Friday’s Quick Picks: Columbia River Sternwheeler Cruise

 

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I was looking though photo files today while recovering from oral surgery. I don’t have many words to offer but want to share a few happy moments. My family and I–various combinations of adult children as well as siblings (often with partners), and grandchildren –have several times enjoyed a sternwheeler cruise along Oregon’s famous Columbia River, right through the majestic Columbia Gorge. It’s a great way to get together with family or friends and the views never fail to satisfy.

I am so fortunate to live among outstanding rivers and mountains (and ocean to the west, high desert to the east) and hope to show you more lovely places as the weather moves from an unusual winter of icy cold to more temperate times again.Spring can’t be all that far away…we usually have flowers by now!

Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy the river trip!

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Angel Reckoning

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In the mammoth auditorium–
chairs lined up in new territory–
we waited, restless,
infused with anticipation for
a long awaited event to unfold.
I sat alone, self firm with who I was and where.

Then the room spun, time accordioned,
chairs pulled about by tides as if on
a silvery ship into a sky-bound sea.
It was not expected nor desired
but what the moment offered, I well accepted.

Are we taking off I shouted to the captain
who looked like a musician or a man who knew God.
But others were not pleased; the vessel shook, skidded.

And then your beautiful head and vaporous body
glided toward the flowering horizon.
I fumbled toward you, touched your shoulder.

Are you getting off now I asked
You half turned, a fleeting smile, nodded,
were gone, never intending to wait for me.

I know you oh yes, good sister.
You came to check on this world’s conundrums,
the family’s status, to greet my soul,
warn perhaps but all that commotion did not
spoil your peace worn like a crown,
a sign, a promise of eternal life
you assured me would happen.

Your presence lingers, indelible
despite vagrant wants and needs,
a bold light firing up dim shards.
You let me find you in that milieu
then returned to a celestial beyond
until it is my turn to come, be done.

And that second of beauty reminds me:
may love lead and follow as I yet go on.

(for Marinell– and Roland;
you know I know about angels)

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Friday’s Passing Fancies: Salmon Creek/We Find Peace

…and when the world is howling,
we leave, seeking hearts of stones,
filigree of leaf and web
and water’s life saving–
we go in search of one other
amid mastery of earth
and oh we gather such finds in
God’s shady hollows and wild light

(for Marc)
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Nels’ Northwest Initiation

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Nels didn’t like the neighborhood. He thought it was too quiet, so tidy that he wanted to drop his gum wrappings on the sidewalk, maybe a wad of gum, too. The dogs were all well-behaved, not a snarl out of any of them as he passed. It wasn’t Chicago, he kept hearing from his dad, who grinned whenever he said it. Nels felt gypped. He had heard it was a cool city they were moving to, smaller but still with plenty of stuff going on. Portland was supposed to be bursting with music and art, tech nuts, young hippies and old hippies, skateboarders and cyclists, a famous bookstore. Mountain ranges soaring nearby. Two rivers (one that dumped right into the ocean, not too far away) with ten bridges.

Four were draw bridges, he’d read. He was fascinated with bridges so had planned on making his dad drive over every one of them in the first month. Nels was half-scared of being stalled high up over water, and when he thought about earthquake potential, it really made him crazy to consider being stuck on there. They had crossed two so far. He planned to document them in his notebook: “Bridges Surveyed and Survived”.

Presently his topic of research was farmer’s markets. He’d never been to a genuine market, not a large one with food grown in nearby farms. It was early fall so there would be pumpkins and weird mushrooms to check out. The possibility of tasting goat cheese, fresh smoked salmon and homemade Marionberry jam thrilled him. There was a market downtown, even with certified organic food (a concept that puzzled but interested him), which likely meant there were bugs on it and more.

Fifth grade had begun and all he could say was this school one was as boring as every other school he’d been to, all three of them.  The last one was a Quaker private school (thanks to his aunt, who taught there), not one Nels would have chosen even if he did like the subjects better. He was relieved to be back in public school. But he daydreamed about his mother and his oldest best friend, neither of whom would likely visit him here too often.

Friends weren’t that easy to come by. He was just too new. His dad suggested he head out on his bike, see what he could see. He felt silly riding around the same area over and over, looking cool, unimpressed with the scenery which he found exotic. Often there were a couple of teen-agers playing basketball in the street at a portable hoop. But they ignored him. He saw a kid, maybe seven or so, with a crown on and she waved like a beauty queen from her porch. She looked more like a dirty fairy princess, wings and all. Nels rode by without a nod.

But there was something interesting that got his attention one Saturday morning. It was a bungalow with peeling white paint on a corner two blocks away. The drapes were half-open but the rooms looked dark. The yard was teeming with flowers. He slowed down. He’d seen roses, of course, but not growing like they were wild in every yard. In late August and September. There was tons of lavender–he’d seen it in a gift shop by the North Shore–with bees buzzing about. He laid his bike down on the outer grass and peeked into the back yard. There was a small play house, and red, yellow and blue chairs about a table. The little red house looked rusty, as if it needed fresh paint, too.

He heard the back door open and stepped back. A large orange cat leapt out, then zig-zagged across the yard, batting at something defenseless with wings. The play house looked abandoned. He didn’t see any signs of life, not even a dirty old tennis ball or a crunched pop can. Just looking at the yard made him want to be back in Chicago where you could rub shoulders with masses of neighbors. His current back yard was spacious and fenced and emptier than this one.

“Hey! What’re you gawking at?”

Nels head jerked up and he saw a girl balancing on a skateboard, watching him. Hands were on hips and her head was cocked to one side. She had shoulders that looked like they could level him in one mad rush.

“Nothing.” He got back onto his bike. “Just saw the playhouse as I rode by.”

“Yeah, now you saw that, what else?”

She picked up the skateboard and walked over to him. He felt she was one of those fictional Amazons as he sat on his bike curbside. She seemed to know this and lorded it over him, chin up, looking down her significant nose at him. She couldn’t be much older than he was even though she acted like it. Her eyes glinted in the sunshine, brown with golden slivers.

Nels shrugged and stared down the street. “Like your board. Want to ride around with me?”

“Maybe.”

She put her skateboard on the pavement and pushed off. He jumped onto his bike and caught up with her, then passed her, but she grabbed his fender and held on, getting a free ride.

“Why do you have a playhouse? Do you really still…play house?” he shouted at her and pedaled harder, his breath a little labored. She was not a light-weight.

“My dad built it when I was three,” she called out. “Now it’s a kind of clubhouse.”

“What?” He slowed for a stop sign and turned around. She drifted up next to him.

“CLUB HOUSE.” She enunciated as if he was hard of hearing. “For me to do stuff undisturbed. And maybe a friend or two.”

“How do you get in? On your hands and knees?”

She punched him on the shoulder and skated off, gaining speed with each push forward, then jumped a curb and landed without a wobble.

“Maybe a secret password, too?” he shouted after her.

“Hey, better watch out for Flora! She’s like a wild beast!” The basketball guys laughed as they rode by on their expensive bikes.

Flora. Flora the flying wildcat, he thought, and liked the sound of it. He headed back home.

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The next two weeks it mostly rained. Nels had never seen it rain that way, on and off, on and off every day. Hard as pebbles, then soft as feathers against his window. He came home and thought of the bright cold air of Chicago, leaves going orange-gold, fire red. He thought of his friend Holden and the park that was a second home, the basketball court, a fountain in the shape of a lighthouse (with a light at top when it worked) near the swings and the patchy grass and weeds getting out of hand. When Nels looked down the street from his bedroom window now he saw bright bunches of flowers, perky despite the downpours. It looked like a wanna-be jungle down there. Lawns were so green they nearly glowed, as if drawn with florescent markers. Bushes were pruned into mini-sculptures. Trees he couldn’t identify yet elbowed more trees. Back home….(“This is home, now”, his dad reminded him at least once a week)….the lawns were skinny and you could tell what the neighbors were having for dinner and who was mad and if it wasn’t always the safest where they lived it was definitely lively.

One evening as he finished his English assignment–write a three-page report on your favorite author (he chose Tolkien to impress his teacher but he had actually read two books)–rain drops tumbled off rooftops. Then stopped for more then fifteen minutes. He opened his window and sniffed the air. Slightly cooler, earthy, fresh and breezey. The neighborhood shimmered under the street lamp. The block was calm, as usual. He grabbed his jacket and ran downstairs.

His dad looked up from the Irish mystery series he was watching, his phone lit up in his hand. Multi-tasking.

“Going for a short walk, okay?”

“It’s almost eight, be back in half an hour.”

Nels power-walked across the street, arms swinging. His breath emitted little clouds, or he wished they were clouds but really they were just damp puffs, nothing to indicate autumn temperatures. It was a few notches above balmy, in fact, and he began to sweat. By the time he reached the girl’s house, he had taken off his jacket and tied it around his waist as he jogged. He came to a full skid stop by Flora’s back yard.

A light appeared inside the play house. Rather, there was a wavering brightness leaking through small windows and a half-open Dutch door. Nels slinked into the yard, tried to see if she was there. All he made out was a fat round yellow candle.

“Who goes there?” A voice like Flora’s but deeper. “Show they ugly face.”

So she was the dramatic type. Nels sneaked up to the door and crouched, ready to scare her. Flora popped her head out the upper half of the door and looked around.

“Come on out. I can smell you,” she stated flatly.”Sweat mixed with cinnamon rolls.”

He stood up, avoiding her grasp. “Everyone sweats. Cinnamon bundt cake, vanilla ice cream. We bake sometimes.”

“Any extras?”

He thought she meant pieces of cake, as if he would bring her any.

Then Flora opened the half-door a couple of inches. “You alone, no dogs or other bad influences? Gilligan is with me.”

“Gilligan?”

“Yeah, that’s right, like the old show Gilligan’s Island. My cat.”

She pulled Nels in and shut the door. He ducked down a few  inches. He could see the tabby curled up in a corner, the cat that had sprung out of the back door. Flora bent over, too, as she made her way to a large plaid pillow on the floor, then pointed to the other one across from hers.

He sat clumsily after she did. She stroked Gilligan until he settled and purred, then glanced at Nels as if to check that he was behaving, as well.

The candle sputtered in the waxy pool. Flora poured some of it into the palm of her hand. She jerked her head at the candle and he followed suit, a warm carmelly drip stinging, then smoothing over his palm. They waited for it to cool, then crack. The flame on the candle steadied and illuminated the walls.

He saw her eyes turn more golden and imagined her a mountain lion come down from the mountains he had yet to explore. They were piercing and darted about. He wondered if she had long pointy nails, decided she didn’t, but would check later to be sure.

She thought he looked tired and parched, like a creature who finally made it to paradise after being lost in some terrible place. He knew all this was not a mirage but he still seemed very unsure. He had a baseball cap on and his grey-blue eyes reminded her of water trapped under ice.

“Where you from, Nels?”

“Chicago, home of the White Sox.” He tipped his cap. “How do you know my name, Flora?”

“Word just gets around, right? Wow, the Great Lakes. And a huge, freezing, windy city.” Flora shivered violently. “I’d like to have more snow. We get black ice, mostly. Except on the mountain. Mt. Hood, that is. You ski?”

He shrugged, stared at the flame as it danced, then rested, danced, rested. He felt the urge to say things. “Yeah, I can ski. And snowboard. And swim and ride in marathons with my dad. We came to this bizarre rainforest because my dad got a great job. Had to move…My mother, she lives in a townhouse and does web design. They divorced three years ago but I like living with my dad better.”

He shot Flora an angry look. Her mouth, which was hanging open, closed.

“I was way happier in Chicago.”

“Of course. You’re from the Midwest. You have culture shock, or so my mother would say. She has MS, and writes sci fi books and has nearly white hair even though she’s just thirty-eight. A genetic thing. I’ll probably get it before then–I saw a white hair the other day, swear it.” She patted Gilligan. “My dad left when I was four so I don’t miss him. You’ll get used to your mom being gone. Eventually.”

Nels let loose a sigh; he didn’t realize he had been holding his breath in after he’d let out so many words. He half-smiled at Flora, more out of relief to have air them. No one else knew those things here.

She didn’t smile back but held up a squashy little ball of wax. She pulled it apart and gave half to him. They picked at their pieces and dropped bits of wax back into the candle’s well and watched the flame, blinking and yawning. It reminded Nels of a cobra, the way it moved.

Nels leaned against the wall and got so sleepy he felt like he could sit back and snooze until morning. He noticed Flora was tired out, too, with Gilligan curled up on her lap. The candle flickered and threw monster shadows on the walls. Their shadows. He got up.

“I need to leave. You go to the same school right, right? I don’t feel like being caught in a play house…Is it the only place you’ve got?”

She frowned and studied Gilligan as he stretched. “I have an oak tree that beats the rest. There’s a good park a few blocks away. I like it here. We could sit outside at the table. I was going to say you could come back and visit here, but oh, well. You’d have to donate a candle, anyway. I like to light them as it gets colder.”

She caught Gilligan’s tail as he hopped off, then let it run through her fingers. Her nails were short.

Nels went outside but poked his head through the half-door. “You mean, for heat?” He snickered. “When you’re forced to put on fleece and wear real shoes?”

She flashed a toothy smile. “I wear sandals most of the year.With leggings or tights. You probably brought snow boots but forgot a water-repellant jacket. You might drown with all that weight on your feet.”

Nels laughed and waved. He crossed the yard and stopped to examine the rain jewels on roses, then looked back as the little house went dark. He didn’t wait to see Flora emerge. He took off down the street, Gilligan running after him then making a U-turn, off on a hunt. He thought about the market he and his dad were checking out on Saturday. Portland was possibly going to be a decent place. Eventually.

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Captivating Moments: Photography

 

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I have become more of a human being since taking photographs daily. More satisfied, centered in the moment, less opinionated of what and whom I experience. Photography offers an intense personal experience while also requiring objectivity, a distancing. It asks me to abandon restrictive thinking and give myself over to a finer sense of things, the gravitational pull of life around me. Order can be created even if there seems to be little–or exposed and higlighted. And it takes discipline, which is something I enjoy.

At the start–ages ago, back when I got my first basic Brownie camera around age nine–it was just about capturing a moment in life as it was happening. It gave me a taste of control and power to frame and steady my hand, trigger the shutter. Polaroid cameras, which developed the picture in moments, were too expensive so I had to take a roll of film to the pharmacy and wait for a couple of weeks to see what I caught on film. Sliding the shiny pictures out of the envelope brought a thrill of excitement. There were people I knew, there was my house, my yard or the park, the neighborhood’s goings-on. I could tack them on my bulletin board or in my scrapbook for safekeeping.

I didn’t understand much, even though my father had a scientific bent and explained the rudimentaries. I couldn’t get past the fact that my eye saw things upside down and so did a camera, then turned them right side up again. I did realize photographic images are two-dimensional, not three. Still, it fascinated me that I could make something occur, cause a moment in life to hold still and be made to last forever with a picture. But I had to be careful; I couldn’t waste pricey film. Taking pictures was meant to be something special. I do muse over what my father would think of digital photography: here now, gone the next second. No visible errors, less idiosyncrasy. There is much to be said for the intrigue of irregularity and for  permanence. Ten years after my first camera I got to develop my own film for a class. The alchemy that could be rendered chemically, visually and emotionally was spectacular.

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, photo by Marianne Casamance
Chartres Cathedral, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons; photo by Marianne Casamance

In later years, my parents travelled overseas and my father dragged along his beloved Pentax and additional lenses. That meant hundreds of photographic slides upon their return. I remember hours of being riveted by pictures of Europe projected big as life on a white screen. My parents narrated their journey with anecdotes and laughter. The pictures seemed so akin to real places and events that I could interpret the atmosphere, absorb diverse colorations or foreign designs of topography and architecture, nearly hear people chat as they ate at outdoor cafes and shimmied through narrow passageways. I felt I had gone along, had prayed within Chartres cathedral, visited Mozart’s birthplace, savored tea and biscuits at an Irish bed and breakfast. For me, pictorial images were like a magic carpet. Whatever I could see–in fact, often just visualize–took me right there.

As a child and young adult, I was results-oriented: I wanted to see the fruits of my labor, have picture souvenirs of my North American trips. It wasn’t the process that mattered so much as the result: memories, little bits of them frozen in time. But I have changed. Now when I leave the house with my humble pocket Nikon and good Fujifilm Finepix S cameras in hand, I set out to be surprised and inspired. Moved, startled, intrigued. It is a bit like playing detective: I have an urgent need to know more, to deliberate over scraps of information, to search for and gather evidence of the multitudinous layers of reality, as well as what may yet be hiding. I want to be present within the essence of life, this planet I inhabit, even the universe as it reveals its mystery moment by moment. At the very least, I want to clarify my own truth. Get to the core of things. Be attentive.

Writing has done this for me well over fifty years and sometimes I wonder how I can use up an hour or two a day taking pictures when what I need to be doing is writing. But one flows into the other seamlessly. What my vision brings to me can be made into a complex picture, then a bigger story. Walking into the world with camera in hand unlocks secrets to which I would not otherwise be so privy. I closely observe the way shadow changes rhododendron blossoms. I watch how a couple leans toward one another in the spring light, then the man turns sharply away. I see a child poke a muddy puddle and talk to himself about frogs and other beings unnamed. Over there is a house with an extravagance of foliage and two empty chairs. Who steps out in the dusk to sit there with the quieting birds? Photography uses a different part of the brain than language; it enlarges my reservoir of skills and ideas, stimulates possibilities.

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Photography stops me in my tracks. Ruminations, selfish self-regard, and odds and ends of worry all pause. It wakes me up to the variety of humans and other creatures that roam the earth and with whom I share it. I am not ever lonely when I take pictures by myself; I feel connected to everyone, often deeply. It is another way to become more aware of what is sacred in this living. If nature mimics universal design and our bodies and souls reflect the cosmos as well, what is not sacred? How can I not see God, camera or no camera? It strikes me that God is the Eye of all and we are both the seers and the seen; that thought cheers me. And I am excited my humble camera can do its small part.

There is a wealth of design out there. An old friend of mine, an artist, once said that good design was her religion. I pondered over that for, while it isn’t mine, it is certainly part of what I believe in and value. Whether natural or human-made objects, my eye seeks a contiguous whole made of intricate, often minute, pieces. Design requires proportion, light, space, perspective, materials. It requires mathematics and intuition, a feel for composition that will impact the environment and ourselves a little or a lot. We are altered by harmonious, innovative design (or a lack thereof) within our cities, our neighborhoods, our homes. We even design our own daily lives, and its signature shows up in the degree of our well-being.

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My neighborhood affords me such loveliness and fascination that every time I walk, I see things anew. The light, the weather, the time of day and angle at which I take the picture–it all matters so much. And these streets are lined with historical houses. The trees are varied, mammoth, many. Gardening is a full-on activity here, so I have the pleasure of appreciating every bit of effort people put into their yards. Our climate is good for growing things and all year nature displays her virtuosity. I count myself fortunate to be surrounded by such beauty.

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As much as I adore this visual art, documenting life as I experience it, I can’t say I have any expertise. I still feel new to it; there are volumes to learn. Still, I persist.

I have always believed being a witness is important, to whatever is unjust, turbulent or painful but also victorious, balanced or full of love. There is a part of me that wishes I had been able to become a globe-trotting photojournalist. When I was a mental health and addictions counselor I was a witness to chronic suffering, but also healthy transformation. As a writer I am witness to vagaries of the human spirit and a plethora of story that defines this world and us, both here and gone. With my camera I can discover a moment or it, me, then crystallize something of it. It takes patience but that is something I cultivate. I have the opportunity to be right there, up close. And a small revelation will unfold before my eyes. Then I can carry it home to savor the beauties. Mourn any losses. Study its lessons. Share my world with yours.

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(Other than the Wikimedia photo, these are my pictures. If you are interested further, please check out my blog Visionary Views, which is linked to this main blog.)