Jefferson Monthly

Features and columns published in the Jefferson Monthly.

Piecing It Together

Jan 1, 2012

As 2011 accelerated toward closing I looked back over the year and felt ragged. Like a picket fence in need of repair and new paint — rustic and unpolished. True, there were accomplishments. I had completed the coursework for my doctorate and via an intense diet was on my way back to fighting weight. But the constancy of doubt, instability and the world’s woes loomed large. It seemed that for every good and decent thing, there was more difficulty.

Meeting Scrooge

Dec 1, 2011

I was walking through town the other day, humming the tune from the Little Drummer Boy and ticking off in my head the exciting list of things I had to do for Christmas, when I ran into Tom, Dick, and Mary Scrooge. “This could be a sour note in a merry day,” I thought, but stopped to say hello anyway because, after all, it is Christmas.

“Hello,” I said, “and merry Christmas!”

“I hate Christmas,” they said, as I had expected.

“How too bad,” I sympathized. “I love Christmas.”

I recently flew from southern Oregon to Denver, giving me the opportunity to reflect on the fate of western landscapes.  As we took off from the Medford airport, it was easy to see how the neat pear orchards and vineyards of my compact valley are increasingly hemmed in by subdivisions.  But we quickly left that view behind, as we passed over the large-scale patchwork of industrial forestry in the Cascades.  A few minutes more, and we were above the Klamath Basin, one of the most thoroughly engineered drainages in the west, the vast rectangular impoundments filled here with water, there with

This column is called “Jefferson Almanac” and in reality there is no state of Jefferson. After a bit of research, I’ve discovered that no one really knows where the word almanac came from. It was first used in England 800 years ago for a document foretelling weather, seasons, tides, moons, sunrises and sunsets, so as to help farmers, hunters and fishermen do their work.

The Genesis Of The Idea:

A while back I read about an informal poll conducted by Britain’s Classic FM that piqued my interest. They asked kids to let them know who their favorite classical composers were. I’ll share the top ten with you in a moment. I thought it might be fun to conduct our own completely unscientific research to see what kids in the JPR listening area prefer, compared to those across the Atlantic.

How We Conducted Our Unscientific Poll:

Sandy was in her mid-eighties when she died last May. She was a soft radiance of light in the time I knew her. She was elegance, even in infirmity; not a trait many can pull off authentically. She favored bright colors over the fashion-safe palette of mauves and dusty rose pinks. And she was unfailingly kind and patient, even with those she disagreed with. She could—as so many say and so many cannot do—”disagree without being disagreeable.”  She was a world traveler who made a pleasant, cozy home in Etna, and filled it with art, music, books and many friends.

Decluttering

Aug 1, 2011

My friend Bill asked me to come to Klamath Falls to help him out. I asked twice what sort of help he needed. He wouldn’t tell me, except to say, “Bring gloves.”

He admitted when I arrived that he was afraid if he told me, I might change my mind and stay home in Eugene. But that would make sense only to a stubborn 82-year-old Midwesterner, a man determined to hold onto his pride even longer than his health.

An Arts Bar(d)

Jul 1, 2011

After a quick drive to town and a frenzied parking search a little before 8pm, I spent the next several minutes walking around to every place I could think of that had a TV I might be able to watch. The TV’s that I found were on and not all were being watched, but when I asked for a particular show, each person’s brows raised, and they shook their head. Not one was even remotely interested in accommodating my programming choice. What I had asked for was the most watched regular show on television — American Idol (AI).

On one solitary, late-spring walk through a village in the south of France in 1964, I came upon a tall yellow brick wall around some private estate. Over the wall drooped the graceful arms of a cherry tree, well studded with doublets of dark red cherries dangling over my head like the original fruit of sin. I didn’t need a serpent to suggest I take eat. In a wink I had snatched a double handful out of the leafy green and azure sky and was walking again, popping forbidden fruit into my mouth. The cherries were darkly sweet, as rich as pudding, bursting with juice.

First, a confession. I am a serious birder. Far too serious, my wife will tell you. But for 364 days a year, I’m a good birding citizen. I lead field trips for beginners, I share my spotting scope, I am happy to explain the differences between, say, a song sparrow and a savannah sparrow to anyone who is interested (and, perhaps, to a few who are not).

Voice

Apr 1, 2011

“We are at the threshold. We are going to see change.

If we can create the vision in our heart, it will spread.

As women of wisdom, we cannot be divided. As bringers

of light we have no choice but to join together.”

—Agnes Baker Pilgrim

Connections

Mar 1, 2011

In October of the year following my divorce I moved three blocks away from my children’s father. I hadn’t worked outside the home for almost six years, my children were five and three, and I couldn’t afford the mortgage payment on our family home. I was having trouble finding an apartment with no work history and I was in graduate school at the time, still parenting during the days, and despairing as to how I would add a job into the equation.

One autumn night in Ashland, half a dozen people rent the Community Center and hold a forum where anyone can take the mic and talk about that old question: What Do Women Want?  And What Do Men Want?  

I purposely don’t take notes -  I just want to recall this as a finger painting of emotions, longings, anger, tears, hope, blame, even one young lady jumping up and down with frantic joy, exuding that we have to get in touch with the nature spirits and doing a cartwheel at the end.  Not to make fun of her; I got it.  That was as good an answer as any.  Been there.  I think.

Last January, between storms, I sat in my soggy yard dividing iris rhizomes. Yeah I know I should’ve done this last fall, but the kind of gardener I am precludes adherence to any strict dogma, dictum or rules. My motto: “get it planted and it will bloom...eventually.”

I am a refrigerator decorator. Oh yes you might think, as you imagine the door covered in orderly fashion with photos of family, friends, good time memories…but this is not what I mean. On my fridge door there are no family pictures (except one of a dear deceased cat, Elvis, whose holding magnet is a red crown), no sentimental cards, doodles or to do lists.

We gathered in the well-lit room

Poured wine, settled back to chart

Our way around the coming doom

We all had brought our favored facts:

The end of oil, the ocean’s rise

Growing deserts and glacier’s cracks

We knew the numbers, and the score

Had each summed up our carbon feet

And all believed that less is more

But still we held on tight to hope

Trusted in our lifelong luck

Even atop this slippery slope

So one by one we spoke our dreams

The engineer went first and sang

Wild Carrot

Oct 1, 2010

“What will you do with your one wild and precious life?  —Mary Oliver

On this night the rain has come, and early autumn blows the petals from the sunflowers. Maybe by the time this writing is published we will have experienced that brief return to summer so blessedly common in Oregon.  Maybe not.  And so, I think of endings.  TS Eliot says in my beginning is my end, and Albert Goldbarth in his wildly beautiful essay “After Yitzel”, says nothing ever really ends, or if it does end then the impulse is to make it again.

To redo, do over, re-nova. 

Again.

Our son’s truck was stolen last fall.  He and his sister live together in Eureka and attend College of the Redwoods. They both have jobs and juggle classes, work and social lives. Losing the truck put a crimp in their style, a hitch in their giddy-up not to mention it was a real buzz kill.

A Portable Blessing

Aug 1, 2010

“I have traveled a great deal in Concord.”  —Thoreau

This is my Concord, this Ashland and I have traveled a great deal in it and found it my balm, my guru, my god-infested Athens, my healer, my Renaissance painting (as good as any Botticelli). And though I’ve traveled the world, much of it hitchhiking or hopping trains, ever eager to see new vistas, it’s all toned down in past years and I find it all under my feet and I don’t want to leave, even for a day.

Buddy

Jul 1, 2010

The end began on a dark, icy night in February. I came home about 10:30 to find my dear Buddy lying on the bed, his favorite spot to be sure, but he always greeted me at the door when I came home. Within a half an hour he felt cold and seemed almost comatose as I frantically called the emergency doctor.  He was 45 minutes away but would come to my house in what seemed like the opposite end of the world to lift my 55 pound dog into my car and guide me to the clinic. I wasn’t sure if Buddy would live. In fact, I felt he was dying.

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