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I turned, gazing about me, spotted this scene and thought instantly of Hayao Miyazaki

I turned, gazing about me, spotted this scene and thought instantly of Hayao Miyazaki

Hello, and yes, I’m still working on the Japan photobook I talked about in my last post.

I wanted to highlight this photo I took the very first time I went to Iwakuni castle. It’s on the top of the mountain ridge above Niziki River and looks far beyond the city of Iwakuni and off to the sea. This tree could very well be the highest thing around, except for the castle.

Though my 5-month job turned out to be in Japan purely by chance, I felt grateful to have a fledgling background in things Japanese through my daughter. Miss T introduced me to Japanese anime and taught herself two dozen words in the language simply by watching so many subtitled shows and listening to the native speakers and singing along with the theme songs.

She would insist sometimes that I watch with her. Sometimes I did.

She introduced me to Studio Ghibli and the incredible stories woven by Hayao Miyazaki, who directs many of the movies from that studio.  One of the things that drops my jaw in wonder during his films is the use of landscape in animation. It had never occurred to me, before I became better educated, how animation can be an art form for actual art. Not just some crude figures scrawled onto a page to help tell a story, but – for example – that an animated film could pan across a wide field while wind rustles the grass in waves (this blew me away in the movie Spirited Away). I began to pay much better attention.

So, as I stood beside the castle, and turned and gazed and tried to soak up Japan, my eyes framed this animated shot and I recognized it. Not really, of course, but I recognized that the landscapes Miyazaki brings to me are not fanciful as they seemed to me before, having never seen this gorgeous country. Rather, through his work I have seen real landscapes drawn from real Japan. He (and obviously the vastly talented artists with him), can see the art in real life and make it come to life on screen. So watching his work was teaching me about Japan all along. It’s nice to know that.

balloons hover above the Willamette River

balloons hover above the Willamette River

Today is my baby girl’s birthday. Scratch that. It’s my lovely young lady’s birthday.

I took a day from work and she skipped a day of the ballet intensive to celebrate by soaring up into the Oregon skies in a hot air balloon. Arno helped me make the decision to do this by mentioning that giving an “experience” can be more valuable than a gift. Miss T was certainly pleased all day, and I got a little charge each time she gave me a squeeze and a “Thank you!”

We flew with Vista Balloon Adventures, Inc. in Newberg, Oregon. I have not flown with other balloon companies in Oregon, so I am not able to compare. I can say that this one was professional, well-organized, and so much fun! The location is about a 45-minute drive from where we live in Montavilla in Portland, and I talked to a Salem couple who had made the trip in 45 minutes as well. So, it’s an easy trip for a lot of Oregonians. The roads were a breeze at 4:30 am. Yes, we had to get an early start. *Yawn*

The Ridge Runner lies flat, awaiting the infusion of air from the fans

The Ridge Runner lies flat, awaiting the infusion of air from the fans

One of my fellow passengers holds back the cords to keep them from burning up

One of my fellow passengers holds back the cords to keep them from burning up

As I pulled into the crowded parking lot, my spirits sank at first because I was hoping the weekday would mean fewer people and a more individualized trip. Once I got into the air I changed my mind. Being able to see four other balloons in the sky with us made my own experience so much more enjoyable. We could see what we must look like in the sky; where we had been; where we were about to go. A solitary balloon would have been wonderful, but fifty people in the sky was also an event! It became more and more celebratory as we saw incredible views and pastoral scenes floating past at speeds slower than a bicycle, but faster than a walk.

We checked in and were presented with name tags bearing the name of our mount (Miss T and I rode Ridge Runner), and directions to find her in the fields by the Newberg airport. Passengers are encouraged to get involved with inflating and deflating the balloon. There is also a crew of volunteers at each basket lending their expertise and their hands. Luckily for me, our basket was full, and thus there were plenty of people helping when I stepped away to take a photo.

There's our chase crew below, with the blue van

There’s our chase crew below, with the blue van and trailer. No, the tractors are not chase vehicles. 😉

The burner spitting fire into the balloon

The burner spitting fire into the balloon

Our pilot was Robert Craig, who dished out wisecracks all morning. “Do you think they still fall for those old jokes?” a volunteer asked him at one point. “They do!” he announced with a smile, “And I see no reason to get new jokes when the old ones still work.”

We lifted off into a perfectly clear morning. Still dark in the field, we rose rapidly and I witnessed the fastest sunrise of my life. It was so neat: first there was that little nub of molten sun leaking over a ridge, then it pushed up fast like a rising bubble: bloooooop! In two seconds, the sun was up and shining. (Yes, I know it was me that was rising so fast, and not the turning Earth, but the effect was pretty cool.)

The sun rose and fell at the horizon, as we did

The sun rose and fell at the horizon, as we did

Some of the other travelers with us, floating above the Willamette River

Some of the other travelers with us, floating above the Willamette River

Think about it: when you’re in a balloon, your craft floats with the wind. So in the basket, it’s calm. Few modes of travel could be this serene (except of course when the burners blast loudly enough to prevent conversation). Using fans, our pilot had shown us how he filled the large balloon with air as it lay stretched out across the field. Then he kicked on the burners, blasting fire into the center of the balloon, heating the air. Vista’s website had cautioned us to wear hats if the heat would be bothersome. Instead, in the chilly morning air, the heat was welcome. As we flew, Robert ignited the blaze often, to lift us, and then he pulled a cord that opened flaps to let air out, which dropped us. All five pilots impressed me with their handling skills because the balloons alternately dropped down to hover above ponds, or eye-level with stands of trees, then rose again.

Best of all was the river. The morning was so lovely that the river’s surface was clear enough to provide stunning reflections of the balloons. Our pilot took us over, and we watched as other pilots touched the baskets to water. It had a powerful effect by adding to our excitement; adding to the character of our photos. At the river, Tara and I took turns tearing the camera away from each other to get the shot that we didn’t want the other to miss. (oh, by the way, half these shots are credited to the birthday girl) we stayed at the river for some time, hovered two feet above, then wet the bottom of the basket and sat there as if floating. A paddle boarder came toward us, possibly wondering delightedly what was happening on the river. And then we pulled up again.

Great promo shot, eh?

Great promo shot, eh?

Tara took this one. Isn't it a wonderful perspective? There is a balloon below us, and our own reflection as well.

Tara took this one. Isn’t it a wonderful perspective? There is a balloon below us, and our own reflection as well.

Girlie and me on the Willamette River

Girlie and me on the Willamette River

DSC_0296We lifted in altitude up to 2000 feet to get a view of Mt. Hood, then settled back down closer to earth, and we watched the pastoral fields roll by beneath us. We excited a couple of hounds that barked their warnings/greetings at us. We frighted the sanity out of a flock of newly shorn sheep, who went tearing away from us.

Oregon fields from above

Oregon fields from above

terrified sheep

terrified sheep

As we drew toward the Mission Creek Reservoir, our pilot, Robert, began searching for a place to put down. He spotted a couple of fields and we moved in while the radios chirped back and forth about a low level cross wind.

We were low when the landing spot was chosen, so Robert was not able to give the chase crew enough time to get to us before we landed. He deftly landed us without a crew! The basket hit, tipped a little, went thump! thump! thump! as we dragged perpendicular to the freshly cut strips of hay stalks, and then settled down. It was much easier a landing than he had prepared us for.

getting ready to land in a hay field

getting ready to land in a hay field

It looked like the balloon was about to set down onto a hay bale

It looked like the balloon was about to set down onto a hay bale

Both crew and passengers hold the basket down while people climb out.

Both crew and passengers hold the basket down while people climb out. (That’s pilot Robert looking at the camera.)

In no time the chase crew arrived and took us back to the launch site for a champagne brunch. We all got glasses, and were led in a lovely traditional toast. Then we dished up food and ate from an unexpectedly lavish, delicious, and bountiful spread. There were the anticipated crackers with brie and smoked cheddar, marinated mushrooms, bowls of olives, and fresh veggies and fruit to include sliced mango. And on top of that, a real breakfast of potato casserole, a to-die-for polenta dish, scrambled eggs with bacon and cheese, breakfast wraps, biscuits and gravy, and a whole dessert section including chocolate cake, cream puffs, and Tara’s favourite: the rhubarb cake. I filled my plate twice. When everyone was finished, there was food left over.

That buffet, with refillable juices, lemonaide, or champagne to your heart’s content, would have been at least $30 in a restaurant, so I mentally subtracted that from the cost of a single passenger ($199) and came up with $169 for the flight. It’s surprisingly low, considering the number of staff, the fuel, the equipment, vehicles, and insurance. It was a reasonably priced birthday gift after all. Think of the experience we just shared!

the buffet table

the buffet table

St. Andrews Memory Care Center in Portland

St. Andrews Memory Care Center in Portland

Lots of things have been going on around here, as is typical in our lovely little life. They don’t seem enough to individually warrant a blog post, but they are worth mentioning for those of you who read to see what’s been going on in our household.

I recently took my camera up to Mt. Tabor to capture my favourite volcano, Mt. Hood, in the setting sun, and saw the church above, lit up in the late day sun. It’s a care center for patients with Alzheimer’s.

Mt. Hood in the setting sun, from Mt. Tabor

Mt. Hood in the setting sun, from Mt. Tabor. I live in those trees down there.

Miss Tara successfully completed her 10th grade year on Friday. We’ve had some challenges this year with academics, and it’s been good for both of us. I’ve learned better ways to recognize the work she does without honing in on places where I want her to do better, and she has had a good dose of what future school work is going to require from her. Tara encapsulated the biggest challenge for me the other day when she explained how 9th grade was a continuation of middle school, in which teachers constantly reminded students to get their work done, forgave late assignments, and invented plenty of extra-credit when all else failed.

“But this year,” she moaned, “I was just going along, doing the stuff I remembered, not really worrying because I know I’m a good student, and then I get zeros on homework and since I forgot a test was coming up, failed the test. I wish it wasn’t just ‘total help’ in 9th grade, then ‘no help’ in 10th grade. I wish they would make the change more gradual. I knew at some point I would have to be more responsible, but I didn’t see it coming.”

roses in Coke bottle

roses in Coke bottle

Good life lesson, yes? 🙂

Roses have passed their peak now, but different kinds of blossoms are coming into their own time. Plants are so fascinating for me to watch, as they morph through seasonal changes. I cut a couple of the deep red roses in my yard and put them into the green glass Coke bottle I dug out of the sand when I was stationed at Shemya AFB in Alaska. It’s the real thing. The number “44” in raised glass can be seen on the side of the bottle, for 1944. One of my favourite archaeological games is imagining the world in which an object had its heyday. A cold, wet, lonely soldier drank a coke during World War II, on a nasty little island in Alaska. What were his thoughts? Was it refreshing to drink the Coke? Comforting? Or just something to do out of boredom.

The sun gets up when I do now, and I can’t help but embrace the change in my circadian rhythms. My body is ready to rise, even without the alarm. I retain a tiny bit of hope and optimism each morning as the bold sunbeams dash through a pale blue sky. Though I have had enough of the city (and look forward to living in the country again), I still find such beauty and excitement in the architecture of a city.

this

This is what one sees at 6:30 am at Pioneer Courthouse Square, if one looks up.

Old kitty named Tux, who claimed our house as his own for a few days.

Old kitty named Tux, who claimed our house as his own for a few days.

Tux has been frequenting the house. From the tag on his collar, we discovered that he lives across the street. Perhaps he got locked out of the house accidentally, but he showed up bony and famished. We lavished him with attention and food, and after two days got more of him than we wanted. Tux (so states his collar) made himself comfortable in our home, climbing in through the window we leave open for our own cat, Racecar, and sleeping on the couch at night. This photo shows him on my bed. That was shortly before I went to sleep, and was awakened 10 minutes later when Racecar jumped onto the bed, found an uninvited guest, and asserted her territorial rights. A catfight on my belly! Thankfully his mom came home and he doesn’t come over so often anymore, except occasional requests for food and love.

German Beer

German Beer

Arno and I tried out a new place on Belmont Friday night. We decided Belmont is more Portlandy than Hawthorne now. Hawthorne Street is famous enough to draw tourists and people from outside the neighborhood, so it’s getting a bit snooty and trendy. People shop on purpose to look like hipsters there, while people on Belmont are naturally hip, since that’s what young people in Portland do. 😉

In any case, we went to the Pied Cow Coffeehouse, without knowing the name. We were looking for a restaurant, but found it’s a coffee house that also serves alcoholic drinks and hookahs. We ordered the Indian Style Curried Lentil Dip with yogurt and pita, and the Smoked Salmon Plate off the “savories” menu, and expected appetizer nibbles, but were served two heaping platters of food. It was plenty. Arno ordered a Swedish beer on tap and I asked for the German beer, Weihenstephaner hefeweissbier, just because I wanted to try and pronounce it. There were four tables that had ordered giant Arabic water pipes (they are about 3 feet tall) being enjoyed by patrons. The many tobacco flavours included rose, honeydew melon, orange, and mint. Non-tobacco substitute is also available.

We thought the appetizers were priced too high, till they brought these two platters of food!

We thought the appetizers were priced too high, till they brought these two platters of food!

Today a friend from long ago when I lived in Humboldt County, CA is in Portland. We are going to meet up at the Pride Parade. I like to go every year because The Uncles usually drive floats. I hope to see Eliot as well as The Uncles, whom, I sadly admit, I have not seen since before I went to Japan. Long overdue!

I wrapped up my second 10-hour overtime shift yesterday, so I have completed my obligation for the month of June. At the Department of Veterans Affairs we have been assigned 20 hours of mandatory overtime each month through the end of the fiscal year. It happens every summer. Sigh. But I’m finished for the moment, and get to enjoy the rest of my time off in June in someplace other than in the office. That is cause for celebration!

Arno captured me, capturing the mountain.

Arno captured me, capturing the mountain.

futzing with the lens

futzing with the lens

photographer photographed

photographer photographed

wildflowers on a ridge above the Klickitat River

wildflowers on a ridge above the Klickitat River

Last year before I left for Japan, I took Tara camping with me on our last weekend together. I knew that camping would provide quiet, no electronics, and lots of uninterrupted, healthy mom-daughter time. By coincidence, that weekend was also Mother’s Day. It was such a good idea that I did it again this year.

Only, this Mother’s Day weekend we were swamped because it was also Big Ballet Performance weekend. So Tara and I made plans to go camping last weekend.

I almost canceled. It had been raining and was forecast to continue raining. Our favourite camp site had the same forecast. Also, the Department of Veterans Affairs has begun mandatory overtime, and I had worked all day long Saturday, and was feeling fatigued. (every other federal agency is at home because of sequester but VA adds extra hours. go figure)

Dusting off my meteorologist skills, I pulled up a NOAA forecast map with a precipitation loop. It was easy to see that the rain was pretty much squeezed out of the airmass over the Cascade Range, and if we could just find a spot east of the mountains, we’d be in much better shape.

With my non-dusty web browser skills, I pulled up a map, then searched “camping” and chose a spot that was in the drier areas and as close to home as possible. I chose a spot labeled Soda Springs Campground. When we arrived, we saw that it had no identifiable springs and no identifiable campground, but turned out to be wonderful.

Highway 142, leading north from the Klickitat River, is something blogger LB would like to take her bike on.

Highway 142, leading north from the Klickitat River, is a place blogger LB would like to ride her bike.

Most of the camp gear had been gathered Friday night after work, so Saturday after work I only had to load it into the Saturn Dragon Wagon and get my child motivated to gather her own gear (she’s a teenager; it’s not always easy to motivate her). By the time we climbed into the car, the rain was really coming down and I was glad I had packed the giant tarp that we could spread over the top of the tent.

Zooming along the fabulous Columbia Gorge highway, Tara fell asleep and I gaped at the buckets of rain coming down. Pouring, pouring rain. By Multnomah Falls, it had dropped to a light rain. By Hood River, an almost imperceptible drizzle under grey skies. I stopped to give fat kisses to my Arno in exchange for hot dog roasting sticks. I hugged hello to Diego, and hopped into the car again with still-sleeping Tara.

Gravel road to the camping area led past several folks getting the winter cobwebs out of their rifles.

Gravel road along the ridge to the camping area led past several folks getting the winter cobwebs out of their rifles.

We crossed the Columbia River into Washington, then took highway 142 north from the town of Lyle, and followed the stunningly beautiful Klickitat River. We found the headwaters, and then climbed up, up, up onto the awe-inspiring bluffs of southern Washington. Along the Klickitat we reached pure blue skies and sunshine! We turned off 142 and in no time were at our campsite. If anyone wants to camp here, it’s free, but don’t forget your Discover Pass!

The gravel road to the camping areas were populated with target shooters, and we heard rifle shots pretty steadily until it got dark. That was the only down side. Not that I mind people doing target practice, but that I was in a totally unfamiliar area, and unsure of whether we might be in the path of a poorly-aimed bullet. I shrugged it off. They were pretty far away, and the men had seen us two girls drive past and knew we were out there, and knew it was a camping area, so I had to trust that they were shooting responsibly.

While gazing at the lupine, look out for caterpillars in your hair!

While gazing at the lupine, look out for caterpillars in your hair!

Awwww...

Awwww…

We pitched the tent in a stunning grassy forest, populated with blooming lupine. I neglected to bring my camera on the trip, so you’ll be forced to view the scene via the less-than-stellar phone camera images. Interestingly, there was a caterpillar exodus in progress, and they were literally dropping out of trees onto us. Thankfully, they were absolutely gorgeous fuzzy blue caterpillars, and so hundreds of tiny soft cute things dropping on us was a phenomena we could easily endure.

The forest canopy shaded thick stands of lupine

The forest canopy shaded thick stands of lupine

I forgot to pack my french press, and used the emergency percolator!

I forgot to pack my french press, and used the emergency percolator!

The sun shone till it was completely beyond the curve of the earth, and still we savored the clear skies. We enjoyed our evening, but were ready to turn in early. It had been a long week for both us girls. After Tara read aloud one story from the Brothers Grimm, we were out cold.

In the azure blue, cloudless morning, while Miss T slept, I brewed a pot of Peets and walked out to the edge of the bluff to look down into the canyon, and out across the gorge, and watch the day begin. I sat with my cup and drank in the environment as well as the coffee. It was incredibly beautiful. Warm. I could see a thick grey cloud bank packed tightly over the Portland skies.

As I sat there, I heard first a bawl, like a cow. Then, the unmistakable bugle call of an elk. I humbly admit, in all my wild excursions in my whole life of scrambling the mountains of Idaho, Oregon, Washington, and northern California, it was the first time I had heard an elk bugle in real life. Highly recommend you experience that one yourself.

This is where I sat when I heard the elk bugle. If you zoom in, you can see the peak of Mt. Hood in the clouds. And Portland, in the rain, is beneath them. (ha ha!)

This is where I sat when I heard the elk bugle. If you zoom in, you can see the peak of Mt. Hood in the clouds. And Portland, in the rain, is beneath them. (ha ha!)

Finally I went back for the girlie, who was awake, and watching caterpillars. I took her back out to the place where I had heard the elk. We didn’t hear it again, but she did get to see the amazing view.

Miss T high above the Klickitat, which you can see in the valley

Miss T high above the Klickitat, which you can see in the valley

This gives a better sense of how steep the hills are

This gives a better sense of how steep the hills are

When we packed up the tent, she counted 36 caterpillars that we had to flick off before it got rolled up. There were more, but she said that some of the original 36 had probably come back, so she didn’t want to double-count them. We were both much better rested, much happier, and much stinkier by Sunday afternoon. I’m so glad my girlie and I get so much pleasure out of camping together.

Arno and I playing in the Pacific

Arno and I playing in the Pacific

Somehow Arno’s boys and my girl are on the same visitation schedule with seeing their other respective parent. It’s lovely to have that convenience, since we can get all the kids together during the holidays we have them, and then they all leave at the same time too, so Arno and I get our grown up time together. This week, for example, the boys left PDX airport Sunday morning, we all piled into the car to head south to drop Tara off with her dad in Humboldt County, and the rest of the week would be ours. Blessed stress-free, kid-free week of camping in the desert.

Burst of daffodil yellow in the median strip.

Burst of daffodil yellow in the median strip.

Two years ago I took a solo Spring Break trip south and noticed the daffodils. They caught my eye again this year. It is really a delight to see them splashed in the freeway median and beside the road. I was reminded that there are few freeways that are as scenic as these parts of I-5 through Oregon. From around Salem through Roseburg, I am often impressed by the view. I can think of I-89 in Vermont that is a gorgeous freeway, but nothing else. Leave a note in comments if you have your own favourite beautiful stretch of freeway in the U.S.

Our first glimpse of sea as we moved south of Crescent City.

Our first glimpse of sea as we moved south of Crescent City.

For Tara and I, the thrill of Sunday’s drive was arriving first in the redwood groves and then at the coast. I lived in Humboldt for over 7 years and Miss T has been coming back to see her dad her whole life. So the redwoods and the northern Pacific are home to us. She ran barefoot down the beach and splashed in the waves, getting wet sand all over everything (as is proper at the beach). I put my fingers into the cold water and tasted the salt. The salt in my mouth makes me think of the days when I was surfing a couple days a week with my friend Chad, back when we were students at College of the Redwoods.

Me in the driver's seat, goofing with Tara as we waited at a stop light.

Me in the driver’s seat, goofing with Tara as we waited at a stop light.

We dropped Miss T with her dad and step-sister, and then hit the highway south again for Fortuna. My dear and long time friend Margaret had welcomed us to stay at her place for the night. Her partner was there too, and they served us a fabulous dinner. We drank entirely too much wine, but we all got to know each other, since we ladies had not met each other’s men. Finally, though, we were fast asleep.

Miss Tara splashes through the waves in a skirt.

Miss Tara splashes through the waves in a skirt.

Me and my Arno

Me and my Arno

We got a late start Monday morning because Margaret and I were still catching up. We hadn’t seen each other for two years. Once we did get on the road, I probably annoyed the hell out of Arno for the next few hours with my incessant stories triggered by memories of living there. I was reminded of a hundred excellent days, like the Avenue of the Gods 10K (through the redwoods; my first serious race), the world’s largest Reggae festival in Piercy, outdoor Shakespeare at Benbow (no longer an annual summer event), the organic sandwich shop in Garberville, Ren Faires in Willits (terrible review), and the remarkable wines I discovered, quite by accident, stopping in at wineries that caught my eye in my many wanderings through the northern California countryside.

Sadly, all the beauty of northern Cali must eventually come to an end, and we hit the end once highway 20 took us back onto I-5 in the central valley of California. Yuck and yuck. I feel sorry for people who have to live there. We ended the night in Santa Nella and got to try a bowl of Pea Soup Andersen’s split pea soup before sleep grabbed us again.

The Hiroshima Exhibition Hall was completed in 1915. On August 6, 1945, it was one of the few buildings of brick, stone, mortar, and steel, and thus remained standing when all the flimsy wooden buildings were flattened.

Too soon, the day came when I had to send my little girl home without me. It had been a great visit, albeit “visit” was all it was. I had to focus on work again, and Miss T had to get back to summer with her dad in California. Her plane would leave from Hiroshima on Monday. Sunday we took the train north to see the city and stay the night to avoid having to rush the next morning.

We were extravagant in Hiroshima! I wanted to have the most enjoyable time possible, because it was so sad for us to be separated again. The shuttle bus to the airport was right outside the train station, so I didn’t want to go too far in search of a hotel. We spotted a Sheraton only steps away, but of course we knew it would be expensive for such convenience. I did a little calculation in my head and said to Tara, “Ok. We’ll go see if they have room for us and how much it is. I’ll set my spending limit at…. 16,000 yen.” We didn’t tell the man behind the counter anything about our discussion, so it was a little surprising to hear him announce: “One room for two, one night, that would be 16,000 yen.” It’s a lot of money. I looked at Tara. She said, “Well, that’s your limit,” and shrugged. So I took the room.

Our expensive – but very convenient and luxurious – room in Hiroshima.

From our room we could see the Hiroshima Carp baseball stadium, and thousands of people walking to it for the evening’s game.

We both took showers and changed our clothes, then we struck out. Directly in front of the hotel was a plaza filled with taxis (I’m telling you: we paid for convenience). We got into one and asked to go to Peace Park. Our plan was to wander around the Peace Park and museum, then sight see as we walked through the ginza on our way back to the hotel. {Note: in every single search I run, the Internet tells me there is only one “Ginza” and it is in Tokyo. However, I frequently heard the local shopping districts in smaller cities referred to as the ginza. If I am wrong, I plead forgiveness. I am only copying local habit.}

Only later did I check the weather in Hiroshima on Sunday and discover that it was in the 90s all day, peaking at 97 degrees, with 75% humidity. We were irritable and unmotivated the moment we stepped out of the cab. Ugh, what horrible weather. How can locals endure it for a lifetime? How can visitors choose to stay here, as I see so very many American servicemen do? My own reaction to the weather must be related to living most of my life in the arid West.

Tara and I walked a wandering path, not knowing where to go, but aiming for the trees, and their promise of less heat. We had our umbrellas up for shade, but there was really no relief to be had. Beneath the shady trees, we spotted across the river what is now called the Atomic Bomb Dome. It was the main thing I had come to see. The only atomic bomb landmark I knew.

Sitting in the Peace Park, across the river, Tara looked at the destroyed building across from us, its famous steel dome skeleton attracting her gaze. “See how it’s bent to one side? I wonder if that’s the direction the bomb came from.” Later, at the museum, we found out she was right. And more than the empty shell of the building, the steel support beams squashed to one side made this so real to me.

We walked to the tip of the island the Park occupies, walked out along a bridge to where it intersected another bridge and made a “T.” We turned right to cross the river to the bombed building. We had no idea that we had carelessly walked across a target. August 6, 1945, the Enola Gay aimed for that exact T, hoping to drop the bomb called “Little Boy” onto it. She missed, but only a little, proving a remarkably accurate drop for conditions in 1945.

We walked solemnly around the rubble left at the base of the building, reading the information signs and feeling the enormity of destruction this place signified. High school girls were collecting signatures in support of world peace, and were delighted to take both of ours.

The back of the bombed out building, with rubble remaining at the base of the walls.

We saw a man seated in the shade, who asked in English, “Are you Australian? British? American?” We said American, and he began to tell us his story. Mito Kosei was in utero at the time of the bombing. His harangue was health care rights from the government of Japan for those injured by the radiation poisoning. He needled us with arguments and incensing comments, using a 3-ring binder filled with images and newspaper clippings to press his point. How very terrible the radiation was. We agreed. And how very terrible it still is and how the government of Japan refuses to acknowledge that there is any remaining health effect, and the government of the U.S. is in cahoots with Japan in denying the existence of any health damage resulting from radiation poisoning. He showed us his own health care card, provided by the Japanese government, that acknowledged him as a survivor.

I wasn’t exactly sure what his angle was. Why was he so angry? We stood there long enough for him to touch on other topics. One of the pages was a full 8×10 of his mother, whom he spoke of with great affection. “She lived to 92,” he said. When I raised my eyebrow, he quickly added, “My father, who died before her, lived to the age of 96. My parents lived a long, full life,” he said, beaming with pride. And again, I wondered what his personal complaint was, regarding radiation poisoning. Of course I acknowledge that radiation poisoning is terrible, but this particular person was feeling personally wounded. But I couldn’t tell from what. His parents had lived very very long lives, he himself appeared healthy, and even had the support of his government to receive health care benefits. It touched a nerve, I guess, and reminded me of U.S. veterans. Receiving so much, so much, from their government, yet remaining angry and accusatory.

Inside the Hiroshima Memorial Peace Museum

Watch stopped at exactly 8:15 a.m., the time of the world’s first atomic bomb used as a weapon.

We crossed the bridge again to return to the shade, and slowly made our way back to where the taxi had let us loose. Neither of us was eager to see the inside of the museum, because what we had seen so far was very sad. I had been getting tears in my eyes just reading the information panels at the atomic bomb dome. But we suspected it would be air conditioned, so we went in.

It was devastating to both of us. The museum is beautiful, thoughtful, thorough, brutal. It’s three stories high, with a skywalk over to an additional section that went down through another three stories. Tara and I got through the first floor, most of the second, and then that was all we could take. I had been crying for half an hour. We left the museum.

A 3D display shows the actual location of the detonation site. 600 meters above ground, the bomb destroyed nearly every structure within a 2 kilometer radius, and killed thousands of people instantly. Thousands more died soon after, flesh dripping off them, with nausea, fever, diarrhea, loss of hair, and internal bleeding. And then many more died after that, due to sudden bouts of cancer.

Tara blows to cool her ramen.

Next we entered the shopping area. The main item on our agenda was to find a manga bookstore for Miss T. We wandered only a block before Tara spotted a ramen restaurant. We were instantly distracted from manga to food!

This place was perfect for us. Huge bowls of ramen came out with sliced pork and green onions on top, and rice and deep fried chicken pieces for side dishes. And next to our table: a bookcase filled with tattered paperback manga for us to read while we ate. I selected an issue of Fullmetal Alchemist. True, I couldn’t read it, but one can figure out a graphic novel without the use of words.

Miss T in her element.

Only a few blocks away, we found the manga  shop we sought!

Covered outdoor shopping in Hiroshima

beer

The shopping districts in every town are covered and allow foot traffic only. It’s such a good idea: protects people from the weather and traffic, and encourages shopping. Why don’t more cities in the U.S. use this idea? Hm. I suppose a mall is the same idea, except it’s indoors. I like being out of doors, with a roof.

We stopped at a coffee shop with tables near a big front window. Tara and I each got an iced fruit drink and sat, resting our feet, while we gazed out the windows. After some time, Tara remarked to me: “It looks like those guys are going up to pretty women who pass them, and talking to them.” I looked out the window, and in a few minutes I was certain she was right. I also knew exactly what I was looking at, because I had read the post of another WordPress blogger who wrote about “Nanpa.”

Would you go out with me?

These were single guys, hoping for a date. They stood in the center of a busy intersection, and tried to make a connection with every eligible-looking female who passed them. They never had any luck the whole time Tara and I watched.

Hiroshima in the setting sun. Every city in Japan is on a river, surrounded by mountains. It makes for postcard images.

Street lights counter the growing darkness

As we walked, the sun dropped, and the weather became less obnoxious. Our spirits lifted a little. We reached the river, which provided some lovely reflecting views. We chased river crabs around, trying to get their photographs. We passed tired and somewhat dejected Carp fans returning home from the game. {I had read earlier that the Carp fans are wildly supportive of their team, despite many losses for the players. It reminded me of Boston fans.}

Restaurant lit up along our long walk back to the hotel from the Peace Park.

Red crab beside the river

We wandered the streets and crossed several bridges, always wending our way toward the train station. We did finally make it to the train station, but were stuck on the wrong side of it. Full of confidence, I led her into an underground tunnel, but when we came out again, I saw that I had led us even farther away from the hotel. I checked our map, trying to discover where the proper tunnel was, and which way we should go to find it. As we sat there on a wall, looking at the map, a Japanese man came up to us. He did not look like most Japanese men, who have short hair, a white shirt, and black slacks. This man had long, unkempt hair in a ponytail, filthy grey t-shirt, and ragged olive cargo pants. He was barefoot. However, he talked to us with total confidence, and he gestured at the map.

It was easy to explain our problem: I simply pointed at the hotel on the map, and he saw we were on the wrong side. He said something to us, gestured for us to follow. Part of me was unsure how to handle the idea that an unkempt Japanese man now knew where our hotel was, and that we were lost. But Tara trusted him immediately. I had been in Japan long enough to know that crime hardly ever occurs here, and that people are mind-blowingly honest. So, we followed him.

It would have taken us an hour to discover the path he took us along in only 10 minutes. Through throngs of people, down one block, around a corner, down two flights of stairs, into the tunnel, a long, long tunnel, turning corners, intersections within the underground tunnel, and finally choosing one set of stairs, among several others, to climb. We resurfaced only steps from our hotel. Tara and I gushed our thanks, and in seconds, he was gone.

Miss T showing a lack of eagerness to begin her day.

The next morning we played around in the room awhile, trying on the complimentary kimonos, checking out the mini-bar with things written in Japanese, and ate a fabulous {and expensive} breakfast buffet and watched some London Olympics. I believe it was Judo. Japan and Korea were contending, and the members of the lobby were very fired up about it, men and women alike!

goofing around in my hotel kimono

Finally it was time to go to the airport. We showed up very early, since it was an international flight, but Hiroshima is a small airport, so there wasn’t much for us to do once we checked in. We wandered around the place for a few hours, did some last-minute gift shopping, and the heartbreaking part: I waved goodbye at her while she went through security and out of sight. Well, she had made it all the way to Japan by herself. I suspected she would make it back to the states just fine too. But it was still a very sad day for me, and I stayed sad during all the hours it took to get back home to Iwakuni.

Tara in downtown Iwakuni. The arched sidewalk roofs mimic the arches of the famous Kintai Bridge.

On Sunday my T was still dealing with jet lag and reluctant to get out into the heat again. We made easy plans to go shopping in downtown Iwakuni and then to watch movies (Best of Monty Python’s Flying Circus) and have some mother-daughter bonding time.

Again, we enjoyed finding grocery stores to wander through, in order to cool off. The first one we found was very small and the attendants all female and very sweet. Tara spotted some grapefruit-sized watermelons she wanted to come back for on our return trip. The next grocery store was huge (they are often multi-story in Japan), refreshingly cool and very LOUD! At strategic locations all over the store, mini-stereos played recordings of people shouting advertisements and pleas to buy the product. There were little videos playing as well. Though we seemed to be nearly the only shoppers in the store, there was a cacophony of voices rising around us. What a crazy environment! We had been searching for baking powder for two days, and did not find any here, but we did pick up some powdered sugar. It’s fun to pick up regular ingredients at a Japanese market. Also risky – since I can’t read a dang thing on any of the labels.

Our destination was the 100-yen store, like a dollar store. Miss T had a blast, and we left with heaps of gifts for her friends back home. Next we went to the bakery, where I recoiled at most of it. Bakeries here tend to stuff nearly every piece of bread with some kind of goo filling. Sweet goo or hot dogs baked into most of the breads. Bleh. I  found a roll with no filling, and was happy. Then we stopped in a clothing store where Tara chose a darling miniskirt from the racks. She cracks me up: when no friends are around, she wears skirts. When she’s with her pals? Jeans only.

Fans, fans, and more fans at the 100 yen store.

I bought one of each, but don’t know what they say!

The rest of the week she hung out in the library most of the time. Iwakuni has an awesome library for such a tiny base. I had to work every day, and base security didn’t want her leaving and returning to base without me to accompany her, so she opted for a combination of facebook in the air conditioned room and lounging with books in the air conditioned library.

Do you think Tommy Lee knows he is selling Japanese canned coffee?

Tommy Lee Jones is the face of BOSS brand vending machine coffee

Friday we finally got to shake things up a little. There was an MCCS picnic we attended, and Friday night we went to Sanzoku. It was Tony’s idea, and he brought Andre and Phil, who was visiting from Sasebo. Tara and I rode with Bonnie, her daughter and a friend. For some reason, everyone calls this place the Chicken Shack. Before we left, Tony explained mysteriously that “It’s not a shack at all, and it’s not just about the chicken.” He was absolutely right, but it didn’t give me a sense of what I was in for.

Festive atmosphere of Sanzoku

Glimpses of other people dining, in amongst the trees.

It is a complex of restaurants, apparently all owned by the same company, perhaps serving the same food, with seating scattered up into a small and narrow creek canyon. In addition to places to eat, there are booths with a thousand things for sale, lining paths that link the eating places. It’s all beneath trees, surrounding a lovely creek and a few ponds and waterfalls, so the setting is just wonderful.

Seated shoeless on tatami mats, waiting for our food.

My meal, and Tara’s thumbs-up

Tara’s breaded, deep-fried chicken

Statue in pond, near our table

But at night! We got there just as it was growing dark and the place became magical, with paper lanterns everywhere, even formed into a gigantic pyramid into the sky. Lights strung through trees, music on the air, cicadas whirring, frogs chirping, and people’s voices murmuring and humming and tittering out of sight in the forest.

We chose large

We kicked off our shoes and sat on pillows at traditional low tables, and used Tony’s and Andre’s skills to order. Soon our table was piled with food, and we ate very well. I had the teriyaki chicken on a stick (excellent!), gyoza (dumplings), and the giant musubi (rice ball wrapped in seaweed). The rice ball was in the common triangle shape one finds here, and each corner is stuffed with a different filling: salmon, salted seaweed, and pickled plum. Andre and I ordered beers and the waitress asked “Small or large?” Silly question.

Tara tries drumming while Phil looks on

The atmosphere is just as wonderful for the indoor seating.

Tara, Tony, and Andre browse the wares

After we ate, the girls browsed the shops and bought ice cream. Phil and I went exploring on the trails all the way to the end. We found several little shrines and spirit houses, waterfalls, and unexpected surprises, like a performance stage way at the back, with cardboard cut-out characters on it. I found a row of the most vending machines in one spot I’ve seen to date. (Vending machines are a staple ingredient to life here, to the point where I’ve come to expect to find one within 40 feet of me no matter where I am. I never pack drinks when I travel anymore. Never.)

More seating areas tucked away in the trees.

Waterfall cools this hidden path behind the busier sections.

Me on a stone bridge over the creek that runs through Sanzoku


We finally climbed back into the cars and wound back through the narrow green canyons and tunnels of Yamaguchi Prefecture, and home to Iwakuni.

My daughter. Samurai Warrior.

I watched her plane land and pull up to the gate. Then I squealed with joy when I saw the wind whipping the long blonde hair of my pretty girl.

Now that my computer is finally back from having the motherboard replaced (who is the fatherboard?), I can make blog posts once more. So many things have happened since the middle of June when I last had my computer. I made the Fuji postwhen my daughter, Tara, aka girlie, was here and loaned me her computer. However, there is much yet to tell.

We got your dried fish in a bag, right here!

Tara arrived July 21st, and stayed 10 days. She left the drizzly cool fog of Humboldt County, California, and was dropped smack into the middle of this wretched heat and humidity. We hit some of the hottest temperatures all summer that week, poor kid. She was a trooper, and enjoyed Japan with me while slowly adjusting to the 16-hour time change and the weather.

I had been so stressed out in the weeks leading up to her visit because it would be her first solo international trip. She had to collect her bags in Tokyo, go through customs, go through duty free, and then find the domestic travel counter and get herself onto a local flight to Hiroshima. That’s a challenge for anyone, much less a 15-year old! (She turned 15 the day before her flight – happy birthday, kiddo!)

The Hiroshima airport has an observation deck on the roof, and from there I spotted her leaving the plane, and ran back inside, and down three flights of stairs. I hadn’t seen her since May, and I was missing her tremendously. I looked through the glass to baggage claim, and saw her the moment she came into the building. I was so relieved I started to cry, but I quickly got control of myself and smiled and waved through the windows. While waiting for her bag, she walked up to her side and put her hand on the glass, and I put my hand over hers on my side of the glass. That 10 minute wait seemed like forever!

Smaller shrines lined up beside the big one. These two had torii (gates) in front, one made of granite, and one of wood painted red.

dragon

Instead of being tired from 36 hours of travel, she chatted like a wind-up doll for the next 2 hours as we made our way home. On the shuttle bus, on the train, in the taxi, she chattered happily away, and I felt almost obliged to occasionally point: look! We’re in Japan!

horse

chickens

The next day we hiked through town, and she did the best she could with the heat. I gave her the camera, and she took shots of all the things I used to notice myself: the tiled roofs of the homes, a turtle in the river, vending machines. “You were right, Mom, these vending machines are everywhere!” She began a game of trying a new drink every time we were thirsty.

Looking down the row of granite carvings

Tara posed in front of the white granite snake. White snakes, as you may have read in an earlier post, are a famous local resident of Iwakuni, Japan.

I showed her the lovely shrine I had discovered, with all the little shrines on the side, and the huge granite sculptures in the back. She loved the sculptures, and took a photo of every single one. We watched others praying, clapping and bowing and doing whatever it is they do in Japan at these multitudinous shrines and temples.

The weather was doing it’s best to wipe her out. We began looking for grocery stores, and popped into them every time we found one on the 4 mile walk. Grocery stores have the best air conditioning, and are also very entertaining to explore. I can usually identify only 1/3 to 1/2 of the vegetables. In one store, we found dozens of quail eggs on a shelf, next to the chicken eggs. We bought a peach, watermelon, water, and mandarin orange slices in some kind of clear jello. All the packaged fruit came in gelatin of some kind – nothing just in juice. We sat at a bus stop in the shade of a tree and ate our fruit, and then began walking again.

Respite from the heat in the shade beneath the Kintai Bridge. Miss T is glowing, but she was one hot and tired out kiddo at this point.

Then we made it to the Kintai Bridge. And since you’ve seen photos of it already, I’ll just include photos of stuff nearby.

Arches of the Kintai Bridge, leading to the old village at the base of the castle.

Lovely Nishiki River flowing through Iwakuni, with the castle on the hill.

Tara on the bridge, castle behind

We walked across the historic bridge, then explored the historic village on the other side. People live there now, but much of the area is public and touristy. There are gardens, statues, the snake house, Samurai house, water fountains big enough for kids to play in, a stage for performances, several restaurants, and many more things of interest. It’s all very nice and rather large. Miss T and I began to make our way through it, but it soon became evident that she needed food. We found a restaurant and made a bunch of hand gestures and got some food. Ha ha. For all the words I’ve learned to speak, I’ve only learned a couple of the kanji characters, and none of them help me read a menu. We ate, then got some ice cream, and explored some more.

Wielding her ballet bag like a weapon

It was early afternoon, in the 90s, and unbearably hot. When I say hot, you must understand. It’s not like 90s in Oregon, or 90s in Nevada. It’s 90s in a green house, where the air instantly sticks to your skin and feels thick to breathe. It’s step-out-of the-shower-and-instantly-sweat hot. We tried to rest in the shade, but girlie had had enough. Her face had been flushed bright red for the last couple of hours, and though I kept fluid pumping through her with the use of those vending machines, I could see it was time to get her cooled off.

Back across the bridge there was a taxi, and I splurged to get us an air-conditioned ride home. What had taken us 3 hours in the morning, took the driver 6 minutes in a car. We got back to the room, took showers, and lounged in the air conditioning the rest of the day!

She can’t tell you what it is, only that it’s good! In mere minutes, and with the unfamiliar chopsticks, Miss T empties the bowl of rice, vegs, and chicken.

Riza Hawkeye in my combat boots

Miss T has been a fan of cosplay and animecons for several years now. Nearly all her friends are caught up in the same obsession. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, think people dressed as Spock and Klingons among swarms of other Trekkies inside a hotel convention space. Only this is for Japanese anime and manga (cartoons and comic books). Cosplay is to dress up as one’s favourite character. The cons are conventions, of course.

She’s still young enough that I won’t let her attend a con in Seattle without me. I decided to go ahead and book a room at the con, let her go do her thing, and hang out with my brother Ian while she’s busy.

On the three-hour drive up, T shared some of her thoughts and anxiety. Months ago, all her teen friends were talking about going to Sakuracon. That’s when she begged me for permission to go, so that she could join them. One by one, her friends found that they would not be able to join Sakuracon after all. In the end, T is the only person of her group to make the trip.

Then they started trash-talking Seattle cons.

A group of cosplayers at Sakuracon

click to enlarge

click to enlarge

“They said the people at Seattle cons are all stuck up, and that they don’t accept people from other places,” Tara mentioned, not a little concern in her voice. “They said Seattle cons are nowhere near as fun as the Portland/Vancouver cons, because people are so competitive and mean. I’m a little worried. I mean, I just want to have fun, not to try to prove I’m better than anyone.”

I tried to shape my voice into as casual and offhand-sounding as I could before I asked my question. “Have any of the Portland anime fans had a chance to get to a Seattle con before?” My deception worked, and she answered the question instead of responding to my accusation. She thought about it a minute and answered, “Um, I’m pretty sure none of them have.” “That’s too bad,” I said, again, as casually as possible. I dropped the topic, hoping the message would seep through and catch her later.

Ian met us at the hotel while Tara was dressing as Riza Haweye from Fullmetal Alchemist. We walked with her to an entrance to the convention, and watched her for a little while to see how it would go for her. There was a large gathering of people. Many with orange, yellow, and red curvy horns – from an anime I am not familiar with. Tara walked to the outer edge to watch what was happening. There were the usual shockingly short miniskirts, the always-present black capes with red clouds from Naruto. In about three minutes, she was approached by a tall, thin boy dressed as Colonel Roy Mustang. In the story, Riza is the Colonel’s bodyguard.

Too far away to hear, I saw Riza telling something to Colonel Mustang, and gesturing with her hands. He motioned to her to follow and they wound through the crowd and up the steps around a corner out of sight. She didn’t even look back. *Sigh!* My little girl, so grown up she doesn’t even need Mom when she’s in a swarm of people in an unfamiliar city. I looked at Ian and he made some comment regarding that too. We both agreed that at age 14, neither one of us would have had even a fraction of the emotional constitution required to just do what she had done: dump us in 5 minutes in the heart of a major city.

By 9pm that night, she had joined a whole troupe of cosplayers there with parents, spilling into all available corners and horizontal spaces of two adjoined hotel rooms. T begged to stay the night with them but I said “no.” Introductions were made all around and I apologized to the parents, “Please don’t take it the wrong way, but I wanted to spend this time with my kid.” They assured me that the group of teens was large enough already and they weren’t TOO upset about not having one more. Instead, facebook friendships were firmly established.

Seattle Central Library, designed by Rem Koolhaas and Joshua Prince-Ramus

That evening I explored the city with Ian, who has lived there for several years now and was a good person to show me the place. I always love to see what architecture is on display in a place, and since his studies at the University of Idaho were in the field, I knew he would point me in the right direction. We beelined first of all for the library, but it had just closed. Ian said the inside of the building is remarkable, but I was impressed with the outside too.

Reflection of the Space Needle on the side of the music, sci-fi, and pop culture EMP Museum

We passed some other interesting buildings, then took the monorail to the EMP Museum. Ian says he rides the monorail every day in his commute to work. How fun! The EMP Museum is a work of art in itself. Frank O. Geary designed the building to evoke the spirit of Rock n’ Roll. Well, I didn’t read it as rock music per se, but I did get a distinct sense of colour, movement, and fun. It actually evoked more Disney than Hendrix, but don’t tell Geary I said that. Far from insubstantial, I found the building design truly eye-popping. Astonishing curves rose to unlikely heights and imbalances. I can’t believe I’ve never seen this place before. The monorail went right through a gap in the museum!

We didn’t go up into the Space Needle, since I had just done thatlast summer with my friend Vladimir. We did walk to his house, since he lives practically at the base of the needle. We hopped into his sunflower-yellow pickup truck and went on up the hill.

Freezing my tush at Kerry Park

“Have you been to Kerry Park at Queen Anne?” he asked. Since I didn’t know what he was talking about, my answer was a pretty solid “no.” Queen Anne is his neighborhood. Well, nearly. Ian is not a millionaire, but he lives nearby. He told me the viewpoint is the location for all the amazing Seattle shots that feature the Space Needle and Mt. Rainier. Postcard scenes. The clear sunny skies were growing darker, and without the sun to keep me warm, I was getting downright cold. But it couldn’t keep me in the truck. The view was spectacular!

Seattle, Space Needle, Puget Sound, Mt. Rainier

We got out and stood at the railing with the other folks, and gazed out across blossoming cherry trees and syringa, across the city lit up in the setting sun, and all the way to the snow-capped and majestic Mt. Rainier on the horizon. The bay waters wrapped around the west side of the city and glanced reflections back to us.

People gazing out at the view of the city at dusk.

Then he took me to dinner at a really awesome restaurant. The atmosphere, the good food, and the beer warmed me back up.

As is typical in any kid-on-her-own scenario…T’s phone battery died. I had been attempting to text her for an hour, and finally got a text message from an unknown phone number. “Hi I’m borrowing Stacey’s phone. My phone died. I’m ok. Can I stay the night with Stacey?” I realized it was time to go back and find my kid.

From our hotel room, we could spot clouds and moon good enough for any Halloween scene.

Ian came back in the morning to share breakfast with us. For convenience sake, we ate in the Hilton restaurant. It was way too expensive, but it did have an astonishing view, so that partially made up for the expense. We said our goodbyes and went back to Portland.

The verdict in the end? “The Seattle cons are just as much fun as in Portland,” Tara assured me on the way home. “No one was stuck up and I had a great time.”

“I wonder what all those Portland people were talking about,” I said.

“Well, it was really only Sam and Alex,” she admitted. “Maybe they were exaggerating. ‘Cause I’m pretty sure they’ve never been to a Seattle con before.”

“Maybe,” I agreed. And I knew my girlie had just learned a life lesson.

It’s the time when scheduled appointments are picking up because it’s the end of the school year. Aside from the ballet performance and it’s multitudinous rehearsals, Miss T is due to graduate from middle school and then my daughter will be a high-schooler. It’s more of an adjustment for me than for her. Am I really old enough to be the parent of a high school teen? Apparently I am.

Tara with sash and certificate from Honor Day

Thursday we attended a Native American honoring ceremony for all the Portland 8th grade and 12th grade graduates. It was lovely, and held in the beautiful Native American Student and Community Center on the PSU campus.

Tara was not sure what to anticipate for the evening, though she acquiesced to my urges and humored me by attending with a good spirit. I told her on the way that it would be the more interesting graduate ceremony, even though the one with all her class mates next month would be more fun.

“Why do you say that?” she asked.

“I expect tonight will be filled with Indian tradition that we are unfamiliar with. There will probably be drums.”

“Drums? Really?”

“Well, at my brother’s graduation there were drums because many of his classmates were Indian.” My brother graduated from Chiloquin High School in Oregon, where I knew Modoc and Klamath families.

I had guessed correctly, but it was easy to guess: drums play a significant role in many ceremonies. An evocative, pleasant-smelling smudge was lit in the background and the drums began. We stood for the Presentation of Colors, in which elder men presented the flags honored. They marched/danced with the drums, in a line around the entire room, headed by the Eagle Staff (upon which there was an actual mounted eagle head). At the end of the parade was the POW/MIA flag. The last flag makes me curious, and I’d like to know more about why this group is particularly honored by our Indian group. Likely the relationship comes from the importance of the military in Indian communities, as the modern expression of warrior service.

We all filled our plates with baked salmon and many excellent side dishes. While we finished up our feast, the speakers began. One of the senior graduates was Rebecca Kirk, a young woman who sang an extraordinary song for us, blending an indigenous language (I don’t recall which) with some soulful English chorus. She beat a drum as accompaniment.

Introductory remarks were followed by a stirring keynote speaker: Louie Gong. Mr. Gong described his ethnic background as Coast Salish, Chinese, Scottish, and maybe something else, I can’t recall. He was raised on a reservation in northeast Washington by his Indian and Chinese grandparents. He is a teacher, activist, and artist. He spoke to finding his true self amidst people who try to define him by what they see. He spoke about trying to fit in, and the difficulties of doing that when his background didn’t match those around him. He struggles with frustration of being known as the “Shoe Guy,” when he wants people to know the powerful work in activism that he does.

I thought it was a good message for my Tara, who had felt out of place all evening because she is distinctly blonde, and of course the room was filled with dark-skinned, black-haired people. I know what she feels. I always want to belong, and yet I so rarely find a group of people that feel like “home” to me. I anticipate that some of Louie’s message sticks with her, and I am grateful to him for choosing that particular topic.

The graduates then filed up to the stage and were presented with a sash and certificate. Students remained in front until every person was lined up, then the entire room got in line to shake hands and congratulate every student. It was truly an honor to them. I hope my girl felt support from some of those many hands.

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