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My apologies. The writerly in me has gone to sleep. The engine sputtered and coughed and sighed then went quiet in the middle of July and I was only halfway done with telling you all about my Oklahoma trip!! I don’t know what’s going on. I’ll just wait it out because there is no doubt the engine will chug back to life. In the meantime: How lucky are we?! I wrote a post in the Spring that I never published. You can have it now.

On a May visit to Seattle, my brother and his girlfriend took me to see the Ballard Locks for the first time. The official name is the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, but so far I have not heard anyone call it that. Rather, the locals have named the locks for the Seattle neighborhood where they are found, and it’s the title of my post.

Completed in 1917, the locks link the Puget Sound with Lake Union and Lake Washington. Parking is a bear, but we finally found a spot, and made our way to the locks. Unexpectedly, visitors pass through the Carl S. English Jr. Botanical Garden. I would have been happy to spend more time exploring, but that particular day was too cold and rainy to encourage garden exploration.

Gardens tend to be lovely in the rain as well as in the sunshine.

Past the gardens, and an information center that includes a souvenir shop, we reached the water. There are two parallel channels for boats to travel through. The first one we came to was rather large, capable of containing a large ship, or many small boats. It was not in use, so we crossed the catwalk to the second and much narrower channel. I was distracted on the way by the lovely old concrete architecture.

An office building for staff, I assume. I instantly had visions of Monty Python. Sorry. Can’t help myself.

It was a delight to discover that watching boats go through locks is interesting to a bunch of other people. Many tourists and locals stood out there in the rain, watching the process. There were also cyclists waiting for the gates to open up, since apparently it’s part of a bicycle route to cross the locks.

Looking West toward the Sound, a small boat moves ahead into the lock. You can see several others waiting their turn.

People watch with surprising enthusiasm as the boat enters the lock. A second boat is allowed to join the first.

The first boat heads all the way in, and ties off. Note how deeply they sit.

The gates close.

Two boats in together, as the water level rises.

…and before you can say Bob’s your uncle, the boats are eye level and ready to move into the lake.

We watched the process of moving boats through twice. The locks can elevate a vessel 26 feet from the level of Puget Sound at a very low tide to the level of freshwater Salmon Bay, in 10–15 minutes. It’s fast enough to be entertaining, and crowds grew more dense the longer we stood there. Finally we had seen enough and we walked across the spillway dam to the other side of the water. There is a fish ladder there I would have like to see, but it was temporarily closed. The trip was not in vain, though, because I was captivated by some artwork on the other side.

These spirals, clearly reminiscent of waves, were lit with tiny blue lights. I’ll bet it’s wonderful at night.

On the way back to the locks, we saw a train crossing the bridge. From the look of the cars, this one could be carrying oil.

When we reached the locks again, so many boats had stacked up, waiting to go through, that the large lock had been opened, and they brought in everyone who was waiting. That time, there were about 8 boats in the lock. It took longer to fill, and we tired of waiting and left.

US Army Corps of Engineers manages the locks.

In Ballard we also spent time at the Farmer’s Market and visited an apothecary. I recommend the Ballard neighborhood to any Seattle visitors. And do walk out to see the locks. It’s free, and surprisingly interesting.

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A gorgeous man’s shirt on display at the Gilcrease Museum.

The CCO Conference was open to all Cherokees, but there was a special trip planned afterward for At Large Cherokees. These are the Cherokees who live outside “the 14 counties” considered to be Cherokee country in Oklahoma.*

First thing Sunday morning we piled into vans and went to the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, and arrived before they were open. This was because the Universe wanted to feed my soul. I had been inside a hotel for the greater part of three days and my nature-spirit was dying. The only thing to do while waiting for the doors to open was to visit the adjacent garden. I was also cold and needed to thaw out.

One thing I can never figure out about desert-dwellers is their love affair with air conditioning. And I’m not talking cool-things-off-a-bit AC, what I mean is let’s-recreate-the-arctic AC. If it’s 90 degrees outside, I think cooling things off to 70, maybe 68 is appropriate. But instead we get 54 degrees (maybe I’m exaggerating) and I need to wear boots and a jacket indoors when it’s summer. What a waste of resources. Anyhow, what I’m getting to is that my body needed some warmth. I flew in from a region with a heat deficit to begin with, and then was in a climate-controlled building. I was ready for summer weather!

Let me assure you, after 30 minutes of waiting for the museum to open, I turned into a much happier Crystal. Warm and filled with the quiet sounds and scenes of nature.

The garden has a walking path around a pond, where I tried to identify plants. Luckily I spotted the poison ivy before I walked through it, and also luckily another Cherokee near me pointed to a tree and named it. It was probably the first Redbud I have seen, and I thought of Laurie who is not shy about her love of the tree. The trail passed a demonstration Pre-Columbian garden with plants known to have been in those earliest gardens. Near that was a demonstration pioneer garden. I watched red birds flash through and could not get a photo. Then I listened to the most astonishing bird call that never repeated itself. Cheeps, trills, clicks, warbles – this bird had it all. I was in awe! I think it was a scissor-tailed flycatcher. Oh how I wish I could hear this Maestro every day. I spotted a frog and a turtle too. I’ve had a knack for seeing turtles lately. I didn’t tell you that I found one on my island in the pond at home before I left. But I did tell you about the turtle on the walking trail in Tulsa, and now a turtle at the Museum garden. Pretty good for a girl who has to wear glasses.

The museum has developed 23 acres into themed gardens. I walked through Stuart Park, which holds the Pre-Columbian and Pioneer Gardens.

Statue beside the pond in Stuart Park.

A turtle! One thing I did not expect to find in Oklahoma was so much water: streams, rivers, lakes, ponds…water is everywhere in this part of the state.

After my soul was filled up, I hiked back up the hill to the museum. I was in for a treat. The long name for the Gilcrease Museum is Thomas Gilcrease Institute of American History and Art. It was founded by Gilcrease, a member of the Creek Nation. The collection today holds paintings and sculptures from famous artists of the American West, like Charles M Russell, Albert Bierstadt, Frederick Remington, Thomas Moran, Georgia O’Keeffe and John James Audubon. Our guide told us that the museum is famous for Southwestern Art, and since I’m from the West, that brings to mind a particular style of art. I was soon delighted to find that my assumption was wrong, and while the collection includes faves like original CM Russells (I’ve got a print on my wall at home), most of the art draws from creators across the Americas. Indigenous carvings and masks from Central and South America, a Tlingit totem pole from Alaska, a photographic collection of Indigenous people of the West, and another of landscapes. What I love the most, at nearly every museum, is the classic style of oil paintings of real world scenes that tell a story or beg me to escape into them. And portraits by masters. I could stare for hours at portraits.

The Gilcrease Museum leans heavily on Indian artists and Indian themes and Indian influence. It felt warm and validating to be there surrounded by Cherokee people, in a Cherokee part of the country, with Cherokee art on every side of me. I noticed the unfamiliar feeling of validation regarding this weak little Indian vein flowing through me and trying to get bigger. Wanting validation for being Indian is not something I think much about and did not realize I was craving it. Maybe it’s harder to be Indian when there is nothing Indian around me. But there in the museum, being Indian was practically cheered at me. It felt so good.

I think my jabbering will not add much to the experience, so I’ll just fill the rest with photos and captions. Please enjoy the ones I’ve chosen for you.

The Mourners by Joseph Henry

If I could hang Sierra Nevada Morning by Albert Bierstadt on a wall in my home, I’d never have to rent movies. I could just sit in front of this painting and disappear into it.

Blackhawk and His Son Whirling Thunder by John Wesley Jarvis

A painting of Mt. Hood! It was pretty fun to discover this one, while visiting as a representative of the Mt. Hood Cherokees.

I tend to love the paintings best in any museum, but this one had many other impressive displays, that were not of oil and canvas. Though we were not able to see it, there are documents here like an original copy of the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation. We saw less valuable but still exciting documents.

An actual cast of Abraham Lincoln’s face hovers above casts of his hands.

Our van driver, Kevin, gets a close-up shot of this amazing story created from string glued in place.

Close up

We spent a lot of time OOooo-ing and AAhhhh-ing over the Plains Indians displays of clothing, moccasins, and bags, with beadwork on everything. Some of the stitching and beading too intricate to be believed without seeing it yourself.

So many beautiful moccasins.

Dresses I would be proud to wear.

Indian toys.

Beaded tobacco bag.

Sequoyah

Plaque beneath the Sequoyah statue. Please click the image to be able to read it. Seqyoyah is the most famous Cherokee because, among other things, he invented our written language.

One of the At Large Cherokees gets a photo of the famous statue, found on many Oklahoma license plates.

*If you’re curious, this is from the Cherokee Nation website: The Cherokee Nation is not a reservation; it is a 7,000 square mile jurisdictional area covering all of eight counties and portions of six additional counties in Northeastern Oklahoma. As a federally-recognized Indian tribe, the Cherokee Nation has both the opportunity and the sovereign right to exercise control and development over tribal assets which include 66,000 acres of land as well as 96 miles of the Arkansas Riverbed.

Back entrance to Tulsa’s Hard Rock Cherokee casino.

My feelings about casinos and American Indians are much like my feelings about potatoes and Idaho (I grew up in Idaho). With the numbers of truly remarkable, classy, academic, artistic, historic, record-breaking things to know about Idaho, not to mention the jaw-dropping natural wonders, it is sad and frustrating that people only know us for the potatoes. But then… if it weren’t for the potatoes, I think there are people who would forget Idaho exists.

Likewise casinos and Indians.

A few friends saw my trip to Cherokee country in terms of casinos. Before and during the trip, they asked if I went to a casino, or how many casinos, or recommended a casino. I debated whether I should intentionally avoid mentioning casinos in my blog and on facebook, in case I contribute to this skewed perception of Indians. I decided that I can’t change anyone’s perception. I’ll just write my blog for me. That’s how I usually do it.

Inside the casino.

I brought Bone with me, and you can see him as he contemplates his odds here at the slots on the left of the photo.

A fellow blogger at Wandering Through Time and Place introduced me to Bone, the travelling bone, who hitched a ride to Oklahoma with me.

I’ve got some neat stuff to share in the next several posts. The first half of the week was a conference at a hotel in Tulsa. You can get a snapshot of it if you read my previous blog post. The second half of the week was touring Cherokee historical sites, landmarks, museums, memorials, and administrative centers. We also had a class to learn some of the Cherokee language.

The Mt. Hood Cherokees in Portland have a sister community in Stilwell, Oklahoma. Our two groups were paired with each other by the Cherokee Nation in hopes that it would foster relationships and improve shared resources and ideas among regular people. This is to teach us to rely on each other as well as on our government because a critical part of Cherokee tradition is community, shared resources, and gadugi – working together for the common good. A few members of my sister group, Stilwell Public Library Friends were at the conference and they actively sought me out and made it a point to be at my service.

Dennis, me, and Regina

An 80s cover band, sorry I didn’t catch their name.

Even though a casino trip was not a part of the conference, a couple of the locals I spoke with told me that the nearby Hard Rock casino in Tulsa is a beautiful Cherokee facility with Indian arts and artifacts displayed and definitely worth seeing. I mentioned casually to Regina and Dennis from Stilwell that I tried to get a hotel shuttle to see the casino my first day here, but the hotel shuttle was booked. I was not asking for a ride, but they were powerless to resist the urge to help a nice lady stranded at the hotel. Saturday night after the awards ceremony, we headed right over.

A Dave Matthews display

Saxophone chandelier

Agreed: it’s worth a visit, and I used to live in Nevada, so I’d like to believe I can recognize a quality casino. The place is beautifully designed inside and since it’s a Hard Rock facility, there is wonderful music memorabilia on display. We took the time to wander throughout the entire casino and look at every display we could find. There were guitars and performance costumes and records of famous musicians. There were large collections of Elvis and Beatles memorabilia (Beatles shampoo – who knew?) The second floor holds some exceptional and tastefully displayed artifacts and sculpture. It was sort of a punch in the gut to see that the information plates do not advertise the artist’s name, but instead say something like, “Cherokee woven basket,” or “Cherokee Native beadwork.” Imagine going to a museum and reading the information plate and it says, “Oregonian oil painting.” It homogenizes anyone who lives in Oregon, and it diminishes the piece itself, and the artist. Clever artists put their names where the curious could find them. A couple pieces were signed. Dennis discovered that if you stand on tiptoes and look inside a clay bowl, for example, you will find the artist’s business card. Regina and Dennis recognized the style of several pieces, and guessed the artist for me. More than once, Regina sighed with disappointment, “But I want to know who made this.”

Detail from the Dave Matthews guitar. It looks like a friend probably took a sharpie to his guitar one night…

One of the displays is turtle shell rattles that women wear on their legs in a stomp dance. I have been told they’re quite heavy and it takes some strength and stamina to keep time with the dancers all night long.

In the conference room area, the hallways are adorned with some stunning pieces, and in this section, the artists are all properly identified. There is a satisfying variety of mediums, subjects, and styles. My favourite piece was Uktena with Crystal, by Jane Osti. I collect dragons and Uktena is the closest thing to a dragon I can find in Cherokee tradition. Cherokees know that Uktena’s power is in the crystal on it’s head, so that’s what the title refers to. But for a few minutes, Uktena was with another Crystal. I encourage you to do what we did if you find yourself in this casino: wander and soak it up!

And the place is a casino, too! What fun it was to walk through the jingling sounds, the machine noises so familiar to me from years ago and spending a lot of time in casinos. The lights are a riot of colours, blinking, strobes and mood-inducing illumination. The carpets are wild! The chrome polished slot machines and golden chandeliers reflected everything back at itself. People laughed, groaned, and whooped! We passed a live band, and each time they launched into a new cover of an 80s hit, the audience gleefully cheered. Gamblers, dancers, and nearby employees were all singing along and grinning.

Conjuration, by Fishinghawk

By this time it was too late to gamble, though we all would have been game for it if it was not so late and/or I did not have to get up at 6am (Regina and Dennis were driving home the next day and could set their own schedule). So after we had seen all that we could see, we left and went back to the hotel.

The next day I was surprised to find that our Cherokee group did go on a planned trip to the Hard Rock casino. Our itinerary just said “lunch,” so that’s how I missed the news. No time to gamble though, which is good, because I had not purchased any gifts yet and needed to save my money. We stopped by for lunch, and so we hit the one thing I had missed the night before: sampling the restaurants. We ate at the buffet and it was excellent! One of the best meals of the entire trip. It is often the case that casino food is out of this world, and I was absolutely satisfied with this meal. More than satisfied. By the time I got to pecan pie with whipped cream and ice cream, I was pushing maximum density.

Then we hit the highway and headed out of Tulsa on our way to Tahlequah.

The name of this piece is Uktena with Crystal, by Jane Osti, Cherokee National Treasure. Bone likes this one.

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.

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.

The old, sad mailbox. It had a white strip of tape with one number on it, crossed out, and a different handwritten number in felt pen beneath.

The old, sad mailbox. It had a white strip of tape with one number on it, crossed out, and a different handwritten number in felt pen beneath.

Not that the old mailbox was completely unusable, but it was rusted, a bit mossy, and bent. Mail arrived as expected. Tara and I still felt compelled to replace it with a new one. Something with character, that shows we are new around here and we take pride in our place.

I don’t know whose idea it was, but we loved the idea of painting it with old, clumped and gummy nail polish. Looks terrible on nails, but it could look great on a mailbox. We’ve been collecting nail polish for years. A lot of years. Some of it was gross. But perfect for this project.

Tara found strips of tape and taped the outside into a random pattern, taking care to stick it very well to the white enameled mailbox. They spent a couple of sunny days out on the deck, choosing the oldest polish in the worst shape and painting it on. (We also used up polish that was in good shape, but awful colour. Just why did we purchase that hideous peach one? Must have been a gift.)

Partially painted mailbox with a collection of nail polish handy.

Partially painted mailbox with a collection of nail polish handy.

Tara worked away at this project. At first I meant to add my touches and make it a team effort, but it turned out so beautifully I couldn't bring myself to interfere.

Tara worked away at this project. At first I meant to add my touches and make it a team effort, but it turned out so beautifully I couldn’t bring myself to interfere.

Tape removal day, while we ate some delish fish & chips at a place we found not too far away.

Tape removal day, while we ate some delish fish & chips at a place we found not too far away.

We found both the box and the reflective numbers at The Home Depot in Longview, Washington (just across the Lewis & Clark Bridge). After the polish was dry, Tara removed the tape, then applied the numbers: nice and bright so people trying to find us will now be easily able to use the mailbox (the house numbers are hard to see).

My step-father came for a visit for a couple days  down from Moyie Springs, Idaho. He was restless looking for projects, and asked if we wanted the mailbox mounted. Yes we did! While I was working at the computer, my step-father removed the old box and got the new one ready, then called Tara and me to see if we wanted to witness the installation. Yes we did!

Finished! Isn't it gorgeous?!

Finished! Isn’t it gorgeous?!

Close-up so you can see how amazingly beautiful the colours are. Sadly, nail polish does not seem designed to withstand sunlight, and there are signs of fading already. I'll check in after a year or so, and let you see how it holds up.

Close-up so you can see how amazingly beautiful the colours are. Sadly, nail polish does not seem designed to withstand sunlight, and there are signs of fading already. I’ll check in after a year or so, and let you see how it holds up.

Ready for mounting, in the back of my step-father's pickup.

Ready for mounting, in the back of my step-father’s pickup.

Woo hoo! Our new functional work of art is in its new home.

Woo hoo! Our new functional work of art is in its new home.

We've made our mark in the neighborhood. It's a shady street at all times, so hopefully sun damage will be slow.

We’ve made our mark in the neighborhood. It’s a shady street at all times, so hopefully sun damage will be slow.

"Keep it badder, PDX." Artful graffiti on Alberta Street. PDX is the airport identifier for Portland International Airport, and has been adopted as one of the many nicknames of the city.

“Keep it badder, PDX.” Artful graffiti on Alberta Street. PDX is the airport identifier for Portland International Airport, and has been adopted as one of the many nicknames of the city.

For some Middle School reason, I think using the word “art” as a verb is hilarious. As in, “Don’t interrupt, I’m arting.”

One of my inexplicable Crystal diversions is that I like to catalogue wall art. Many cities have murals and many cities have spectacular graffiti, and I am crazy about it. I am even won over by 3-D wall art, like parts of airplanes or cars built to look like they are jutting out, mosaic tiles that lift from the wall, and religious icons set into walls. I am impressed with this living art:

The living wall of a business on Alberta Street.

The living wall of a business on Alberta Street.

Last week I talked a friend into driving me around to look for wall murals to photograph. This morning, Andrew at Have Bag, Will Travel posted wall art and it was the push I needed to get my photos out to you all.

There is a street in Portland called Alberta Street, that has been building its reputation for 100 years. From the 1920s, Alberta Street was known as a place where inexpensive housing could be found, as well as bus and streetcar service to transport workers into the city. This reputation attracted many immigrants, and it also became the site of a massive relocation in the aftermath of a devastating flood in 1948 that wiped out a large Black American community. In the 1950s and again in the 1970s, public works projects leveled impoverished areas close to the city center and forced the people to relocate. Many of them crammed into the Alberta neighborhoods.

The people in this area have cultural influences that include German, African, Chinese, and Mexican.

The residents in this area have cultural influences that include German, African, Chinese, and Mexican.

One thing I particularly enjoy here is the variety of artists' styles.

One thing I particularly enjoy here is the variety of artists’ styles.

Crowding and poverty resulted in unrest. I was not in the area during the 1980s and 90s, but the reputation north Portland garnered for itself decades ago is still spread as fact by well-meaning neighbors in other parts of the city, in their attempts to help me learn the area. It was famous for gangs, drugs, and violence. At the same time, the Alberta residents put their collective feet down and said, “No more!” Always leaning heavily on the arts, a concerted effort of neighborhood improvements began, and was ultimately successful.

Inspirational as well as attractive.

Inspirational as well as attractive.

This one is tiny: perhaps 2 1/2 feet tall. It includes a micro-mural of Haystack Rock, on the Oregon Coast.

This one is tiny: perhaps 2 1/2 feet tall. It includes a micro-mural of Haystack Rock, on the Oregon Coast, shown in a recent post.

The artists are not only talented, but also engaged and aware of their impact on the community, which probably explains why so many sign their work.

The artists are not only talented, but also engaged and aware of their impact on the community, which probably explains why so many sign their work.

A new ramen house I will definitely return to with Tara.

A new ramen house I will definitely return to with Tara.

Today, as often happens in diverse neighborhoods all over this country, the hard work of community activists has paid off, and the wealthy weekend explorers from downtown have “discovered” Alberta. The street hosts organic groceries and free-range chicken, gourmet ice cream, and a 100% gluten-free bakery. The cultural diversity of the local entrepreneurs overlaid with new trendy shops draws an entirely new crowd and – I assume – new growing pains as property values soar and gentrification claws its way in.

The character, the activism, and the arts from the complicated and heroic history shine through on Alberta Street today. It is one of the best places in Portland to park your car, get out into the air and join the community.

{Credit to Alberta Main Street for the historical facts.}

{My collection of Portland wall art on Flickr.}

We talked for a long time to these enthusiastic young men who had raised their own money through donations from passers-by, and then took it upon themselves to paint over unattractive graffiti. There must be no better affirmation of community action than when young men make it their own project.

We talked for a long time to these enthusiastic young men who had raised their own money through donations from passers-by, and then took it upon themselves to paint over unattractive graffiti. There must be no better affirmation of community action than when young men make it their own project.

Here someone has salvaged an old Coke advertisement.

Here someone has salvaged an old Coke advertisement.

We share the same sun.

We share the same sun.

I get a total charge out of this one. The artwork makes me think of Mayan writing on columns. I can't tell if it was intentional, but each column is stacked "on top" of the recycling bins.

I get a total charge out of this one. The artwork makes me think of Mayan writing on columns. I can’t tell if it was intentional, but each column is stacked “on top” of the recycling bins.

Rose City is another Portland nickname. This is an example of when graffiti can no longer be called an eyesore.

Rose City is another Portland nickname. This is an example of when spray-painted graffiti can no longer be called an eyesore.

Endangered tiger on a thank you card for wildlife rangers.

Endangered tiger on a thank you card for wildlife rangers.

Tara is applying for scholarships. We are both interested in as much financial assistance as possible. Oregon State University is not the most expensive school, and there is in-state tuition, but the fact remains that college is startlingly expensive for regular folks like us.

Here’s one from dosomething.org: Thank You cards for wildlife rangers.

Students make cards for wildlife rangers who are involved with protecting endangered species. The theme of the cards must be from the list of key species, including elephants, marine turtles, tigers, giant pandas, and rhinocerouses. Rhinoceri. Rhinocerim. Rhinos.

For every two cards a person submits, their name is entered into a drawing one time. There is a limit of 10 cards, and therefore 5 chances to win. The prize is a $10,000 scholarship. Totally worth the effort!

Tara designing wildlife cards.

Tara designing wildlife cards.

This is how we did it.

This is how we did it.

early draft rhino

early draft rhino

early draft tiger

early draft tiger

Tara and I and a friend got together at a coffee shop and brought art supplies and pulled up images of endangered species on our smart phones… and started drawing.

Drawing is slow work. Luckily, Tara already had a bunch of elephant block prints from last year’s art class. I aboslutely love this elephant. You’ve seen it previously, on my Good Things Jar (where it remains, of course). There were several other versions of the same elephant in Tara’s art folder, so they cut them up and pasted them to handmade cards.

I have called myself an artist for a long time, but I don’t prove it to myself often enough. I consider my writing an art, and my photography is an art. The way I think about the world is through an artists eyes and ears. But look, I can draw too! (I drew the rhino) And look what Tara can do! (Tara drew the tiger) We went in jointly on the sea turtle – Tara drew the first draft, and I finished up the details and did the colours. After the fact, it occurred to me that we had just copied a copyright image (Crush from Finding Nemo), so I made the turtle purple and yellow in a weak attempt to say “This is not Crush, this is a different turtle.” Our friend did the other sea turtle, insisting that all he could do was stick figures, and look how good it turned out!

Cross your fingers for us in getting a few scholarships this year to help soften the blow.

My rhinoceros. I love how it turned out.

My rhinoceros. I love how it turned out.

The original sketch of the elephant, that Tara used as a guide to carve the block print.

The original sketch of the elephant, that Tara used as a guide to carve the block print.

Experimenting with different paints on the block.

Experimenting with different paints on the block.

Catch ya later, Dude!

Catch ya later, Dude!

The valid sea turtle card, based on an actual turtle.

The valid sea turtle card, based on an actual turtle.

Elephants in the mist.

Elephants in the mist.

colour experiments

colour experiments

colour experiments

colour experiments

P.S. Last minute addition below. We discovered that we had only 10 cards, so Tara quickly folded a scrap piece of paper in half and handed it to me. Since it was small, I thought just a face would have to suffice.

My Siberian Tiger in full colour.

My Siberian Tiger in full colour.

Flower casts a shadow against a wall.

Flower casts a shadow against a wall.

An example of how my world is larger because of blogging: I’ve been watching this flower grow against the foundation of my neighbor’s house, and I can’t help but imagine it sketched by The Crazy Bag Lady over at Bulan Lifestyle.

The Crazy Bag Lady’s posts are filled with her delights and inspirations and many beautiful sketches. She will sketch anything that catches her fancy, but my favourites are the micro views of plants and flowers.

I just love this flower. The recklessly long and wavy stems, the mismatched petals, the fearless orange center.

I just love this flower. The recklessly long and wavy stems, the mismatched petals, the fearless orange center.

What a beautiful shadow.

What a beautiful shadow.

Some people are naturally inclined to see connections in life. It can be an irresistible game to play – a perpetual mind puzzle – to absorb as much as possible and then to link pieces together and look for patterns. My Tara has been doing it since the toddler days, and at first I thought it was an unlikely skill to have learned from such a young age. But the more I think about it, the more I think that appreciating connections isn’t learned but intrinsic to our character. It will blossom when embraced. Some people (myself included) delightedly blurt out connections we discover, even while people nearby aren’t playing the game.  🙂

This flower embodies the qualities I notice in The Crazy Bag Lady’s sketches: haphazard petals, white like the pages of her moleskine notebook, bending stems, delicate and proud stamens in an orange circle like a sunburst. The longer I live, the more intricately my web of connections is spun, now linking me to this flower (and soon only the memory of it), and a lovely lady far away, who expresses her joy in life through her art.

Face to face, flower and lens

Face to face, flower and lens

DSC_0518

Long stems bend to the sun

Long stems bend to the sun

A pile of unused raccoon stickers just waiting to find a home.

A pile of unused raccoon stickers just waiting to find a home.

Oh! Oh! Oh! I am so excited to get this in the mail, you can’t even know. I am simply giggling with happiness. Hee hee. 🙂

Several months ago I wrote a blog post about a raccoon that had captured my imagination. I searched the Internet and found a webpage from the artist, and I left him a note saying how much I liked the raccoon, and sending a link to my blog post.

Monday I received all this in the mail! A simple manila envelope noting “Jst Productions” as the sender, and I hoped, but wasn’t sure, till I opened it up and found a huge pile of handmade raccoon stickers. I was bouncing with glee. Thank you Just1!

In case any of you are wondering, the answer is “yes.” Yes, I do intend to deface public property. I play the part of a good girl pretty well, but I’m a rebel inside and I am dying to get out into the city and tag something. I am a little disappointed that I didn’t receive the package in time to slap something up in Anaheim. But maybe my partner in crime, Arno, will help me spread them into the Gorge.

The first one goes on my car. This way I can take the raccoon with me all over the place.

The first one goes on my car. This way I can take the raccoon with me all over the place.

One of my many guises

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