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Entrance to Willamette Valley Vineyards

Lavender and vines along the entranceway to the hilltop facility.

My dragon spawn turned 21 recently. It’s so hard to wrap my head around the concept of this full-fledged adult being the same teeny wrinkly purple thing I brought home 21 years ago. I have realized that 21 years is not that many years. It’s nearly half my life, but dang, it went like a blink!

A small Tara with wooden sword at a Renaissance Faire

Tara and me at one of our first Faerieworlds festivals.

Our tradition, you may recall, is to go to The Enchanted Forest in Salem. I’ve had loads of fun with Tara and their awesome friends, visiting the theme park year after year and living out our childhoods with abandon on one brilliant July day. Right next door to Enchanted Forest is a winery that we had only spotted from the Interstate. This year, since Tara is of legal drinking age, their birthday idea was to visit the winery.

I called Willamette Valley Vineyards and explained it was a birthday visit and asked what a person might do there for fun, other than tasting wines. They suggested a tour, and I made a reservation.

Willamette Valley Vineyards is a first-class destination, which made this a serendipitous choice. Until we arrived, we had no idea what an enormous, visitor-centric place it is. Sadly, I neglected to get some photos of the main tasting room, but it’s huge and oh so beautiful. There are three bars with about 8 people tending, who can all help you with tasting a flight of wines, or purchasing, or eating lunch, or touring, or even booking a night’s stay because yes, this place also has guest lodging. I imagine it would be a wonderful stay.

The main buildings are at the top of a hill, and thus visitors are afforded incredible views in every direction. Just in case you want something even better than the view available in the dining and tasting rooms, there is a tower one can climb, which puts you another 50 feet up.

Tara celebrating their birthday in the tower.

View from the tower.


Molly and me, at our main gathering place during the tour.

The tour is also a tasting. We tasted 5 different wines, some award-winning, during the tour. Our guide, Suzanne Zupancic, put us at ease and made us feel like she was our friend right away. Suzanne led us through the different stages of wine production at Willamette Valley, to include the history of the vineyard’s existence, and the bottling station and of course the barrel storage. She told the story of the founder, Jim Bernau, who grew up knowing wines because his father was an attorney for the first vineyard in Oregon after prohibition. She explained how the winery is solar powered, doesn’t irrigate, and instead of typical pest control, partners with a raptor rescue organization to use owls to control the rodent population!

She explained some general concepts to help us in choosing a wine, such as when a wine is sweeter, there is generally less alcohol. Knowing this, a quick glance at the label can help you choose what you’ll like. She talked about Oregon’s famous pinot noirs, a thin-skinned grape that has caught the wine world’s attention. She taught us about cooperage, the craft of building wine barrels, and how to understand the labels on the outside of the barrels. She also explained why so many barrels are stained red. It’s because the wine slowly evaporates and the only way to maintain its integrity is to top off the wine frequently, and not allow any oxygen inside the barrels. Topping off tends to end up with a little bit of wine spill, that drips down the side and stains the barrel. She explained that Cabernet sauvignon and Merlot benefit from aging, but others do not.

Barrels of white wines.

A door leading from the red wine barrels section.

Me with as much wine nearby as I could ever wish for.

It’s not a flattering photo, because everyone is squinting in the bright sun.

Suzanne also told us about Bill Fuller, a legendary winemaker in Oregon. He left California’s Napa valley in 1973 to take advantage of the ideal geography in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. His Tualatin Vineyard 1980 Pinot Noir and 1981 Chardonnay took home “Best of Show” in both red and white categories at the 1984 London International Wine Fair, a feat unduplicated by any winemaker in the competition’s history. Bill Fuller’s winery merged with Willamette Valley Vineyards, and Mr. Fuller began working with Willamette Valley Vineyards in 2013.

She also explained about the remarkable geologic processes that made the Willamette Valley so rich for agriculture and particularly for grapes. The history includes a historic sea, volcanic processes, and the Missoula Floods. Tara, a geology major at Oregon State University, was interested in this portion of the tour.

Brynnen, Tara, me, Molly

After the hour and a half long tour, and five wines, we were all ready for some food! We ate from their gourmet menu and sat out on one of the many outdoor patios to eat it. We were joined by bees. Interestingly, the staff handed us fabric softener sheets to place on the table to keep the wasps away. It was a little effective. At lunch, I gave Tara a gift I had made of childhood photos through the years. Tara read the book outloud to all of us.

Tara opens up the memory book I made as a birthday gift.

Tara reading their birthday book to us.

Finally, we were ready to go and purchased some of our favourite wines from the day. I said goodbye to the kids who were all headed back to Corvallis.

High school Neal

A high school reunion was planned for this weekend. We canceled in order to attend Neal’s funeral instead.

Did you have a close group of friends in high school? I did. My school was very small: 7th grade through 12th grade all together on one side of the building, Kindergarten through 6th grade on the other side of the building. I think I remember a statistic that the high school side had 170 students total.

Because of the size, we all clung to each other, regardless of who was a Freshman, Sophomore, or Senior. The jocks and the nerds and the metal heads and the brains and the cheerleaders – we all hung out together. But I was lucky enough to have something special. Within that tight group, I had my own little friends group. It was sometimes larger, and sometimes smaller, but John, JR, Jess, and Neal seemed to be the core, and they welcomed me when I was around. We all had family struggles. We were all poor. We were all smart. These guys were my family and today, I credit them for the the creation of the young woman I became.

When other people let me down, these guys did not. There were times when I would spend the whole day with them, just to feel better, loved, accepted. I would leave my house in the middle of the night and go find them sometimes. I even lived with JR’s family for a while. Our love and acceptance of each other extended to our families, and because we loved Neal so much, we loved his mom and dad, Ruth and Perry.

Sunday, Jess left a message on my phone to ask if I would be attending Neal’s funeral. I thought to myself, “I only know one person named Neal.” Puzzled, I did a Google search Monday morning at work, and found out that Neal had died. I cried. Right there at work.

We are too young for this.

I asked for Friday off and drove to Boise to attend the funeral. There was no question that I had to be there for his family, and in honor of his memory.

Neal and I were not close, in one sense. We haven’t spoken in years. I checked up on him occasionally on facebook. I came across his hilarious stories in my archives (I was the high school paper editor and Neal contributed brilliantly comedic stores). I found old photos of Toe Jam performances, the band the guys formed so many years ago. But I guess I didn’t need to talk to him to feel him as part of me. Neal is family. So yeah, we were close in that sense.

I forgot about the time change, and arrived exactly one hour later for the service than what I planned for. I arrived in time to hear people talk about their memories of Neal, and I learned that I had lost an opportunity to share in the life of a good man by not visiting him in the intervening years. It sounds like he improved the longer he lived.

In the hallway at the church

Jess, JR, Katrina, Scott, and Doni. At a bar not too far from the church

And we had a reunion anyway, because we were there. John couldn’t make it, but JR, and Jess were there, and so many of us. The others, like me, had been welcomed back then into their awesome little clique whenever we wanted to join them. In a moment alone, all swollen with the emotions of seeing so many familiar faces again, the unbidden thought came that it would be so much more perfect if Neal was there. Then I remembered.

And Neal *was* there. But not as much as we wish he were.

Sunset over the Weiser River as I headed to Scott’s house for the night.

I stopped by the river to breathe a little by myself, after the funeral.

The next day I made the long drive back home. I appreciated the beauty of my old home state.

At a rest stop along the way, there were information signs about the Oregon Trail and difficulties pioneers experienced in making the month’s-long journey across the state of Oregon. How grateful I am that I could cross the state in 7 hours for my friend’s funeral.

Southern Idaho is all about agriculture.

Somehow, the desert here can still be beautiful.

I recall being so pleased that I remembered to get a shot of this scene. Now I’m not sure why…

While in Myanmar in February, and on the trip home, I kept jotting things in the Notes app in my phone. I wanted to be sure and remember to mention them in my blog. I have waited so long that several of the notes don’t mean much to me anymore. What a loss.

But most of the photos I collected into a special folder, and the notes in my phone still remind me of thoughts that never made it into a blog post. Here are my notes, in the order I found them in my phone, which is the order they popped into my head:

  1. shower in toilet. Yes, this was a first for me, but I am told by friends it’s not that unusual. In Myanmar, at a hostel and at one of our hotels, the shower and toilet were the same room. I can’t imagine why. Real estate, you are thinking, and that would make sense, except that the places where this happened were not short on space and the rooms themselves were quite large. In our hotel toilet/shower, the space was as huge as a bedroom, and yet there is the shower head, mounted directly over the toilet, when it could have at least been installed on the other side of the room. There are the distinct disadvantages, such as soaking the toilet paper, filling the wastepaper basket, and dousing the toilet and sink every day so that water spots and soap scum need to be scrubbed off each day. What are the advantages?

    This elaborate box on side of house may hold a shrine? Other houses had a simple rectangle with no adornment.

  2. box thing on house. My guess is that it is a place for a shrine since many many homes had them, they were often decorated, and always in the exact same place on a house. My anthropologist mind tells me there is a ritual/spiritual/cultural reason to place the box in the same place on every home. The box is always on the right front corner of the house as you are facing the house, no matter what cardinal direction the house faces. I tried so many times to describe this to people so I could ask what it was for, but I failed to get anyone to understand. On my last day in Myanmar I remembered to get a photo, so at least YOU know what I’m talking about.
  3. power out. I’ll have to consider this one for awhile. No idea.
  4. chair conversation at restaurant. I remember the restaurant in Mandalay. But I simply cannot remember the context or the content.
  5. 1729 steps. I think this was not a story, but simply to remember how many steps there were from the street to the top of Mandalay Hill.
  6. Rohingya. I did already mention our conversation about the Rohingya with our trekking guide Hein. In a situation that reminds me of Palestinians, the Rohingya have lived in what is now western Myanmar for centuries, but are denied citizenship by the government. Recently, they have been slaughtered and their villages burned, for …apparently for …existing? Hearing about the brutality inflicted against this group of indigenous people by their own government, I expected the Myanmar military to be a constant presence, like police in Egypt. But for the most part, Margaret and I never saw military or police, and the whole country felt absolutely laid back and good-natured. I could never reconcile in my mind the idea that the criminal authorities responsible for mind-blowing violence are relatives of the loving, open, friendly people we met.
  7. honking. Erm, not sure what I wanted to say about this.
  8. recycling. Again, I don’t recall what was on my mind.

    Betel juice spit onto the U Bein Bridge. Betel nut is everywhere, like tobacco.

  9. crepe. For some reason, across the country the primary material chosen for napkins to use while eating is crepe paper. In the US we use it for decoration (think multi-coloured streamers at parties and dances). In Myanmar it was always a grey-blue colour and the rolls were placed at tables for you to tear off a piece and sop up grease from your sticky fingers and mouth. Except…yeah…it’s the worst possible material. Crepe falls apart instantly, and gets stuck to you rather than assists with cleaning. Honestly. Where did this idea come from and why is it so universally accepted?
  10. longyi is the sarong. I’d been calling the wrap worn by men and women a sarong, because I couldn’t remember the name of it. I finally looked it up.  A longyi is a hoop of fabric that is long enough to go from your waist to your toes. To wear it, you step inside the hoop, pull it up, and fold and tuck the fabric in. The tension holds it in place. Nearly everyone wears them in Myanmar. They are versatile. I saw a street person relieve herself in public for example, by loosening the tucked fabric, simultaneously squatting and pulling the fabric up around her shoulders, and doing her business behind the screen. When finished, she stood again, dropping the fabric back to her waist, and securing it once more. On Inle Lake, I saw a woman bathing out on the dock in front of the house using the same method of privacy. The longyi was up around her shoulders and she scooped water up inside the fabric and washed. No one passing by in a boat saw any skin but that on her face and feet.

    This piece of Thanaka wood and grinding stone were made available for my use at our hotel in Bagan. It is used as a cosmetic and sunscreen. One wets the stone with water, then takes the log in both hands and grind it in circles on the stone, till enough powder has been mixed with the water to make a lotion, as you see here. Use your fingers to scoop it up and spread it across your face. It is refreshingly cool for an hour or so, even in the sun. Then it dries up and flakes off.

  11. mingalaba. It turns out this greeting is relatively new (1960s), and introduced intentionally to replace the traditional English greeting by schoolchildren to their teacher each morning. Everyone happily calls Mingalaba! I guess it translates to “blessings upon you,” or “auspiciousness to you.” It can be used to say hello, or goodbye, but we only noticed it being used to say hello. Maybe because they knew we were tourists and would get confused. Ha!
  12. sewers under sidewalks. This one does make sense to me in terms of real estate. Waste water in cities is channeled away in narrow canals beside streets. Large, flat bricks with holes in them are placed over the sewage canals in order to use the space as a sidewalk and also to ventilate the sewage. It’s an efficient use of space and somehow both pedestrian-friendly and distinctly not. Yangon was not the only place I’ve seen this system, but it was certainly the stinkiest city I’ve ever been in.

    I have seen this sign in other countries before, but it still cracks me up. You know the sign was created after enough people fell off – or into – toilets that a demand for instructions was created.

  13. breast feeding. Possibly a remnant of a more isolated, often rural environment only recently opening up to the misplaced scorn of outsiders, women comfortably breast-fed their babies in public spaces. I am a huge fan of this, after having been a mother and became personally aware of how many challenges there are for parents with babies in public spaces where others believe that all the realities of babies (crying, diapers, feeding) must be hidden. So glad to see the open smiling faces of mothers proudly feeding their babies as if it were the most natural thing in the world. (Hint: it is.)
  14. bus food stops. Arggh! So, so, so very annoying. Every single – I mean EVERY single bus ride we took in Myanmar included a mandatory stop at a roadside eatery. This means mandatory bus evacuation. Even if the bus is late. Even in the friggin middle of the night when you just took a sleeping pill to try and sleep on the bus despite the discomfort and the noise, yes, even then you have to drag yourself up out of slumber, put on your shoes, and stumble out into brilliantly-lit fluorescent highway stop with noise, people, and smells to which you are not accustomed. Your extreme squinting from the light is not intentional and only a reflex but since it matches your mood you allow the grimace to remain. Then you sit on a curb and shiver and grumble for half an hour to 40 minutes until the bus driver reopens the bus and lets you get back on.
  15. Buddha’s hair. All the pagodas and stupas have relics. A couple of times the relic was believed to be a hair, or multiple hairs from the head of the Buddha. It made me laugh at first because I always imagine the Buddha as bald. Once drawn to my attention, I realized all the Buddhas in Myanmar have hair. I guess the young Buddha was gifting his hairs out as sacred relics, and then eventually made himself bald. But …since it’s the Buddha… both the generosity to the point of baldness and the acceptance of an altered image seem to fit.

That’s all my notes, and the random photos that I also kept for some reason. I am hoping that some of the forgotten things will come back to me now that I’m thinking about them again. If so, I’ll come back here and edit.

Mt. Hood above Timberline Lodge

After our long trip to the Fossil Beds, Vlad and I decided a short trip to Mt. Hood was a good choice for our next mini road trip.

I spent time reminiscing. Tara and I used to live in Portland, on the east side of the river. That meant access to this particular recreation area was quicker and easier than others. Heading for the Mt. Hood area was our go-to. Also, my Grandma Trulove used to live near Mt. Hood, and I visited when I could, and took her to optometrist appointments. All my memories from those days came flooding back. I pointed out the road to Grandma’s retirement home, the road to our favourite camp site, our favourite breakfast place, our traditional stop-for-sweets place.

It had been raining all day, so we had no views of the mountain. I was disappointed because in my opinion, the magnificent view of Mt. Hood up close should not be missed. But…I have not yet found a way to control the weather. As we got to the lowest slopes, however, we broke into sunshine and blue skies.

A surprising crowd of snowboarders was making the most of the snow that hasn’t yet melted. The snow field makes it all the way to the parking lot.

I was surprised at how busy the mountain is…but then I realized that June is early in the summer. That means, all the snow has not yet melted. Most schools are out and the kids are getting in a last few snowboarding runs before it’s too late. The chair lifts weren’t running, so skiers hauled all their gear up the mountain on foot!

We walked from the parking lot up to the lodge and I remembered how much my mother loved this lodge. She had a particular fondness for old Park Service lodges, and I remember her delight here. I remember some of the things she especially liked, such as the mail slot in a log, and the carved stairwell posts. I recalled when we snuck through the guest doors and ran through the hallways exploring anything we could get into, just because she loved it so much. Oh man, I miss my mom.

Entrance to Timberline Lodge

Huge fireplace is the centerpiece of this beautiful lodge.

The chimney disappears into massive timbers.

The lowest level

Generous use of wood and iron is found throughout.

Timberline Lodge sits at 6000 feet elevation. The average snow depth in season is 21 feet. If you decided to hike from the lodge to the summit, it is 3.6 miles away with an elevation gain of 5000 feet. The Lodge was built in 1937. There are guest rooms and two restaurants, and four levels. The lower level contains several small museum-type displays of bits about the history of Timberline Lodge, with original cast-iron hardware, a replica of the bedroom where President Roosevelt stayed, a replica of what an old rescue center looked like, dedications to the U.S. Forest Service and the Camp Fire Girls (A group similar to Girl Scouts. My mom was in Camp Fire Girls for many years because my Grandmother was the troop leader.) Care has been taken with the choice and display of artwork inside. There is a three-story fireplace. How do they do that?!? In full view everywhere are massive, massive timbers holding the place together.

Happy Birthday Elisia!

We ate lunch at the Rams Head bar and toasted to my friend’s birthday. Then we headed out for some exploration. We followed the main trail that all the snowboarders were taking, to walk to the top of the snow field in order to ski to the bottom. And then do it again. The trail is steep and I was gasping for breath. Luckily there were amazing views so I kept explaining that I needed to stop and take photos for my blog. Wink wink nudge nudge.

Behind the Lodge are many trails that criss-cross up and around the mountain, including a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail.

This chipmunk was a normal size, unlike the one we saw at Mt. St. Helens.

To the South we could see Trillium Lake and Mt. Jefferson behind Timberline Lodge. Mt. Jefferson is 46 miles from the lodge. In this photo you can see people lugging their ski gear up the hill to the top of the snow field. You can also see the snow field with teeny tiny snowboarders going down to the parking lot.

Up close and personal with Mt. Hood

I played in the snow on the way back down.

It was warm up there – in the 60s. I had a sweater but didn’t wear it. I also tore off my long-sleeved t-shirt and just wore a summer top. I wondered how warm the skiers were in their coats and boots and backpacks. We passed one man on the trail heading up who turned to us and said, “I’ll give you a dollar if you carry this for me.”

When we left the mountain and headed back home, we burrowed beneath clouds and drizzle in no time, and it was a grey cold trip all the way home.

The rain was gushing today, but the ample front porch keeps the front of the house dry.

The rain was gushing today, but the ample front porch keeps the front of the house dry.

Bandaged toe.

Bandaged toe.

This weekend I was recovering from a procedure I had on my foot on Friday. Had to keep the foot elevated, but had I been as mobile as usual, the weather was not exactly encouraging to do chores or to do fun stuff. So I guess it’s time for a blog.

I moved to this house in the summer, but thoughtful housewarming gifts keep showing up unpredictably. This post is to highlight the ones I thought of today. I hope I don’t forget any, but if I do, I’ll just add them later.

I’ve got a few friends from the earliest of days, and I love that. One of them has been among my best friends since I was 16 and he was 17. He sent me my very first housewarming gift, a steel fish. I think it’s gorgeous and it was the very first thing I hung on my walls in this big place.

This beauty is perfectly suited for my plum walls.

This beauty is perfectly suited for my plum walls.

Another metal gift is one I have needed for ages! After the woodstove was installed, I found a nice-sized stick that I used as a fire poker. In its early life it was about four feet long. It kept accidentally catching on fire. I can’t tell you how many times I would have to run from the fire to the kitchen, to douse the smoking stick. One night I didn’t realize a tiny ember had remained on the stick and it smoldered and burned down about four inches while I slept. Yikes. Anyway, after a few months, my poker stick was only about 18 inches long. I complained about it constantly, but never found time to go shopping for one of those metal fireplace sets. You know, the ones with the broom and the poker that hang from a gaudy rack that sits beside the fireplace? I was complaining to my step-father while Tara and I were in Idaho the last time, and he jumped into action. He dug around in the shed and came up with a steel rod that had a few nuts on one end. It was too long, so he heated it with a torch and cut it, then bent and tapered the end. He heated the nuts into place, then filed them down smooth. I tell you: I was thrilled! This is a perfect fire stick. I never have to run to the kitchen blowing out flames anymore.

Metal pokers are best. Can you see it, leaning against the bricks?

Metal pokers are best. Can you see it, leaning against the bricks?

In the way that happens so often in the blogging world, it was my turn to be blessed with a gift from a blogger. Marlene, whose unceasing accomplishments astound us all who know her at insearchofitall, made this kitchen towel for me. She said it wasn’t just for show, and I was free to use it as a towel, but for now I like it hanging up. I washed it first, to make it look a little used. This gift is one that brings love into my world and makes home feel that much more like home, you know?

Close up of the kitchen towel that Marlene made for me as a housewarming gift.

Close up of the kitchen towel that Marlene made for me as a housewarming gift.

My beautiful kitchen towel tells the truth: lots of love here.

My beautiful kitchen towel tells the truth: lots of love here.

My Tara is in love with bees, you may recall from the brand new bee tattoo. Anything bee-related is good, so I recently received two beeswax candles that please their tastes as well as mine. From what I am told, beeswax candles are superior. I haven’t had the heart to light either one yet, but they smell divine. It’s like what honey would be if it were a gas. Omigosh sweet goodness.

A bees wax squirrel candle. Can't get more perfect for me!

A bees wax squirrel candle. Can’t get more perfect for me!

The sweetest-smelling dragon

The sweetest-smelling dragon

My Pa said during one of our phone calls, “You know, I am sure I have a book about ponds around here somewhere….” Lo and behold, one day these pond books showed up. I am so excited to get what I can from them. Both are written for people who want to build a pond from scratch, so much text is dedicated to planning and engineering. However, I am sure that if I read them both, I will find reasons for the engineering, and that will give me an education. I really want to know how to take care of my pond. It is important to me to be a good steward to this land.

Pond books that I can hardly wait to read.

Pond books that I can hardly wait to read.

Another long time friend is one I met in college in northern California, before I transferred to Brandeis University. I took an honors Anthropology class, just because I was trying to take all the honors classes, and what a great decision it was because within a few weeks I had decided to major in Anthropology. I loved that class, the beautiful and intelligent professor, and this awesome chick who sat next to me every day. She and I even did a part-performance from the Vagina Monologues in that class, and I was in awe of her bravery for tackling the skit she chose. We have been friends ever since. Anyway, my friend now lives in Sante Fe, and sent a care package filled with wonderful things carefully selected from town, including a little burlap bag of garlic, canned roasted peppers, a sage smudge she wrapped herself, and a bag filled with pine nuts still in the shells. She also sent a two-page letter explaining the significance of each thing, and how she might come across them in a typical day. I have eaten everything that’s edible, but I still have some of the nuts left. They are good to munch on at work.

Empty garlic bag and mostly empty nut bag.

Empty garlic bag and mostly empty nut bag.

My last gift has to come with a story, so you can understand why I love it so much.

Out of the blue, I got a box from another friend from the early early days. I went to school with this kid starting back in 1980 and we graduated together in 1988. His dad owned “the” lumber/hardware store in our tiny Idaho town, called C&M Lumber Company. It was absolutely the only place to go for tools, for 2x4s, for paint, for glass, you name it. “C&M” we called it, was a hub, and I was like a kid in a candy store there. I belong to that quirky group that loves hardware stores (I know you’re out there!). Anyway, I have these beautiful, sweet, childhood memories of bemused adults interacting with me as a 14-year old customer, and treating me with more consideration than I’ll bet the adults got. For example, I wanted to paint my bedroom once, and my dad said it was ok. He wouldn’t buy me any paint, but I could use anything in the garage that I found. I found about five containers of mostly-empty, close-to-white paint, from different brands, who knows what it all was. It hadn’t occurred to me to tell my dad that I planned to paint with coloured paint. One of the containers was a 5-gallon bucket, and I dumped them all (plus a pale yellow one) into the big one, and stirred. Then I lugged that thing (it wasn’t full, of course) across blocks and blocks of dirt roads, all the way to C&M Lumber Company. Without any concept of how it was usually done, I explained to the person working that I was there to get it coloured. “We don’t usually do it that way…” the salesman began. But in no time, he had agreed to try to make it a shade of dusty rose I liked, and it was like a little chemical experiment, as he dumped in some of this, and some of that,  stirred it, and then painted a bit of it, to see what it looked like as it dried. All totally FASCINATING to me, as I watched eagerly. I had money, and was ready to pay, but at the end I was released without spending a penny. I was oblivious. But what a great place, to put that much effort into a kid’s project. I ended up painting my room dusty rose with dark grey trim and proudly showed my Pa, who flipped out because it was a forest service house, and residents needed to get permission to paint any colour but white, pale yellow, or pale Forest Service green. After a few days, he relaxed, and decided that no one would find out till after we moved, since I had an attic bedroom.

If I wear this hat, I'll fit right in among the locals in Rainier. But I'll be the only one with the gorgeous goose embroidered on the side. Look at that!

If I wear this C&M Lumber hat, I’ll fit right in among the locals in Rainier. But I’ll be the only one with the gorgeous duck embroidered on the side. Look at that!

There was also the time when I was into a kick of etching artwork into glass. I had found a thick, tinted, and huge mirror at the dump, that had broken into about six unwieldy pieces. I carried these carefully to C&M to get the sharper points cut off and cut in half so they would be easier for me to play with. This time it was the owner himself, my friend’s dad. He began the same way as the paint guy. “Well, we don’t usually…” and before I knew it, he had cut all the pieces for me. Then he took all of them to a power sanding machine and ground down the edges of every mirror piece so I wouldn’t cut myself. Again, my parents had no idea I was there. Again, I tried to pay and was shooed out the door. For years I understood hardware stores as places where you did not spend much. Funny, that’s no longer the case for me.

Today, my school friend runs the place. I haven’t been inside since I was a teenager, but I have been through town, and I have seen the brand new big building outside of town. It must still be as vital today as then. In the country, the hardware/lumber/tool/garden store is critical.

I did my friend’s son a favor a few years ago, and he promised to make it up to me. Viola! Favor returned:

Look at all these shirts! I am so excited to get them!

Look at all these shirts! I am so excited to get them!

In closing, I am including this short video of my woodstove. I tried twenty times to get a photo to show what I was seeing, but I couldn’t do it. I had to use video. What you see is not flames, but smoke, lit up orange from the coals in the back. Cooooooolll.


Mt. St. Helens in the setting sun, from Johnston Ridge Observatory

Mt. St. Helens in the setting sun, from Johnston Ridge Observatory

Gary, this one’s for you.

When I was 10 years old, Mt. St. Helens erupted. Down south, in Steamboat, Oregon, fine powder fell for a couple days, noticeable only to those looking for it. We could drag a finger over the hood of a car and see a trail in the dust.

A plastic juice bottle filled with volcanic ash.

A plastic juice bottle filled with volcanic ash.

The sideways blast in the north slope of the mountain, coupled with prevailing West winds, blew much of the ash over to Idaho from Washington. I spent that summer with my mom in Sandpoint, Idaho, and I recall the drive up there because of seeing the devastating heaps of white-grey ash from the car windows during the trip. In the worst places, June 1980 still had many people wearing masks and shoveling the stuff with snow shovels. Like snow does in the winter, the weight of the ash had damaged roofs. Unlike snow, it would not melt away, and had to be removed by hand. I watched teams shoveling ash a foot deep off bridges, off business roofs in small towns, even plowing it with trucks.

Later in June, my family went on a picnic along a north Idaho river. The river held large smooth rocks that had collected ash in irregular bowls shaped into their surface from erosion. After I finished my juice, I rinsed the plastic bottle out in the water, and set it in the sun to dry. Then, I walked barefoot through the water from rock to rock, collecting the fine powder by brushing it with my fingers into the plastic juice container. I still have that container today; one of the very few mementos of my childhood that survived the many moves across more than a dozen states in my life.

I brought my very old plastic juice container to Mt. St. Helens with me last week. I had been determined to go to the mountain since I was 10 years old. Can you believe it took me 34 years to pull it off? One thing I will say about myself: Like the tortoise, I may be slow, but I do reach my goals in the end. (…says the woman who finally made it to University in her 30s…)

Hills of Noble Fir as seen from Highway 504 on the way to Johnston Ridge Observatory.

Hills of Noble Fir as seen from Highway 504 on the way to Johnston Ridge Observatory. A ranger called them “Lego trees,” cautioning us not to look at them too long or we’d go cross-eyed. The effect on your vision when you are right in front of them is pretty crazy.

Bare ridges betray a traumatic history.

Bare ridges betray a traumatic history.

It’s an easy drive on a good road from I-5, and I was within the National Volcanic Monument in an hour, passing thickly forested hills, the homogeneous stands of Noble Fir making it obvious that the trees had been planted by the land owner there, Weyerhauser Company. There were a few vista stops, but each time I stopped, the only thing I could see was a curious, moonlike valley, and clouds obscuring anything with elevation. That was frustrating, because much of the sky was cloudless blue, and only the highest peaks around St. Helens were obscured.

It wasn’t until I was in the immediate vicinity of the Johnston Ridge Observatory when I could tell this had been a place of devastation. Things today are lovely – truly lovely. However, not all the pieces in of the scene felt right. Humongous decaying logs laid about, on bare land with tiny trees just getting a foothold among kinnickinnick and lupine. The surrounding ridges were also mostly bare, with the silver remnants of tall trees. The wide valley had no forests, no brushy stands of willow, and the streams cut deep, sharp channels through what looked like very soft and crumbly soil. It does not look like any other place in the Pacific Northwest.

Closer to the mountain, more evidence of the volcanic eruption can be seen.

Closer to the mountain, more evidence of the volcanic eruption can be seen.

Remnants of towering trees still lie where the mountain's blast shoved them down, 34 years ago.

Remnants of towering trees still lie where the mountain’s blast shoved them down, 34 years ago.

Spirit Lake (seen in the distance) became famous after this eruption.

Spirit Lake (seen in the distance) became famous after this eruption.

As I explained in my previous post, the clouds finally cleared away from the volcano, and I was treated to stunning views of the huge gaping crater. If the mountain had blown it’s top vertically, we at the bottom would have less to see. Since the eruption took off the north slope of the mountain, we are able to look inside at the newly forming glaciers, and the new volcanic peak growing inside the crater. You know what that growing dome means, right? Yes, this remains an active volcano.

The largest post-1980 eruption was in 2004, when steam and ash again billowed forth. For the next four years, lava continued to extrude, filling the crater floor. Seven percent of the volume lost in 1980 has been replaced by subsequent eruptions.

Here I am, waiting for the clouds to clear.

Here I am, waiting for the clouds to clear.

A park ranger gives a talk on how expectations of what to expect when the eruption happened, didn't quite come to pass.

A park ranger gives a talk on how scientists’ expectations of what would happen during the eruption didn’t quite come to pass. Prior to the eruption of Mt. St. Helens, we had very little data on Plinean eruptions, or pyroclastic flows of hot gas and rock that roared down into the valley.

I listened to a great talk from one of the rangers there. He told the story of how exciting it was to be a vulcanologist in the time leading up to the eruption. The best data available at the time was of the Hawaiian lava flows, but they knew this would be different. The size of the resulting violent explosion took people by surprise. Luckily, scientists had convinced authorities to block access to the popular recreation area (despite loud criticism), and prevented many deaths. Sadly, 57 people died in the blast, most due to asphyxiation. The most interesting (to me) of those people was David Johnston, a geologist just crazy about volcanoes, who had observation duty that morning. He radioed headquarters, “Vancouver! Vancouver! This is it!” and then died instantly. The people who heard the broadcast, and knew his voice, said what struck them about his message was that it wasn’t a voice of fear, but of something more like boyish excitement. I’d like to believe that David Johnston died the way he would have most wanted to go.

Kids in Idaho line up on a pipe to watch chickens, 4th of July, 2013

Kids in Idaho line up on a pipe to watch chickens, 4th of July, 2013

Today I am working on my annual Christmas letter. It’s a Big Deal.

I’ve been writing big long Christmas letters for a very long time. There came a point when I realized that I was not finding time to write and tell everyone what was going on in my life as often as I liked. In fact I was fairly certain that my annual Christmas card was the only time I wrote some of the people in my address book. In the mid 1990s there was no facebook to keep in touch with everybody. So I decided to write a nice long letter with pictures, to be suitable for someone I had written a letter to the week before, or for someone who hadn’t heard from me in a year.

It is on those years when I’m really, really late that I realize how much people like getting them. I have had worried inquires, “You haven’t dropped me from your list? I count on getting your letter every year!”

But on the years when I’m on time, I also get thank you notes from girlfriends who say, “I saved your letter till Saturday morning, so I could read it with a cup of coffee, and savor every page.”

The letters aren’t that amazing. They’re just long (4 pages typed), and silly, and dramatic, and honest. I really honestly DO put everything that happened to us in each letter. So…people hear about the latest report card as often as they hear about the latest breakup. I told about the heartache of foreclosure and divorce, but I also told about the thrill of traveling to Greece and Turkey, and about my baby girl learning to walk and her first day at school, and about our plans and schemes.

And maybe that’s what people like: I’m putting it all out there. Mine is a real life. It’s embarrassing and awesome. I’m proud, and plaintive, and naive, and egotistical, and generous, and ridiculous, and beautiful, and inspiring. Maybe people feel good to see that their life is probably not fundamentally different than mine? Could be.


So I’m skimming all my photos from 2013, choosing what to put into this year’s letter. I found this one and remembered how much I LOVE it! We had just purchased fireworks at a dinky little trailer parked near Dan’s Ferry, on the Snake River in Idaho. I saw the scene and commented to Arno, “I wish I could take a picture of that.” He said, “Your camera’s in the truck. Go get it.” I just looked wistfully at the children. He got more insistent, “GO! Get the camera!” So I ran off and came back and they were all still there, and look at what a great scene it was.

Memories are wonderful to me. That’s why I’ve kept a journal since I was 7 years old, and why I blog now. That’s why I make the effort to write a full report every time I take a trip, endure an event, begin something new, or remember to keep in contact with friends and family. It’s so helpful to me to look through the old records and see how I’ve changed, how I’ve grown, how I’ve regressed. It’s good to be reminded what really happened, as opposed to how I remember it. It’s good to remember how much the pain hurt me, or how deliriously happy I was. If I hadn’t taken this photo, I would have forgotten it (thank you Arno). If I hadn’t saved the photo or reviewed old files, I would have forgotten it. But now that I remember, what a fun smile came to my face, and a happy warm glow of memory from that stormy evening last summer.

{Curious? I’ve posted all of them at my website here.}

Ooooh! Great imagery. My initial answer is TREEHOUSE! Oh yeah, Baby! I love trees. I love climbing them, I love treehouses. We saw a bunny in a treehouse in Portland not too long ago.

But this question makes me think a lot. I often find that I see myself as I wish to be, not necessarily as I am. So perhaps a treehouse is symbolic for where I want to be.

I feel like I live in a cave right now: The Uncles’ basement apartment. Which does have some light, luckily, because the house is on a slope, so there are windows on one wall.

And I also realize that when I am wounded and need to heal, I crawl into a self-constructed cave. That might be the INTJ in me. When I need to recharge my batteries, a dark quiet stone cave with moss-covered, slightly damp walls sounds ideal. I could commiserate with the bats. I am aware of this tendency because I’m pretty much there right now: standing in the doorway of the cave getting fresh air and sunshine, but ready to duck back inside anytime something spooks me. I feel like I need to overcome this position maybe, and take the chance to start tree-climbing.

I’m thinking of James Taylor too. From New Moon Shine, the song Down In The Hole. “I’m in a hole, since I lost my Baby.” Welcome down underground.

then the Swiss Family Robinson – those great adventurers of faith, expressing fully the meaning of serendipity when finding everything they could possibly need on the island where they were shipwrecked.

and Julia Butterfly Hill. Having lived in Humboldt County while the most famous tree-sitter was living in her own tree house… it’s hard to forget that. I was at Reggae on the River in 1999 when Julia spoke to the crowd from her tree via cellphone. It was an awesome experience to be sharing that moment. A year after she came down, she spoke at the college I was attending, and read a chapter from her book called The Storm. She tells probably the truest story ever about living in a treehouse: in the top of a redwood during one of those Pacific Storms that hits the King Mountain Range out there on Cape Mendocino. She said she knew the storm was going to kill her if she didn’t come up with a plan. So instead of fighting the storm with tensed muscles, she did what the trees do: let the storm push her around and bend her. So she let the storm rage around her – and lived. I feel like that’s a good lesson.

Ok, well, that was a fun little mental jaunt. Thanks, Siona, for the opportunity to pull all those disjointed ideas together in such a fun way.

John Truslow launching a weather balloon

Just yesterday I visited Shemya, Alaska! (in my mind)

I consider the “Place where I grew up” to be the place where I finally transitioned from kid to young adult. That happened when I was 20 years old; a soldier freezing on an Aleutian Island just at the end of the Cold War.

Shemya, Alaska. 350 miles from Kommandorskyie, Russia and 1500 miles from Anchorage. also called The Rock, and The Black Pearl of the Aleutians.

I went up there as a shallow, boy-crazy, self-centered girl worthy of the stereotyping my blonde hair was gaining me. But soon I had to create a way to stay sane, and since there was absolutely nothing out there externally that was helping, I had to find internal resources.

There was no town, no stores, the only radio station was piped in via Armed Forces Radio Network, and we got three TV channels (which was something! don’t get me wrong…): Air Force TV, the local Anchorage TV, and Country Music Television – woo! There were 500 men and 25 women, and if you’d think that was fun for the women – it was not. Families were not allowed. No pets. The weather was so brutal that most facilities were all inside one building so that one never had to step outside. The island was 2 1/2 by 4 1/2 miles and there was no way off. The water would freeze you to death in three minutes if you decided to get in.

How does a person exist like that? It’s hard. Our unit, I must admit, got a bit crazy and took some chances merely for entertainment’s sake. There are cliffs made somewhat smooth  by a tundra blanket, nearing 200 feet high on one side of the island. In the winter, we took large hunks of cardboard and sledded down the cliffs. My first try I was knocked out cold. Lynn broke his leg and was in a cast the remainder of his time there. We did the Double Dip – which is to completely submerge in the Bering Sea, then hop in a truck to the other side of the island and submerge in the Pacific. We did it on New Year’s Day.

Most people did a lot of drinking. I drank, but not to get through my time there. I found other things more entertaining.

For example, all the underground WWII bunkers were strictly off limits! So, of course, we spent as much time as we could exploring them. It was really dependent upon the weather when we could get out and explore. Winds had categories. In one category, people were only allowed out on official business, with a buddy, and after notifying the police. In the other category, we were simply not allowed out. We would get arrested if we left the building we were in. Yikes.

I have decided to write a book about it. Would you read it? My working title is: Stranded on an Arctic Island: A woman coming of age on an Aleutian Air Base.

I found several really exciting web sites yesterday about Shemya. People who have been there are as obsessed with it as I am (or more). Being there must have moved a lot of people. I emailed a guy who was a weather observer, like I was. We reminisced a bit about launching 600g latex weather balloons in 40 mile an hour winds, praying they wouldn’t crash into anything before they got some lift. He was there 5 years before me, and got to launch weather rockets. The program was discontinued. I am jealous to have missed out on that experience. He had photos of the rockets, and sent me some more of his personal collection showing the island when he was there.

That’s the photo you see: one he sent me. But it’s like I’m looking at a scene from my own life. That boring concrete brick shack with one wall a garage door on a pulley makes my heart lurch. The action shot: there’s no way the person could walk out without having the balloon crushed into the building from the winds. So it was the crouch, run, and toss sequence I see there. And the uniform is fatigues. That’s what I wore before the Air Force switched to issuing the camouflage BDUs (battle dress uniforms) we are all so familiar with today.

Oh, man. Nothing like photos to bring it all cascading back. I suddenly need to pull out my photos, but they’re packed deeply away in storage somewhere, because we’re still living in The Uncles’ basement apartment. I spent a few hours last night, just reading testimonies and memories of all the guys – and one woman! – who talked about their time on The Rock. Most of them are WWII veterans, but a few, like me, are the souls who came after… stumbling in a bit of awe amidst the wreckage strewn in the wake of a war. And all the photos I saw… And the political and moral controversy about a certain civilian 747 shot down… And the fact that it was a TOP SECRET base, even in 1990 & 1991 when I was there…

memories…. the Scruffies (Arctic Foxes who would eat out of your hand), the ravens doing carnival rides on the updrafts raging up the cliffs, how stinking bad the chow hall (excuse me: dining facility – as we were instructed to call it) food got during the Gulf War when they stopped sending us food. And stopped sending us people. And mail. Mail: two days a week on the good weeks. The only reliable source of good morale that existed. During the War, mail stopped altogether for three straight weeks and we were at each other’s throats. Forget the food! We need mail! Friendship bonds were intense though.

Oh, and there was a ceramics shop. Thank heavens for something else to do. I did ceramics like mad. Created three separate nativity sets as gifts for people…carefully painting the fabric textures onto the clothing. I made a pink life-sized Cockatoo and named him Floyd. And in addition to my Air Force job, I picked up a few extra jobs just to fill the time. I cleaned the Officer’s Dorms, and I worked for the Reever! Anyone out in the wilds of Alaska must have heard of Reeve Aleutian Airlines. Soon after I began, I took over as head of security – which included following passengers every step of the way: examining luggage, metal detectors, running the dogs through, then duty out on the tarmac. And watching those planes come down… Alaskan pilots must be the best in the whole world. I saw a plane land once with a 40-knot crosswind. The plane came in sideways. No kidding! Sideways! Then right before it touched – about 2 feet above the runway – flipped itself forward and landed. The people who got off were white as sheets…

My adrenalin is really pumping and I realize this book needs to be written. What a story! Just one year of my life and so much to say! Ok. That was my trip back to where I grew up.

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