Monday, October 31, 2011


This morning, I drove over to the dike to take a walk and talk to the wildlife. I had taken about a dozen steps along the graveled earthen ridge when I looked up to see a twenty-pound Jack Russel terrier about thirty yards ahead, crouching at his owner’s feet. Then, like lightning, he took off, snarling, hell bent for leather—right at me. The male half of the young couple who I assumed to be in charge of the dog (or not) laughed, made a half-hearted attempt to call off his mutt, and then just ambled forward as if nothing in the world were amiss; while I—fearing for my ankles or my butt or whatever part of my flesh the crazed little mongrel might decide to sink his teeth into—waved my arms, stamped my feet and hollered in my best “Bad Dog” mom voice, “No! Get out of here! Bad dog!”

The dog veered at the last second and trotted off into the weeds behind me. Unconvinced that the attack had been aborted, I turned to keep an eye on the little bastard; and out of the corner of my eye, ascertained that a second terrier had broken away from the people and was now also hurtling down the gravel path at me. The young couple strolled amiably toward me and looked slightly amused as I reprised my screaming, hand-waving, foot-stomping act, in two directions now, as by this time I was badgered from before and behind. I looked up angrily at the inexplicably unfazed young couple, who were by now about fifteen feet away.

“Maybe you should put a leash on these dogs!” I sputtered, still dancing and clapping to keep their pets a safe distance from my ankles.

The amiable expression disappeared from the young man’s face and he sneered at me, “Get over it!” Two leashes dangled limply from his hand.

In the ensuing few moments, he got control of his animals; acting all the while like I was some kind of head case for being so upset by his cute little dogs. Once he had the little devils safely tethered, I moved to go around the party and continue my now completely ruined walk. The young man was still looking at me like I was out of my mind.

“I have no problem with cute little dogs,” I informed him. “But when a dog comes charging at me with his teeth bared, that is not a good thing.” And I walked on.

Last I heard, he was whining something about, “Yeah, look at him!” As if his dog were so adorable and so inoffensive he could not possibly frighten a sane person.

WTF is it with people and their dogs?

I have a dog. I love my dog. But she’s A D.O.G. Not an animated stuffed animal. Not a child. Not a cute, cuddly four-legged package of fur with all the rights, privileges, needs and cognitive powers of a small human being. She doesn’t need to come into stores and restaurants with me. She doesn’t need to ride in airplanes, taxis, trains or city busses. She doesn’t need to come to crowded outdoor (or indoor!) events so she can be with me and “play” with the other dogs. She would, in fact, HATE doing any of those things and, though she does not like to be left at home, she is a lot happier there, in her familiar surroundings, than she would be if I dragged her everywhere I went.

And I would no sooner take her to one of those dangerous, germ-infested encampments of canine gang psychology—the “Off-Leash Dog Parks”—than I would incarcerate her in a cell in a dirty kennel and lace her water bowl with distemper virus.

I treat my dog like a dog. We go for rides, we go for walks, we play ball, she gets doggie treats. I don’t feed her from my dinner plate, because I don’t want her to get fat and ill—obesity is mortally dangerous to dogs. She doesn’t sit on the furniture and she doesn’t sleep in my bed. We take her to the vet, we keep her clean, we keep her free of fleas. And we love her. We cherish her, protect her and discipline her. Most people in our circle understand that our dog is a member of our family and is pretty damned spoiled. But she’s still a dog. And we respect that.

Dog owners have gone completely around the bend. They get a dog because they demand that something unconditionally love and be totally dependent upon THEM. Then they attach the poor animal to themselves by an impossibly short umbilical, insisting that the dog wants and needs to go everywhere and do everything the owner does. Not one millisecond of thought is wasted on the dog’s actual needs or preference. Or what might or might not be good for it. Humans have the bigger brains (theoretically.) Why are we not using them to understand how to truly enhance our pets’ lives, rather than building fantasies about how much they love us and need to be with us every minute of every day? Trust me—that kind of sick dependency does not come from the dog.

Then there is the subset of people that believes that controlling a dog in any way is somehow cruel or repressive. The relationship between humans and canines is not one big “Born Free” moment, people. We haven’t gone out into the woods, captured dogs and forced them into servitude. Thousands of years ago, humans and canines hammered out a mutually beneficial relationship. Each species has adapted behaviors to grease the wheels of the relationship; but though we’ve been in partnership for millennia, communication and bonding between the two species is imperfect at best. An uncontrolled dog can still pose a threat to humans…this is even more true since we have chosen to play god and breed dogs for aggressive behavior.

Dogs are pack-oriented animals. A dog’s behavior toward its pack is not an indicator of how it will treat strangers. To eliminate the fear that an encounter will end in bloodshed, dogs need to be under control when there is a chance of them coming into contact with non-pack members. If the human does not have verbal control over the dog, there had better be some kind of physical restraint used. This is known as a leash. It is not a torture device. It protects both humans and canines from the unpredictability of their behavior toward each other.

But we’re not concerned about our pets’ welfare, are we? We just want to puff ourselves up with that feeling of largesse and magnanimity we get when we let our companion run free and unfettered. And don’t nag us about the well-being of other people! If they’re frightened, intimidated or attacked by our pet, they need to “get over it.”

So now, I will either have to stop taking my walks when there is any chance that some fool with an unleashed dog is going to be claiming the territory, or I’ll to have to pack an umbrella, a walking stick, a can of mace or a grenade to ensure that I can complete my relaxing encounter with nature without fear of puncture or mutilation.

Yeah. Right.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Call to Being

For a little over two months, I’ve been swimming around in a sort of agreeable limbo. Now and then I’ll pick up something I find floating by, fiddle with it for a time, then lose interest and leave it to bob away in my wake as I paddle over to another pretty distraction. One part of me wants to stay in this warm, indulgent place forever. Another part of me—the most insistent part—is drawn to the ladder leading out of this pool like steel to a magnet. “Gotta get out of here,” grates that persistent little voice. “Gotta go. Gotta do. Need money. Need stuff. Can’t get that here…”

Up until now, I’ve pointedly ignored that voice. My wiser self takes over and I swim right past it and go trolling for the next pretty thing. But each time I pass that ladder, a shower of acid guilt rains down on my head. Perhaps it’s only a matter of time before I’ll have to get out of the pool to get out of the rain.

I’ve been drawn to the sea and the river, the fields and the forests. I know there is comfort and love there. The spirits of those places are calling me to come and sit, rest and learn. To give myself up to “being” instead of “doing.” You would think that would be easy. It’s so not. Most often I turn my eyes to the skies, the territory of the Bird Spirits; it’s to these spirits I am most drawn. And they do not disappoint me; they are always there. When I look, they appear.

But being the life-long human that I am, I sometimes don’t trust the messages I get from the Bird Spirits. Or my dependence on human language gets in the way, and I just feel like I need someone to tell me in plain English: DO THIS. And then the Universe proves that it can communicate in that way as well. This should not surprise me. Why would the Almighty have endowed me with the gift of writing if there was no transcendent good in it?

Knowing that I have been unsure of the place the Universe really wants me to be right now, It sent me this poem, which I came across in a friend’s blog:

The Summer Day
Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

Of course, the Almighty is well aware that I have no idea “how to be idle and blessed.” But it sent this assurance, in black and white, that the concept exists; and that others have identified it and lived it without going to hell.

I’m not entirely convinced that I have only “one wild and precious life.” But the one I do have, right here, right now is my immediate concern. And I very much want to know how to fall down into the grass and pay attention.

I believe I’m being given license to do exactly that.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Working On It

We had a snippet of one of those difficult conversations yesterday. The ones that have been tugging at the coattails of my tongue, begging to be let out into the air whenever my life partner and I are in close quarters for any length of time…like during long car trips, or while weathering a rainy day in a shoebox. I pronounced our vacation “over” when it began to look like we might have to spend a second day in that shoebox condition. But because of where we live, long car rides are part and parcel of any time off we have together; I knew it was only a matter of time before the subject(s) weighing heavily on my mind would no longer be ignored.

This particular talk didn’t go so badly. Apparently, I’ve regained enough of my emotional equilibrium that I can almost discuss these things in a rational manner. At least, I don’t go into an instant meltdown in which I then proceed to wallow for days. Or maybe it’s just that I understand there is nothing to fix. Continuing with the restaurant meant that we would need to actually do something about the incompatibility issues that were making it impossible for us to work together. Now, all we have to do is acknowledge the issues and go forward in light of that knowledge. It’s liberating, if a little bleak. Nothing like a big, herkin’ dose of reality, served up with the time and (arguably) the energy to assimilate it.

And so it was that in my 35th year of marriage, I finally understood that the honeymoon was over. All those decades, I insisted on believing that my marriage was different. Special. More of fairy tale than of cold, hard reality. For years, I fought tooth and nail against the concept that a long-term marriage owes its existence to the ability of the principals to live entirely separately, yet under the same roof. I thought, “No. Not our marriage. Ours is about togetherness. Ours is about support and shared passions. It’s him and me against the world.” After our journey of the past five years, I get it. It’s not him and me against the world. It’s ME against the world; and him…well, he’s around somewhere. Perhaps as often on the world’s side as on mine.

What makes the situation most ridiculous is, this is really nothing new. Our very fundamental differences have been apparent for many years—certainly since the mid-nineties when it became obvious that, in a crisis, my first loyalty was to family and relationships and his was to work and fiscal responsibility. Put a gun to our heads, and I will turn to my peeps for support, while he disappears into his work. A classic mid-century male/female, Mars/Venus dynamic. But I could never accept that our relationship was so…archaic. For twenty years (or more) I’ve been inclined to pass off these differences as stress-induced temporary insanity, rather than accept them as a seminal disparity in the way the two of us are hard-wired.

So he says to me, “I feel like the blame for all this is being placed squarely on my shoulders.” And I replied, “No, dear… If anyone is to blame here, it’s me. I’m the one who has clung for dear life to the rose-colored glasses. I’m the one who has refused to see us for who we are, and refused to accept our relationship for what it is.”

Now, my task is to figure out how to conduct the rest of my life outside the romantic delusion I’ve lived in for thirty-five years. No more “Him and Me Against the World.” The trick, I think, is to cherish and nourish the “him and me” half of that equation—on whatever level our paths continue to cross—and just walk away from the “against the world” part. That seems the wisest plan. It is the only one for which I seem to have enough energy at this point.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Back from the Sacred Places

Back once again, from days with the waves and the birds, and the wind and the wonders.

And the trees.

This time, I was shown a truly sacred place.

A forest. Where the trees are ancient and alive and wise.

Portraits, sculptures of Time.

And of spirits.

This one... This one--

she-is-me me.

Growing tall out of tangled chaos.

One with the silvered shadow of her losses and heartaches. Those things that are forever part of her. Rising with her, not pulling her down. Not keeping her from living.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Sun, Rain, and Buzzards

After untold hours of untold days spent mostly trapped in a windowless kitchen in the back of a small restaurant, I can’t get enough of simply being outside. My vacation consisted almost entirely of rapturous hours among the trees and the birds, the sand and the squirrels, the ocean and the mist-blown sky. For two weeks, I went indoors only to sleep (and shop.) It was heaven. Funny how I can’t stop writing about that time… I guess after not having one for five years, that vacation was quite a major event in my life. Next Sunday (our 35th wedding anniversary) we leave for another seven days camping at the coast. Though this trip promises to be a little damper, a little colder, and a little darker, I’m still excited beyond words at the prospect.

At home, I take my coffee out to my greenhouse deck every morning. A few short weeks ago, if I got up too late, I couldn’t sit comfortably in that east-facing space. I would spend the entire time with a hand shading my eyes, drenched in sweat from the hot flash brought on by the warmth of the morning sun. Still, I felt I needed to be out there soaking it up; because we all know what Oregon winters are like. I hope I stored enough vitamin D to last through until next July.

The climate has returned to something approximating normal, after Nature’s parting shot of this year’s only real summer weather in September. That doesn’t mean there aren’t things to enjoy out in my yard, even when the air is heavy with Oregon pissy rain. There are still blossoms galore on my fuchsias, begonias and “black & blue” salvia, providing my over-wintering hummers with plenty of natural forage to supplement the food provided by my feeders. I have salvia blooming right outside my kitchen window, and every morning when I’m doing my breakfast dishes, a little guy buzzes in to enjoy his own breakfast, so close that I have to tilt my head back to see him through the bottoms of my bifocals. The winter population of juncos, goldfinches, sparrows and siskins are gathering at our al fresco dining facilities, and the cacophony of the thousands of water birds arriving from their far north breeding grounds floats on the wind from the wetlands just east of here. Winters in the Pacific Northwest may be soggy, but they are never lonely.

This year has been so odd. We had a long, l-o-n-g wet winter that was not inclined to go away. There was no spring in 2011 to speak of; if we had one, it started in mid-July, when it finally stopped raining and began to climb out of the 50’s for daytime highs. It seemed like this entire year was delayed, weather-wise, by about six weeks. Anything that survived the extra months of cold and wet bloomed and ripened weeks later than normal. We had blueberries in July, cherries and peaches in August, and they are still selling local sweet corn at the farm stands, alongside the pumpkins, squash and apples.

Bird-wise, the unusual weather seems to have made this “The Year of the Buzzard.” Buzzards are the robins of the northwest. Here, the robins in winter congregate in loose little associations that are not really flocks, endlessly patrolling soggy yards and parklands for half-drowned worms; but they don’t fly south. We Oregonians become aware that the hold of winter on the land is finally broken by the appearance of the first turkey buzzard wheeling lazily above the fields along I-5.

Buzzards are so common here during the summer months that I had been in Oregon several years before I learned that they were migratory. Still, though they’re everywhere in the summer, they remain rather mysterious in that, to this day, I don’t know where they roost, where they nest, or where they go in the winter. To my knowledge, I have never seen a fledgling buzzard. They seem to appear in the spring, all fully grown, then simply vaporize sometime during the fall, to reappear the next May. This year, there were just scads of buzzards. You never saw just one. Raise your eyes, and you’d spot groups of half a dozen or more birds, circling, wheeling, picking over freshly-mown fields. I wonder if the long, wet winter provided them with such a bonanza of feeding opportunities that it had an obvious effect on their numbers.

I don’t know if it was the fact that there were so many buzzards this year, or if I was blessed with a special sight, but in the past few weeks I have actually witnessed something I had never seen before: the buzzards flying south. Admittedly, I’m outdoors way more hours a day than I’ve been in, oh, about the last 1800 (days)… And my love of all winged things keeps my eyes scanning the skies much of the time I’m outside. But this is the first time I’ve seen groups of dozens of buzzards, trailing for what must be miles, circling in southward-ranging spirals, up, up, up…until they are but tiny bird-shaped specks high overhead. Wings wide, never a flap…rising to meet the thermal winds that will take them sailing to…wherever they go.

Goodbye, my ubiquitous friends! Safe sailing, and may warm, wide fields meet you at the end of your journey. See you back here next year, dark wheeling sentinels of the summer skies!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Got a Match?

It’s amazing how much paper a couple can accumulate over 35 years. Not just junk mail, but things like tax papers, ancient loan documents, medical receipts, old utility bills, Christmas and birthday cards, kindergarten art from a niece who just graduated high school… Our personal accumulation nearly fills an entire room—the fourth bedroom upstairs which we have designated as “office,” but more closely resembles a combination flea market/storage unit/dead file cellar of the IRS. On top of three decades of our personal paperwork, I have five huge boxes of papers from the restaurant, which I have been exhorted to save for seven years (oh, boy…I get to shuffle this stuff around until 2019!) And I have two boxes of my parents’ files with which I cannot seem to make myself part (Mom died almost four years ago; Dad has been gone since 1999.)

Since “retiring,” one thing that has kept me occupied is Crap Control. For five years we were too busy to do anything more than find an out-of-the-way place to shove Things That Need To Be Dealt With (Later!). I have gone through my closet and drawers at least three times in three months; once upon a time, if I managed that undertaking once a year I felt smugly accomplished. Goodwill is thinking about giving me my own donation truck.

I’ve waded into two of the three most intimidating spaces on our property: the office and the garage. But I can only bear to be in either space for about four or five hours at a time, so the work is not exactly going along at a record pace. And I haven’t yet mustered the courage to tackle Crap Zone #1: the back yard storage shed—the repository for things that haven’t seen the light of day since we moved here 10 ½ years ago. Just thinking about what could be in there—dead or alive—keeps me safely paralyzed on the outside of the shed door.

Part of the problem of dealing with trash paper is the fear associated with just throwing it in the garbage. Much of this hubbub, I’m sure, is circulated by the guys who make paper shredders. I fail to see how someone could harm me if they dug in my trash and unearthed thirty-year-old canceled checks from a long-defunct bank two thousand miles from here. But someone insists that is the case. So a box containing these very things molders on a shelf in our garage, collecting dust and whatever insects eat old paper. Bookworms?

Oh, we have a shredder. But, really…what a pain! It’s hardly heavy duty, and can only eat about three sheets of paper at a time. Before you can even flip the switch, you have to sort through your entire pile of shreds-to-be and remove paperclips, staples, plastic faux credit cards (inserted by junk mail circulators in order to force you to OPEN the junk mail) —anything which might stick in the mechanical craw. Then, you kneel in front of the infernal machine for hours in order to dispatch a pile that represents a drop in your personal ocean of junk paper. When you’re all done, you have a migraine from the shrill whine the thing emits while ruminating, AND you still have bags and bags of…paper! Only now it’s in the form of flyaway shreds that you will chase around and find under furniture for months. I knew there had to be a better way. And of course there is. Fire!

As my house has two fireplaces, you’d think the “burn the suckers!” paper option would be a no-brainer. Unfortunately, the upstairs fireplace is one of those hit the button/flame-on affairs, and the one in the family room has a pellet stove insert. The only things I’ll be burning in my fireplaces are natural gas and little wooden rabbit pellets. No help there. And I have a propane fire pit out on the deck, along with a gas barbecue grill. No help there, either.

Ah…but I DO have an ancient kettle grill (a 33-year-old K-mart version of a faux-Weber) that I have discovered is a capital stand-in for the noisy, messy, slower-than-snot shredder. Now, when I come away from one of my ninja-strike forays into the Crap Zones with a box of files that have been given the official thumbs-down, I grab my Bic and a long-handled tongs and adjourn to the back yard to grill some aged-to-perfection cellulose.

The last pile I barbecued was particularly toothsome: tax files from 2001 and earlier. There is just something appealingly risky about destroying those thin, yellowing sheaves that were once all that stood between you and a prison sentence. Putting the torch to them felt like personally thumbing my nose and chanting, “Nyah-nyah!” at J. Edgar Hoover. Or Doug Shulman. Or whoever.

But beyond that, it was a most cathartic undertaking. I burned some years that I would have joyfully ignited as they were happening. 1994—which began with my “dream job” blowing up in my face, and ended with major surgery and a cancer scare. 1995—probably the worst year of my life. My sister died, I had about 500 jobs (just the w-2’s for that year created a fireball that could have burned down the house). 1999—Dad passed away early that year, and another thick sheaf of w-2’s bespoke the heartache of trying to recover from that grief. It felt so good to watch those years singe and flame, blacken and turn to harmless ashes. Perhaps the unintended ritual helped, in some small way, to burn away the debris of those years that has stuck to my heart.

With about 10% of the necessary Crap Control completed, I anticipate several more bonfires before I’m finished. I might even have to look into getting myself an actual burning barrel; the kettle grill does get a bit dicey when the wind comes up and whisks things out of it before I can clamp the lid down. So if you should spot a bright orange glow emanating from somewhere in the backstreets of Scappoose, that will be me setting fire to a bunch of old papers and a few old demons.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Respect Matters

This is not the first time in my life I’ve been struck with the realization that respect is all but dead in our society. Maybe in the whole world. And it could be the death of us.

But just because I understand that respect is floating belly-up in the cesspool into which our world is turning, doesn’t mean I have had any success resuscitating it in my own life. Somewhere along the line, I adopted the conviction that respect is not unconditional. Respect is not freely given; it has to be earned. Right? So it’s no wonder I’ve lost respect for…everything…and can’t find it anywhere. Since disrespect has become de rigueur, and no one seems to have any respect for anyone or anything, what’s out there that could possibly earn my respect? In the end, I’ve followed the whole world over the cliff and into the cesspool.

It has dawned on me that I have to get over doling out the gift of my reverence only to those things/people/situations I have judged worthy. Spider has taught me to respect other forms of life that I might find ugly, frightening or even negligible. It’s a good place to start, small enough for me to get my arms around the concept. And then I have to take that and apply it to people, property, rituals, traditions, religions, opinions, ethnicities, nations, tribes, disciplines, the Earth itself. Anything under the sun that I might judge unworthy, and therefore disrespect—most of the time, without even knowing enough about it to make that judgment.

Lately, I’ve become acutely aware of exactly how little respect I have for others. When I curse at another driver on the freeway, or sigh and roll my eyes at the woman who parks her shopping cart in the exact geometric center of the aisle at the grocery store, I am struck by how these small acts of disrespect spring forth from and contribute back to the growing mass of contempt upon which we are choking now. If one person, just one, refuses to add her fistful of muck to that mass, we might get at least one moment of relief. It would be so worth being that person. And I really feel that is what the Almighty is asking of me right now.

Let there be Respect on Earth. And let it begin with me.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Going Up


A visual metaphor for what's happening in my life right now...