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Twilight at 10:30am on Monday.

I drove into the path of totality on Monday, to experience the much-advertised total solar eclipse. The eclipse was remarkable in that it passed from the west coast of the US to the east coast, though the fervor of the buildup to Eclipse Day 2017 was unparalleled to any space/stars/meteor shower I  have yet seen. The result of said fervor is that everybody and their dog was headed either south, or north, on Interstate-5, to get to the area around Salem, the capitol city of the state of Oregon. Salem was smack in middle of the path of totality, and one of the first places on the continent to see the eclipse.

Thus, I chose a different route.

I gauged that central Oregon – typically some of the most desolate landscape of the country – would be less of a destination. I was right to some degree, having to share that part of the world only with other people who had chosen it for the same reason. Because let’s face it: people were everywhere within the path of totality on Monday.

A Canadian eclipse-viewer stops for gas and cleans the windshield. His pup was along for the ride.

I passed through vast areas of wind farms. These things always make me think of a science fiction story.

As I have told you a hundred times, I’m a very busy person. The result in this case was that I had not made time to plan other than to get approval to take the day off from work. I had no eclipse glasses, no hotel or campground reservations, no destination in mind, and only a rough idea of where the path of totality would be.

Friday before the eclipse, as my workday was winding down, I started searching on the Internet for where to get those coveted glasses. And they were nowhere!! Everyone sold out & Ebay filled with $200 glasses that their owners had purchased for $12 a month earlier. I gave up and decided just being in the area would be wonderful enough. Fortunately, a friend was thinking of me, and while he couldn’t find eclipse glasses either, bought welding glass for himself and his friends.

Sunday morning I was delighted to find that traffic was a breeze. I was expecting Eclipsageddon on the highways. As I drew closer to the path of totality, the traffic picked up enough that I was certain it was eclipse-related. I could not stop myself from thinking that every time I had been in this region before, I felt like I was the only person in the world. It is that desolate. But that weekend was different.

Heading south. Clearly we all have the same thing in mind. I giggled to myself about the famous Oregon driver politeness. Look at how courteous we all are here, giving plenty of space between each vehicle. This behavior makes East Coast visitors go friggin mad with frustration.

Further south the views became more beautiful to me.

Oregon’s path of totality. (image courtesy NASA) The star is where I live. The arrow points to my campsite.

OK, quick refresher for anyone who wants it: the “path of totality” is the path in which the eclipse is total. That means the moon fits perfectly in front of the sun for at least a few seconds. I guess the path is 70-80 miles across. At the center of that swath, the length of totality was 2 1/2 minutes long, and shorter as you moved toward the outside edge of it. I snagged a map (shown above) from the NASA website, and chose a place to head for.

I stopped in the adorable town of Condon, just outside the path, and I relaxed. It’s amusing in retrospect, but after a month of run-for-your-lives! warnings on every media source, including my employer’s mandate that all employees must work at home on Monday, to avoid driving, I was filled with anxiety. In reality, I made it with no hiccups whatsoever. I chalk it up to 1) heading for a typically desolate area, 2) heading in Sunday instead of Monday, and 3) the fact that eclipse viewers had been trickling in for the past week, so the full population was not impacting the highways on the way in.

Mainstreet of Condon, Oregon

Museum inside the Veteran’s building in Condon

Condon was well-prepared for the eclipse tourists. The tiny town looked like it had been scrubbed from top to bottom. Buildings painted, streets swept, flower baskets out, windows washed, colorful banners up and welcome signs everywhere. I pulled to a stop across from a Veterans Memorial building, and thought I would stretch my legs in there, and see what was inside. To my delight, the space was being used as an art museum, displaying works from local painters and photographers. It was quiet and cool and had a bathroom! I lingered in front of one collection from a single artist, and the woman managing the place came up behind me and asked if I had ever been there: the canyon depicted in the paintings. I had not. She introduced herself as the artist and said that Blue Basin, within the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument was her favourite place in the region. As long as I was there anyway, she insisted I try to walk the trails there. Just as I was about to ask about potential for camping, she noted that all the public trails would be closed for the eclipse.

I went directly south, through Fossil, Oregon and then east. I discovered that I had left the Internet and cell service behind in Condon, so I was on my own out there in the wild. Remarkably, my GPS sort of worked, and I found a National Forest nearby. I thought, “I’m a taxpayer; it’s my forest too!” And drove up into the hills and found a flat spot and pitched my tent. Throughout the evening, more people trickled in, clearly others as brilliant (and procrastinating) as myself!

Some entrepreneurs thought to rent out space in their fields after getting the hay in. This farm was charging people to set up tents and trailers. If you click the image, you’ll be able to see them in the distance.

Closer shot. There were already hundreds of campers by mid-afternoon. I’ll bet the population was enormous by midnight. I hope the ranchers made a mint!!

National Forests are for everyone!

Watching the sun go down from inside my tent. The murky skies eventually turned into a spectacular sunset.

All day long the skies were worrisome. We’ve had a record-breaking wildfire season (every new summer breaks a new record…sigh.) and smoke was blowing in from fires in Oregon, Washington and British Columbia. The orange-brown particles obscured the views in every direction. Even more distressing were the cirrus clouds that heralded a change in weather (remember I was a forecaster in my former life). As evening drew nigh, low-level grey clouds thickened and spread across the sky. It began to look like rain.

Miraculously, the sky was spotless blue in the morning. Even the smoke from the fires had cooled and settled into the valleys, leaving the sky above as perfect as any of us could have wished for.

On the way in I had spied a promising high point along the road, with views in all directions. Wide open, beautiful, accessible. In the morning, I packed everything up, and headed back the way I had come, in order to put myself at that spot at about 9:30am. I worried about police coming along and telling me not to park on the side of the road, but I was determined to do it anyway. Imagine my surprise when I found dozens of vehicles already parked where I was headed. I merely found a spot in the midst of the crowd. Again, my bewildered brain recalled that I had been on this road before, and it was not unusual to drive an hour and not see another vehicle.

Eclipse-gazers line both sides of the highway on this curve in the road. If I showed you the view to my right, you would see an equal number of cars in that direction. The hills you see are where I camped.

I walked around taking photos to kill time. I met a photographer who had drool-worthy equipment and had thought to purchase a sun filter so she could photograph the sun safely. I met families with bouncy squealing children, and aging hippies, and science nerds and adventurous twenty-somethings. We all loved each other for being excited about the same event. We were all instantly friendly, trusting, generous. No vehicles were locked, and many doors were wide open with expensive camera equipment and wallets and sunglasses on the seats, available for the taking if any of us wasn’t so filled with joy and love. One family asked if I had eclipse glasses, and I said I did not, and they instantly brought me a spare pair from the truck.

“What were you going to do without glasses?” they asked with genuine concern.

“I have welding glass. Shade 13. It’ll be just fine.” I said to their skeptical faces.

To back up my confident statement, I pulled out my glass and held it in front of my eyes and turned to the sun. And gasped! There was a black disc obscuring 1/4 of the sun. “IT’S ALREADY STARTED!!!!” I yelped. And others, who had calmly discovered this before me, smiled and agreed that it had already started.

Totality was scheduled to begin at 10:22 am, and until then we kept our bubbling enthusiasm under control. I was wearing a Brandeis T-shirt, and was approached by multiple people with affiliations with the school, or who were alumni. That was fun. A couple from Rhode Island complained about the slow and polite Oregon drivers. I spent most of my time with one family from Seattle. Mom chatting with me and Dad constantly hollering at his little girls to put their eclipse glasses back on. They had a white sheet on the ground to capture some mystical phenomena they had heard about. The photographer lady from earlier discovered that she could make a pinhole viewer with her hand, and came over to ask if she and her husband could use the sheet. Once the kids spotted that, everyone wanted to make tiny eclipses with their hands. All the adults tried it too. A woman passing by saw what we were doing and said that she had just passed a tree, and there were a thousand tiny pinhole eclipses cast across the ground by the leaf shadows.

The gorgeous farm next to where I parked.

Playing with different views of thistles and fields. You can see the wildfire smoke beginning to rise with the heat of the day, in the background.

Seattle dad and one of the kids on her back – yes, with her glasses in place.

Making pinhole eclipse-viewers on a sheet.

Here, this one is easier to see. Cool, huh?

And then it became evident that something was happening. The temperature dropped and the light became….odd. It felt like sunset, but my body and brain knew it was morning. I didn’t notice any changes in animals, but had not noticed any animals earlier either. There were no cows or horses close enough to watch, and no crickets. So all we had to notice was the light. And each other. We constantly looked at the sun, then looked at the land. It is truly astonishing how bright it is outside with only a sliver of sun left. All it takes is one tiny bit of that orb to light up our entire world. I snapped a few photos.

Almost totality. What a curious light.

Photographer and her husband.

And then, blam! A distinct change in light and temperature. One man said he was hoping to watch the shadow fly across the land, and I think that would have been cool to see. But it happened too fast. In an instant, we were in totality.

The place we stood probably afforded us only 1 1/2 minutes of the darkest skies. I have to admit: I was envisioning complete blackness; the Milky Way and everything. But no it was not that. It got dark though. We saw stars – or more likely, planets – but only the brightest of them. The light was indescribable, and my photos do not capture it, as my camera is brilliant at sucking in all available light and making things show up better in the photo than in real life.

I think this photo best shows the quality of the light. It was darker than this, but I think you can tell by looking at this that it was an odd light.

My only heartbreak of the day: I did not know you could look at the sun during totality. No one had said this in any of the videos or articles I read beforehand. During totality, the light was too dim to show up through the glass or the eclipse glasses, so with nothing to look at, I dropped my gaze to the ground, and pretty much stared at the ground for the entire period, trying to protect my eyes from instant vaporization – or whatever the fanatical warnings were all about. NEVER NEVER LOOK AT THE SUN DURING AN ECLIPSE! OR YOU WILL DIE! Thankfully, as I moved my gaze away, I accidentally caught a split-second glimpse of it. And it was AWESOME. It was everything you could ever imagine. So unreal, and even in that brief amount of time, burned into my memory clearly.

As the period of darkness ended, and the world lit up again, all the people cheered and clapped. That was fun. The kids squealed about the waves of light shimmering across the sheet, as we had also seen at the very beginning of totality. I was still exhaling and letting some of the awe and astonishment fade, when a couple of cars zoomed off along the highway. They were getting out ahead of the crowds.

I had the opposite plan. My plan was to dally. Rather than head north like everyone else, I decided to head south and see if I could find that canyon that the museum lady talked about.

{This got really long. Sorry about that. I’ll post a part II so I can tell you about Blue Basin and the trip home.}

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The picturesque chimney at Chapman School.

The picturesque chimney at Chapman School.

A favourite September tradition in Portland is to gather on a grassy hillside and wait for sundown. As dusk settles, Vaux’s Swifts come in from miles around and gather to descend into a brick chimney for the night.

Tara and I invited J, who had never heard of it, and we didn’t tell him what was going on. We just said, “Meet us at Chapman School. Parking will be hard to find, but when you’re parked, come to the top of the hill behind the school. There will be lots of people and blankets on the grass. We’ll be looking for you.”

This is one of the events that reminds me of the very best of human nature. We humans love to gather with friends and family and enjoy the shared awe of an event. It’s particularly special when the event is a gift from nature, and nothing that we can control. In those cases, all we can do is sit back and smile and soak up the atmosphere, and be glad to be alive. It reminded me of the warm evening I spent on South Mountain outside Phoenix.

The beautiful old Chapman School.

The beautiful old Chapman School.

This mosaic sculpture is beside the front door.

Lovely mosaic sculpture…

...with a dragon!

…with a dragon!

Please read my other post about the swifts from 2007, the first time we had ever seen it, to get more information about what’s going on here. Vaux’s swifts are migratory, and have several roosting areas near Portland. The most famous is the Chapman School chimney. Once the school’s heating system was converted, the chimney was no longer used by the school, but has been kept in good repair specifically for the swifts, who roost there at night, since they can’t perch.

Early in the evening, and the crowds haven't arrived yet.

Early in the evening, and the crowds haven’t arrived yet.

From the bottom of the hill, looking up at where Tara sits with the blanket.

From the bottom of the hill, looking up at where Tara sits with the blanket.

Sledding on cardboard is remarkably fun entertainment for the children (and everyone watching them).

Sledding on cardboard is remarkably fun entertainment for the children (and everyone watching them).

The show doesn’t start till the sun goes down, and during the waning light hours, families poured in. Volunteers walked around to answer questions, and pronounced it Vox (I had been saying it wrong). The volunteer we talked to had a little plastic box that held a dead swift, so we could see one up close. The children were mesmerized by the tiny bird and did not want to relinquish the box, once they held it. Voices from hundreds of people swelled with laughing and calling to each other, as well as the squeals of the kids sledding down the steep grassy hill on flattened cardboard boxes. With the gathering darkness came the gathering swifts, and we were able to hear their high-pitched chirping as they circled above us.

There was a large bird perched on the edge of the chimney most of the afternoon, and it was deterring the swifts from descending into it. The volunteer confirmed for us that it was a Cooper’s hawk, a predator with an excellent hunting spot. The sky grew darker and still the birds did not enter the chimney. I grew impatient and finally told J what we were waiting for.

When the sun goes down, you can see the tiny birds fill the sky.

When the sun goes down, you can see the tiny birds fill the sky.

Unfortunately, I did not capture the hawk while she was on our side of the chimney. In this shot she is there, but out of sight on the far side of the rim.

Unfortunately, I did not capture the hawk while she was on our side of the chimney. In this shot she is there, but out of sight on the far side of the rim.

While the hawk blocked access to their roost, the birds grew in number, and flew in circles above our heads.

While the hawk blocked access to their roost, the birds grew in number, and flew in circles above our heads.

It was exciting to anticipate the conclusion of the building drama, since more and more tiny birds formed a circling cloud overhead. They whirled like debris in a dust devil, waaay up into the sky, and then spiraling down down down as though into a drain. But… approaching the mouth of the chimney was too great a risk, and they dove past and shot out to the horizon again.

Then! The hawk launched from the chimney and struck and captured a swift. Immediately about ten other swifts chased it away and the crowd cheered. Now it would begin.

The cloud of birds formed their chirping funnel cloud and streamed into the chimney for a long time. More and more dropped inside, with every set of human eyes entranced and kids hooting in excitement. I took a few photos then put down the camera and watched (me with my mouth open, I am sure). When all but a few dozen birds were safely tucked in for the night, the crowd clapped and began picking up their blankets, and hugging each other goodbye.

I hope you enjoy the videos below. I was holding the camera in my hands and not very steady, which makes it hard to watch. In the second one, the Cooper’s hawk is still on the edge of the chimney. Small groups of swifts head down, then veer off to the side, not entering. In the last video, the hawk is gone and the birds head in.

Sunshine-AwardMy lovely friend at Appleton Avenue nominated Conscious Engagement for the Sunshine Blogger Award! On this rainy October morning, a sunshine blog post is the perfect choice. Receiving a nomination is humbling and I know I can never fully convey my appreciation that someone would take the time to validate what I’ve been doing here at Word Press. My thanks will come out all jumbled and silly. It’s just… well… it’s so neat. The best I can do is graciously accept.

So thank you Appleton Avenue!! I love your blog for the way you convey your spirit, your honesty, you bravery in baring your real and personal life for all the world to see. You’ve got an irreverent streak that is irresistible to me.

The last time I was nominated for an award, I did some research to find out more about it. I like the way that post went, and was prepared to begin my next foray into researching blogger peer awards. I was stopped in my tracks by the very first post I read, in which Jo, my newly discovered blogger-of-like-mindedness, did all the investigation for me. This is what she found on her post, Blogger to Blogger Awards: The Sunshine Award Unveiled:

It appears that the Liebster Blogging Award and the Sunshine award may have been the same award at one time. I tracked posts to 2008 that had them intermingled. It’s not clear when they split off into distinctive threads but clearly it happened. The purpose of the ‘award’ hasn’t shifted too much over the years. It is essentially a virtual ‘pat on the back’ for a positive or creative blog that inspires others or brings ‘sunshine’ to their world. Typically it appears to originate from one post that really ‘shines’ on that person’s day.

Jo explains the downsides of blogger awards, including their similarity with chain letters, and the upsides, like online networking. And of course, I can’t ignore the greatest benefit, which is the opportunity to pat another blogger on the back and say, “Hey, I dig what you’re doing here.” Read the rest of Jo’s post, and get all the finer details.

Like every blog award, there are a set of rules. I especially like the part where I get to list 10 interesting things about myself. I am the Rooster in the Chinese Zodiac, and I tend to enjoy being the one making all the noise in the center of the circle, ha ha. In fact, that can be interesting fact number one.

I am also able to nominate others for the blogger award. The rules contained in the nomination I received say it like this:

  • Present 10 deserving Bloggers with the Award – “who positively and creatively inspire others in the blogosphere.”

It’s not my style to nominate. But as I did the last time, I am eager to share with you the blogs I do like to read. In that way I can let the hosts know that they’ve made a positive impact on my life. Also, isn’t the word “blogosphere” kind of fun and spacey?

Ten things about me:

  1. I’m a Rooster (see above)
  2. I almost never make good French Toast, despite the fact that I can prepare a lot more complicated meals with ease. Can anything be more simple to cook, I ask you?
  3. I prefer audiobooks read by people with a British accent.
  4. I’m adamant about proper punctuation and spelling, so much so that when I read poorly written correspondence, I judge the person who wrote it more than I judge the content (I’m terrible, I know). If you find mistakes in my blogs, please tell me so I can edit. Except for the ellipses… I can’t help myself with those.
  5. I still miss my mom.
  6. I’m scared to death of riding a bike in traffic. I live in one of the most bicycle-friendly cities in the country, and people are always saying how I should bike because it wouldn’t hurt my bad knee so much and because it’s easy exercise, and good for the environment. But I remain irrationally afraid that the moment I’m on a road, I’ll be squashed by a car.
  7. I can still sing the jingle “Two all beef patties, special sauce…” by heart.
  8. My 17-year-old just registered to vote, and it was not my idea. I’m so proud.
  9. I love eating sweet stuff with my coffee, but can’t stand sweet stuff in my coffee. That’s weird. Right?
  10. I have house baggage. My next house must have a bathroom that will allow me to extend my arms in any direction (or better: two of them!), countertops high enough so I don’t get back pain while washing the dishes (are typical people really that short?), and a kitchen that can hold at least four people. At once. Without hugging. I know that exposes the spoiled American that I am, but there it is: I want a bigger place.

Blogs that I really enjoy reading:

  1. The Crazy Bag Lady @ Bulan Lifestyle (you saw that one coming!) But check this out: She found my blog because of my post about the other award, and we’ve been following each other since. Evidence that blogging awards are a force for good.
  2. A Tramp In the Woods. This blog is fun every single day. Fodrambler’s spectacular micro photos of insects are captivating, and his thirst for knowledge about all the woods-dwelling life forms would make even a teenager excited about science. Every topic is packed with fabulous information and non-stop wit. The guy can be hilarious.
  3. Nicholas Andriani writes about his travels. And specifically, about one amazing time abroad in which he explored north Africa, southern Europe and the Middle East. He cares about the world and illuminates it with his skilled writing.
  4. Monochromia is a photography website for black and white photos. Together, this group of contributors display ridiculously good B&W photos. The photos are surprisingly varied and all remarkable. It’s a beautiful medium to display their art.
  5. Ram On is a great place to get one person’s take on “what it all means in a global sense.” Bruce writes extremely well and somehow manages to find a baseball analogy to nearly every story. His posts are thorough and thoughtful and exhibit his engagement with life.
  6. Corners of the World is without question a window into some corners of the world you didn’t realize you have been wanting to see. Aanchal simply exudes joy and a spirit of exploration as she describes beautiful places and documents her wild adventures.

Six is a good start, yes?

One more thing I need to say: I am writing this post because I realize I am delinquent on acknowledging blogger awards. AppletonAve is only the first blogger to nominate, and there are two more nominations in the queue. I have procrastinated in the hopes of doing them justice, and if you are one of those other two bloggers please know you are not forgotten.

I thank you – all of the people who are reading, and all of you who are blogging – and wish continued exploration for you in both the physical world and among this beautiful community of netizens.

Weird moment this morning on the bus:  That peculiar Jew guy got on, and I made room for him to sit by me. Because – and here’s the weird part – I was thinking, “‘Cause he’s Jewish; he’s from my tribe. He’s like me.” Huh?

I am not Jewish.

He’s socially awkward, with a chafing, too-loud, high-pitched voice, saying, “Hi, hi, thank you, hello.” and bobbing his curly dark hair to everyone at 5:57 a.m. when all of us on the bus are actively trying to avoid acknowledging anyone else in the world exists because we aren’t quite ready to begin the day yet.

The bus was unusually crowded this morning. A rumpled group of groggy-eyed city commuters interspersed with the strangling reek of chain-smoking addicts heading for the methadone clinic. This funny guy gets on and I saw there were barely any seats left. He’s one of the usual riders, so I am used to seeing him get on, and I know he’s different. I worried that others who recognized him might be less likely to scoot over than me.

It came as a complete surprise to me when I realized that I was feeling responsible for this man; this stranger. I have never spoken to him, never even made eye contact, and yet I’ve always thought of him as Jewish, based on looks alone. I could be totally, completely wrong, but there it is. Perhaps you can forgive my stereotyping. And, well, I earned my degrees at Brandeis University, surrounded by Jews, and I love and admire my Jewish Brandeis friends, and think of them as “my people.” And, though no one explicitly invited me, I consider myself welcome in their group. And thus, if this weird guy on the bus is Jewish, then he is “my people” too. And that means I have to be his people. And scoot over to give him a place to sit.

He wandered to the back of the bus, then came back, and yes, sat next to me.

That is exactly what “Community” is all about. That is why humans are drawn together at an instinctual level. Because together we are a force to be reckoned with. In our communities we look out for each other; we give and then take.  The larger my community, the more people have got my back.

Together we are powerful. We do great things as groups, even though individually we can be pathetic and weak. That is how we are able to love the people in our family who drive us crazy. And, that is how we are able to work toward peaceful goals with people who are really different than we are: because we allowed ourselves to get close, to feel a bond, to see them as though they are like us.

I recalled a time, last September, a little over a year ago. We were the first to set up our tents in an unfamiliar campground and I was full of anxiety about being in this place with other campers sure to move in as the day progressed. I get nervous around too many people. Then, a Chinese family moved in smack on top of us, practically. We were two large groups and were assigned adjacent campsites. And, though in theory it was precisely what I had worried about, I was so relieved. My thought, strangely enough, was the one I described above, “Ahh, it’s ok. These are my people.”

I am not Chinese.

See, in my neighborhood in Montavilla, I am surrounded by Chinese. They are my neighbors, they are the kids who bounce basketballs on the side of the street, waiting as I slowly glide past in my car, they are the ones who tell me my cat is not lost, but in their back yard, and who take turns hogging the street parking with me.

How remarkably simple it is to feel like family with people who are so different. All one has to do is be around a stranger for awhile, and that stranger becomes my neighbor Perry, or his brother David. And from there, it’s not much of an extrapolation to believe that Perry and David probably exist in every country in the world. Why can’t the whole world experience this little delight, and realize how lovely it would be to think of strangers as “our people” rather than hold them in suspicion at an arm’s length?

New dress and fancy shoes

My little girl is now out of Middle School and on her way toward being a high-schooler. Very cool, a little scary, and a recipe for adventure. Life is so full of doors of potential. All around us, doors stand in their frames, just waiting for our inquisitive minds to try the handle and see what it’s like to walk through. Nothing brings that thought to mind lately, more than my thoughts about Miss Tara graduating from the 8thgrade. How often I wonder where her life will take her, and how eager I am to sit back with a bowl of popcorn and watch her leap into it!

me, my girl, my mother

Last month we attended the Portland Title VII Indian Education graduation ceremony. Tuesday’s ceremony was at her own school with her classmates. It was really fun to be there with all that Eighth-grader energy and with their proud family and friends. I tease Tara, tongue in cheek, that I’ve got Gypsy blood, and always on the edge of being blown into the next town with a change in the winds. Contrary to my natural instincts, I’ve allowed societal and psychiatric pressure to coerce me into holding still for awhile for her sake. It paid off when I watched her classmates graduate and knew half their names and could tell you something special about almost as many of them. Holding still helps me connect to my community, and that’s a beautiful thing.

goofing around in the cafeteria

She’s a cultural minority at Harrison Park School, like all of her classmates there. It’s probably the first time I’ve experienced a clearly demarcated group that has no obvious physical qualities that make up the majority. The group is so unlike her very white upper middle class elementary school in Beaverton (on the other side of town). Sorry Beaverton, but over here we SO have it going on! The students beaming as they crossed the stage were descendants of families hailing from places as diverse as China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, Nigeria, Mexico, and, uh, Oregon. There were American Indians, Muslims in their headscarves, tall and dark, short with red hair, loud, quiet, smart, popular, shy, and all obviously loved by not only one or two who might be related to them, by also by supporters throughout the auditorium. There were cheers, yelps, clapping, and whistles scattered amongst us all when a new student made their way into the spotlight to collect their certificate of promotion.

My neighbor, Herbert, also the parent of a graduate

It was obvious when a student was popular: sometimes the place would erupt in a roar of appreciation. And I often could guess why: they cheered for the sweet-natured but fierce team player on the volleyball team, the beautiful chess champ, the tall traveling athlete who cherishes friends, the pianist, the scholarship winner, and the one who makes everyone laugh. What a great group they are. I am proud of my girl and proud of her classmates. I’m so glad to have witnessed their last three years together.

My mother sewed a dress for Miss T, who had chosen the design and the fabrics. (She also sewed her own dress that you see in the photo above.) Tara felt like a beauty in her lovely dress. I was delighted to see my tomboy in GIRL clothes! She thought at first she wanted to wear my old combat boots with her dress. It was a way for her to match the dress code and retain her individuality. She wasn’t ready to make a clean break from her typical fashion preference (ripped jeans, Vans, and a hoodie) to satin and tulle. But… after twenty minutes in front of a mirror in the dress, she was rummaging through my closet and pulled out my Kenneth Cole sandals. It was a sweet moment. It’s not always easy to accept growing up gracefully, and I understood the small steps she was taking to try on a new role.

happy graduates

All the graduates ended up in the cafeteria where we gathered for photos and hellos to old friends and goodbyes to dear teachers. The graduates were bursting with high spirits and joyous celebration. They decided to gather at Jonah’s house for ice cream afterward, so Mom, and Aunt Eireanne, and I went home and left T with her friends to celebrate their special evening together.

wearing my own letterman's jacket

As an aside… The following night my girl was getting ready to head out to Cirque de Soleil with ex-boyfriend Mark. Looking through the hall closet for something warm to wear, she pulled out my old high school jacket. Talk about bringing it full circle. I wore that jacket not too long ago. Let’s see, it was about 6 weeks ago. No, more like a year or two ago. Well, actually – now that I think about it – that was 23 years ago. She wore the jacket and I reminisced. I can’t believe I’m the mother of a Freshman.

Chief Smith and me

I met Cherokee Chief Chad Smith last night. What an honor. It seems to me like a pretty big deal to have the Chief out here in Portland, all the way from Oklahoma. It IS a big deal. But the gathering was rather small, perhaps 150 people. Mark, Tara, and I went together, and Tara made a berry dessert to contribute to the potluck feast. It makes me feel pretty good that they were quick to agree to go with me and support my interests.

The potluck was amazing. Piles of food of all kinds. There was no way to sample it all, but we did our best, returning to the table periodically. I was pleased to find plenty of salmon to try. Mark liked the buffalo and hominy. Tara was excited about the desserts, and went back for more sugar a couple of times.

The Mt. Hood Cherokees, who are eager to build a stronger local community, invited Chief Smith. He began his talk by reminding us that the Cherokee Nation is a government, and he believes it should be run like a business. In his talk he included several examples of how to build a strong community, and he repeatedly explained that it couldn’t be built on handouts. Being Cherokee does not mean entitlement, but rather results in an obligation to give to the community.

Cherokee Chief Chad Smith shares his vision of the Nation

All the resources, strength, and opportunity will indeed become available to members of the Cherokee Nation, he told us, if only we commit ourselves to investing into it. If our goal is to “give” and not to “get,” then the end result will be the benefits we seek.

He took questions afterward. There was some talk about how to expand and improve the Nation’s healthcare system and in particular to have more native doctors at the facilities, and Chief Smith reminded us to help our children excell in math and science. A man shook his head and waved his hand as though to dismiss the idea as beside the point. “I am serious,” retorted Smith. “You want Cherokee doctors, but we are happy to find ANY doctor willing to work for us, there just aren’t many Cherokee doctors. The only way to get more is to encourage your kids to go to medical school. The only way they can consider that is to graduate high school with a strong academic background. And in order to get there, your children need to study math and science in the younger grades.” It was an excellent example of how members cannot expect the handouts (Cherokee doctors) without the investment (committing themselves to helping their children succeed in school).

dancer at the close of ceremonies

Questions covered the saving of White Eagle corn (so named because of a white lip on the kernel that is in the shape of a bird in flight) which had been nearly extinct, what opportunities are available to students, and how to improve contact between local and national communities. Chief Smith said that he felt the more important question was how to build the local community, not how to connect to the one in Oklahoma. A woman stood and made a plug for the local group NAYA, that is a great resource here. I’ve worked with them a little bit, through the VA.

Gifts were presented to our honored visitor, and the gathering concluded with a Navajo dancer. Mark, Tara and I had to leave in a hurry to get our girl to her afternoon volleyball game. We were all glad we had made the time to go to this meeting.

….just a blink of time in an ordinary day, but it made me happy anyway, so I’ll share it.

We were struck by a New Year’s Eve urge for Ben & Jerry’s, so we went to the closest Freddy’s to pick some up. On our way out, a dad was coming through the entrance slowly. He had his little boy perched on his shoulders, and his hand on top of his boy’s head for protection. The man’s knees were bent, and I could see he was nervous about coming through the entrance and konking his kid.

I said to him, “You’re gonna make it!”
“Have we got a little clearance then?” he asked.
“Yep, you’re good.”
“Nice,” he said, as he made it through the first door, past the shopping carts, and bent his knees again and faced the second door with more confidence. “Because if not, it could be bad news for us.”

And he went on into Fred Meyer, and I laughed and headed out to the car.

Portlanders are awesome. He responded to me as though it was perfectly ordinary for me to have concern for his kid. He was grateful for the info, trusted me, went on his merry way.

Not every city dweller is like that. A more predictable response from some of the places I’ve lived would have been, “Are YOU lookin’ at MY kid?! Mind your own beezwax and shove off!” Or, much more common: the butt-out-of-my-affairs glare.

Portland has a remarkably high percentage of really friendly people. It gives me warm fuzzies.

Hestia by Brian Froud. Click image for magazine

{Note: prior to WordPress, I belonged to a blogging community called Gaia, that was originally called Zaadz. This post was written while I belonged to Zaadz.}

I keep forgetting to try and spread the word. I looked at the current copy of Alternatives magazine in Portland because of the gorgeous artwork I instantly recognized as Brian Froud. Inside is an article about Zaadz, with an interview with Siona van Dijk.

Even more fun is their new partnership with Zaadz, and a site where you can join and participate in discussions to meld Alternatives and Zaadz in a healthy, positive way to make the best of both.

A quote from van Dijk:

And when it comes to dialog… well, I know that I, personally, have been deeply transformed through these conversations. There’s something about connecting with another human being, halfway around the world, and having them impact me in such a way that I question my beliefs, or expand my ability to empathize or take the place of another. And when I think of thousands and millions of these little individual transformations occurring, and catalyzing other transformations in turn, this, to me, feels world-changing. 

Sometimes I find it hard to get on board with what I perceive to be a bunch of high-falutin’ idealistic people out to change the world. Yeah, you talk big, but are your words wise and do your actions really help? For example, switching from paper grocery bags to plastic. Think it through first…

Anyway, I really liked van Dijk’s words here. My noticeable actions are minuscule. So how can I claim I’m any better than the loud talkers I am wary of? Well…because I at least try to improve myself. And that works just like a pay-it-forward chain. When I learn patience, love, understanding, and tolerance as well as genuine appreciation for the things I had never had to face before….then the person who exposes me to these things gets a smile instead of a dirty look. Then perhaps that person feels supported, maybe not so isolated. Maybe that person goes home and puts their arm around a loved one and plays with the dog for a few minutes. In my heart, I feel like this is the sort of tiny transformations van Dijk is referring to.

(This image, by the way, is not mine at all…it’s the cover art of Alternatives, painted by Brian Froud and snatched from the Internet by me without permission…)

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