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31 August, 2013

What Smell?

I have a friend who was looking for a place to live in the Portland-Vancouver sphere of influence, and found himself in the town of Camas, Washington. A massive pulp mill there pumps out stinky steam in vast volumes, at least on some days, and he wondered if this was the case all the time. So he asked a local, "Does it smell like this all the time?"

And the local said, "What smell?"

We get used to the local stinks and our auto-aromatic effluvia. Some people cannot stand it and move, or slather themselves in some masking odor, but often as not, the nose and mind conspire to erase the stench we cannot escape. It moves so far into the background that we cannot tell it smells; it dissipates so we can get on with life.

Recognizing the stank of someone else's town is easy, sensing the pee smell in an apartment where cats dwell challenges noone but the cat lady, and this adds to our perception that the townspeople may be brain-damaged by the smoke-stack blightning and that the cat lady is deranged. But she feels normal, and the people of Camas go about lives like most of us; they don't spend their days bemoaning a sub-standard life, as far as I can tell.

Which makes me wonder, what stinks in my life? What is it that people smell, or see, or hear about me that is odious or off-putting, but that I have no clue about? I can guess at a few: I sweat a lot and am no stranger to the aromatic aftermath, I speak caustic and radical ideas,...but there must be things about me that I am smell-blind or sight-deaf to, things that feel normal to me, but to others are offensive.

We all have our Camas smokestacks. Some people may pity us for them, while others hold their nose, and still others flee in disgust. Sometimes, we can and should shut down the mill, make changes to eliminate offal odors and improve ourselves. But our ability to say "What smell?" can be a positive adaptation, an ability to live in the moment and get done what needs doing, rather than engaging in what will end up being an endless and ultimately futile campaign of eliminating all odors, or banishing every quirk and imperfection. Places and people differ, and it would be boring if everyone and all places were universally acceptable.

20 August, 2013

Cocktail Attire

That is one weird cock-tail.

Due to some oversight, I was invited to my high school reunion. They must've forgotten the omnidirectional scorn that characterized my relationship with most everyone I graduated with. Or, because another member of the Virginia Diaspora (a legally married lesbian!?!) tipped me off.

I did show up for the sesquidecadal reunion, for the same reason that most people show up to such things: spite. "Yes, preppie kids who stuck around town and do boring shit and glom onto our parents' revenue stream," I thought, "I am a fucking archaeologist, Hawai`i."

Well, no more. Now I am a fucking archaeologist in the Pacific Northwest. Which will sound less cool to them, but only due to their ignorance. And I am happy enough to stay home and skip their forced revelry.

Which includes: drinks at a place named "Bar Louie," (turns out to be a franchise chain, one that did not even exist when we were in high school, located at an "upscale" mall that was a farm at the time; in so being, it is a multi-dimensional  tribute to shallowness and land-rape), a football game (we were a new high school, booted around by every other school, but I guess we're supposed to forget that), and a reunion at the country club (apparently, it is no longer segregated).

For the latter, we are advised to come clad in "cocktail wear." According to the internet, this is a clothes-class I do not own. I do have a suit, but someone has to die for me to wear it, and it is probably full of moth holes by now anyway. Fixation with the idea that there are "correct" outfits is one of the main things that turned me off to these people in the first place. I'd have thought they'd have grown out of it, but apparently not.

And I have not, it is now clear, grown out of my disdain for the money-worshipping fools of western Henrico County. Pose at your upscale bar. Go to the football game as a bloc, and pretend you were never the jealous backbiting bunch you were. Live it up at the country club while darkies and the wastrel sons of millionaires serve up drunken dreams. I'll be home, or in the field, doing something worthwhile instead.

18 August, 2013

A Day at the Beach, in Garish Color

The Happy Flotsam of Little Oak Bay

It wasn't a rock lobster; it was a rock.

A rock with an infinity symbol, that is.

12 August, 2013

My Sporadic Ritual of Cellphonicide

My flip-phone may be gone, but this shirt is forever.

It would be easy to blame the occasional destruction of cellphones on my work. If I just told people that it was dropped into a bottomless lava tube, or drowned in a Cascadian stream, or even dropped in some remote spot where the next person to see it will be an excited archaeologist (who happens to be a cousin of President Bush VI), they would believe it.

Other than one that was swampified on a wapato hunt (I'd held a camera over my head for hours, while the phone was in my pocket, in the mud, so it was a stupid waste), however, the culprit has generally been the washing machine, into which I'd thrown the phone, again in the pocket. Maybe if I'd had one of those phone holsters, accepted awkward accoutrements in the name of protecting the phone, but no, I liked the pocket of my fake Carhart work pants, the skinny one on the side that's so convenient for a phone. Two fingers reach in and chopstick the phone up, an instant of weightless apex, then it falls into my palm and the thumb flips it open. Tactile satisfaction that became one of those small rituals we don't even recognize as rituals.

That one will be no more, because after destroying my most recent phone, the cheapest phone they have now is the kind with the little keyboard that slides out. Not as fun, so far. I mean, it's not smart and there's no touch screen, so I can still embarrass my kids with it, but it's just not the same as flipping, which for someone my age is so layered in meta and ironicool. As a kid, Star Trek's communicator was the future. As an adult, the future arrived, and a huge percentage of first-calls on first-generation flip-phones included a Shatneresque pose and the words "Beam me up." Now, those times and tech are archaic (the actual flip-phone era, that is, the Trek ones still being acceptable on a certain level to younger hipsters). But I digress, and recognize that I am in way over my head trying to talk Trek.

No telling how long this phone will last. I don't think I'll miss it like the flipper, which is not all that much, to be honest, flip-phones being a flimsy substitute for the old Nokia brick.

The Brick, in Period-appropriate Resolution
Compared to the flip-ritual, the less frequent (and thus, more momentous) ritual of cellphonicide embodies much more. Like the drift into reminisce I got into above, a lamentation that the consumption economy leads always to new models, more features, more intrusion, a big shallow network in which nobody is worth more than a few seconds' attention and the ads will not cease. Killing the phone may have been an accident, but as with any religious act, retroactive imbuement with significance is allowed, and it can be ruled a sacrifice. The disdain for the dead phone, stripped and recycled (resurrected, perhaps, in some 3rd World place, but that's not my doing) is also a statement: I don't care about this gadget and its demise.

Of course, I do end up going out and getting another phone. I'm no John Henry (especially since I have no more Nokia, which oculd be used to hammer a jack). At the store, I subject the young staff who actually feel sorry for my backwardness to a cold luddite demand that they get me something that's cheap as shit and goes on my prepaid plan. No contract, no data plan, no upgraded phone. No small talk foreplay to the upsell, get me my archaic phone so I can get back to embarrassing my kids.

Losing the phone means losing the numbers stored up on its card, and though I could just ask the NSA to tell me, getting a new phone means I'll seek out people again. Contacting them some other way and asking for their number again, renewing the connections, and talking with some people whose voices I've not heard for a while when I do finally find them. It used to be easier, because I used to remember numbers instead of making my phone do it, or, if you can believe it, I would write them down. Also, there are the connections that don't continue. For one last time, I think about that person I don't think about anymore, or someone I do think about turns out to be out of reach, no number I can get at. That's the difference between evanescent reminisce and a fistful of wistfulness.

So, here I go again. My number's the same--in case you're reading this and know me--give me a call. I'll reconnect, and enjoy that. I'll celebrate the death of another phone (forgot to mention how this one went: it fell out while I was at the county landfill, never to be seen again), and shake my fist at the demons Verizon, 4g, and Smartphone. I'll have fuzzy nostaligia for old tech.

Then I'll wait til next time.

09 August, 2013

It's the Watershed

Thanks to stevenl on olyblog for posting this down-Deschutes shot. He thinks the postcard dates to the mid-1970s, a time when the Olympia Brewing Company still ran strong, and was so proud of it's beige industrial sprawl they issued this image, rather than the charming old brick building.

Olympia's motto, of course, was "It's the Water," and we do have great water, our artesian wells are famous, delicious, and clean. But surface water is an other story, a sad one, as this shot illustrates.

In the foreground, the Deshutes River, in summertime flaccid flow. Could just be a dead-calm day, but I feel like there's an oil sheen. Maybe not.

As far as the river is visible, the brewery takes up the right bank. Since I'm too lazy to track it down, I don't know what they may have flushed into the river as part of normal operations, but up until about the date of this postcard, when Dick Nixon signed the Clean Water Act (what a liberal!), people and corporations did dump all kinds of things in the water. All this view shows is a treeless bank and acres of impervious surface, which when the rain kicks in will dump huge amounts of runoff compared to what the natural watershed would have, not to mention the sediment, railway grime, and other trappings of civilization.

Which the river then delivers to,...Wait, I cannot see. It disappears on the other side of the Capital Boulevard bridge, past more brewery buildings, over the spillway...I mean Falls, and finally past the old brew house, Olympia's most famous ruin. There's a park on the other bank now, and the old brewery is abandoned. You can kid yourself into thinking it's returning to nature as long as you deafen yourself to the I-5 din.

But really, the Deschutes is about to empty into Capitol Lake. Or, as stevenl calls it, the Fetid Lake Of Doom, or FLOD. Flotsam and sediment from the watershed settle out here. In fact, the muck contains the remains of Little Hollywood (Olympia's Depression-era Hoovertown), and before that a literally marginalized Chinese community, I think. The artificial lake relies on a dam that transformed the original estuary into a pond (yep, the reflection of capitol and trees sure is pretty) with a sluice being the only way out. So the estuary gets buried and eutrophies (yep, the low tides and summer algae blooms sure are ugly).

The postcard more or less hides The Isthmus, site of many a battle in this millenium. Positions on Isthmus development cause the city council to change, parts of it were Occupied, it is home to Olympia's second most famous ruin: the Mistake on the Lake. Walk around the lake, and you'll see signs explaining various positions in the Debate of the Lake: dredge it, restore the estuary, do nothing...There is no sign saying "Isthmus be Hell."

Meanwhile, the lake keeps filling with muck, and the water keeps flowing into Budd Inlet. The head of Budd is divided into West Bay, which is where the Deschutes comes in, and East Bay, which is where a culvert let's loose what's left of Indian and Moxlie Creeks. Most of the city between East and West is built on dredging spoils and fill.

West Bay is undergoing a transformation these days, as the buildings and piers of yesteryear's manufacturing concerns disappear. Some of it is undergoing restoration, as far as a railway embankment can be restored to a natural state. But people are not about to abandon the waterfront entirely, ceding it to nature. So pockets of "beach nourishment" gravel and chained-down "large woody debris" have to coexist with armored shorelines in a state that I will now call Percivaltory, after Percival's Landing on the waterfront.

In the postcard, it looks like there may be log booms in the bay. No more, although the POO (Port Of Olympia) is hopping, putting trucked-in logs on trans-Pacific ships. The watershed's wood (state timber excepted) flows all the way to China. 

06 August, 2013

Carto Art

I rarely link outside of this blog, but I ran across a post about an artist creating a map of NY City from scrap-paper sketches drawn by strangers when he asks for directions. See more here.

There are so many aspects of this that appeal to me. People whip out smartphones, and the artist asks for a hand-drawn version. People reveal how they make sense of space, what the landmarks are, and how they navigate. A mosaic of discrete pieces makes a weird whole (in which there are probably weird holes). It's another form of cartography. And so on. Map geeks rejoice.


These goggles make my nose look big. Please take them off.
 Long ago, a fluffy puppy joined a daughter in the house. Ten years, another daughter, and a cross-country move later, Daisy dog is still fluffy. People always think she's a puppy, even though she's mellowed out a lot, and does a lot of this:

For some reason nobody can remember, much less make sense of, the plan had been to go to the shelter and adopt a cat. All the felines were tweekers, or on a smoke break, or hazing new arrivals, but then a pack o puppies hit the floor, and soon enough a girl was headed home with a puppy in her arms.

She (the puppy) turned out to be--stop me if you've heard this before--the best dog ever. Smart, nice, pretty easy to train and to live with. Instead of growing up to be the Labrador mutt the shelter staff thought, she looks a lot like what people here call a mid-sized Alaskan Eskimo dog. Curly tail like a sled dog, but with much softer fur. Fur like the softest wool, in fact, fur like the famous (and allegedly extinct) Salish Wool Dog, which was used by Indians in the Pacific NW to make blankets. We've woven (OK, twisted and plaited) some of her fur from the Spring haircut that always makes people say "Ohhhh, cute puppy!," and yeah, it makes good wool.

But planning ahead to wash her at the right time, save a few years' worth of fur, and actually weave anything is more than me or anyone descended from me may be able to achieve. Salish Sea tribes apparently raised flocks of these dogs, placing them on islands all summer, where they would be safe from predators and interbreeding with hunting dogs and village curs. That, and a general description of dogs much like mine, is about all I can find out about the breed, but I have to assume that this wool-dog husbandry was complex, and had it's mavens. Absent real info, I speculate: shepherding may have been a convenient way to send pain-in-the-ass teenage boys away from polite society, wool-dogs may have inhabited prairies where root-foods grew to keep the rodents in check, mind wanders.

In any case, it had to be cute in extreme. A bunch of fluffy white canines cavorting in an island meadow, pouncing on voles and each other, playing, and of course, napping in the sun.

My puppy is not part of a flock. She'll tolerate some dogs, ignore a lot more, and occasionally snarl down the law on the ones stupid enough to question her reign. She is part of a small flock of girls, trained by her, who do her bidding (mostly). Her fur is in our furniture and clothes (and more food than we'd like to think), but not woven into a blanket. Being a pound puppy, she's not going to have any pups of her own, so there will be no flock o' Daisies. It's sad to know that despite her eternal youthful looks, she is not immortal, and there will never be a replacement, but we enjoy the time we have with her.

03 August, 2013

Tendril is the Day

Thank you, Orange Survey Pinflag, for the backdrop.

Cucumber tendrils, wiry spirals reaching out for a hold, trying to seize the day. Tender is the night? Well, tendril is the day.

I love watching the tendrils explore thin air, riding the breeze and climbing the sunray until the coil touches something. Tender no more, the tip runs around the target a half dozen loops in no time. As it holds fast, it flexes, and gets stronger while the next tendril reaches higher. The vine won't climb without this.

But I didn't intend to get philosophical about it. I just like the orange and green, and tendrils look cool.