29 June 2007

The target demo: We are not it; a reminder

Portland is a city of the young; that's one of its charms. We boomers have been so dominant, demographically, for so long, that any indication that we're no longer in the lead brings us -- me, at least -- up short. Case in point: the current Willamette Week's annual Outdoors Guide leads off with a short feature called "These Forests Ain't Virgin Anymore: A Guide to Doing It in the Backcountry." The tone is earnest and helpful: Watch out for poison ivy, poison oak, and fire ants. Check. Don't get caught. Right. Don't, in the course of your passion, suffocate any baby opossums or commit other permanent damage to the environment. Gotcha. "Happy trails, you perverts," ends the article, which gives me hope that it was intended as a tongue-in-cheek, so to speak, piece.

28 June 2007

I gotta crow

Okay, one more (short, I promise) post and then I'll hang it up for today.

As you might recall, Jerry's gotten into the habit of feeding the neighborhood crows on our morning walks. Crows are no dummies; au contraire. Several of them have learned where we live, and lately they've been stopping by, asking, vociferously, to be fed. Our Columbia Gorge basalt accent column is now a bird feeding station. The crows are getting progressively tamer; when we go outside, crumbled dog biscuits in hand, they hop or fly just a few feet away, and swoop down on the goodies as soon as our backs are turned.

Apparently we now have a family hanging out in and around our pair of sweetgum trees; we saw one bird cramming bits of Milk-Bone (tm) down the throats of two marginally-smaller others. A couple have figured out how to soften up large pieces by soaking them in the puddle formed by our leaky irrigation sprinkler (which is another story). We love watching their antics, anthropomorphizing about their thought processes, and trying to figure out what their amazingly varied range of calls, caws, grunts, clicks and cackles are actually saying. I have to caution Jer not to respond in kind; god knows what he might be committing to.

Several crows have died of West Nile virus in our quadrant of Portland. There was another article in the paper this morning. I am in denial about this, of course.

Charismatic Microfauna

For the past several months, OMSI has been running something it calls Science Pubs. To me, the ex-librarian, a "science pub" is a scholarly journal. But this is Portland, and science pubs equate to monthly gatherings at Bridgeport Brewpub in NW where you order an adult beverage and something to eat, then settle in and listen to an expert in some branch of science discuss his or her field of interest.

This week, our neighbor Jay, who teaches microbiology at Reed, talked about e coli and infectious disease outbreaks caused by contaminated food. His presentation was called Spinach on the side: e coli in our lives. I learned the following: 1. The bacteria on and in the human body outnumbers the cells in the human body itself. 2. e coli 157 is the bad e coli; it's a much more complex organism than the good e coli that live in our intestines. 3. What actually makes you sick is shiga toxin, which is genetically encoded in a virus contained in the e-157 bacterium. A bacterium packin' a virus; no wonder it's so nasty.

Jerry did well in the food-borne disease trivia quiz that preceded Jay's presentation, and won this adorable plush e coli. It's sort of like winning a stuffed animal at the county fair, but employing a different skill set. I first heard the phrase "charismatic megafauna" from a biologist who explained that big brown eyes go a long way to making cows, ponies and puppies so appealing. I doubt that e coli actually have eyes, but this little guy is cute enough to have earned a place in our house. In the kitchen, of course.

By the way, I ordered the spinach salad at Bridgeport the other night. So did Jay. I guess that particular outbreak is history.


My mother died a year ago today, at the age of 89. She lived a remarkable life, emigrating from Germany, alone, at 17; learning English and graduating from high school in Chicago; meeting my dad-to-be, her one true love, on a blind date; and raising three pretty decent kids. Along the way she became a passionate advocate for the retarded (my sister was born with Down Syndrome; we didn't at that time call it "developmentally disabled") and a dear friend and mentor to dozens of people her age and much younger.

We had the usual mother-daughter "stuff," of course, but the turning point came when Mom and I traveled to China together in November 1996. The two of us turned out to be the only people on our tour. She was a trouper. Confronting a rural pit toilet, nothing but a hole in the ground, is a test of character, not to mention a real bonding experience. We were strangers in a strange land together, on an equal footing for the first time. Her sense of humor blossomed. We had deep, thoughtful conversations. We emerged from that trip as friends, with a much deeper understanding of each other and our respective foibles.

This morning I lit a candle, and picked out a few old photos from the hundreds that my brother Larry and my nephew Josh scanned last year.

I miss you, Mom.

Hertha Levi Basch, 12 December 1916 - 28 June 2006.

23 June 2007

Am I butch or what?

Women on Bikes had a ride scheduled on the Springwater Trail this morning, heading out in the opposite direction from the section I hiked on Thursday. I was hoping to catch the group at the 45th Avenue trailhead but we didn't connect, so I headed out on my own.

It was another spectacularly beautiful day, sunny but coolish. The first part of the route goes through some funky industrial areas, but there's a lovely bucolic stretch even before you hit 82nd Ave. After 122nd it starts feeling downright rural. Wildlife doesn't scurry away from bikes the way it does from cars; biking is like kayaking that way. I saw a rabbit, a flock of red-winged blackbirds, and several flickers. Also Mount Hood. And, of course, lots of friendly Portlandians out for exercise, too.

I ended up at Linnemann Station, which is waythehellandgone -- in the vicinity of Gresham, actually. Hey, I biked to Gresham and back! Door-to-door, as near as I can figure, about a 17-mile round trip. I feel like such a jock.

Actually I didn't bike quite all the way home, since the Eastmoreland Neighborhood Garage Sale is on this weekend and the streets were (and probably still are) jammed with cars and zoned-out bargain-hunters. Before I left on my ride, I put our old flatbed scanner out on the curb, with a sign saying "free." Nobody bit when I listed it on Freecycle a couple of months ago, but it was gone within an hour. I don't care if whoever scooped it up is planning to sell it on eBay; I just needed the closet space back.

Speaking of butch, I got a very short haircut yesterday. I took a picture of Laurie Anderson in to my haircutter and said "make it look like that." It will, when it grows out a bit.

21 June 2007

Happy Solstice

I observed the summer solstice by showing up for jury duty. Jerry dropped me off at the courthouse downtown. It was a relatively painless experience, as these things go. Comfy chairs, no blaring TV, free wi-fi, a good book to read, frequent communications from the staff about the status of our potential empanelment (30 names were called, mid-morning, none of them mine) and, just before noon, blessed release. In the eyes of the law, I have done my service, and I'm off the hook for the next two years.

It was a beautiful day, sunny but not hot, and I decided to walk home, or at least see how far I could get before calling Jerry to pick me up. I went over the Hawthorne Bridge, along the East Bank Esplanade, and connected with the Springwater Corridor Trail. Wildflowers were in bloom everywhere -- purple, fuchsia, yellow. I saw ospreys nesting, herons wading and geese paddling off Ross Island, and a professionally-printed sign glued to a bridge support that said "You could be a millionaire... if you stopped fucking gambling."

Jury duty doesn't lend itself to photography, and I didn't have my camera with me anyway, so instead of wildflowers and waterfowl, you get a picture of a cool twiggy structure I found that has both moss and lichen on it, and another cactus flower shot. Oddly enough, this is from the same plant as the one that bloomed so spectacularly in May, but the blossom is twice the size and white instead of pink.

Looking at the map after I got home confirmed my hunch that cutting through Oaks Bottom and over to Bybee would have shortened my hike by a couple of miles. But I wanted to go all the way through Sellwood so I could familiarize myself with the portion of the trail that reverts to city streets between the Sellwood Bridge on the west and Three Bridges to the east. Plus I was starving by that point and realized that SoTac Coffee and Cream, which I'd been wanting to check out, was just a couple of doorways off my route east on Umatilla. Plus I get into this macha mindset sometimes where I just have to do things the hard way.

So, fortified by a double scoop of Tillamook's fine lemon sorbet and wild mountain blackberry ice cream, I finished my journey. I did a shade over seven miles in a shade over two hours, including osprey-nest ogling and ice-cream buying time. A pretty good pace, considering that I wasn't even thinking about power-walking. In the back of my mind I've been pondering the best way to get downtown and back by bike, and this was an opportunity to scope out a likely path. It would be a fairly easy trip, I think; it might take half an hour.

I actually wouldn't have minded being picked for an average-length trial. Average = a day and a half, according to the judge who greeted us this morning and explained the jury selection process. It probably would have been an interesting experience. I was summoned a couple of times when we lived in the Bay Area but, like today, just sat until they dismissed us. We were excused outright at Sea Ranch because of its remote location.

Really, though: Given a choice between courtroom deliberations and a long, lovely walk with wildflowers, birds, and ice cream to sweeten the last leg of the trip.... well, you know which one I'd pick. And not a jury in the world would convict me.

13 June 2007

Three small joys

One of the less prepossessing plants that Grace installed in our garden -- okay, it looks like a rangy piece of grass -- decided to strut its stuff a few days ago. I noticed that it had flowered; from the living room window, though, it didn't look like much. But then I inspected it more closely, and holy moly, what a show. Worlds within worlds. It's gone now, but hopefully it'll perform again.

My Moo cards arrived, and I love them. I'd been thinking for a while about upgrading my business cards from the plain D-I-Y style I've been using since the advent of laser printers and perforated stock. On Kaua'i, my pal Art, Flickr God and photographer extraordinaire, showed me the perfect solution: Moo cards let you upload photos of your choice, or import them from Flickr or a number of other applications, crop them, and add the appropriate text to the other side. Voila; cards with art, almost instantly. You can use as many different images as you want; the more you upload, the more variety, obviously, and the fewer copies of each. One or two favorite pictures, and you get 50 or 100 of each. Like that. I had lots of fun using the cropping tool to select provocative sections of some of my quilts and favorite scenic vistas. They're about half the size of a regular business card, which I suppose might create some problems, but which I think just adds to their distinction. They print and ship from the UK; I had my order, in a neat little plastic box, in less than 10 days. I am so pleased; I can't wait to reorder. Here, would you like my card?

The retaining wall outside my studio window is in its full green glory. The delicate viney thing with tiny flowers is cascading over the stones, and the ferns are at their peak. Later in the season it'll all dry out and look not so wonderful, but right now it's exquisitely lush. I must get back into the studio, if only to spend more time staring at the wall.

Grizzly Man and Grisly Men

We went to OMSI to see Bodyworlds, the controversial exhibit of partially-dissected and "plastinated" bodies, the day after it opened. I thought it was beautifully done and emotionally affecting as well as educational. I hadn't known, for instance, that the left lung is considerably smaller than the right, with only two lobes. That's how they get the heart to fit in; duh.

There's nothing grisly, really, about these men (and a few women). But we'd seen Werner Herzog's bizarre and wonderful film Grizzly Man a couple of days before, and I couldn't resist the juxtaposition.

Now that Jer and I are both retired, several days can go by without any official obligations on the calendar. That makes the moderately "busy" times seem downright hectic by comparison. Here's some of what's been going on the last week and a half:

A Willamette River cruise on the sternwheeler Rose with Mike Houck, Bob Sallinger, a bunch of Portland Audubon members, plus some politicos and media people. Mike is co-author of Wild in the City and the go-to guy, locally, for urban ecology issues and the politics associated therewith. Bob is deeply involved in preserving the peregrine falcon population, especially the families that roost on and under the bridges of Portland. The focus of our trip was Ross Island, which may or may not become a city-managed park/wildlife preserve. We saw a bald eagle nesting, several ospreys, and two or three great blue heron nests, one with four young in it. It was a glorious day on the river, and a perfect way to celebrate Great Blue Heron Week (the heron is Portland's official city bird). Here's Mike doing, perhaps, his Great Blue Heron impression.

A Slow Food potluck in the wilds of North Portland. Once again, a location that looked remote and improbable on the map turned out to be a charming pocket o' Portland that we wouldn't have dreamed existed, less than 20 minutes away. About a dozen people attended, all smart, articulate, progressive, and passionate about food. One woman turned out to be an acquaintance from Sea Ranch whom -- this is going to sound so jet-setty -- we last ran into in Athens, at the Acropolis. (Coincidentally, our friends Rich and Dean, whom we were traveling with at the time, are visiting Portland now; we spent last evening with them.) We're going to try to do these potlucks monthly; everybody had such a good time. And of course all the food was delicious.

A walking tour of midcentury modern architecture, including buildings on the Reed campus and homes in the adjacent Reedwood neighborhood. The outing was one in a series of walks sponsored by the city transportation department; the idea is to get us out of our cars and onto our feet or bikes. It was semi-interesting, although many of the buildings struck me as undistinguished and occasionally even tacky. Gerrie and Steve, who live in their own mid-century modern, walked with us, and Gerrie did a great job with photos and descriptions of some of the better stuff.

The Northwest Quilters annual show downtown, near Portland State. I entered two older pieces, A Few New Sushi (Like, I Know Sushi) and Bamboo IV. I made Sushi for my California guild's challenge, "Something Fishy," several years ago. It also fit this year's challenge theme, "It's What's for Dinner," so I figured why not. Bamboo IV is the latest in a series inspired by the calligraphy of Toko Shinoda; I worked on it during a semester-long workshop with Jeannette Meyer, and it was juried into last year's OCAC student show.

The Columbia Stitchery Guild exhibit at the Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center. The show runs through next weekend. I'll refer you to Terry's and Gerrie's blogs for photos and more complete descriptions. Two of my pieces are on display. One, Occasional Sunbreaks, looks great. The other, Crop Circles, doesn't. It looked fine pinned to my design wall. But suspended from a hanging rod, the lovely hand-dyed wool sags where it's not heavily quilted, and the merciless overhead lighting emphasizes each bump and wrinkle. Oh well.

A house concert in NE featuring our friend Zoe Kaplan and three other talented young singer-songwriter-musicians. This is a monthly series that's been going on for several years. The ticket price ($25) includes an ample and well-prepared buffet dinner. We've been to several, but this was the first one that Libbi and David were able to attend; it was good to see them there, to hear Zoe perform again, and to meet some more nice people.

Dinner with our Sea Ranch friends Dean and Rich, and their Portland friends Juanita and Dale, who live just a few minutes from us. It turned into a small birthday celebration for Juanita; Dale's son Tony and his fiancee Amy showed up, as well as an old family friend. Everyone was delightful company, the food was terrific, and the conversation flowed like wine, which also flowed. We'd missed Rich and Dean a lot, and it was great to spend time with them and their old friends.

The next couple of weeks are also studded with events and obligations, including -- oh joy -- jury duty. Sometimes I worry about becoming one of those old ladies for whom postal delivery is the high point of the day: "Oh look, the mail's come!" But I don't think I'm at that point quite yet.

06 June 2007

No mow lawn

Yesterday was a dramatic day, weather-wise. Bright sun, then -- suddenly -- dark gray clouds followed by fifteen minutes of heavy rain. Then sun. Rain. Sun. Showers. Sun. It was an amped-up version of the changeable climate we first experienced two years ago, right around this time of year, when we came up to house-hunt. It reminded me then of Hawai'i -- rainforest weather, only temperate rather than tropical. I wondered if things grew as well in Portland as they did in the islands. Silly me.

Grace came by last week to install the last couple of plants and to give us a guided tour of what she'd done. In preparation, I'd systematically taken photos covering the entire garden, and printed them out on regular paper so I could easily make notes. I annotated while Grace unerringly spelled out the Latin names. The walk-through took about two and a half hours, at the end of which, with perfect timing, Jer offered a champagne toast. We'd had a bottle of Gloria Ferrer in the fridge for weeks, and this turned out to be the occasion. Salud!

Fair warning: If plant lists make your eyes glaze over, you'd be well-advised to skip the next couple of paragraphs. But for any gardeners who might be interested in the particulars: We have several varieties of phormium (New Zealand flax) with beautiful shadings (one is called Maori Sunrise), numerous dots of dwarf acorus (they look like goldy-green sea urchins), crocosmia, fescue, and several other grasses, including my favorite-named, Black Mondo.

In no particular order, we're also responsible for the survival of an obsidian heuchera (a.k.a. coral bells), a blue-flowering ground cover called pratia peduncularis, a very delicate, purple and ferny acaena purpurea, a couple of ajugas, sedums, a cynara, club moss, cimicifuga, three or four different euphorbias (which I suppose only Jerry and I call Flying Saucer plant), some hebes (proven butterfly attractants), a dianthus (in the carnation family, but the flowers are reputedly much more interesting), rubus pentalobus (a.k.a. creeping raspberry, though it's not known for its fruit), firefly and sundrop heathers (erica), a dwarf conifer called chamaecyparis, brass buttons (leptinella), corokia cotoneaster, myrtle berry, and the knockout-foliaged trachelospermum jasminoides something-Japanese. Obviously, I am merely parroting back most of these names, but perhaps eventually some of them will stick in my sieve-like brain.

But that's not all! There's a mock orange, which we're not to expect edible fruit from, but also gooseberry, salmonberry, blueberry (two plants) two kinds of strawberries, huckleberry, and a dwarf pomegranate, which we are. Herbs, too: variegated sage, lemon thyme, pennyroyal, a pretty oregano called Kent Beauty and, in a major role as groundcover, wooly thyme.

We also have a Silver Dollar eucalyptus that could get 12 feet tall, and, making friends with the front porch, a golden-leafed jasmine (jasminum aureum) that's flowering already, and a hefty wisteria.

Given a choice, Grace will go for the odd and unusual cultivar every time. "Weird Variety" is her middle name. Her last name is Constantine and her and Micha's business is Rejuvenation Artisans. They aren't cheap but they're geniuses and great fun to work with. The last of the plants she had been waiting for, and planted that afternoon, were juncus effusus spiralis, known as corkscrew rush, and juncus effusus 'Unicorn,' or giant spiral rush. I get a giant spiral rush just thinking about all these weird and wonderful plantlets whose lives are now in our hands. Live long and prosper, y'all.

Up the page are a couple of shots of the front of our house as it looks now, followed by one that demonstrates its "curb appeal" on that sunny-rainy-sunny day when we first saw it.

What hasn't changed are the rows of roses on the west and east borders of the lot, flanking the gorgeous but relatively austere -- let's just say it's a different aesthetic -- new garden. Grace did transplant three red rose bushes from the back yard that had been languishing for lack of sun; when they leaf out and blossom again, they'll form a visual bridge between the roses on each side. I pruned both rose beds, mercilessly, in February. They obviously didn't mind; they're back with a vengeance. Everything grows in Portland.

02 June 2007

Green flash at sunrise

The green flash!
Originally uploaded by dgans
We've been home from Kaua'i for a week now, and the feel of the island is still very much with us. Jer and I have actually been fantasizing about allowing ourselves to be sucked into one of those timeshare pitches and, this time, whipping out the Visa card and saying "yes."

I haven't mentioned one of the highlights of the trip. After living on the coast, where looking for the green flash at sunset is a routine cocktail-hour pastime, we've grown pretty blasé about the phenomenon. We and our friends saw several, this trip, from the beach right in front of our cottages.

On Kaua'i, we've developed a ritual of greeting the sunrise, too. Jer and I do our yoga sun salutations then toddle out, coffee in hand, to join whichever members of our group have also made it to the beach. The same optical and atmospheric conditions that contribute to a green flash in the evening exist in the morning as well. But it's seldom seen at daybreak because far fewer people are out of bed that early. If they are, they're usually getting ready for work; they don't have time to watch the sun come up. Makes perfect sense when you think about it.

Well, you know what's coming. Last Thursday morning, Jer and I just happened to be looking at the horizon the moment the sun popped out, and there it was -- a green flash! A sunrise green flash is much more of a surprise. You have to be ready. You have no inkling that the sun is about to appear at that particular instant. You're not waiting, waiting, waiting, as you are at the other end of the day, for that big ol' glowing ball to disappear, looking to see whether it flattens out into an omega shape (a positive sign) on the way down, and knowing that, at the moment it winks out, it either will or won't be a green flash evening. A sunrise green flash gives you no cues, no time to prepare. In a way it's a purer visual experience, because there's no after-image to confuse you. You haven't been staring at the sun, off and on, for half an hour, waiting for it to do its thing.

There's another, more subtle, difference also. After a sunset green flash, you go "ahhh," watch the sky change color for a while, and tacitly bid farewell to the day. But a sunrise flash turns into the rising sun. Your day is just beginning, and what can possibly top what you've just seen?

Well, how about another green flash? That same evening, we attended Doug and Sandy McMaster's "sunset serenade, " a low-key hour or so of slack-key guitar and uke, on the shore of Hanalei Bay. There, our pal David Gans got an excellent shot, shown here, of our second green flash of the day. Try and top that, Sea Ranch!

Yesterday, Jer and I wrestled my bike down from high on the garage wall, where we'd stowed it when we first moved in. It's been so long that we actually forgot whose bike was whose. Jerry's is the purple one; we took it down first by mistake. Mine is green. I remember feeling, back when my business, Aubergine Information Services, was a happening thing and I totally identified with the color purple, that the purple bike should really be mine. Over the years, however, I've become very fond of green. It was an unexpected little gift to rediscover that my bike is the green one; hooray!

So we re-inflated the tires, lubed it in the obvious places, and brushed off 2+ years worth of dust. Today I rode it up to Woodstock for a three-hour workshop on basic bike maintenance offered through an awesome city program called Women on Bikes. It was empowering, although I learned enough to pray that I never have to fix a rear-tire flat.

I don't normally name my vehicles but I'm moved, for some reason, to christen my bike. She's now The Green Flash. It's nice to think about carrying a little bit of Hawai'i with me every time I ride.