

Our Sunday morning run was blissful. Few folks were awake. Few cars were out. As my late husband used to say when we were crossing a hundred square miles of desert in southwestern Oregon: "Not much happening." That's true. On this snowy Sunday morning, Sadie and I found that there was "Not much happening." And that was a very good thing.

The soft roundness prevailed. No junky fast food wrappers huddled next to a building...just a sweet berm of white. Few raspy vehicles pushing their noise and smell down the road...too slick, too cold, too early for folks to be out. No boom boxes, no barking dogs, no screeching kidlets. Too cold, too early, too icey for that.

What Sadie and I did find was this: certain dedicated, quiet folks were out taking care of critical tasks. A bundled up gent was trekking with his leashed lap dog while his German shepherd chased tennis balls flung into the snow. A resigned homeonwer shoveled his driveway in hopes that a furnace repairman would soon pull in. A primly suited elder warmed his Buick for a bride, so they could putt on over to the church for Sunday school. All chatted with us cheerfully, sweetly, as if their time were on hold. The snow suspended things for a bit.

I liked this batting of a snowy Sunday morn. I liked not seeing edges of anxiety, haste, tension. I liked that we could run through white stuff not marked with tire treads, boot prints and chunks of blackened wheel-well snow. Sadie and I liked the duvet softness of this snowy Sunday morning. Hope it happens again soon.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Brain Guard

Just started a subscription to Harper's, one of my favorite magazines. The first issue is bulging with vibrant reads, but one piece really nailed me. A snippet about three computer scientists at the University of Washington introduced me to the concept of "neurosecurity," the critical work of protecting patients with devices like prosthetic-limb systems.

Neurosecurity works to ensure that physicians could connect wirelessly to adjust settings for a robotic limb but that hackers could not de-rail signals and interrupt the person while she's walking or driving. An additional concern is confidentiality, making sure that hackers could not "read" what a limb is typing or anticipate movements the person might be about to make. Security also has to be in place for systems that work inside the brain (used for diseases like Parkinson's). It's crucial that unwelcome outsiders not have access to these systems to prevent results like brain cell death or manipulation and even elimination of memories.

Neurosecurity is an astounding concept to me! We need to have guards to make sure that misguided, evil people don't enter our neural systems and cause harm! That we even need such protection baffles me, but there are humans who would try horrible interruptions. Harper's cites creeps who have posted flashing animations on epilepsy support websites, causing patients to have seizures.

Why would someone do this? What could possibly motivate a person capable of learning complex computer tasks to do something so despicable? What in the human makeup allows this to occur? What neural paths have been trampled or convoluted enough to even let thoughts of such actions occur?

Course the world deals with questions like these daily and we'll ever know precisely why some folks use their gifts for good and some for evil. But I'd love to participate in neurosecurity work. I'd love to be one of the computer geeks in Seattle whose daily focus is protecting a veteran returning from the Irag war minus a limb. I'd love to sit before my computer and program walls that would keep evil away from a person suffering from the chronic pain of fistulizing Crohn's disease. I'd love to report for duty each day, knowing my efforts would minimize the terror of seizure that faces a seven-year-old epileptic.

These neuroscientists are, I'm thinking, our Supermen and Superwomen. They're zooming around in a realm that we can hardly even imagine...a realm where memory boards and wireless wizardry can turn a thought into an act of climbing stairs. They're churning up binary magic to bring serenity from chaos deep in the brain. I'm grateful that they're thinking darkly, that they're projecting dire attacks on their own creations, before someone else does and wreaks havoc on patients. Really valuable and amazing work.

Defender of Neural Systems: now that's a title I'd love to have!

Saturday, November 28, 2009


How do we end up where we end up? It's curious to me that humans land in such different spaces: areas where microclimates, based on either weather or politics, are so diverse. I'm wondering if folks naturally migrate to the spots on the planet that seem to fit, as Goldilocks would say, "just right." I was told that one area of the planet that I like a lot would be good for me as it has "more portals." Not sure what that means, but pretty sure I like it. Like the thought of having doorways to whatever is crucial for my well-being. Like the thought of not being in a mental cul-de-sac for the rest of my years. Like the thought of feeling comfortable, each day, waking to an environs that welcomes a creature as weird as this one...

The trick, of course, is finding that spot. My favored authors--Dillard, Erhlich, Williams, Bass, Oliver--extoll their special places. New England woods, Wyoming range, southern Utah desert, Montana mountains, Atlantic seaboard all welcome these scribes. Each scape offers a unique treasure to the writer who's open, who's aware: Terry Tempest Williams slices, not just a tongue, but a heart, with her rendering of cutting an avocado in hot red sand. Mary Oliver spurs grins with the gaiety of her daily seashore strolls. Gretel Erhlich, whose intensity sometimes triggers tears, displays the limitless expanse of western wildland in a way that makes all covetous. Rick Bass' quiet chat about the Yaak Valley, the domesticity of living among four-legged creatures, is soothing and sweet.

I'd love to live in the desert, on the seashore, in the high mountains, or on the range but, unfortunately, I have to live in an urban, or semi-urban area to make ends meet. My evenings aren't to be shared with howling coyotes, I'm afraid, or with wheeling rounds of terns. So, given the limitations of making ends meet, what is one to do when looking for a place that fits "just right?"

Wonder how we end up in the spots we deem as "Home Sweet Home." Are we creatures of habit, following the well-worn treads of our ancestors? Are we rebels, scoffing at the warnings of our elders, as we head out the door to settle in unexplored nests? Are we just nonchalant: landing somewhere between where we're hatched and where we die, whatever..?" Do genetics shoot us full of momentum or lull us into stassis? Or do the wild circumstances of our environs---whether streaming from dinner table conversation or electronic impulse of radio, TV, computer---determine whether we come or we go?

I know of folks who wouldn't leave their hometowns for billions and others who'd be off in a flash if the chance were presented. Me, I'm a curious observer. I like the town I'm in. It's okay. Not too big; not too small. Not too snobby; not too much lowlife. And yet...presented the opportunity to migrate to a place where portals await, I'd probably be packing my bags and heading on down the road.

A curious thing, the phenomenon called "place." Why do we end up where we do?

Thursday, November 19, 2009


Last night I'm flying home from northern Washington, cruising high over wilderness areas on a clear, star-studded night. Perfect for checking out who's out. I put my face next to the plane window and stare. Great reflections of the reading and aisle lights behind me. That's not going to work. I try something else. My hooded coat is perfect: toss the hood on my head and use the hood to seal the window. Excellent. I now have a stellar view of the night sky, untainted by the lights in the metal tube that's carrying me home.

The sight is magnificent: below me, the curved earth is dark. No lights in the Seven Devils. No lights in the Eagle Caps. Few lights in the spaces in between. Lovely. The planet is black satin. Round, sable, rich, soaking in ideas, sparks, flashes. I'm liking this a lot. No mercury vapor standards blaring vigilance across acres and more. No twin pyraminds of yellowed light prancing before vehicles along straight, light-ratched strips of road. No conglomerate of insanely bright beacons shouting "Car Lot!" or "Shopping Mall!" I'm liking this a lot.

Then I turn my eyes upward. Oh my goodness. The flight sky has never looked like this. Milky Way streaks herself across the pane. Oh. Look at the white blush of star, planet, nebula. Look how this old, old light streaks the plane's night sky. Look how the remnants of light centuries gone decorate this window pane. I haven't seen this before, from this height. I've seen it from the frosted pastures of Valley County, the subalpine slopes of the Windriver Range, and the wind-carved desert of Monument Valley, but I've never seen it from up here, from a perch thousands of feet above the globe's crust. This is different. I'm liking this a lot.

I've never sealed my in-flight view this way, never framed that precious scene outside. Wonder what my plane-mates are thinking: the strange woman tucking the hood around her head and sticking it to the window. She's still there. She hasn't moved. What can be so fascinating that she'd press her forehead to the pane for sixty minutes or more? Hello. What about the free airline snacks and the beverage cart?

Not the first time I've been regarded as eccentric and probably not the last. But I know that any future night flights of mine will most likely involve pressing my face against a window and sealing out the riff-raff of ambient light so I can savor the joyous stellar bursts dancing above the planet. While I'm up there, I might as well check it out, don't you think?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Give It Up For....

I'm off the tour circuit, having just returned from treks with my daughter to bask in the splendor that is Ozomatli, catching them in Portland, Boise and Salt Lake (I didn't do the Seattle gigs...dang!). I'm exhausted. I'm asking myself, "Why not just savor the incredible diversity of their musical genius in the comfort of my living room?" Gosh, I have the brown suede couch, the nice hardwood floors, the wonderful vintage landscape photos, the thriving plants, the attentive golden retriever, the okay sound system...why would I trade this all for a live gig? What am I, nutz?

The answer lies, I think, in the exchange of facial expression and gesture between artist and appreciator. The sounds I hear at live shows aren't substantially different from those in my living fact, they may be of lesser quality. They may be hampered by rowdies (like the big guy singing behind me last night...Give it a rest, Dude). They may be diminished by ear plugs, kind of a given at most live shows. For me, the plugs make the show more comfortable, but they cut out some cool stuff I'm used to hearing. The sounds may be limited by the acoustics of the venue: super last night, but not always the case.

Why, then, do I want to trade my serene salon for the sticky-floor, giddy-chick, pushy scene that is a live concert? Connection. Yeah, that's it. The immediacy of these artists magnifies the music. The percussion is the same; guitar the same; lyrical cantos the same. It's the presence.

These artists are right in front of me. If I were rude, I could touch them. They are creating, just for me. The aesthetic process is unfurling before my eyes and ears. Their reason for being is vivid: they live to perform. I am so grateful for this commitment. I can see joy in their eyes as they watch the audience roar in a tsunami of appreciation. I can see true agape as they work with each other to cover little mishaps that might mar the show. I can see the crescendo of satisfaction that each has as he plays a "solo" that stamps a five-star rating on the evening.

I think of my other artist friends: the lovely quilter from Beaverton, the beautifully strange print-maker and potter from eastern Idaho, the Viet Nam vet who writes "manly" novels AND romantic poetry, the stained-glass genius who builds rock walls in her spare time. I ask myself about aesthetic commitment. "I live for my art. My art IS my life." The artists who are Ozomatli give up normalcy in their lives so I can enjoy the connection of gesture and expression that is a live concert.

I am truly blessed by their willingness to do so.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

It Matters

Those recruits cough up two,
four, six years for me.
Give up Friday's pool games and
Sunday's sauntering brunches.
Tuck away days to mark births,
hoping the catch-ups will recoup skipped joy.
Turn away from the sprints
of kids, nieces, and nephews,
racing from infancy to teen over a night.
Watch their peers climb busy ladders
to prestige and flashy titles.
Draw comfort, not from the hugs of moms,
grandmas, wives, husbands, daughters, sons,
but from the rowdy backslaps of their buds.
Crouch on boxes through nights without light.
Sweat on cots lined against hot clay walls,
execution style.

They do it for me.

Lay life on line, each day,
each sweltered, reddened night,
for me.

It matters. To me.

from The Silence of Bright Star
by Susan Lowman-Thomas

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Make It So

I've studied customer service tenets for decades and I've learned from the best, the Pooles, an Oregon family corporation dedicated to the notion that all employees exist for one reason: to serve the customer. But all my training, all my expectations were trumped this week at a lovely Portland, Oregon, hotel, the Hotel Deluxe ( How did this happen? With three little, teeny words: "Make It So." The phrase wasn't posted on the door. Wasn't inscripted on the hotel registration. Wasn't beamed through employees' gritted grins. Where was it? In my room, on the desk, on the nightstand, on the phone.

"Make It So." What did this mean? Well, I learned that, if I didn't like any of the five pillows on the bed, I could hit the "Make It So" buttton on the phone and request other pillows, choosing from a menu of seven options of softness, size and shape.

"Make It So." If I'd left on my Oregon journey in such a haste that I'd forgotten my iPod, I was still okay. I could hit the "Make It So" button on my phone and, voila, one with my kind of music (six options) would be delivered to my room. What a relief!

"Make It So." What else did this mean for me? Amazingly, it meant spiritual survival. I could peruse the Spiritual Menu near the desk phone and request the tome that best fit my current religious needs. Did I need the Tao? Or a King James bible? Or was the Koran the best choice for my soul today? All I had to do was choose and hit the "Make It So" button. Salvation has never been this easy.

I was impressed. Sure, the hotel was delightful, everything the website promised. But this was different. This was magic. This was fairy-godmother, shooting star magic. "Make It So." Cinderella must have voiced the phrase as the little critters twirled around her ashen feet. Jack's beans must have cheered each other on this way as they soared their green stems heaven-ward. Yearning for Kansas, Dorothy must have prayed this phrase.

Wouldn't it be great to have "Make It So" buttons in our lives? There are lots of things I'd like to request for our planet, country, and state. And my family and friends...wouldn't I love to choose health and serenity for them and "Make It So"...just with the push of a button?

Maybe I can't do that but there is something I can do. I can carry out my life's work, serving external and internal customers, in my paying job as well as my other life business, with the same kind of mindset. I can pretend I do have a "Make It So" button. When I hear a request, whether it's seeking information or an attentive ear, I'll focus on the request and then push that imaginary button. When my customer offers up the gift of a request, I will just "Make It So."

Friday, October 30, 2009

Led On

I love to iron. It's an important task, bringing order out of chaos. Each weekend, I iron the clothes for the coming week and feel prepared. It helps that my sweetie bought me a really good iron (yes, a Rowenta) so the task is fun and quickly effective.

Today I ironed to Zeppelin. Perfect. The tunes kept me going: crease, smooth, edge in to delicate detail, create the beauty that will be "this outfit."

Why Zeppelin? I dunno. The group's with me a lot. Years ago Saturdays would catch my daughter and me and our dogs heading out in the big ole pick-up to do important stuff, listening to Zeppelin. Seemed reasonable to drop off re-cycle stuff, to traverse the trail where the dogs would text their liquid messages, with Page and crew playing. Just seemed right.

My late husband learned (from the Canadian show "Red-Green") that he could "listen" safely to my rantings while humming Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song" to himself, and then reply with the mandatory "Yes, dear," at appropriate lulls in the song's roll. I know he did that a lot, though he denied it vehemently. I didn't mind. Creative and cool, really.

Zeppelin has incredible domestic usefulness, no denying it. But why? When I hear the good rock and roll from my youth, I'm transported. "Under My Thumb" can send me off the cliff. But the Stones or even the Beatles don't help me do housework. Curious. Why does Zeppelin?

I've heard an NPR piece on the rock and roll songs that lead drivers to tickets. "Radar Love" is notorious with law enforcement folks for luring drivers into pressing the accelerator harder, harder, harder, til, WHOA! too late. Busted. The same NPR piece noted that no one has ever received speeding tickets while listening to the Grateful Dead. A fan of "The 70s Show," I understand.

A pal of mine over-shared as he described his habitual dive into bed, a la natural, to the tune of "In a Godda Di Vita." Ruined the song for me, but I still wondered why that song consistently triggered this response. Why such habit? Why such repetition? Puzzling...

Zeppelin gets me going. I'm revved. It feels good and comfortable and definitely in the realm of "known." But there's something else. The order is right on Zeppelin CDs. Just when I'm about to hyperventilate after "Gallows Pole," (verified by the frenetic pounding I do on my conga or ironing board), "Tangerine" comes on to calm me. Okay, focus. Must iron. Must not burn collars. Must not press crease into floor. I'm back now.

I'm thinking that Zeppelin has some unique cosmic connection with domestic diva dieties. The band has helped me get my cave chores done for decades and I'll bet I'm not alone. Maybe the deal they made was this: "You do the tunes; we'll promise you perfectly pressed linen shirts through eternity." Whaddya think?

Thursday, October 22, 2009


A recent drive home at dusk gave me a beautiful gift: a cat silhouetted in a square window. A perfect image. The cat was seated looking right, tail curled parallel to her body. She had thoughtfully centered herself inside the amber square of the window. The flash was a jewel in this night.

It started me thinking about silhouettes, those crisp designs that we link with 1950s' bedroom decor (the boy rolling a hoop and the curly-haired girl with tiered crinoline skirts, traipsing in ovals framed with coppery tape). They're the stark black shapes we tie to late fall: the arched cat, the grinning Jack o Lantern, the wide-eyed owl, the gliding bat. They're the portraits of folks like Jane Austen and George Washington.

The term "silhouette" has a silly synonym: disambiguation. Not sure I even want to figure out how that word works here. I'd rather just look at a definition: a silhouette is a view of an object or scene consisting of an outline and featureless center. The form gets its name from an 18th century finance minister, an unsavory guy named Etienne Silhouette who imposed severe economic demands on the French. He liked doing silhouette portraits so his name became linked with these designs, as well as with anything done cheaply.

When I think of silhouette portraits, I think that they must be minimally effective at capturing the likeness of a subject. But I'm wrong, according to a Stanford study that found that silhouettes are very good ways to extract accurate physical data about a person, data that won't be significantly altered by cosmetic changes and the impacts of aging.

Putting usefulness of silhouettes aside, I ask myself why the image of the cat in the window was so stunning. As I do, silhouettes march smoothly across memory's screen. In an Oregon pine forest one night, a great horned owl slid among the black lace of fir. We couldn't hear her at all as she embroidered a new design on the intricate net of needled branch against a deep navy sky. In a Montana apartment, an outline assumed to be an intruder stabbed terror into this single mom's heart. Against the beige talc of Owyhee sand, a delicate shape of long-tailed kangaroo rat mimed a lively jig for two desert campers. Above the jeweled disk of a high-mountain lake, the jagged torn silhouette of granite peak soared, shielding us from the deep descending night. From my bed, the shadowed dance of tree limbs has given me weather reports: it's breezy, it's windy, it's downright scary.

There are times, I think, when we really don't need all the detail of a scene. Maybe the outline is enough to tell us what we need to know. Maybe all those interior features are just fluff and we can make do with a silhouette, a disambiguation, after all. Maybe the magic of a scene can be exquisitely captured in black and white, in crisp line and background. It's a minimalist kind of thing. That's what the cat in the window that night taught me.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Exterior Decorating

The concept of decorating outside spaces intrigues me. Just to think about carving out "rooms" in our yards gets my creative juices going. At our riverside home, we had lots of space to work with in a long, narrow yard shielded by trees and huge shrubs. A perfect palette! We put in hundreds of perennials, shaped wildlife habitat (such as a small pond and a quail hideout), and planned many vistas, like the one in the picture above. This view from the deck of the chimnea, aspen grove (with its hidden basalt throne), cliff edge and eastern end of the valley was one of my favorites, a picture I took frequently. My best shot was one of a rainbow in the east, ending on the treasure that was my husband as he gardened.

Now in my small urban place, the same kind of brushstrokes are being made. I carted 15 small trees, 7 shrubs, and a handful of perennials with me when I moved here. They've really helped turn a tiny yard into a number of "rooms." More tree, shrub and perennial plantings have helped create an aspen grove (with a log seat); an outdoor breakfast nook with wrought iron bistro set surrounded by walls of climbing roses; a long bank of native plants to lure hummingbirds; and two raised bed gardens that serve as cold frames when the snow hits. Out front, a berm stands guard between the house and street. Deep pinks and intense blues dance out from the magnolia, rose of sharon, butterfly bush, willow, dogwood, penstemon, larkspur, and hundreds of tulips and Japanese iris. It's a sweet moat of petal and leaf.

My latest scheme is to carve a winding path in back from the sunroom to the breakfast nook. I designed it to be narrower at the far end to "trick" the eye. Along most of it, I'm building a berm: blooms will serve as sentries along this trail. The pivot of one curve is a willow standard: a fluffy shrub grafted to a tall, slim trunk. It should provide long whisps of delicate green, breeze dancers to entice folks to wander out on the path.

As much as I love the aesthetics of outdoor decorating, I don't savor all the physical tasks. Shoulders ache this morning from shovel-work and glutes are sore from kneeling for hours. I really liked the time I hired a landscaper. I just told him what I wanted (a winding rock path, a berm with Japanese maple, and hundreds of summer-long blooms) and voila! it was done. All I had to do was write a check.

That's not always possible, though, so I'm going to head back out to my embryonic path and shovel some more. While out there, the images of vistas to come will waltz through my head, over and over, round and round.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


We all take it for granted that we can move our carcasses and gear easily from one spot to another. It's a given. Me too. Yeah.

That is until last Friday morning, at 6,250 feet above sea level, in a valley with one tiny town whose mechanic doesn't work from October to June. That is until last Friday morning when I tried starting my truck and it answered my keyed pleas with a "Nothin doing. No way. Forget it." Being a patient (;^/) person, I tried again, and again, and again. Same answers.

Next step. Dialed roadside assist. Okay, tow-truck would be sent. From the town seven miles away? NO! From a town 130 miles away...minimally three hour trek on twisted mountain road. Okay, that would have to do. Luckily I had no appointment with my massage therapist or hair stylist. Luckily, I didn't have to work. Luckily, there was no snow on the roads...yet.

So, what does one do with three hours of captivity? I was lucky. I was in a gorgeous log cabin in a serene, sunny spot pivoting on the spiky grandeur of the Sawtooth Mountains. Yellow disks of aspen were wiggling against a curtain of dark green pines. An enormous, elaborate rock goddess soared above trees, stretching into a vast screen of cornflower blue. Juncos dolled up in their tuxedos of charcoal with white zipped up, down, in, out, and around. Their chips of conversation were perky and fun. What could be amiss here? I was warm. I was safe. I was surrounded by stunning vistas. I had food, water, a bathroom, a sunny couch, a spot for my dog and me to nap. Why complain?

I knitted. I read. I walked around. I soaked in the views. I visited with neighbors. I played with the dog. I phoned folks and said "Aren't I lucky, stranded on this sunny day in the mountains?"

But my elation was veneer. I was trapped and I knew it. A mink in steel jaws, I couldn't jimmy myself from this spot. Couldn't twist or turn out into the wide-open spaces of self-determination. Strange feeling.

I could hear my heart beating. I could feel and taste and smell my heart beating. "Let me go! Let me go! I want out!" So odd. Took deep, deep breaths, did a super downward dog, even tried tree position. Read poetry. Whistled. Nothing worked. Couldn't unwind the tense wrap of immobility.

It made me think a lot about elders who don't drive anymore. How suffocating it must be. "Just want to go to the store to get some Jello. No big deal. Just get in the Plymouth, start er up, go a few blocks, and get my Jello. Oh, wait. I can't drive. I don't have a car anymore." Immobile. Stranded. Marooned. Left aground. Isolated. Stuck.

When I finally spied the tow truck, a startling construct of testosterone and metal, I cheered! Got so delirious I abandoned my L L Bean coat, treasured for a decade, and took off down the road. I was no longer stranded! Even in Eden a person could be stuck. Even in a gorgeous sunny cabin in the Sawtooths, a gal could be hemmed in. I was outta there. Thank goodness. I was being towed down the road, a happy, happy girl on the move.

Saturday, September 19, 2009


Sitting in a floating house on the Willamette River recently, I was thinking about floating. Then watching the elegant glide of swans on the waters at Sun Valley this week, I was again thinking about floating. It's astounding, really, that a form with weight and substance can perch on the surface of a very permeable entity like water. Why doesn't gravity just pull floating forms toward earth's core?

Well, it's all about buoyancy, I learned. Archimedes discovered and articulated the principle centuries ago: "Any body wholly or partially immersed in a fluid experiences an upthrust equal to, but opposite in sense to, the weight of the fluid displaced." I learned that an object will sink in water if its density is greater than the density of water and will float if its density is less than water. Same thing with helium and hot air balloons: they rise when their contents (helium or heated air) are less dense than the surrounding air. That makes sense to me.

Thinking about floating and buoyancy made me think about life. Some folks I know are really buoyant, able to bob along over the turbulence of daily living, looking as serene as those Sun Valley swans. I think of my incredible uncle, taking in stride cancer, loss of his beloved bride after 60+ years together, cancer, and other health struggles. Buoyant, that's what he is. When you visit with him, he's vibrant, fun, and totally focused on making you feel you're one of the most important dignitaries he's ever met. He floats above life's trials, his density being more ethereal than that of those trials.

Buoyancy also makes me think of a stunning girl friend of mine. When her employer was shattered by devestating, demoralizing cuts and demands to reduce staffing, she was buoyant. She maintained her serenity, soothed her employees, and took a hard hit herself to minimize the impact of the cuts on them. Buoyant, that's what she is. When you visit with her, she's charismatic, beautiful, and totally focused on making your encounter extra special.

I try to be buoyant but it's not always easy. Sometimes I can just bob along over the swirling waters of tribulation, my eye on the goal, my body tuned into what must be done. I think I was like that while caring for my husband as his illness demanded its tithe. Caring for him became my life's work: it was essential that I remained serene and focused on his comfort. After he was gone, though, the buoyancy diminished. Getting through trials became more of a struggle and I fear I haven't always personified serenity.

Floating...making sure that my density is lighter than that of my something I'll keep working on. I like the idea of looking like a swan.

Sunday, September 13, 2009


Inspired by my college friend Terry, who just celebrated her fourth blog anniversary, I decided to try it. It may be an ideal avenue for me to express the gratitude and awe I have for the gift of each day on this planet. Annie Dillard summed it up as she said that each day is a god. The sacred is available to us all in each second of the day. We only have to be open to it.

"Listen..." I told myself as I sat in my yard this morning. A killdeer circled round and round, fluting clear tones into this Sunday. What was she doing? Her young must be gone by now from the gravelled nest at the edge of the church parking lot. Was she bidding farewell to this safe haven? Was she hesitating to start her journey south?

Magpies squabbled down the street, their strident cries as bold as the stark opposites of their white and black feathers. Years ago magpies nested in a blue spruce in our yard. We loved having these noisy kids add to our place's symphony. A neighbor asked my husband to "get rid of those d---- birds" and he just shook his head. Nothing doing: they were among the others in our yard, deserving of our care. After avian flu hit magpie populations hard, it was wondrous to see them come back. Each flash of black/white was a spike of joy!

Canadian geese brayed in the distance and house sparrows chirped through the huge canopy of my ash tree. Sneaky starlings whistled, crooned, and panted through the neighborhood. Wish I liked them. I can share Virginia Woolf's awe of their ability to dance across the sky as a net of a thousand knots, but I hate it when they invade the flowering plum in front of my house. Yes, I discriminate against a species, yes.

My ears gifted me with the ring of my favorite fall bird: the flicker. I love the noisy declarations they make from power pole and tall tree. I didn't love the way they used to hammer at my shake roof...but when I hear flickers, I think that the year's best season is on its way!

Listening...listening to birds on a sunnied morning is a sacred gift. I wonder what the world must be like to my daughter's new dog, a rescued six year old who has most likely been deaf from birth. What is the world like without killdeer's flute, magpie's scrappy rattle, flicker's bold announcement that the earth is indeed turning? I cherish the gift that enters me through my ears.