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Posing in my new Pats gear.

They are two venues well-known to New England sports fans. I lived in Vermont in the 1990s and picked up the New England Patriots as my team. Rather than try to make a connection with a California team when I moved there next, I just stayed with the Patriots. In 2003 I moved to the Boston area, and it was a whole load of fun when the Patriots won the Super Bowl that year and again in 2004. These days it’s popular to not like the New England Patriots, but back when they were still new winners, many people were wildly enthusiastic about them. It was fun that a team I had decided to follow years earlier were now superstars.

And Bostonians…well…they are a sports city like I had never seen in my life.

I learned this in 2004 while picking up a second New England team, the Boston Red Sox. The American League Championship Series began frustratingly, as the Red Sox lost to their rivals the New York Yankees, one game after another. The series score was 0-3 when the fourth game began, and while we loved our Sox, we were admittedly half-convinced that night would be the last of the series. But it was not. The Sox turned it around, and kept it turned around. Our minds were blown when the Red Sox won the next four games and THEY were ALCS champions. Against the Yankees, no less.

I had been watching the games with my boyfriend and we had been yelling and cheering at the television screen ourselves. During one of the last games in the series I had to go outside for something, and was outside when the Sox scored. The whole neighborhood erupted! I could hear cheering from houses on all sides of me. That was my first clue about Boston and baseball.

Next up was the World Series. In October 2004, the Red Sox entered the series with a really jazzed up fanbase. Games one and two were on the weekend, and our excitement grew when the Red Sox won both of them. I was back in classes for the Fall at Brandeis University, and couldn’t be home to watch the beginnings of the remaining games. Most other people had to work, too.  Again, I saw evidence that the whole city was the audience. Game 2 ended at midnight and Monday morning I got on the train and saw my usually-friendly and chipper friends all sprawled out on the seats asleep. Up and down the train, on all the cars, red eyes and saggy pale skin greeted me instead. People protectively clutched travel mugs of coffee.

Pre-superfast cell service, nobody knew what was going on while we were on the train. It was an hour and a half ride from the Brandeis/ Roberts stop to the end of the line, and before the game we huddled together in agitation comparing notes of what had been happening right before we left the office or the computer to get on the train, or what the spouse had said on the phone just before boarding. By the third game, on Tuesday night, someone got wise and brought an old transistor radio. He brought a handful of aluminum foil and taped it up to a window and stuck the antenna into the foil, then turned up the volume and bent his head down to the speakers to hear the announcer above the rattle of the train. The game started before we got home, and this man called out the action loudly enough for the whole car to hear.

Someone took it upon himself to run to the adjacent cars and announce the latest score. In fact, this is how I found out the radio was on board. I was sitting in an adjacent car and heard the announcement. I was not the only one grateful to get the shouted news. When I learned it was a friend who held the radio, I moved into that car.

Once we got home, we could watch the end of the games that lasted well into the night, and it took a toll on us. The Sox swept the St. Louis Cardinals and by Thursday morning after game four we were wrecked. I can’t remember how late all the games went, but we were not getting enough sleep. After all that excitement it took awhile to wind down and then sleep. And moments later our alarms got us all out of bed again so we could get to the train on time.

Wrecked, but so happy. It was a big deal because it broke the Curse of the Bambino. After 86 years, the Red Sox had finally won a World Series. There were so many tired but blissful smiles on the train Thursday and Friday. I wonder if anyone has documented the lack of production in the city of Boston that week.

Let’s talk about 2019 now.

Will bought us tickets to see the Red Sox play at Fenway. On the way up to Boston from Rhode Island, I asked if we could stop at Gillette Stadium, the home of the Patriots. I bought a T-shirt because my old game day T-shirts were getting pretty worn out. Then I posed on the grass. I had to sit on the ground because I wanted the shot to look like I was actually on the field. I’m not. It’s just a patch of turf outside the store, made expressly for silly tourists like me.

Gillette Stadium opened in 2002 in Foxborough, Massachusetts

I love my team 🙂

We then headed up to our hotel just blocks from Fenway. We had splurged for a hotel close to the park so we could just walk there. We checked in, dumped our bags, and headed over.

We joined the other fans on their way to the ball park.

Panoramic view of the whole field and the Air Force personnel lined up to support Memorial Day honors.

A big flag is unfurled as we all took time to honor those who died while serving the United States Military.

Will and I found our seats and settled in to enjoy the Memorial Day honors. Multiple veterans appeared, and multiple family members were honored while the stories of their lost loved ones were told. There was one person honored for dying “from Agent Orange,” and I shook my head. Of course I respect and appreciate the Vietnam Veteran who died. I just wish the US didn’t continue to perpetuate all the fear and myths surrounding Agent Orange – the herbicide dropped to defoliate the jungles of Vietnam. I could go on and on about it, and I won’t. Just please don’t buy into the hype. The government used waay too much herbicide, and it had health impacts. Your diabetes mellitus II is most likely due to your lifestyle, however.

The game was fun and our team won!

Players took to the field on a beautiful Spring day.

It was a good game for the Red Sox and their fans.

The downside to being a woman.

At Fenway for the first time!

This guy was selling Del’s Frozen Lemonade, a Rhode Island tradition.

People began leaving early after it looked like a Sox win was bound to happen. We stayed for the whole thing.

We hung around after the game and explored the seats above the Green Monster: the big giant green wall seen in the panoramic photo above, and the wall behind the US flag. Then we walked back to our hotel in the warm night. On top of the building was a patio where we got drinks and watched the sun go down over Boston.

View of the field from the Green Monster.

A Boston landmark that always makes me think of the Red Sox.

View of the city and the lights at Fenway left of the city skyscrapers.

A great place to watch the sun go down.

As I mentioned before, I spent two weeks of May in New England with my friend Will. So far in my blog story I’m halfway through the trip, and right in the middle we scheduled two days for us to do solo stuff. So he went home to Rhode Island and I began looking up old friends from when I used to live in Massachusetts.

For this trip I forgot to bring my camera!! Argghh. So I used my phone when I could. But when I’m meeting friends for lunch or dinner, I tend to pay attention to them and forget to pull out my phone. This is as it should be. Thus, for two whole days, the only photos I took are the ones you see here. I managed to forget to get photos of nearly all of them. Ah well.

I spent a lazy morning at the hotel in which I downloaded all my photos from my phone to my laptop and answered emails and made phone calls and all those things that had been neglected for a week. Had a long chat with Tara, which is always nice. They were getting ready for finals, but also planning for a summer geology field class out in the desert of eastern Oregon. Tara wanted to borrow camping gear. No problem.

In the afternoon I met my friend Fish from school. It was great to spend the day together, and except for some brisk wind, it was a pretty nice day. We bought ice cream and walked and talked all the way to Jamaica Pond.  I got to hear about Fish’s trip to South America, and their work volunteering to be a guinea pig for some fascinating brain research. Then we sat on the shore and watched wind blow over the water till it was time to leave for my next gathering of friends. The first time I remembered my phone was when we were almost back at my rental car and saying goodbye, and Fish pointed out the beautiful homes on the streets of Jamaica Plain.

A beautiful home in Jamaica Plain.

I made it on time to the University of Massachusetts, Boston, where Mads works. He came out to meet me, then took a break from work and we shared a cup of coffee and caught up. He finally got a chance to tell me in person about falling in love with his wife couple years before, and about getting married, and I really am dying to meet her. She is still in Sri Lanka and has not yet been able to come to the U.S., but it should be soon! I got to hear about his emotions and observations about being a new dad. He had actually reached a point in his life where he didn’t think he would ever get married, much less be a father, so it is an immense change in perspective he is going through. Mads is loving every minute of it (except for the pain of separation), and it filled my heart to see him so happy.

When it was time to leave for our 6pm dinner reservation in the North End, we left together and met Romain at an Italian restaurant they had heard good things of. I’m sure you remember me mentioning Mads & Romain before, because they are two of my best friends in the whole wide world. We met in school and clicked, and formed some kind of mutual admiration society, where each of us thinks the other two are amazing. I speak for myself, anyway. I never stop feeling blessed that these two so obviously value my friendship. We had a wonderful time at the restaurant. The wine was perfect, the food was out of this world. We laughed and told stories and hugged and pretty much entertained the wait staff. One of them remembered to pull out the phone – thank goodness!!

Father Romain has been an assistant pastor at his church for a decade, but had just accepted a new job with the Department of Veterans Affairs. Yes! The same VA that I just left in the Fall. Romain was prompted to make this choice because working as a Chaplain for the federal government will provide a steady income and benefits such as paid holidays, paid sick days, and discounted health insurance, maybe even a pension if he is able to work for the government long enough. These things were not available in his previous job.

Romain and me. I truly love this man. We adopted each other and call each other cousin. 🙂

We asked the waiter to take a photo of all 3 of us.

After dinner we said goodbye to Romain, and Mads decided the wine was so good he wanted to buy a bottle of it. We found a place called The Wine Bottega nearby, and I circled the block while Mads shopped. There is no parking in this part of Boston, forcing me to keep circling. In fact, while we were eating, I got parking ticket because the place I had earlier chosen for parking was actually resident parking. Drat! Soon he came out to meet me. He had tricked me by saying that the wine was for himself, and instead gifted both bottles to me. “Why two?” I asked, “You can keep one for yourself!” Mads answered, “But what if you really like the wine? Then you will certainly need another bottle!” ha ha ha

The Colonial Inn was built in 1716, but has been used as an inn since 1889.

The next morning I met Romain for brunch. We had discovered that my randomly selected cheap hotel was only one village over from where he lived in Carlisle. He insisted on meeting me the next morning, so we met and he took me to a wonderful place in Concord called the Colonial Inn. I received an impromptu tour by our server, who took me through, room by room, explaining how old the place is, what the rooms were used for originally, and even how one counter that was originally built to be a bar, has been restored and is now being used as a bar again. It’s cramped and dark, and tucked away inside, and I just love the idea of getting a pint at a place that was serving pints 100 years ago. Henry David Thoreau’s grandfather owned a part of the property for almost 40 years. I was shown the guest register, that Inn staff like to leave open to different pages, so that guests can see the signatures of famous historic visitors like Margaret Sidney Lothrop, J.P. Morgan, and Franklin D. Roosevelt. We finally settled down to eat and the food was outstanding.

Since we were in Concord, and I admitted that I had not seen the battlefield before, Romain insisted that we make a quick visit to the site of the battles of Lexington & Concord. This is another part of the story I was telling in my post about the Freedom Trail. Remember there was a secret council meeting in Concord about the resistence to British control? Paul Revere’s famous ride was an attempt to get from Boston to Concord, ahead of the British Regulars, and spread the word of their advance. He got captured before he completed the trip, but Revere and many other riders went through the countryside warning people, and they played a significant role that night.

Anyhow, so when the Regulars arrived in Concord in April 1775, the American Minute Men were ready for them and challenged them. Were they treasonists or freedom fighters? The age-old question. It was the beginning of the American Revolution, and it changed the path of history. The Minute Men faced the Regulars across the Old North Bridge, and the ensuing battle resulted in the first instance of Americans killing British Regulars. Ralph Waldo Emerson believed this was the critical turning point that began the revolution, and called it “The Shot Heard ‘Round the World.”

Standing on the Old North Bridge over the Concord River.

The Old North Bridge leading to a monument to the battle, erected in 1836.

Burial site for two unnamed British soldiers who died at this site. The inscription reads, “They came three thousand miles and died, to keep the past upon its throne: Unheard, beyond the ocean tide, their English Mother made her moan. April 19, 1775”

Minute Man monument tells some of the legend of the characters in the battle, and then notes “Here began the separation of two kindred nations, now happily long united in peace.”

We did not have enough time to really explore the place, as I had committed to another friend. It’s a beautiful and important place to visit, and I will make a point of going there again some day.

I hopped in the car and sped off to find my friends Dave & Lois. Dave was my advisor when I was attending school at Brandeis. They are both retired now and living in a new place, so I was able to see it for the first time. The property they live on has an agreement with the college next door that they can use the dining facilities, and since it was so convenient, we agreed to meet and walk over to the cafeteria. The food was tasty and the company was lovely. We sat outside, but it was another warm sunny day and not Lois’ preference. After our meal, she went inside for protection from the UV rays, and Dave invited me to see one of his favourite places, also near their new home.

We went to Cutler Park and walked for a couple hours. It was a great talk and it was such a relief for me to be outdoors again finally, after so much time in a car, or in restaurants. The exercise felt good. Dave told me all about his new interests, how he liked the new place, how his kids were doing. He asked me a ton of questions about my future plans and what I hope for someday in a romantic partner. Dave is a great resource for encouragement and inspiration. I think I need to run all my future career prospects by this guy from now on because he has so many ideas.

When we eventually made our way back to the car, we followed the loop around the lake, and were passed by cyclists getting their exercise. One of them heading in the opposite direction zoomed past us and right away I heard the skidding of tires across dirt and rocks as the brakes came on sharply. I turned around to look, hoping the cyclist wasn’t about to crash.

“Crystal?” he asked. I was astonished. Who on earth would know me at Cutler Park? I live 3000 miles away. This guy was head to foot in cyclist gear, complete with helmet and sunglasses. In other words, totally unrecogniseable.

“Yes!” I said, delighted to be recognised in Massachusetts, even though I had no idea who it was. “Who are you?”

“Chris, from Brandeis!” he answered. Chris is a common name and I was at Brandeis 12 years ago, and…

“I need help. Chris who, from Brandeis?”

So he explained. He was a former co-worker in the Brandeis IT department. In a previous post I mentioned that I modeled for work, but that was only a couple hours a week, so I also helped the IT department create and manage websites for the school. With some context, I immediately knew who it was! Chris and I had a brief, pleasant exchange, and he zoomed off on the bike again, passing us three or four more times on the loop before we made it back to the car.

Amazing. I still can’t believe he recognised me after 12 years and outside of the Brandeis campus.

We watched a fly fisherman at the shore of Kendrick Pond.

A lovely view of swans and a brick steeple above the trees.

This is how happy I was to be walking at Cutler Park. {Photo by Dave Jacobson}

My last visit of the day would be all the way back to my old homeland, to see my dear friend Susie in Ashburnham. Those of you who have followed me for years may remember that I dyed my hair pink during the entire time that Susie had active cancer. She kicked cancer’s ass and I went back to a blonde streak. There is a brew pub close to her house, so we walked over there to get a pint before they closed. The weather had been warm and lovely all day and I was excited to do some more walking.

Susie confirmed that cancer has been undetectable for so long now that the frequency of her checkups can be reduced. She told me some of her perspective on the whole deal, how she never thought the power of love and prayer was what got her through, but instead the fact that she became a warrior woman and fought cancer with all the hatred and disgust she could muster. I love this woman. She is as real as it gets.

I was thrilled to hear about the latest from her oldest son, and how he completely has his shit together and is about to do a study abroad program. Her daughter who is similar to Susie: gorgeous on the outside, expressing kindness and empathy every day, which disguises a hardcore warrior woman on the inside. Her youngest is filled with a hunger for life. He is mischievous, polite, thoughtful, obnoxious, and funny all in one young man.

By the time it got dark it was time for all of us to get ready to end the day. I hugged everyone goodbye and hopped into the rental car for one last journey. I went to Pawtucket, Rhode Island to pick up Will, and off we went to the next chapter in the New England vacation.

A woman’s place is in the revolution.

We began noticing the painted walls of Cork within an hour of our arrival. Every corner we turned, and every alley we cut through had bold artwork with bold messages.

“End Dublin rule in Cork.” [photo by Tara McMullen]

Dublin was a nice enough city, but Tara and I loved Cork. It has a proud and unapologetic personality. It’s character was a sort of challenge. “Here we are,” the voices said, and we could take it or leave it, but they wouldn’t much care what our opinion was. We liked that.

Cork street art is only one example of that, but it’s a good example. I’m drawn to street art and graffiti anyway, so I was already looking at the walls. It was fun to have these voices revealed to us even on that chilly windy day while there were few people about.

At the end of our Ireland trip (we’re home now) I recalled my graffiti shots and thought I’d do a collection of all the wall art from the trip. When we got home, I reviewed images and was reminded that almost 100% of our graffiti photos came from Cork.

These pieces were some of the first we noticed, and we went over for a closer look.

This one really impressed me.

Close up [photo by Tara McMullen]

Close up [photo by Tara McMullen]

After touring Elizabeth Fort, we made a loop of the outside of the walls of the fort, and found this.

Recognizeable faces.

What? It’s a cat!

We continued our circle around the fort, and Tara stopped to photograph an eye in a triangle. I moved a trash bin and found the rest of it.

Something significant is going on here. [photo by Tara McMullen]

More bones on the wall. I can’t tell if those little fish are shooting backward, or blowing out in advance of their movement.

I’m not sure what the technique is that makes graffiti look like black and white photographs.

Heron flies off into the lights.

We wandered into a city park and found more graffiti that matched the style of the “Dublin” one at the top. Possibly the same political activist.

On the left: “My brother knows Karl Marx. Met him eating mushrooms in the People’s Park.” On the right: “Willkommen. The People’s Republic of Cork.” [photo by Tara McMullen]

Ziggy’s Rock and Blues Bar.

“The Artist Beyond Control.”

A nice message to end with: “Love yourself.” [photo by Tara McMullen]

This collection catches my attention because these are all merely the artworks we haphazardly stumbled across while seeing the other sites. We were not looking for street art, and it was everywhere.

Frederick (Peter Curtis) and Mabel (Laura Tack) find a moment to talk. Well… more like a moment to sing.

I love theatre and for the past decade have only attended shows in Portland. However, I moved to a tiny rural town a few years ago, and recently discovered that across the river in Longview (somewhat bigger rural town), there is a theatre company.

My boyfriend Will is visiting from Rhode Island. Since he treated me to a show at Trinity Rep in Providence when I visited in January, I thought it would be fun to return the favour and take him to a show here.

Stageworks Northwest Theatre is now running The Pirates of Penzeance until April 7th. It’s a community production of Gilbert & Sullivan’s well-known comedy. For the blue-collar port town of Longview, Washington, they would have been forgiven for making some cuts to the show in order to pull it off. Instead we enjoyed the real deal: comedic talent, great singing, and a live orchestra.

Please forgive the relatively poor quality of my iPhone photos taken while seated in the audience, but they do give a sense of the fun, the great costumes, the splash of colour in every scene. This entertainment is inexpensive, every seat is a good seat, and we definitely felt part of the community there, while listening to patrons talk about holding season passes and other shows they saw. If you live around here, support your local arts and go check it out!

General Stanley’s daughters try to decide what to do about their sister Mabel. (Cassandra Charles, Rochelle Larsen, Rachel Welsh, and Claire Beck)

Major General Stanley (Patrick Hale) argues his case to the pirates.

Drama unfolds as twists in the story are revealed.

Frederic finds himself motivated by Ruth (Lorraine Little) and Richard, the Pirate King (Joey Le Bard), while the orchestra plays.

Stage set for the opening scene of black odyssey, as the audience waits for the show to begin.

{All photo credits except the image above are by Mark Turek, courtesy Trinity Repertory Company.}

While I was in Providence, Will and I attended a show at Trinity Repertory Company, just a few blocks from where I stayed at the Biltmore hotel. Black odyssey plays from January 3 through February 3, and if you get a chance to go, you must do it! This is not Homer’s classical story of The Odyssey, but a political and historical piece that resonates when viewed against the backdrop of Homer’s work.

The audience finds out pretty soon that the gods are toying with the humans. Paw Sidin (Poseidon) sucking on a knight chess piece reminded me of the scene in that 1981 movie Clash of the Titans, when the gods loomed over tiny clay models of humans. In the movie, when the gods damaged the clay models, the actual people suffered. As Paw Sidin sucked on the knight, the human was drowning in the ocean.

Ulysses (Odysseus) was returning from duty in Afghanistan to his home in Oakland, with the weight of a murder on his soul. Paw Sidin was angry beause the man Ulysses killed in Afghanistan was his son. He knocked Ulysses into the water, vowing vengeance. Ulysses is barely kept alive by Aunt Tina (Athena) who begs her father Deus (Zeus) to spare him because he is her nephew. The play is the story of the gods battling in a game of chess over how to resolve this dispute.

The stage is painted as a chess board, so that you never forget that theme.

Costumes, shoes, and songs wowed us.

When Circe enraptured us with the pure pleasures of eating, the entire audience was salivating. And maybe not just for food. 😉

On the far right and left of the stage sit piles of old television sets that at first didn’t make much sense to me as a prop, and then became integral. The sets are different sizes, one tipped onto its side, and each displays a different scene, so the message isn’t always obvious. When Ulysses is drowning, for example, the scenes were all of rough ocean waters – that was pretty obvious. But at other times during the show, there are scenes from Oakland city, news broadcasts of historical events, or other evocative imagery including contemporary events like flooding during Hurricane Katrina and recognizable police camera footage, that help the audience put pieces together.

I’m one of those people that needs help in a story. I’m not very good at inferences from imagery in art, in acting, or in words. I’m oblivious to song lyrics. The screens brought it home for me.

I read The Odyssey a few years ago. A lot of you have read it, and you might remember that Odysseus was just trying to get home to his wife. The trials he had to endure crossed the line into ridiculousness and are only believable in the context of gods. He is captured by a Cyclops, the crew is turned into pigs, they are subjected to Sirens, Odysseus is trapped on an island and when he gets away his raft is destroyed. Come on!

Marcus Gardley wrote the play black odyssey based on The Odyssey to tell the story of a black man in America. In the play, Ulysses can’t find his way back to his wife and son for 16 years (turns out she was pregnant when he was shipped to the desert to fight). So many terrible things challenge them. The trials they all endure while he battles his demons and his wife raises their boy alone, cross the line into ridiculousness. Their story would only be believable if set in the context of, well, being a black family in America. Ouch.

Left to right: Omar Robinson as Paw Sidin, Julia Lema as Aunt Tina, and Jude Sandy as Deus.

Ulysses was lost at sea, so there are a lot of scenes with water, and rain.

Poverty, oppression, despair, manipulation, aggression and greed seep through the lives of these characters and try to destroy them. Ulysses is dragged and dropped by the gods Paw Sidin and Deus from one pivotal historic moment to another, teaching him that who he is has been shaped by his ancestors. There is a trail of pain and betrayal.

But there was so much love, too. It’s the emotion that seemed to catch my attention most often: love.

Ulysses would be lost many times, but for the power inside him. He and his family have reservoirs of love, and hope, and pride, and stubbornness that never let them give up. Against the careless whims of the gods, Ulysses somehow continues to survive. He learns to reach back in time to his ancestors and to use their love for him to fuel his efforts. The central message in the play is that we are a product of our ancestors, even when we don’t know anything about them, and that we should use our ancestors as a source of strength.

Another message is that our battles seem to be with outside forces, like gods playing chess, or the police, or the projects, but our theatre of war is actually within. Those battles need to be fought inside ourselves before the catastrophes on the outside can be resolved. Ulysses says, “We are who we have been waiting for.” That sentence was a jolt to me because I had already heard it in my own life, applied to me. At a Cherokee meeting two years ago, rapper Litefoot told us those exact words.

The show’s opening chorus was not a standalone musical event, but rather ushered us into a performance filled with song. I wasn’t expecting all the singing, or what a great vehicle it is in this case to help tell the story. There were some fun scenes as Tina Turner, Diana Ross, and James Brown performed. We heard African-American and Afro-Cuban spirituals and chants, lullabies, work songs and civil rights anthems. Many were known to the audience and the actors persistently asked us to join in singing and clapping.

Engaging with the actors helped to blur the wall between us, and I could not avoid yet another powerful impact of this performance, when I realized this story was about my path too. I couldn’t relate to Ulysses, but his journey – through all those ancestors – was beside me, and I saw my part in his story. I am not separate from him, and I need to know his story as well as mine.

Joe Wilson, Jr as Ulysses, and Julia Lema as Calypso.

Supa Fly Tiresias and his entourage.

The play is intense. I cried. In fact, the end of the first act was such a shock to me that in the first minutes of intermission I numbly put on my coat and stood to leave, thinking it was over. Will had to snap me out of it.

And the play is funny! It’s a delight of colour and texture and noise. It’s absolutely relatable. The costumes are out of this world. Will and I went crazy for the shoes. The SHOES! Ha ha ha. There’s a constant play on words for those of you who want a dozen little secret jokes. A couple of times the actors acknowledged someone in the audience who had become very engaged, and those moments made it more of an event than a show.

Every single actor is outstanding. They play multiple roles that overlap, such as the actor playing Paw Sidin also plays John Suitor, who tries to lure Nella Pell (Penelope) away from her dedication to her missing husband. The actress who plays Benevolence (Nausicaa) was such a convincing 10-year-old that I tried and tried, but could not figure out who was playing her until the end!

There is a happy ending. After the first, awful death, no other character dies. The gods leave Ulysses alone and are restored to good temper. For now.

Twilight at 10:30am on Monday.

I drove into the path of totality on Monday, to experience the much-advertised total solar eclipse. The eclipse was remarkable in that it passed from the west coast of the US to the east coast, though the fervor of the buildup to Eclipse Day 2017 was unparalleled to any space/stars/meteor shower I  have yet seen. The result of said fervor is that everybody and their dog was headed either south, or north, on Interstate-5, to get to the area around Salem, the capitol city of the state of Oregon. Salem was smack in middle of the path of totality, and one of the first places on the continent to see the eclipse.

Thus, I chose a different route.

I gauged that central Oregon – typically some of the most desolate landscape of the country – would be less of a destination. I was right to some degree, having to share that part of the world only with other people who had chosen it for the same reason. Because let’s face it: people were everywhere within the path of totality on Monday.

A Canadian eclipse-viewer stops for gas and cleans the windshield. His pup was along for the ride.

I passed through vast areas of wind farms. These things always make me think of a science fiction story.

As I have told you a hundred times, I’m a very busy person. The result in this case was that I had not made time to plan other than to get approval to take the day off from work. I had no eclipse glasses, no hotel or campground reservations, no destination in mind, and only a rough idea of where the path of totality would be.

Friday before the eclipse, as my workday was winding down, I started searching on the Internet for where to get those coveted glasses. And they were nowhere!! Everyone sold out & Ebay filled with $200 glasses that their owners had purchased for $12 a month earlier. I gave up and decided just being in the area would be wonderful enough. Fortunately, a friend was thinking of me, and while he couldn’t find eclipse glasses either, bought welding glass for himself and his friends.

Sunday morning I was delighted to find that traffic was a breeze. I was expecting Eclipsageddon on the highways. As I drew closer to the path of totality, the traffic picked up enough that I was certain it was eclipse-related. I could not stop myself from thinking that every time I had been in this region before, I felt like I was the only person in the world. It is that desolate. But that weekend was different.

Heading south. Clearly we all have the same thing in mind. I giggled to myself about the famous Oregon driver politeness. Look at how courteous we all are here, giving plenty of space between each vehicle. This behavior makes East Coast visitors go friggin mad with frustration.

Further south the views became more beautiful to me.

Oregon’s path of totality. (image courtesy NASA) The star is where I live. The arrow points to my campsite.

OK, quick refresher for anyone who wants it: the “path of totality” is the path in which the eclipse is total. That means the moon fits perfectly in front of the sun for at least a few seconds. I guess the path is 70-80 miles across. At the center of that swath, the length of totality was 2 1/2 minutes long, and shorter as you moved toward the outside edge of it. I snagged a map (shown above) from the NASA website, and chose a place to head for.

I stopped in the adorable town of Condon, just outside the path, and I relaxed. It’s amusing in retrospect, but after a month of run-for-your-lives! warnings on every media source, including my employer’s mandate that all employees must work at home on Monday, to avoid driving, I was filled with anxiety. In reality, I made it with no hiccups whatsoever. I chalk it up to 1) heading for a typically desolate area, 2) heading in Sunday instead of Monday, and 3) the fact that eclipse viewers had been trickling in for the past week, so the full population was not impacting the highways on the way in.

Mainstreet of Condon, Oregon

Museum inside the Veteran’s building in Condon

Condon was well-prepared for the eclipse tourists. The tiny town looked like it had been scrubbed from top to bottom. Buildings painted, streets swept, flower baskets out, windows washed, colorful banners up and welcome signs everywhere. I pulled to a stop across from a Veterans Memorial building, and thought I would stretch my legs in there, and see what was inside. To my delight, the space was being used as an art museum, displaying works from local painters and photographers. It was quiet and cool and had a bathroom! I lingered in front of one collection from a single artist, and the woman managing the place came up behind me and asked if I had ever been there: the canyon depicted in the paintings. I had not. She introduced herself as the artist and said that Blue Basin, within the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument was her favourite place in the region. As long as I was there anyway, she insisted I try to walk the trails there. Just as I was about to ask about potential for camping, she noted that all the public trails would be closed for the eclipse.

I went directly south, through Fossil, Oregon and then east. I discovered that I had left the Internet and cell service behind in Condon, so I was on my own out there in the wild. Remarkably, my GPS sort of worked, and I found a National Forest nearby. I thought, “I’m a taxpayer; it’s my forest too!” And drove up into the hills and found a flat spot and pitched my tent. Throughout the evening, more people trickled in, clearly others as brilliant (and procrastinating) as myself!

Some entrepreneurs thought to rent out space in their fields after getting the hay in. This farm was charging people to set up tents and trailers. If you click the image, you’ll be able to see them in the distance.

Closer shot. There were already hundreds of campers by mid-afternoon. I’ll bet the population was enormous by midnight. I hope the ranchers made a mint!!

National Forests are for everyone!

Watching the sun go down from inside my tent. The murky skies eventually turned into a spectacular sunset.

All day long the skies were worrisome. We’ve had a record-breaking wildfire season (every new summer breaks a new record…sigh.) and smoke was blowing in from fires in Oregon, Washington and British Columbia. The orange-brown particles obscured the views in every direction. Even more distressing were the cirrus clouds that heralded a change in weather (remember I was a forecaster in my former life). As evening drew nigh, low-level grey clouds thickened and spread across the sky. It began to look like rain.

Miraculously, the sky was spotless blue in the morning. Even the smoke from the fires had cooled and settled into the valleys, leaving the sky above as perfect as any of us could have wished for.

On the way in I had spied a promising high point along the road, with views in all directions. Wide open, beautiful, accessible. In the morning, I packed everything up, and headed back the way I had come, in order to put myself at that spot at about 9:30am. I worried about police coming along and telling me not to park on the side of the road, but I was determined to do it anyway. Imagine my surprise when I found dozens of vehicles already parked where I was headed. I merely found a spot in the midst of the crowd. Again, my bewildered brain recalled that I had been on this road before, and it was not unusual to drive an hour and not see another vehicle.

Eclipse-gazers line both sides of the highway on this curve in the road. If I showed you the view to my right, you would see an equal number of cars in that direction. The hills you see are where I camped.

I walked around taking photos to kill time. I met a photographer who had drool-worthy equipment and had thought to purchase a sun filter so she could photograph the sun safely. I met families with bouncy squealing children, and aging hippies, and science nerds and adventurous twenty-somethings. We all loved each other for being excited about the same event. We were all instantly friendly, trusting, generous. No vehicles were locked, and many doors were wide open with expensive camera equipment and wallets and sunglasses on the seats, available for the taking if any of us wasn’t so filled with joy and love. One family asked if I had eclipse glasses, and I said I did not, and they instantly brought me a spare pair from the truck.

“What were you going to do without glasses?” they asked with genuine concern.

“I have welding glass. Shade 13. It’ll be just fine.” I said to their skeptical faces.

To back up my confident statement, I pulled out my glass and held it in front of my eyes and turned to the sun. And gasped! There was a black disc obscuring 1/4 of the sun. “IT’S ALREADY STARTED!!!!” I yelped. And others, who had calmly discovered this before me, smiled and agreed that it had already started.

Totality was scheduled to begin at 10:22 am, and until then we kept our bubbling enthusiasm under control. I was wearing a Brandeis T-shirt, and was approached by multiple people with affiliations with the school, or who were alumni. That was fun. A couple from Rhode Island complained about the slow and polite Oregon drivers. I spent most of my time with one family from Seattle. Mom chatting with me and Dad constantly hollering at his little girls to put their eclipse glasses back on. They had a white sheet on the ground to capture some mystical phenomena they had heard about. The photographer lady from earlier discovered that she could make a pinhole viewer with her hand, and came over to ask if she and her husband could use the sheet. Once the kids spotted that, everyone wanted to make tiny eclipses with their hands. All the adults tried it too. A woman passing by saw what we were doing and said that she had just passed a tree, and there were a thousand tiny pinhole eclipses cast across the ground by the leaf shadows.

The gorgeous farm next to where I parked.

Playing with different views of thistles and fields. You can see the wildfire smoke beginning to rise with the heat of the day, in the background.

Seattle dad and one of the kids on her back – yes, with her glasses in place.

Making pinhole eclipse-viewers on a sheet.

Here, this one is easier to see. Cool, huh?

And then it became evident that something was happening. The temperature dropped and the light became….odd. It felt like sunset, but my body and brain knew it was morning. I didn’t notice any changes in animals, but had not noticed any animals earlier either. There were no cows or horses close enough to watch, and no crickets. So all we had to notice was the light. And each other. We constantly looked at the sun, then looked at the land. It is truly astonishing how bright it is outside with only a sliver of sun left. All it takes is one tiny bit of that orb to light up our entire world. I snapped a few photos.

Almost totality. What a curious light.

Photographer and her husband.

And then, blam! A distinct change in light and temperature. One man said he was hoping to watch the shadow fly across the land, and I think that would have been cool to see. But it happened too fast. In an instant, we were in totality.

The place we stood probably afforded us only 1 1/2 minutes of the darkest skies. I have to admit: I was envisioning complete blackness; the Milky Way and everything. But no it was not that. It got dark though. We saw stars – or more likely, planets – but only the brightest of them. The light was indescribable, and my photos do not capture it, as my camera is brilliant at sucking in all available light and making things show up better in the photo than in real life.

I think this photo best shows the quality of the light. It was darker than this, but I think you can tell by looking at this that it was an odd light.

My only heartbreak of the day: I did not know you could look at the sun during totality. No one had said this in any of the videos or articles I read beforehand. During totality, the light was too dim to show up through the glass or the eclipse glasses, so with nothing to look at, I dropped my gaze to the ground, and pretty much stared at the ground for the entire period, trying to protect my eyes from instant vaporization – or whatever the fanatical warnings were all about. NEVER NEVER LOOK AT THE SUN DURING AN ECLIPSE! OR YOU WILL DIE! Thankfully, as I moved my gaze away, I accidentally caught a split-second glimpse of it. And it was AWESOME. It was everything you could ever imagine. So unreal, and even in that brief amount of time, burned into my memory clearly.

As the period of darkness ended, and the world lit up again, all the people cheered and clapped. That was fun. The kids squealed about the waves of light shimmering across the sheet, as we had also seen at the very beginning of totality. I was still exhaling and letting some of the awe and astonishment fade, when a couple of cars zoomed off along the highway. They were getting out ahead of the crowds.

I had the opposite plan. My plan was to dally. Rather than head north like everyone else, I decided to head south and see if I could find that canyon that the museum lady talked about.

{This got really long. Sorry about that. I’ll post a part II so I can tell you about Blue Basin and the trip home.}

Jeff Pevar on electric guitar and David Crosby on acoustic.

Lucky for me, a person can love music even when she has pretty much zero ability to create it. Oh sure, I was assigned French Horn in gradeschool mandatory music class, and played guitar from age 6 to about age 30, and learned about 9 chords and a few folk songs. Sure I sing along to Ed Sheeran when I’m driving home from work. But I truly admire the people who can *really* make music. So when I’ve got the time and the energy, I hit a concert.

You’ve already heard me rave about Black Violin – a duet of classically trained violinists who build their own irresistibly compelling brand of hip hop. They came to Portland again, so I grabbed a friend who had not yet seen them in person and saw their latest show.

The iconic Portland sign at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall

Black Violin can’t stand it when their audience sits still.

Kevin Sylvester and Wilner Baptiste are Black Violin.

To avoid the hassle of carrying a quality camera, I relied on my phone. So… as you can see, the images are poor quality. But you get a sense of what I saw.

My good deed was confirmed accomplished, when my friend just exploded with excitement over the performance, and had purchased some of their music by the next day. Just doing my part…

Last week I saw David Crosby. You’ll know him as the “C” in CSN (and sometimes Y).

I’m not actually a Crosby fan, though his music is good. My favourite musician of all, Marcus Eaton, is also a dear friend of mine. Marcus toured with Crozby for his last album, CROZ, and so…I don’t know…I guess an affinity came of that. David Crosby has been making music – good music – for so many decades that I can’t deny his professionalism and relevance. And I had never seen him before in concert, or even Crosby, Stills, and Nash. (I did see Steven Stills play halftime at a Colorado Rockies game, but I digress…) And finally, his show would be at the Aladdin Theatre in Portland. It’s a venue that can’t be beat if you’re looking for intimacy and atmosphere.

A string of great acts coming up at The Aladdin.

I arrived in time to buy a beer before the show, and while I was standing in line, got to talking to the man in line ahead of me. I mentioned that I love seeing concerts at the Aladdin.

“Did you know that this theatre had the longest running of the film Deep Throat of any theatre in America?” he asked. (I researched later, and sure enough, during the 70s and 80s the Aladdin was a movie theatre, and the premiere exhibitor of the X-rated classic, Deep Throat)

“Uh, I did not know that,” I answered.

“I love this theatre!” agreed the woman in line behind me.

“Have you seen performances here before?” asked the man.

“Only Deep Throat,” she answered, straight-faced. Then we all burst out laughing.

Pevar, DiStanislao, Crosby, Agan, Willis, Raymond

I was not familiar with most of the musicians on stage, only James Raymond the keyboard player. Raymond is Crosby’s son, and an accomplished musician in his own right. Raymond was adopted, and did not know his father until he was an adult. What fun to find your dad, then find out you had music in common? I just love that story.

His tour is David Crosby & Friends, and there was a great collection of artists on stage: Jeff Pevar the guitarist who was jammed full of energy, Steve DiStanislao the drummer who was spot on, Raymond at keyboards, Michelle Willis from Canada who also played keyboard and provided some solid vocals, and tiny Mai Agan from Estonia, in the background, playing the heck out of a bass guitar in a short skirt and boots. Pevar and DiStanislao hardly stopped grinning, which added a happy vibe to everything.

Crosby is well beyond putting on airs at this point. Or, since I’m such a newcomer, maybe he never did. He greeted us with warmth, as though we were all hanging out on a mellow Tuesday evening in a really big living room. The venue is small, and can hold only a few hundred people, so the sense of being intimate was easy for Crosby to achieve. He chattered just a little between songs, but made an impact, getting in some digs about the ineffectiveness of Congress, his criticism of politicians in general, the need to take action on important issues, to critique the media, to remember to love one another. He also spent a few minutes teaching us to howl like the Na’vi from the movie Avatar.

He talked fondly of each of his musician friends on stage, gushing over each one and affirming their skill and practically declaring each one the best he’d ever known. Maybe they are. Maybe when you’re a rock icon you naturally have the best of the best on stage with you. Most touching was when he talked about his son.

“I’d say some of the best work I’ve ever created is in collaboration with James. Wait, what am I saying? THE BEST work I have done is since I started working with James.” At this, Raymond put his hand over his heart in a gesture of humility and appreciation. Crosby talked about working with Raymond for years, and about appreciating every moment of it. He talked about how Raymond was adding a jazz influence to their work. A few people clapped. “It’s ok!” he said to the audience. “You can like jazz!”

And then they got back to making music.

A view of the stage during a break.

Pevar and Crosby

Crosby, Willis, Raymond (and Agan, if you look carefully)

Since I am not a fan of the music, and since it was really good music anyway, I sat back in my seat in pure pleasure and let my eyes rove over the faces of the crowd. During the evening I had spotted about 5 people in their 20s, about 5 in their 30s and 40s like me. But everyone else was from a different generation. Most in their 60s.

I distinctly noticed that no one was old. You know how people can be young or old, regardless of their years? It was like the people who showed up were still tapped into their youth. Everyone smiled. There was so much grey hair and so many wrinkles and so many smiles. The energy was generous and warm and enveloping and oh, so glad to be there. The songs clearly took many people back in time. People remembered a time when their bodies didn’t require so much thought, and they swayed in their seats and some held a cane, and some just beamed. There were whoops, and howls, and fists in the air.

It was a beautiful environment, and I was delighted to be there with them. I felt like a visitor to another culture, and it was a culture of love and generosity and acceptance.

Earth Day is celebrated in Longview, Washington on grocery bags. Jillian Carter from Rose Valley Elementary created this beautiful work of art. Jillian is in the 4th grade. Her teacher’s name is Mrs. Bush.

I needed a wider variety of things than usual on my shopping list, and went to a different grocery store than usual. I don’t know what your local store is, the one that carries milk, avocados, rice, fresh salmon, summer dresses, screwdrivers, packaging tape, hibachis, shower curtains, potting soil, fishing poles, and greeting cards, but the one I use is called Fred Meyer.

The cashier was loading stuff into plastic bags before I noticed. “May I have paper for the rest?” I asked. 1) I grew up in timber families, and that’s a way to show your support for the timber industry, 2) I try to avoid plastic consumption when I can, and 3) ok the real reason: I use paper bags to start the fire in my wood stove.

Portland, Oregon is the nearest big city, and that city has banned the use of plastic bags by retailers. From the City of Portland website on Planning and Sustainability: “Plastic bags are extremely lightweight and can act like balloons blowing out of garbage trucks and landfills. These flyaway bags litter our parks and trees, enter storm drains and can eventually end up in rivers and oceans where they break into small, toxic pieces.  Plastics have found their way into all five of the world’s major ocean current systems and are one of the most common types of litter found in Portland’s rivers and on Oregon’s beaches. Sea animals often mistake plastic particles for food, causing harm to the animals and potentially affecting the seafood we eat.”

Longview, Washington has not banned them, and most cashiers at grocery stores default to them. Perhaps they are more convenient to fill? I do get the sense that customers ask for the plastic bags because they are easier to carry. But I always ask for paper, and the staff is always pleasant about complying. Longview is, after all, a lumber town.

My cashier grabbed a bag with a giant multicoloured Earth on it. I am used to seeing a variety of advertisement and art projects printed onto paper grocery bags for one promotion or another. On this one, I admired the quality of the printing, that made it look like real crayon, right on the side of the bag. The next bag she picked up was also decorated, with a sharp, bold image that was obviously magic marker and not crayon. My eyes followed the bag as she moved it into position to begin filling it. She noticed.

“I like when they do this,” she said, gesturing the bag. “The kids do art work for Earth Day.”

“Are those originals?” I asked, possibly sounding a bit over the top, gushing about original artwork on a paper grocery bag. “Is that real crayon and ink?”

“Yep! The local kids do it in school.”

Oh dear, my face registered. I explained to the cashier that the whole reason I asked for paper is so that I can use the bags to start fires. Now there is all this beautiful artwork on them, and I’ll feel terrible for burning them up. She nodded. I brooded. The counter between us continued to beep! as she scanned my items and filled more bags. Then I had it.

“I’ll blog them!” I told her, triumphantly. “I keep a blog, and I’ll post photos of these bags. That way they will be preserved, and I can then burn them when I need to.”

“That’s a great idea!” she said, obviously impressed with my social standing in the world: A Blogger. (Ok, I’m just wishing she was impressed.)

I got the bags home and emptied them. Inside each, and adding to the treasure of four bags covered in original artwork was the dutiful inclusion of each artist’s name and school on a slip of paper in the bottom of the bag. Fodder for a fitting tribute.

Marie Smith made this one. Marie is in the 2nd grade at Northlake Elementary. Her teacher is Ms. Magnuson.

This piece was done by future typeface designer, Shailia Wild, a Kindergartner at Robert Gray School. Her teacher is Jodi Hanson.

I found this on the back. I would like to believe this piece belongs to Shailia’s little brother Jordi, who wrote “Help Our Earth!”

One bag had a full sheet of paper with lots of information. The Earth Day grocery bag art contest is held in all Kelso and Longview classrooms. During the month of March, they pick up over 5,000 brand new grocery bags from Fred Meyer and decorate them in anticipation of Earth Day in April.

There is an art contest and the winning school districts win $250, which goes to the classroom with the winning artist. This year they have also partnered with City of Longview Parks Department and the Arbor Day Foundation, so the winning classroom from Longview will also have an Arbor Day tree planted on their school grounds the end of April.

The winning bags are kept aside for honors. See the winners on the Longview Parks and Recreation facebook page. The rest are returned to Fred Meyer to be used for bagging groceries for shoppers. Like me.

Jasmine Christopher made this Earth with a knowing smile. Jasmine is a Kindergartner at Robert Gray school, and her teacher is Mrs. Box.

Hey, Jasmine, Shailia, Jordi (I just made him up, by the way), Marie, and Jillian, your Earth Day art is beautiful original art work that inspired me to learn about your communities, your schools, your teachers, your hopes for prizes. I learned more about Earth Day celebrations, Arbor Day Foundation activities, and Fred Meyer. I thought about my personal consumption and the impact it has on the planet. You made me smile and you made the cashier smile. My wood stove fires are ever so much classier now. You gave me a great blog post.

If that isn’t winning, I don’t know what is. Thank you! And congratulations.

Litefoot graciously acquiesces a selfie with one of the group.

Litefoot is Gary Davis. And Gary Davis is a man with a mission. That mission is to inspire people to get up off the couch and take action.

At the last Mt. Hood Cherokee meeting, our new friend Gary Davis stopped by to share a few words. An enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation, Davis spoke about his interesting life story, but the story paled when he drove home a message at the end of his talk, about hope, tenacity, longevity, purpose, action, and faith.

He grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma but fell in love with a woman who lived in Seattle. She turned out to be smart and capable, as well as beautiful, and Davis knew that there was something for him in the Pacific Northwest. It helped that he’s a huge Steve Largent (Seahawks) fan. He’s lived in Seattle with his beautiful family (they all came to the meeting too!) since 1997.

Litefoot was gracious and generous with all of us.

Davis took the stage name of Litefoot and began rapping for his friends on the reservation as a teenager. His first rap album was produced in 1992. His music touched a nerve for some and resounded for others, bringing up painful or powerful topics from an Indian’s perspective, in contemporary music. He reached even more people with his first movie in 1995 when he was The Indian in the Cupboard.  He added television roles to his movie roles. And all the while he kept making music.

Back in the early days, Davis said, he knew what he wanted to do and he had a meeting with Chief Wilma Mankiller and told her about it. “I knew Oklahoma was not the rap  or hip hop capital of the world. What I wanted to do was bring a message to the people. People were hanging their heads. Other people recognize what we have to be proud about that we don’t even realize.” The Chief could have reacted in any number of ways to a young punk making modern music, and she chose to ask him to sing at a function for her. “But there’s one thing,” Mankiller said to him, “I want you to speak.” Davis said he thought he was nobody and had nothing to say, but he did as she asked.

The messages of positive action poured out of him.

It wasn’t that there was nothing on his mind, but more like too much on his mind. “Things have gone on for so long that people can’t even find a beginning point in order to find something to say. I prayed for the right words and 15 minutes later I stopped talking and people started clapping.” He knew speaking was for him. The high only lasted until the end of a show when a girl met him and demanded, “What did those Pilgrims do to you?” Davis said he thought to himself, “Brother, you have a long way to go. You have people with privilege who don’t even know they’re privileged.”

Since then he rapped in Kodiak, Alaska all the way across the continent to North Dakota and Maine. He was invited to perform in Rome. In 2005, he and his wife Carmen Davis started the Reach the Rez tour, to bring a positive voice to native people. To “get out ahead of drugs and suicide” he told us, “not once something has already taken place.”

Davis is every bit as active as he says people should be. I mean, he walks the talk. His message resonates with me personally. I can get a little uneasy among my Cherokee brothers and sisters, and I begin to feel like an outsider when I don’t find people who think about our heritage the way I do. So many Indians are about spirituality and artistic expression to connect to their indigenous heritage or to send a message. But that mooshy stuff simply doesn’t really resonate with me. I totally get that there is a power in activism through radiating your positive energy into the world. I totally believe that people’s lives are changed through creating or experiencing artwork. But…uhh…it makes no sense at all to me. Listening to Davis made me feel like I belonged again. Here is another one of us, and this man is about practicality and action. I am that kind of Indian.

Davis gives us his perspective on how things get done in Indian Country.

Members of the Mt. Hood Cherokee group listened as Davis inspired us.

He told us that someone once gave him a critical message: “No one cares.” We can moan about how poorly our ancestors were treated, or about how hard it is to get ahead now, and how racism and how cultural appropriation weakens our power, but it will not get us anywhere. People have too much going on in their lives to give us their effort and attention, and there are competing stories of need. “I care, because I am one of you,” Davis said. “But in general, people just don’t care.”

The answer is to become your own change. Do something. Volunteer, help build a home, help get legislation passed so that kids have access to better education. “I’m willing to think outside the box. It may not be the most comfortable for me, but I do what has to be done, in order to make it happen. People sometimes only see you for how they see themselves. They’ll say ‘We’ve tried that and it didn’t work.’ or ‘Nobody has done that.’ But don’t let their words limit you.”

Davis grew more animated as his message became animated.

“If it doesn’t speak to you; if it doesn’t resonate with you like you’re on fire, then get out of there! What is it that you’ve been born for? I love education, but it’s not the be-all end-all for everybody. What’s your thing? We need to know our own value. We need to know how brilliant we are.

“So many of us, so many Indians, have important things to do and we need to get out of our own way. Sometimes people live their lives as though on accident. Ask yourself ‘Why am I doing this?’ If it is just about checking the box, it’s not the right reason. We are who we’ve been waiting for. There’s nobody coming, man. It’s up to us. We’re good enough to do this. We’re capable enough.

“We weren’t still supposed to be here in 2017. We were supposed to shrivel up and go away and die. Most of America doesn’t even want to get out of bed in the morning and see that we are still here. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Are we gonna sit here and talk about what they don’t do for hundreds and hundreds more years, or are we gonna do something?

“You can make excuses, or make a way. Just start. Take a step.”

Litefoot is working on his 12th album, scheduled to be released June 27th on the birthday of Warrior Kai McAlpin. This sweet little Cherokee tyke was sick with cancer on the day Davis spoke to us, and died three days later. It allowed us to hear Davis say “Kai is…” and we thought of Kai that day, alive and loved in Oklahoma.

All images in this post used with permission from Portland Center Stage. https://www.flickr.com/photos/portlandcenterstage/sets/72157671722653471

All images in this post used with permission from Portland Center Stage. https://www.flickr.com/photos/portlandcenterstage/sets/72157671722653471

I live 47 miles from Astoria, Oregon. It’s a lovely town at the mouth of the Columbia River, sheltered a couple miles in from the Pacific Ocean by a serious sand bar and Cape Disappointment (the name of the cape is a bit of foreshadowing).

There are three stories I want to tell you. 1) The story itself: the real life nation-building story. 2) The play about the story, which somehow totally works! 3) The Armory, the building hosting the play.

The overland party, looking ahead and realizing their destination remains far away.

The overland party, looking ahead and realizing their destination remains far away.

The wicked Captain Thorn gazes to the horizon from the deck of his ship.

The wicked Captain Thorn gazes to the horizon from the deck of his ship.

I entered the theatre with a virgin understanding of the journey about to unfold. That is, no understanding. I had learned, in the course of reading a brief synopsis while buying my tickets, that the man who financed the expedition to found Astoria was John Jacob Astor. And in that way, two weeks ago, I learned how the town got its name. That should illustrate the level of not knowing the story I’m talking about.

Over the next 3 hours I began to realize it’s a *monumental* story of how my part of the North American continent became the United States instead of Russian territory, or British, or Canadian. Before the play I could tell you more about the founder of the McDonald’s franchise than I could about the early explorers of Oregon, because we are products of what we’re fed through media. Why oh why aren’t we fed the good and healthy stuff?

The play is based on the book by the same name, written by Peter Stark. It’s set mostly in 1810. Astor was a wealthy German immigrant who wanted to become more wealthy by capitalizing on the fabulous otter pelts that rumor had it were there for the taking on the Pacific Coast. From his home in New York City, Astor arranged for two separate approaches to the Columbia River: one by land and one by sea. Back then, the sea route was by way of Cape Horn, Chile. Remarkably, the sailors got there first. The time pressure is a plot point, since whomever establishes the first trading post will control the fur markets on the west coast and will certainly have access to the most wealth. Astor is constantly fretting about news that the French might beat him to the prize.

Early in the trip, future sailors of the Tonquin maneuver a smaller boat.

Sailors from the ship maneuver a smaller boat.

One night around the campfire with the overland party.

One night around the campfire with the overland party.

Hundreds of people joined his expeditions, including men from Scotland, Hawaii, Quebec, Ireland, and England who joined the original Americans on the teams. And original, original Americans (indigenous people) contributed further to the survival of those who did make it to the destination. Because yes, many people died along the way, including the two Hawaiians who froze to death trying to cross the bar into the Columbia River. They were not the only men who died at the bar, in the shadow of Cape Disappointment. Remember I said “foreshadowing?”

What’s remarkable, and irresistible, about this story, is how much went spectacularly wrong. Many people died by accident, and some were killed. Two went insane. Often people fought with each other, and hated each other. Miraculous are the repeated incidences of survival in the snow, survival from starving, survival from drowning, from raging ocean storms. Though catastrophes don’t always result, there was always a threat: of mutiny, getting lost, scalped, abandoned.

Chris Coleman, the artistic director, pulled off magic with that stage. One set, mind you – with occasional backdrops – conveyed a ship on the open sea, or a wealthy fur-merchant’s home, or a frontier fort, or a camp in steep mountains, beside a creek. We got up close and personal with four people rowing a boat, we listened to quiet conversation among the bunks below deck of the ship, we huddled close to the fire and tried not to feel hungry while a trapper told a story, we gasped in despair when three provisioned boats smashed and were lost in a river, and we watched while travelers reluctantly slid from their horses to continue on foot. All one set, and it worked. Like I said: magic.

Scenes with all actors on the deck of the ship were convincing partly because everyone swayed in unison with the waves. We soon learned that tables can be anything, often boats. I enjoyed the artistic creativity throughout, such as when Astor meets with three potential leaders of the excursions. All three are on stage at the same time, in points making a triangle. As each one leaves the meeting with Astor, they rotate until another is before Astor.

More magic: 16 members of the cast! Just imagine how many people you would need to portray the multiple journeys (one by sea with all the crew to run a ship, the overland party split into two, and still Astor remained in New York), and then imagine only 16 people bringing it to life. It’s a tribute to the quality of the actors that they were able to pull this off, switching back and forth between dramatically different characters, such as when Leif Norby starts as John Jacob Astor but becomes a crusty, bearded Frontiersman Edward Robinson, and back and forth. DeLanna Studi is introduced as Astor’s elegant wife, then becomes a pregnant Indian woman, then switches back. The accents switched from thick Scottish to Kentucky backwoods to prim English to French to German. Wow! I’ll interject my only criticism here: impressed as I am by the ability of the actors to do this, it was distracting to look into their faces and recognize other characters. This was amplified because I was in the front row and so close I could discern crow’s feet. I think at a distance it would not have been such a problem for me.

Antoine and Joseph consider the finer qualities of distant mountain peaks.

Antoine and Joseph consider the finer qualities of distant mountain peaks.

Action never stopped, and even the slow moments were tense or foreboding. In real life the years-long journey was a grueling series of hardships day after day, but on stage the successes and catastrophes rode each other’s heels, barely allowing an audience-member’s heart to settle in between. Amidst the hardest times in life, humans manage to find a way to laugh at their circumstances, and thus we had a not insignificant number of funny moments, such as when a couple of Frenchmen gazing at sharp mountain peaks began comparing them to breasts (“Grand teton” is large breasts, in French, and we can only imagine our travelers must have been in Wyoming about then).

Surprisingly, there was a lot of singing, though it was not a musical. I found this to be very effective support to enriching the scenes, helping us to be back in time with the actors, and helping us to understand the cultures blending on stage. One funny example was during a scene with many people rowing a boat and singing to keep the cadence. It was one of those classic tunes that multiple countries claim, with their own lyrics, and the rowers from different lands were competing for which was the “correct” version of the song, with good-natured and rowdy aggression, singing louder and louder like sports fans arguing over favourite teams.

Robinson and McKenzie face off.

Robinson and McKenzie face off.

At long last the overland parties reunite and find the Columbia River (though not yet its mouth). Captain Thorn sends enough sailors to the bar that eventually some of them live to find the entrance into the river. And that’s the end of part one! We have to wait until Portland Center Stage presents next year’s performances, to find out what happens in the end. In the meantime, I’m going to read the book.

I mentioned earlier that the performance was about 3 hours, but that includes a nice long intermission halfway through. Before the show I had admired some of the structure of the old brick building, called the Armory, and at intermission I investigated further.

The brick structure appears castle-like from the street, but it’s hard to get a good look at it because it’s downtown in the Pearl District and surrounded by tall buildings. Inside, I saw that the entire expanse is open: no support beams the length of it. There are two levels, but the second level is merely a balcony, a mezzanine level, that surrounds the open lobby with places to sit and chat, or look out the window. So I looked out the windows, which are bonafide rifle slits – glassed in and wood-framed, ha ha – leaving no doubt about the military origins of the building. I walked right up and put my hands on the bricks. Something about touching something helps me connect to the proper time and place to understand it.

So many bits were intriguing to me that I had questions about its construction, and sought out the concierge. I asked for an information brochure.

“We have a book, if you want,” he said. “It’s a regular, bound book, all about this building. We give them to people who are particularly interested.”

It was the most serendipitous outcome of a random question that I’ve had in some time. The man walked off, and returned moments later holding a large, gorgeous, illustrated, full-colour, 192-page book about how a crumbling and abandoned former military armory became a modern theatre. In fact, that’s the name of the book: “Voices of the Armory: A Chronicle of the Transformation of a 19th century icon into a 21st century theater.”

“Here you go!” he said, obviously pleased to hand it over. “It’s free! I think you’ll love it. I have one and I love it.”

This beautiful book was more than I could have expected.

This beautiful book was more than I could have expected.

A peek inside, where there are hundreds of photos of the restoration of the Armory.

A peek inside, where there are hundreds of photos of the restoration of the Armory.

The show was originally supposed to run through February 12th, but was so successful that the run was extended. If you are in Portland, you can still see it, and you should! Look for it at https://www.pcs.org/ Tickets are available through February 19th.

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