Saturday, July 31, 2010

Home from summer camp

Yesterday we picked up Younger Daughter from a week at Summer Camp courtesy of our church, which banded together to send five children to a regional church camp (thanks everyone!).

The camp is very old and established, with literally generations of children attending since its inception sixty years ago. It boasts some spectacular views of Lake Coeur d'Alene.

Lots of excitement as Campers are reunited with their parents. In my case it was especially joyful because I hadn't seen Younger Daughter for 10 days, as she left for camp while I was in Portland.

Younger Daughter's cabin, called "The Cougar Cabin."

She took one of the upper bunks.

Children and parents line up for ice cream.

Someone's well-thumbed Bibles on the ground. I thought it made for an artful tableau.

The final program was held inside the beautiful newly-finished chapel. Are these front doors (copper) gorgeous or what?

Chapel empty...

Chaptel full...of joyous music.

Older Daughter's week at camp comes in early August, and already she's climbing the walls in excitement!

Dawn beauty

I awoke very, very early yesterday morning because a thunderstorm was moving in and the thunder and flashes of lightening woke me up.

The first light of dawn through the trees...

As day broke, the light blossomed into screaming orange. And I mean orange. These photos barely capture just how orange the light was.

I was treated to a rainbow as the rising sun shone through the rain.

The rainbow appeared even before the sun officially rose...

...which it did precisely at 5:31 am.

Here's the first dim dapples of light through the trees on our wall.

There are some distinct advantages to being an early riser, even if it was a little too early for my taste.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Armchair quarterbacking

I have another Regular Guy column up, this one written through painfully acquired experience with "armchair quarterbacks." Enjoy!

Clueless in Portland

It was very interesting to be in Portland for a week. I enjoyed myself immensely. After living so long in an intensely rural location, the hustle and bustle was fun to experience. Yet at the same time, I saw Portland with new eyes because I was looking at it through the lens of preparedness. How much different a city looks when viewed this way!

This concept – how well people can “prepare” while living in a big city – hit home in a moment. My friend Tim (who helped me run the booth during the festival) and I sat stalled on the Morrison Street Bridge over the Willamette River. The Morrison Bridge is a drawbridge, and it was in a lifted position to allow a ship to pass underneath. There was nothing we could do but wait until it closed before we could cross the river into downtown Portland where the festival was being held.

While watching the mighty steel arc into the sky, Tim remarked that, if The Big One (earthquake) should hit Portland, just about every bridge that spanned the river would tumble into the water with unimaginable loss of life. All the bridges, he said, needed to be retrofitted to render them earthquake-proof. But of course Portland, like many cities around the country, is seriously strapped for cash and retrofitting any number of massive bridges just can’t be done.

Tim said that people speak in hushed tones about how the bridges need to be strengthened and updated NOW, and not just because they’re unsuited to withstand an earthquake. Apparently there are whispers about how the bridges are not strong enough to withstand the normal and constant barrage of traffic that crosses them daily.

In fact, Wendy (his wife) had thought about enrolling their seven-year-old daughter in a school across the river, but Tim talked her out of it. “If there should be an earthquake and the bridges go down,” he told her, “we couldn’t get to her [their daughter] at all.” Wendy agreed it was too great a risk.

This kind of thinking is not unusual for folks on the west coast, where earthquakes are a constant and serious threat. But it made me realize just how vulnerable Portland – and every other city – is to disturbance.

Many cities are built on water. Ergo, many cities have massive bridges spanning that water. Most cities have multiple layers of highways that crisscross over each other, hurrying drivers efficiently from one part of the city to another. And it takes but one minor burp for things to grind to a frightening standstill.

I clearly remember the horror of the Loma Prieta earthquake on October 17, 1989 when some portions of bridges and highways in the Bay Area of California pancaked together. I lived in Sacramento at the time and have many family members in the Bay Area, so it was an up-close and personal concern for me. Many people died. Many others lost limbs as they were literally sawn from crushed vehicles. The carnage was horrible.

Then there’s Hurricane Katrina (or any hurricane, for that matter), where one stalled car could snarl miles and miles of traffic as people fled New Orleans in a panic. (This didn’t count the terrible toll on the people left behind.)

Then there’s the half-million acre wildfire that devastated southwest Oregon not far from where we used to live, the summer before we left for Idaho.

But at least in circumstances of disaster, people are more likely to help each other. Sure, there are always nasty examples of selfishness, crime, and senseless violence… but there are also beautiful stories of strangers helping strangers, of great feats of heroics, of folks banding together to help others get out of harm’s way. Such is the good and the bad side of humans when a natural disaster or act of terrorism strikes.

But what happens when people turn on each other?

In times of stress when resources (food, water, shelter, money, etc.) are scarce, people are more inclined to develop an every-man-for-himself attitude. It can’t be helped – it’s as much a part of human nature as acts of altruism during disaster.

My friend Wendy and I walked her dog through the peaceful, tree-lined streets near her home and admired the beautiful dwellings. Wendy and Tim live in a small, modest house which abuts a neighborhood of gracious, expensive homes (wonderful for walking dogs and catching up with dear friends). And I wondered… how many of these beautiful homes had even a gallon of water stored away, much less a week’s worth of food?

There are SO MANY people in Portland. And with “only” 2.2 million people for the greater Portland metropolitan area, it’s small by comparison to Los Angeles or Chicago or New York. If things get tough, what can so many people do? Where can they go? How can they get food or water if the grocery stores are stripped bare and utilities are down?

This past week, our nation’s capital reeled from the aftermath of a serious storm that ripped through and left many people in darkness for days. Undoubtedly the grocery stores were stripped. People had no means to boil water, to cook food, to stay cool during the heat wave. How did they do it? And what would happen if the blackout extended beyond six or seven days?

See my point? It doesn’t take TEOTWAWKI. It just takes a bad storm. An earthquake. A hurricane. And pretty soon the milk of human kindness runs thin and folks are kicking in doors, searching for food or looting for valuables.

During my time in Portland, I was completely out of the “loop” of preparedness. I heard no one talking about it, no one wondering about an EMP or other acts of terrorism, no one discussing the prospects of a financial meltdown. Granted I was at a large festival where people came to have fun, and granted “preparedness” is something that one tends to discuss only with those of like mind – but I still managed to overhear a LOT of conversation over four days and those subjects never even came close to the surface.

What I did hear was a lot of shallow talk. I heard discussions about the everyday minutia of life. This is understandable – the everyday minutia of life tend to occupy the bulk of our time and energy. And no one wants to talk about Serious Subjects constantly, or they would walk around in a cloud of depression.

But my overall impression was that “preparedness” wasn’t just underground, it wasn’t even on the horizon. People had concerns about unemployment, about the environment, about the economy… but no one seemed inclined to “do” anything about it in terms of personal preparation. People recognize the problems, but won’t make the next leap of logic. Despite all the evidence that things are getting worse, the overall belief is that someone will fix it and everything will be okay.

While we, as a family, feel more secure because of our rural location, we can’t be smug. This is because such dearly loved friends as Wendy and Tim and their young daughter live in Portland. This is because my extended family lives in the Bay Area and in Southern California. This is because we ALL have loved ones potentially in harm’s way if TSHTF in a city. What can we do?

Nothing. Aside from trying to talk everyone into moving out of the city onto an Idaho homestead (and how likely is that?), there is nothing we can do to help these people prepare. All we can do is ramp up our own preparedness efforts to the point where we can take in friends and family members who have nowhere else to go.

More puppy love

Here's some more "awwwww" shots of the puppies for sale at Agape Ranch, the folks from whom we got Lydia. Now that I'm back from Portland I had a chance to catch up on their blog.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Lord, save us from Busybodies

Here’s a little story for you.

When Younger Daughter was a baby of five months old, a sparkling bright October day led us into town to a large grocery store. I snuggled Younger Daughter (attired in nothing but a diaper) into my trusty sling, draped a jacket across both of us, and we skipped across the parking lot toward the store. We were both in a good mood, laughing and giggling at the snappy air and pretty sunshine.

That is, until I stepped into the store. Immediately I was accosted by an outraged woman. “How dare you take that baby out naked in this weather!” she snarled.

Taken aback, I looked at Younger Daughter. Her eyes were bright, the cotton sling was tucked over her bare shoulders, she was warm against her mommy’s body, and she was laughing out loud. “She’s perfectly warm,” I assured the woman. “She’s laughing and happy. See?”

Not satisfied, the woman proceeded to absolutely lambaste me for my poor mothering skills, for my unthinking cruelty to take a baby out unclothed on such a cold day (it was 60F degrees), and quite literally threatened to call Child Protective Services over the neglect and abuse of my poor helpless baby.

I shook my head, my good mood gone, and turned my back toward the woman as I walked into the store. The woman actually followed me for a few feet, spewing verbal filth at the unpardonable sin of not dressing my baby in a down parka for the polar expedition of walking fifty feet across a parking lot in October.

She finally left me alone. I did my shopping, but before I stepped foot outside the store I confess I looked carefully around the parking lot to see if the harridan was lurking in a corner, waiting to take my license plate number and report me to the police.

That woman, I later realized, was a BUSYBODY. It was an unpleasant experience and left me shaken.

Today my neighbor Enola Gay also experienced another BUSYBODY. You can read about it here.

Home again home again, jiggity jig

I'm home, safe and sound! And a thousand thank-you's to everyone for their good wishes and prayers during my trip to Portland. I'm thrilled to report that we sold a total of 118 tankards during my retail event, a much-needed shot in the arm of income during an otherwise dry summer.

I took a number of photos on the way home, all of them literally by holding up the camera in the general direction of the object, clicking the shutter, and hoping for the best. I cropped and enlarged the relevant portions for clarity, but since these photos were taken through a windshield or side window at 55 mph, forgive the blurry nature.

A distant and none-too-clear shot of the Columbia River Gorge, through which I drove. It shows some of the mighty cliffs that edge this equally mighty river.

A hasty - and I do mean hasty - shot of the huge Multnomah Falls as I drove past. I could barely glance at it because traffic was slowed due to road construction and I had to keep my eyes on the highway to avoid hitting cones or construction workers. I'm surprised I captured even a glimpse of the Falls because it was purely a random shot.

Cliffs, high and green, through the Columbia River Gorge.

Near the center of the photo, the tiny white dot to the right of the larger white dot is the head of an osprey on a nest. This shot was taken so fast and so late that I'm surprised it came out at all.

The cliffs are getting lower but are still verdant and green and clothed in trees.

There's a tunnel along the way...

Inside, blurry and brief.

An impressive set of uplifted escarpments.

Still cliff-y, but it's flattening out and you can see how much drier it is along this loooooong (and boring) stretch of Hwy 84 heading for the Tri-Cities.

One of the hydroelectric dams along the mighty Columbia. If I remember correctly, this was the John Day Dam. Notice the line of huge windmills strung along the cliff top.

For those who like following maps, I hooked up to Hwy 385 in the Tri-Cities (Pasco/Richland/Kennewick) of southeast Washington, heading north. Eleven miles north of Connell (a prison town), I turned east on Hwy 26 which eventually took me through the lovely little towns of Colfax and Palouse until I hit the Idaho border.

See that tiny spec in the distance? That's a farm, with vast swaths of wheat in the foreground. It was about now that the deserts of northeast Oregon/southeast Washington give way to farming country. There were rich croplands in the deserts, but all were irrigated with water from the Columbia. These are dryland farms.

The Palouse with its rolling hills of wheat. About this point the car was having engine troubles. In high temperatures on long trips, there's something wrong with the fuel lines and I lose speed as I go up hills so I was creeping along on the shoulder of the road at about 35 mph with my emergency flashers on. The temperature was about 101F. I managed to limp into Colfax where I let the car (and me) cool down in the shade for about twenty minutes, after which it ran like a champ the rest of the way home. (And don't worry, we have an appointment to have the car serviced this coming Monday.)

Welcome to Idaho! That was the sign I was waiting for. I would have stopped to take a proper picture, but as you can see from the reflection in the side mirror, some yahoo was following me too closely.

Hay bales on a hill. Ahhh, I must be home!

Today was spent doing all the mundane things one does after returning from a long trip. But oh it's good to be home!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Last day in Portland

Sunday was the last day of the event, and traditionally a much slower day. Sure enough, we only sold nine tankards. (That's okay, Friday and Saturday made up for the low numbers on Sunday.) It was very hot and I think that affected how many people came. But the music was good (unlike Thursday's musical selection which consisted of a lot of people screaming into microphones) and everyone seemed in a happy and upbeat mood.

Dancing dreadlocks. This fellow was a cheery and enthusiastic dancer.

This colorful character was a Jimi Hendrix impersonator and about the nicest guy you'll ever meet. He's something of a street performer and makes a living posing with people for tips. The resemblance with the legendary guitarist is startling.

Here's Jimi with the "silver man" from a couple posts ago. The Silver Man, I found out, is also a street performer impersonating a robot, hence the silver makeup. It was HOT on Sunday so he must have been roasting.

Here's Jimi posing for another couple...

"Jimi's" real name was Richie, and he stashed his guitar in our booth when he wasn't working.

This blond bombshell sat at a table opposite our booth for over an hour. I don't know why I noticed her out of the crowd except to me she appeared to be deliberately, er, trolling... filing her nails, striking sultry poses, that kind of thing.

After an hour or so, it appeared she had some success. I got busy shortly afterward with some customers so I don't know what the outcome of the encounter was.

I love men in kilts. When this fellow walked into the booth, I asked for a photo.

I never knew what a mullet was. I kept hearing the term but actually had to google it before I learned it was a style of haircut. Well, I actually say a man wearing a real live mullet.

Impressed? I know I was.

This seems to be a common style among younger men. I couldn't photograph too many men's butts without looking like a pervert (ahem) but trust me when I say this style was popular. I know wearing pants around one's ankles is done all over the country, but in our little podunk town in Idaho it's not quite as, er, blatant.

Of course men weren't alone in bizarre fashions. For some reason I got a huge kick out of women wearing high heels. Understand this event took place in a park. As in, grass and dirt. Why would anyone voluntarily choose to mince around in heels on rough ground? Go figure. (So says a woman who mucks manure for a living.)

The last band to perform at this event was quite good. For nearly the entire duration of their set, this fellow danced. Just by himself. Off in his own little world. He wasn't overly lively, but what he may have lacked in activity he made up with sheer endurance. He danced and danced and danced.

The last song of the entire event had a lively beat, and I watched this couple jitterbug. The woman wasn't quite sure of the steps, but boy howdy the man was terrific! What a pleasure to watch people have so much fun.

I came to this show not knowing what to expect in terms of sales because of the economy. I've been pleasantly surprised. Last year the mood was subdued - many customers expressed regret that they couldn't buy a tankard because they were unemployed, a state of affairs for which I have great sympathy. This year I didn't hear nearly as much concern about the economy. I don't know if Portland's unemployment rate has improved, but certainly the mood has.

Every morning my dear friend Wendy (also a writer) and I would go to an internet cafe and write. On the way we kept passing this neat old house on a corner, a house I've always admired for its shabby dignity (I love old houses). Well, they now have a tidy little chicken coop and chicken yard on the side facing the street. This morning I managed to snap a photo as I passed. I really like the recent development in urban areas which allow people to keep chickens.

I was planning on dropping down to Eugene to visit another friend for a day or two, but I learned she was having car troubles in California and wouldn't be home after all, so today I drive home (where I'll have lots of emails awaiting my attention!).