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Friday, February 28, 2020

The Tale of the Tumbling Tumbleweeds

"And the wind blows, the dust clouds darken the desert blue, pale sand and red dust drift across the asphalt trails and tumbleweeds fill the arroyos. Good-bye, come again." ~Edward Abbey, American author and environmental essayist, 1927-1989

   It is 347 miles from Gresham, Oregon to Spokane, Washington. The route takes one along the Columbia River Gorge and then Northeast up onto the Columbia River plateau and across several hundred miles of arid bush land and high desert; mostly flat but punctuated with basalt mesas and canyons. It is the kind of topography that seems empty a lot of the time and vast, sending one's mind back into the far past when there were no Europeans or their offspring on this continent. This is sagebrush and Tumbleweed country.
   A young, confident driver can make the trip in just over five hours; I have driven it in five hours thirty years ago but not anymore; it takes me eight hours now with several toilet stops, a couple of rest stops to put my seat all the way back and close my eyes for thirty minutes, and a lunch hour detour. I tell myself this is fine. It is perfectly acceptable. I am no longer young and I have health issues that make travel more nightmare than vacation. I hear boater Alan Fincher over in the U.K., after Les' death, cautioning me not to be so driven. His warning echoes in my thoughts frequently. 
   I made a trip up to Spokane last Sunday to spend a couple of days with a dear friend--one of the Wednesday Women--who has received a cancer diagnosis. We got together for lunch and to bask in the warmth of deep friendship in the face of frightening news. The weather forecast for Sunday from the NOAA (National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration) weather page included a Hazardous weather warning for Eastern Oregon, Eastern and Central Washington. High winds of 50-60 MPH and rain with snow mixed in higher elevations. Sigh...there was nothing for it but to begin the trip and hope for the best.
The "always-green" of Western Oregon. This is a shot of the Columbia River from an overlook about thirty miles East of Gresham. 
   I Left Gresham under roiling, dark clouds and pissing down rain with wind gusts in the 40's. A large storm front rolled in off the Pacific Ocean, ninety eight miles West of Portland and funneled the weather towards us along the Columbia Gorge. The winds picked up as I traveled 102 miles to John Day Dam, crossing from the always-green rain forest topography of Western Oregon into the arid brush land of Eastern Oregon. I stopped once already to rest my eyes for thirty minutes and the winds worsened while I checked my eyelids for holes. At John Day Dam, the rain fell away as I ascended onto the Columbia Plateau, but the wind increased and the car began rocking and vibrating in the high winds.
   Tumbleweeds appeared and I experienced a very strange phenomena: the dried, skeletal shrubs appeared to have come alive! They trembled in the wind, at the side of the freeway like shaggy, frightened animals waiting for a gap between cars in order to spin across the blacktop of two lanes and make it in one piece to the other side. Most of the Tumbleweeds were small and easily shattered against the front of the car but traffic slowed from 70 MPH to about 65. Then I came around a large curve and the wind changed direction, coming from directly behind both lanes of traffic. As I came out of the curve I was astonished (as was the driver in the lane next to me whose mouth dropped into an astonished O), to see tumbleweeds filling both lanes in front of us, racing along as though to some invisible finish line far ahead. We could not drive through them; we could only pace ourselves and drive along behind the spinning herd. Several miles on, the road curved again and the tumbleweeds continued to roll off the freeway and catch on the fencing separating our traffic lanes from those heading in the opposite direction. Soon enough the fence wore a prickly sweater of various size and colored weeds, giant sweater pills stuck to the fence for hundreds of miles. 
   Approaching Biggs Junction (yes you read that right!) the sky darkened appreciably as a giant dust storm kicked off, spreading for 118 miles of driving with the headlights on and a slowed speed of 50 MPH. It was like driving at night only the dark was a swirling blanket of dirt kicked up by the winds. Tumbleweeds still careened across the road and drivers were swerving to try and miss the larger weed balls. I finally merged onto I-82 and then crossed into Washington and onto Highway 395 North. Two large semi trucks had flipped over on the opposite side of the freeway and it looked like the apocalypse outside: dozens of police cruisers with lights flashing, the dirt-dark sky closing in everywhere and tumbleweeds shooting across the landscape like round mortars shot from a rocket launcher. Traffic was backed up for twenty seven miles all the way back into Kennewick. People were milling around in the flying dirt with shirts and scarves pulled over their faces; a crazy zig-zag of  headlights on stopped cars strung along highway 395 from the scene of the second overturned rig all the way back over the Blue Bridge into town. I kept a steady pace of fifty MPH and finally made it into Kennewick where I planned to stop for lunch. It was 1:58 PM, dark as evening outside and my Subaru Outback shuddered and shook with the wind gusts. The metal signal light post hanging across the road ahead bounced up and down as if an invisible hand was moving it. 
As you can see, the signal light arms are not exactly flimsy things. It takes a big wind to make those steel poles bob up and down like a a child bobbing for apples. 
   After lunch I struck out again and didn't see blue skies and true daylight for another forty miles after finally passing the last of the giant commercial agro-farms and packing plants that are spread across the face of the high desert, existing only because of the Columbia Basin Reclamation project. Begun in 1943, it services 671,000 acres, allowing fruit and vegetable crops to be grown on high desert land with irrigation from the mighty Columbia River.
   Tumbleweeds still bounced, swirled, raced and spun across the road and would continue for another forty one miles until I merged on to Interstate 90 at Ritzville. Two and half hours later I was heading down Sunset Hill into Spokane--a site for very sore eyes. 
  The visit was bittersweet. I love my Rise Up Sisters as the Wednesday Women are also called. We lost two of our number last year to the vicissitudes of old age. We do not want to lose another one. Spending time in the company of Kialynn, Rhea, Gina, (Marian and Rosemarie are dead now) has always fed my intellect. They are women of great thought, good deeds, and deep creativity. Time with them nourishes my spirit. 
The Wednesday Women, Left to right: Kialynn, Marian (seated), Lisa, Rosemarie, Gina (seated), and Rhea, 2013.
Mt. Hood from I-84 driving West, just outside of The Dalles, Oregon.
   I am happy to report that for the most part the drive home was a lot less harrowing. The sun was out, the skies were blue, and the wind was calm. Mt. Hood, a partially active strato-volcano and one of the tallest peaks in the Continental USA, appeared suddenly just West of Arlington. It looked like a tall white shark's tooth jutting up in the far distance. As I continued on Westward towards Portland, the mountain popped in and out of view, growing larger as my car ate up the miles. I was astonished at how the tumbleweeds seemed to have vanished from the landscape! Perhaps they are lying in wait down in the canyons criss-crossing Washington's central basin. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Settling Into Oregon

"All that we see and seem is but a dream within a dream." ~Edgar Allen Poe; American Writer, editor, and literary critic (1809-1849)

   I've been living in Gresham, Oregon now since mid-December. I am pleased to be a help to my flat mates: my youngest daughter Sparky, my daughter-in-law Kelli, and my foster daughter Mary, who refers to me as her Pond Mom, since I lived across the pond in Britain. We all share a similar sensibility and sense of humor. Life is tough these days in the USA and it takes everyone contributing and pooling resources to make ends meet. I make the weekly menus and the grocery lists, purchase the groceries, and cook the meals. Now my chickens, as I call my girls, are eating proper meals. Before I moved in they were eating fast food and prepared processed food products from the grocery mart. Each of them works a different shift so someone is always coming in or heading out.
   I also live with a herd of felines! I am over the moon to live with cats again. I am the mobile petting station, as their food bowl is on a table near the end of the couch which is also my bed. Like furry sharks, the felines circle past me on their way to the food bowl, the litter boxes, and the dog's water bowl which they drink out of, getting up on their hind legs and leaning in to the bowl. From behind the cats appear to be scrying in the water which cracks me up. I have developed a relationship with each one and they with me.
   I have been saving ideas for this blog on bits of paper and I finally sat down with them all, determined to get this post written. Without further delay here are some interesting things that have crossed my path in the past two months:

1. Relax Melodies. My oldest daughter introduced me to this app by Ipnos and I love it. It is a sleep application which I downloaded to Les' Kindle Fire. There are graphics that look like the wooden blocks that hang on the end of chimes. Each one plays a different sound. One can choose as many sounds as one wants, layering them together to save as mixes to play when one wants help to fall asleep. My mixes include layered sounds with names like Night River Owls, which reminds me of mooring up on NB Valerie near the woods with owls hooting at night. Wind Chime Storm layers a delicate wind chime with the sounds of a thunder storm and rain. Evening Chorus is a layer of lapping water, owls, frogs croaking, Loons calling, and crickets. Cottage Sonata layers wind in trees, wind chimes, fire crackling, and a river. I find it extremely difficult to shut my mind off and fall asleep. This app is incredibly relaxing and effective. You can try it for free which gives one access to about fifteen sounds. I bought an annual subscription for $23.00 and have access to over thirty sounds.
2. 1 Tac Safety Lights/Roadside Discs. While these amazingly tough lights were developed for use in vehicles as accident hazard lights, I can also see how they would come in extremely handy for boaters as well. They can be set to flash like police lights, blink, or static brightness, and they are magnetic, waterproof, and tough enough to drive over with a truck. The link for these in the USA is here; the link for these in the UK is here. They are sold in a pack of three. 
3. BBC Reel. Since I can no longer access the BBC stations in the USA , I go their website for European news with my morning cuppa. I find the BBC website far less biased than their TV news and some of the add-ons available are fascinating. The home page offers a Playlist link in the upper right. This will take you to different short videos clustered around ideas like Culture, Villages, Physics, history, Living in the Future, and The Science of Everyday Life. I've watched intriguing short vids about villages in Spain selling houses for €1 and entire villages for the equivalent of $30,000.00. I've been captivated by Japan's mysterious keyhole tombs, the flower that blooms every 12 years, the map (of the world) that survived 700 years, the rarest fabric on earth, creating leather from mushrooms, why Swedes won't talk about wealth, a rem]mote town made form Opal mines, secret worlds: a journey to the most recondite and hard to access places and communities, the secret world beneath Alhambra, is our perception if time wrong?, and the origins of the mysterious Guanches! What might those be, you ask?  Check them out on BBC Reel. 
4. Dezeen. This is an architecture and design magazine with a weekly newsletter that covers the world of design in all things: architecture, clothing, shoes, jewelry, automobiles, AI virtual beings, and technology to name a few and many of the design pieces favor reader input. It also offers links to design and architecture job openings if you are so educated and inclined. These recent stories on Dezeen caught my eye: Scientists at Tufts University have created xenobots, tiny robots made from frog skin and heart cells that can walk and heal themselves; Samsung has developed AI-powered virtual beings that look and behave like real humans, much to reader disgust; the car design inspired by the movie Avatar. Mercedes-Benz's Vision AVTR concept also incorporates battery technology centered on a graphene-based organic cell chemistry that is free of "rare earths" and metals such as nickel and cobalt. The materials used to make the battery are compostable and fully recyclable, making the car free from fossil resources. The Vision AVTR interiors are also made from sustainable materials such as vegan leather seats, with a floor made of rattan. Practice Architecture worked alongside hemp farmers to erect this zero carbon home in Cambridgeshire, England, from pre-fabricated panels in just two days. Who's buying that information? Danish Architecture firm BIG has branched into smart home products. Controlled via smartphone, the Friday Smart Lock can automatically unlock a door when it senses the resident approaching, lock it as they leave, or allow them to remotely control who has access to the property. Designed in Hackney: last summer Hackney architects Studio Weave turned an old narrow boat into a floating cinema that toured the canals of east London. You can go to the web page of the newsletter and type narrow boat, canals, or canal boat into the search function and all sorts of design stories related to your search will turn up to intrigue and perhaps disgust you!
5. Wordsmith. If you are a logophile--a lover of words--then this website and free daily word email will satisfy your need for verbiage. Nearly 400.000 people in 170 countries have a free subscription to the Word of A Day email which always includes a new word, its pronunciation, etymology, definition, usage, and a thought for the day, and each week's words follow a theme. Created by Anu Garg--a computer programmer from Northern India, it is the only daily email that I am reluctant to consign to the rubbish bin after reading. Yesterday's word was Faff and of course it made nostalgic for Britain. My thanks to my dear friend Karen Barron in Pullman, Washington for sending me the link and getting me hooked!!
6. Black raspberries. Black raspberries have the highest amount of ellagic acid compounds of any fruit, and Oregon produces 90% of the world's black raspberries which are neither blackberries or raspberries. According to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center clinical studies indicate the anticarcinogenic effects of ellagic acid against liver, esophageal, prostate, and colorectal cancer cell lines. It was also shown to induce apoptosis and potentiate all-trans retinoic acid myeloid differentiation therapy in human leukemia HL-60 cells. Human research studies at the University of Ohio have worked with one farm in Mt. Hood, Oregon and one producer who provides a standardized black raspberry product used for their human clinical studies which show that a paste of black raspberries on pre cancerous mouth lesions can stop the progression to cancer and return the cells to normal functioning. According to James Wong, a British Kew-trained botanist, with a Master of Science degree in Ethnobotany, he has pursued his key research interests of underutilised crop species, ethnopharmacology and traditional food systems through field work in rural Ecuador, Java and China. On his website Wong says, "A Phase 1 clinical trial at the University of Ohio suggested that consuming the fruit reduced the markers of DNA damage in oral cancer survivors . Additional test tube and animal studies also suggest their consumption may be linked to the inhibited growth of esophagus and other cancers. The researchers are careful to not make claims that go beyond their limited data & more clinical trials are underway."
   I follow Chris Wark's website and blog. He chose alternative treatment to heal from colon cancer at the age of twenty six. He investigates both western allopathic cancer treatments and alternative treatments and I highly recommend his web site to anyone facing a cancer diagnosis. I only wished I had found it when Les was diagnosed in 2013. His blog post for this week happened to be about black raspberries and he has a video interview with the man who produces the standard black raspberry product used in human clinical trials at Ohio University and also in research at Oregon State University. I encourage you to read through this blog post from top to bottom as he also has links to research on this subject.
7. My Modern Met. Somewhere along the way on my thousands of sleepless nights I came across this website and fell in love with it. If you love art and culture in all its myriad forms, you too will enjoy this site. MMM has a weekly newsletter delivered by email without any adverts. Here are some of the topics I've discovered through this weekly newsletter: Land Artist Surprises Beach Goers By Leaving Striking Stone Arrangements Along the Coast; People Are Shocked to Discover That Not Everyone Has an Inner Monologue; Finland Solves Its Homelessness by Providing Apartments for Anyone Who Needs One; Bees Create Heart-Shaped Hive When There Aren’t Frames Up to Guide Them. My Modern Met also has an online store with some fun and intriguing items that make fabulous gifts. I love the vertical Jenga style game made with elegant wooden cats cut out to stack, and the GI Joe plastic soldier figurines in rainbow colors. None of the soldiers are holding guns; instead they are engaged in holding a yoga pose! There are vivid super saturated water colors in a small book no bigger than a small mobile phone for easy transportation, and handbags that appear to have the front cover of either Pride and Prejudice or The Raven by EA Poe on them.
8. A lovely woman I know named Mary Kunkel has become a writer in her golden years. She writes slice-of-life pieces about 500 or so words and there is a link to her blog over on the right, titled, Lightly Tethered to the Earth. Recently she wrote about Ravens in a post titled "Learning a New Language". In it she references wilderness explorer and writer Craig Child and his piece about Ravens which appeared in The Sun magazine, which I think you will find fascinating. Mary's piece led to Craig's book The Animal Dialogues. Child's writing is simply beautiful. It is deeply resonant. He paints word pictures of great depth and feeling about the wilderness, the animals which cross his path, and his small place in the larger picture as he interacts with them. I highly recommend it.
   Until next time!

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs