31 December 2008

Pay raise

In a short (two sentence), not-so-prominently placed article in today's edition of The State readers learned that members of Congress have elected to give themselves a pay raise starting tomorrow. The hike amounts to $4700 annually per lawmaker.

This in the face of 2008's economic melt-down affecting the entire globe. This after TARP, a $700 billion distribution from the US Treasury to bolster in-trouble financial institutions. This after two hat-in-hand visits from leadership of the Detroit three automakers in the year's closing months. This knowing of rampant job losses and business failures nationwide. This after Congress, sitting in judgement, having observed to UAW leadership that their workers must be willing to accept hourly wage cuts.

What a boneheaded way to end the year.

30 December 2008

A spa event

Yes, in Edgefield.

Our local library (the Edgefield County Public Library, to be more specific and accurate) sponsored a "spa event" this afternoon for the women of the community. The postcard invitation promised presentations on the female body, a make-up demonstration, door prizes and refreshments. Who could say no to that?

I arrived about ten of four to an upbeat greeting from the library staff. By the time 4:00 arrived there were roughly eight to ten participants in place, representing an amazing cross section of our community -- a poet to the Meals on Wheels driver. During the two major talks the exchanges between the speaker and the participants and among the participants were funny and entertaining and helpful. For that positive spirit alone I'm glad I went.

The most carefully covered information was the new (2005) food pyramid from the US Department of Agriculture. Rather than the old stacked look with grains at the bottom and fats at the top, this pyramid resembles a teepee, the food groups tall, thin and triangular. The pyramid also features stairs up one side, a reminder that diet without exercise looses effectiveness. Particularly interesting to me is that the pyramid is entitled "My Pyramid: Steps to a Healthier You" and via the website -- MyPyramid.gov -- it can be personalized to an individual, taking into account health issues, age and the like. Unfortunately, I've not been able to get the web site to come up yet. But, a personalized, almost interactive web site is a fine idea ...

29 December 2008

Eating out

Over the months since I retired (gee, it's been nearly 11 already), Tal and I have eaten out less-and-less frequently. The economic turn-down of the second half of the year definitely boosted that eat-at-home trend. The Christmas holiday has been quiet and during Susan's visit, we have done nothing different.

We changed that today just prior to her departure. I went off mid-morning to officiate a burial, returning shortly after noon. After I changed from my black suit and collar we drove into Edgefield for the mid-day meal. While Edgefield is known for its pottery and is enjoying a developing art colony reputation, the most fascinating spot in town is the Edgefield Billiard Parlor.

It's not unusual for the most unkempt construction worker to be sitting at the counter next to the mayor, both of them calling greetings to folks streaming through the door. Three pool tables inhabit the back of the dimly lit space and the dingy walls are covered with yellowing tributes to Strom Thurmond; Clemson, Carolina, Georgia and local high school football; the establishment's founding (and continuing) family. The menu is severely limited. If you don't want a hamburger, a hotdog, or chicken strips for an entree, you don't want to eat there.

But, the hamburgers are delicious. And, I always add very indulgent onion rings and then carefully finish off my order with a diet Coke. Go figure.

Even thougth Susan wishes we lived somewhere she wanted to visit, I think she enjoyed her lunch. And, whether she realizes it or not, she has experienced Edgefield's most vivid local color.

28 December 2008

Leftovers ... yum

I've been in the kitchen a lot since Tal and I arrived home on Christmas morning! A lot.

Christmas dinner, if I do say so myself, was great. I had never prepared a country ham, an event requiring days of soaking and changing water, hours and hours of boiling and a final baking prior to its presentation. The day after Christmas Tal's son came to fish with his dad and to visit with his sister. For that, since it was another cold, damp day, I cooked up a nice thick warming black bean soup. Then, yesterday, Bruce and his wife, Deborah, were invited for lunch. The centerpiece of that meal was a chicken, mozzerella cheese, tomato, dressing casserole.

Today, slighty tired and more than slightly uninspired, I simply heated up all our options, displayed them on the kitchen counter and we dug in! Yams, macaroni and cheese, chicken, ham, rolls were augmented with a crisp green salad. We feasted. And, finished up several dishes.

Having leftovers seems to be the reward for having cooked. So worth it.

27 December 2008

An anniversary

I awoke this morning and my first thought was of the date: December 27th. I was baptised at the Presbyterian Church in Milford Michigan at the age of four months and two days on this date 55 years ago.

Since my priesting I've always told families, parents and godparents in particular, to make as big a deal over the baptism anniversary of the child in question as they do birthdays, baptism being a rebirth and a day the faith was claimed officially for the child. My own observance of December 27th, also the feast of St John, is quiet, generally private, and sweetly fraught with memories of the people now gone who were likely present for the event. I've not thought about it before; I wonder if any photographs were made that day ...

During the day I spent time with the widower of a lovely former parishioner who died unexpectedly on Christmas morning. He and their two adult children are still in shock but able to talk about the details of the service we will have on Monday. (I have been given permission by both the diocesan archdeacon and the bishop to officiate the burial.) During my visit they also told me several dear stories of their beloved wife and mother.

One of the details I learned is that the marriage had reached its 55th anniversary a mere three days before Christmas. So, we -- that long-married couple and I -- have the number 55 in common. That's a connection all of us agreed we like.

26 December 2008

A few Christmas Eve photos

Black bean soup is simmering on the stove, Susan is playing the piano, and Bruce and Tal are out fishing. A few minutes are all mine to look at some of this season's photographic efforts.

With our need to be on our way home early Christmas Day, Mom served Christmas dinner a day early. This is the table shortly before the meal was served.

Mom and Dad's Christmas tree looked very pretty from the backyard and golf course. Too bad I had trouble with the exposure.

Lucia and Andy sent flowers, which arrived in an intricately designed box with careful and detailed instructions. Mom followed them to the letter and the arrangement developed beautifully.

25 December 2008

On Christmas day in the morning

We were up too early on this Christmas morning; our visit to Pawleys and my parents was too short. But, with us expecting Tal's daughter to arrive mid-day at our place in Edgefield County, Mom and Dad were ultra-accommodating, breakfast served and over in the vicinity of 7:00 with us on our way by 7:15. Our two full days with them were simply extraordinary -- laid back, comfortable, unrushed. They fall in the category of blessing, without doubt.

Last time we visited them, that being Thanksgiving, I managed to leave the Manfrotto tripod behind. With the tripod safely stowed in the trunk and with us almost to the Founders Club our cell phone rang. I'd forgotten to pick up my slippers and gloves from the porch. Isn't there some adage about wanting to return when one leaves something behind? Anyway, there's a twist this time. When I unpacked earlier this evening, I discovered the drinking glass and a hand towel from the guestroom bath in my tote bag. I'd stripped the bed and cleaned the bathroom in anticipation of my sister using the guest room over New Years. With several things to carry down the stairs I dropped those two things in the bag and then, with breakfast ready, forgot to leave them in the kitchen and laundry room respectively. So, Mom and I are holding those belongings of the other hostage.

Our drive home was uneventful and rather pretty. The sun came up as we were crossing the Waccamaw River at Georgetown, a huge radiant orb in the car's mirrors. And, that light shown on the nearly purple clouds filling the western horizon. By the end of our four-hour drive the sunlight had disappeared and the grey had given way to periods of rain. Somehow what I felt through it all was a nearly overwhelming sense of sweetness, the Christmas lights touching, the open convenience stores beacons alongside the road, winter's landscape spread out all around us.

As the miles accumulated, I thought about all the Christmases I -- and more recently, Tal and I -- have been mobile. Over the years since my priesting we have been present in whichever congregation I was serving at least through the Christmas Eve services. While we lived in Wilmington and Philadelphia, I was expected to work though the holiday, but that amounted to six years at the most. And, one year since moving to this part of South Carolina, when three funerals required my ongoing presence, we stayed home. Those occasions aside, Christmas for my whole adult life has been "gypsy" in nature. I have come to associate the drive to the South Carolina coast with Christmas. It's as integral to the holiday as are the Christmas cards, my favorite of all the holiday traditions.

The day is nearly over. We made it home before 11:00. Susan arrived shortly before 2:00. Dinner was at 4:00. I finished in the kitchen shortly before 8:00. Sitting here with everyone, humans and pups, in the house sleeping with the tree still lit, contentment is my pleasure.

I hate to let the day go.

24 December 2008

Scanning the past

What a day!

After we arrived at Pawleys I asked my dad about a specific photograph he made on Christmas Day 1954. I have a copy of it which has turned sepia-like over the past several years and I wanted to find a way to replace it. During the day he provided me with a plastic container the size of a shoebox, a box remarkably containing hundreds and hundreds of negatives. After a brief search through what were obviously the oldest envelopes, success!

That high moment was followed by several hours (interruped by meals and deliberate and much needed times-out) of struggle along a learning curve during which we, my dad and I, mastered the process of scanning negatives. Here is proof our our success in the form of the image I so wanted to reproduce.

This photograph was made the Christmas I was one year old, making me about 15 months. My mother is watching me play with a marvelous gift: a stuffed dog my dad helped me name George. Isn't she giving me an "I've got your number" look? By the way, I still have George all these years later, 54 years to be exact!

Of course, I couldn't not continue exploring that box of bounty. Today we practiced our techinque. There simply was not enough time to scan everything that caught my eye (translated: captured my heart). But, I know what I'll be doing on the next visit!

Fast forward a number of years and this is Joyce and me at the Rocking Tree at Brookgreen.

Going back in time, added to the mix here is Paul who was born in December of 1957. We look as though we like him pretty much.

The scanner's a rest now and so are we all. Such satisfying accomplishments should bring on good sleep.

23 December 2008

Christmas spirit

I've written about Advent and Christmas expectations several times during December. With retirement has come significantly increased contemplation time. Living a mindful Advent this time around, while being a distinct (and unfamiliar) pleasure, has been a challenge as well. I have actually found myself looking at the whole of the Christmas hoohaa through disbelieving eyes, wondering what in the world we're all so frenetically trying to do, to feel, to experience, to prove. What is the point of all the craziness?

Midway throught the season I had a conversation with a friend who told me with some sadness that given the economic turn down, with many members of his family living far enough away that they are going to miss seeing each other this year, since he has demanding work difficuties bearing down on him he was not at all in the Christmas spirit. I was satisfied with my response to him, having suggested that Christmas joy isn't an all the time promise (despite what print, television, internet ad campaigns proclaim), that Christmas spirit can be a matter perhaps of mere, fleeting moments of unexplainable contentment which must be noticed and acknowledged and savored.

Satisfaction with the answer aside, however, long after his departure -- for days not hours -- I let that sad admission roll around in my head. That the approach of Christmas leaves a vast number of people poor in spirit, not to mention financially poor, seems a tragedy. The astounding promise of God with us is lost, not to mention rendered meaningless by the way we choose to observe it.

Tal and I woke up this morning at Pawleys Island and have enjoyed a long, leisurely day with my parents -- eating, talking, resting. During the late morning we enjoyed a 14 hole, vigorous walk on the golf course prior to the begin of play, the overnight freeze having made for a delay in starting times. This afternoon we took a short trip to Litchfield Books, a superb, local bookstore where I found a journal for the new year. More than once through the day I caught my own attention, knowing to the marrow of my bones that what I was experiencing could be no less than joy. Nothing flamboyant. No giddiness. Not a firework in sight. Just a sure knowledge that I was in the right place, doing the right things, profoundly aware of the present -- enjoying and grateful for it. Ah, the stuff of Christmas spirit.

22 December 2008

All done

Well, in a manner of speaking, anyway.

This past week, beginning with the trimming of the Christmas tree, has been a wonderful and busy one. Planning to depart after noon today for a visit with my parents on the South Carolina coast, we wanted to leave the house ready for our return home Christmas day when we will welcome Tal's daughter for a visit of several days. I tried out makng a list of everything I had hoped to accomplish during the week. It was a formitable list and probably overly ambitious (at least some of it unnecessary). But, most of the items on the list were finished when we left the new gates closing behind us earlier today. Now, I can get home on Thursday, Christmas dinner on my mind, without any heart-palpating anxiety or dread.

I love feeling finished, however rarely that feeling occurs.

The week of Advent four

This is the day, were I legalistic about observing Advent, refraining from launching into Christmas celebration too soon, that Tal and I would begin getting our abode ready for the feast of the Nativity. This year, for anyone reading this weblog, you know we began last Monday, first and foremost wrestling with the tree and its illumination, a week earlier than normal. I didn't struggle at all with that decision which amounted to a shortening of Advent. We had our reasons, travelling today being the primary one.

I am aware, though -- this year in addition to most others, that my wanting to observe Advent is met with many responses, curiosity to ridicule to scorn. So deeply entrenched in the culture is the whole Christmas machine that even those who insist that we need to put Christ back into Christmas make the declaration with the soft glow emanating from an immaculate stable in mind. The Christ in Christmas for many centers on a misty-eyed of singing "Silent night, holy night" while holding a flickering candle. A Christ-centered Christmas in those cases is a sentimental experience and it ends, if not by the time the gifts are opened Christmas morning, by the end of daylight hours on December 25th. (We would be saying something along the same line, perhaps, were we to insist that summer is over at the end of the day on June 21st.)

Advent is not a sentimental season. Neither is it a season of excess. Of all the liturgical seasons this is the one I have always liked the best. The lectionary readings are about watching and waiting, about unexpected life and changing the way we live, about death and dying. What difference, if any, is this birth going to make? It isn't simply about who is being born or who was born. More importantly and more personally and more urgently, what might be born in me were I to allow it? What might come to life and change the world were I willing for it to happen?

An awful lot of discomforting housecleaning has to be done before we can enter into the feast of the Incarnation with that understanding. And, yes, in many cases something (many somethings?) has to die before the new thing can be born. Hence, the importance of this more or less four week period.

I wish it for people, for all people, Christian or not, that understanding. I wish it, knowing it will be easier always to short-circuit the process. I wish it, well aware that dodging quiet contemplation will lose almost everytime in the face of pursuing "Christmas spirit," that memory carried from childhood, sometimes accurate, oftentimes not, a pursuit that most of the time leaves us disappointed and sad and then glad when it's all over. I wish it, and will keep wishing it through the twelve days of Christmas -- through the process of our untrimming the tree for another year.

21 December 2008


We have done it again. Reached the point where the sun is as far from the celestial equator as it can get. Winter began today and Tal and I are leaving shortly for a holiday party. It's already dark and cold; the temperature tonight promises to drop dramatically.

The last time this happened the sun was at the other end of its eliptic course. On the first day of summer we were at Shining Falls Lodge in Manitoba and the day seemed to go on forever. This photograph was shot at 10PM after we had returned to camp as a powerful storm brewed.

These six months have gone by in a flash.

20 December 2008

The last day of autumn

The day began with breakfast, a production including coffee, sausage patties from Cones Meat & Farm in Ridge Spring, a vegetable fritatta and English muffins with strawberry preserves. The conclusion of breakfast brought on a flurry of cleaning up after myself while Tal and his son set off on a fishing trip to a local pond. That soapy process took more time than making the mess and eating the (delicious) meal conbined. Oh well ...

Although this was almost the shortest day of the year, I luxuriated in the fact that the minutes and hours of the day passed slowly. I didn't look up to find it to be 3:00 in the afternoon, an all too often occurance. Instead, today was a day of doing one thing at a time -- the meal, laundry, restarting the guestroom television in advance of a Christmas houseguest, visiting with a former parishioner come calling, some filing and notewriting.

About the time Tal and Bruce returned, happy with their catch, it was time for me to depart for my three-hour stint in the Rocky Shop, Edgefield Regional Arts' pre-Christmas gallery just off the square. Foot traffic there was steady with lots of opportunity for conversation and some reading (the shopkeeper before me left her Sunday edition of The New York Times-- yum!). When I locked the door and headed to the car after 5:00, the evening light was so soft, the Christmas lights on the square and those in the still-open shop windows a offering a satisfying glow.

Ah, this is the way it's supposed to be.

19 December 2008

Seeing things

As our culture’s penultimate holiday moves ever so swiftly into our nearer view and as I consciously and not-so-consciously look back over this year and gaze into 2009 as well, I have come to an initial conclusion. One of the qualities which has helped me though life thus far is an ability to adjust my point of view. As always, the very thing labeled a strength can also be perceived as a major tripping point – and often does just that, resulting in gravel ground into the knees. The trick is to manage that strength/weakness dichotomy.

My weak-leaning tendency is to give myself away. I can understand only too well another’s point of view. And, it took at least 40-to-45 of my 55 years to give myself some credit. The message I had learned – very well – somewhere along the way was that I didn’t count for very much, that everyone else’s ideas and opinions, thoughts and observations, heartaches and joys, competencies and achievements were ever so much higher, better, deeper than mine. I had to understand the other person; expecting or, entirely forbidden, requesting reciprocity was out of line.

At this moment I’m not sure when or how that attitude changed, but as our culture’s penultimate holiday moves every so swiftly into my nearer view, I am totally certain that “it” has happened and that I’m better for it. A vast majority of the sermons I wrote over the 15 years I served the church came from that slowly developing place of adjustment, a biblical passage undergoing a transformation from what I’d always thought, from the literal “this is what the words say” to what it might mean, to what it could imply for everyday life, my own and the lives of those who listened to me week after week. My closest relationships are marked, no longer by an automatic handing over of control and authority to the other person, but by an ability to be present and to listen and to respond, hearing without having to agree, honoring another position without having to defend my own, offering in a non-anxious way (I hope) different ways of seeing things.

What any or all of this might mean for 2009 is anybody’s guess. My strongest hope is that I can – and will – continue to stay tuned in and aware, willing to use what might be one of my unique gifts.

18 December 2008

Receiving a message

Tal and I have gardenias growing under our bedroom windows on the back side of our house. Truth be known, they’re much in need of pruning, having grown rather dramatically higher than the window sills in the four plus years since they were planted. One morning this week Tal brought me a cup of coffee while I was still curled up in bed (a pampered woman, I am) and as we sat and talked I saw not merely gardenia leaves through glass but this.

Tal thinks I’ve gone over some edge and delights in telling me so! Do you happen to see the word “desk,” too?

Never let it be said I don’t accept instruction. As a direct result of my having seen more than mere gardenia leaves through the steam from my coffee, my congested and neglected desk is receiving more than a little attention.

Now that I seem to have taken up reading leaves I wonder what the next message will be.

17 December 2008

The promised photos

The decorating's done. Now ... on to the housecleaning. The dust we stirred up is almost frightening.

First though, here are the photos I promised at the end of Monday. They're unedited and I didn't give much thought to proper pre-shutter lighting or to adjusting the white balance. But, you get the idea. Tal took at the boxes back to the attic before supper and everything -- save the dust and bits of tinsel -- looks rather nice. I'm looking forward to enjoying the soft glow of the lights and the unusual sight of bowls filled with gold stars and pinecones and the like between now and the Epiphany.

These two taken in the dining room were shot using a tripod with two variables: exposure and lights in use in the room. I know. I need to keep working on indoor technique. Our second tree -- the wrought iron one -- is partially visible on the left side of the lower photograph.

16 December 2008

Two casualties

No, it's not that. The wreaths are still on the gates. This casualty was totally unexpected.

We have lived on Country Club Pond since May of 2004 and haven't seen a beaver for at least three years. Last week's rain filled the pond-turned-mud flat to overflowing, the spillway running full for over 24-hours. When Tal came in for lunch today he brought the news. Both of our recently planted (and flourishing, I might add) weeping willows have been cut down, the bark stripped and the remains left floating in the shallow water.

The gates on which the Christmas wreaths are, safely, residing were intended to keep the deer from ruining the shrubbery. They work, those gates. But, we didn't count on the return of the beavers. Grrrr.

After lunch Tal returned to the water's edge and placed cages around the dawn redwood and other tender trees. Perhaps the beavers were just moving through; there was no other evidence of their presence. But, in the next few weeks, when we set out replacing the destroyed trees, I suspect we'll take that extra precaution in every case.

Live and learn.

15 December 2008

A tradition reassessed

I hate to admit it, but it's true. I don't like trimming Christmas trees.

For years and years I've put up a good front, professing a delight in the tree, live or fake, painstakingly administering the lights first, large lights the length of the trunk (illuminating the tree from inside ... thank you Martha Stewart), small lights along the branches to the very tips and back. Large ornaments must always grace the lower branches with smaller ones at the top, the colors balanced, reds not near reds, golds not near golds.

I don't know what happened today, but I simply didn't want even to begin. And, time's awastin'. Fortunately for me, Tal had mercy and we ended up making the tree a joint project, a wonderful first in our household. He took it upon himself to unroll and test the strings of lights, keeping the lights coming as I placed them, not to mention turning the ornament hangers from a large green, mangled-looking blob into individual "cees" of plastic-covered wire. He knew, I guess, how unfortunate a meltdown -- during this jolliest time of the year -- would have been. Were it not for him we likely would have been treeless this Advent/Christmas/Epiphany.

In the end, it's a very pretty tree. I shall enjoy sitting with it in the evenings, turning on the lights before making the coffee in the mornings and I'll likely not want to give it up come January 6th.

And, here at the end of the day we have two trees! My newly realized aversion to tree trimming isn't so new, it seems. Last year I bought a wrought iron tree, which is exceptionally easy to put together, requires no lights (yippee) and holds a limited number of ornaments. We weren't going to put it up, but with several categories of left over ornaments when we finished with the living room tree -- stars, crosses, angels -- we decided to have a tree in the dining room, too.

So, today I pretty much ran the gamut, going from not wanting a tree at all to having two. Photos to follow.

14 December 2008

Through the woods

We set out on an 18-hole walk on our local golf course in the middle of the afternoon. The weather's obviously beginning to change. Not as cold as it has been. There's a dampness in the air.

The first nine holes were unobstructed, no golfers. But, several groups were spread out on the back nine. Staying out of their way led us into the woods along the course and gave us an entirely new view of the terrain. Rambling around through the pines, into low-lying groves of a now leafless tree which I couldn't identify, and with my new wreath-making skills yesterday-fresh, noticing vines (they're everywhere) was a simple joy -- and harder walking than we're accustomed to.

I used to envy people their Sunday afternoon leisure. We take advantage of that leisure these days almost jealously. Knowing now what I've been missing for so very long, the envy was a pretty well-chosen response. Trading in envy for gratitude, however, is a calmer way to live.

13 December 2008


Today has been full, a typical Saturday given the proximity of Christmas. It's on days like this that I am especially aware of the gift of retirement. Were it not for that I would have spent the day writing sermons, crafting bulletins, attending meetings, desperately not sending Christmas cards again this year, trying to cram in meal planning for Christmas guests. I won't go on. Instead, this pre-Christmas time includes shopkeeping for both Edgefield Regional Arts and the Art Association of Ridge Spring, sending personally designed cards, listening to Christmas music, deliberately, here at home.

And, today I attended a vine wreath-making class taught by a former parishioner, sponsored by and held at the National Wild Turkey Federation here in Edgefield. It was a great event, inspiring the creativity of everyone who participated. My finished wreath is shown here, with apologies for the photograph. The wreath itself is comprised of a number of different kinds of vine: grape, yellow Jessamine, wisteria, and the decoration includes cedar, holly, boxwood and cones from a white pine on the golf course at Pine Ridge Plantation.

Tal was genuinely surprised when I brought the wreath out of the trunk. I'd love to know what he really expected I'd produce and bring home.

12 December 2008

Of more than one mind

While the American people learned details of Congress' decision not to give the Detroit three many millions of dollars in bridge loans to get them to the first of the year, Tal and I learned that he is allergic to formaldehyde (no, we don't live in a FEMA trailor), managed our financial situation with our financial planner and waded into Sam's on a shopping expedition. These simultaneous activities fascinate me.

  • Although I paid rapt attention to Dr James as she talked to Tal and me about the why of the dermatitis on his hands, I was intensely aware of the aftermath of the decision having been made in the halls and chambers of Congress.
  • While our financial planner explained getting to the bottom of a recession in terms I could actually understand, I couldn't help but notice Tal's hands, wondering what we are using at home in terms of soaps and lotions that contains formaldehyde.
  • Even though I was monitoring our carefully crafted shopping list as we trooped through Sam's, I was considering how to go about finding the information the financial planner needs.

At no time did I feel separated from the current moment. That is, I wasn't only partially present and I didn't interject comment about the other train of thought into what Tal and I were doing. But, there was clearly more than one thing going on in my mind.

Part of being human. Part of the fascinating power of the brain. I wonder why the phenomenon was so strong today.

11 December 2008

Deliver me

The post's title is part of a longer sentence uttered by my dear husband as we approached Columbia this morning in rush hour traffic. "Lawd, deliver me from this." At the moment he was definitely speaking for us both. I-20 was fully stopped in advance of the interchange with SC6 and again at US1. When traffic did move, it inched. When it moved faster, drivers tended to accelerate too rapidly, requiring panic stops when, inevitably, progress came to a halt once again. Fortunately, the heavy rain that moved through during the night had abated. I don't know if it's merely a perception on my part, but I do believe drivers operate their vehicles differently (translated: worse) in bad weather.

"Deliver me," he exclaimed. It might be a good idea to make those appointments for a bit later in the morning. Without doubt extended stop-and-go traffic like we experienced today makes us both appreciate our rural existence and Edgefield's three stop lights.

But, today wasn't totally consumed with "deliver me" moments. With another appointment for tomorrow morning and a SC Troopers Association Christmas gathering this evening at a Columbia hotel we are staying in the area for the night. While it rained much of the day (an understatement), we got in a good walk along the Columbia Canal between Tal's appointment and lunchtime.

As we walked, we talked about other time we'd walked that same path and realized we were celebrating an anniversary. Tal and I began dating after Thanksgiving in 1988 and one of our first adventures was a walk along the canal, then something of a novelty having not been open very long. The area has developed well, the walking path along the canal having been extended all the way to Gervais Street and the State Museum, and the area at the head of the Canal with a long view of the Broad River now sporting a replica of one of the four lock-keepers' houses and even a fish ladder. The canal area is now part of the Three Rivers Greenway, a 12-mile linear park on both sides of the Broad and the Saluda and along the Congaree which is formed at their junction.

So, we didn't need to be delivered from everything today. Making it into Columbia without incident brought us to a very enjoyable place and a remarkable anniversary walk. Today, by the way, we walked farther and faster and more companionably than we did 20 years ago. Pretty impressive, all things considered.

10 December 2008

An introspective day

Rain was supposed to arrive here last night. When I awoke in the wee hours of the morning, temporarily sleepless, the nearly-full moon glowed palely through thin clouds, illuminating the water on the pond just well enough for me to enjoy the subtle glimmer. By no means was being awake the worst thing that could have been going on.

By the time Tal and I took that first, almost healing sip of hot coffee shortly before 7:00, however, the rain had begun. And, it rained all day, oftentimes hard, thunder rumbling in the distance, lightening a flicker I wasn't entirely certain I had actaully seen. Tal attempted to watch television after lunch. During intense periods of rain the picture "cubed," DirecTV leaving the air completely several times.

But, what a wonderful day. With only two errands taking us away from home briefly, the better part of the day was quiet. Working on the Christmas cards, catching up entries in Quicken, sorting through the loot I hauled home from yesterday's Ambassadors Tour, preparing for an overnight in Columbia tomorrow -- everything was a pleasure. I wouldn't trade it for anything and, even though the hours passed slowly, the day ended way too soon.

The rain's still coming down. Good sleep awaits.

09 December 2008

New ambassador

Today has been great fun and I am too tuckered out to write more than a line or two. But, you are reading words written by one of Edgefield County and The South Carolina Heritage Corridor's forty plus newly minted ambassadors. Impressive, huh?

After a lovely breakfast at Oakley Park, an antebellum house museum and UDC Shrine, in Edgefield, our rolling classroom set out with Bettis Academy, the town of Trenton and Titan Farm on the morning itinerary. After a wonderful lunch at Riley's on Main in Johnston, we visited the Edgefield County Peach Museum just a few storefronts up the street and then reboarded the coach for the afternoon. By the time we arrived back at Oakley Park for a wine and cheese reception shortly after 5:00 we had visited the National Wild Turkey Federation, the Freshwater Coast Discovery Center, the Tompkins Library, the Edgefield County Archives and the offices of the Edgefield Advertiser (the oldest continually run newspaper in the state). I am going to sleep gratefully and well.

Here are few images made during the day.

Our rolling classroom, driven by Andrew Lott, was very comfortable, complete with TV screens on which the view from the front of the bus was displayed all day. We didn't have to fight for front seats. In fact, I quite enjoyed sitting in the back of the bus.

A fragile quilt on display at Bettis Academy and Junior College -- an institution founded in 1881 by the Rev'd Alexander Bettis, a former slave who was taught to read by his master.

This is part of the peach sorting apparatus in the packing shed at Titan Farm.

One of a visitor's first sights on entering the National Wild Turkey Federation is the floor at the threshold. The turkey fan inlay is comprised of seven different woods: black walnut, lace wood, Brazilian cherry, zebra wood, wenge, curly maple and Honduras mahogany.

This is a detail of the ceiling in the Tomkins Library on the square in Edgefield, home of the Old Edgefield District Genealogical Society.

At the end of the day my totebag was stuffed!

08 December 2008

House cleaning

We hear frequent mention, particularly in the arena of the political, of cleaning house. When politicians are not doing what we would like, we declare that what we need is a good house cleaning. Sometimes that happens and sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes that should happen and sometimes it shouldn't.

But, what needs to happen closer to home, here in Edgefield County at 207 Country Club Road to be specific, is underway. I'm cleaning house in earnest. Too frequently the place gets a lick and a promise, to use a phrase I've heard my whole life. A making the place presentable in the shortest possible amount of time. Getting the dog hair up from along the baseboards. Sweeping the porches. Uncovering the kitchen counters. Yes, it gets that bad.

But, today I started. With only a block of time in the middle of the day to work I decided to tackle the bedroom, bath and closet -- and to take my time. Turned out it was enjoyable and sweet. I looked at the photographs I was dusting, felt the contours of the sinks as I washed off the residual soap and whiskers, thought about my great, good fortune as I smoothed sheets and tucked in blankets, looked forward to reading in bed while wiping off the light bulbs in the bedside lamps. Somewhere I'd lost track of gratitude for what surrounds me, for the items I use every day.

By the time an afternoon obligation took me away the area of the day's focus looked pretty nice AND I'd managed to get in the laundry and to sweep the hardwood floors in the rest of the house.

Tomorrow? Polishing the kitchen cabinets will be the primary task. I plan to enjoy that, too.

07 December 2008

Cynic or realist

It's taken all week, getting two simple artificial wreaths up on the new gates at the head of our driveway. The mission of finding the wreaths themselves took a chunk of Tuesday. From place to place I trooped. Perhaps I should more accurately say from place to place I drooped. Most that I found were two small, each gate being nine feet wide and requiring something substantial. A few, not ideal but that would have done, were too expensive. The search ended at Lowes with 36-inch blanks (meaning, I learned, undecorated), an extra bonus being that all the Lowes Christmas merchanize had been marked half off at Thanksgiving. I worked at adding bows last night in a tangle of wide, wired red ribbon and Tal and I attached them to the gates this afternoon using very handy "cable ties" which he had found at the local hardware store.

While I am pleased with our efforts, I have managed not to become overly invested in the greening of the gates for this holiday season. When Tal asked me last night if I were going to put anything beside the bows on the wreaths, I gave him the same line I gave myself on Tuesday as I made checking price tags a priority during my search, not wanting to like too much one -- a pair, actually, costing more than I wanted to pay. Let's be realistic. They won't last the season. We're not going to have to worry about storing them for Advent and Christmas 2009."

Our house is at least 325 feet from Country Club Road; the gates are not even visible from the garage or from the front door. I know we will likely be relieved of responsibility for those wreaths in the very near future ... if not by morning. Before all is said and done they will be appropriated, filched, made away with, pinched, purloined, ripped off, snitched, swiped, even stolen! in the dark of night.

Realistic? Cynical? I don't know which label to use. I wanted to put wreaths on the gates because the gate project during the last six months has been such a pleasure. Since we purchased this piece of property I've always wanted those gates. Essentially, we put wreaths on the gates because I wanted to and I am pleased that they are there.

What happens now will be OK. Any pleasure I experience on seeing them (that is, if I see them) as I come and go during the next few weeks will a bonus added to the pleasure of this day.

Today's newspaper, The State, included on its editorial pages a quote which might sum up the point I'm trying to explore.

Things won are done. Joy's soul lies in the doing. William

What Tal and I did today brought me joy. That joy will not go away if the wreaths do.

06 December 2008

Fleece and silk

Already this season I am unapologetically tired of being cold. And, it's only December 6th.

This afternoon I hosted in a seasonal gallery in Ridge Spring SC. I am in awe of the talent in this quiet, rural part of the world. The items on display and for sale ranged from painted goards to watercolors, from stained glass and mosaics to photographs and jewelry, from collage to pen and ink. It took me about a quarter of an hour to move through the room, appreciating each item.

But, the gallery is in an old school. I like to say it's a building that looks like a school is supposed to look. A flawless way of dating myself, I might add. The building is owned by Ridge Spring and has no heat. The temperature when I arrived at 1:30 this afternoon was in the low 50s, the sun shone through thin clouds. It was warmer out than in. Standing on the porch to watch a train move through town provided several minutes of relief.

By 3:00, however, the cloud cover had thickened and any reassurance the sun, weak as it was, had provided dissipated. A space heater warmed the spot where I was to sit, but not well. Walking the oval pathway through the gallery did little to build up internal steam. I was cold. Four o'clock and closing time's coming was such a relief.

I own Polartec outerwear and LL Bean silk underware. That will just have to be my gallery uniform. Unstylish and warm. It beats today's well-dressed but frosty alternative.

PS You do know that come summer I'll complain about the heat too, don't you?

05 December 2008

Some days are simply better than others. Today the weather was not particularly nice. Thought it didn't rain, the sun was pale. It never really warmed up. And, more of the things I'd intended to do during the day are still undone than those I managed to check off the list. But, Tal and I went for a walk after I got home from my stint in the art co-op and supper turned out well. There isn't anything I can put my finger on. I was simply a good day.

One of the prodominant features of this day, however, has been a fifty-one year old memory. I couldn't say what time it was when the call came. Mom and Dad (Mommy and Daddy then) were gone; Grandma Johnson was with Joyce and me. I've tried remembering where the telephone was. Outside Mom and Dad's room, near the kitchen door? Was there a telephone? Had to have been. I remember Grandma taking the call. But maybe it wasn't a telephone to the outside world; there may have still been only one of those at Brookgreen. Maybe what she answered was the wooden, crank telephone (magnetophone?) used within Brookgreen.

Not that the telephone itself matters at all. What Joyce and I learned from our grandmother was that we had a brother. I'm not sure either of us knew what that meant and I know we were unprepared for how another sibling was going to change our young world. But, the moment of hearing the news and the extraordinary woman who delivered it will be in my memory both long and vividly. The fifth of December 1957 was a very good day. And, having a brother -- today even more than then -- is one of live's best joys.

I've loved thinking about all this today. What the weather did or didn't do was inconsequential. What I had to do and didn't finish was less than important. My fifty-one year old memory -- "you two have a little brother" was all it took to make this a better than normal day.

04 December 2008

Discipline is discipline

Last evening’s news and this morning’s newspaper brought more reports of the big three automakers and their plight. The company representatives are making their way to Washington again this week, their detailed proposals for how they will use the funds they want Congress to appropriate having been sent ahead of them. Thirty four billion dollars is hard for me to understand. For this trip these executives are travelling in hybrid vehicles produced by the companies they lead. Too bad they didn’t think of that on their own and make that choice in the first place. The private jets of their last jaunt to Washington were an unfortunate mistake.

I think most people are divided on the question of giving the auto manufacturers the funding they seek. On one hand millions of jobs are at stake, those employed in industries supporting the manufacture of American vehicles reaching far beyond Detroit. On the other the companies clearly have been badly run, leadership short-sighted and greedy, labor unrealistic about what is equitable and what the industry can actually bear.

Beyond that simplistic assessment, I think most people want Congress to make demands of the automotive industry, requiring self-regulation, tauter business plans, more concern for the country as a whole, increased investment in more earth-friendly vehicles. And, I think most folks want their representatives in Washington to express on their behalf the disgust and disappointment they feel. I fear, however, that Congress will not be able to take that route – the high road, so to speak.

It’s hard to demand restraint from one quarter when the quarter we inhabit is not above reproach. Alarming reports on the associations of Michigan congressmen and from where their comfortable millions have come are probably a mere hint of the situation in which manyt of our elected officials sitting in judgment of the auto industry find themselves. When you’re on the take, you can’t very well demand something different from another involved in the same questionable behavior. Members of Congress, for fear of being called to account themselves, are probably not going to do or say what really needs to be done or said.

But, before I allow myself to travel too far along this cozy road of self-righteousness, my “how could theys” fervent and incredulous, I’m going to call myself down. Tal made a banana pudding this morning to take with him to a family gathering in Aiken. A pudding doesn’t take a full box of the Nabisco Nilla wafers he prefers. The leftovers are in the pantry. Were I to put those extra cookies in a bowl here on the counter next to the computer, could I retrain myself and eat only one serving, that being 11 cookies. (Yes, I know that statistic.) Could I manage to have just a couple? Or, would I, true to form, not stop until all the cookies were history? No one would ever know. Tal wouldn’t notice they were all gone. What would it matter?

Admittedly, cookies are a little thing and the auto industry is a big thing. But discipline is discipline. If I cannot discipline myself in little things, should I assume I can expect more of another? Yes, we as individuals, as Americans, as constituents, as those who elected a congress to speak for us have to make some decision where the automotive industry is concerned and make that decision soon. But, our self-righteousness is out of place. We are all players in this mess. If I’m going to say “here’s where you are wrong,” I’m also going to have to self-aware enough to add an “and here’s where I am guilty.” While we cannot, any single one of us, effect much or any immediate change in Detroit or in Congress, we most surely can in ourselves. And, frankly, what a feat that would be.

Jesus had a little something to say in this whole matter:

“One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? “ Luke 16:10-13b
Well-said. By the way, all the Nillas are still in the pantry. I didn't try the "on the counter" test.

03 December 2008

Out on a limb

The deed is done. Before giving in to sleep last night I printed a photograph on something other than copy paper or card stock. Regulation HP photo paper. A first. Today I put that black and white image in a black frame and packaged it for mailing. Tomorrow I will drive it to the post office in Edgefield and send it on its way to someone who will receive it as a gift. Another first.

I'm embarrassed to say it's been a hard process. Seems making photographs is one thing. Sharing them -- putting them "out there" -- is another. Sort of like being out on a limb, a surprisingly limber one with a tornado in the forecast. That sounds rather melodramatic. But, it feels pretty accurate.

Precarious is OK.

02 December 2008

Christmas cactus

In the rainy days since returning home from the Thanksgiving holiday I have busied myself creating a Christmas card to use this season. Having decided against a family photograph (all of us, including the dogs, need haircuts), I went back in the Elements 6 catalog to a series of images of our Christmas cactus which bloomed shortly after we brought it in from its summer residing in a shady flower bed.

When I produced a single sheet mock-up showing two cards, one with the photograph in color and other in black and white, Tal requested that we use the color image. A good choice, I think. But, I 'm pleased enough with the black and white to share it here.

The printer in Batesburg informed me late today that the cards would be ready to pick up tomorrow after lunch. I'd best get to finalizing the mailing list.

01 December 2008

Twenty five windows

I've not been forgotten.

Every year I served the Church of the Ridge an Advent calendar appeared in the mail, arriving before Thanksgiving, sent sort of anonymously by a parishioner and someone who over time became a dear friend. It was always sent directly from the bookstore at an Episcopal church in Augusta GA with no enclosures, no name, addressed in unfamiliar handwriting by someone on the store's staff.

But, sleuth that I am -- actually, a pretty fair listener, I heard this man say during a party that that his favorite slice of the Christmas holiday pie was the Advent calendar. Introduced to him during this childhood by an elderly relative, he'd taken up the practice of giving them away in large numbers. And, with that tidbit my benefactor's identity came to light.

Just over two weeks ago our mail included a card from the post office alerting us to an envelope too large for our mailbox. A special trip to Edgefield post office. The familiar mailing label. Inside a two-layered rectangle of cardboard with a picture and 25 windows. I'm still on the list!

This year's calendar is the most lovely and substantial of all those I’ve received. It's also rather understated, something of a rarity, most that I've seen bordering on garish and prone to cast glitter everywhere. The nativity scene on this calendar includes the magi, shepherds and sheep, in addition to the holy family and their patient-looking donkey, the surroundings subdued, but luminous, in golds, deep reds and shades of grey. It's a restful scene, one I cannot help but hold up to what I see in my imagination of the post-stampede scene in that Long Island Wal-Mart. How did we get from there to here?

So today, door number one. And -- today and for 24 more days, a reminder to be calm, to treasure every breath no matter that any particular moment holds, to be present and mindful.

And, perhaps selfishly, the sweet knowledge that I’ve not been forgotten.

30 November 2008

Welcoming Advent

How can it possibly be Advent again? The beginning of another liturgical year, at least in churches that think in that cyclical, rhythmic way. The beginning of a brief, intentional time of preparation in advance of the feast of the nativity, to the Christmas celebration. Advent is a quiet time for deep introspection, for noticing interior movement, the point being, of course, that we are being made ready to receive what God has to offer.

What I know for myself more strongly with each minute and day is that I need solitude and discipline to discern what it is to which I am I being invited. What there might be for me to do or to be. To borrow Advent’s language, what it is to which I am being invited to give life. It seems the whole pregnancy/giving birth concept belongs not to Mary alone.

For non-Christians and for Christians as well, Christmas is not so much a religious feast as it is a cultural event. In reality, Christmas is an economic phenomenon, that truth made plain in a raw way on black Friday just passed with the death of a Long Island NY Wal-Mart employee, trampled by before-dawn shoppers intent to get their hands on “door buster” deals: $28.00 vacuum cleaners, $69.00 digital cameras, $379.00 laptops. The disconnect between a sweet celebration of God-come-to-earth and humanity’s focus seems fairly complete, shoppers distraught not at the under-foot death in their midst the day after Thanksgiving, but at having to leave the store during its temporary closure.

With that harrowing scene marking Advent’s arrival I cannot help but think that Advent, taken to heart if only in a minimal way, might be a good and beneficial thing, even for those not drawn to organized religion. The invitation to measuring one’s choices and activities in a place of peacefulness might make for a bit of redirection.

The season of Advent reminds me that existence itself is an open-ended prospect. I can wait and observe fretfully and critically or I can wait and observe hopefully and with an air of expectation.

Advent. I welcome it today, glad the cycle has brought it back around.

22 September 2008

Stepping into the story

More and more and with increasing fervor in the recent past, two what I will call battle cries have come to define the essence of a segment of American society: the phrase under God in the Pledge of Allegiance and the primacy of the Ten Commandments as core rules to guide private and public life. I don't have any problem with either of these well-known statements. Both contain something of the best of humanity, setting out pretty clearly who we want to be, setting a standard. I have found it interesting, however, that these two statements have kept coming to mind, to my mind, as I have watched over these months the financial crisis brew and finally boil over.

Seventy million dollars in annual compensation is hard for me to comprehend. That anyone, from a CEO who accepted it to a board of directors who proposed it to auditors who knew about it, that anyone thought such a sum was OK prickles the hair on the back of my neck. Whose daily labor, behind a desk or in a trench, is worth that?

Then there's the strong possibility, even as the country contemplates putting up seven hundred billion dollars to bail out the financial industry in order to save the globe's economic structure, the recipients of that incomprehensible sort of annual compensation are simply going to walk away. I don't want a public lashing; I'm not looking to humiliate or to demonize anyone. As a fifty-five year old woman sitting at her kitchen counter typing, I'm merely observing an inequity. Companies have been run into the ground. Essential institutions have been gutted. The American public -- not to mention the entire world -- has been harmed. And, no one is going to admit guilt or fault, no one is going to express any remorse. They're going to walk away -- with their packages.

I'm witnessing a disconnect between the Pledge of Allegiance's under God and the Ten Commandments' shalls and shall nots and our conduct. And, I used the word our on purpose. As we watch in disbelief as the horror unfolds and as we bristle at the seventy million per year, we are not, none of us, entirely blameless. Under God has come to mean God on our side. The notion that we have God so we can do anything. The very next phrase in the Pledge is with liberty and justice for all. How many of us take the liberty and justice pretty seriously for ourselves and let the "for all" descend into a mumble? The Ten Commandments offer a way for us to live with each other; they are about communal life. We are individualists pretty much, living out the attitude that when I have what I need, I cannot, don't want to, muster up any sympathy for those who don't. In the same way I suspect that someone making seventy million a year cannot understand my fears over the state of a stock account or the reliability of a future pension.

For society to work, or for that matter for religion to be worth anything, we must be able and willing to self examine and self regulate. Where you and I might fail at either or both of those in the lives we are leading day-in and day-out and convince ourselves that at our level it really doesn't matter very much, we can all see how very much it does matter when major financial institutions fail and their innards are splashed all over the landscape. The individuals leading those companies didn't think self-regulation, self-examination mattered either. It matters.

There's not much any of us can do about the political debate over deregulation vs increased regulation for our country's governmental and private institutions. The politics of that may be more than we want to or can tackle. But, truth is, we pretty much have all we can handle -- in ourselves. The story being played out on our national financial stage isn't foreign to us. It's a story very local and very personal. And, it's THAT story, only that story, over which we have direct control.

The questions I have to ask myself? What in the life I am leading might constitute my seventy million? How -- from whom, from what -- am I walking away? Who's suffering because of my actions and my attitudes?

Do you have questions of your own to ask?

21 September 2008

A change of season

Summer has come to an end. And what a summer it has been. Heatwaves. Drought. Travel. Visits with family. Home improvement ...

And, it's nearing completion, the latest in the home improvement realm. The gates went up Friday afternoon. The gate openers and wire connecting the brick pillars to the deer fence should installed this week.

It's been a fine fall day, cool and misty. The house has been open since we made coffee this morning and we'll sleep this night with the wondows open.

The weather and the date on the calendar have coincided. A rarity in my memory.

19 September 2008

Doing the usual

After lingering over one last breakfast with our Road Scholar group yesterday morning -- and linger we did, Tal and I travelled in a generally eastward direction all day, periodically setting our watches forward to catchup with the world. Flying Continental was again a pleasure with on time departures and even an early, by 20 minutes, arrival in Columbia shortly before 11:00 last night.

And, how good the house looked. All the determined cleaning before setting out on our adventure paid off instantly at the sight of the clean kitchen counter and the parallel vacuum marks in the bedroom carpet. Such good feeling, however, and even with my exhausted state, I slept not one wink once we crawled into bed. I am grateful that so good was the book I started reading in the Portland airport -- Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, curled up on the sofa I read happily until daylight dawned. By nightfall I'll be zombie-like, but the laundry will be done, the mail sorted, the grass cut.

It's good to be back to doing the usual. At least for a while.

18 September 2008

Three more McCullough bridges

The camera is out of sight, but the photographs are here in the computer. You only thought I'd be quiet for awhile.

Oregon bridges are a huge part of the memories Tal and I are taking away today as we return home. Our study leader has been great about pointing the historic bridges out to us, the first one being the day we moved from Mount Hood to Crater Lake. That was the day (due to operator error) that I overexposed every image I shot. The photographs of High Bridge over the Crooked River, near Terrabone, are way beyond salvagable. You can see what I mean if you look back to one of the posts on September 12th.

It's a lovely span, 300 feet above the basalt gorge. The new bridge (2000), called the Crooked River Bridge, was constructed to compliment the original (1926) and far enough away from the High Bridge to ensure those both bridges can be admired.

It's the coastal bridges, though, that stood out for me.

This is the Siuslaw River Bridge (1936) at Florence. We had a bit of free time with almost two hours for lunch, so Tal indulged a walk up to the bridge level (old Florence is below the bridge's approach).

The foggy evening we went to Heceta Head for that georgous dinner at the B&B in the lightkeepers house, our coach parked under the Cape Creek Bridge (1932) and a smaller coach took us in two groups up onto Heceta Head. Not wanting to be one of those irritating camera people almays making folks wait, I simply took my luck from inside the shuttle. Just driving over this span, way above the ground, one would never know how dramatic -- and Roman aqueduct-like -- it is.

Between Heceta Head and Newport we crossed four additional bridges, but alas, there was just enough time to acknowlegdge the fact. The giveaway in three cases was a small brown sign Historic Bridge. Not a whole lot of help, but kept me from noticing too late.

According to our study leader only one McCullough bridge has had to be removed, one of the four I counted as we drove north. At Alsea Bay the sand used for the concrete was local and may have contained too much salt, the concrete not holding up over the years. The new bridge (1988), generously, honors the earlier span with a similar, graceful profile.

But, then came the Yaquina Bay Bridge (1936) at Newport. What a winner! And, even better we crossed it three times and went under it twice on our boat ride into the ocean and the estuary. It's truly a work of art and boasts beautiful stairs for pedestrians at each end.

Two more between Newport and Lincoln City, marked by the familiar brown sign. They're both short and we passed over them quickly. Would I like to take a road trip to see every McCullough bridge on the coast -- and inland?

No need to ask. You know what I'd say.

17 September 2008

Putting the camera away

This day has been so pleasant. We ate lunch as a group in the front room of the Wildflower Grill in Lincoln City, visited a lovely gallery next door and then headed east across the Coast Range, through Salem and up I-5. Arriving in Portland between 2:30 and 3:00, we had and hour+ to settle in, setting out at 4:00 on a guided walking tour of Portland's downtown parks and public squares with the former program manager for Portland Parks & Recreation.

Parks were built into the city's development and new parks continue to be built, complete with all the usual problems associated with open urban spaces. Problems aside, they do help city-dwellers connect with nature in the heart of town and have been deemed worth it by Portland's leaders and, if today's numbers are reliable, the parks are in use.

The tour ended at the top of the Pearl District, near a brew pub that had been recommended to us by Tal's son. The group headed back to mid-town and we, map in hand, made our way to the Bridgeport. We indulged in a sip of their brew and ate sherry tomato dill soup with delicious artisan bread. It's a nifty place where the most sought after seats are on the loading dock!

Between the Bridgeport and the Vintage Plaza is Powell's Books, one of the country's largest bookstores and which specializes in used books. Tal bought a couple raggedy westerns for the flight home. I didn't dare visit the third floor photography section. We didn't linger though, as we were only generally sure of our way back to the hotel. Walking along looking lost after dark in an unfamiliar town just isn't worth it.

So, the camera's packed. Although our flight's not until noon tomorrow, we're focused on being ready for breakfast downstairs with the group, and 2500 miles east.

Last day together

After all the months of waiting for this Road Scholar trip and now on our ninth day with the group, here we are on the final morning and making preparations for our return to Portland. Breakfast was scheduled to be later than normal -- 8:00, since we have all day to get to the Hotel Vintage Plaza. Our coastal study leader, taking advantage of low tide, invited those who wanted to get up early to participate in a 7:00 field trip to the basalt outcroppings just outside the first floor of the hotel.

Her essential point was to help us notice the hierarchy of life on those rocks. Sea creatures work their way as high as they can onto the basalt -- and still survive the hours of low tide, all in an effort to get away from their predators, most particularly sea stars (formerly known as star fish). Never did I dream I'd be introduced to so many creatures I'd never seen before -- or at least gave a good look to -- in less than an hour.

A few photos ...

Anemone in an intertidal pool

Chiton (the little armored-looking thing in the center)
at the low-tide line

Acorn barnacle near the high-tide line

Sea stars among (and probably eating) mussels

The Inn at Spanish Head is an unusual hotel. Ten stories high, the restaurant is on the tenth floor and the lobby on the ninth -- at street level, street level being Highway 101. The first floor opens onto the beach. The entire structure is bolted to the basalt cliff. And, yes it is in the tsunami zone. This is a post-breakfast view to the south from our balcony on the 6th floor.

16 September 2008

Cape Perpetua and beyond

We checked out of the Driftwood Shores this morning, the fog still predominating the landscape, knowing it would be a long day. But, nothing on the agenda – at least speaking for myself – would we delete. So …

First stop: The Cape Perpetua Scenic Area where our guide took us on a walk through the temporal rain forest, where it did, indeed, rain. And, where, in spite of repeated storms wiping our signature trees over time, the trees we saw were magnificent. This photograph speaks better than I am able.

Second stop: Newport’s Yaquina Bay waterfront to embark on a Marine Discovery Tours boat bound (the well-publicized caveat being fog permitting) for the ocean and for certain the estuary. The fog lifted to the point that we did leave the harbor, seeing harbor seals and sea lions on sea walls and bouys, and several other boats. Larger life, like whales, were not visible. More interesting than the ocean, however, was the estuary where clams are being raised on floating platforms that look something like boardwalks, where bird life abounded and the sun actually shown.

Third stop: Oregon Coast Aquarium (also in Newport) to enjoy the aquarium itself and to eat lunch. The aquarium is stunning, made all the more so when one learns it received for its construction and receives still for its ongoing life no public funding. It’s a testament to a community wanting something very badly and making it happen. We chose four areas to visit during the limited time we had.

1. Passages of the Deep, a tunnel through an ocean exhibit with 360 degree views, overhead and underfoot. Wow.

2. An exhibit of Oregon coast photography by a local photographer (Scott Blackman), unique in his presentation on tile for some of his images (one shown here).

3. A temporary exhibit entitled Oddwater, featuring rather strange looking sea creatures in tanks along with much-celebrated locally blown glass. I know. You’d have to see it to come up with a mind’s-eye vision. Visible here is a fish, the name of which I failed to record, and its "matching" plate above, none of which is in very good focus.

4. The café where we really enjoyed a bowl of clam chowder with a nice chunk of artisan bread and Rogue Nation beer, brewed right across the street, an Oregon favorite.

Fourth stop: The Inn at Spanish Head (Lincoln City).


Supper's next.

15 September 2008

Heceta Head lighthouse

The fog persisted all day, much to my quiet disappointment. We weren't going to get a clear view of the lighthouse at Heceta Head on this visit. While it is the most photographed lighthouse on the Oregon coast, if not in North America, I'm not going to get my picture. But, what is is and I'm OK with it. Have to be. In the morning I'll pick up a postcard in the gift shop here at the hotel. And, here's a link to a lovely web site about the lighthouse if you'd like to take a look: http://www.lighthousefriends.com/light.asp?ID=131.

We did, however, go to Heceta Head for dinner at a B&B in what was the lightkeeper's house. An elegant five-course experience none of us will ever forget, prepared and served by the couple who run the inn (she's the chef and he's the presenter of the property history and serves). We enjoyed his talk during cocktails. (Appetizers, by the way, were Oregon apple purses, Oregon bay shrimp alliade and artichoke heart and parmesano reggiano spread served with Kramer Vineyards sparkling wine.) This photograph is of the centerpiece on the table at which Tal and I sat. Our host offered to move it once we were seated, but the twelve of us decided to talk around it, the hydrangeas and roses too beautiful to set out of view.

And, these two photographs were taken from inside the house -- one onto and beyond the front porch showing the fog between the house and the edge of the headland and the other a view of the raised beds behind the house. Neither image is as out of focus as it looks. The glass in the windowpanes is old and wavy.

Fact is, all disappointment aside -- without getting any photographs or having a tour of the lighthouse -- we saw the Heceta Head light at its most striking and at its most necessary. By the time dinner ended the fog was very heavy. Standing in the front yard of the inn we witnessed just how dramatically the Fresnel lens refracts the light, sending brilliant, piercing shards in all directions, the lighthouse silent on its headland, but resolute in its constant, consistent message.


Yesterday afternoon and evening was simply spectacular. And, when I opened our drapes at 5:45 this morning to see what my early morning walking weather was going to be like, I was instantly grateful that I'd stayed out until the sun was below the horizon and the ship had regained its prominence just off shore.

Was the ship still out there? No telling ... nothing but grey, damp, drifting fog right up to the hotel windows. There would be no walk. At breakfast we learned the truth about the ship. No spying going on. No intrigue. It was laying fiber cable from Alaska and down the west coast to Florence, our hotel being its most southern installation site.

As breakfast was ending, our instructor for the next two days arrived, a science professor (mostly geology and biology) at Kent County Community College and a woman passionate about the Pacific northwest. (She also taught at the University of Georgia at Savannah GA before moving to Oregon.) From the North American plate moving westward, the Juan de Fuca plate subducting under the North American plate and the Pacific plate sliding past NNW along the Juan de Fuca plate to the tusanimi zones along the Pacific coast and constant preparation for the earthquake that is coming, she lead us to understand a rather clear and fascinating truth: scenery is geology.

After the entertaining introduction to the area it was off to the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. The volcanic basalt headlands running from Florence north prevented moving sand from accumulating. As the sand moved south it found haven at the end of the headlands between Florence and Coos Bay, and area about 40 miles long, forming dunes that go up to two miles inland. As the fog cleared ever so slightly we boarded a large dune buggy and toured some of the dunes (many -- not the ones we road -- nearly as high as some of the headlands). Not something I would ever have chosen to do on my own or to propose it to Tal, but it was fun, like riding a roller coaster on big, bouncy wheels.

The delicate balance and steady dance of the dunes is currently threatened by a European sea grass introduced in the early twentieth-century to hold the sand in place. It has a deep and spreading root system which is holding the sand too well, fostering development of a forest behind the front dunes and tapping the aquafer, and, like kudzu in the American south, impossible to irradicate. The buggies of all sizes that ride the dunes are the most effective limiter to the spread of the grass than anything else that has been tried.

Let the demystification continue!

14 September 2008

Passage to the coast: part two

Besides arriving on the Pacific coast on a sunny afternoon -- the first such afternoon in five days we learned from the desk clerk, today's highlight was lunch. After our rest stop on the Williamette where Tal gathered large leaf maple seeds, we finished our descent into the valley and found the King Estate winery just south of Eugene. The estate sits on 1000+ rolling acres which includes over 450 acres of organic vineyards and some 20 acres of fruit, flower and vegetable gardens, enjoying something of a Mediterranean climate.

Our lunch, consisting of salad, entree and dessert, also included tastes of four lovely wines. We had a wonderful time -- dining and strolling the ordered, golden grounds after the meal.

I battled sleep for the rest of our travel day, leaving the valley, traversing the Coast Range (which reminded me of the Appalachians a bit, from the terrain and the road grades to the poor communities and junked up hollows), approaching Florence and the coast along the Siuslaw River. We hardly paused in our rooms before congregating on the deck at the dunes to chat about the day and enjoy the combination of radiant sun and rather chilly sea air.

We crossed pretty much half of Oregon today and saw forest fires, mountain passes, rivers -- both dammed and running free, flat farm land, rolling vineyards, tidal estuaries and the Pacific Ocean. Oregon is nothing if not diverse. Each time we stepped from the coach was like entering another world. I liked them all.

This sunset got folks out of their rooms. Some guests at the hotel had been there for a week and had seen nothing but fog day after day. (The hotter it is in the valley, the more fog on the coast.) Color in the sky, not to mention the mystery of the lighted ship just off shore, was cause of conversation and some measure of collegiality.

Passage to the coast: part one

As I returned our key cards at the desk this morning, someone asked about the expected date for snow at Crater Lake. After the clerk advised us that they avoided using the "S" word, she said most certainly by the end of the month. Hard to believe, with the leaves not yet having turned and the shirt-sleeve warmth during yesterday's boat tour.

I was up early today, partly out of sadness at leaving this spot and partly because I wanted to try for an early morning photograph -- not so much the sunrise itself, but the effects of the sunrise. Once outside I was absolutely delighted to find Mount Thielson in dramatic silouette against the coloring sky. For the past two days it had been nearly invisible, lost in smoke and haze. Perhaps I don't have to confess that it took great discipline not to be late to breakfast.

The two forest fires stayed contained over night, but had grown more smoky, making our drive away from Crater Lake lacking in scenic views. We travelled through the Williamette Pass in the Cascades, stopping near Oakridge for a rest stop at a park on the Williamette River. Tal was taken by the large leafed maples and, ever optomistic, tucked a couple seeds in his pocket to plant in Edgefield.

13 September 2008

Adventure at Cleetwood Cove

And, what an adventure. 1.1 miles down and at least 11 up!

Today's major activity for those who were able was a boat tour of Crater Lake, which took the better part of the day. From the lodge getting to the parking lot and trail head for Cleetwood Cove involves a 16 mile drive on the Rim Road and it was with some trepidation that most of us boarded the coach, all of us having been warned about the trail -- a 1000 foot drop in 1.1 miles.

The hike on the very dusty trail down into the cove was not particularly difficult, other than having to pay attention to the rocky footing on the narrow, switch-backed footpath and being mindful to stop walking while looking at the lake. Much of the smoke had dissipated over night, so the air was more clear and the view very enticing. This is my first sight of the boat dock from near the top of the trail.

The tour involved two National Park Service employees: the boat captain and the ranger who offered excellent commentary. And, the vessel in which we road was an amazing craft, high-sided, the passengers (perhaps as many as 30) seated low, our shoulders coming just below the level of the sides. Photography was a bit of a challenge both from that position and coupled with the constant vibration of the engine. For a fast shutter speed to reduce shake and knowing I didn't have to worry about depth of field, I set an f-stop of 4 and zeroed out the meter. Not my finest effort, but acceptable. This image shows the layer of smoke we were fortunate enough to be under during our time on the water.

The two hour tour ended, then began the hard part, but we both made it. Slow and steady was our mantra. We weren't the first to arrive back at the Rim Road, but we weren't the last either. In the end we were away from the lodge for almost five hours. We rested a bit and attended a presentation by a summer intern on the restoration/rebuiding of the lodge and on her specific work inventorying and assessing the condition of all the stone masonry in the park. We opted out of a trip to Mazama Village for supper, instead indulging in a glass of wine and an appetizer by the fire in the Great Room and a sunset walk before retiring for the night -- before 8:00. Yes, we are pretty tuckered out!

Here's one last photograph, an artistic shot of the setting sun's light on the east rim cradled in a frame of tree roots and tree trunks.