Recently we have figured out a way to get emails and pictures to Liz, my wonderful 81-year-old handicapped sister in Port Townsend. The supervisor at her sheltered housing has wireless at home and can take what we send to Liz and show her how to look at it. The following was part of the first bulletin.
“Tom and I were over in Eastern Oregon last week and I had a long ride on this nice horse whose name was Scout. That person getting on her horse is the wrangler whose name is Sierra.
“And this a picture of Tom with the blanket I just finished knitting.”
Liz is devoted to Tom, and when we talk on the phone, she barely lets me start with the first few words before she interrupts with, “Where’s Tom? Can I talk to him?”
She remembers every dog our family ever had, and I’ll try to send her a few pictures of them as we go along.
The ride in question was through juniper and scrub, with regular glimpses of snowy mountains from the Three Sisters to Jefferson, Black Butte and north. My legs were less wobbly than I’d thought they’d be at the end.
To get there we went up the gorge, turned south at Hood River, and climbed up through Odell, Parkdale, the mountain gleaming from a different direction at every turn. Upon arrival, we placed daffodils from home, Tom having his pipe after supper, the sound of the river from below. We were in the tree-tops. The junipers are a good 100 years old.
I’d bought this beautiful Tarte aux Fruits at La Provence in Orenco Station Friday and served it to a group of Smith graduates meeting at our house Monday evening. Now, I wake before dawn on Thursday to find a ready-made slide show of that evening on Facebook, and perhaps, by some powerful chance, a possible answer to a question that kept me awake part of the night.
First, I can explain. During the meeting of this diverse group of women, I had a chance as the eldest to describe briefly how similar what is happening in this country now feels to what was happening in Austria in the late thirties. And I could urge these women to resist, to speak out against white supremacy, against Islamophobia and anti-Semitism in all their forms. Unjustified police use of force is just part of this. We are all threatened.
Next, yesterday noon, in another setting, a friend described to a group the experience her elementary school grand-daughter was having in the classroom: classmates were shouting “Heil Hitler,” and making anti-Jewish slurs, in the presence of teachers, who were condoning the behavior, doing nothing about it. A parent so far had had no response from the principal to whose attention she had brought the problem.
It may be that other children will be the most effective teachers of kindness and tolerance. Lower graders would respond best to a diverse group of upper graders who came into their classroom and sat down for a serious talk, with this message: the United States is a country where Christians and Jews and Muslims have a right to be free and not bullied, where we will protect everyone who is not trying to hurt someone else. If your parents are teaching you otherwise, it is up to us to help them understand a different way.
I acknowledge how difficult this seems and how possible it is that there are many who don’t want it to happen. But I will hold onto the image.
Around the graves of five generations in our Strong family plot at Riverview Cemetery are these tiny Yellow Aconites. Their Latin name says that they come “right after the snow,” and sure enough they do. I love the way the Aconites bloom this early, and then disappear completely, their leaves melting away into nothing, so by late spring you wouldn’t know they’d been there.
One old tree fell in the windstorm last fall, and the other, grown to great age between the graves of Judge William and his wife Lucretia, is marked to keep an eye on. We hope they won’t have to take it down.
One of the sons of William and Lucretia wrote a book, Cathlamet on the Columbia, about growing up in the 1850’s. He was born after they arrived. They’d come around the Horn, losing one little boy to Yellow Fever on the way, the other one, Curtis, my great-grandfather who bought the land we live on now, surviving.
I came back from exploring the possibilities of classes at Oregon College of Art and Craft today, and realized that’s not what I need to do now. I have room here at home in my little studio up on the bank above the house. Hester and Tom, last time we were away for a good stretch of time, even cleaned it out and made it usable again. They removed squirrel nests, hauled out all those boxes of old camping equipment. We can heat it sufficiently. We can put in a vise I’ll need to finish the wood carving I started eight years ago, at a class at OCAC, in fact.
There are things I’ve made and finished, being used by my family and friends. This is a start. Photos, meals, table, dinner table, soap, garden veg, garden house, … to come ….knitted pieces, sewn pieces, cape, tie skirt, etc.
This serves as our Christmas and New Year, Martin Luther King and Valentine’s Day card, all celebrations of renewal and hope. We thank you who sent cards by mail.
There was snow on the ground. The light coming in the windows was brilliant as Hester, Dexter and Tom sang “The Parting Glass” at the end of our New Year’s Day lunch, and the sun came out. The Clancy Brothers have been part of our singing life since we can remember. It’s not often we’re all in one place.
I’m sure part of the intensity of these weeks has been due to the imminence of Barack Obama’s departure from the Presidency. We are isolated by the snow and ice. We feel ourselves and the American community in some danger from the incoming president and his way of doing things.
But we go on cooking meals, watching football games on TV, often watching Westerns in the evening. Identifying actors has become a game. We exercise at LA Fitness four or five times a week, and we go to bed early!
I find myself wanting to strengthen the ties between old friends, family members, hold onto each other “for dear life,” and vow not to allow ourselves, as Meryl Streep said so beautifully the other night, to be bullied. That means at the same time we revel in relationships close at hand, we somehow encompass those driven out of their homes, robbed of their safety, and left without hope.
Short of giving up, we can only keep speaking up. I wonder if the Women’s Marches all over the country this month will be listened to. I hope so. We plan to be part of the one in Portland, four generations of us.
Our day on Madeira proved to be quite magical, and a wonderful way to end the land part of the journey. It started with Tom getting up early with me to watch us come in in the dawn dark. The island is a mountain cut with canyons, and from the harbor side it was spangled uniformly with lights. The canyons weren’t visible. By the end of the morning we had threaded through tunnels, wound along impossible roads, stopped to peer off precipices, and come back to the ship through old streets with beautiful trees, so we felt we had taken the island into our bones. We pulled out into open ocean at the end of the day, still in the bright sun, with an inexplicable feeling of longing.
Our taxi driver had created our route and was voluble in heavily Portuguese-accented Spanish. From him we learned what had created a mysterious band of grey, dead, trees above the city (a forest fire last August caused by a cigarette smoker.) He took us to beautiful corners of the island on everything from one-lane, serpentine cliff-hangers to freeway viaducts.
If anyone’s interested in some out-of-the-way reading, Ann Bridge has written some good novels that are strong in a sense of place. One of them, The Malady in Madeira, had been up to now my sole knowledge of this place. She died in 1974 or so, had been a diplomat’s wife, and was a good observer of people and places.
I walked in old streets in Cádiz yesterday, no camera in hand. The whole immense bright clean industrial city was as though disappeared. It was Sunday, a few stores open here and there, buildings almost meeting overhead behind shutters, narrow cobbled one-car-width streets with a small raised sidewalk on each side, barely wide enough to get you out of the way of the occasional car. They converged at a little plaza with trees and a church. I could have been in the 16th century, between cars.
We are about to come in to Casablanca. My first time on the continent of Africa. It will be purely symbolic since it’s just that….a touch. But I can pay homage to Humphrey Bogart et al. And I want to know what it looks like. Just looking at all sides of Gibraltar was good too. The cliffs, how it lies in relation to Spain and the sea. We will see Madeira too just that way, our day in Funchal.
Have been drawing and sketching. Happy.
We got talking about our time in Spain and Portugal in 1979. There was a flock of goats in the Algarve, just as we’d crossed on a ferry into Portugal.
Chugging toward Gibraltar today, arriving after lunch which is unusual, and leaving this evening. It was strange going along looking at the coast of North Africa, blue in the near distance, mountainous, all yesterday afternoon.
We had a wonderful talk about Garibaldi yesterday. Had never realized what a universal man he was. Lincoln considered hiring him in the civil war, but thought better of it as G. wanted to be in charge of everything.
MALTA – For any one living in the 1940’s, not to mention in the 1190’s or 1430-40’s, there would have been no question of where Malta was or of why any of it was of the least importance. For me it has been an abstraction of indeterminate location, made of stone, a place where people convened, made momentous decisions, or chopped off people’s heads, built rosy-sand colored walls. We now know a little more about the turns of their roads, their soil (gravely and rocky), that they built stunning walls with little mortar, and that they have a traffic problem at rush hour. Their big cities are more like towns, but they have fine shops, huge hotels, and you can drive a loop from one end of the main island to the other, on good roads, in a little over four hours.
I never heard any one speak the language, which is mostly Arabic, and I don’t know how you pronounce names like Qawra. But the signs are mostly written in the Roman alphabet, and in English.
When Jean la Vallette finally ended up there with his Knights of St.John, having been driven out of Rhodes, where the hospice they started in the 12th century still exists, it was the end of their long and bloody journey. He is buried there, and the port of Valletta where we were docked is named for him.
The sun rose just as we were leaving for another island yesterday and cast our moving shadow along the harbor walls.
I found this unexplained “paper boat” sculpture made a nice design with those two little white cars. The memory we will take away above all though is the clouds. It’s almost as though the firmament is marking this ombel of the sea with an exclamation.