On the way into Denver, my view looked like this.

On my way into Tulsa, my view looked like this.

I’m in Oklahoma. Before today I had never been here on purpose, though I did drive through a few times on the Interstate.

Monday, a co-worker asked me the purpose for the visit. “Dream vacation!” I quipped. He replied, “Your idea of a dream vacation is different than mine.”

My little joke sat in my head that day.  Oklahoma seems to be perpetually the butt of jokes. Another co-worker recommended I watch a stand-up comedy routine disparaging Oklahoma. My dental hygienist remarked that her father was from Oklahoma, and someone asked once if he ever missed it, after he moved to Oregon. The man laughed.

And isn’t that exactly the point? In fact, it’s uncomfortable for me to think about it. The terminus of the Trail of Tears continues to this day a place that many people don’t value. It is the reason why east-coast Indians are here. I am hoping to improve my perception of Oklahoma before I go.

I have mentioned before that I belong to an Oregon group called the Mt. Hood Cherokees. We are one of 22 official satellite groups recognized by the Cherokee Nation. We call ourselves “At Large” Cherokees.

Years ago, our modern Cherokee Nation became concerned at the large number of individuals and groups with very little real training or experience who were claiming to be able to pass on genuine Cherokee knowledge and traditions. At the same time, many Cherokees, or people believing themselves to be Cherokees, sought out these groups and the information they held, sometimes even paying for the erroneous information, hoping to make a better connection to their ancestry. Unfortunately, wrong information was widely spread as genuine Cherokee knowledge.

The losers in this scenario were not just the duped hopefuls, but also the Cherokee Nation, already a fringe society in the United States, but now actively undermined as people began studying information that was not authentic to the Cherokee way of life. The Cherokee Nation, based in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, created Community & Cultural Outreach (CCO) and Community Organizing Training and Technical Assistance (COTTA). From the Nation’s website: “The CCO-COTTA program’s mission is to assist community organizations ability to increase their effectiveness; enhance essential services to those most in need, and build upon the organizational capacity of each community, diversify resources, and create collaborations to serve those in Cherokee Communities.”

When an At Large group meets the Nation’s requirements, it is officially recognized. Once recognized, the Nation then proactively supports the group by periodically sending employees who are experts in different fields of the arts, histories, language, government, and traditions.

Another step the Nation took was to create an Annual Conference of Community Leaders that is designed to teach visiting At Large Cherokees more about life close to the heart of the Cherokee Nation. The conference also provides workshops with tools the satellite groups can use, like how to manage (or get!) donations or how to manage our social media presence. The At Large groups each have a council, and the council votes on a representative. Once the selection is approved, the Nation provides resources to assist the traveler.

In 2017, the council selected ME! I am so excited.

Canada Geese mildly annoyed by my interest.

Yellow-crowned night herons equally tolerant as I approached, pointing my phone at them.

I started this post talking about how Oklahoma gets picked on. Through the Cherokee Nation visitors I’ve met over the years, I’ve come to see there is a great love of the land of Oklahoma among Cherokee people. I’m hoping to learn more about that love.

I did not expect to find a trail within easy walking distance of my hotel.

Stuck for hours in a slow part of Tulsa with no car, I went for a walk and stumbled quite unexpectedly upon a path beside Mingo Creek that begins about two blocks from my hotel. I followed the path, sharing it with a fisherman, some joggers, some dog walkers, some kids, and eventually came to a park. I explored the park, then wandered back, admiring the homes that some people are lucky enough to have right on the edge of this green space. The entire walk was through green grassy fields with huge trees all around me. I found birds and a turtle!

I have only been in Oklahoma a few hours, but I think I’m already on the right track.

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Bees swirl above their hives in the morning sunlight.

A neighbor told me about a local bee company that will pay people in honey for the use of their land. Liquid gold.

I spoke with Yelena a few times and arranged a meeting with Pavel Martynov, patriarch of a friendly Kazakhstani family in Battle Ground, Washington. He showed up with his daughter Anastasia to translate, and we all walked around the property to choose a good location for the hives. Bees need water and they like the sun. Pavel chose a spot that was the exact place I had been hoping he would like. Translation: a part of the property I spend very little time on, and thus am more than generous in sacrificing for bees.

Now I am doing my small part for the bees, the fuzzy buzzing critters upon whom so much of the world’s health and wealth depends.

I’m sure you have all heard about bee population decline. A 2015 report from a United Nations group found that populations are declining for 37% of bee species, with 9% of butterfly and bee populations facing extinction. I’ve been worrying about bee populations for years, and that is amplified by my bee-adoring child, who took an apiary class at Oregon State University last year. Come on, how many of you have offspring who did this to their leg:

Tara’s first tattoo

Despite the news about efforts to curb bee decline, according to the UN, the world’s beehive stock rose from around 50 million in 1961 to around 83 million in 2014. Average annual growth has accelerated to 1.9% since 2009. Worldwide, Argentina produced the most honey of any country in the world in 2005, followed by the Ukraine, the United States, and then Russia. It’s no wonder my new Kazakhstani-American friends chose this business, with a rich history of beekeeping in their ancestral land as well as their new land.

WA BEE Company, LLC (sorry, no website, or I’d link you) showed up Sunday morning with a truck loaded down with hives of sleepy bees. The previous day I talked with Yelena who said to expect them between 7am and 8am. At 6:15am I realized that the mechanical noise I heard was not my usual dream about forklifts (kidding!), but a real forklift outside my bedroom window. I bounced out of bed and threw on some warm clothes to go outside into the chilly morning and watch. (Yes, I’m one of *those* people, who wakes up and is ready to take on the world in five minutes.) (…just don’t try to get me to do anything productive after 6pm)

Bee truck loaded with hives to be delivered.

Pavel trying to keep the hives level while he transports them.

Driving down the slope at an angle, while still trying to keep the bees steady on the forklift.

Only a few more feet and the bees get a little peace.

Pavel and his son (can’t remember his name) unloaded pallets of bees and drove them down the hill to a flat spot next to the creek. His son chatted away to me while his father worked fast, trying to get the bees all settled while they remained cold and still. They unloaded 8 pallets, or 32 hives of bees. By 7am, the whole operation was done, and Pavel backed the forklift back onto the trailer and off they went, a quarter mile down the road, to unload a bunch more at my neighbor’s house. This is his 4th year my neighbor has worked with the WA BEE company.

Since Sunday, I have been wandering down to gaze at the bees when I get a chance. The first beams of morning sun hit the hives directly, and they are bathed in sun for at least 2 hours in the morning (that is, if it’s a sunny day) before the sun moves behind trees. This warms them up and they go from deathly still to cacophony in minutes. It is fascinating to watch them, and I do not tire of it. I get pretty close, because they have an air highway of sorts, and while the middle of the highway is crammed with bees flying directly away from, or back to their hive, if I stand just to the side of the highway, there are very few bees.

Hives in a flat spot down by the creek. They are going to wake up soon, look outside, and say, “Whaaaat just happened?!”

The bee highway goes from the bottom right corner of the image to the top left corner.

I can use the expression accurately: buzzing with activity.

So many trying to get in and out at once, and not a single punch thrown!

They hit the sack pretty early, just like me. Even if it’s a warm evening, and even if there are still late rays of sunshine on the hives, they wrap it up in the early evening. When I go down for a visit I can only see a few dazed and sluggish fuzzy bodies crawling around the holes that are the entrances to their hives. One evening I was inspecting the hives pretty close, walking between them, getting a good look at the little bodies getting ready for bed. A half-hour later I was in the house at the computer and something tickled my leg beneath my loose pants. I shook my leg a couple times, grabbed my pants with one hand to shake out the bug, absentmindedly playing solitaire. I pulled up the pants leg and didn’t see anything, and went back to my game. After a few minutes, the tickle began again, at a different spot.

I methodically turned my pant leg inside-out, looking for the persistent crawly thing. Reached up into the folds and couldn’t feel anything. Shook the material, stomped my foot to shake it out, and finally, out popped a small yellow dazed honey bee. It must have crawled onto my foot and rode all the way from the hives back to the house with me.

My POINT is… they aren’t vicious.

I carefully carried it outside and wished it good luck surviving the cold night, 100 yards from the hive. Tara says it’s unlikely it survived the night, but if it did survive, there is no doubt it would find its hive in the morning.

So wish us luck in learning to thrive together.

I’ll leave you with a fun photo of a visitor who went to see the bees with me this morning. If you read some of the other blogs that I read, you may recognize Bone, a travelling bone, wearing a rather flattering leather vest while visiting me in Rainier. I’ll write more about Bone later.

Bone usually lives with Curt at Wandering Through Time and Place.

This hummer is coppery rust-coloured, just like the feeder.

Hummingbirds have discovered my feeder. It’s clear they migrated in, because one day there were none, and the next day there were dozens.

I am fascinated when these speedy little rockets perch and hold still.

I watch them from my home office window and marvel at their antics. Part of the appeal is that they are so remarkably tiny, as if being small should make it harder to perform their tricks. I watch them zoom in so quickly it’s a wonder they don’t bonk into something. In fact, I hung up a stained glass dragon (yes, I have dragons of all kinds in my house) right in the middle of the big window, to help them see the glass barrier. I’ve seen one hummer bump the glass so far, but no stunned birds yet this season.

They barrel around the big trunk of the tree that holds their feeder, always avoiding collision with each other, though sometimes only by millimeters. They perch on small branches nearby and guard the feeder, chasing off any other hummingbirds that try to sip. But sometimes I’ve seen three at a time, resting on the wire ring and taking leisurely sips every so often. One of their favourite places to sit is upon the Japanese maple that you see above. They sit there for a minute at a time, looking around, occasionally buzzing their wings.

This one’s a bit chubby. Is she a new momma? Or has he had too much at the feeder?

They certainly find the Japanese Maple a satisfactory perch.

Then zoom! Off they go! First up, then around, then hovering in place without a waver or drift. Two blast through, chasing each other, while two aim for the same spot on the feeder and explode in a burst of angry cheeps when they arrive at the same place at the same time. I have to tell you, angry hummingbird cheeps are the cutest thing ever.  They spiral all around my office garden (the garden I tend specifically so that I have something beautiful to look at while I work), hovering near the seed feeder, to see if cracked corn and sunflower seeds are of any interest, then they methodically check each of the other colorful plants, just in case.

I like this hummingbird feeder because it is metal and glass instead of plastic. It’s supposed to have an ocean theme, and instead of flowers, the birds suck from holes in seashells and starfish.

My rusted hummingbird feeder seems to get prettier every year. It’s topped with a beach umbrella that was a bit obnoxiously red and white when it was new, but is faded to perfection now. And the rusted metal doesn’t touch any of the sugar-water inside, so I don’t mind it a bit. And the birds don’t seem to mind.

Can you believe they’re birds? So very very tiny.

Evening sunshine makes the green feathers gorgeous.

Don’t bother me, I’m eating.

Jeff Pevar on electric guitar and David Crosby on acoustic.

Lucky for me, a person can love music even when she has pretty much zero ability to create it. Oh sure, I was assigned French Horn in gradeschool mandatory music class, and played guitar from age 6 to about age 30, and learned about 9 chords and a few folk songs. Sure I sing along to Ed Sheeran when I’m driving home from work. But I truly admire the people who can *really* make music. So when I’ve got the time and the energy, I hit a concert.

You’ve already heard me rave about Black Violin – a duet of classically trained violinists who build their own irresistibly compelling brand of hip hop. They came to Portland again, so I grabbed a friend who had not yet seen them in person and saw their latest show.

The iconic Portland sign at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall

Black Violin can’t stand it when their audience sits still.

Kevin Sylvester and Wilner Baptiste are Black Violin.

To avoid the hassle of carrying a quality camera, I relied on my phone. So… as you can see, the images are poor quality. But you get a sense of what I saw.

My good deed was confirmed accomplished, when my friend just exploded with excitement over the performance, and had purchased some of their music by the next day. Just doing my part…

Last week I saw David Crosby. You’ll know him as the “C” in CSN (and sometimes Y).

I’m not actually a Crosby fan, though his music is good. My favourite musician of all, Marcus Eaton, is also a dear friend of mine. Marcus toured with Crozby for his last album, CROZ, and so…I don’t know…I guess an affinity came of that. David Crosby has been making music – good music – for so many decades that I can’t deny his professionalism and relevance. And I had never seen him before in concert, or even Crosby, Stills, and Nash. (I did see Steven Stills play halftime at a Colorado Rockies game, but I digress…) And finally, his show would be at the Aladdin Theatre in Portland. It’s a venue that can’t be beat if you’re looking for intimacy and atmosphere.

A string of great acts coming up at The Aladdin.

I arrived in time to buy a beer before the show, and while I was standing in line, got to talking to the man in line ahead of me. I mentioned that I love seeing concerts at the Aladdin.

“Did you know that this theatre had the longest running of the film Deep Throat of any theatre in America?” he asked. (I researched later, and sure enough, during the 70s and 80s the Aladdin was a movie theatre, and the premiere exhibitor of the X-rated classic, Deep Throat)

“Uh, I did not know that,” I answered.

“I love this theatre!” agreed the woman in line behind me.

“Have you seen performances here before?” asked the man.

“Only Deep Throat,” she answered, straight-faced. Then we all burst out laughing.

Pevar, DiStanislao, Crosby, Agan, Willis, Raymond

I was not familiar with most of the musicians on stage, only James Raymond the keyboard player. Raymond is Crosby’s son, and an accomplished musician in his own right. Raymond was adopted, and did not know his father until he was an adult. What fun to find your dad, then find out you had music in common? I just love that story.

His tour is David Crosby & Friends, and there was a great collection of artists on stage: Jeff Pevar the guitarist who was jammed full of energy, Steve DiStanislao the drummer who was spot on, Raymond at keyboards, Michelle Willis from Canada who also played keyboard and provided some solid vocals, and tiny Mai Agan from Estonia, in the background, playing the heck out of a bass guitar in a short skirt and boots. Pevar and DiStanislao hardly stopped grinning, which added a happy vibe to everything.

Crosby is well beyond putting on airs at this point. Or, since I’m such a newcomer, maybe he never did. He greeted us with warmth, as though we were all hanging out on a mellow Tuesday evening in a really big living room. The venue is small, and can hold only a few hundred people, so the sense of being intimate was easy for Crosby to achieve. He chattered just a little between songs, but made an impact, getting in some digs about the ineffectiveness of Congress, his criticism of politicians in general, the need to take action on important issues, to critique the media, to remember to love one another. He also spent a few minutes teaching us to howl like the Na’vi from the movie Avatar.

He talked fondly of each of his musician friends on stage, gushing over each one and affirming their skill and practically declaring each one the best he’d ever known. Maybe they are. Maybe when you’re a rock icon you naturally have the best of the best on stage with you. Most touching was when he talked about his son.

“I’d say some of the best work I’ve ever created is in collaboration with James. Wait, what am I saying? THE BEST work I have done is since I started working with James.” At this, Raymond put his hand over his heart in a gesture of humility and appreciation. Crosby talked about working with Raymond for years, and about appreciating every moment of it. He talked about how Raymond was adding a jazz influence to their work. A few people clapped. “It’s ok!” he said to the audience. “You can like jazz!”

And then they got back to making music.

A view of the stage during a break.

Pevar and Crosby

Crosby, Willis, Raymond (and Agan, if you look carefully)

Since I am not a fan of the music, and since it was really good music anyway, I sat back in my seat in pure pleasure and let my eyes rove over the faces of the crowd. During the evening I had spotted about 5 people in their 20s, about 5 in their 30s and 40s like me. But everyone else was from a different generation. Most in their 60s.

I distinctly noticed that no one was old. You know how people can be young or old, regardless of their years? It was like the people who showed up were still tapped into their youth. Everyone smiled. There was so much grey hair and so many wrinkles and so many smiles. The energy was generous and warm and enveloping and oh, so glad to be there. The songs clearly took many people back in time. People remembered a time when their bodies didn’t require so much thought, and they swayed in their seats and some held a cane, and some just beamed. There were whoops, and howls, and fists in the air.

It was a beautiful environment, and I was delighted to be there with them. I felt like a visitor to another culture, and it was a culture of love and generosity and acceptance.

Earth Day is celebrated in Longview, Washington on grocery bags. Jillian Carter from Rose Valley Elementary created this beautiful work of art. Jillian is in the 4th grade. Her teacher’s name is Mrs. Bush.

I needed a wider variety of things than usual on my shopping list, and went to a different grocery store than usual. I don’t know what your local store is, the one that carries milk, avocados, rice, fresh salmon, summer dresses, screwdrivers, packaging tape, hibachis, shower curtains, potting soil, fishing poles, and greeting cards, but the one I use is called Fred Meyer.

The cashier was loading stuff into plastic bags before I noticed. “May I have paper for the rest?” I asked. 1) I grew up in timber families, and that’s a way to show your support for the timber industry, 2) I try to avoid plastic consumption when I can, and 3) ok the real reason: I use paper bags to start the fire in my wood stove.

Portland, Oregon is the nearest big city, and that city has banned the use of plastic bags by retailers. From the City of Portland website on Planning and Sustainability: “Plastic bags are extremely lightweight and can act like balloons blowing out of garbage trucks and landfills. These flyaway bags litter our parks and trees, enter storm drains and can eventually end up in rivers and oceans where they break into small, toxic pieces.  Plastics have found their way into all five of the world’s major ocean current systems and are one of the most common types of litter found in Portland’s rivers and on Oregon’s beaches. Sea animals often mistake plastic particles for food, causing harm to the animals and potentially affecting the seafood we eat.”

Longview, Washington has not banned them, and most cashiers at grocery stores default to them. Perhaps they are more convenient to fill? I do get the sense that customers ask for the plastic bags because they are easier to carry. But I always ask for paper, and the staff is always pleasant about complying. Longview is, after all, a lumber town.

My cashier grabbed a bag with a giant multicoloured Earth on it. I am used to seeing a variety of advertisement and art projects printed onto paper grocery bags for one promotion or another. On this one, I admired the quality of the printing, that made it look like real crayon, right on the side of the bag. The next bag she picked up was also decorated, with a sharp, bold image that was obviously magic marker and not crayon. My eyes followed the bag as she moved it into position to begin filling it. She noticed.

“I like when they do this,” she said, gesturing the bag. “The kids do art work for Earth Day.”

“Are those originals?” I asked, possibly sounding a bit over the top, gushing about original artwork on a paper grocery bag. “Is that real crayon and ink?”

“Yep! The local kids do it in school.”

Oh dear, my face registered. I explained to the cashier that the whole reason I asked for paper is so that I can use the bags to start fires. Now there is all this beautiful artwork on them, and I’ll feel terrible for burning them up. She nodded. I brooded. The counter between us continued to beep! as she scanned my items and filled more bags. Then I had it.

“I’ll blog them!” I told her, triumphantly. “I keep a blog, and I’ll post photos of these bags. That way they will be preserved, and I can then burn them when I need to.”

“That’s a great idea!” she said, obviously impressed with my social standing in the world: A Blogger. (Ok, I’m just wishing she was impressed.)

I got the bags home and emptied them. Inside each, and adding to the treasure of four bags covered in original artwork was the dutiful inclusion of each artist’s name and school on a slip of paper in the bottom of the bag. Fodder for a fitting tribute.

Marie Smith made this one. Marie is in the 2nd grade at Northlake Elementary. Her teacher is Ms. Magnuson.

This piece was done by future typeface designer, Shailia Wild, a Kindergartner at Robert Gray School. Her teacher is Jodi Hanson.

I found this on the back. I would like to believe this piece belongs to Shailia’s little brother Jordi, who wrote “Help Our Earth!”

One bag had a full sheet of paper with lots of information. The Earth Day grocery bag art contest is held in all Kelso and Longview classrooms. During the month of March, they pick up over 5,000 brand new grocery bags from Fred Meyer and decorate them in anticipation of Earth Day in April.

There is an art contest and the winning school districts win $250, which goes to the classroom with the winning artist. This year they have also partnered with City of Longview Parks Department and the Arbor Day Foundation, so the winning classroom from Longview will also have an Arbor Day tree planted on their school grounds the end of April.

The winning bags are kept aside for honors. See the winners on the Longview Parks and Recreation facebook page. The rest are returned to Fred Meyer to be used for bagging groceries for shoppers. Like me.

Jasmine Christopher made this Earth with a knowing smile. Jasmine is a Kindergartner at Robert Gray school, and her teacher is Mrs. Box.

Hey, Jasmine, Shailia, Jordi (I just made him up, by the way), Marie, and Jillian, your Earth Day art is beautiful original art work that inspired me to learn about your communities, your schools, your teachers, your hopes for prizes. I learned more about Earth Day celebrations, Arbor Day Foundation activities, and Fred Meyer. I thought about my personal consumption and the impact it has on the planet. You made me smile and you made the cashier smile. My wood stove fires are ever so much classier now. You gave me a great blog post.

If that isn’t winning, I don’t know what is. Thank you! And congratulations.

A chipmunk feeding on the seeds I leave about for them.

Life springs forth in Spring. It’s irresistible.

I have chosen my home office location well, and have the welcome distractions of birds, squirrels, and chipmunks outside my window. This time of year I am also finding delight in Springtime blossoms.

Daffodil or narcissus?

Pacific Bleeding Heart.

I love the deep purple of the vinca.

Tulips live a short life but give such pleasure during that time. I don’t think there is such a thing as too many tulips.

Friday (yesterday) I worked a typical 10-hour workday (I work a compressed schedule), and the weather was spectacular! It reached 69 degrees here, and for much of the day there was not a cloud in the sky. I work at home most days, including yesterday, and racked my brain all day long for reasons to leave my desk and go outside. I really wanted to develop some kind of mild sickness that prevented me from working, but I couldn’t dredge up a sufficient illness. Sadly, I was well enough to stick it out all day long at my desk with my computer screens.

But I did grab my camera and run around during breaks and capture some of the blossoms in sunlight.

Oregon grape bursting with yellow flowers.

Narcissus along the driveway.

A closer shot of the narcissus.

Research shows me that all of the blossoms I call both narcissus and daffodil are under the category of narcissus. I grew up calling the flowers with a large trumpet daffodil. Those bloomed and passed already. The daffodils on my property are all a deep, sunshine yellow. Now I have new blossoms of white petals with yellow or orange trumpets that are very short. I call these narcissus.

I mentioned recently to fellow blogger Derrick J Knight that the deer ate my camellias over the winter. I included a photo below. Luckily they only ate the leaves off, and left the plant to try and recover. I see small buds of regeneration already, and I have learned the important lesson that some plants need to be covered in the winter. At my place, this includes camellias, azaleas, hydrangeas, honeysuckle, and hellebore. I believe all of them are still alive, but rather decimated. I will be a better steward from now on.

Volunteer grape hyacinths add colour along the path.

Pitiful camellia after the deer ate it this winter.

Peony looks very healthy.

This morning, chilly and wet, the scenes from the same window were still captivating, as I caught hummingbirds and a chipmunk going about their days, much less concerned about the rain than this fair-weather human.

In my last post I commented concern that sugar water would not be enough to provide a balanced diet for hummingbirds. So I looked it up and discovered that sugar water is a supplement to a hummingbird’s diet that includes small insects and spiders. Multiple organizations that profess to have a hummingbird’s best interests in mind assure me that the sugar water is a good thing for them. Just no food coloring.

Sugar-loving hummingbird, returned from her winter playground.

The chipmunk seems unconcerned that I loom at the window with an enormous lens pointed at her.

I did glance out the back window and spot another heron. I have poor eyesight, so I spotted only a great grey blur out in the grass. It is rather exciting to train the camera out there, focus, and see this enormous, elegant bird, on his way to eat some of my fish or frogs from the pond. They move quickly, and I am slow with the manual focus, so… I apologize that the image is blurry.

You may recall that I can never get a great shot of the Great Blue Herons who fish in my pond. This photo proves nothing has changed.

One of the pieces of my character is that a sense of beauty always gets through the static and fog of whatever else is going on. If I am consumed by a particular veteran’s case at work, if I am worried about my Tara making their way through the world  away from home at college, if I can’t make a reassuring plan for how to pay all the bills, if I remember that I am lonely, or that I miss my mother, or that refugees are suffering, or women still do not have their rights protected… no matter how powerful the dark thoughts, beauty pierces the cloud and makes me smile. How grateful I am to be human and to be able to comprehend beauty.

Looking toward Portland along the Columbia River on a typical April day.

Ok, to be honest, it’s mostly still raining. But that’s what the weather does around here: it rains. The trick is to look at the other details.

The sun actually does peek out every so often, and it’s a warm, invigorating sun this time of year. A sun that means business.

One trick to avoid letting the rain get you down: take photos when the sun comes out, however briefly.

The temperatures average in the 50s now, instead of the 30s or 40s. Warmer temperatures bring calm to me. (Maybe it’s simply because I’ve stopped shivering!)

Things are sprouting. Buds are opening. Daffodils are blooming. I thought for sure I’d have a photo of some of the exciting new growth, but alas. I dug through all my recent photos and I see nothing. But the growth is there and it fills me with smiles.

Hummingbirds are back! They are sucking through the sugar water like they’re starving to death! It got me to thinking the other day: how can that be good for them? I’ve always made hummingbird juice by boiling sugar water into a light syrup. But…is that truly what they survive on? There’s no vitamin value in it. I think I will do some research. The hummingbirds have so far been too hard for me to catch with my camera, so have some ducks instead.

Ducks in the pond. This was only a few weeks ago, but already it is much much greener on the banks.

Reflections

I’ve been lucky enough to catch a couple of videos of the critters around here. I hope it isn’t boring to you that I always post new photos of the animals I see. I find unending joy in them. These big beautiful animals so wild and different…and so close to me!

I had been seeing elk sign out there, but finally got to see the magnificent beasts themselves one morning.

Tara came home over Spring Break. It’s always fun and calming to have my kiddo home again. That side of the house gets opened up, and the heaters come on and there is music blasting and the shower running, and ahhh…. all is right in the world.

My college sophomore. Tara has dyed their hair dark green this time (can you tell?). I can never predict what will happen next with that hair!

They kicked my butt at Scrabble, due in part to their word skills, but maybe possibly also due to these rotten tiles? And yes, I posted this photo on facebook and got a dozen great suggestions for what to do with my hand. But it is TOO LATE you people!

I took my friend Vlad into the Gorge and we played in waterfalls in the rain. And why not? Since viewing waterfalls, one tends to get wet anyway. A rainy day is a perfect day to go the Gorge.

Bridal Veil Falls is just one of many astounding waterfalls along the Old Columbia Gorge Highway.

I liked this crooked old mossy tree branch as much as the arched bridge behind it.

The dramatic cliffs around here are, of course, the reason for the amazing waterfalls.

One of my favouritest, most beautiful, inspiring friends was diagnosed with cancer in January. She is another mom with a huge heart and an open mind and an honest gaze upon the world, that I put effort into keeping in my life because she’s the kind of woman I want to be when I grow up. Susie has been through chemo and radiation and is right now waiting to see what the next step is. She lives in Boston and I am so very far away when I want to be there to drive the kids to practice, and pick up some groceries, and mop the floor for her. I can’t do any of that. But I can send her messages of love and messages that don’t say anything about cancer, so maybe for 2 minutes, there will be no cancer on her mind. But I can be a forgetful, scatterbrained friend, no matter how much I love her. So I got the idea to dye my hair pink to remind me to send a note to Suz. It’s temporary dye, so I have to re-dye once a week, and I’ve been doing it since January. And I am proud to report that I have, indeed, remembered to send cards and notes.

Pink! And green! Look at that springtime hue behind me: woo hoo!

One of my many fires on the back of the property.

I’ve been cleaning up the land. Branches down everywhere, accumulated during the winter snows and rains and wind. I’ve been hauling them into piles and setting them alight. It’s a tricky thing to slog through the mud to a pile of wet wood in the rain and set it all ablaze, and I have gradually begun to perfect the art. And…very little chance of wildfire… so there’s that! 🙂

I hope you are enjoying the change in the season, finding your sources of joy, and making a way to connect to the people you love.

Litefoot graciously acquiesces a selfie with one of the group.

Litefoot is Gary Davis. And Gary Davis is a man with a mission. That mission is to inspire people to get up off the couch and take action.

At the last Mt. Hood Cherokee meeting, our new friend Gary Davis stopped by to share a few words. An enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation, Davis spoke about his interesting life story, but the story paled when he drove home a message at the end of his talk, about hope, tenacity, longevity, purpose, action, and faith.

He grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma but fell in love with a woman who lived in Seattle. She turned out to be smart and capable, as well as beautiful, and Davis knew that there was something for him in the Pacific Northwest. It helped that he’s a huge Steve Largent (Seahawks) fan. He’s lived in Seattle with his beautiful family (they all came to the meeting too!) since 1997.

Litefoot was gracious and generous with all of us.

Davis took the stage name of Litefoot and began rapping for his friends on the reservation as a teenager. His first rap album was produced in 1992. His music touched a nerve for some and resounded for others, bringing up painful or powerful topics from an Indian’s perspective, in contemporary music. He reached even more people with his first movie in 1995 when he was The Indian in the Cupboard.  He added television roles to his movie roles. And all the while he kept making music.

Back in the early days, Davis said, he knew what he wanted to do and he had a meeting with Chief Wilma Mankiller and told her about it. “I knew Oklahoma was not the rap  or hip hop capital of the world. What I wanted to do was bring a message to the people. People were hanging their heads. Other people recognize what we have to be proud about that we don’t even realize.” The Chief could have reacted in any number of ways to a young punk making modern music, and she chose to ask him to sing at a function for her. “But there’s one thing,” Mankiller said to him, “I want you to speak.” Davis said he thought he was nobody and had nothing to say, but he did as she asked.

The messages of positive action poured out of him.

It wasn’t that there was nothing on his mind, but more like too much on his mind. “Things have gone on for so long that people can’t even find a beginning point in order to find something to say. I prayed for the right words and 15 minutes later I stopped talking and people started clapping.” He knew speaking was for him. The high only lasted until the end of a show when a girl met him and demanded, “What did those Pilgrims do to you?” Davis said he thought to himself, “Brother, you have a long way to go. You have people with privilege who don’t even know they’re privileged.”

Since then he rapped in Kodiak, Alaska all the way across the continent to North Dakota and Maine. He was invited to perform in Rome. In 2005, he and his wife Carmen Davis started the Reach the Rez tour, to bring a positive voice to native people. To “get out ahead of drugs and suicide” he told us, “not once something has already taken place.”

Davis is every bit as active as he says people should be. I mean, he walks the talk. His message resonates with me personally. I can get a little uneasy among my Cherokee brothers and sisters, and I begin to feel like an outsider when I don’t find people who think about our heritage the way I do. So many Indians are about spirituality and artistic expression to connect to their indigenous heritage or to send a message. But that mooshy stuff simply doesn’t really resonate with me. I totally get that there is a power in activism through radiating your positive energy into the world. I totally believe that people’s lives are changed through creating or experiencing artwork. But…uhh…it makes no sense at all to me. Listening to Davis made me feel like I belonged again. Here is another one of us, and this man is about practicality and action. I am that kind of Indian.

Davis gives us his perspective on how things get done in Indian Country.

Members of the Mt. Hood Cherokee group listened as Davis inspired us.

He told us that someone once gave him a critical message: “No one cares.” We can moan about how poorly our ancestors were treated, or about how hard it is to get ahead now, and how racism and how cultural appropriation weakens our power, but it will not get us anywhere. People have too much going on in their lives to give us their effort and attention, and there are competing stories of need. “I care, because I am one of you,” Davis said. “But in general, people just don’t care.”

The answer is to become your own change. Do something. Volunteer, help build a home, help get legislation passed so that kids have access to better education. “I’m willing to think outside the box. It may not be the most comfortable for me, but I do what has to be done, in order to make it happen. People sometimes only see you for how they see themselves. They’ll say ‘We’ve tried that and it didn’t work.’ or ‘Nobody has done that.’ But don’t let their words limit you.”

Davis grew more animated as his message became animated.

“If it doesn’t speak to you; if it doesn’t resonate with you like you’re on fire, then get out of there! What is it that you’ve been born for? I love education, but it’s not the be-all end-all for everybody. What’s your thing? We need to know our own value. We need to know how brilliant we are.

“So many of us, so many Indians, have important things to do and we need to get out of our own way. Sometimes people live their lives as though on accident. Ask yourself ‘Why am I doing this?’ If it is just about checking the box, it’s not the right reason. We are who we’ve been waiting for. There’s nobody coming, man. It’s up to us. We’re good enough to do this. We’re capable enough.

“We weren’t still supposed to be here in 2017. We were supposed to shrivel up and go away and die. Most of America doesn’t even want to get out of bed in the morning and see that we are still here. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Are we gonna sit here and talk about what they don’t do for hundreds and hundreds more years, or are we gonna do something?

“You can make excuses, or make a way. Just start. Take a step.”

Litefoot is working on his 12th album, scheduled to be released June 27th on the birthday of Warrior Kai McAlpin. This sweet little Cherokee tyke was sick with cancer on the day Davis spoke to us, and died three days later. It allowed us to hear Davis say “Kai is…” and we thought of Kai that day, alive and loved in Oklahoma.

 

Sea lions heaped upon the docks, ranging from hound-sized to bear-sized.

Sea lions heaped upon the docks, ranging from hound-sized to bear-sized.

It started with an ordinary night out to eat at one of the very few restaurants in tiny Rainier. I stepped out of the Jeep in the parking lot, and was awash in the sounds of barking, growling, and moaning. Sometimes I can hear sea lions barking while standing on my porch, several miles away, but this sounded more impressive. Before going into the restaurant, I walked down to the beach in the dark, following the sounds, and came to the Rainier Marina. I could barely see the docks, but I could hear that they were occupied. I took this video for the sounds. Even after hearing it twenty times, it makes me smile!

The next morning was partially sunny, so I took my camera back down the hill to see what the scene looked like in daylight.

I wasn’t the only one with this idea, because other locals were parked on a hill overlooking the docks. I was armed with my Nikon and a zoom lens, and got some really fun shots.dsc_0007-2dsc_0009-2dsc_0012-2

Hey! Remember I had camera problems starting during my trip to Chile? At a camera store, before sending it off for repairs, the technician suggested a couple of ways to trouble shoot. One of his suggestions was to try a different lens. I had been almost exclusively using the Tamron lens because it can use the autofocus on the Nikon, and it goes from 35mm to 270mm! So convenient. I tried the 18-35, and also the 70-300, and viola! Problem fixed. It means my Tamron is dead, but not the camera. Yay!

It's a little blurry, since I have poor distance vision and the lens has to be manually focused. But what a great open maw!

It’s a little blurry, since I have poor distance vision and the lens has to be manually focused. But what a great open maw!

This one lunged along, on top of the others, to find a new spot.

This one lunged along, on top of the others, to find a new spot.

Look at these howlers!

Look at these howlers!

I chatted up one of the men in a truck, who turned out to be a local fisherman. He was very unhappy about the sea lion situation. He explained that the local fishermen view them as a menace because they eat the fish. Smelt populations wax and wane, but since the year 2000 their numbers have been so low they were added to the Endangered Species list as a threatened population. The huge sea creatures were gobbling up a lot of what is available, leaving even less for the humans. This is also a problem during salmon runs, with salmon populations already threatened by human activity like dams on the river. From an anthropologist’s perspective, I see it as a way that the fishermen respect the wild animals, and I think the rivalry is almost touching. People curse the seals and sea lions as though they are equal rivals for a limited resource, and it draws them together and highlights what they have in common. I recognize that I have the luxury of using this perspective because I don’t depend on fishing for food or for income.

Still, I had to bite down to keep from commenting to the fisherman in his truck, that while he professed to hate the sea lions, here he was, among other crusty old fishermen on the hill, having his lunch break with his windows down, listening to and watching them.

Cover up in enough blubber, and nap in a pile with your buddies, and I'll bet February becomes a lot warmer.

Cover up in enough blubber, and nap in a pile with your buddies, and I’ll bet February becomes a lot warmer.

Rainier sits on the Columbia River right across from the mouth of the Cowlitz River. This  year, like last year, a one-day, five-hour net fishing season was open on February 25th. People stand on the riverbank with nets and scoop them up. Reports are that no one got a fish this year on the Cowlitz. I imagine there will be even more cursing about sea lions now.

There are enough smelt to bring their wild hunters 45 miles inland from the sea, however.

In hopes of protecting our Marina, workers went out in January to build barriers to keep the beasts off the docks. The combined weight of hundreds of massive sea lions will sink the docks. Wooden fences were constructed, and lined with bright orange plastic netting, to make the fence seem more intimidating. The sea lions said a collective “Whatevs,” and pushed the fences aside and lounged on the docks anyway. I’m afraid the already-poor city of Rainier will have to build new docks, or at least do some significant repairs, when all is said and done.

Looking downriver toward Astoria, and the Pacific Ocean. That is the Lewis & Clark Bridge, joining Longview, Washington to Rainier, Oregon

Looking downriver toward Astoria, and the Pacific Ocean. That is the Lewis & Clark Bridge, joining Longview, Washington to Rainier, Oregon

The other thing I saw down there were the signs of commerce and industry. I know it’s factories and massive machinery and big dirty ships, but I have a childlike joy when I see it all. The lights at night (as you can see in the video at the top) are nothing short of beautiful to behold. The exhaust from the pulp mill is like a scene from a science fiction movie. Everything is huge! The factory towers, the ships, the bridge, the enormous docks across the river at the Port of Longview, in Washington. All of it delights me.

Sea lions have overtaken the Rainier docks. A pulp mill at the Port of Longview is across the river.

Sea lions have overtaken the Rainier docks. A pulp mill at the Port of Longview is across the river.

This ship's size is almost made modest beside the big sea creatures.

This ship’s size is almost made modest beside the big sea creatures.

The very end of the docks here still have their fences intact. I took the photos a couple days ago, and wonder if these fences have been wrecked too.

The very end of the docks here still have their fences intact. I took the photos a couple days ago, and wonder if these fences have been wrecked too.

Singing for their supper.

Singing for their supper.

For comparison, I took a second video with my phone, to give you a better sense of the whole view.

 

All images in this post used with permission from Portland Center Stage. https://www.flickr.com/photos/portlandcenterstage/sets/72157671722653471

All images in this post used with permission from Portland Center Stage. https://www.flickr.com/photos/portlandcenterstage/sets/72157671722653471

I live 47 miles from Astoria, Oregon. It’s a lovely town at the mouth of the Columbia River, sheltered a couple miles in from the Pacific Ocean by a serious sand bar and Cape Disappointment (the name of the cape is a bit of foreshadowing).

There are three stories I want to tell you. 1) The story itself: the real life nation-building story. 2) The play about the story, which somehow totally works! 3) The Armory, the building hosting the play.

The overland party, looking ahead and realizing their destination remains far away.

The overland party, looking ahead and realizing their destination remains far away.

The wicked Captain Thorn gazes to the horizon from the deck of his ship.

The wicked Captain Thorn gazes to the horizon from the deck of his ship.

I entered the theatre with a virgin understanding of the journey about to unfold. That is, no understanding. I had learned, in the course of reading a brief synopsis while buying my tickets, that the man who financed the expedition to found Astoria was John Jacob Astor. And in that way, two weeks ago, I learned how the town got its name. That should illustrate the level of not knowing the story I’m talking about.

Over the next 3 hours I began to realize it’s a *monumental* story of how my part of the North American continent became the United States instead of Russian territory, or British, or Canadian. Before the play I could tell you more about the founder of the McDonald’s franchise than I could about the early explorers of Oregon, because we are products of what we’re fed through media. Why oh why aren’t we fed the good and healthy stuff?

The play is based on the book by the same name, written by Peter Stark. It’s set mostly in 1810. Astor was a wealthy German immigrant who wanted to become more wealthy by capitalizing on the fabulous otter pelts that rumor had it were there for the taking on the Pacific Coast. From his home in New York City, Astor arranged for two separate approaches to the Columbia River: one by land and one by sea. Back then, the sea route was by way of Cape Horn, Chile. Remarkably, the sailors got there first. The time pressure is a plot point, since whomever establishes the first trading post will control the fur markets on the west coast and will certainly have access to the most wealth. Astor is constantly fretting about news that the French might beat him to the prize.

Early in the trip, future sailors of the Tonquin maneuver a smaller boat.

Sailors from the ship maneuver a smaller boat.

One night around the campfire with the overland party.

One night around the campfire with the overland party.

Hundreds of people joined his expeditions, including men from Scotland, Hawaii, Quebec, Ireland, and England who joined the original Americans on the teams. And original, original Americans (indigenous people) contributed further to the survival of those who did make it to the destination. Because yes, many people died along the way, including the two Hawaiians who froze to death trying to cross the bar into the Columbia River. They were not the only men who died at the bar, in the shadow of Cape Disappointment. Remember I said “foreshadowing?”

What’s remarkable, and irresistible, about this story, is how much went spectacularly wrong. Many people died by accident, and some were killed. Two went insane. Often people fought with each other, and hated each other. Miraculous are the repeated incidences of survival in the snow, survival from starving, survival from drowning, from raging ocean storms. Though catastrophes don’t always result, there was always a threat: of mutiny, getting lost, scalped, abandoned.

Chris Coleman, the artistic director, pulled off magic with that stage. One set, mind you – with occasional backdrops – conveyed a ship on the open sea, or a wealthy fur-merchant’s home, or a frontier fort, or a camp in steep mountains, beside a creek. We got up close and personal with four people rowing a boat, we listened to quiet conversation among the bunks below deck of the ship, we huddled close to the fire and tried not to feel hungry while a trapper told a story, we gasped in despair when three provisioned boats smashed and were lost in a river, and we watched while travelers reluctantly slid from their horses to continue on foot. All one set, and it worked. Like I said: magic.

Scenes with all actors on the deck of the ship were convincing partly because everyone swayed in unison with the waves. We soon learned that tables can be anything, often boats. I enjoyed the artistic creativity throughout, such as when Astor meets with three potential leaders of the excursions. All three are on stage at the same time, in points making a triangle. As each one leaves the meeting with Astor, they rotate until another is before Astor.

More magic: 16 members of the cast! Just imagine how many people you would need to portray the multiple journeys (one by sea with all the crew to run a ship, the overland party split into two, and still Astor remained in New York), and then imagine only 16 people bringing it to life. It’s a tribute to the quality of the actors that they were able to pull this off, switching back and forth between dramatically different characters, such as when Leif Norby starts as John Jacob Astor but becomes a crusty, bearded Frontiersman Edward Robinson, and back and forth. DeLanna Studi is introduced as Astor’s elegant wife, then becomes a pregnant Indian woman, then switches back. The accents switched from thick Scottish to Kentucky backwoods to prim English to French to German. Wow! I’ll interject my only criticism here: impressed as I am by the ability of the actors to do this, it was distracting to look into their faces and recognize other characters. This was amplified because I was in the front row and so close I could discern crow’s feet. I think at a distance it would not have been such a problem for me.

Antoine and Joseph consider the finer qualities of distant mountain peaks.

Antoine and Joseph consider the finer qualities of distant mountain peaks.

Action never stopped, and even the slow moments were tense or foreboding. In real life the years-long journey was a grueling series of hardships day after day, but on stage the successes and catastrophes rode each other’s heels, barely allowing an audience-member’s heart to settle in between. Amidst the hardest times in life, humans manage to find a way to laugh at their circumstances, and thus we had a not insignificant number of funny moments, such as when a couple of Frenchmen gazing at sharp mountain peaks began comparing them to breasts (“Grand teton” is large breasts, in French, and we can only imagine our travelers must have been in Wyoming about then).

Surprisingly, there was a lot of singing, though it was not a musical. I found this to be very effective support to enriching the scenes, helping us to be back in time with the actors, and helping us to understand the cultures blending on stage. One funny example was during a scene with many people rowing a boat and singing to keep the cadence. It was one of those classic tunes that multiple countries claim, with their own lyrics, and the rowers from different lands were competing for which was the “correct” version of the song, with good-natured and rowdy aggression, singing louder and louder like sports fans arguing over favourite teams.

Robinson and McKenzie face off.

Robinson and McKenzie face off.

At long last the overland parties reunite and find the Columbia River (though not yet its mouth). Captain Thorn sends enough sailors to the bar that eventually some of them live to find the entrance into the river. And that’s the end of part one! We have to wait until Portland Center Stage presents next year’s performances, to find out what happens in the end. In the meantime, I’m going to read the book.

I mentioned earlier that the performance was about 3 hours, but that includes a nice long intermission halfway through. Before the show I had admired some of the structure of the old brick building, called the Armory, and at intermission I investigated further.

The brick structure appears castle-like from the street, but it’s hard to get a good look at it because it’s downtown in the Pearl District and surrounded by tall buildings. Inside, I saw that the entire expanse is open: no support beams the length of it. There are two levels, but the second level is merely a balcony, a mezzanine level, that surrounds the open lobby with places to sit and chat, or look out the window. So I looked out the windows, which are bonafide rifle slits – glassed in and wood-framed, ha ha – leaving no doubt about the military origins of the building. I walked right up and put my hands on the bricks. Something about touching something helps me connect to the proper time and place to understand it.

So many bits were intriguing to me that I had questions about its construction, and sought out the concierge. I asked for an information brochure.

“We have a book, if you want,” he said. “It’s a regular, bound book, all about this building. We give them to people who are particularly interested.”

It was the most serendipitous outcome of a random question that I’ve had in some time. The man walked off, and returned moments later holding a large, gorgeous, illustrated, full-colour, 192-page book about how a crumbling and abandoned former military armory became a modern theatre. In fact, that’s the name of the book: “Voices of the Armory: A Chronicle of the Transformation of a 19th century icon into a 21st century theater.”

“Here you go!” he said, obviously pleased to hand it over. “It’s free! I think you’ll love it. I have one and I love it.”

This beautiful book was more than I could have expected.

This beautiful book was more than I could have expected.

A peek inside, where there are hundreds of photos of the restoration of the Armory.

A peek inside, where there are hundreds of photos of the restoration of the Armory.

The show was originally supposed to run through February 12th, but was so successful that the run was extended. If you are in Portland, you can still see it, and you should! Look for it at https://www.pcs.org/ Tickets are available through February 19th.

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