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28 March, 2011

New Laptop

It was getting close to time to get a new laptop anyway, but the promulgation of new personal use policy from my employer sped up the process. They sent out an email to all staff saying that we're allowed to use our work computers, networks, and so on for a combined total of 15 minutes per week (in increments not to exceed 5 minutes).

It is their machinery, I guess, but it seemed a bit harsh, considering that they expect me to be on the road so much, dependent on a laptop for everything from finding eats to maintaining contact with loved ones. So 15 minutes a week is basically zero, especially when you consider how slow many hotel connections are. 

Today I head to a convention that is relevant to my work, but for which I am picking up a large part of the cost, and which I was not required to attend. I am only delivering papers 2 of 4 days of the conference, and want to be free to google various things that touch my mind during this time. I can just imagine some auditor defining that as "not strictly work-related," ergo a new laptop.

I suppose this means that I am addicted to connectivity. 

27 March, 2011

A Failure

Once upon a dream, I started a business. I'd had one before, and it had worked. This one ended unhappily, but not forever after. I'd forgotten about it until Spring gardening season rolled around again.

The idea came to me during the Virginia years, a time frought and fucked as any I've survived. I'd go do a field project in Hawai`i for a few months, then come back and write it up. This made better financial sense than the full-time job I was offered locally; weird world. The work I did was exciting and rewarding, and I was allowed to control how it went for the most part. But it also meant missing out on my family, and each trip made it clearer that we'd never be able to afford a decent life if we moved back to the islands.

So I considered going into contract archaeology on my own in the Old Dominion, quickly dismissing the idea as a doomed foray into a hyper-competitive market already full up, not to mention having start-up costs way beyond my means. Then one Spring another idea lit.

Maybe in restrospect, I'd begun grasping at straws, but at the time it felt like I'd discovered a way to weave threads of my experience and interest into a tapestry. Old things, dirt, plants, history, gardening, ethnobotany, sustainable land use... I would invent and occupy the niche of landscape designer/household archaeolgist/... Living in the first American watershed settled by Anglos, I'd charge their descendants to visit their places, learn what had come before, restore it if they wanted, or design a landscape that would testify to their presence long after their kids and kids' kids had become wastrels.

To be sure, landscape architects with expertise in historic gardens exist, but they operate only in the thinner reaches of the statusphere, where the blood runs blue for lack of oxygen and exogamy. There are archaeologists who know something of historic gardens, but they are occupied with their jobs at presidential and plutocratic estates, and spurn the dirty world of digging for hire. The Heritage crowd can be woefully ignorant of the millenia of plant knowledge that preceded Jamestown settlers, and native plant enthusiasts would sooner dine on Cicuta maculata than plant an English-ish cottage garden. Any number of people could grasp a thread tighter than I, but only I would have the tapestry.

There was no time or money to get a Landscape Architect degree (no prob, I didn't want big commercial jobs anyway), so I set to stacking up what creds I could. I was admitted to the UVA/Monticello Historic Landscape Institute, I took a class on the HIstory of Landscape Architecture, I became certified by the state-wide organization as a Landscape Designer (did an end-run on that one, avoiding the usual class-load by re-packaging my anthropological, planning, and cartographic skills into a portfolio that passed muster).

One reason I'd chosed this garden path was that it could be done without employees, without investment capital. I had my body (still relatively strong) and a shed full of archaeology and landscaping tools. My wife got a gig that she generously transformed into a pick-up truck.

And I was ready.

But Virginia wasn't.

I ran through connections quickly. A couple referred to me by my sister, and better yet her boss and his River Road Mansion. My college room-mate with his new spread, who bought a design and paid me to implement it over a year or two of seasonal visits.

But otherwise, not much. Even the work handed to me amounted to very little money in my pocket. I kept taking Hawai`i work to keep from starving my family, which interfered with being able to focus on the landscape design business. I managed to have one good job that I got on my own, designing and making a Japanese style garden in Church Hill, complete with rustic timber frame tea house.

I did learn a lot in my efforts to get work, meeting prospective clients and walking their properties. For instance, even the most ignorant and inexperienced people think that they can plan a lasting landscape (why did you call me?), because one time they grew a great bed of those, uh, you know, the yellow ones. Of if willing to concede that I had some expertise, obstinately insisting on a landscape that would at once be sublime, maintenance free, instantly mature, drought-proof, deer-proof, and death-proof. Oh, and extremely cheap.

So many faces of cheap. Like the people who call for a consultation, a price estimate, and are obviously just milking you for ideas and knowledge with no intention of ever hiring you. Or the ones who will hire you for a basic conceptual design and then ask if you can just real-quick-like whip up a detailed plan and materials list and specifications for nothing. Or who string you along before dumping you to have your ideas done by one of those "landscape designers" whose qualifications amount to having a diesel truck and a trailer full of lawnmowers and leaf-blowers and illegal aliens. Or the old money in their brick and stone mansions that are taken aback that you won't work for what the colored people did back when they were colored. Or the new money in their opulent McMansions, mortgated to the hilt and wanting the patina of age and class instantly with sale plants from Home Depot that have been withering their driveway for a week.

I was getting to despise people. Even more than I had before.

It didn't help that the big dream--that I could do landscapes that would grow into something that would persist, that might feed generations yet unborn with beauty and fruit, with a tableaus of older worlds--was revealed as an impossibility. Because a yard is so personal, people cannot help tweaking it. They plop down some ugly-ass ornament, or if not ugly, definitely not part of the tapestry I'd woven in my mind. And to say so is to insult the customer, which means business is done. Then they get thrilled at some find at a plant sale, and place an invasive bully in the bed. Or they love some certain plant that is wrong for the place where they just know it would be perfect. Tell them it cannot take the heat, cold, wet, dry, or even that it will get too big and damage their house, and at least half the time, even though they may nod their head, their eyes reveal that they think you are an idiot or just too difficult.

At one point I groveled to my mom. Dad's will left everything to her, and she was sitting on a pile of money larger than she needed while her kids ate beans and rice and never ran the heat. If I could have enough to cover living for a year without having to keep running off to Hawai`i, enough to get my name out there where it would do some good, then I was willing to keep trying. But, no dice. I was disappointed, but not mad. It was her money, and she was already helping us financially. I was asking too much to say, "Support me for a year in case this crazy plan works out."

Maybe someone else will make a go of it. There are plenty of Virginians in the strata between the Monts (Vernon, -icello, -pelier) and the middling types that would be willing to pay enough to learn about the secret history buried in their soil (part of the plan was to do some archaeolopgy that would enrich the history of the owner's place, and maybe provide something cool for the mantlepiece), to have a garden matching the period of the house, or maybe to have a landscape that would feed the body and soul for a long time. If I'd been able to stick with it for years, it may have become a going concern. I still believe that a decade or two into it, I could have become The Name that people would pay real money to attach, that I may have been able to become part of the competitive consumption and display of the statusphere.

But then, it's best that hunger won out, that I looked elsewhere, and found a job doing something very different, very far away. Working for richers made me itchy and cranky. My friend was the only one uninterested in chiseling away at what I made (truth be told, the whole landscape thing with him may have been his way of spreading the wealth). Had I become a fulcrum in the one-upsmanship game, it may have broken something in me. More likely, I'd never make it up that far, some moderately rich bonehead would set me off, I'd refuse to do stupid things, and would limp along, maybe making ends meet, but becoming more and more misanthropic. My kids like beans and rice well enough, but is it fair to ask them to live with a broken dream and it's disgruntled dreamer?

Nah. Better the route taken a few years ago. Not a dream. Not a preconceived notion of what will work, trying to force the warp of my interest onto a weft of commercial success, notting nothing true. Epiphany may not be the right word to describe what has happened since I decided to admit failure as a landscape designer, but it is interesting how doors suddenly opened. Letting go of the dream let me try something else, ride the flow to a new place.

Where a life I never dreamed of is turning out to be better than most of the scenarios I would consciously imagine. I get to learn whole new plant communities, different ways of gardening in a strange climate, a rich ethnobotany, unique archaeology. Having the landscape design business, being my own boss, allegedly, turned out to be the least independence I'd had for a very long time. Paradoxically, working for a state government, keeping things right with laws and regs, has left me free.

21 March, 2011

Your Neighborhood School Needs You

Ever since Reagan, the alleged conservatives among us have argued that neighborhood schools be sold for parts, and replaced with a voucher system. This is but one of the myriad ways in which their old-fashioned family values rhetoric is stripped down to its naked cynicism. In the good old days of the 50's, during the Ides of Ike, everybody except the super rich (who then were considered snooty closet Europeans, and not real Americans) went to a neighborhood school. Or, in the country, to a schoolhouse they had to walk to in the snow, uphill coming and going.

Sadly, now most alleged liberals pretty much buy into that. Not outright vouchers (though many secretly wish for that), but in the form of magnet schools and charter schools. Sometimes, if the family earns enough so little that financial aid materializes, to private schools with the right aura of esteem stroking and validation. Others drop out entirely, home schooling their kids based on the almost universal misperception that they know what they are doing.

Based on nothing more than a hunch and some fuzzy recollections of articles and public radio pieces, these centers of excellence, even when nominally part of a public system, serve the wealthiest better than the poorest. Who goes through the application process and has the resources (cars, time off work, gas money) to drive their kid out of the neighborhood to school? The well-educated and the well-off, that's who.

Now and then, the poor single immigrant mother marshalls the resources to get her kid up at 6 AM to catch three buses and walk the last mile (maybe not uphill, but through exurban streetscapes hostile to bipeds) to a magnet school, which turns into a stepping stone to an Ivy League scolarship. We know this because every single one of these rare cases makes the news.

The remaindered kids sit out the day in a classroom starved of resources where rookie teachers sit out the year until they can transfer elsewhere. The government funds expended on education are finite and shrinking, and that means that funding a new magnet program or charter school must hurt some other school. Someone who does not have a lot of money, who works long hours to earn the little they have, and who often as not is not well educated, not making up for the poor school's inadequacies with a large home library and lively discussions of current events and eternal truths.

If everyone had to go to their neighborhood school, then there would be less tolerance for shitty neighborhood schools. I know, you're thinking that the rich neighborhoods would fare better, but they already do. And if you look around, you realize that there are plenty of people who are gaming the system, getting a subsidy by not buying the expensive house in the best school district, but getting their kid in through some magnet program, exemption, or the like. Meanwhile their home district school loses not just in terms of funding, but with the loss of motivated parents. If those options were foreclosed, they'd either move to the better district (and pay more for housing) or start taking more of an interest in their neighborhood school.

One thing that I see locally, and that kinda pisses me off, is that there are a couple of programs that are perceived by  some people as "better" (though rarely according to defined criteria, and often most analogous to "hipper"). Olympia is a pretty liberal or progressive place, however you want to describe it, and so a lot of people send their kids to these programs. They are split between people who have some sense (often vague, but sometimes based on actual observations) that their neighborhood school is too old fashioned, and people who just think their kids should never be disciplined.

They have a right to an opinion on their kids' schooling, but also a right to talk to their own school about that. But more often then not, they do nothing about it other than opt out, apply to the lottery that lets them leave their supposedly inadequate neighborhood school inadequate. And that seems antisocial, maybe lacking the guts to stick around and fight. Admittedly, a lot like when I left Virginia and sought political asylum in Cascadia (though there were economic motivations behind that which do not pertain to the school situation).

The Dude might reply that the above is just, like, my opinion, man. And he's sorta right, at least about the last couple of paragraphs. So how about some facts?

One elementary program lets in 25-30 non-neigborhood kids per year, for a kindergarten through 5th grade school. So 150 kids go there from somewhere else. I think a 1.5 mile trip is a reasonable estimate for the average trip to school, and suspect it is higher. That's 3 miles round trip. There's no bus like you would get to your neighborhood school, so that's 3 miles in a car, 180 days a year. Let's say there's an average of 25 mpg in the parental fleet (there are some Prius drivers, but also SUVs, and they all idle in the pick-up drop-off lanes; there is some carpooling (but mostly not) as well as missed days, but there are also doctor's visits and other extra trips). Turns out that the numbers are not so crunchy--3240 gallons of gas burnt every year for the privilege of one school's charter-ish program.

There's another program like it on the west side (6480 gallons), and two in middle school (three grades each, but more miles driven, so on the order of 10,000 gallons). Just one small district in a very big country. What's the annual greenhouse gas emission of this flight from neighborhood schools? Maybe something that the Dude might not abide.

Seems like maybe the demise of the neighborhood school leads to an enlarged carbon footprint. Not to mention the wars we fight for petroleum that runs the cars. And the fact that the kids in any one neighborhood now know each other less, and are thrust into school rivalries.

It looks to me like the lack of devotion to the neighborhood school has a lot of similarities with the way the American Dream has been twisted by aspirational thinking. It used to be that people wanted their community to prosper, they formed groups to help the needy, turned out to raise barns. But the Horatio Alger myth took over, the belief that I can become rich and avoid the pain and misery of poverty became enough, and when leavened with the Reaganistic tendency to blame poverty on its victims, it freed me of any sense of responsibility to fellow humans. Likewise with the schools, if we can just get our kid in that special school, then who gives a damn about the neighborhood school?

Who? People who learned some history, perhaps. People who understand that a small educated elite and ignorant masses never turns out well for a democracy (or, eventually, even for the few, as the educated are always purged when the proles put a dictator in the driver's seat).

Your neighborhood school is important, and it needs you. If you're not happy with it, do something to make it better. Don't just turn your back. 

20 March, 2011

Cowboys and Indians

When I was a kid, kids played Cowboys and Indians. I think this was outlawed in the 1990s, when the Right employed a strategy of allowing political correctness legislation to pass to keep the Left from focusing on substantial issues, and of course to provide fodder for ads aimed at swing states in Middle America.

There were no real rules, but the basic idea was for the cowboys to fight the Indians. Where I lived, the cowboys were supposed to win, but I imagine it was different in Pine Ridge. Anyway, it was hard to recruit Indians in most of their former territory. Even my friend (maybe especially him) who was half Cherokee wanted to be on the Right side.

It was Left to the oddballs to play Indian. So I did. I've always liked the underdog, and thought wilderness acumen and stealth seemed cooler than swagger and gunplay. Not that I was anti-violent, the flaming arrow attack also appealed to me.

It was an ignorant take on Indians and their cultures, but I'm not gonna pretend that I was enlightened at that age (or now, for that matter). Someone, maybe years after I write this, is running across the word "Indian" again and again, and getting pissed. But all the Indians I know call themselves Indians, and they never told me not to. As I write this, there is no I-word. Maybe I'll look back at this later as I do now on the noble savage of my kid consciousness. Embarrassed, maybe, but not to the point of pretending it never happened.

I write this sitting in a hotel full of cowboys. Not kids looking for Indians, but adults in their middle ages and beyond, maybe looking for childhood, or maybe just loving horses. I dunno if there's a rodeo in town or what, but there's too many cowboy boots and hats concentrated in this here inn (even by Eastern Washington standards) for a former fake Indian to feel comfortable.

I've never quite grasped the cowboy macho mystique. Big man hats nattily kempt, spotless western shirts with mother of pearl buttons, all in all no different from the cowboy in the Village People. Boots treadless and no damn good for walking around (as they walk around, while the horses stand around in trailers). Maybe most of all, though, the costumish facial hair. Big walrusy moustaches, waxy curly handlebars,... All kinds of weird stuff, but never a regular beard, and definitely not a wild-man facial forest like my own, which I'm thinking is what most of the real ones actually had.

Neither the Indians nor cowboys are wild anymore, but maybe I am.

I am in this hotel full o' cowboys because I have been visiting the Indians. Turns out I coulda stayed in the longhouse, but I didn't know, and didn't want to impose. The reason for the visit is the first foods ceremony, when the tribe gathers to honor the foods, the roots and berries and fish and four-leggeds that feed them. If the foods (who are also medicine, who are also the boss) are not honored, they may not return. If they have not been thanked, it is not right to demand more of them.

One thing I heard the elders say again and again is that the ancient ways are important, that they ensure survival, but that the children must understand and embrace their culture, know their language, respect their heritage.

In other words, many of the same sentiments that the cowboys try to pass on to their progeny. Do they see it that way, or am I a sympathizer to the Other side?

19 March, 2011


After Wisconsin's governor saw to it that corporations got $140,000,000 in welfare (I believe he termed it tax relief and incentives), after he proposed plugging the resulting budget gap with public worker benefits, he claimed that it had nothing to do with union busting. Before his legislature unveiled this lie by passing a bill that did nothing to fix the budget, but did strip public workers of collective bargaining rights, workers and rank and file Wisconsin Americans took to the capitol to voice their outrage. You should've seen them when the bill was passed. They were pissed. People across the country agreed, and rallied in their capitols.

Last time I did anything like that was when the US invaded Grenada, a petty little flexing of American might, a trouncing trumped up for hawks bored since Vietnam, but too chicken-shit to take on Castro, or East Germany. I was in a college in DC, and we took to the street immediately, protesting and getting on the news (while a gaggle of non-reporters in dark sunglasses and trenchcoats took our photos). Larger rallies followed,but it didn't stop it. And I figured, if it ain't gonna work on a piddly-ass invasion like this, with no oil or gold, then protests sure as hell wouldn't stop a real war. So I sat out subsequent US Government sponsored violence on Panama, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Iraq and all the other places where our anti-Communist strongmen had either lost or cut us out of the revenue stream.

I mean, people so desperately opposed to economic fairness that they would sell arms to the Ayatollah's henchmen who had kidnapped, terrorized and killed American citizens are sure as hell not going to take marching orders from a bunch of freaks. Unless it was specifically my presence that would have stopped the Bush Dynasty's wars (theirs because yeah, Reagan was a puppet and no, Clinton's kicking of Serbian fascist ass does not seem so unjust), unless somehow my moral lassitude fucked up chance for peace, then I'd have to say I was right.

Maybe I'm just the kind of jaded lazy citizen who doesn't care that much about what's happening in some far-flung place. Or maybe afraid of having too thick a dossier at the FBI or Young Americans for Freedom.

During the brief flailing after the Soviets called it quits, when real enemies called in sick, the new world order considered fingering drugs (not the anti-communist cocaine, mind you, but easily discovered weed grown by liberals), eco-terrorists, and illegal aliens before Boom!, 9/11 provided a convenient target. Because if a crew of Saudis attacks your financial center and your military HQ on the same day and kill thousands of people, then obviously you have a bottomless well of funding to attack your anti-Communist Afghanis gone sour, and uh, ummm.... Iraq. Yeah. Disgruntled former employee Saddam has to many embarrassing secrets.

The smart hawks, having squeezed what gold they could from the privatization of military action and secured a few pipelines, are ready for the pendulum to wing back to domestic action. Namely, end this travesty where the top few percent control 95% of the wealth, and bring it up to 99% (or as the former athaletes would prefer, 110%). Turns out that foreign war is not an effective long term business model: it leaves you open to being played by the North Koreans when you are busy dousing mid-east fires, the invadees eventually figure out the game and insist on being paid,... and as recent Bush-buddy Gaddafi reminds us, all sorts of complications can arise.

So the plutocracy turns its attention on the US of A. Business has done what it could, gaining passage of trade deals to make outsourcing profitable, buying favorable tax legislation, knocking down any meaningful regulation, inventing profitable gambles. And maybe the gambling didn't work out that great as a sustainable model, either. Millions of people will not be able to buy a home or other valuable collateral worth repossessing for a long time. Their teats are dry. And that measly $2,000,000 TARP-funded bonus can be gone in a single purchase.

Turning on the public workers, in retrospect, was completely foreseeable. Americans love drugs too much to disrupt the markets with a drug war, and the concept that a hippie girl in a redwood constitutes a security threat has never tested well with focus groups (women tend to have soft spot for defenders of nature, and men have a hard spot for hippy chicks). Most all of the other unions have been broken, the industrial backbone of labor is prone before the financiers, just begging to keep a few jobs stateside.

But government workers remain unionized for the most part, and targeting them makes good bidness sense. Step 1 was the appeal to free market values among the general public and greed among the government workers that drew their pension funds from safe and boring investments and into more volatile financial markets, where the people who knew how to play that game made off with plenty of dough.

Gambling losses affected public pension funds along with everything else, and the sacred tax cuts for the wealthy choke revenue to states, so along comes the GOP to say, "We cannot pay for that pension anymore, we're broke. You have to settle for less." And for that matter less pay until you retire, fewer jobs (which sometimes miraculously reappear in the private sector, where the Owning class gets a cut of every hour worked), and, if the plutocratcy has its way, no rights to question the bargain.

The real goal may not be the money at all--government workers don't make that much. Anecdotes proliferate of the lavish benefits, the princely pension (still just a tiny fraction of what an inept CEO makes, but who does math anymore?), and the double dipping, but believe me, the real greedheads are too smart to believe that chump change like that is affecting the bottom line. Skipping the Iraq war would have paid for all those costs through the rest of the century.

More profitable is the proposition of making government "small enough to drown in the bathtub," in the words of that yammering yahoo of Yankee-ism, Grover. Lay off, underpay, vilify, and mistreat the workers who teach you kids, who build your streets and police them, who keep poison out of your water and shit out of your food, ... Push constantly for weakened consumer protections, loosened standards, defunded oversight. Let the Big Boys run loose.

You know where that ends up. We the People get nothing. The people are pitted against each other, to the ends and amusement of the few who own it all.

I dont want that to happen.

So it befalls me to take to the street once again. On February 26, 2011, before Wisconsin legislators cast their vote against the workers, I joined 2500 other people to support those workers, and to tell Washington's legislature that we won't abide being cheated like that. I'm proud to say that both of my state reps turned out to support us workers.

Here's the truth math. Times are tough, and I am lucky to have a job. I do it the best I can. I agreed to do it in return for certain pay and benefits, and have already agreed to contribute 25% more for health insurance, frozen cost of living increases for half decade (= Loss), and (were I not lucky enough to be in an agency that saved the required amount in other ways) the furloughs (= 3% paycut) hitting other state workers. Not to mention the 10% of my agency who flat out lost their jobs (that's officially a Decimation, folks), and the masses who got bumped down a pay grade or three.

We are the small fraction of the population that takes care of the public domain. Most of us love what we do, and are good a it. We just wanna have a decent life, and society can afford it, especially if we were not dragged down with war debt, corporate bailouts, and the subsidized extraction of pubic resources for private profit, socializing only the costs of the inevitable complications and clean-ups.

If we'd wanted more money, we'd have gone into the private sector. Hell, if we wanted money we'd have been something other than teachers, social workers (guess who's dealing with the victims of rabid capitalism), scientists, and cleaners of everything from your shitty flushings to the halls of justice.

People are finally getting to the point where they see the injustice. Public workers are among them, but the movement is much broader. Where there is no justice, there will not be peace. It would be wise to make some adjustments to the economy while the ruckus is just people with signs and songs. Give in to some of the slogans before things get ugly.
Right now the plutocrats are beginning to feel some resistance (ergo "Ohm"). The smart among them (there must be some) realize that Winner Takes All is not a sustainable business model, either. They look at Plutocracies threatened and falling, see the choice of Mubarak's retreat or Gaddafi's bloody civil war.

I don't want that, and I hope they don't either.

Equinoctal Resolution Evaluation

I figured that the day the earth swings round to spring in my hemisphere, when we pass that tipping point of sunlight, that makes a good time to reflect on those resolutions I made.

Well first of all it ain't even the Equinox yet. I didn't plan it, but here I am on the penultimate day, Equinox Eve, writing this, so I'm alright on the not procrastinating bit.

And I have cut back on coffee, without sacrificing that sweet sweet caffeine. Thanks, low tech stovetop espresso pot.

Doing more stuff myself? I've planted sno-peas and canned enough marmalade, apple butter, and marmelade to survive on sammiches for a months. Recon missions for mason jars and garden plots continue.

I also vowed to "Be a thorn." I rant aplenty in this here blog, for all the good that does (none, other than maybe saving my kids from having to hear it). I've also started writing to my reps in the state legislature, and have gone to a couple of rallies at the capitol to let the rest of them know that regular people are tired of government of the people, by the politicians, and for the corporations. It's been heartening to see how many people feel the same, and we're not gonna shut up.

The one I've had the most trouble with is spreading the love. Thorniness' ascendancy trumped the peace and love stuff.

The last one was to 'follow through,' and for the first time ever, I think I've done that.

Now I can slack for the rest of the year.

18 March, 2011

Just the other day back then

Just the other day I was griping about the cold rain, 'bout how I would rather be done with that.

That very Saint Patrick's Eve, the Penultimacy gods threw forth a double rainbow outside my window. Dinner was yummy, life was good.

The next morning, seeing peas popping upside, I could tell that frost had turned tail.

Now I sit streaming into my ears this summer's Camper Van Beethoven concert thought I'd missed.

And apologizing for being so cranky about a little rain.

14 March, 2011

Blessed be the Falls

I escaped the Palouse the day before the winds whipped up.

Which is a good thing, as any veteran of the winds there can tell you. Me? I've only been there once, yet I now have the gall to write about it. 

Hills blown down round, no one of them anything big by northwest standards, but still dwarfing the hell out of any human, who can only clamber up to see another horizon, same but different. Outside of riverine unfurlings, the land in summer was hot and dry, in winter frozen solid. Many's the homestead begun well that has dried up, reduced to a smudge on the landscape, a rickety thicket of locust and boards.

The tribes knew when the time was to go dig roots or find a herd, and made their way through this land of loess on trails connecting hundreds of generations. A 160 acre homestead turned out not to be a going concern, but wheat farming on a massive scale seems to be working out, vineyards are moving in, and the land is tattooed with furrows and fencelines. This too shall pass, but it will take a while to completely erase.

The Palouse River cuts through this country, and there's a state park there where you can see a big waterfall, the whole volume of the river chuting through a deep notch near one bank. Coming up from the Columbia and Snake, it's a relief to see a river wild, flowing free, dropping over geology, not a spillway. The falls arc down in a white stream onto a pool hugged by cliffs, a hole in the landscape. Away from the froth, the water is shady and protected from whatever winds may be whipping about up top. Naturally, the pool has a uterine shape.

So of course I have this desire to go down there, but marmot warriors guard the place. Fiercer than the rabbit in Monty Python's Holy Grail. One charged up and gave me a good chattering. I backed down.

Even from behind the fence, the falls roar calls a smile to my face. Mist-fed ferns and mosses soft on walls, embracing falls surging into a ray of sun before thundering down deep in the shadow. Fecundity, guarded by marmots,...who I will eventually outsmart.


08 March, 2011

Less Than 140 Characters

Text and tweet away, twit. The cellco gets $20/month, and you get tiny telegrams, stop. UR an idiot, and post vapidity, stop.

05 March, 2011


I saw this the other day, an artifact for the future, but from my own past, so too modern for my taste.

I was on the Island again, gales having blown away my chaces of getting there last week when I could have seen some snow. This trip was with one of the tribe's biologists and archaeologist, and we made a circuit of the meadow, which is saturated now, and talked about what kinds of things might be done to restore the natural ecology. ("Stand back and wait," I want to say, but people want to see something happen in their lifetime, preferably before they are old, maybe this biennium before funding is diverted to cover a war or corporate welfare.)

One thing that tribes and scientists and land managers seem to agree on is that the dike cutting off the estuary ought to come out. Of course, the dike was first built in the 1870s, and therefore is a historic resource, something whose preservation should be considered.

But winter storms in the last two years have begun to erode the thing, revealing that most of the dike is not that old. I'd figured 1960s or 1970s, and on this trip, the latter and later of these seems right. I had a comb like the one in the photo. When I was small, they looked very similar, but the teeth were brittle, snapping off and allowing channels of snag to slip through. These must've been thrown away in droves, and will be abundant in the archaeological record. But the one show is "Unbreakable," rubberized or something. Boys carried them in their hip pockets into the 1980s maybe. I stopped paying in attention when I stopped combing my hair in '79 or so (a streak that continues!), but I am pretty sure these became uncool not long after.

The biologists were a little impressed by this deduction, and maybe in awe of my nerdiness and ability to ply my trade in such shallow waters.

One day, when the dike is removed, I'll be there, scampering around the backhoe, rooting in the backdirt. The comb, like the ruler I found last time comes from the recent history of the place, when there was a school for boys. The fill that was pushed here encapsulated some of their history, from a time when I was a boy too. Maybe I'll find evidence of the brittle-Unbreakable sequence, maybe some toys or school gear, maybe Piggy's broken glasses or a conch shell...