Like a Virgin

You always remember your first. Oh, I’d had others, sexy German coupes and cute Japanese gas misers, but they were never truly mine, they were beholden to another. I found myself carless at eighteen, and needing transport, on a very low budget. My Dad, he knew a guy from the airline. His Mom had passed and he had the proverbial ‘only driven to church on Sunday’ car, almost twenty feet long and certainly squatting on valuable driveway real estate. He wanted it gone, money changed hands, title signed, and just like that, I was a car owner. Like a lot of virgins, I took his sales pitch at face value, something I would soon regret.

A massive piece of domestic iron hadn’t been how I pictured my first, but the price was right, and I then drove a car with white line tires, a landau top, and rear wheel drive. The 1967 Chevrolet Caprice Classic is a microcosm of the society that spawned it, a Brady Bunch-sized automotive expression of 1960’s American excess. Three manspreading bros could sit across the back seat and never touch, manliness intact. My friends and I chucked all our gear into the trunk, it was so large it swallowed 200 cm slalom skis with room to spare.

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Even the terminology used to describe it is so period perfect in its grandiosity. It had a ‘Turbo Fire’ 327 cubic inch Chevy small-block V-8 engine, which had no turbo. It sported a ‘Turbo Hydramatic’ 3-speed automatic transmission, which had nothing to do with a turbo. The new “Astro Ventilation system” consisted of adding dash vents and removal of the wing vents. Push-button presets on the AM radio were a big deal, because you didn’t have to turn the dial to every station.

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Instrumentation was pretty sparse by today’s standards. An optimistic 120 mph speedo sat between the gas gauge and a clock, paired with an AM-only radio. A period advertisement lauds the smooth operation of the ball-bearing equipped ash tray, “To keep tempers calm.” Can’t have Dad throwing yet another anger fit over a sticky ash tray, can we?

chevrolet 1967 caprice hardtop sedan

The car that gave me freedom quickly became the taking car. New tires, plus a pair of snows for the rear pilfered my puny bank account. I redid the rear brakes, a nightmare learning experience never to be repeated. I put new spark plugs, spark plug wires, ignition points, condenser, and distributor cap in her. I optimistically cleaned the carburetor at my Dad’s advice. Air filter, fuel filter, heater hoses, radiator hoses, oil filter, coolant, all replaced in my crash course on car maintenance.

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Inevitably, it’s what you don’t replace that fails next, and I was soon the proud owner of a new Sears Die-Hard battery, after my steed refused to giddy-up one chill Seattle morning. But after our initial courtship squabbles, we settled into a lovely long-term relationship, my humongous family car and I. I washed and waxed her, and checked the air and treated the tire sidewalls regularly. I learned to change headlights, tail lights, and turn signal bulbs. I kept a growing toolbox with spares in the trunk.

I drove daily to school at Highline College near Federal Way, and to my afterschool job making sandwiches at a little deli in Des Moines, WA. I drove the three and half hours one-way back to Portland, OR, several times a month to see family and friends. Memories of gas lines and the 70’s oil crisis fresh in my mind, I’d proudly nurse almost 21 mpg out of her in all-highway driving.

I dated an introverted, shy, beautiful dark-haired girl from Des Moines, WA. I met her in my Norwegian class. Her car was sensible, small, and Japanese, so we’d usually take my car. She’d sit in the center of the bench seat as I drove, smiling shyly. Our portable rolling living room heard personal stories, philosophical discussions, and a lot of nonverbal communication. It was large, comfortable, and a space where we could be alone together.

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US 26 in Portland during ash fall

When Mount Saint Helens erupted again, this time sending ash into Portland, I was staying with my brother in Beaverton, briefly before moving to Arizona. I made an air cleaner cover out of pantyhose to keep the ash out of my engine. I mused over how to best clean the ash off the paint without creating a thousand scratches. I missed the top of my mountain, that I was supposed to climb and ski the year it blew up.

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Boom. Oregonian Photos ^^

It’s hard to appreciate what it was like to drive cars like this, especially as a young driver. Your have to develop a high level of comfort with imprecision. The General Motors ‘B’ platform the car was based on dates back to 1926. Thankfully, nobody makes cars like this anymore, and for good reason. The front suspension was so primitive, with under-damped shocks and coil springs, as was the leaf-spring rear. Over repeated bumps, the suspension would ‘pack-up’ and become ineffective at absorbing more bumps. It’s anemic V8 (by today’s standards) was still a large, powerful and torquey motor. Body roll was epic, cornering prowess was clearly an afterthought, with bias ply tires and soft springs.

Even with studded snows, it was a barely-guided missile in the snow, yet I took it repeatedly to the mountain. I carried ‘starter fluid’, a mixture of surely carcinogenic highly volatile solvents to spray into the carb on a cold day to help it wake up. I carried bags of sand in the trunk for weight and traction aid. The number of near misses and improbable successes grew over time.

1960’s American cars were born of incredible ‘slop’, not the high-tolerance computer-guided design and manufacturing of today. Worn wheel bearings manifested as oscillation in the front end. Overly hot brakes on road trips manifested as weak-to-no brakes. Yet, there’s a method to such overt sloppiness. Your car drives less like a tense German autobahn burner, jiggering over every expansion joint of the freeway, and more like a land yacht, sailing down the calm seas of I-5 Southbound. I’d bring a few 12-packs of Coors (not sold in Oregon at the time, so my friends thought that was a big deal), point the nose South, and surf my way down I-5 to Oregon, jauntily singing along to pop tunes on the AM radio.

All good things come to an end, and my girl’s ending was both sad and spectacular. Visiting Oregon in the Spring, I was driving up Highway 26 at night to St. Vincent’s Hospital, to see a high school friend who was laid up from a motorcycle accident. I blame the concert I went to the night before, or just my fatigue, or the torrential rains. Hell, I guess at some level, I blame the designers. New construction had started to reroute the Barnes road underpass, changing its gentle curve to a rapidly decreasing radius one as you exited the freeway. I came in too hot in the rain, and slid through the corner, fighting to avoid swapping ends.

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As I looped back underneath the freeway, I pulled it almost back straight, giving it throttle and hanging on for dear life. The road had other ideas, as new construction had left a six-inch ledge to my left, and my rear wheels dropped over it. The effect of crossing the uneven pavement was immediate and spectacular, as the nose changed direction and slammed into the concrete abutment under the freeway. The rear whipped around and followed suit, as Detroit iron met Oregon concrete with a resounding crash and prolonged scraping. The hood, fenders, and door buckled, headlights smashed out on the left side, and the entire left side of the car crunched. I hit my arm on the window pillar and thought it was probably broken (it wasn’t, just badly bruised).

Amazingly, the engine was still running, and I was able to limp the car a few more blocks to the hospital parking lot, where I parked it in a far corner away from sight, nose-in. Steam hissed out of the radiator, as the engine made really unhealthy sounds in its death-throes. My steed had breathed its last, barely a year into our relationship, all that effort and money gone into a smoking wreck.

I thanked her for protecting me. Two years prior, I had nearly died in a car accident, hitting two telephone poles, spidering a windshield with my face and being trapped in a burning car. So, with no small gratitude, I cleaned out the glove box and put my things into the trunk, then walked to the hospital to see my friend and get my arm checked out.

The next day it was sunny and dry. I’d called my Dad in the morning, as I needed his help and to borrow his ‘extra’ pickup truck for awhile. He’d arranged for salvage and a tow truck to meet me to sign over the title. The side I’d crunched showed massive amounts of body-filler (a.k.a. ‘Bondo), for a car that had ‘never been crashed’. The paint under it was the original bright Chevy Blue, not the dull Chevy green I always had been told was ‘original factory paint’. My Dad’s co-worker had lied through his teeth, curiously selling his honesty to make a $500 sale, a bad trade in my mind.

I ran my hand down the long creased line of the front fender on the passenger side, fondly remembering the seas we’d sailed. Our voyage was a short one, in the relative scheme of time, and like a lot of virgins, my first wasn’t at all what I expected, our relationship born of deceit and dishonesty. My naivety and inexperience had allowed me to be taken advantage of. I’d learned that despite hard work and good planning, you can lose what’s dear to you in an instant of bad judgement.

I wasn’t a virgin anymore, and I already had my eye on this really hot German girl with super high gas mileage. Still, you never forget your first, and today when I see one, I feel again the warmth of our tumultuous relationship and remember a year when everything felt new, strange, and kind of wonderful.

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Herman Creek

Herman Creek

Tears and ash fall into my lunch today
An Empress with her realm in flames, my creatures dying by the tens of thousands again
If not for my ribs and skin, my heart would surely fall of its own weight at my feet
I beseech, no, I beg of the Goddesses, please let this one be
Please let this jewel shine, please see it’s incomparable beauty persist
Please let the waters fall, please let the skies open and deliver salvation to our land
Please let tall cedars greet future visitors, strong and broad, unburnt
Please, if these things cannot be, please, please, please, let my creatures flee!
Please, PLEASE, do not make them pay for the actions of people who cannot see

 

2017-09-07 07_12_54-Map produced by Gmap4 from mappingsupport.com

 

During the Eagle Creek fire, thousands of acres burned, from Eagle Creek all the way West to Corbett.  During the first several days of the fire, it was pretty clear that Herman Creek had escaped the initial conflagration.  Then, it all changed as the wind shifted and the fires roared East, threatening Hood River and burning all the way to Mount Defiance and Starvation Ridge.  Herman Creek trail took a big hit, burning several miles into the interior, and up Groton Creek and Nick Eaton.  

I wrote this poem sitting in Portland, eating a burrito outside at lunch.  Ashes were falling in the hazy sunshine, choked with smoke from the Gorge. I think the determination that carried me through all of 2018, working in the burn damage on Herman Creek Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail, it was born that day.  Ten months later, the work largely completed, the trail was open and I did laps of all the PCT to HCT and in reverse, two 26 mile trips with 5700′ e.g. in two weeks.  For me, this poem truly encapsulates the hopelessness I felt back in September 2017, sitting miles away as the Gorge burned. 

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HCT and Nick Eaton to the right here, severely burned area.

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Nick Eaton Falls before the fire

The One Who Watches

When you burn my heart to ashes
I will renew it with unconditional love
When you exhaust my eyes with crying
I will look upon others with great kindness
When you smother my voice and I cannot speak
I will let my deeds speak in compassionate volumes
When you cover me in deep darkness
I will be the light that shines brightly
When you ravage my heart and mind with loss,
I will remember, I am not my heart or mind
When you try to deprive me of happiness
I will be the one who watches

#whenyourmomdies #poetry #grief #loss #michaelsinger

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THE LEGEND OF TSAGAGLALAL

THERE are several versions of the legend, but the one that was told to us by the Wishram people is as follows:

A woman had a house where the village of Nixluidix was later built. She was chief of all who lived in the region. That was a long time before Coyote came up the river and changed things and people were not yet real people.  After a time Coyote in his travels came to this place and asked the inhabitants if they were living well or ill. They sent him to their chief who lived up on the rocks, where she could look down on the village and know what was going on.

Coyote climbed up to the house on the rocks and asked “What kind of living do you give these people? Do you treat them well or are you one of those evil women?” “I am teaching them to live well and build good houses,” she said.

“Soon the world will change,” said Coyote, “and women will no longer be chiefs.” Then he changed her into a rock with the command, “You shall stay here and watch over the people who live here.”

All the people know that Tsagaglalal sees all things, for whenever they are looking at her those large eyes are watching them.

-“Stone Age on the Columbia River” by Emory Strong, 1959

Useful links:

https://www.oregonhikers.org/field_guide/She_Who_Watches_Hike

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This Tattered Landscape

Grief swells, crashing against the sand of my psyche
Waves pummelling the landscape of my heart
Topography altered in the hot, searing pain of loss
Mind, in retreat, too wary of the ongoing maelstrom
Warm memories of her shine light into the dark
I look across this tattered landscape of sadness
Eyes so tired of crying they can find no tears
I stumble in this unfamiliar, charred terrain
Following the path of the unknown, into the wilderness
Planting flowers of love in the ashen soil
Willing Spring’s celebration of life to heal my soul

#whenyourmomdies #grief #loss

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April’s Clouds

April’s Clouds

April brings fresh storms after the fool’s day
April rain pours into my heart, yet it does not dull the pain
April whispers ‘I’m here again, just as you knew I’d be’
April presents the pain of loss anew, so savagely
April demands the memories that must be seen
April’s unkindness lays manifest upon my psyche
April’s last words, ‘I love you, Susan’ falling in my ear
April rains stream from my eyes, inflaming my heart
April clouds are covering me, so I cannot see
April sun, oh, where are you?
April please just let me be, please let me preserve my sanity

Mothers Day 2017

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I love you, Mom.

#grief #loss T_T

Dance of the Wigglebutts

By the time I was ten years old, my parents fled the rapidly expanding suburbs of Beaverton, Oregon, moving to the remote hilly forests of Mason Hill, outside North Plains, Oregon. Our new family home sat on twenty-plus acres of forest, also abutting hundreds of acres of ‘Government Land’, a full section (640 acres) of forest managed by the BLM. The nearest store of any type was seven miles away, the West Union General Store. Our nearest neighbor was a working farm.Honestly, it was heaven.

I didn’t see it at ten, but it was the best place to grow up in. My Mom, seemingly always a step ahead of things, counteracted the impending boredom of her ex-burbian kids in various ways. In my case, she got me a perfect energetic match, an Australian Shepard and Border Collie mix puppy. I named my bundle of joy ‘Lucy’, the perfect bookend to our wandering orange tomcat, Charlie.Lucy_Dog_Aug_77Lucy at six years old in North Plains, OR ❤

I built a pen in my downstairs bedroom out of two-by-fours and plywood, put an old green wool blanket in it. I watched my new companion grow and grow, a bundle full of energy and love. For Lucy, everything was a game, every day a chance to roam and chase squirrels in the forest. We explored, she and I, for the joy of it, cementing my lifelong love of forests, nature, and dogs. She slept on my bed at night, chased me on my bike, and protected us from all enemies, real or imagined. She taught me unconditional love.

Lucy stayed with Mom when I went off to college, having tea parties with my younger sister, and being our loving family companion. Lucy gave me her best wiggle-butt dance when I came home to visit, my childhood companion overcome with joy just to be with me again.

How bout that 70’s kitchen?

My parents divorced, sold the house and land, shortly after I left. Lucy lived a long time, passing at eighteen years old after living her twilight years with my Mom, back in Rock Creek now, in front of a wood stove at night.

The last few years as hiking has consumed so much of my focus, passion, and time. I’ve hiked a lot with other people’s dogs. Tristan, Bernie, and Luc here at Cooper Spur trail belong to my friend Vicky, they are such beautiful trail companions. Vicky has six Aussies now, an astounding feat I still can’t quite wrap my head around. One is a heck of a lot of work, they’re so energetic, they need a lot of exercise.

IMG_20170820_184307_389Aussie Wrangling at Cooper Spur, 2017 ❤ ❤ ❤

IMG_20170821_075536_560Bernie is not impressed with my Down Dog, Mt Hood at Tilly Jane

The Aussie bug bit hard. I started ghosting Facebook groups about Aussies. I took every opportunity to walk or hike with them. One fateful November morning, Vicky pointed out puppies available in Oregon at Whiterose Farms.

20180923_175053Tristan and Luke almost posing with me

There were two puppies available, a tri-color and a blue merle female. I looked at the photos and my heart grew another half size. I fell face-first, head over heels in love at first sight with the blue merle.46470515_10215482168721315_7869751224516476928_n46521745_10215487274968968_2626295655949139968_nTheir mom, Cinnamon Toast, and their dad, Titan of Eaglecrest, were two of the most striking Aussies I’d ever seen.

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Titan of Eaglecrest, I mean, just wow. Prettier than me.

My partner, Kelley, wasn’t yet totally on board with upending our lives with a puppy. There was persuasion. There may have been tears. In the end, we drove down to see her, on a gray November day.We never stood a chance. She was so adorable, so filled with life and love. I filled out some paperwork, and we went home to prepare for her.

20181123_14043120181123_135718We’d planned on two weeks between seeing her and picking her up, but heart throb cut that down to one week. We headed back South to pick up Miss Whiterose Astrid Luna (Luna), dog crate now at home in my VW SUV, with a little apprehension. Kelley had not raised a puppy before, and it had been awhile for me.

Toast knew what was up, and she seemed a little resigned as Luna said her goodbyes to Mom and sister, and the farm that she had know since late September as home.

20181202_155349‘Be good to my little girl, hooman.’20181202_155353So much love ❤47577683_774056196274103_6286468563716800512_o

As I look today at how completely Luna is embedded in our lives, it’s hard to imagine it’s only been four months since she arrived. Luna has been to the Oregon Coast, Mount Hood, Mount Saint Helens, Mount Hebo near Tillamook, on the Pacific Crest Trail in the Columbia River Gorge, she’s been to places I never saw as a kid. I’ve carried her on snowshoes for miles, my pack now has the permanent allure of dog treats, extra water, and dog food bowls.

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20190121_114438.jpgOn Lamberson Spur trail with Luna ❤

20190311_145202Luna at Six Months, ~40 lbs now. She grew so fast!

The memories keep flooding back, as Luna does something in the same way as Lucy, or takes up a guard stance against sudden noises, gives big wet sloppy kisses. She’s so expressive, so loving, and so energetic! She’s such a goofball, everything has game potential. I’m told that I have my Mom voice back, too, somewhat on vacation since my adult children moved away.

Now, in the morning, or coming home from work, there’s that ritual again. Lucy would hear the bus and run up through the woods to meet me on my walk home. As she closed the distance, she’d drop into the dance. As all available energy was focused in one place, her butt would wiggle back and forth, as she danced the dance of joy and love. We’d run together the mile or so back down into the forest to the house.

Today, I dance the Wigglebutt Dance again, my heart singing a duet of love and joy with my soul, a new song of unconditional love, with Luna. Somewhere, over the Rainbow Bridge, I like to think Lucy sits, smiling, waiting for us, to dance again. That will really be quite something, our Wigglebutt Redux, as we all run off into the Sunset, together again, butts wiggling in tune to the universe.

20190322_181838“Ri ruv, ru, Ruzan” ❤

Eagle Creek Fire

I am sorry for the Eagles this day
I am sorry for the owls, ravens, hawks, songbirds, even the noisy jay
I am sorry for the pikas, chipmunks, squirrels, who would steal my lunch scraps
I am sorry for the majestic Elk, the deer, bobcats and lions of the mountains, I marvel at the rare sight of you, moving with ease and beauty
I am sorry for the fish, the snakes, my beautiful lowly banana slugs, the bees and butterflies
I am sorry that Man alone, of all creatures on this Earth, has lost the knowledge how to live in harmony with Nature
I am sorry that Man again has filled your magical home with smoke, fire, and death
I am sorry, I would do anything to reverse this, to restore your lives and homes
I am sorry, I honor your lives, extinguished by the thousands every hour of this terrible day
I am sorry, I hear and feel your souls, all crying out in fear, pain, and mortal agony
I am so very, very, terribly sorry, I pray that the universe will forgive us.

– Me, September 2017

😭 I read this poem and a few others at Mother Foucault’s Bookstore in Portland last year. My partner’s poetry and art were featured in an anthology. Both of us now participate in the 31 Days of August Postcard Poetry Fest. There’s a signup then you get a list of 31 names in your group. It was so fun and writing every day while traveling and playing in the summer sunshine gave extra inspiration. ❤