Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Walking To Fetch The Morning Paper

Dawn was at least an hour and a half away, the winter stars of the early morning barely visible through the fog that shrouded the hills, even hiding the nearby trees and houses. Only the dim lights of the early risers in their fog-shrouded shapes gave any hint that anyone else was here.
There was silence, except for the breeze that occasionally shook the last of the night’s raindrops from the trees, scattering wet across the lane, black on black, wisps of fog highlighted by the last of the quarter moon high in the southern sky.

In the distance, a dog barked, and, nearby, a bird glided from my side, then behind me, leaving me to only imagine that it may have been an owl, or a hawk on a predawn patrol. The only other sound my footsteps, rhythmically marching down the lane, headed home, knowing that the coffee was done now, ready to be poured into my waiting mug.

It would freeze soon, thinly coating my car’s windshield with opaque film, but now, dew rolled down the glass, the air thick with wetness from the night’s rain. This morning’s swirls of fog, even now hiding most of my path this morning, damping the noises of my walk, even the crow of the neighbor’s rooster, and the soft sounds of the sheep, readying themselves for another day of pasture life, and a bit of alfalfa.

At last, I opened the front door, warm air, the lights of the living room, and the aroma of fresh coffee drawing me in, my shoes tossed onto their shelf, the handle of the coffee pot fitting well in my cold hand, as I hear the sweet gurgles of hot coffee filling the hollow center of the mug, steam rising to fill my nostrils. Heat soon warms my hands, as I clutch the mug, and begin to open the morning paper.
12/30/08

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Morning, 2008

The jagged bolt lights up the eastern sky, flashing white across the newly fallen snow and hail, highlighting the entire forest and its week-long accumulation of snow for a split second. The cats sleep soundly, oblivious to the light, until the long, heavy roll of thunder shakes the window, rumbling deep.
My fur creatures, huddled close to me this Christmas Eve night, now startled, cry out in fright, as the thunder rolls around the valley, pellets of hail still striking the roof, snare drums pounding after the bass drums of the thunder still echo against the hills.
The clock tells me it is now Christmas morning, and I am now wide awake, the yard once again white as these winter storms keep moving in, adding yet another foot to the mountain snows. Cats wanting yet another long pet, as they regroup around my legs, once again craving my warmth on this long winter night, hail now turning to sleet, the hills once again shrouded in icy veils, the lightning now moving east, the thunder now just an occasional growl of the winter bear. Soon, their soft purring subsides into noiseless sleep, as I pull the covers close around my neck.
Christmas morning starts slowly, with the special Christmas coffee brewing, stockings filled on the mantel with Santa’s gifts, and I trudge through the crusty frozen hail, seeking the newspaper and a quiet walk as the first dim light of dawn bravely outlines the whitened hills.
We share our stocking gifts and fine, rich coffee, savoring the lights on the tree, and this special quiet day. Everything is special this morning, including the fresh baked stollen, more Noel coffee, and the first light of the day, the deck’s layers of snow and hail backlighting the tree. Eagerly, the cats go out to explore this once-again whitened world, their paws making new trails across the white blankness of the snow.
Venturing out, we walk a mile down to the corner, looking with our camera eyes at the Japanese ink washes of fog against snowy hills, and the white and black tires marks on the road’s almost frozen surface. A great white heron flies low across the road, over a white pasture, to land beside a creek, some unknown treasure in its beak.
The beauty of a holly tree is garlanded with ivy, its berries highlighting the red clusters of the holly. The old medieval carol now sings in our heart, and a donkey, escaping from what must be a nearby manger, looks at us from his frozen pasture.
“Where is the babe in the manger?” we ask, but the donkey is silent, sworn to secrecy to us this Christmas morning.
A bit of sunshine peers through the clouds, and large drops of just melted snow glisten on bare branches, tiny buds, red and cold, promising spring several months away.
My wife picks some holly for the house, as I find an entire world of green beauty in the moss and lichen on top of an old cedar fence post, as more Japanese ink washes appear in the hills.
The road now almost bare from the night’s snow and hail, we slosh back to the house, but not too fast, as there is still some ice underneath the splashes of our boots. Tired now, we talk of having some Christmas tea, and I begin to savor the thought of a whistling kettle and the cinnamon smells of the tea, as a black cloud grows and moves above us, holding off on its load of “winter mix” until we barely make it inside.
Our wet boots and thick coats piled by the door, we begin to heat the kettle and I find our snowflake mugs, ready for the Christmas tea. Soon, the fresh cut holly brightens the room, as we sip our tea, and look out to yet another squall of snow and icy rain.
Christmas morning, a time when time nearly stands still, a place to quietly take in the wonder of the day, and the simple joys of the season.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas Eve Eve Thoughts

It is the day before the day before Christmas, and all through the house, presents and wrapping paper are strewn about, kitchen dishes and baking pans unwashed, and a grocery list a half mile long is stuck to the frig. The tree is up, the wreath hangs neatly from the door, and we are nearly ready for Christmas, well, except for straightening up the mess.

I thought I felt the daylight staying around just a bit longer last night, now that the Solstice has passed, and the calendar says that the longest night is over again, for yet another year. The snow has melted in my yard, but still piling up in the nearby hills.

This December’s weather disaster hasn’t been the double typhoons of last year, but, instead, feet of snow piling up in the mountains, closing the highways, with the added spice of a bit of freezing rain. We had snow on the ground for five days, and enough to pile up on the lawn and create magical shapes in our flower beds and on the branches of the trees. It is hard to imagine that I mowed the lawn ten days ago, as the early December warmth had spurred on the grass for one final burst before the end of the year. As the snow melts, clumps of sodden green grass clippings cling to my shoes.

A deputy Sheriff shared his photographic efforts yesterday, a picture of the Coast Range summit looking like the top of the Cascades, and a highway littered with hundreds of fallen alders, their spotted trunks mixed in with icy crystallized branches and limbs -- silver toy jacks strewn on the sidewalk.

This weather has brought so many gifts in this season of giving. My almost ten year old neighbor came over Sunday afternoon, drenched by a shower of thick, almost snowy rain, hauling his guitar and asking me if I could play with him. We spent the next hour strumming Christmas songs, and he now knows a new guitar chord, for a total of 2 ½ .

Last night, my coffee buddies and our families gathered for a pot luck dinner, a session of Mah Jong, and a session of playing and singing all the songs in my Christmas guitar book. The neophytes for Mah Jong were led through the game by those of us experienced in this game of tiles and mysterious symbols, including the Red Dragon and the valued Flower tiles, and such exotic terms as the Dragon Wall and being able to shout out Pong or Kong, and doubling one’s points.

Miracles occurred there, as I watched one friend’s wife, home temporarily for a visit, her schizophrenia now subsiding, as she eagerly participated in the Mah Jong game, watching her grin as she won. Their daughter, a sullen fifteen, brightened up the room as she eagerly picked up her flute and led the rest of us, four guitars strong, through all the Christmas carols. And, when we were done, she picked up her saxophone and played a few solos. Her dad and mom looked on in stunned delight, wondering who she was becoming, and watching this flower blossom for their Christmas.

Yesterday, a recovering addict came to court to pay her fine, and I decided to forgive the fine, on the condition she pay that forward, and tears came to all of our eyes, as we all noted the gift of recovery that has been given to all of us.

I had breakfast with two young men, one finished with high school and the other a few credits shy. They, like so many of the young men I see in this town, are lost, adrift, no gleam in their eye with dreams for the future, and willing to settle for the minimum wage job at McDonald’s, or the exhausting toil of work in the woods, this winter when the loggers and the mills are idle for all of January.

We talked of their future, and the power of education, and the many gifts and achievements that some classes can make in a life. I shared my story, drawing on the evangelism of my parents, my aunt, my grandmothers, and Karen’s Aunt Benny. All my mentors were there, too. They didn’t drink any coffee with me, but I felt their nudges on my shoulder, their smiles as I made my pitch. Sensing these sleepy-eyed boys’ hunger for at least some direction in their life, I drove my points home, in between mouthfuls of eggs and hash browns, telling these fragile youths that I believed in them and that I cared for their well being and their future.

They seemed amazed that any one would care about their lives, but they grabbed onto my words nonetheless, needing some meaning and some concern in their lives. Fertile ground, indeed, for my seeds I had brought with me to plant at the breakfast table. And, I remembered that similar seeds were planted in my own garden, again and again, at breakfast tables many years ago.

The thermometer says its cold outside, as does the thin layer of ice on my car’s windshield. Our cats have cut short their morning outing, and instead nap on my desk as I write, content to catch up on their sleep. It is a time of quiet outside, a time of rest, the red twigs of the dogwood just now catching the first light of the dawn. Spring is a long way off, I feel, but so many seeds are ready to sprout, in the fertile soil we have all prepared.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Diane Barnes -- In Memory

In Memory of Diane Barnes (1951-2008)

Today, we gather here to share our grief, to mourn, and yet, to also celebrate the life of our dear friend, Diane.

We are in shock at the suddenness of her death, and, in my sadness, I realize that part of my grief lies in my anger at this taking away from us, this inability to say our good byes, to tell Diane thank you for what she accomplished in her life, what it meant to each of us to count her as a friend.
But, then, that is the nature of our fragile and unpredictable lives. We do not know when we, too, shall leave this Earth, and we do not always accomplish everything that we feel needs to be done. And, that is unsettling and unnerving, and flies in the face of our desires to be put things in order, and to make sense out of much of the chaos and randomness that is life.
And, at this time of Christmas, of merry making and happy events, Death is an unwelcome presence. Grieving and facing Death is not on anyone’s Christmas list, especially this year, as we face the many great uncertainties of our economic crisis, and the realization that yet another year has almost past, and we remain a nation at war.


Ralph Waldo Emerson said:


~ The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well. ~

And, that is how Diane lived.

You rarely saw Diane’s name in the newspaper, and she was never a person to seek the limelight, or bring attention to herself. She never sought power or fame, and lived quietly, focused on her desire to help others, to truly make a difference.

Diane spent her time with the least fortunate among us. Every day, she dove into the enormous pit of poverty, hunger, sickness, and desperation that is the world of those among us who have no shelter, no food, and who have become lost in the “system” of our society, and who have exhausted all of their resources.

She spent her time with the desperate, the lonely, the sick, and the dying.

Like many of you in this room, I came to rely upon Diane to find a solution, a helping hand, when there was no alternative, when a person’s life literally hung in the balance, and it seemed as if all the doors were closed, slammed shut by the quirks and impersonal bureaucracy of our health care industry and our ever-shrinking social services.

And, because of Diane, people found health care, they found a place to live, they were fed, they were clothed, they found her warm hand of friendship.

And, most of all, they found compassion and they found respect. They found their dignity.

We all have our stories. We all have our tales of Diane’s miracle making. We all treasured the power of Diane’s Rolodex, crammed full of phone numbers and agencies and compassionate people who were able to make the exceptions to the rules, who were able to add yet another person to a waiting list, or to squeeze in yet another person on a doctor’s or a counselor’s already busy calendar.

Yet, most of all, we knew that when Diane sat down with a person, she put all of her energy into listening to their needs, hearing their story, and making things right.



If there was a solution that seemed impossible to obtain, Diane would be everyone’s choice for that job. And, eventually, she would solve the problem, untie the Gordian Knot, and achieve some justice in this world.

Just last week, I heard yet another Diane the Miracle Worker story. I’ve been dealing with a man for the last four or five months. He’s mentally ill, he’s angry, he’s lonely, and his life is one disaster after another.

I’ve dealt with his legal cases, and ended up evicting him from his single wide trailer. I’ve dealt with his brushes with the law, with his anger, his desperation. He moved into his car, and camped in the brush on Hobsonville Point during most of November, surviving the storms and freezing temperatures with only his dog to keep him warm. And, even then, the police nearly took away his dog when it tried to defend him on a cold, windy night.

Our jail is our emergency mental health clinic, and so he, like so many others, are taken to jail for petty crimes, because there is no other solution. Like the Christmas Story, there was no room at the inn for this man in need of shelter, in need of dignity.

And, of course, Diane became involved. And, today, this man is not in jail any longer. He’s reunited with his dog, and he’s found a place to stay. And, he’s getting the medical care he needs, and food in his belly. A few days ago, a deputy sheriff stopped by his new home, to check on him, and give him a new sleeping bag.

Yesterday, he stopped to tell me that his girlfriend is finally in rehab, and this will be the first Christmas in twenty years that she will be clean and sober. And, I think, in many ways, that is yet another example of Diane’s making of yet another miracle.

This is only one story. And, this story has been repeated time and again. And, it’s just another day in the life of Diane, as she quietly went about her task of feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and caring for the sick.


Buddha said,

~ Teach this triple truth to all: A generous heart, kind speech, and a life of service and compassion are the things which renew humanity.--

Today, we live in a community that is renewed, and the lives of the most unfortunate among us have been changed, all because of the kind heart of a great soul, a woman we are all proud and humbled to call our friend.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Anticipation

It was all about anticipation. First, the calendar kept speaking. You are 55. Past the time for your first colonoscopy. Then, my doctor. It’s time. Your insurance covers it. It’s time.
Well, no one in my family had colon cancer. Well, at least no one that I knew about. And, perhaps some of the family had it, but I never found out.
One of my mentors died from colon cancer. Untested and undetected, until it was too late. He died too young.
Several of my friends have done their colonoscopy. I even picked up one of my friends from the hospital after his. And, he was fine, and said it wasn’t much of a deal. Except for the prep work.
A few months ago, one of my staff members had a real scare. A fast growing tumor, and her doc thought it might be cancer. So, she had the exploratory surgery, and it was benign. In our discussions on her pending time off from work, she simply announced she was going to schedule my colonoscopy. It was a done deal. My wife was thrilled. She had had her colonoscopy a few years ago, and was relieved with its positive results, and the fact that she, too, was proactive about her health.
OK, OK, I get it. I went to my appointment with Dr. Colonoscopy. I’ve known him casually for years. A nice guy. Other folks in the community said he does a good job with this stuff. So, we chatted, mostly about my medical history, my dad’s fatal heart attack, my mother’s leukemia, my diet, and some of the social problems we both see in the community.
I left his office with the instructions, the surgery date, and my “prep list”. I dutifully marked all the dates on the calendar on our refrigerator, and tried to ignore the march of time. All too soon, it was the day to stop taking baby aspirin, so that my blood would clot well if the doc removed any polyps while he was looking around inside of me.
My wife stocked up on jello, and, a day before the start of my serious preparation, I went to the store to buy my very own bottles of some odd stuff called “magnesium citrate”. Oh, the label said, new and improved. Now, lemony and sparkling. Comments from my wife and my friends were to the contrary.
I also bought some Ensure, a kind of “complete meal supplement” in liquid form. I could drink some of that for the next two days, along with coffee, thank God, tea, bullion, and, the ever popular clear jello.
When I got home, my wife had a big bowl of jello already cooling in the refrigerator, and I opened my first bottle of the “lemony” magnesium citrate. I mixed it with cranberry juice, thinking that would kill the taste, but the baking soda-ish, bitter tang of the stuff overwhelmed the delicate flavors of the cranberry. I added a bunch of ice, and nearly chugged the stuff, before I could think to gag. Yuck.

Within a few minutes, I could hear a few rumbles from my stomach and deep in my gut.
“Working already,” I thought. But, then, all seemed well, and I began to anticipate my delicious dinner of Ensure, jello, and ice water, followed by the second “cocktail” of the day.
As my wife tried to hide her dinner from me, I could still detect she was eating some really good looking left overs from the night before, my “last supper”, a baked potato, and some great looking baked apple dessert. My jello and ice water were OK, but the chocolately Ensure was less that Godiva like, and certainly not Hershey’s.
In the midst of it all came my first of many trips to the bathroom. My thoughtful wife had piled up eight rolls of toilet paper on the bathroom counter, causing me to laugh heartily, which also helped move things along. I brought a book with me to read there, but I found that the frequent visits were, well, quick and busy, and one has no time to become enraptured by any book.
I was begging to wise up a bit, and my last cocktail of the day was mixed with orange juice (no pulp, per the doc’s orders), and that was a bit better. My anesthesiologist compared the gunk to “the bad side of a daiquiri”, and that was the best description I could think of. Still, the stuff went down pretty good, and then “out” pretty good later on.
I slept pretty well, but with one ear open to any rumblings, and there were a few quick trips to the bathroom during the night. My wife had teased me about needing a spare set of sheets to hold in reserve in case I had an “accident”, but I think I disappointed her and managed to not make a mess out of anything outside of my throne.
The next morning, at least I could start the day with coffee. Orange juice, a small bowl of jello, and, this time, the vanilla flavored Ensure. That was the saving grace, as the vanilla stuff was much more palatable than the fake chocolate stuff, or maybe my taste buds were dying off. Hard to tell, as the cocktail was still the “back side of a daiquiri”.
As I read the doc’s “prep” instructions again, I realized that Day Two involved twice as many cocktails as Day One. And, so there was more orange juice and the ‘delightful lemony flavors ‘ of the magnesium citrate. Interesting they aren’t required to sell it with a huge warning label “This junk causes massive and prolonged diarrhea”. Or, at least label it as a “weapon of mass explosion”.
I did get an idea for my Christmas list, the one where coal is the main item of giving. But, even my enemies don’t deserve that, do they? I vacillated, but it was a healthy fantasy.
This increased use of this devious weapon soon had me believing I was completely emptied out by noon, but either I’m a guy who is really full of it, or Mother Nature just stores a lot of “fiber” in one’s intestines, and doesn’t want to give it up without a real struggle.
My kidneys were working well, too, as all of the soda and, well, it must be wood ashes, in the gunk made me pretty thirsty, so there was no problem keeping hydrated between my trips to the bathroom.
I found myself not feeling like I was starving to death, either. All that liquid kept my stomach feeling not terribly deprived, and the carbs in the vanilla Ensure and the jello kept my energy up. I was able to do some reading, some writing, and able to watch a few movies as well. No long walks or even a trip to town, though. The calls of nature were sudden and urgent, and the toilet paper roll became “my friend”. Yet, contrary to my wife’s devious planning, I didn’t need the entire eight rolls of TP, but, then, I was glad she had laid in a good supply. It was, well, comforting.
Towards the end of the day, I was amazed to see that I was losing a lot of green and blue. Maybe I was really a Vulcan, because I know that Mr. Spock had green blood. But, alas, I realized I wasn’t a spaceman, and instead, my little old gall bladder was feeling lonesome and apparently hadn’t gotten the message along the line that all the rest of my system was taking a vacation. Still, the colors were a shock, and my two pages of “Prep Digest” didn’t alert me to this phenomenon.
At seven that night, I had the last cocktail, and nearly danced a jig in the kitchen as I threw away the last empty bottle of the horrible magnesium citrate. Now, I worried if I would really be empty of everything before Dr. Colonoscopy and his crew got to take a real close look at me.
Prep Digest contained the bold type warning that I could not have any liquids after midnight, so, of course, when I went to bed, I had dreams of crawling across the desert, craving water, or standing under a waterfall, with cool, refreshing water pouring over my head.
Food fantasies began to creep into my brain, as I wanted something crunchy, chewy, and even creamy. Maybe on the way back from the hospital, I’d stop off at my favorite greasy spoon diner, for an extra large platter of biscuits and gravy, blackened sausages, and greasy, crunchy hash browns. Or, a giant salad for lunch. The list kept growing.
The next morning, I awoke to the thought of no coffee, no orange juice, not even a tempting, cool, somewhat creamy bottle of vanilla Ensure. No coffee and a colonoscopy didn’t sound like a good morning to me. Yet, the end was in sight, and I had gone this far.
I showered, paying close attention to my nether regions, as I didn’t’ want to offend the hospital folks. But then, they were getting up this morning knowing that they were going to explore the butts of a number of folks. At least I’d be unconscious for that experience, and I didn’t have that chore on my job description.
My wife dropped me off at the hospital. “Have a good time, dear,” she joked, as she left to go to her workout at the gym, and, I speculated, probably a huge breakfast with platters of rich, chewy comfort food. I’m sure she disappointed me, and stuck to her fitness regimen, and not even a stop at Starbucks for a mocha.
The prep nurse was a delight, and we ended up talking about Weight Watchers and portion control. She was all bubbly, remarking that I must be feeling pretty good, as I was “all cleaned out”. Well, in a way. At least, I was done with the cocktail drill, and was only a few hours away from real coffee and real food.
She poked me a good one with the needle for the IV, and gave up, letting the anesthesiologist take a “stab”. He had the wonderful idea of deadening the area first, before he poked me, and for that, he wins the blue ribbon of the day. He joked with me about his colonoscopy experience, and kept shaking my hand every time he came in to check on me or give me something in the IV. Maybe he wasn’t sure if I had brought my switchblade with me, lying in wait for the team with the giant black snake, or whatever they were going to try to slide up me.
Soon, I was rolled over on my side, a nice fluffy pillow under my head, and the last thing I remember was the anesthesiologist saying he was going to give me a “little hors d’oeuvre”. What, food? Yeah, food. But, no sensation of sizzling steaks, or juicy hamburgers, or apple pie with ice cream touched my lips, and I slipped away before I could even send in my order.
The next thing I knew, I was in the next room, with the nurse saying I was all done. As soon as I could pass a little gas, I could go home. Well, she’s talking to a real expert in that department, and it was not very long before I did not disappoint her.
“Oh, I see you’re ready now to go home. I’ll call your wife,” she said. I was still pretty groggy, so I didn’t notice if she turned green or gagged as she fled the room, but then, I was proud of what I can do so well, every day.
My results were good. No polyps to see, and thus, no lab results to await. Still, I keep looking in the mail for my very own DVD. Christmas is coming, you know, I have to shop for a few more gifts for my friends. I know they want to get to know me a whole lot better.
My wife had wanted the nurse to call her on her cell phone. I imagined she was at Starbucks, quaffing her third mocha, or chomping down an apple fritter, or even scarfing down one of those greasy spoon diner breakfasts I like, but she doesn’t, just to spite me. She claimed she had finished her workout and was buying vegetables at the store, when she got the call. I’ll never know the truth. I swear I smelled biscuits and gravy on her when she showed up.
Soon, I was home, filling my cup with coffee. Alas, the anesthetic had turned my tastebuds around, and it tasted like mud. Still, there was caffeine and that was important. I soon was stirring up a big breakfast for myself, and even poured a big glass of orange juice. Alas, we were out of magnesium citrate, so I had to drink it plain.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Getting Wet

Getting Wet

This weekend, I did everything but…
the usual household chores, mowing the grass one last time before winter really sets in,
cleaning up the garage, burning the trash, even scrubbing the toilet.
I danced around it all weekend, hiding from my fate.

Last week, I was there, looking at birds with a group, taking in the sights on a cold morning,
looking at eagles, and a water dipper, and being distracted by the flow of the river
along the last of the orange leaves on the willows and dogwoods, the low early winter light
shining on the cold basalt above the rapids,
cold wind rushing down the river, away from the newly dusted mountains.

Finally, I found myself with nothing else, but what I needed to do.

My paint tubes flew out of the bin, and I grabbed a brush, then another,
as I spread the paints across the large canvas I had just unwrapped, and soon
the sky appeared, then the river, and then, finding more paint to mix with my brush,
the basalt, the dry grass and sage, and bear brush, until the canyon appeared,
giving the river a place to move, and clouds to reflect.

In a final burst, the leaves appeared, giving an edge to the river, keeping it
confined, until the water flowed off of the canvas
wetting my feet.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Twelfth of October

The Twelfth of October

Today truly is the end of summer. I mow the now greening lawn,
noticing that my pink dahlia was frosted last night, and its leaves are black.
I pick the apples from my tree, filling two more buckets than last year, and
I feel the cold kiss of the coming night, instead of the lingering heat of the day.

Making a stew, and the cooking of that dish is a sign in itself, I go outside to the tomato patch to pick some vine ripened tomatoes to add a special flavor, and notice the tomato vine is now all but bare, and the two tiny tomatoes left are all that’s left of the vine. The end of an age, or at least a season.

Its nearly dark, but not even six o’clock yet, and I really should put on a sweatshirt, but my shivery arms resist, wanting to soak up some more summer sun and heat, just one more day, please. Yet, I’m cold. I admit it. But, not enough of an admission to warrant finding my sweatshirt. Didn’t I last wear that on a summer camping trip, or for a walk on the beach? Soon, it will be a daily essential of my routine.

The calendar says October, and the serious fall rains are really past due. My wife’s compost pile grows from the cleaning and harvesting of her garden, and the green and gray striped caterpillars on the fennel pose politely for their picture, before I leave the garden for the fall.

The cats come in earlier than late summer, wanting the warmth of the house, and no longer dally on the warm deck next to the begonias, which are now dropping their flowers and their leaves turning yellow, and the warm deck feel is simply a memory.

Its time to go stir the stew, perhaps pour a glass of wine, and get on with this fall thing, putting the summer behind me now. My fingers still remember the feel of the apples, and how the bigger ones felt warm as I pulled them from the tree and plopped them in the bucket. Soon, it will be pie time, and my hours of tending the tree just so these last six months will be rewarded, finally.

Robert Bly, Reading One Night

Robert Bly, Reading One Night

Hands conducting the rhythm of the words,
Tai chi with poetry, stabbing and caressing,
strokes into the cold March winter air, bringing
dance to the words of Neruda, Frost, and Stafford,
finishing the evening’s talk with
Rumi and the other Sufi poets,
old friends.

Islamic poetic forms, given life in a Minnesotan
Norwegian accent, white haired man with a bit of a slur
in his voice, fading at times, so one’s ears had to grab
the words as they sang from his lips.

He decries the war in Iraq, and the death of culture
and storytelling in our living rooms,
applauds those who shoot their TV
and read poetry to their sons, and teach their daughters
guitar.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Coming Down Into East Creek

I’ve realized for the last fifteen minutes I had taken the wrong road at the top of the ridge, between the South Fork of the Trask and the Big Nestucca, and had followed a road down to a creek. But, last winter’s storms had washed that road out. I had to take another road, and I got myself turned around a bit, until I found the road that led down to East Creek.

Every fall, since I was a little boy, I have made this journey, and always on a sunny, late fall day, after some rain, and just before a new rain front moves in.

I’ve always told myself I come here to see the leaves changing color, and to spend one last sunny day out in the mountains. When I was a boy, we took this drive with the excuse that we were deer hunting. Mom and Dad and I, all in our wool red hunting shirts, rifles and binoculars at the ready, and a lunch packed, with a thermos of coffee.

Oh, we were hunting, all right. Sometimes for deer, but usually for a spot of sunshine, an especially brilliant patch of red and orange leaves, or some especially interesting rocks, or a viewpoint. We kept a special eye out for a sunny spot for lunch, and it had to have a view. We usually didn’t stop to take photos, but I think we all were using our photographic minds and were absorbing the beauty of the day.

The landscape has changed so much, from long vistas overlooking ridges and mountains and down into valleys, just burnt snags and small new firs, and bracken fern turning gold. I’ve watched the forest grow back to its old self in my lifetime, and, perhaps that is a reason to make this drive every year, to make note of this year’s growth and change.

A few miles up the Trask, I see a bald eagle, standing next to what looks like a fawn, or a young calf, dead in the pasture. The eagle glares at me, as he guards his treasure, and I don’t linger here.

My companions change over time, and sometimes it was a friend in high school, and then, after my dad died when I was in college, just me and my mom. Later, my step dad got into the spirit of the trip, and we all watched the forest change, over time.

Today, I felt the urge to make the drive again, and I listened to the call, even to the point of packing a lunch and making some coffee, just for myself. My wife was off in eastern Washington, visiting family, and so, I went alone. My parents, my friends from high school, and even friends from twenty years ago, all gone now. I’m not one for visiting their graves, and perhaps this trip is a way of keeping in touch, and remembering why those times were good.

I felt them with me, as I drove down the road, now in a cathedral of alders bent over the river, and along tall, thick black columns of tree trunks. No young firs pushing above the bracken ferns now, no long vistas of ridges and distant mountains. Now, the forest is dark, crowded, thick with tall trees and overgrown roads. There’s logging here, again, and has been for years now. Even some of the clearcuts are grown up, again, ready for a new generation of loggers.

I pass by a hamlet of what were once worn, sad cabins. When I was a kid, this was where the loggers lived, as they cut down the snags from the fire-ravaged hills, and I remember when they would come into town, covered with sawdust and black ash, twenty years after the last fire. Today, those cabins are fixed up, turned into summer homes, complete with white fences, and big sheds for RVs and boats.

I stop every so often, so my camera can have some fun, and I try to capture the golden, soft light of this late fall day, filtered and weak, as the clouds for tomorrow’s rain start moving in. The air is crisp from last night’s frost, and I stick my head out to sniff the air, keeping the heater on to keep me warm. The dampness of the leaves and the river, flowing with last week’s rain, smells earthy, rich.

Soon, my eyes have turned into a camera, and I stop often, trying to find the best spot for a photo.

On the south slope, now that I’m finally over into the Nestucca country, the air is warmer, heated by the late morning sun. There are more clearcuts here, and so the country is more open, like it was when I was a kid.

I’ve still lost my way a bit, but I’m not really lost. I follow my dad’s advice, “go down” and you will always find a river, and likely a road, and the road will lead you out.

I’m going farther west than I would have liked, as it is my tradition to come out onto the road from Blaine over to the Valley around the Alder Glen campground. But, I’ve gotten turned around and took a wrong road, and all the road signs seem to be missing.

I round a corner, and the road is getting wider, and more traveled, and, at last, I see a cabin, and a power line. I know I am not lost any more, but I realize I’ve never been on this road before. I’m thinking Moon Creek, but there are no signs, not this far up.

I drive past the cabin, and it looks deserted, the side spray painted, “Ha ha, Joe,” and I wonder what that story is.

I follow the power line and the road downstream, and I actually stop the car to double check the direction of the creek, making sure I’m “going down”.

A few miles later, there are other cabins, and then a “school bus turnaround ahead” sign, and a bunch of mailboxes, grouped together. The houses here are a bit more than cabins, and some have freshly mowed lawns, and all the buildings look neat and tidy.

I recognize one of the names on a mailbox, a deputy sheriff, and now I almost know where I am.

At the stop sign, I learn I’ve been driving down East Creek and now I turn left on Moon Creek Road. I’ve been this far up Moon Creek before, and the road here is paved and wide. I know if I turn left, Blaine is just a mile away, and I go that way, as I have chores to do at home, and my time to explore has run out.

But, part of me wants to turn right, to go up Moon Creek Road, to a place I’ve never been. Moon Creek – just the name makes me want to explore.

Coming into Blaine, the road heads straight for the old store. I call it the old store, but it hasn’t been a store for forty years, and the folks living there probably don’t know it was once a store. But, it’s a landmark to me, and I’ve always been sorry we never stopped there to go inside, when I was a little boy and we had come to Blaine on a warm fall day, just like today. The store was open then, and I always wondered what they sold in there, at the Blaine Store.

So, I turn right, and go down river on the way to Beaver. I come up to the old Mennonite Church. It’s Sunday, and folks are still parked out in front, and some of the congregation is out in the parking lot, visiting. A lot of people go to this church, miles from anywhere. Its always been a big, white church, almost American Gothic, and today, it wears a fresh new coat of white paint. Ah, some things never change around here.

The big leaf maples in this valley are golden now, and stand out against the greened up pastures and the dark green of the Douglas firs. I pass the Blaine Grange, which was a famous stop on my past political campaigns. Any local candidate had to speak at the Blaine Grange political forum. But, the grange is long gone. It had been turned into a hay shed, and now is a house, standing empty by the side of the road. I wonder what happened to the whitewashed benches against the walls, and the hardwood floors, scuffed from many a Saturday night dance.

I see a new sign for the Tony Creek Road, and part of me wants to turn left, again, and see where that road goes. I knew a crazy lady who lived up Tony Creek, and I have always wanted to know where she lived. But, that quest will need to wait another day.

I count down the bridges from Blaine. That’s what one does on this road, as where you live on this road is measured by the numbers of bridges you cross.

Second bridge, and I don’t stop. That’s where Aunt Esther lived. She and her first husband had a dairy farm here, and she built her house from scratch, with a table saw and a hammer, and lumber cut from the Tillamook Burn, probably by the loggers who lived in the hamlet up the Trask, those men who were always covered in ashes when they came to town.

When I was a kid, we’d always stop to see Aunt Esther. She’d make tea and we’d visit with her, telling her what we saw on our trip. And, she’d show us her latest flowers and she’s talk about the latest book she’d read, or some interesting article she found in a magazine. I’d pet her cats and watch the river flow past her little patio. She always had a cookie or other treat for me.

But, she, too, is gone now. But, just for a bit, she’s in the car today, too, enjoying the sunshine and the maple leaves, and overseeing my photography. She had an eye for this, too, and was always quick to point out an artistic moment.

On to Beaver, where young men are coming out of the store with a case of beer. Its something to do on a Sunday afternoon, after the morning hunting trip, and before they go back to work on Monday. It’s just what one does on a Sunday afternoon in Beaver.

When I get home, its time to stow away the fishing and camping gear that got piled up in the garage at the end of summer. I put my fishing stuff away, and realize the tip of my new fishing pole got broken, when we had to pack up in a hurry at the lake, when my friend had to rush away on a family emergency. I don’t regret helping him out, but I’m a bit sore about breaking my pole after only one day of fishing. Never even got it properly broken in.

As I take my camera out of the car, and clean out the coffee cup and toss out the apple core, I wondered what I got out of the trip today, and even why I went. But, when I look up into the hills and see those golden leaves, and the dark outline of the mountains, I realize I was called up there today; it was time for a visit with people I hadn’t seen for a while.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Bill Moyers covers the National Guard

See Bill Moyers, on PBS, report on the National Guard's service in Iraq, and the experiences of the soldiers and their families as they prepare to be deployed. http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/blog/2008/09/sacrificing_to_serve.html

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Rivermen

As we move down the river of life, sometimes paddling, and sometimes
Moved only by the current, and sometimes
Tossed by rapids and whirlpools, and sometimes
Striking a rock, or an underwater log, and sometimes
Raked by an overhead branch,
We still grab onto our paddles, and try to move out of harm’s way and
Into the peaceful deep pools of clear water.

After all these years, we feel we are experienced rivermen,
Somewhat used to navigating our ways through the rapids, and
Able to avoid the dangers that may lurk ahead, and sometimes
We find ourselves thrust into a side channel, or into the
Worst of a rapids.

And, we almost always make it through, even after getting
Raked by the branches, or tossed about in the rapids, or even
Striking a rock and nearly capsizing.

And even if we overturn, we have our wits about us, and climb back in,
All wet, but little worse for the wear, and able to grab our paddles again,
Dig in, and set our boat back on course.

Of course, this journey is best undertaken with good friends,
Friends you can rely upon to dig hard and deep to move the boat into the
Best place in the rapids, or around the big boulder that lies dead ahead.
Friends who will laugh with you when its over, and help build the campfire at night,
Telling stories and jokes, and making you feel good about yourself, and
Proud of what you accomplished in the day, even though you fell
Overboard, and got soaked, scratched, and bruised.

Your friends know who you are and what you are made of, and
Believe in you, no matter how rough the waters, or how cold the rapids,
Or how sharp the sticks are in the brambles by the side of the river.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Pow Wow Thoughts

I attended the Nez Perce Pow Wow in July.

It was a wonderful experience, full of celebration, spirituality, and the joy of dance and music. Most powerful was the sense of community and acceptance.

All guests were invited to join in the dancing, and to join together in a communal feast, celebration our humanity, and our unity.

We are blessed to be in this rich world.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

A Pirate For The Day

I was a pirate in the parade. It was the Fourth of July, and the Manzanita parade needed more pirates, I guess. My friend, the Captain on his band of pirates (he DOES have a day job), recruited me. Last year, he found me in the crowd and harassed me with his sword and his pirate voice. The long term penalty, I guess, for being “found” by the pirates in one parade, is to join their crew next year.

I showed up at the staging area, dressed in my new pirate T-shirt, and belt complete with plastic pirate pistol, sword, and a black bag for treasure, complete with pirate insignia. On my head was a pirate scarf, black of course, and one of my faded blue bandannas. I was ready to party, er pirate.

“Arghh,” was the word of the day, and the rest of the crew and I practiced our pirate talk. One pirate came complete with a parrot pinned to his shirt, and others had their decade-long collection of pirate clothes.

Our Captain soon “removed” a leg, affixed a peg leg made from driftwood, and assumed his throne on a small trailer behind the boat, appearing to water ski with his new peg leg, and grabbed onto his tow rope. He’s the minister at the local Methodist church, and he suddenly didn’t seem too “ministerial”. Perhaps it was the dreadlocks and the big gold earring and the Mardi Gras beads. But, today is the Fourth of July, and its time to live our fantasies.

I didn’t quite fit in as I didn’t wear any “ARGHhyle” socks, but next, year, of course, I will be expected to add to my costume.

We practiced with our large plywood and silver painted swords before the parade started, and filled our buckets with candy, to throw at the kids along the parade. Tension built among all the parade entrants, as we were all eager to get off onto the route, and have fun. We found another group of pirates and had a brief sword fight. Other participants in waiting simply laughed at our antics.

Finally, after the screaming Air Force jet rattled the skies with its booming engines, we were off. As our group was so, well, unique, we were nearly the last in line, and the head of the parade arrived back in our staging area before we left. And, we ended up following several horses, and their contributions to the roadway. Later on, I used my sword as a fake golf club, threatening to chip the “chips” into the crowd. Its not often you get away with this trick on the main street.

Soon, I’m prancing down the streets, yelling “arghhh” and throwing candy to kids. Everyone, it seemed, along the parade route was attired in red, white, and blue, and laughing, and enjoying the day and the parade. We stopped often, and our duct-taped seagull quickly squirted water out of its butt onto the unsuspecting crowd, producing a multitude of laughter and groans. Kids scampered for our candy, and so, we threw them more.

One boy engaged me in a sword fight, his sword meaner and more agile than mine, and we quickly reached a truce. I was too proud, being a pirate, to admit defeat. Another boy ran into the street, and squirted all of us with his big squirt gun, and we bravely fought back with swords and candy, to no avail. Fortunately, the parade kept moving and so we were able to retreat without too much embarrassment. The crowd roared its approval of our defeat by the young warrior.

All too soon, we reached the ocean and the end of the formal parade route. A good thing, too, as I was starting to get hoarse from too many “Arghhhhs”, and “Mateys” and my sword hand was tired. We were also running low on candy. We turned onto the street paralleling the ocean, and then right again, and uphill ten long blocks until we reached the staging area again.

Sadly, I surrendered my sword and my candy bucket, and walked another quarter of a mile to meet my wife, who patiently was waiting for her pirate husband to return, and resume his normal life. As I left the pirate boat and my “mates”, the Captain asked me if I’d be back again next year.

“Aye, aye, Captain,” I replied. I’m hooked on this fun, this time to be a boy again, on the Fourth of July.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Father's Day Thoughts, 2008

As Father’s Day nears, I realize I truly celebrate fatherhood every day of the year.

I’ve always been a son, and have had to redefine that role as I moved from toddler status, to young boy, to adolescent, to early manhood, and then through the various stages of adulthood. Defining that role and that relationship, and feeling comfortable in that role has been one of the themes of my life.

I don’t think I really understood the role of the son and how my father influenced me until after he died. Once I lost the daily, or at least periodic interaction with him, as I was growing up, did I fully appreciate what he meant to me and how we interacted.

He died when I was almost twenty, and I was just starting to figure out the “college years” of my life, and to find my own adult identity. I’m grateful we were finally able to express our love for each other, out loud, just before he died. Just saying those words was healing and fulfilling.

Later on in life, I became a husband and, at the same time, a stepfather. Instant family. But, not so instant. It was a process and a lot of growing occurred, for all of us. It was, rather, an evolution, and a growing into a role, a relationship. I felt I grew more than my new son, but it was a good time for all of us. We came to love each other, and that love deepened. We were able to be free enough with each other to be able to truly respect each other, and to help each other grow in that relationship.

After my stepson left home for college and his own adult life, I realized I truly loved the role of father, and I found myself acting as a father in various capacities with nephews and with other young people. My wife and I became foster parents for a few years, and my fatherhood talents were again stretched and expanded, as those kids brought new and sometimes seemingly unsolvable issues into our lives.

I learned that some kids have really tough lives, and childhood can be really ugly for some people. And, sometimes, a kind adult in a parental role can make a big difference to someone who has always equated parenting with violence and fear and self destruction.

When I was still in college, my mother remarried, and as my new stepfather had been an uncle by marriage, he wasn’t a stranger. Yet, he being a stepfather to me, the college kid, was a new role for both of us, and we both had to redefine and stretch our relationship.

For most of my adult life, I’ve been both a stepson and a stepfather, and in that blend, good things have happened. I’ve grown a lot, and I’ve come to understand a lot. Now, with both my dad and my stepfather gone, and my stepson living in another state, married, and a homeowner, and working on his career, I have come to again appreciate the changes in life, and the cycles we all go through, as we move through life.

Part of me is still a kid, part of me is still the sassy, independent and challenging young adult, and part of me is the gray-haired patriarch, offering wisdom and sage advice, and trying to be a leader, an elder.

And in that mix, I find joy and contentment, and a feeling of satisfaction. Oh, some things I’ve done I look back on and feel I should have done some things differently. And, other events I look back on with pride and a sense of self satisfaction. I can’t change what has been done, but I really don’t regret most of what I’ve done as a son, a step son, a step father, and a foster dad. Now, age has given me more insight and more wisdom. Yet, I’m not going to cry over spilt milk and things not done that should have been done and things not done that should have been done. After all, that’s life.

And, all in all, what is most important in all of this is that we tell the people in our families that we really do love them and that we really do care for them, and that we want them to be happy, and to be gracious in dealing with all the challenges of life. Life can be lonely, but if we know that our family cares for us, and loves us for all our flaws and frailties, then any of us can more easily sail through the troubled waters of life, and keep our sights on our goals, and, hopefully, make some good progress in getting to where we want to go.

Today, I’m grateful for what I’ve done, and who I’ve become, and I’m also grateful for having the challenges that lie ahead. I’m probably ready for them, and more ready now that I once was. And, I know my family is behind me in all of this.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Thoughts On A Funeral

It started out with us all seated, and facing a stage where John’s portrait stood, on an easel, his bright eyes and big smile there, once again. Just the picture brought back good memories, and happy times. Then, the burly bagpiper started down the aisle, dressed in his Scottish kilt, playing Amazing Grace, as a dirge. Tears welled up in my eyes, as I watched the bagpiper slowly walk down the aisle, followed by about one hundred of John’s family.

The several hundred people sat in silence, as the last notes of the hymn echoed off the rafters. Then, the minister, John’s best friend from seminary, spoke of John’s ministry as a wedding celebrant and funeral officiant. He asked all of those in the audience who had been married by John or who had attended a funeral where he presided, to stand. About half the audience stood.

I had known John as a city manager, a community leader, and an activist. Yet, a big part of his life was ministering to others. As people spoke, I realized he had been a night chaplain at the San Francisco jail, the acting director of the San Francisco Museum of Erotic Art, a publisher of philosophy, a Vietnam war protester, and a folk singing, beer drinking theological student. He had also been a grandfather and a traveler, a fisherman, and a beach walker. Oh, he had been the beloved city manager, and the popular mayor, and had a host of other titles, positions and honors, but those seemed not so important today. Today, we celebrated his spirituality and his passion for the world.

His friend spoke of an old Scottish custom, when a great person died, to engrave on their tombstone, “Here lies all of him that could have died”. That spoke to John’s contributions to the world, and to what is really important about a person’s life on this planet.

His friend spoke of John’s changing theology, and his belief that the beach is really a church, and the ocean is really an altar. He read a Native American prayer, and we could all hear John’s voice in that reading.

In the funeral program, the family quoted Emerson:

“To laugh often and much; to win the respect of the intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know that one life has breathed easier because you live here. This is to have succeeded.”

All of these words, all of these images sank into the audience, as the entire room paid rapt attention to the speakers, and to be fully present in this event, this celebration of a life lived richly and well, a life of public service.

His friend read a number of letters, including one from the Governor and one from a secretary, and one from his wife, who related how he had ministered and comforted her when her first husband had died. Another friend spoke of John’s counsel during a hard time, and his compassion when his wife had died several years ago. His niece spoke of his kindness to her throughout her life, including memorable expeditions to the beach, to watch the sunset, and how her wedding day was so special because he officiated at the event. Her tears became our tears as she struggled through her reading.

We ended the service watching over a hundred photos of his life, accompanied by many of his favorite songs. As the crowd milled around, nibbling cookies and visiting, sharing memories of John and how he impacted our lives, I realized that today, not only did I celebrate the life of a good and inspiring man, but I came away appreciating each day in my own life, and that each day is so important. We must live our lives fully and with passion, and to express our love in every act of every day.

I walked away in silence, and tears came often on the drive home. I had lived part of my life in the presence of a great and loving man, and he had touched so many lives. Today, I am blessed, and I realize, again, that I am loved.

5/08

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

People's History of the United States

Here's a great book! The People's History of the United States, by Howard Zinn

Some of the history is known to me, but even areas of some familiarity are greatly enhanced by his comprehensive analysis, connections to other events, and newly discovered, or almost never reported stories.

Zinn covers and analyzes what has gone on and is now going on in our culture and our people, and his views are refreshing and stimulating. He challenges the status quo, and does it with informative and captivating information, stories, and events that the corporate media has ignored.

This is well worth your time!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

John Williams

John Williams was my friend. He was everyone’s friend.
Last week, he died unexpectedly, in the midst of a very active life, serving and improving the community he loved: Cannon Beach, Oregon. His latest job titles included Mayor and president of the local historical society.
His accomplishments, and work and service history in the community can easily fill three or four pages.
Yet, I will remember him for his ever-present decency, compassion, and genuine interest in solving problems, encouraging leadership and public service, and for his ever-present smile and contagious laugh.
John took an interest in everything and everybody. No one was unimportant to him, and he was not easily impressed with someone’s title, authority, or power. He was always striving for the best in a situation, and encouraged others to think outside of the box, and to find ways to make a difficult situation a “win-win” for all involved, and also for the community.
In the last few years, he has served as the interim city manager for the cities of Wheeler and Rockaway Beach, Oregon. In doing so, he inherited divided and argumentative public forums and thorny issues, and quietly, gently turned the discussions and heated arguments into a search for answers and conciliation, and mutual respect.
John Williams is a synonym on the Oregon Coast for public service, decency, and respect. His untimely death leaves an enormous void in our communities, and his gentle effectiveness will be missed. Yet, his memory and his good works will be his real legacy.

May, 2008

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Bill, again

He couldn’t wait to tell me of his
first day on the job--
“It was easy,” he boasted.
“I already knew how to do the work, and I even
trained two other guys.”

His grin lit up the room, as he told me of his day,
“Nineteen bucks an hour.”
He’s going to pay off his bills, and move into a
house next week, getting his life in
order.

A week ago, he was homeless, cold --
Hungry for more than the food we shared that morning,
as April ended with a shower of icy rain and snow,
and he not even having a car to sleep in.

Today, his five dollar bike from the thrift shop gets him around,
and he tells me of the food in his apartment, and the
mattress on the floor, and
“Its my home, and I’m moving ahead.”

“Its amazing what you can do when someone believes in you,” he grinned, and
shook my hand.

5/08

Cozy

Just a bit of frost on the lawn this morning,
the sun already up at 6:30, even before the coffee--
The tulips are not yet blooming, and the daffodils are just now
fading, the crabapple
waiting.

It’s the first week of May, and the garden still
slumbers
Waiting for the rototiller, waiting for the muddy ground to start to
Dry out, after the rains and snows of March and April.

The hills still have snow, though the grass has finally
Started to take off, and my lawnmower is calling me today,
But the begonias and the fuschias still sit in the greenhouse, the
Patio pots still empty, not yet ready for their summer color.

My old fleece sweatshirt still my jacket of choice
this first Sunday in May, feeling
Cozy.

5/08

Friday, April 25, 2008

Breakfast With Bill

Breakfast With Bill

Homeless, he orders the breakfast burrito and coffee—
and finds it hard to eat with his right hand, with its middle
finger once nearly torn off, and now, the last segment bent at 90 degrees,
and scar tissue everywhere—
battery acid, you know, after the finger tip was nearly torn off at the logging site
on a cold winter’s day.

Unwashed, he’s spent the last four days sleeping
in Methamphetamine World, the apartment dwellers tweaking,
after smoking, after trading their souls for the drug.

“Oh, I slept upright, in a chair, the floor was too dirty for me.”
and his eyes show the strain, and he shakes as he forks more food into his mouth,
and chews thoughtfully, as I ramble on about self esteem and real friends.
Later, he tells me he hadn't had a meal in four days.

His belly now full, hashbrowns stashed in Styrofoam for lunch, we walk a few blocks in the cold spring rain, mixed with snow
to the Salvation Army and the church, and the food bank, as I introduce him
to the folks who can give him food, shelter, maybe a job.

We walk past the fleabag hotel where he hopes to find a room, for $100 a week,
to share with his buddy, who now lives in his car, parked at the park, or down by the river,
these nights when the temperature approaches freezing, and warmth is found
under the pile of one’s clothes, in the back seat.

He speaks of his mother’s contempt for him, wishing he’d go back to jail,
and his girlfriend, who is waiting for their marriage to have sex, and waiting
for him to have his hand surgery, and find a good job, and being able to
move on with his
life.

As we part, I hand him a twenty dollar bill, knowing he will need it for dinner,
and he pulls back, not wanting charity, but the hunger in his eyes says different –
he quickly stashes the bill in his pocket, the rain turning to snow outside.

I make a few phone calls, back in my warm office, my coffee cup full, and knowing
a hot dinner and a clean bed and a hot shower and family await me tonight,
and I wonder,
where he will sleep tonight. He doesn’t show up at the end of the work day, like we’d talked, if he hadn’t
found a place to sleep, and somehow, as the night falls, that is
comforting.

4/2008

Sunday, April 20, 2008

April Sunday Snow Day

It snowed this morning, and as I walked outside to get the Sunday paper, frozen sleet crystals clung to the trees half leafed out, and sparkled on the windshield of my car. Crunching along, I noticed a bright pink swoosh across the eastern sky, right above the frosted trees in the mountains, and the glaring glacier-like white of the clear cuts.

January, I thought, but the newspaper and the calendar said late April. My half numb toes agreed with me, as I shivered down the lane to find the comics.

Sipping coffee, I looked out on the deck, now covered with falling snow, as the spring birds ate voraciously at the feeder. I’d put out a block of suet and filled the feeder with sunflower seeds last night, in anticipation of everyone’s need for a hearty breakfast this morning, as winter settled in, the second or third time this year.

Later on, the spring cleaning bug hit me, and I worked up a sweat with my frenzy of putting away papers, straightening up my various living room piles, and damp mopping the floors, while snow and hail fought outside for who was going to keep the lawn the whitest.

Opening up my new tube of oil paint, and trying out my new palette, I happily mixed and daubed away with my brush, attacking a fresh canvas with what soon became a cheery beach scene on a summer’s day. Naples Yellow, Raw Umber, Raw Sienna, and French Ultramarine, along with their friends, Titanium White and Indian Red soon danced with my brushes and brought sunshine, waves, and summer cheer to the room.

The oil smelled good, and reminded me of fresh mown grass, and crisp sea air on a summer’s walk to a favorite beach. Never mind the hail pounding on the roof, or the sound of the furnace cranking up to fend off winter’s chlll. It was summer, at last.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Lost Boy Beach

1.

Edge of the sea
Edge of our lives—
both the joys and the
sorrows
of the past—
the potential of the future
just a step away.

2.

I slide on the pebbles
just ahead of the wave
rushing in to douse me in
cold and wet, to drag me to the
rocks beyond—
reminding me to keep moving
or I’ll fall—
just like life.

3.

In the warm spring sun
we drink wine and watch the tide
rush in,
grinding the pebbles into
sand—
waves turn steel blue, then
sparkling
white
against turquoise sky
as birds dive nearby, oblivious
to the rage of the
waves.

4.

We talk, we pray, we cry
About family life, and
Family death.
We hold hands and combine our strength
against the tears of this day,
uniting to walk into the future
awaiting us at the
turn of the
Tide.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Starting, Today

The Marine, fresh from Iraq,
Thirteen months, but he doesn’t speak about it today--
His wedding day, and his bride beams her joy
Holding flowers taken from the court clerk’s desk.

All the family gathered, sitting excitedly in the courtroom pews,
As the couple, shaking a bit, start the short ceremony,
And repeat the vows, and exchange rings.

Smiles all around, especially the Marine, when it comes time to
Kiss the bride, and start their marriage.
Their fingers tremble as they sign the papers, and open
Cards and gifts, amidst all the laughter and good cheer.

Their love fills the courtroom today, and rolls out into the hall—
Their enthusiasm for life and love and each other
Makes everyone smile, and want to dance.

Love came today, and was celebrated
By all who were there and all who saw them leave—
The Marine and his wife, floating off to begin their life
Together.

Change, Perhaps

Empty he was--
Filled only with loneliness, self-loathing
And wondering what life was all about.

He worked all the time, and smoked dope
When taking his son fishing on his weekend visit
Hoping, somehow, to bond with his son
Instead of the state trooper giving him a ticket.

His reputation at work is the man with six jobs—
Having no time for his best friend and coffee
He wonders why he hasn’t made love to his girlfriend yet
And she is moving in with him in two weeks
To parent his sons who are moving back with him
After the divorce, after the custody battle,
After they become adults.

No time to walk on the beach or enjoy the sunset,
Never had time to drink wine with his woman
And watch the sunset together, and instead
He just wonders why he is stressed out and
Getting sick all the time.

The emptiness is creeping up on him,
Robbing him of his energy, his yearning to live,
And he wonders if, perhaps, he needs to
Change.

3/08

Exhilaration

Be present
God’s presents
Patience, wisdom
Time to be quiet and accepting
Time to accept His presence
Presence of God is being open to the Spirit
Time to hear, to listen, to have a conversation
Time to be present.
Acceptance of the Spirit

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Song Circle

I’m lost in my chord changes, trying to keep up with the beat
And the march of the thirty other people playing this song –
The song takes me into that magical place, where
Rhythm and tone, vibration and beat
Become the entire world, at least for a while.

Richard sits in the middle of it all, gently moving us along
Through the song, and onto the next one, giving each one of us
A moment of attention, here and there, each of us feeling
Truly welcome, and truly special.

We come to one of his favorites, and he asks us to carefully tune,
And we go through the song, and all are caught up in its particular
Sweetness, all of us playing our best.
There are a few wet eyes among us, for it truly is a beautiful song,
Made even more special today, strangers and friends, coming
Together.

We play on, and I have a moment for that rare bird’s eye view of my playing
And I see the progress I’ve made, and I see where I need to go.
The guy next to me, its his first time here, and I see him struggle,
And figure something out, and see his playing pushed, just a bit,
And a grin on his face, as he realizes he made it through the song
Just fine.

An hour flies by, and its time for the break.
Coffee, tea, and good conversations erupt all over.
The buzz is about instruments, song circles, techniques, workshops,
The joy of getting something to come together, and the joy of being
Together.

Another hour of playing, more challenges, more achievements, more beauty,
And then, its over, all too soon. Sadly, we move to put our instruments away,
And stack the sheet music books back where they belong.
Drifting slowly away, the music remains
In my heart.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Coffee Klatch

Small town cafĂ©—
We all know each other,
Except for the tourists coming in
Out of the rain, looking for “coast food”
Clam chowder and smoked salmon, I guess.

None of that here, but the tomato soup and the turkey
Sandwich are good today, or the enchilada.
Don’t forget the carrot cake, or the big ginger snaps,
And coffee.

Gotta have the coffee. Cups are over there, by the pot.
Serve yourself. The locals know all this, and just toss
Their dollars onto the cookie case when they come in,
Not bothering the cashier, who is talking on the phone,
Or helping get ready for the lunch rush, or back in the cooler,
Getting more turkey out for the sandwiches.

She’ll usually only come back out front if there is a shout the coffee’s about dry
Or some tourist walks in, wanting clam chowder or directions to the beach,
Until the Regulars leave, and then she’ll count the money, and fill the till.

Don’t sit at that table. It’s nearly ten, and time for the
Ten O’Clockers, the Regulars—
Some still buzzed from the Eight O’Clock Coffee Klatch,
At that other place, down the road.
Oh, only some of the Regulars hit both groups, but the news
Is still the same, and needs to be told and hashed over
Again, and again,
Often with some new twists and theories.
Stay around long enough and the story will change completely—
To a version you want to believe, at last.

Leftist Conspiracy and City Folk Power Hunger are the popular ones—
Bureaucratic follies and political jokes abound—
Funny only to those who are Right Wing.
Proud to be Red Necks, this group, or so they want to be
Until its their ox being gored, or their family member in a bind.

When the tables turn, they want what everyone else wants
And pretty darn fast, pushing their way to the head of the line,
Their own politics then be damned, when its their turn in the barrel.

I sip my coffee nearby, trying to talk sense with a friend. We share our views
Of what we read from that New York Times columnist this morning—
Speaking in near whispers, out of the earshot of the Regulars,
Whose guffaws over a racist or sexist joke (take your pick)
Flll the room
Again.

Epiphany

Young man
In trouble—
Alcohol—
Its epidemic
In this town
In his family
In our country.

Lost his girlfriend
Nearly became a dad—
Too early, and not his choice in a mom
But she looked good when he was drunk—
What he can remember.

Now, about to lose his license,
His prospects for the job he wants,
And more money down the drain,
Unless he changes.

At the crossroads, a serious talk—
Lay it on the line
Where the rubber meets the road—
Its time to change, he finally decides.

Not wanting to be the town drunk, not wanting to follow his brother
To jail, to rehab, to never having a license,
Or kill someone he loves,
Including himself.
It sinks in.

He leaves
Ready to change, I hope—
A worthwhile half hour of
Laying it on the line,
A wakeup call,
One that’s finally being heard
As he heads down the hall.

A Moment

A Moment
A friend, his wife, their daughter, on a Spring Break trip
Nearly home, my buddy driving, everyone else asleep—
Suddenly, crazy speeder behind them, not slowing,
Hits them, and pushes the three into the
Oncoming lane
To meet
Head on
Another car.

More innocents
Horrific crash
A split second in time
Lives changed
Forever.

Idiot speeder
Races off
Back down the road
Soon to abandon the van
And run away.

Cowards in the night
Fleeing from the carnage they caused
Leaving
Innocents
To wait for the ambulances.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Uninvited, Again

Uninvited, Again

You wear many faces, and take many forms
As you come into my life at the most awkward, inconvenient times.
And sometimes, you are Anger, and sometimes, Sorrow, and sometimes
Guilt, and sometimes you just take me on a rollercoaster of feelings and thoughts,
Bringing me tears of laughter, and devastation and sadness and joy,
And sometimes, its all at the same time.

You don’t give me pause to catch my breath, or gain my footing,
As I slide around in the muck of it all, slipping and groping,
Until I find myself out of breath, and out of feelings,
Wondering what hit me, and made me stop
And grieve all over again, just like that first day
When Death came right into my face, and I finally understood the term
Grim Reaper.

You came, uninvited as usual, when Dad died, and my favorite aunt,
And my grandparents, and then my mom, and, oh yeah,
When two of my friends died after wrestling with cancer.
You know you’re not invited, but you stick your nose in my life
Anyway.

And, so I pick up my guitar, and I walk on the beach, and I sing in the shower
And on the way home from work, and I tend to my roses, and drink wine with my wife
On a beautiful sunny day, and then you don’t come around very much.
Yet, you still plan your ambushes, and jump me when I least expect it –
Like the times I’m driving down the road, and I suddenly burst into tears
And mourn the death of my Dad, some twenty four years ago, just like it was
Yesterday.

Oh, Grief, you will not get the best of me, and I will keep sending you on your way.
I know I must wrestle with you, and I must deal with the memories of those who have
Died, and I must remember the good times and the bad times.
And, it is in the remembering that my loved ones live on, and you keep your
Distance.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Unity

Unity

Between the downpours that flooded the lawn
And sent the earthworms onto the sidewalk
And filled the ditches by the side of the lane
So that leaves and refuge scraps of shingles plied the new rapids—
There was unity.

Between the howls of uber-wind, never wanting to stop,
Shaking the house to its core and finally topping the centuries old
Eagle Tree in the pasture, flinging its roots to the sky,
There was unity.

Amid the Gore-Tex clad linemen, and the spontaneous crews of
Chainsaw-armed road clearing crews, creators of a new roar in the air,
There was unity.

In the convoy of PUD trucks leaving at daybreak, their crews
Barely awake after four hours of sleep, their hydraulic buckets still
Covered with tree needles and sawdust from the day before,
There was unity.

As the shopkeeper sold matches, candles, and canned soup in the
Dark, on credit to a neighbor in need, and the postmistress selling me
Stamps, and sorting mail with a headband flashlight, while telling a joke,
There was unity.

In the eyes of the firemen, lining up in the deli for lunch,
Their turnouts covered with sawdust and grime, and in the
Eyes of the man whose trailer was still floating in the waters, and the
Farmer, who had spent all night saving his cows from drowning, and then doing the
Milking by generator and lantern light,
There was unity.

After the floodwaters, after the winds, after the endless stream of black clouds
Flying across the skies, after the waves tore at the beaches, after the rivers and bays
Filled with freshly slain trees and newly launched log-boats,
Amidst the blue skies and now drying asphalt,
There was unity.

Neighbor helping neighbor, stranger stopping to saw up the tree leaning on the roof,
As another came by to clear a ditch, move some limbs, hook up the phone, turn on the power—
Reaching out to others, listening to the stories, offering comfort, giving a hand,
There was unity.

Two Shooting Stars

Two shooting stars,
One a bright blaze towards the sun, an hour from rising,
The second, headed for the ocean.

Both awakening me from deep, cold night sleep
As Orion danced his Autumn dance across the predawn sky.

An omen? A message from the gods?
Or just the opening act of the dawn?

Johnny Cash and Me, Together

Johnny Cash and Me, Together

Johnny and I sang together, in perfect pitch
our harmonies blending, and filling the room with our songs
of life and heaven and being with the Lord.

Song after song, Johnny and me, each one getting better,
each one improved with my voice, adding another line of melody onto his.
Oh, he played the guitar and he sang so clear, and my excuse
was that I left my guitar in the house, and I just stopped by
to lift my weights and ride my exercise bike,
and to ponder my new painting, and perhaps
decide what brush and what tube of paint comes next.

I happened to put Johnny into the stereo, and crank up the volume
simply to pass the time while I peddled the bike, and look at my canvas.
But Johnny, he’s so cool, he asked me to sing along
and I couldn’t say no, especially when it seemed
my voice blended so well with his as we did the whole album.

Next time, I’ll bring my guitar, and I may even steal the solo,
at least once, and give him a run for his money. Oh, he’s good,
but with me joining in, it sounded even better.

I knew he was happy, how it all turned out,
it was, after all, a good session, and I was a good partner,
never once louder than him, and my bass line was just right.
We’re partners now, and sounding pretty good.
I can’t wait to teach him some tricks of my own.

Pardon My Anger Tonight, Mr. President

Pardon My Anger Tonight, Mr. President


Today, the proud Vietnam veteran father tells me of his daughter,
the disarmer of bombs in Baghdad
earning her Bronze Star
but not able to tell of how she comes close to dying nearly every day,
due to “national security”.

The president addresses the nation tonight
wanting more troops to fight more of this war,
not convincing us, a nation of warriors and protesters
of Vietnam, who all well know the decades of
dream terrors and insanities of a senseless war
that achieved death and destruction but gained us
no glory, no land, nor any freedom for anyone, except the refugees
we took with us when we left, tails between our legs.

We know too well the suicides, the alcoholics, the drug addicts,
the practitioners of domestic violence, who have filled our courts
and our prisons, and our homeless shelters, and our mental hospitals –
all the product of a war that served no national purpose.

We who have lived with that have seen this war come upon us,
and we remember not only the cemeteries, but also the nightmares,
the broken spirits, and have felt the agonies of lost souls
living next door, and walking on our streets, and drifting slowly away,
too numb to tell us of their pain, yet screaming in the middle of the night.

So, pardon us for not jumping on your bandwagon, Mr. President.
We wave the flag, and applaud our soldiers in the airports, and we
attend their funerals in solemn silence, hands over our hearts, tears
streaming down our cheeks, and we do this
not for your war, and your sense of history and hunger for glory and fame,
but because these young men and women, brave and courageous every one,
put their lives on the line for their country, and their own sense of honor and purpose,
not buying into your politics and your thirst for destiny and personal pride.

We watch your daughters grow to adulthood, and enjoying the drunken parties
of a private college, and move into careers, safely protected in their high-rise offices, and
gated-community McMansions – no soldiers are they, and not
candidates for the Bronze Star for having to diffuse bombs in Baghdad today.
You haven’t even attended one of our soldiers’ funerals, so how do you
know this kind of pain, you who evaded Vietnam by drinking in Alabama?


And, pardon our anger at this repeated insanity, of a war being fought
likely to enrich your friends, and the oil companies, and God knows what other deals
made in fancy bars and restaurants, and smoke-filled back rooms,
where we haven’t been invited and where our concerns are not on the agenda,
and where the blood of our young men and women isn’t even given a value,
though more and more of it is spilled every day.

We watch the former dictator, the mass executioner of the Kurds, and the oppressor
of his people, hanged before a mocking group of soldiers and puppet government types,
the justice of it all ignored in a rush for more blood, more vengeance, and tribal wars,
to which we were never a party and never had an interest, and where, twenty years from now, our national sacrifice will simply be a footnote to their civil war, and their
religious bickering, going on for another thousand years.

And, their bickering is only slightly more violent and more hypocritical than our own,
And then you end your speech to tell us that God blesses America.
Yet, I wonder if God is, instead, crying for America and for Iraq, and for all war.
And, how many of us feel like joining God in a good cry tonight?

Let them deal with their own views of their own God, and their own theological infighting, and who divides their oil profits and who has this year’s right to pilfer the national treasury, and lead the prayers at the local mosque.

And let us tend to our own problems, and feed and clothe our children, and
provide health care to the sick, and the old, and the insane—
and the tens of thousands of new veterans of a foolish war, who will soon be wandering
our streets looking for a job, or maybe just their sanity –
new veterans, repeating the aftermath of Vietnam and all that it wasn’t.

Make way in the courts, and the homeless shelters, and the unemployment lines,
but not the mental hospitals or the veterans’ clinics, for there is no money now for those,
and let us become ready to meet this new generation fighting a senseless war,
and maybe, again, when we do this all over again, with a new generation of survivors,
we will do it better.
After all, Mr. President, doesn’t practice make perfect?

The Year Is Coming To An End

This year is coming to an end. I feel it in the cold wind driving down the canyons of the coastal rivers, in the roadside hail and slush from last night’s torrent of cold rain, hail, and icy winds. The winter sun, in midafternoon, is almost touching the southern horizon over the slate gray ocean. There’s a big surf, but there’s also whitecaps going against the waves, driven by the icy wind.

I drive into the quaint, coastal-tourist town, now healing a bit from the storm nearly a month ago. Fallen trees are gone, power poles are restored, and there is a bustle of activity on the main street, as the town has filled up for the New Year’s celebration. There’s an excitement in the air. Its time to celebrate, even if its just the turning of the calendar. We are all, perhaps, ready for a new year, a fresh start.

I meet my hearing aid specialist at his beach house. His wife and granddaughter are running around, excited to be leaving for a stroll on the beach. A fire blazes in the wood stove, and the cabin is losing its winter chill. They are all thrilled to have left the City, and found their way to their beach retreat, ready to relax and enjoy the ocean and the quiet town and just some time together. The little girl tells me her name is Victory and she is three. And, at her next birthday, she will be four. For her, this is profound and she is filled with seriousness in this telling.

The bookstore is crowded, with book lovers poring over the new titles, finding some treasure to read on New Year’s Day, in the quiet of their cabins and motel rooms. Every time I come to this town, I have to stop here. Where else does one find a poster of Hemingway next to one of Poe, and next to Che Guevara smoking a cigar? One lady’s loud voice fills the store with her opinions on authors and her review of her family holiday gatherings. Her companion looks pained and embarrassed for her, and simply wants to find a book and leave. The rest of us nod silently in agreement, and sympathy.

The book store clerk recognizes me as both a local and a regular, and greets me with a grin, and a grimace at the loud lady’s commentary. The normal atmosphere here is a hushed excitement about books and quiet conversations about new discoveries and greetings with old friends, culminating with a stroll to the coffee house a few blocks away, new books in hand.

I, too, am drawn to the coffee house, and the owner makes me a great latte, and wishes me a joyous new year. The hot coffee feels especially delightful as I make my way back to the car, the chill winds of the late afternoon making me glad I have my fleece and my coat on, but wishing for my gloves and hat.

Driving home, along two bays, the beach, and across a number of rivers, the solstice time emits a slow, weak light that turns everything to silver. Even green trees have a glint of platinum, as they reflect in the bay waters at high tide. The sun hides behind thin clouds, its aurora turning fat as it fills the lower sky over the bay and the ocean. All too soon, the light fades even more, and its dusk at 4:30. At least, the days are getting longer now, if only by a few minutes.

The gas station attendant gives me a wave, as he scrubs my windshield clean of the last week’s worth of rain, sleet, and road mud. He’s happy to be working, and he knows we last saw each other as he was shuffling down the courthouse halls, in belly chains, on his way to court. We don’t mention that meeting, and we both prefer to simply wish each other a happy new year. And life goes on.

Darkness now upon me, and I pull into my driveway. The lights are on, bringing a warm bronzy feeling to the cold night air. I open the door and the warmth and smell of dinner and the arms of my loving wife await me.

Defining Creativity On A Sunday Morning

Defining Creativity On A Sunday Morning

The lines
Kept changing, as the charcoal moved—
The paper, getting darker in some places,
More defined, showing where the light would fall
On the form slowly appearing on the page
As I drew on.

The model stretched and moved, and took up another pose
And more lines came out of my stick of charcoal
And the shadows achieved their
Definition, at least for this instant.

All of us drew, in the midst of growing artist tension --
We each worked into the rhythm of the morning and the model
And the light-- oh that light, its all about the light--
Seen from our respective perspectives.

Oh, theory is fine, until you have only the
paper,the charcoal,
And the challenges of the light and the model
In this morning light.
Then, theory be damned, for I have to find the light
In the stub of the burnt grapevine in my hand.

My lines, starting to come together, started
To make something of it all,
As I closed in on
Creativity.

We could talk theory, this morning, but it all comes down
To charcoal, and paper, and light
And the shape of the model
On this Sunday morning.

Later, on the way home, I compared it all to sex,
To achieving orgasm, not with aroused genitalia,
But with burnt wood, and ground up trees, dried out flat,
And the light coming across the naked shoulder.
Is it still sex if you only end up with lines on the paper?
Its still orgasmic to me, another way of expressing myself
In the tender line traced across the rough paper
And finding
Creativity.

Tending To My Spirit

I find myself in the studio, building a small fire, and taking up a brush, and some bright greens and blues. I must paint sky, and I must paint the summer green of trees and grass, and sunshine. This week, I ventured into oils, buying myself a nice starter set of oil pigments, and some high quality linseed oil. I take a few of my paintings, and try out the oils and the new colors. It is pleasing work, as the oil seems to make the colors shine, and my brush work becomes a dance with the light and the texture of the paint, the oil, and the canvas. My painting becomes like the writing of music, and I am the conductor.
Soon, a sad little painting of a moonrise begins to take life, and the newly gilded moon dances over the platinum and marigold yellow clouds, flying over the dark purple mountains below. I have a stool to sit on and music to play, but today, I must be on my feet, and the music is found in my brush as it dances across the canvas, and pauses occasionally on the pallet to gather more light.
I take a new canvas, and boldly paint the beginnings of a portrait. New territory for me, but the brush and the canvas call me into this work, and soon, a face begins to emerge. Today’s project is to put in some hair, the eyes, the nose and the cheekbones. And, yes, it is looking like a face. My subconscious is happy, as it is has been prodding me to move my brush to make eyes, an ear, and a nose for some time.
Time stops having its regular meaning, and my morning is governed by the feelings of the brush, the silence of the oil and the pigments, and the occasional scratching of hog’s bristle brushes on canvas. “Skritch, skritch.” The earthy aroma of the linseed oil reminds me of a hot summer’s day, and my dad’s woodshop when I was a kid. My long ago ancestors must have been cave painters or the carvers of totem poles, as the linseed speaks to my heart, and brings a sense of peace to me today.
I’ve certainly enjoyed playing with the colors and brushing acrylics on canvas and paper, but with the addition of the oil this week, my work seems more complete, more in tune with the songs playing in my heart. Now, there are new rhythms of painting to learn, as the oil dries ever so slowly, and is singing new songs for me to learn. And, so I dance on.
I throw a few more logs on the fire, and pick up another canvas. This time, the blues of the sky truly seem to reflect that Eastern Oregon August brilliance I had wanted to recreate, and then, I add some lights and shadows to the little cabin in the aspen grove, and the painting finally seems to near completion. Another canvas will someday be a building I have been trying to paint for a year, and even today, the addition of some oil and new pigments seems to have finally brought the building to life, against the backdrop of Mount Emily, the guardian mountain overlooking LaGrande.
Another painting is the tree with its two eagles, awaiting the morning sunrise. The tree itself now lies in a muddy pasture, the victim of this winter’s worst storm, but its former glory may be on my canvas, if I can get the light just right. It remains, as they say, a work in progress.
Rain comes down now in a huge torrent, overflowing the eavestroughs, and I begin to clean up my brushes. I seem to relish the tinctures of paint residue in the turpentine, and the squeak of the paper towels rubbing the newly cleaned brushes to freshness again. I toss the now muddy turpentine outside, and watch the rainbows of the turpentine dance in the rain before being washed away.
I had wanted to write a poem this morning, but the poems in my heart began to be heard in my brushes, and on the canvas. And, that is perhaps the way the poems will be written today.

Two Eagles

Two Eagles
On Three Graces Rocks
One Tree

Tide high now
Slate gray clouds promising at least rain
Also hail, maybe snow
Before the tide turns again

No boats today
White surf pounding rocks
Covering the beach
With white foam
Or is it more winter snow?

One eagle turns, looking up the bay
He flies, joined by his mate
As gray cloud turns to black
And moves to the shore.

Churned

Churned

Tossed
Into the air, spray blown sideways
Near a wave turned to white drenched rock
Green water, frosted with white
All stirred up
Awaited the onset of the storm.

Vast curtains of rain swept in, and turned the horizon from
A clear line between blue and dark green, to
sooty blackness, moved closer, winds gusted
Until splattered onto the window –
Clarity of light then scattered into globs of wet lenses
Blurred and sharpened tiny dots of ocean tempest.

The Best

The Best


We had only this day
And, today, the eagle lovers gazed as us from their tree
As the tide turned, the rain moved in, and we shared their world—
For only this day.

We had only this day
So, my friend took me on a trip to see
Three rivers and a bay come together,
Where ducks made jewels appear in the water
As they took off into the morning sun
Above the newly green grass of March.

We had only this day
So I had time with my friend to feel the rain
And the squish of mud, and to see the willow begin to bloom,
And the new skid marks in the beaver trail
No one else had ever seen.

We had only this day
So my friend and I laughed at a joke
And the amazing beauty of a day on the water
While no one else came out to get wet and muddy
And gather up the trash along the water’s edge
At high tide.

We laughed at being pirates, our loot being what others had lost.
With three almost new snow tires to our name, and three blue barrels, just slightly used—
Countless bottles of tequila and whiskey, and even a full can of beer
Still cold from lying in the mud.

We had only this day to experience a place near our homes,
To be friends together, and pirates, and to be the guests
Of the eagles, beavers, and ducks, as the tide
Began to turn, and the clouds blew away—
We had only this day
To make the best of our friendship.