Summer

Summer chore.

Summer came and went. It left behind a northwest parched by a succession of hot spells so extraordinary that even climate change deniers had their ‘come to Jesus moments’.

Rain arrived, at last, in early October. The dire predictions retreated, forgotten along with admonitions to floss our teeth, avoid sugary drinks, and quit smoking. We are such a peculiar, comical species, us humans. We exist in the moment when it’s convenient to our self perception or our preferred politics. Unlike other animals, we can anticipate the future but rationalize away its consequences to justify poor choices.

Just a boy and his wagon.

In spite of the heat waves, winter is out there. In May, when our government destroyed any pretense of social justice by separating immigrant parents from their children, I received three cords of wood. I chose to split it early so that it could dry during the summer. But, allowances had to be made for the oppressive heat. I limited myself to frequent morning workouts with the log splitter. I toiled in the shade and stopped well before midday. By September, I had completed the process of splitting, drying, and stacking our supply of wood.

Now, with the recent rain and cooler temps, I coax small fires in the wood stove each morning. At dawn, while warming my toes, I observe that the debacle over the new Supreme Court justice has reached a disappointing conclusion. Those who favor the confirmation resent the process that challenged their candidate. And, those who saw their protests ignored, lick wounds with bitter tongues. The only thing that unites us as a nation is our unhappiness with democratic ideals.








In the midst of these signs of social decline, including multiple criminal investigations into our president’s affairs, taxes, and electoral legitimacy, my wife and I joined with friends to tour Yellowstone and Grand Tetons National Parks. We saw buffalo, pronghorn deer, elk, bear, and a herd of humanity. The park accommodations are full even at the end of their season. Dinner reservations are necessary at the historic lodges and sometimes not available. Nonetheless, we reveled in what Ken Burns identified as “America’s Best Idea,” our system of National Parks.

The four of us are relaxed travelers. We met over 40 years ago at a New Zealand National Park. Three of us are retired and the fourth partly so. We use that flexibility and free time to visit a National Park each year.

These days, we are day hikers. Back packing lost its allure years ago. A good book, a relaxing chair, and a national monument’s lobby suffice for adventure on many an afternoon. Nonetheless, we did find trails that wound through the natural environment preserved by these parks. In the Yellowstone-Teton ecosystem, you needn’t venture far from a road to experience wilderness.

So too, our country has not ventured far from the belief in compassionate governing. Currently, we find ourselves ruled by the chaos of cynical leadership. By choosing to indulge in the freedom of our prejudices, we have lost our way. Yet, a path back to decency and a government for all can be found. It goes through the voting booth. I hope you will follow it this November.

 

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Perspective

I had an inheritance from my father,

It was the moon and the sun.

And though I roam all over the world,

The spending of it’s never done.”

Ernest Hemingway

Egg River

I am an early riser. I don’t sleep all that well these days. Illness, late middle age, and my adorable, annoying cat conspire to disturb each night’s rest. So, I am usually awake when, at five am or so, I receive a text from my youngest son, Isaac, inviting me to breakfast.

He is a building contractor. He lives in the upper Hood River Valley with his wife and two children. The kids, one and four, make for unpredictable nights. One or the other or both may have awakened him. After settling the children, he is ready to eat and get on with his day.

Bette’s Place

There are two restaurants we frequent, Bette’s Place and Egg River. We like the oatmeal with fruit at one. The other is famous for their cinnamon rolls. Most importantly, though, it opens earlier. 

Often, we talk about life in the fast lane of parenting: the sleepless nights; the diaper duty; the child’s loving worship; the financial strain; family stress; the shared joy of a child’s wonder at the world, and the list goes on. I find it difficult to remember the doubts and fears from when I was the parent and he the child. I seem to recall only the fun times. Accordingly, my counsel is always … patience.

Dad and brother Earl (Butch) 1945. We lived on Jesse St. in San Francisco. It was behind the telephone company and it dead ended at Bekins Van and Storage.

As we munch our oatmeal and sip coffee, we are sometimes visited by the ghost of my own father. Like my son, he worked with his hands. Isaac builds houses, my dad was a welder. Unfortunately, he died young from the complications of alcoholism. We never connected as adults. In my teens, I was ashamed of him. My defense mechanism was to tune him out.

I shared my childhood with three older brothers, something like a secondary moon in the orbit of their comings of age. About the time they were leaving the house, a younger sister arrived. My perspective then shifted to that of observing my parents cope with this “surprise”.

Like the grandchildren, my siblings and I were the source of much love and some terror for my parents. My mom had strong roots as a third generation offspring of German dairy farmers. Dad, however, was raised as an orphan in Oklahoma and separated from his sister as a child. Dad’s insecurities were engrained at a young age. Eventually, the unsteady foundation of his childhood crumbled under the weight of alcohol.

1985, Noah was five and Isaac was three.

Nonetheless, he made sacrifices to assure us opportunity in our lives. Opportunities, I might add, that he did not have. Opportunities, furthermore, that I did not appreciate until years later.

Perspective is the reward for living a long life. It erases the pain of the past. It reveals wisdom neglected and forgiveness earned. I see the well being and self confidence of my grandchildren to be the byproducts of good parenting. We did some things right, as did the parents of my daughter-in-law. She and my son pass it along.

So, too, my parents were determined to do right by their kids. My selfish needs as a teenager notwithstanding, I did feel loved and wanted. These days, I finally understand the value of their gifts. And, I am humbled when dad occasionally stops by in spirit … he would have liked Isaac, they could talk about tools.

Hallelujah

 

Tulips

The primary colors of tulips brighten my yard. Chlorophyll rich grasses sprout between the bricks of the garden path.

Manic behavior infects the bird life. They chatter about coupling and food, warmth and territory. Juncos and towhees are joined by seasonal rivals at the feeder. Finches and song sparrows visit. The numbers increase, but everyone gets a turn. Then, a horde of aggressive starlings arrive. They squabble among themselves and bully the smaller birds. So, I put the suet cage away. 

Instead, I spread treats on the trunk of our flowering cherry. This makes for a more democratic cafeteria. There’s room for all and the snack of fat and protein will help fortify the nesting birds. 



I walk the waterfront. An east wind pushes the balmy air of distant prairies through the Columbia Gorge. The prevailing westerlies are slow to establish a flow, but athletes test the fluky breeze on their kite boards. Nearby, a playground throbs with the squeals of toddlers. Dogs fetch thrown balls and a solitary boy tugs at the string of his own reluctant kite.

Sailboats return to the river. A regatta plys the current around a buoy marked course. Like a pod of lost whales, they beach overnight on the sandy shore. 

Finally, the wind turns. A daylong gale scours the valley. It steals hats from the unwary and strips fruit trees of their blossoms. Spring sweeps aside the curtain of winter and sings in a major key. It’s time for hallelujah not hibernation.

An audio version of this post may be viewed here. Thanks to Rod Salaysay for his rendition of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, played on the ukulele.

The latest numbers are posted in The Drill.

Divisive Devices

My new iPhone.

Recently, my iPhone began to act erratically. New iterations of its operating system had rolled out. But the device could not effectively process the changes. Family and friends blared the horns of their newer models as they passed me on the digital expressway. The time had come to upgrade.

I visited the store of our cell plan’s carrier. My wife and I, both of our sons, and daughter-in-law share a family package deal. I learned that only three of those five can act as administrators of changes to the contract. In order to upgrade my phone, I had to show identification and have an administrator physically appear at the office and approve my decision. Furthermore, I needed to contact the primary administrator, my daughter-in-law, and obtain the last four digits of her social security number AND her account password.

Well and good: I called my wife (an administrator) and she appeared to ok the upgrade. Then I called the daughter-in-law and got her secret numbers. I picked out a phone. The tech got my password and moved data from the old to the new.

Yes, it’s a bit of an arduous process. From entrance to exit, it took over an hour. Nonetheless, given the topical hullabaloo surrounding personal data breaches, I left the store reassured.

An AR-15.

I am recounting all of this to illustrate a shameful irony of contemporary American culture. In less time and without oversight, anyone 18 years and up, can purchase an assault weapon from a licensed gun dealer. An assault weapon precisely like the one used to kill seventeen high school students in Parkland, FL on Valentine’s Day of this year.

I have touched on the issue of gun control in years past. Assault weapons are also devices, tools, if you will. They are designed to kill people, and to kill them fast. The proliferation of massacres in recent history prove how good they are at what they do. Assault weapons should, in a sane society, be banned. 

My wife took this photo at the Portland, OR “March For Our Lives.”

Following the slaughter in Florida, parents raged, marches ensued, and students across the country mobilized to demand common sense solutions to the violence. Some legislators hailed the protester’s courage. Yet, in doing so they unwittingly highlighted the history of their own faintness of heart in confronting the stranglehold of the NRA on American politics. Others avoided taking a position, cloaking themselves in the cynical lament of “thoughts and prayers.” The White House also failed to lead on this issue. Instead, our president spoke in support of a demented proposal to arm teachers

The inertia on an assault weapon ban is unforgivable. The ability to couch this argument in diversionary political mumbo jumbo delays action from one massacre to the next. The basic tactic is to stall any decision about change and wait out the news cycle.

I don’t know what the solution is. The ballot box? Perhaps. A charismatic leader? Maybe. More and greater massacres? Let’s hope not. Can young men and women still in school lead the way? I’d like to believe that. But already, much of the tumult surrounding the Parkland massacre has subsided. Marches came and went. Grief was processed. And, still, no legislative initiatives.

Let’s face it. American democracy is as dysfunctional as my outdated iPhone. Its operating system needs an upgrade. Currently, money determines policy. The wealthy wield power without concern for the common good. Inequality infects our society like a computer virus. Gun control, climate change, you name it: we seem content to kick the can down the road. We hope these problems will go away. But they won’t.

 

Latest numbers are posted in The Drill.

Books

Barely a skiff of snow this winter until …

Oregon’s reputation for tough winters suffered a setback in 2017/18. November, December, and January stretched like lazy cats across the table of the Northwest sky. They shed rain but mild temperatures prevailed beneath their sleepy overcast. Skiers lamented the lack of snow on Mt. Hood.

In the valley below, orchardists fretted. They prefer harsh conditions that induce dormancy in their trees. Meanwhile, opportunistic  retirees trudged the fairways of golf courses normally closed this time of year.

Then, in mid-February, just when everyone began to anticipate daffodils and tulips, the season coughed up a hair ball of bad weather. East winds howled for three days. Curtains of sleet arrived in horizontal flurries and temperatures plummeted like the ethical standards of our current White House.

Fruit trees had begun to bud and farmers rued their bad luck. Meanwhile, powder snow junkies called in sick. Parking lots at ski areas overflowed. Mother Nature, undisciplined as the president’s twitter feed, yawned with indifference at those blessed or scorned by her whimsy.

The Books

During this mini cataclysm, I retreated to the sanctuary of my home. But first, I cashed in a gift certificate at Waucoma Bookstore: three mysteries, a fictional memoir, the ramblings of an OCD list maker, and a 12 ounce bar of exotic chocolate. These, I reasoned, would distract me from winter’s final gagging discomforts, not to mention the episodic decadence of American politics.

August Snow, by Stephen Mack Jones, left much to be desired. Just another first person narrative by a wise cracking ex-cop and a cast of cardboard characters. This bland cake of a plot was frosted with predictability. Nothing new here …

The Magpie Murders, by Anthony Horowitz, however, is a classic whodunnit, the perfect read for cold winter nights. Well drawn characters/suspects add intrigue to the patient unfurling of the mystery. A long, relaxing read within the cozy confines of an English village, or so you are led to think … Brew a pot of tea and add some honey.

Love potion number nine.

The Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life, by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, entertained me while being infused with “a wonder drug” for my cancer, multiple myeloma. The pre-meds I take to counter possible side effects consist of both steroids and strong antihistamines. The golden glow of this “poor man’s opium” elevated the author’s mundane observations to revelatory incantation. I liked this book, but you needn’t be under the influence to enjoy its magic spell.

The Silence of the Sea, by Yrsa Sigurdardottir. A puzzle of unexplainable disappearances. Procedural patience leads to the only possible solution. This book has suspense galore and a disturbing dread for the victims. Highly recommended if you like it creepy with an Icelandic flair for the eerie.

The Dalai Lama’s Cat, by David Michie purrs with Buddhist bromides. Yes, the cat is the narrator. Did this convention undermine my fondness for mindful behavior? No. What better way to search for the nothing that is everything than through the curiosity of a cat?

Latest numbers are posted in The Drill.

Why Things Happen

Why Things Happen

For J. D. Riso

 

I listened to the rain fall for hours

And read a mystery next to my cat,

Both of us dismayed by the dark, wet sky.

 

I listened and read and accrued the clues

Of how and who as to why things happen.

I heard rainwater scampering across

 

The roof shingles and into the gutter,

Draining the sky to gravity’s rhythm,

Down the spout and away, under the ground.

 

I turned a page, the cat stretched, and elsewhere,

Far away, sirens curdled the night air

And soured someone’s life, now, gone awry.

 

An audio version of me reading the poem may be listened to here.

 

Ten Years

“It’s just … it’s like it’s always right now, you know?”

Mason from Boyhood 

An inversion layer spreads over the Hood River Valley. Temperatures drop to the high 20s at night and creep into the mid-30s during the day. At elevation, upon the slopes of Mt. Hood, sunny skies prevail. But here, in the foothills, no wind, no snow, and no sunshine. Instead, a thick blanket of overcast spreads gloom. Enthusiasm for activity wanes. Last weekend, I stayed home and wore pajamas all day. Nonetheless, my mood is bright. This December marks ten years since my diagnosis with the blood cancer, multiple myeloma.




An irony of cancer rests in a biological enigma: it destroys the host that sustains it. As it strives to survive it also brings about its death. My disease results from an error in DNA programming, a mutation gone awry. That, being so, and given its prevalence, can we not view it as a metaphor for humanity’s abuse of the environment? Are we destroying our host? Are we, too, a mistake?

While mulling over this puzzle, I venture outside to scatter seed for the birds. I keep their water station thawed. They congregate on the boughs of the ornamental cherry. They alight to drink a drop or two, wash themselves, and then gather with others in the barren branches of our shrubs. There are juncos, chickadees, sparrows, a few finches, towhees, jays, and mourning doves.

Occasionally, an opportunistic hawk visits. He perches on the cross of the power pole. We all entertain one another. I provide food and water. The yard birds sing and chatter. They navigate, with aplomb, the maze of thickets in the yard. The raptor waits.





In spite of my lazy weekend, I make the effort to exercise. Quiet walks on the waterfront immerse me in the rhythms of the natural world. Fewer and fewer people go outdoors. Locals, walking their dogs, populate the paths. The animals, paragons of pure joy, walk in the  company of a human they adore. To them, the world is alive with scent, and each happy breath produces a visible cloud as the heat of their body greets the frigid air.

On the river, mud hens float together. Ducks splash as they land. They squabble. A lone heron, the vicar of the waterfront, hunches his shoulders in ecclesiastical contemplation. Above me gulls glide and squeal. Gaggles of geese pass, honking as they proceed somewhere far from here. Physically, I am present, my senses absorbing the sights and sounds. My mind, however, wanders.

The sky is opaque. I feel gratitude. Ten years far exceeds my prognosis. Looking  back, I experienced  challenges and emotions. I’ve pursued a workmanlike blue collar treatment program. I follow the research, the trial developments. I moved through the protocols that existed at diagnosis. I add those that emerged during my decade of care.



My medical records weave between progression and stasis. The Drill reads like my monthly photos of the waterfront: repetitive views that are at once the same and different. I don’t dwell on the incurable nature of my condition. I don’t get overly excited by promising developments in the regulatory pipeline. Perhaps, they will evolve to assist me, perhaps not. What fate has put in motion makes me thankful for each and every right now.

Tagged: blogging, Boyhood, cancer, Columbia River Gorge, Good Blood Bad Blood, Hood River, Hood River Valley, mortality, nature, writing

Wet Weather

“Just remain in the center; watching. And then forget that you are there.” Lao Tzu

In early November, wet weather arrived to cleanse the Hood River Valley. Seasonal debris in our yard glistened with rain.

Oval blades of lilac nested with the serrated ellipses of cherry. The lobed margins of oak leaves tucked themselves into the mix. Veins on the leafy moons of nasturtium floated above a bed of river stone.

Overhead, geese conversed as they departed for winter retreats. My cheeks simmered in the morning’s chill. The scent of decomposing leaf litter filled the sweet damp air.

(Click on any photo to enlarge the gallery.)





From Five Easy Pieces:

Perpetual Autumn

Summer dissolved in autumn’s weakened sun.

Chores came due, and the pine and fir were split,

And the roof scaled to clean the sooted flue,

And the tawny wood stacked up high against

The barren rafters of the weathered shed,

Where spiders fed on October’s insects.

 

Dense clouds of leaves floated over the fence

From the boughs of a neighbor’s noble oak.

They twirled and plummeted to the ground

In the shaggy frost of early morning,

Nesting on stones that surround the laurel

And the mossed trunk of the white bark cherry.

 

I gathered up the fallen debris and

Arrested disorder with symmetry.

I quarreled against the icy chill, and

The bedded stems that resisted the rake,

And the whorl of leaves that escaped its scratch

To scatter free, outside my custody.

 

Some hid in the skirt of the burning bush:

The clutter of perpetual autumn.

Others fluttered away, dried and brittle,

Propelled by the wealth of west winds that honed

And shaped the land and the silent river

Where great blue heron glide and fish alone.

 

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Tagged: cancer, Columbia River Gorge, gardening, Hood River, Hood River Valley, little things, nature, poetry, writing

My Beautiful Life

 

 

 

 

 

My Beautiful Life

I walked alone this afternoon.

October’s velvet light slipped through

The shade of a Big Leaf Maple

And tattooed my arms with shadow.

 

Erratic winds stirred the branches

And a scattering of leaves fell

Like confetti before my eyes.

 

They danced minuets in rhythm

To the crosscurrent of the breeze

In their tan and yellow dresses.

 

They twirled in celebration

Of my life, my beautiful life.

And when the wind died, they stopped, as

I walked alone this afternoon.

Tagged: autumn, cancer, Columbia River Gorge, Hood River Valley, little things, nature, poetry, writing

Autumn Slips Forward

Turning one leaf at a time.

Autumn slips into place without a sound. One leaf, then another changes color. Concentrations of green break down into red and yellow. At first glance, I wonder, is that tree diseased? On succeeding days, the contagion spreads to an entire stem, then a branch. Like chameleons, leaves drain their dominant shade, which transform into radiant hues.

Autumn slips forward with the quiet magic of chemistry. Daylight declines and temperatures cool. The mask of chlorophyll falls away. Underlying pigments in the leaf reveal themselves. They blend to create brilliant orange and reddish colors along with deep multi-shaded browns. Silently, the season tattoos foliage with melancholy.



Autumn slips in under the cover of summer’s forest fires. It infiltrates the canopy of deciduous trees while smoke filled skies distract our attention. The sun’s glow softens, diffused by the particulate in the air. It gilds the horizons with glamour and a tule fog of tragedy besmirches the streets of Hood River.

The scenic Columbia River Gorge burns with ferocity this year. The fire, fueled by dry timber and strong wind, leapt from 4,000 acres to 33,000 acres in the first five days of September. I grieve for the destruction of forest land. The reckless behavior of a few hikers ruined habitat and caused the death of a multitude of small animals.

Status of the fire on 9-6-17. No significant growth or containment as of 9-11-17.

Initially, the fire headed west. Then, the wind shifted. It grew at a deliberate pace, moving in a southeast direction, and headed our way. Then, again, the wind shifted the blaze back upon itself. The fire continues to burn but its growth slows. For now, we can relax a bit. Weather forecasts are favorable.

It seems, though, no matter where we are, something is always headed our way. The fury of hurricanes in Texas and Florida, and the Eagle Creek fire in Oregon made for a hellish beginning to autumn. These are American catastrophes. Elsewhere, however, destructive incidents persist: famine, disease, wars in Syria and Myanmar.

Smokey sky, a premonition for wildfire.

Solace resides in the machinations of the natural world. The routine, the inevitability of seasonal change occurs in spite of our behavior. The winter inherent in fall’s splendor; the rebirth and growth of spring immanent in the bitter dormancy of January. An underlying balance exists. Yet we seem at odds with the process. We interfere and, like a serious illness, we threaten the host which supports us.

Autumn slips forward into an unknown future, propelled by the past. It quietly changes everything. We age with each season. We order our lives, we prepare for the good and bad. Harmony surrounds us. But often, our eyes close. We lose balance and the wonder slips away.

Tagged: blogging, cancer, Columbia River Gorge, Good Blood Bad Blood, Hood River, Hood River Valley, mortality, writing