Monday, March 28, 2011

Of Whale Breath and Truffle Shuffling

Yesterday I took a sweet trip to Astoria and the Oregon/Washington coast with a few friends. It was one of those great Sundays that starts early in the morning with a road coffee and egg-and-cheese and ends when you get back home fourteen hours later, in dark, and realize you've lost your house keys.

We first hit up Fort Clatsop National Park, where Lewis, Clark, and the boys over-wintered in 1805-06, huddled together in dark and smokey cabins, perpetually soggy and stanky, no doubt. Then we jaunted on over to Fort Stevens State Park and walked the beach. Do not think of sunshine and warm breezes, dear reader. No, this is the northwest. Think of Oh, the Wind and the Rain, building clouds, long, slow but serious waves, the twenty different ways the color gray has to be beautiful. Think of hard-packed, too-fine-to-even-feel-on-your-fingertips dark, nearly black sand. Captain (Yarrrgg!) Iredale's blood-rusted skeleton of a shipwreck. And sand dollars, and golden tussocky-banks reflected back in shallow ribbons of puddles. It had been a while since I've seen this coast, and right away I remembered why I love it so much. The play of light, the clouds, the rain all have this perfect drama to them. Its a good place to brood or pine or pace, but I'm always too happy when I'm out there to do any of those things.

Still, it was cold, and it was wet.
Naturally we needed spirits and sustenance to warm up.
Enter Astoria's Fort George Brewery and Public House. Coincidentally, on this very day The NY Times ran a lovely little travel piece on Astoria, the sweet nearly-seaside town famous for fish canneries, Victorian houses built up the hill, and... yes, The Goonies. I challenge you to spend a day bumming around Astoria and not make at least a dozen references to Sloth, Chunk, slick shoes, one-eyed Willie, Baby Ruths, Rocky Road, or Our Time (down here).

Hell, here is a quick clip reminder just one example of the brilliance of this film:
Chunk's Classic Confession.
I wanna play the violin!
The town still glows with the golden sheen of 80s cinematic genius.

photo credit: David Plowden

Across the impressive Astoria-Megler Bridge (that's the longest continuous truss bridge in North America, folks! Its about four miles long!) over the Columbia River into Washington and over to Cape Disappointment, which did not live up to its name.

Not even a little...

 Instead, the cape offered various delights and firsts...

1. First direct sun of the day.

2. First time I have (attempted) to fly a kite in approximately 18 years. (Thanks to whoever left that raggedy triangle of plastic emblazoned with friendly Dr. Seuss characters, lashed to broken branch. It was fun.)

3. First puffins I've ever seen in the wild! Total badasses, riding some sick waves.

4. First gray whales any of us had ever seen, though some of us have often tried. Okay, if you want to split hairs and get super technical about it, we didn't see any fin or physical part of their fifty-foot mass... but we did see their telltale white plumes not far from the coast. We saw their breath. Whale breath! Isn't that amazing? Pods of grays (Eschrichtius robustus) are currently traveling up the coast, traveling north to the Arctic, on one of the longest known migrations of any animal. They swim around, singing their strange, ping-like song, opening their comby baleen mouths, scooping up sediment, and sifting enough tiny crustaceans to somehow, amazingly, fill up their 36-ton-bodies. And we share the same planet with these giants. And we were just close enough to watch them breathe. What a wonder. What a day.

Astoria Column: 164 spiral steps
No Gromit?
All the best ladder-climbing is illegal

Friday, March 25, 2011


This week finds me in Portland. Oregon.
Its all lush and springy and blossomy here, and the air feels rich and alive.
It actually feels green.
Cherry blossoms are blooming, sunny daffodils are grinning, rain is falling.

I've really been enjoying walking through neighborhoods and graveyards and parks, but I am dying to get out into some big woods, big moss, big ferns. I've got hiking on the brain. Then I stumbled upon this lovely little time lapse video (thanks again, Boing Boing!) of walking the Appalachian Trail and it was like taking a deep breath. Although it did make me miss spring in the Berkshires and hiking on that trail with friends, it made me equally excited to start exploring the northwest.

Anyway, click below, and enjoy.

Le Video

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


Snowshoe track into the back woods
These are a few of my favorite things: blue shadows on snow
Snow Snout

These Boots...

Feathered footprints
Bridge over frozen water
I spent last week in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, visiting my lovely family. It was the first winter I'd seen all year, and I miss it already. It was a deliciously lazy week, spent crunching through the snowy woods, aggressively snuggling the animals, baking bread (Pops has recently perfected Julia Child's baguette recipe), making soup, sitting by the fire, reading out loud, chopping wood. . . all the things you'd imagine one might do in the Yoop in the winter. Saturday night we went to a fancy and delicious Italian dinner in Canada. Because we could. We are so International. We drove home under the gigantic supermoon, singing Dean Martin, of course, then danced around the living room before eating the most amazing chocolate cake, (thanks mom). My last night there I fell asleep next to Isa, cold feet creeping to her side of the bed, with a snowstorm raging outside. It felt just like the Christmas I missed.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Micronaut

A Kiwi in Venice
Today I am thinking of the Kiwi artist Graham Percy (1938-2008) who I first stumbled upon in Wellington's City Gallery museum. On that particular day, I was wandering around the museum, and could see that a new exhibit was about to go in. I saw a few pieces outside of the gated main room, and they were enough to get me hooked. Loitering in front of the gate like an arty creeper, I peered around it from various angles, crouching, and craning my neck, trying to get a better view inside. I went back the next day, when The Imaginative Life and Times exhibit opened for real.

Then I really fell in love.

His art and illustrations are the embodiment of creative whimsy, of imagination, wit, humor, and wonder. All qualities I continually strive for. Looking through my New Zealand journal the other day, I found a quote from the exhibit, written in red ink and an enthusiastic script:

"Percy's approach remained very much that of a wonder-struck child, whom the educationalist Fredrich Froebel once characterized as the archetypal "micronaut"--an explorer of the small things, the textures and borders of the everyday and the immediate."

I would consider my life well lived indeed, if this was in part how I was described at the end of it.

The Trojan Moa
These are all imagined histories about famous composers. (Sorry about the poor picture quality.)

His titles are half of the fun. The following match the above illustrations, clockwise, starting at the top right:

- Franz Schubert emerges from a stream near to Crear with a trout he has caught. This, along with the five watching rabbits, has given him the idea for a quintet. (1891).

- Dvorak, Dohnanyi and Schumann discuss a concert of their works with local residents at Crear.

- Within a Rachel Whiteread installation Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy is reminded of Fingal's Cave.

- Cuckoo with hunting horn. Crear - early evening.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Papa's Got a Brand New Bag

So I am hanging out for a spell with Annie, Lee, and the Notorious R.O.Y (baby Ellis) in the frosty midwest. You know that Chicago got hammered with snow this winter, like the rest of the free world . . . and you city-dwellers know what happens when the big snow melts. A minefield of soggy fliers, garbage, and dog excrement is left behind. Oh, and plastic bags. Lots of bags. In the gutters, under your car, caught up in bare tree branches, hissing in the wind. Annie abhors those Bags In Trees, and would curse them through the window, slowly shaking her fist. She called her alderman to have them removed. I find this to be hilarious. Mostly because she is under 65. But, it actually worked. No more bags. But why am getting into all of this random B.I.T talk?

Yesterday I came across this beautiful video of a dust devil peeling off rows of plastic from a field of strawberries.

It made me think of a pair of waltzing albino octopi, or a slow train of birds. The footage catches a short flash of time, of grace, between function and trash, when something as simple as a sheet of plastic has a chance to be something beautiful. I've seen dust devils whip up leaves and dirt and tumbleweeds, and I've seen ravens gyre up and up on such thermals. . . but this is different. 

Its like fingerprinting the wind.
And it is pretty mesmerizing. Check it out below. 
I recommend listening to it without sound. Or picking your own soundtrack.

(And yes, of course I have seen that iconic bag-in-the-wind scene  in American Beauty, which is also great.)

And yes, I also loved Ramin Bahrani's esoteric Werner Herzog-narrated short film about a plastic bag's search for meaning in the face of its own immortality. Brilliant. Years ago some friends and I dreamed of making a mockumentary about feral urban bags in California. And so my extreme enjoyment in watching the film was only slightly dampened by the fact that he did it before we could. And better. And secured that crazy German.

Did you know that various  sources estimate that the world uses over 500 billion plastic bags each year? Some think that the amount is closer to 1 trillion, a number so ridiculous it becomes abstract. And that doesn't even address all the stuff we are putting into those bags.
But I digress, yet again.
So, how about that original clip. . .

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Stan the Man

"The fiercest hearts are in love with a wild perfection." —Stanley Kunitz

Stanley was such a poetry god.
He also lived to be 100 years old, which is pretty impressive.
His lines often wiggle their way out of my memory, into my forebrain at unexpected times.
I have always loved this one.

Foxy Lady
Speaking of wild perfection and things to love. . .
I am in love with Rick Allen's giclees, like the one above.
Check them out at The Kenspeckle Letter Press.
If you are like me, you may start panting.

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Passion of the Fruit

Back in the land of cold wind and icy pavement, this morning I was thinking about the taste of summer. That is to say, passionfruit--split, scooped, and slurped in the early morning sun, while sprawled in a patch of velvety green grass. The empty, hollowed-out weight of the crimson fruit in your hand... the porous rind giving way to the thin flash of pocketknife blade, the precise tilt of the two halves so not a single seed slips out. The art of the meal. 

Still, I challenge you to not think of frog eggs as you scoop into the spongy cup. Because let's face it, in the world of fruit, these guys are a bunch of weirdos. Delicious weirdos, but still.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

There and Back Again

Well, I'm back.

After feeling a mini-earthquake my last night in Wellington, followed by a tremendous wind storm all night long (all night), and no sleep at all, it felt pretty great to get on that plane. Sadly, I can't say that feeling lasted too long. But after over thirty continuous hours of traveling, four flights, ticket hassles at every counter, five movies, and maybe six out of sixty hours of sleep, I arrived in Chicago safe, sound, and just in time to see the sunset. My eyes were fiery balls of red, my hair was flat and sad, and I was half-dead, but I made it. And so did my bag! I am grateful. Now I am just waiting to see if my body rejects winter.  
Though I already miss New Zealand, I am happy to be home. Home being a relative concept, as I am currently homeless. But back in The Motherland anyway. The good ol' U S of A.  So let the past three months of foreign travel bleed into the next three months of domestic travel! I'll be seeing some of you real soon.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Animals I have Known, Domestic Edition

Ingrid, in all her one-horned and tumor-backed glory
The Freshmaker
Thumper T. Bun
Gandy, the oldest sheep in the world
Billie Jean
 (she's just a girl, who thinks I am the one)
A cow contemplates its own mortality