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.