Eulogy for a Kiln.

“And just like that she’s gone,” my husband said, his sooty hands clutching both sides of the frame of the open French door as he leaned in to the living room to talk to me. “Are you gonna come take a photo?”
“I am! I am!” I exclaimed, twisting this way and that, looking for my phone. “I was on the landline when Sabrina’s message came in and couldn’t just…”
But he was already headed back up to the kiln shed, eager to have this part of the process documented.
I spied my phone on top of a kitchen table and snatched it up before trotting across the living room to catch up with him.

The kiln was gone, I thought, as I followed the path in the grass up towards the garden. I sighed; after all those pots she fired for us.

Empty kiln
Of course, I probably shouldn’t say “she” because this large, double chambered, norborigama was not a person and had no gender. But since it was productive, unpredictable, required a certain amount of learning to get it to peak temperature, and birthed countless pots on our behalf, it feels right for me to embrace it into the sisterhood. In fact, when I brought customers up to see the kiln, as part of the “tour” of the pottery, I would joke that the difference between firing pots in a wood-firing kiln and firing them in an electric kiln, was like the difference between natural childbirth and being knocked out for the experience. My husband would be out there, six times a year, sweating it out with the old gal, hoping that if he gave her what she needed, she’d give him the colors he preferred on his pottery.
Stoking the kiln
First firing

Sometimes she did. It’s always hard to go by the potter’s evaluation because he’s the harshest critic of his own work, but all the pots found homes over the years. Even if sometimes home was the ‘street of broken dreams’ outside the kiln shed, where shards get trodden back into the earth, maybe to be discovered by future archaeologists. Yes, there really was culture in the technocene era.

I went past the garden and rounded the corner towards the kiln shed to see my husband, our business associate, Reed, and our erstwhile studio assistant, Sabrina, looking like they’d just danced with Mary Poppins and Bert on the rooftops of London. They were all pretty sooty.
Stephen, Reed, Sabrina

I took their photograph and said, “so where…?”
My husband pointed to the chunks of castable refractory that used to be the arches of the kiln, sitting on a tarp under a roof close by. It looked like broken peppermint candy, except more gray than white. It was all there to be ground down and recycled into the new kiln. When we built the old kiln, 30 years ago, my husband hoped for 15 years out of her. She gave us 30. I’d say that’s good juju to put into the new one.

And the old kiln needed to come down. She had a serious sag in one side of the second chamber, which could have been disastrous had it collapsed at the height of a firing.
Second chamber
From a practical standpoint I didn’t have trouble letting go of the kiln. It was all the memories we’d accumulated around her which made me ache inside at the thought of her being gone.

How many times in all the years of that kiln had my husband let her cool down for two days before walking open those big doors, the sound of gentle tinkling accompanying his footsteps as the warm surfaces of the pots met the cold outside air? How many people had stood in front of those open doors, their eyes growing larger and larger as they realized just how much work went into making a piece of pottery?
Kiln opening
Mum, Reed & S at kiln
Our children grew up taking dinner up to their dad as he sat with the kiln, stoking it every 3-5 minutes.
Stephen & Esther
With Sean & Reed
Then they’d visit him 12 hours later, before they got on the morning school bus, and see the flame coming out of the chimney.
Kiln firing

And what about the friends that we loved and lost during the lifespan of that kiln. Robert, who designed and built the frames for the doors.
Robert
Donal, who helped fund the kiln.
With Don Butler
And Waldo, who isn’t in this photograph but who took this photograph and many more of our pottery business.
With Carole Schaefer
To name a few.

None of which references the legacy of pots that came out of that big, wood-fired furnace.
Molly & kiln
So many pots
Too many to show in photographs here but which you can find, in abundance, on our Facebook page. Once, when our son was a teenager, he sat with his dad during a firing and calculated how many pots this kiln had made over the years. I think the number at that time exceeded 30,000. That’s a lot of pots.

And we got to see the happy faces of the people who received those pots.
Juliana at kiln
Chris & Marissa at the kiln

And now the old kiln’s gone and my husband is hard at work building another one, which will give me more stories to tell. But before we forget the old kiln completely, I wanted to say farewell. And thanks for the memories.
Stephen and Nicola
Stephen, Reed, Nicola

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It Takes a Knowledge Part II

When our children were little, a neighbor gave us a round, blue, hard plastic, watering trough for them to splash around in over the summer. The trough was about eight feet in diameter and maybe two and a half feet high and the only thing my husband didn’t like about it was that we would empty the water out of it to no avail. It held a considerable amount of water and since we didn’t use any additives, it needed emptying quite regularly. We would take the plug out of the valve on the side and the water would gush out onto the grass at the side of our house and then run down the driveway till it soaked in wherever it soaked in. Our water is free, coming as it does from the creek that crosses our land, but still; my husband felt that it should go to a nobler use than just watering the lawn and the driveway.

So the second summer we used this watering trough, he decided to set it up at the top of our garden instead of at the side of our house. That way, when it needed to be emptied, the run off could irrigate the plants growing there. But in order for this to be effective, little ditches needed to be dug between the raised beds, to direct the water coming out of the pool, so that all the vegetables got a taste of the wet stuff. My husband enlisted our five-year old son’s help with this project and I remember looking out the window and seeing them both bent over, assiduously making tidy grooves in the dirt with the points of their trowels. It seemed like they were out there for hours, never complaining, sometimes conferring on where the ditches should meet up and then, eventually, releasing the water and watching with pleasure as it ran in both directions the width of the garden and continued on down the rows, like marbles in a marble maze. And I remember we had the biggest squash that season, not only in the garden but growing over the fence so everyone walking by could see the magnificent orange and deep, dark green gourds that sprang from the swimming pool water.
Gardening
Gardening 2

What impressed me most, however, about this homemade irrigation project was our son’s willingness to work on it. And it impressed me because I was never that kid. I remember hating to garden, although I can’t really remember why. But whatever the reason, it led me to tell my husband, early on in our relationship, not to expect me to help in the garden. He didn’t, and I remained steadfast in my lack of inclination until….he fed me some of the things he’d grown. Fresh lettuce, spinach, kale, tomatoes, potatoes, onions, carrots, beans… it was heaven on a plate, and lured me into wanting to protect the early stages of the produce from strangulation by weeds. Thus I relented and found myself bent over rows, allowing my fingers to get fully immersed in leafy greens and dirt.

Apparently I had to make that connection between gardening and eating in order to be part of the process. I grew up in the city in England and only remember my parents gardening for the first few years of my life so maybe that connection got lost in the time spent without a garden. My children, on the other hand, grew up picking fresh vegetables out of the garden every summer and if the way they browsed on the tomatoes (even the unripe ones) was anything to go by, they made that connection early and strong.

Fortunately there are now ways to make sure that all children can make that connection, even if they don’t have a garden at home. Farm-to-table programs are sprouting up in schools all over the country, and then there are some beautiful books on gardening that both children and adults can enjoy. One of my favorites is The Children’s Garden; Growing Food in the City by Carole Lexa Schaefer, a story about a community garden in Seattle that was originally published in 1994. Now, to celebrate its 25th anniversary, The Children’s Garden is being reissued (Little Bigfoot) with beautiful new illustrations by Pierr Morgan. Those of you who enjoyed reading my blog post It Takes a Knowledge, will really love savoring every page of The Children’s Garden with your favorite young person (people). Here’s a taste; a short description of the book from Secret Garden Books in Seattle, where the book will launch on May 2nd at 7pm, and two of the special illustrations by Pierr Morgan.
RootToes-pierrmorgan-2017

Down the road from Woodlawn Avenue, on a street called Sunnyside, there’s a garden patch grown by children who live in the neighborhood. A sign on the garden’s gate says: Children’s Garden, WELCOME That means: Come in, please. Listen, see, smell, touch–even taste.
“In rich prose and lush illustrations, this charming picture book shows children as urban farmers, exploring the sights, smells, sensations, and tastes of growing their own food in a community garden. The story invites young readers to enjoy summer’s bounty and the hands-on experience of tending and harvesting it, while the colorful illustrations depict a multicultural community of children learning about and enjoying a sustainable, local food system.”
SeedPackets-pierrmorgan-2017

A Love Letter to the USA

Dear United States of America,

In all the time that I’ve lived in this country, I’ve received a lot of praise about England, the country of my birth. From random strangers in grocery stores and gas stations telling me how much they love my accent, to customers in our little pottery shop remarking on how much they enjoy visiting England, you have lavished compliments on me that I believe (hope), have made me a better person. And yet your delivery has often been tinged with shyness, self-effacement almost, like you’re my little sister, telling me that I’m lovely without believing that she is lovely too. So I thought, with Valentine’s Day approaching, I would take a moment to repay those compliments, by telling you some of the things that I love about you.

First of all, you’re very refreshing. Coming from a country where classism was the norm, it’s been inspiring to live in a place where people don’t tell you certain things aren’t available to you because you weren’t born to them. Yes, I’m sure it’s easier for those who are born into privilege but that’s never stopped the USA from letting others climb up to that privilege if they have the moxy. And when they do climb up, no one seems inclined to crush them by saying they don’t really deserve it. If you don’t believe this to be true about yourself, then take this little anecdote from my life. After years of living here and growing accustomed to the fact that I was not judged for my background, I made the mistake of telling a young Englishwoman, with a posh accent (suggesting she was born to money), that I had grown up in a home without central heating. She turned to me, with such a look of disdain on her face, as if to say, “Oh, you come from that kind of background,” that I was shocked. It had been so long since anyone had looked at me like that. And for something I had no control over. But it made me that much more aware of what an incredible gift it has been to live in a place where I can I can reach up without feeling myself pulled down. As Desi Arnaz said, at a dinner honoring his achievements, “Only in America.” That’s a sentiment I completely get.

The second thing I love about you is your constant questing to find yourself. To be honest, this wasn’t something I understood at all when I first arrived here. Why were people always “looking for themselves?” Didn’t they know who they were? But then I had hundreds of years behind me, as an Englishwoman, telling me who I was, so I didn’t have any doubts. It wasn’t until I’d lived here for a while, and started writing in earnest, that I began to question some of those things I’d accepted about myself. I wondered if they really fit me? Is that who I was? Or was I just settling for a preconceived notion of myself? Before I knew it your questing had slipped under my skin, and I found myself on a journey of self-discovery that I may not have thought I needed, but which you supported. The person I found through this journey, I liked a lot more than the person I’d been willing to accept as a youth. And when I liked her, the family I’d created here in the US seemed to flourish more. Which made me think that if it’s good for the individual, and enough people do it, maybe it’s good for the community, the nation, maybe even the world. And so I grew to love, and respect, this particular aspect of life in the United States. As my husband is fond of saying, The United States of America is an idea, not a place. And ideas are worth revisiting as many times as necessary to get them to turn into something worthwhile.

And finally, for this letter anyway, the third thing I’ve grown very attached to in living here is just how willing you are to speak and practice love. It was hard for me, with my innate dose of British reserve, to even use that word, let alone share that feeling with anyone outside the immediate family. Talk about walls; I had a particularly striking one around my emotions when I arrived in this country. But so many people reached out to me in genuine affection that the wall developed a crack. And pretty soon that crack became a hole and the hole turned into, well, rubble really, as you disassembled all my defenses with your free-spirited ability to give and share love. I know some people think you’re the brash kid that wants it all, but I believe you’re also the kind mama, who whispers in our ears things like, “Don’t give up,” “Believe in yourself,” and “You can do it.”

Of course not everyone will agree with the things I’m writing about you but that’s okay because this is my love letter to you. One that I wanted to write in an attempt to build your self-confidence the way I think you’ve built mine. Especially since you’re going through such a tough time right now. A time of conflicting emotions, bruised egos, broken friendships….well, you know. But if there is one thing I’ve learned resoundingly since arriving on your shores, it’s that struggle is a big part of success. So don’t give up, do believe in yourself and remember you are loved.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

waiting-my-turn

Waiting my turn for my certificate of citizenship. And look, there’s a rainbow over my head. I must be in the right place.

The View from the Sauna Porch

I’ve been thinking a lot about trees recently, specifically all the trees in the little mountain dell where I’m lucky enough to live. And when I say all the trees, I mean I can’t look out of any window in my house without seeing a tree or two. Or three. Or more. Douglas fir trees, cedars, maples, alders, hemlocks, silver firs, cherry, apple, two types of walnut, a Japanese white pine, a few sequoias – these are just some of the species that grow on our five acres. And as I’ve watched them grow, I’ve found myself reflecting on them as a metaphor for life.

I was extremely skittish when I first met my husband, and had no intention of setting roots. But one of the things he offered me was stability. My mind shied away from that offer, encouraging me to keep running from my past, something I made central to my first novel, but apparently my heart found it appealing. So I stayed. And discovered that setting roots actually suited me. Helped me grow. Thrive.

So of course, every time I look out my kitchen window, and see these majestic life forms manifesting the power of stability, I can’t help but want to put them in my writing. But at the same time, I feel like the natural world around me touches me on so many sensory levels, I’m not sure I can squeeze all that into just a few sentences. I love trying, because it makes me feel like I’m out in the woods, with the trees, but I hesitate to share because what if I’m not getting it right? I was discussing this dilemma with my friend, Lisa, in Seattle last weekend. She looked at me, with her big, beautiful eyes, and said, “Oh but please keep trying. Because some of us don’t live with trees around us, and the closest we can come is to read about them.”

It was a wonderful, gentle reminder that the reason I write is not just for me, but for those who might read what I write. And it encouraged me to want to share a couple of short pieces inspired by the trees around me. For Lisa, or for anyone who doesn’t get to live in the woods.

The first is a short passage from my new novel, describing the view from our sauna porch after a big rain.

“The storm was over and Joe and Lucy sat wrapped in towels, on the porch of the sauna, zoning on the moisture-laden trees in front of them. It was cold, and steam from their bodies wafted up past the flickering lights of the candle lanterns hanging from the log beam above their heads. The dogs sat on either side of them, their noses occasionally bumping the air above them in the interminable quest for passing scents. Lucy was lost in the drip, drip, dripping of accumulated rainwater coming from a thick patch of spongy moss on the trunk of a burly maple tree, while Joe was focused on the sporadic splashes from saturated lichen on a leaning length of vine maple. It wasn’t that they were seeing what they were staring at in the candlelit dusk of the evening, so much as hearing it. And in their post sauna, meditative states, it sounded like a rainforest rhapsody, with the creek to their right creating a constant bass, and the pop of firewood burning in the sauna stove adding occasional percussion.”

sauna-porch-2

Moss on the big burly maple tree

sauna-porch-1

A leaning length of vine maple

stock-tank

The creek

The second piece is a short poem.

Co-Dependency
Nicola Pearson

Her arms twine tight around you
Like the blackb’ries on my tree
‘Sinuating, thorny vines
That latch tenaciously

I want to snip and yank and tear
To rid you of her brambles
Knowing you will flourish more
When thus you’re unentangled

But when I freed the silver fir
From that which stole its luster
It drooped and paled and fought for life
With all that it could muster

And so I learned relationships
Like berries on my tree
Are not always ‘bout strength and love
But co-dependency


I shared this with my writers’ group and some of them wanted to know what happened to the tree? I’ve only recently gone back to playing with poetry so I can’t profess to know if this is finished or not, but it was an interesting question. I knew the tree had survived, because I see it everyday in my front yard. But until this question I hadn’t really considered that while it’s not as tall as the two other silver firs planted at the same time, it is nevertheless lush, darkly verdant and very healthy-looking. It’s thriving.

silver-firs

A trio of silver fir trees

silver-fir

The littlest tree

It Takes a Knowledge

It’s early when I turn into the well-rutted driveway that should lead me to the hoop house where Anne grows her tomatoes, but the sun is already fully involved in all the lush greens around the property. I can’t see her old, red and black pick-up truck to tell me I’m in the right place, but I can see the trailer that my husband helped Lois, who owns this property, acquire from one of our neighbors. And Anne grows her tomatoes on Lois’s property so I’m pretty certain I’m in the right place. For all the traveling I’ve done over the years, I remain directionally challenged so I often second-guess myself on things that seem familiar.

The dirt driveway leads past a field on my left, sheltered by a row of short trees, and straight on towards Lois’s house and the trailer. As I get closer to the end I notice I can follow the ruts around to the left and when I do, the large hoop house appears. I bump along, energized by being in the right place, and come to a stop directly in front of the hoop house. Outside the entrance there is a knee-high stack of produce boxes, labeled Organic Tomatoes, Grown by Blue Heron Farm; the morning pick. Anne told me she and her crew would be here, but I don’t see anyone around as I climb out of my vehicle and step toward the boxes. The tomatoes inside them are orbs of perfection; smooth skinned, baseball-sized spheres of cherry red with that dip at the top making them somewhat heart-like. Love apples. Pommes d’amour.

Glorious orbs

Orbs of perfection

Love apple

Pomme d’amour

I wonder if I can take a box and pay Anne for it later but these might be for her CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) customers or for the Food Co-ops she supplies. So I step inside the hoop house, in search of a human being. What I find instead is an exquisite land of warm vines that intimates years of knowledge to me. Row upon tidy row of vines, both sides of a central walkway, painstakingly trained upright on orange twine between homegrown bamboo poles, so the tomatoes are exposed in heavy clusters to ripen naturally. I’m enchanted as I move down the center, my eyes widening at the number of tomatoes blushing to perfection. I tread gently, not wanting to disturb the tranquility of this long plastic dome, where the only noise comes from the fans whirring up by the peak, and I marvel at the experience that has gone into growing tomatoes to this degree of success. Especially in the sun deprived, rain rich, Upper Skagit Valley. We need the passion and bullheadedness of youth, I think to myself, because it encourages innovation and drives us forward; but we also need the perspective of our elders, who have tried and failed – then tried again. I’m sure Anne Schwartz has had her share of disappointments over the years as an organic farmer, but boy, she’s certainly proven that persistence pays off. She and her crew of women, who bring such uncomplicated, chemical-free – not the mention delicious – sustenance to our table.

Tomatoes ripening

Tomatoes ripening

Slicing tomatoes

In clusters

Row Upon Tidy Row

Row upon tidy row

I’m still lost in that gentle musky smell that comes from tomatoes on the vine when I step forward and get an incredible hit of tangy fresh peppers. I look down to see long, curly green fingers hiding in the leaves throughout the rest of the hoop house. The smell is so mouth-watering I want to stand there and browse, like a deer at an apple tree, but I know if I start, I might not stop. So instead I linger a moment, torturing my salivary glands, then head back out of the hoop house before my growling stomach interferes with the peaceful growing that’s going on here.

Green peppers

Long, curly, green peppers

I get back into my car and decide I’ll catch Anne later to buy tomatoes and maybe some of those yummy smelling peppers. I do a three-point turn in the dirt and head back down the driveway, this time glimpsing a gap in the windbreak of green growth alongside the field I passed. Again my eyes widen at the sight of onions, planted in such a way that suggests someone really knew what they were doing. Why can’t I get my onions to look like that, I think. I can’t resist pulling over to snap a photo, and I’m glad I do because I get treated not only to the orderly onions, but also to the sight of crew members picking green beans and kale under the backdrop of Sauk Mountain. It takes a knowledge, I think.

Teri picking beans

Teri picking beans

Rows of Onions

Rows of Onions

Onions

Such tidy planting

Anne Schwartz 2

Anne Schwartz

Under Sauk

Under the backdrop of Sauk Mountain

And in case you didn’t catch the links in the text, here they are again for more information about Anne Schwartz and Blue Heron Farm:
http://tilthproducers.org/author/BlueHeron/

My Brain Has More GB Than Your Cloud.

Just recently I read a very troubling blog post about how Apple had stolen the writer’s music collection. The veracity of the writer’s statements are apparently under review but nevertheless, much of what he said, struck a chord with me. Particular coming on the heels, as it did, of my own conversation with a sales associate at one on the Apple stores, in which I divulged that I don’t want to back my iPhone up to the Cloud. “Why not?” she asked, and gave me that look. You know, the one that says you just dropped a bad smell in the room. Or killed their favorite cat. It’s the same look I’ve received any number of times from sales associates in various stores when I present them with cash to make a purchase and they ask if they can have my phone number or my zip code – and I say no. It’s the look that says there’s something wrong with me because I don’t trust people I don’t know (or in the case of the Cloud, an intangible cyber construct) that wants my personal information. Since the sales associate at Apple seemed to be about the same age as me, I tried being honest with her about my distrust of the Cloud, by using my age as my defense. I’ve lived long enough to see what cyberspace can do to people, their finances, their children, their lives, and long enough to remember a time when people didn’t trust others with their personal information, sometimes simply because they didn’t want the barrage of unsolicited phone calls that would undoubtedly come if they did give out their number.

My argument held no weight with the sales associate who looked at me and said, “You wanna talk about age? Look at me.” I thought to myself, then why doesn’t that make you sensitive to what I’m saying? Why can’t you tailor your responses to me as an individual, rather than just another one of the masses who must fall in line with the latest way of doing things? Why, when there are actually other ways to back up electronics, including flash drives, CDs and, oh yes, our brains. Again, I’m old enough to remember a time when I had all the important phone numbers at my finger tips because they were stored in my head. I like the convenience of having contacts stored in my phone, don’t get me wrong, but I do think it’s disabled our ability to do the remembering for ourselves. And we have allowed it to do so on the unstated promise that if something goes wrong, the techno-gurus will help us out. So why is it that the default response seems to be, “Er, no.” Or, if I’m to be honest, and excuse me, my more genteel readers, for the language – “Fuck, no!”

I’m not that old but I have past the golden anniversary of my birth and I find the older I get, the more I like things the way I like them. Or, to use a more hip-term, I have my comfort zone. So while I like my electronics for the things they can do for me, once I get them set up for usage, I don’t like them to change that much. So one of the things that bugs me is the constant need to upgrade my computer and phone and software. Apart from anything else, my writing time at my computer is limited and already I find myself jealous of it because it gets interrupted all too frequently. So when I sit down to write, the last thing I want to spend my time doing is upgrading software – particularly when it turns out to be something I don’t even use in my system. In the TED radio hour The Source of Creativity, the writer Elizabeth Gilbert talks about an American poet she admires called Ruth Stone. She says this poet would be working the fields in Virginia when she was a young woman and would hear a poem thundering towards her, like a massive earthquake, and Ms. Stone knew that the only thing she could do was run. Run like crazy for her desk, to write this poem down once it got to her otherwise she knew it would keep moving through, until it found another poet to take its inspiration. Imagine what would have happened to Ruth Stone’s poetry if she ran like the wind to write it down only to discover she had updates that were CRITICAL to take care of before she could write. It’s like being in the throes of passion and having a kid walk into the room saying, “Mummy, I wet the bed.” You don’t have to deal with it now but, boy, it sure killed the mood. And to have it kill the mood only to find out that’s not enough – you need to back it up to the Cloud too and risk hackers seeing it before you’re ready to share – well, that just makes me bristle.

“Oh, our Cloud has never been hacked,” the sales associate boasted and I’m sure that’s true. But I’m equally sure that other big companies (remember Target? and Sony?) as well as government agencies (remember the IRS?) thought they couldn’t be hacked – until they were. What I want to tell my young friends, some of whom encourage me to just do it – use the Cloud, take the latest upgrade, download the latest software, sign up for every possible social media and then use it as an app – I want to say that my little frisson of distrust that I carry around – that comes from somewhere. That comes from my brain having enough storage capacity to remember that this has happened and can happen again. Because my brain, as small as it may be compared to some other people’s brains, my brain I’m pretty sure has way more gigabytes than any company’s Cloud. And unlike our electronics, when my brain freezes, all it usually takes is the act of sitting down a comfy chair to reboot it. No trip to The Genius Bar required.
Brain 3
Plus, here’s an interesting dichotomy. We’re made to feel like we must keep up with technology and we must give up readily our personal information and yet, if you try calling one of these hardware or software companies – even e-mailing them – for help, you’re going to find you have to sift through an overwhelming number of FAQs or scripted responses that actually have nothing to do with your problem because, you know why? They don’t want you bugging them! And that happens no matter what your age or what operating system you’ve upgraded to or how many passwords you have judiciously memorized to make sure your life information is protected. In fact, I think I’d respect these big techno-companies more if their products came with a warning label. Something along these lines: TRUSTING TECHNOLOGICAL ADVANCES TO BEAT HUMAN ERROR MAY BE DANGEROUS TO YOUR BLOOD PRESSURE. That way, those who give up everything to be in step with the latest advances won’t be surprised when they drop their phone off the side of a mountain and say, yes, they backed up to the Cloud, but no, they can’t remember their password because they stored it in that phone since their memory has been compromised by never having to use it, only to hear the unflattering reply, “Oh. Sucks to be you today.”

But okay, I get that these big companies have had way too many people yelling at them for not being able to restore their contacts or photos after they drop their phones in the toilet that they’ve come up with what they think are idiot-safe ways to protect that information. But then I tell myself, if they’re capable of that, why aren’t they capable of designing items that take into account the comfort zone of the biggest sector of the population – the baby boomers? And why can’t they train their staff to talk to said baby boomers like there might actually be some validity to the way they see the universe? Because – and herein lie’s the rub – we may be old and crusty in our ways, but even the lowly like me, tends to have more disposable income than our younger, techno-hipster counterparts.

Something to think about.
CloudsClouds

A Walk in the Woods

Pumping up the hill in the State Park this morning, my dog, Molly Moon, gamboling easily, happily, ahead of me, I think about a monologue I wrote some time ago – I was an Illegal Alien – and how I haven’t recited it in a while. It’s quiet in the park, morning moist and aromatic with the gentle scents of the abundant foliage. I’m not someone who likes to listen to music as I walk but rather hear the sounds of nature as I run dialogue or envision plot twists in my head for things I’m working on. Or sometimes, I choose to do a monologue for an imaginary audience. Today that audience is in New York, in a small space, maybe a reading room at the Dramatists’ Guild.

“For a short while, after I first came to this country,” I start, seeing the straight up and down of the bark on the tall cedar trees that stand sentinel, on both sides of the grassy path I’m climbing. It’s amazing how different the bark is on a cedar tree from a Douglas fir, both of which are prolific in the Pacific Northwest. Firs trees have chunky, swirly, pitted bark, like a walnut shell, that will put you out of your house with the heat it can create in a fire, whereas cedars have long strips of paper thin bark, reminiscent of tobacco in cigars.

Somehow my mind captures this information without me really thinking it because I’m well into my recitation by now and enjoying the response of the imaginary audience. “Not that I intended to break the law,” I tell them and I can see them vacillating, wondering whether they should believe me or not. Peter Brook says all you need is am empty space to create theatre but I think all I need is an imaginary audience in my head. Of course, maybe my head is an empty space…

I watch Molly stop to sniff a frond of a sword fern and my eye is drawn to a series of tiny magenta blossoms strung like Christmas lights on a Salmonberry vine. I push on getting to the part in my monologue where I describe being offered a job making fundraising calls in the development department of Metropolitan Opera, and I hear the audience chuckle as I say, “I think she thought my British accent would be just the ticket for talking people out of their hard-earned cash.” Ahead of me, sunlight filters through the trees and I wish, as always, that I had a way to describe the many shades of green I see in these woods. Somebody told me once that Norwegians have many different words for snow and I think we should have an equal number of words for green. Maybe, if I were like Shakespeare, I would invent these words and people would sit behind the actors on the stages of my plays because they want to “hear” the play rather than see it.

But I’m not like Shakespeare. I don’t invent language, I just enjoy it. I wrote this monologue for an artistic director who was at the end of her life and wanted her last hoorah to be an evening with playwrights she had nurtured in her career. She overheard me once telling the story of my student days in NYC, and she said, “You outta write that down.” So for her last hoorah, I wrote I was an Illegal Alien, and shared it first that evening. Now I find myself slipping parts of it into my new novel and feeling ahead of the game that I already have this sticky note of material.

I reach the top of the hill and turn left, starting down the trail that runs alongside the creek. Coincidentally my monologue also makes a turn, away from illegal work activities and onto what it took to become legal. “Did you know, for example, that in order to become a permanent resident I had to swear that I was not a sexual deviant?” The audience laughs out loud, and I add the line, “Who gets to decide what that means?” although I think it might be too much. They get it. To my left I see a dogwood tree in full bloom, its wide, white petals laid flat around its yellow stamen. To my right the creek water clatters uninhibitedly downstream but it’s a sound that blends rather than distracts because it belongs in this environment.

We’re in the final stretch of our walk now and I’m at the place where my husband looks at the Immigration Officer and says, “What if she’s lying?” Audiences love that line and the one in my head is no exception.
“I look at him dumbfounded. Doesn’t he know these people don’t appreciate jokes?!” I complain. But it’s the character’s blatant honesty that they love. Don’t hide your past, is my husband’s mantra; that way people can’t hurt you with it later. I enjoyed writing this piece because it demonstrates that even someone who looks like me can have been an illegal at one time.

Molly skitters into the brush after something – maybe a squirrel – and I pause my monologue to click in my cheek and bring her back. She emerges, tail high in the air, front shoulders kicked back, as if to say, “Perimeter’s secure now, Ma’am.” Ma’am like ham, not like farm. Hey, if I can have my internal dialogue, she can have hers.

We ride home in the car next to each other, our lungs flush with new oxygen.
“What do you think about when you’re on your walk,” my husband asks me as I take off my sneakers.
“Well today I performed a monologue for an audience in New York,” I tell him.
He laughs and says, “You’re such a little girl!”
I think about that for a moment. A little girl, or a consummate performer? I shrug; who cares? I’ll take it.

The author as a little girl

The author as a little girl