Monday, June 29, 2015

365 True Things: 93/Snow (6/29/15)

I both love snow, and hate it.

Right now, I am sitting with a view over a frozen wasteland ☟—never mind that in a couple of days it will be July. I love the view: it's austerely beautiful, all whites and grays and dark browns, and austere beauty has always been one of my favorite landscapes.

That said, I am very happy to be indoors, in a fairly toasty pine-paneled cabin, sipping red wine, shielded from the insistent wind and bone-chilling mist outside.

Given that our goal here is to do some hiking, I must confess that I wouldn't mind a tad less snow in my viewshed.

Supposedly it's less snowy east of here. And east of here is where we're starting our overnight hike to a mountain hut tomorrow. So it might all turn out just fine.

And if it's too snowy—we can always turn around. We have options. Not to mention free will.

But back to loving and hating: I love the "otherness" of a snowy landscape, with all the usual features blanketed, hidden. I love to be in fresh falling snow, especially swirling, dancing, gloppy wet snowflakes. I love to ski—cross-country. (I've tried downhill and telemark, but I'm too impatient: I want to be able to do it well without having to practice. Cross-country I can do well enough.) I have very much enjoyed the snow camping I've done, which isn't a whole lot—Crater Lake, Mt. McKinley/Denali, Ruth Gorge in Alaska, SAR exercises in the Sierra. I always end up being surprised at how comfortable I am. There's nothing like a good down sleeping bag on a couple of sleeping pads, and a good sturdy tent, to keep you warm and cozy. A little whisky doesn't hurt either.


What do I hate? Getting cold, getting wet. And that can happen pretty easily, if one doesn't do things right. I also hate waking up in the morning in my yummy-warm down bag and having to get out of the bag and into freezing clothes. Brrrrr.

But when I think about going to the snow, perversely, I tend to focus on my fear of getting cold and wet—rather than anticipating the pleasure. And indeed, the pleasures far, far outweigh the discomforts. I need to remember that. (This is actually a lesson I could ponder in various realms of my existence.)

So for tomorrow: I'm going to look forward to getting out into the otherworldly landscape, enjoying the exercise, leaving civilization behind (for a while: I'm also looking forward to getting to the hut and having a hot meal!), and frolicking with a few of my favorite people. If we're extraordinarily lucky, we may even see some wild reindeer. That would make me giddy with joy.






Sunday, June 28, 2015

365 True Things: 92/Writing (6/28/15)

Scribe Lab: secret writing dates with cool people all over the place
aka: jump in, the water's fine!



In a few days, a six-month online writing workshop called Scribe Lab, led by an enthusiastic and talented writer, Rae Gourand, will kick off. I enrolled once before, and participated for, oh, two months, maybe three—then lost . . . the will? the time? the motivation? the desire? (Right around when watching a full production of Einstein on the Beach, in all its three-and-a-half-hour glory, was the assignment maybe—though apparently, I didn't watch far enough . . . it picks up after the Prologue, I'm told.)

This time, in any case, I am determined to do better.

This time, too, Rae is using the nine-volume Graywolf Press "Art of . . ." writing series to structure the workshop, and I'm super excited about that. While I've been traveling I've read The Art of Description by Mark Doty (who I'll be doing an in-person workshop with in October—can't wait) and two-thirds of The Art of Subtext by Charles Baxter, who himself is a master of subtext. Reading these books is inspiring. 

For the workshop, I am going to try to focus on a fiction project I have been thinking about for quite a while now. It has to do with the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII, based very loosely on an experience my mother had, visiting Manzanar with one of the first Americans to be ordained a priest in the Soto (I think) order of Buddhism, Julius Goldwater. Yes, of the Goldwater clan.

That said, although I've written a few short snippety pieces in which I've tried to explore the central character (ever so vaguely based on my mother), and submitted them to my writing group—who didn't really know what to do with them, because they are just sketches, nothing near finished—mostly, I just think about working on this project.

So with Scribe Lab, I'm going to throw caution to the wind and write. Make some time every day to put words on paper (or on my MacBook screen), no matter how stumbling it is. If nothing else, I hope to find some other characters besides "Cora" and the priest.

I would like, for instance, to have an older, Japanese-born artist, based (again, loosely) on Chiura Obata. Born in Japan in 1885, he had been a faculty member in the UC Berkeley art department since 1932 when he was imprisoned at Topaz, Utah, at the age of 57; there he founded the Topaz Art School, which had 16 instructors in 23 subjects and taught over 600 students. He painted hundreds of beautiful watercolors of the camp.

Moonlight over Topaz, 1942


I don't believe Obata himself got political, but I'd like my character to not keep his head down, to have some self-righteous anger at the injustice of being thrown into a camp in the harshest environments for no cause.

But can I do justice to the experience of such a person, someone so outside my own ken? Or other, complementary characters I might invent?

I have a lot of research and reading to do, that's for sure. In the end, I may choose to stay away from the Japanese experience and focus on ancillary characters—like those who lived in the Owens Valley near Manzanar and who had no sympathy for the prisoners, because after all, they were getting paid to work, they got plenty of food, they weren't struggling to make ends meet. (This really was the twisted logic of some, sadly enough.) Or the people of the local community who went into the camp to teach the children or minister to the sick.

So with Scribe Lab this time around, I've got a purpose: to work on "Amber Moon," as I call my project, by writing fearlessly and researching until my head and heart hurt. It will only be by putting in the effort that I find out what stories might need to be told.



Saturday, June 27, 2015

365 True Things: 91/Grace (6/27/15)

The last couple of days have been phenomenal: the Supreme Court's rulings on the Affordable Care Act and gay marriage—huge huge huge yay!!!!—and Obama's powerful eulogy of Clementa C. Pinckney. Landmarks, each one.

In the eulogy, Obama speaks of grace: "According to the Christian tradition, grace is not earned. Grace is not merited. It’s not something we deserve. Rather, grace is the free and benevolent favor of God."

I am a nonbeliever. But I do believe in grace.

Obama went on: "As manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings. Grace—as a nation out of this terrible tragedy, God has visited grace upon us for he has allowed us to see where we’ve been blind."

Now, I do not for a millisecond think we are all sinners. Imperfect, sure. But sinners? That's ecclesiastic mumbo-jumbo, if you ask me. An attempt to make the "faithful," meek as sheep, toe the church patriarchy's line.

But putting that aside, I do in a way feel like the last few days have been a sort of visiting of grace upon us, as a nation, as we take off our blinders (for the moment) and look to our greater good. It's that Tiny Tim wish: "God bless us. Every one!" It's a harking back to the Declaration of Independence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

I think God shed some grace on the writers of that Declaration, and that they're all smiling in heaven after this week's rulings.

But to speak of a personal moment of grace (and this is nothing like momentous): one day many years ago, I was hiking back up a steep trail on the backside of the Berkeley Hills, heading to my car in the parking lot. As I crested the rise, I heard a beautiful melody, on saxophone, slow and easy and sassy and cool. Soon I saw the musician, a black man in a porkpie hat and light linen jacket. He stood loose and easy himself, playing his instrument, eyes closed, long fingers flowing over the keys. I stopped and watched him, then closed my eyes too and breathed in the springtime scent of green grasses and unfurling leaves, felt the soft air on my face. It's one of those moments that, although I didn't take a photo, has been burnt into my memory photo-like. But bigger than a photo, with all of the senses engaged: not just a vision, but a full, almost surprising moment of living.

I don't know why, but whenever I think of a "moment of grace" that I've experienced, that's the moment that comes to mind.

We all have them. We just have to slow down enough to recognize them and savor them....




Friday, June 26, 2015

365 True Things: 90/Light (6/26/15)

It is 11:02 p.m., and it is still plenty light out. I guess the sun has officially set, but it will also officially be twilight for a while yet.

The other night at the summer farm, I woke at, oh, two and looked out the window—which overlooked the town of Voss far below us—and saw the urban lights sparkling up into the not-very-dark-at-all sky . . . and it made me happy. To be able to see the landscape, albeit in muted grays, even in the middle of the night, and also the twinkling mark of clustered humanity.

And to be there at the summer farm, which the owners' family have used for almost 250 years every summer—without plumbing, hot water, electric lights, a non-wood-fired stove (okay, now they have a gas stovetop and a flush toilet—but still no hot water or electricity). They used to drive their cattle up from the valley; now they truck the cows—but still, it's a beautiful tradition. You don't need electricity (unless you want to charge a "device"—but wouldn't you rather be rid of your devices for the summer? ha ha, as if that were really possible anymore . . . ); to wash, a wash basin does the trick. The modern stove does solve the problem of dinner, though you could easily just settle for bread, cheese, meats, a cucumber salad, and beer, followed by ripe Norwegian strawberries and cream for dessert. Just imagine sitting out on the stone patio after dinner around a fire, still bathed in twilight at eleven, midnight. And then: to bed—pulling the curtains tightly shut, to keep out the lingering light.

After the wedding last week, we walked home to our little cabin at midnight, and this is what we saw:


A picture doesn't do justice to the actual light, not to mention the balmy air and the warm feeling we had from having spent a lovely evening celebrating two lovely young people starting life together. (Plus, there was dancing!)

All that said: I'm happy to live at 36 degrees north and not 60-plus. I like my dark nights. I like not having super-short winter days. The summer days could be longer, but then, I could probably get up earlier too, and enjoy that much more daylight that way.

All in all, I'm very happy where I live. And I'm happy that I have this "second home" of Norway. Though I doubt I'll ever come here around the winter solstice. The spring equinox is plenty early enough—and then we're all on the same time schedule.


365 True Things: 89/Wet (6/25/15)

Today a bunch of us took a hike up the hill behind the amazing støl (summer farm)—built in 1774 (and since added on to, and on to, and on to)—where we spent the night. Our goal: the top! Which we didn’t quite get to, but that’s okay. A destination wasn’t the point.

We started out in a light rain, and quickly my rain jacket got wet—as in, if it had started really raining, I would have been a sodden sump of sadness. Fortunately, the rain never became a bother, and I never became a grump.

I have many of these so-called rain jackets at home. I grabbed this one as I was packing because I knew I’d encounter wet, and I thought this one was newest. But really, it’s good for nothing.

When I get home, I’m going to seek out the Best Rain Jacket in the World. If there is such a thing. I’d like something I can count on, for once in my life.

Meanwhile, we were walking through bogs and then snow and then more bogs today, and my boots, supposedly waterproof, got soaked pretty much immediately. But I didn’t care! My feet were warm enough (no doubt because of that “waterproofing” barrier), and once they were good and wet, I didn’t have to be careful where I stepped. Bounding down the hills of wet snow on the way back to the støl was very fun!

Of course, wet feet can get cold, and that’s a drag. But as long as they stay warm, I don’t mind wet feet.

I do mind wet clothes, though.

We’re planning to go hiking on a high plateau in a few days—a three-day ramble from hut to hut, possibly through still-snow-covered terrain. Snow, okay; but I am seriously praying it doesn’t rain on those three days. I just checked the forecast. The weather gods seem to be on my side. At the moment, at least.

Keep your fingers crossed for me. Let it stay dry!


365 True Things: 88/Solitude (6/24/15)

I enjoy a lot of solitude. And when I say enjoy, I mean that: I like to be alone. I like to go hiking alone (though yeah, it’s better with the goofy dog). I like to go to the movies alone. I occasionally like to take myself out to dinner alone. I definitely like to hang out at home alone, doing whatever I feel like doing whenever I feel like doing it.

Last year, when David was back east for a year, I lived on my own for the first time in my life.

Of course, I wasn’t really alone, because David was just a phone call away, and we did indeed talk almost every day.

But I got to get into my own rhythms, and when a problem arose, I got to deal with it on my own (and I mean “got to”: it was a pleasure to rise to the challenge and, more often than not, actually solve it—all by myself).

So this week, traveling with eight other people—including an almost-five-year-old—has been . . . not trying, exactly; but it does throw me out of my element.

My traveling companions are great, don’t get me wrong. But sometimes, I max out and need to find a bit of peace.

So right now, I’ve snuck upstairs for some alone time (and to fulfill my blog commitment)—though a short while ago I could hear the party downstairs discussing the next few days’ plans, and I knew I could weigh in if I needed to. And now the party seems to be progressing to a hilarity-filled “show” featuring farmers and horses and farts and the song “You Make Me Feel Like Dancing,” all “directed” (or at least instigated) by the five-year-old and featuring, as performers, the two birthday boys, my brothers-in-law Geoff and Wayne, who share June 24 as a day to celebrate. Which they seem to be doing in quite some style.

In fact, the sounds are intriguing enough that I think I will wrap this up and head back down. But I’m glad I took a few moments for myself—and for this.


Tuesday, June 23, 2015

365 True Things: 87/Flexibility (6/23/15)

I try to cultivate flexibility—arguably to a fault, in that I often don't stand up for myself when I do have a (somewhat) strong opinion or desire.

I like to flex together with others. If they, too, are willing to flex.

Yesterday and the day before, our little troop of travelers got to exercise group flexibility—with a vengeance.

It all started on Sunday, when, after (and, sadly, during) a fabulous brunch at Heidi's brother Martin's farm, first one, then two, then three of our number were struck down by the Ghastly Intestinal Ugliness. And then Heidi rushed off to deal with a crisis (a very real crisis)—with the key to the community hall in her purse, so we couldn't start cleaning up. Return time: unknown.

So Patty and I decided to go for a hike, to the top of a nearby hill with a reportedly stunning view over the valley we were staying in.

On the way up, Patty—who is much more conscientious than I am (and I don't mean that in a bad way; I wish I were more conscientious)—kept wondering if we should turn around because Heidi might already be back at the hall, or almost there, and we should help with the cleaning up. I just kept saying, "I think we should get to the top." Patty flexed, and on we marched. 

As we reached the top of our hill and saw the, indeed, stunning landscape spread out below us, Patty murmured, "Oh. I see."


Sometimes, it's good to let one's own wishes take precedence. (I guess that was an example of me not being so flexible. I really wanted to get to the top, to see what was there. I already knew what awaited us at the community hall.)

In the meantime, we got word that Heidi had returned, so we hustled on back and helped with the cleanup. (In the midst of which, Heidi's sister Kaisa fell victim to the GIU—no warning. It's an awful little virus.)

The next morning, two more of our group fell to the virus. Patty and I were the last men standing.

But even though the victims of the day before were getting back on their feet (it's an awful little virus, but it's a quick one, at least), the fact that several of us were so sick meant that all of us had to rethink our plans. When we met with Heidi—who has done so much planning and calling and negotiating for our six-day outing together—she was, like, "Oh, okay. Clearly, we need to cancel tomorrow's travel plans. We'll figure it out."

Unflappable. And . . . beautifully flexible.

Fortunately, it was no problem to shift our travel plans (for nine!) by a day. And so yesterday some of us rested and recovered, while a pod of us went for a hike or two. It actually ended up being a nice respite between the bustle of the wedding party and the week of travel in the Westland.

And in the meantime, everyone seems to be well on their way to recovery.

Here's what we got to sit outside on our fjordside veranda and enjoy this evening, after a wonderful drive over a high mountain pass and through vibrant green valleys.


I rather think that if we hadn't postponed our trip, we wouldn't have been greeted by this amazing spectacle.

Flexibility is a good habit to cultivate. This evening verified that for me.



Monday, June 22, 2015

365 True Things: 86/Illness (6/22/15)

Forty-five days ago I wrote about being sick: a cold. Well, today I have a cold again.

The good news is, almost everyone else in our party of nine—and quite a few others who attended the wedding over the weekend (including, a week and a half ago, the bride and groom themselves: this thing has been going around, and around, and around)—has had a nasty intestinal flulike illness.

I've been waiting for that to hit me, but so far, so good. My sister-in-law also seems to be skating home free.

So I won't complain about a little cold.

I'd be happier if I could buy some cold medicine, but apparently you can only get that at an apotek, and the closest one is 45 minutes away. So I'll be tough like a Norwegian.

And hope that this is the last cold I get this year . . .


Sunday, June 21, 2015

365 True Things: 85/Bread (6/21/15)

The wedding morning-after: a beautiful brunch at Heidi's brother Martin's farm—scrambled eggs, whole-grain breads and rolls, various cheeses and sliced meats, pickled herring, potato salad, tomatoes, smoked salmon, fresh fruit salad. I never grow tired of a good Norwegian buffet breakfast.

I especially loved the homemade whole-grain rolls, heavy with seeds; crunchy and savory. I also found a piece of German-style Vollkornbrot (Martin's wife, Eris, is German). The chewier the bread, the better it is with cold cuts. And oh, the herrings!


At home, I tend to buy Dave's Killer Bread, which is as close as you get to good whole-grain bread in a commercial loaf. For a treat, I'll buy German pumpernickel. Or, of course, go to a bakery.

Or there's always making bread myself.

We asked Eris for the recipe for the whole-grain rolls; she thought a moment, then recited:

200g white flour
200g whole wheat flour
200g seeds, oats, etc.
1 tsp salt
1 tsp dry yeast
500mL warm water

Mix together the evening before. In the morning, spoon large spoonfuls onto baking sheet. Bake 20 minutes at 225 degrees Celsius.


Saturday, June 20, 2015

365 True Things: 84/Weddings (6/20/15)

I have photos from the reception, but the wifi is so flaky
where we're staying I'm using this as a placeholder

This evening we attended the wedding reception of our niece, Malin Kjønsberg, and her husband, Stefan Skår. They actually got married last year (and now both use both last names). But this evening, I realized that, at least in Norway, it's the reception that cements the union. Because at the reception, speeches are made. And the speechifiers put a lot of hard thought and feeling into those speeches. They mean, in a way, as much as, if not more than, that simple civil-ceremony "I do."

Tonight, there were eight speeches: by the "father" of the bride (actually the mother, our sister-in-law Heidi, who raised Malin); by the groom and bride themselves; by the best man and maid/matron of honor; and by various others, including in this case the fathers of the bride, Gunnar and Geoff (Geoff being my brother-in-law, who is married to Heidi). The father of the groom would have spoken, but he fell ill, alas.

And although I did not understand what Malin and Stefan said to each other, I could tell that their words were from deep in their hearts and that they adore each other. It was beautiful to witness.

And after all, "witnessing" is a good part of what a formal wedding ceremony (or reception) is about. And becoming part of a larger family, a supportive community.

It took me back to my wedding day, August 1, 1981. We had talked with a pastor at the ecumenical off-campus Christian place (I can't even think of what it was called) at UCLA, Reverend Fink. And after a conversation with us, apparently he was convinced that we were okay, we knew what we were doing, and he agreed to marry us.

Which he did, at Topanga State Park in the Santa Monica Mountains. It was a small ceremony, maybe forty guests. I wore a handmade dress and David wore handmade shirt and pants, of light apricot material. I had flowers in my hair, which was braided and wrapped up around my head. (My mother-in-law thought it rather severe-looking.) My mother's best friend, Libby, and her friend Phyllis played recorders as we walked down the dusty "aisle." We had a homemade cake made by our friend Therese Adair, fruit salad made by us, champagne. The highlight of the day came when a herd of goats tumbled down a nearby hill.

We wrote our own vows. Which we used to recite each year on our anniversary—until, oh, fifteen years ago.

But tonight: I wished that we Americans, too, had the tradition of the bride and groom giving speeches to each other. Telling each other what they love about each other, and what their wishes are, and maybe reciting a funny anecdote or two. Speaking their love out loud to all the witnesses, the community that will continue to hold them and keep them.

I think that if this was part of our tradition, fewer people would rush into marriage. Or at least, they'd do it more thoughtfully.

It's easy to say "I do" and spend thousands of dollars on a fancy party. It's harder to spell out just what those two words mean, in front of a roomful of family and friends.


Friday, June 19, 2015

365 True Things: 83/Driving (6/19/15)

This afternoon I needed to fetch half of our party at a train station thirty minutes' drive from where we're staying. Heidi gave me the key to her car, and immediately I felt at home! Her car is just a couple of years older than mine, with the same shifting pattern, easy-to-find seat adjustments, a comfortably used clutch.

It was such a pleasure to get on the road and drive. I think I see things differently when I'm driving. I have more a sense of possibility, of adventure. Certainly more so than when I'm being chauffeured.

Not solo, but a road trip for sure

Driving down the winding Norwegian road today—no center line, you just stay to the right when a large truck is charging toward you; and although it was clear when a lower-than-highway speed limit was kicking in or ending, I realized I had no idea what that highway speed limit actually was (I guessed 90, though I think it might have been
80 . . .)—I thought back to other road trips I've taken by myself. Like Arizona one spring, which also included my first solo backpack and my first visit to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, as well as a grand (solo) exploration of the Huachuca Mountains. Or there was a glorious drive through Italy, again all by myself: I picked up my car in the little lot across from the main terminal at the Milan airport, then headed straight to Ravenna, on the east coast, an amazing town full of 1,400-year-old Byzantine churches and beautiful mosaics. Heading west, I passed a sign pointing to the town of Vessa—name of my first boyfriend, whom I'm still good friends with: of course I had to stop. I never did find Vessa (I think it might have been a graveyard at a crossroads), but it was fun looking for it. I loved sailing past Pisa heading north—the leaning tower was right there for the viewing—then crawling up into the mountains past the marble quarries of Carrera, where Michelangelo selected his materials.

& c. I won't go on and on with my reminiscing. The point is, as I drove today in my brief half hour of solitude and self-direction, I was reveling in those old memories and the muscle memory of driving and actively exploring.

And looking forward to more.

But for this week, we'll be chauffeured. An experience I'm never crazy about. For one thing, if I'm not under active control of my movements, and I don't have ready access to a map, at the end of the trip I'm often totally lost as to where we've been. I spent a couple of weeks in the Orkney and Shetland Islands a few years ago, and today I have literally no idea where I was. I don't like that. I need to feel grounded, oriented.

In another week, however, we will be given the keys to the red Toyota I drove today, and we'll get to explore on our own for a couple of days. That will be delicious.

I got a small taste today. That makes me happy.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

365 True Things: 82/Graves (6/18/15)

Monterey angel
Today on the drive from Alvdal to Folldal, we asked Heidi if she minded stopping at a little chapel that was right on the way. Our ulterior motive was a geocache, but she said she didn’t mind at all: she could use a cigarette break. And as it turned out, she was also happy to visit her grandparents’ grave, in that same small but uncrowded churchyard. We didn’t find the cache, but we enjoyed hearing a little about her mother’s parents—neither of whom Heidi knew (her grandmother died at age forty, apparently of complications at a late stage of pregnancy; her grandfather died when Heidi was just two).

As we continued on our way, after a few minutes Heidi pointed to the left and said, “That’s where my mother grew up.” It was a subsistence dairy farm in those days, and today it looked very neat and very green from the late-spring grasses and leaves just bursting out (she called the tiny leaf clusters on the beeches “mouse ears”).

Folldal kirkegård
Later, after we’d run some errands, we went into Folldal town to pick up a bunch of deep red roses to take to Heidi’s father, Magne’s grave. He died last year, and as she tidied up the pansies and primroses that nestled against a wooden cross that will eventually, once the earth has settled, be replaced by a headstone, she talked about his funeral, how the people were lined up between the grave monuments as far as the church itself, and how moving that show of respect was.

Another tradition in the small towns of Norway is for local residents to fly their flag at half staff, again out of respect. I've driven through a town where this practice was being observed, and it's strikingly moving—even when I had no idea who was being so honored. Magne's friends and neighbors followed this custom as well. I could just imagine all the fluttering red-white-blue crosses, bunting of sorrow.

Next to Magne's grave we noticed another headstone decorated with reindeer lichen, a specialty of this area that gives it a beautiful otherworldly look. Then we saw the names: Martin and Erika Kjønsberg. "Are those your father's parents?" I asked. Shortly before, at the Grimsbu community hall where on Saturday we will be celebrating Heidi's daughter's wedding, Heidi had shown us photos from the 1930s of the community schoolteacher—Magne's father—and his couple dozen students, who included Magne himself and his two brothers. His gravestone stated that Martin, identified as Lærer (Teacher), died in 1942, when he was just short of forty as well. Kidney failure.

Six (or seven?) children raised by widowed parents during hard times in a physically challenging place with its long, hard winters. It helps explain a bit about Heidi's parents, both of whom are upright, solid, and deeply committed to community.

It was lovely to see the graves of Heidi's forebears, to get a little more of her story in this beautiful place.

Visiting these graves reminded me of a trip I took through Minnesota seven years ago, when I decided to stop in the town my mother lived in as a girl and see if I could find her parents' grave. I had visited it some twenty years earlier with my mother, but I didn't remember it at all. I asked at a gas station where the local cemetery was. The fellow named two names, and I didn't have a clue. "Hilly or relatively flat?" he tried. I thought I remembered hills. He gave me directions, and off I went.


I still didn't recognize the place, and I certainly didn't remember where my grandparents were buried. I drove the loop once and was about to leave in defeat when I thought, "Nah, let's give it one more try." As I rounded a curve that led back toward the exit, something—a headstone, an angle of view, a shadow—nudged me. I parked, got out, and headed toward an edge of the burial ground, overlooking a hillside that dipped into a wooded vale. Sure enough, there they were: John J Skinner—also a schoolteacher, and eventually superintendent of schools in a southern Minnesota town—and Annie H Skinner. Annie was the only grand-parent I ever knew—a little like Heidi knowing only her father's mother.

Also set in the ground were two small stones marking the resting place of infant boys who had died: the reason (as I've explained elsewhere) my mother came to be adopted into the Skinner family when the couple thought they were unable to have their own children. (They were wrong, but by the time my aunt Mary Ann came along, my mother was well ensconced in her new home.)

I was struck by their quiet remove from the bustle of other graves in this cemetery. My family does tend to be outsiders, so it seemed entirely appropriate. And my grandparents' eternal view out over the forest is exquisite.




Tuesday, June 16, 2015

365 True Things: 81/Morning (6/17/15)

Woke up this morning to the sound of the radio downstairs.

That's something I don't do: listen to the radio or watch TV in the morning. These days, virtually the only time I listen to the radio is while I'm driving.

Me, I like a quiet morning. I'm not even crazy about saying "Good morning," should someone else have the misfortune of being in "my" space in the morning. Silence is my idea of the way to start the day.

When David was gone, I managed to get into a little routine that I liked: I'd get up and put the coffee on; check email and FB while it brewed. As soon as it was done, I'd pour a cup, then go upstairs and read poetry while I sipped. When the cup was finished, I'd meditate for half an hour. Et voilà: my day had started.

After that, it was a crapshoot what would happen next. Routine isn't exactly my métier. But just that much of a routine felt somehow grounding. I kept meaning to try to add on other activities, make a mega-routine. But that didn't happen.

And then David came home, and since he gets up before I do, and makes the coffee, my old routine was shot. I could have invented a new one, I suppose. But it didn't occur to me. I was back to my old go-with-the-flow ways.

So this morning, lying in bed listening to the rumble of a commentator's voice—no words, just sound with a Scandinavian inflection—I pondered whether I should try to get a routine started again when I get home from vacation (and anything is possible!). I could take advantage of the coffee already being made and simply go upstairs and read poetry—skip making the coffee, skip email and FB. That's a possibility.

However, I also wonder if it might not be more beneficial to start the day with exercise: get on my bike in its trainer machine and cycle for twenty minutes, then do the seven-minute workout. That would be an excellent way to start the day.

Or I could start the day with some writing. This blog maybe, or a "15."

Maybe it would make sense to do the hardest thing first thing, and everything would seem easier after that.

The problem is, I'm not sure which of these things—meditation, exercise, or writing—feels "hardest." None of them is really hard; they're all things I enjoy doing. Once I'm doing them. (And definitely once I've finished doing them.)

The "hard" part, maybe, is figuring out how to string these various activities together. And that's all about transitions. Which is whole nother ball o' wax.



365 True Things: 80/Travel (Norway) (6/16/15)

This is my fifth trip to Norway in twelve years. Why so often? Because of my delightful Norwegian sister-in-law, Heidi! Sure, I might have come here to visit—once—in the course of my travels anyway, and I'm sure I would have enjoyed it. But Heidi is the best host in the world, a wonderful traveling companion, and she shows us a side of the country (and its people) we never would have experienced otherwise. So of course I keep coming back! It's all her fault.

Heidi's country cottage, Jørgenstua, is on the left
The first visit, in 2003, was during the summer with David. That was when we first visited Heidi's home valley of Folldal, which is near two beautifully austere national parks, Rondane (where we went hiking) and Dovrefjell-Sundasfjella (where we once saw muskoxen in the wild). Reindeer travel through the area too, but those we have yet to see. Moose are common. It's a wild and wonderful place.

Folldal is also the highest dairy-farm valley in Norway. Heidi's father, Magne, was a dairy farmer.


The next time I came—the very next winter, in fact—it was to ski. Heidi and I spent a week in her country cottage, Jørgenstua, in the tiny community of Grimsbu, where we were able, basically, to ski out the door and into the snowy mountains. And the next time, in 2008, it was to spend a week skiing with both Heidi and my other wonderful sister-in-law Patty, again at Jørgenstua. Talk about heaven! It was so much fun.

Patty & Wayne, David, Geoff & Heidi, me

Three years ago, the semiregular Canright family reunion came to Norway, and where did we go? Folldal, of course! As well as— spectacularly memorably—the Lofoten Islands, above the Arctic Circle.

Vorfjord, Lofoten Islands
And the day after tomorrow, we are heading to Folldal once again, this time to celebrate Heidi's daughter Malin's wedding to Stefan Skår —which actually happened last year, but this year is the reception. Seventy people will take over the Grimsbu community hall, and a good time will be had, of that I'm sure. Today we had the pleasure of meeting Stefan briefly at their home in Oslo; we figured they'll be busy on the weekend, so it was nice to have a few peaceful moments to say hello.

So yeah: Folldal—where Heidi's mother, Anne-Marie, still lives (Magne died last year; I'll miss his impish smile)—is part of the reason I keep coming back too. I can't say I really know the place. But I have so many good memories of it that it's seeped into my blood. It's one of my many blessings.


Monday, June 15, 2015

365 True Things: 79/Home (6/15/15)

We are staying a few days with my brother- and sister-in-law, in their new house in a suburb of Oslo. Formerly, they lived in a lovely older apartment, with one long corridor off of which opened four rooms, plus one and a half bathrooms; the rooms were high-ceilinged and with creaky wooden floors (though the larger bath had a tile floor with radiant heating—which convinced me that I had to have such a thing too). I found the apartment elegant, with its picture rails and walls painted in rich hues.

Now they live in a newish "garden town" house in a part of town that is transforming from industrial (matchstick factory, car dealers) to a mixed community with many immigrants. Their three-story house has seven rooms plus one and three-quarters bathrooms (and no radiant heating that I can discern, alas). They moved in a year or so ago—and as so often happens, are still moving in, as in: they still have boxes to unpack. Though it feels quite lived in, if not so thoroughly as their old place.

I enjoy taking photos in people's houses. Capturing a sense of who they are through the things they own and display. I took lots of photos in their old house. This morning, I found a few interesting subjects. I bet next time I visit, there will be more: more pictures on the walls, more little groupings of curios. As happens . . . Although it's always nice to have that fresh start in brand-new place, that clean slate of pristine white wallspace, we do manage to stamp our identity on it.

I've been thinking about this because our own brand-new house —which really was brand new, built more or less from scratch— continues to lack much of a stamp of ours. The only real decorations I have are a few knickknacks on the mantel and on a shelf in my loft, a hanging mobile of words (a housewarming gift), and two calendars —the only items I could bear making holes in the walls for.

Not to say there isn't plenty of stuff around that might tell a visitor "who we are." Stuff such as books, magazines, a few DVDs. But that's not decoration. And I think our (I mean that generally) aesthetic choices are so interesting, so telling.

So, when I get home from vacation—and all is still possible—I think it's time I find our old pieces of art, my old framed photos, and start hanging some of them up. And I'd like to find some new ones as well, start supporting working artists.

As for projects of my own, I've thought for a long time of putting a series of small framed photographic prints in the entry hall. Maybe I'll start there. And I'd like to make a large print of a triptych of Hawaiian water and sand and frame it even larger, with a good-sized matte.

In any case, it's time to more fully inhabit our new house.

Though I'm sure I'll keep plenty of wallspace free. I do enjoy that clean, anything's-possible look.





Sunday, June 14, 2015

365 True Things: 78/Tropopause (6/14/15)

Last night, sailing along at 35,000 feet, I watched the movie Still Alice. It ends with a beautiful quote from Tony Kushner's Angels in America, Part Two: Perestroika. 

"Night flight to San Francisco; chase the moon across America. God, it’s been years since I was on a plane. When we hit 35,000 feet we’ll have reached the tropopause, the great belt of calm air, as close as I’ll ever get to the ozone. I dreamed we were there. The plane leapt the tropopause, the safe air, and attained the outer rim, the ozone, which was ragged and torn, patches of it threadbare as old cheesecloth, and that was frightening. But I saw something that only I could see because of my astonishing ability to see such things: Souls were rising, from the earth far below, souls of the dead, of people who had perished, from famine, from war, from the plague, and they floated up, like skydivers in reverse, limbs all akimbo, wheeling and spinning. And the souls of these departed joined hands, clasped ankles, and formed a web, a great net of souls, and the souls were three-atom oxygen molecules of the stuff of ozone, and the outer rim absorbed them and was repaired. Nothing’s lost forever. In this world, there’s a kind of painful progress. Longing for what we’ve left behind, and dreaming ahead. At least I think that’s so."

Hearing those words, and seeing that movie, prompted me to look out the window into the black night, and at the miracle of an airplane wing keeping me and David and our anonymous traveling companions aloft, and think about my blessings. Certainly, the family that I will be spending the next few weeks with are a blessing. My freedom to fly is a blessing. All the places I've been and people I've known. Including the ones who are no longer with us.


365 True Things: 77/Travel (6/13/15)


The last decade or more, I have not much enjoyed traveling—the actual travel days, that is. Mostly because of TSA, or as Bruce Schneier calls it, “security theater.” I suppose it’s possible that some bad guys have been caught with screening, but I doubt many of them have had bombs in their shoes or volatile substances cleverly packaged in bottles of shampoo or tubes of toothpaste. I still believe that if bad people want to harm us, they’ll find a way, and they don’t need to rely on airports. There are plenty of targets, and plenty of places where nobody’s looking for them. We stay one step behind them with our “security” efforts.

Nevertheless, even though I don’t like TSA, I grin and bear it. It’s part of the process now, for better or worse. (In fact, the first time I went through a security check, it was at Heathrow during the “Troubles”: I had to pull my portable cassette player out and show them that when I pressed the on button, the spools actually turned. No, security theater is nothing new.)

That said, this morning’s trip through security at SFO was an absolute breeze. Our shuttle dropped us off at 5:35, and by 5:45 we were eating breakfast inside the passenger terminal. There was no line whatsoever—we waltzed right through and, as TSA Pre-✓ customers, did not have to remove shoes or laptops.

It was, dare I say, pleasant!

(Though as we passed by security again on our way to our gate, we noticed a long line. Apparently we just got ridiculously lucky. So . . . I won’t get used to it.)

Things stayed good: our gate was in a brand-new concourse, jam-packed with outlets for all those electronic devices that all of us carry nowadays. And the wifi was free.

Then, the plane left right on time—and got in a little early. The next flight: also on time.

Central Park & mid-Manhattan
And now, night is falling as we leave the lights of New York City behind. It seems we will be tracing the northern edge of the bubble of darkness, traveling at 540 mph and 35,000 feet. Six hours and forty-five minutes until arrival in Oslo.

Today, except for the very cramped seating, travel has been as good as it gets. Soon, a glass of wine and dinner. Even if it’s just airplane food, I’m looking forward to it. Maybe a movie. And before I know it, I’ll be in Norway. Modern life: it’s amazing! Even despite the annoyances.



Friday, June 12, 2015

365 True Things: 76/Packing


Tomorrow morning at 9:30, we fly off to Norway, via New Jersey! In about nine hours, at 2:45 a.m., we get picked up by the SFO shuttle. (There is a 5 a.m. shuttle too, but I didn't want to cut it too short, in case there's traffic, and then there are those interminable TSA lines. I do not like to stress any more that I have to on a travel day.) Presumably, we'll try to get some sleep before our ride arrives. Which gives me, oh, four hours still to pack! No problem!

I remember the old days when you watched the weather report in the newspaper the week before a trip, hoping to discern a trend. That didn't allow for much refinement. If, say, you were traveling somewhere in the mountains of Norway, the only city you'd get would be Oslo. Packing was a matter of guesswork.

Just now, I checked the weather for Oslo and my sister-in-law's home valley, where we'll spend a few days: 60s for Oslo, 40s for Folldal. That helps. I'll definitely be layering up. And packing for sunshine. And rain. And wind on a boat as we sail down a fjord. Even some snow, possibly, on a three-day hut-to-hut hike. If I get there and find I've overpacked, I can leave stuff in the car. No sweat.

When it comes to packing, clothing is pretty straightforward. It's the diversions that I have to consider with care. But how wonderful it is that we can now pack an entire library on a Kindle! I am bringing a few old-fashioned books as well, and a bunch of New Yorkers for everyone's reading pleasure. And lots of camera equipment: that's the heavy part of my packing. Binoculars; my phone; GPS unit, for geocaching; iPod so I can tune out to music (or Norwegian lessons). And chargers and cords galore.

And my laptop, of course, so I can continue this blog-a-day challenge. I may not be posting every day, but I will be writing. 

As long as I'm awake enough in the middle of the night to remember to pack my toiletries bag, I think I'm set. Let the shuttle come.



Thursday, June 11, 2015

365 True Things: 75/Garden


And while we're talking about good intentions . . .

Pretty much every spring, I go to the garden center and buy many packets of seeds, as well as plants—peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, strawberries, &c.—in six-packs. I then contentedly set about planting and watering, and more or less daily go out to see how my seedlings are doing.

But once they get going . . . I kinda sorta forget to check on them.

Or—ostensibly the point of the whole project—to harvest.

This year, I got discouraged when seeds didn't sprout: one pea out of a couple dozen; no green beans; two lettuces out of a gazillion seeds.

No, wait: many lettuces sprouted—but they were immediately munched to the ground by otherwise invisible bugs. Earwigs and sowbugs are the main culprits, and they cleverly hide during the daylight hours. The only evidence I have of their existence is my crewcut seedlings.

And even though I know who's the problem, I refuse to use insecticides. I expect there are nontoxic ways of controlling them; I should find out.

So right now in our garden—where David is assiduously setting up the drip irrigation as I type—we do have some very healthy tomatoes, one healthy and one struggling artichoke, some healthy-enough strawberries, zucchini and crookneck squash, pumpkins, maybe canteloupes, fava beans, some carrots, some onions, two lettuces, an eruption of flowering arugula. And one four-inch-high snow-pea plant.

And a fennel plant that is about to take over our town of two thousand. That, however, is completely unintentional.

So, as long as I'm thinking about returning from vacation and developing new habits because after vacation all things are possible!, I hereby vow to attend to the garden and enjoy its bounty to the fullest.




Wednesday, June 10, 2015

365 True Things: 74/Exercise

Today, I quit my gym.

I should have known better than to sign up in the first place: I've proven time and again that for me, a gym membership is a waste of money.

But I was optimistic. Once again.

And for a while, I was actually pretty good about going. I like the machines—the ones that work various muscle groups, that keep track of my routine. I sorta kinda like classes—Zumba, yoga—though there, my intentions were definitely a whole lot better than my follow-through. I really meant to use the beautiful swimming pool.

But for the past few months? Nada. Zip. A big fat zero.

So yeah: time to throw in the towel.

Which isn't to say I'm going to stop exercising.

After I get back from Norway at the beginning of July, I have all sorts of good intentions. I'll just be following through closer to home.

I've got my beautiful road bike, which I ride far too seldom. That will be changing.


I've got my (also seldom-used) kettlebells, and today I downloaded an app with various kettlebell exercises. Great for core conditioning, so I understand.


I've got another app for a 7-minute floor routine, some twelve exercises: regular and side planks, chair step-ups, wall squats, pushups, situps. Et cetera. Seven minutes? I can do seven minutes.

And I've got great dirt trails just five minutes away where I can get back to running—warming up by walking to get there.

So yeah: I don' need no stinkin' gym. I can get plenty of exercise, and for free.

The key will be scheduling it in.

But I'll worry about that when I get back from vacation, and all things are possible!


Tuesday, June 9, 2015

365 True Things: 73/Geography

Looking north across Monterey Bay from Asilomar
I was born (downtown Los Angeles) and raised (LA/Santa Monica) in southern California. I now live in central California (Monterey). I have lived in northern California (Oakland/El Cerrito: the Bay Area) as well.

Yes, these are distinct regions—anyone who lives in any of them will tell you so.

Eastern Californians, or foothill Californians, no doubt feel, and rightly so, that they inhabit still other distinctive regions.

Near Lee Vining, Hwy 395: eastern California

I have never lived in eastern or foothill California. Though I have visited them. And love them with all my heart.

Looking toward Pico Blanco, Ventana Wilderness


But home, anymore—after California plain and simple (there is something about the light here . . .)—is central California. These landscapes, with the ocean blues of Monterey Bay, the pinks and yellows of coastal wildflowers, the myriad chaparral greens and golds of the Ventana Wilderness (or, farther south, Montaña de Oro or the morros stretching eastward from Morro Bay): they speak to my soul.

Joshua Tree
When my parents came west from Minnesota/Wisconsin/Illinois in 1939, they immediately found home in the desert sands and fragile blooms of the Mohave, of Joshua Tree.

I also feel at home in the desert. More so, I daresay, than in the wild greens of a summertime Midwest or the stark whites and browns of a wintertime Eastern Seaboard.

I do love those landscapes, but my soul feels a little out of place there.

It's not what I'm used to.

I suppose I could learn. . . .

But I don't have to. Home is California—especially, if not solely, its central coast. And I love traveling to all the other homes people enjoy on this Earth to remind me of what's special about mine.


Monday, June 8, 2015

365 True Things: 72/Frivolity

The past few days, we have been solving diabolical puzzles—two in a series of, so far, four. All for the sake of finding a geocache. Or two.


White border letters and
Mayan zero (see it?)
were part of the key to
solving this puzzle
Not only are these puzzles diabolical; they are also elaborate, requiring much time and painstaking design skills on the maker's part. They are somewhat based on Masquerade by Kit Williams (though blessedly, they aren't that diabolical). They all use books by Beatrix Potter: The Tale of Tom Kitten; The Tale of Mrs. Tittlemouse (here ⇧); The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin; and the most recent arrival, which David is noodling on right now, A Tale of Two Bad Mice.

It has been delightful to revisit Beatrix Potter, whom I used to enjoy as a child. And it's been fun to scratch our heads over the puzzles, which rely on such devices as differently colored or shaped letters, Mayan numbers, and cryptic crosswords. I did contact a previous solver to get me started on Tom Kitten: and that taught us that looking, looking, very closely, at every possible anomaly, can be key. David eventually worked out Mrs. Tittlemouse—which was very sneaky, involving several rather random steps and lots of looking, looking—all by himself. And today, I solved Squirrel Nutkin—which was not nearly as sneaky, but I, too, did it all (well, mostly: David had a couple of important insights) by myself.

Silliness. But satisfying silliness. Fun, too. And we all know that fun is important.

But now, back to work.


Sunday, June 7, 2015

365 True Things: 71/Climbing


I took up rock climbing in November 1999, in Yosemite Valley. I was 44. Old enough to know better.  You'd think.

A friend, Mike, taught me the basics—in particular, how to tie in (attach the rope to my harness, using a follow-through figure-eight knot). Then he headed for the top of the short route—which I've always thought was Jump for Joy (put up in 1967 by Yvon Chouinard), but I now see that that's a 5.9. And I don't believe Mike would have started me on a 5.9—which isn't super hard, but it's not exactly easy either, especially for a greenhorn. But the guidebook description of an "initial bowl/depression" sounds right. Hmm. I never realized I had such an auspicious start!

In any case, what I wanted to relate is that after he disappeared and eventually the rope came snaking down the rock, how to tie in completely flew out of my head! All I could do was stand there and stare at the end of the rope. Then at my harness. Then at the rope.

Fortunately, right around the corner, a trio of dudely young men were getting set to start their own climb. I tiptoed over and asked, "Um? Would you mind showing me how to tie in?"

Of course, if they'd been responsible young men, they would have told me no. But nah, they were climber dirtbags and very happy to show me.

After that, I never forgot again.

And my first climb was a lot of fun! And over the course of the next week we did lots more fun climbs, many of them—like Jump for Joy—at a place called Manure Pile Buttress. So called, I eventually learned, because it's where they used to dump the manure from the Yosemite Valley stables. Or so they say . . .

Here I am reaching the top of my first multipitch climb, After Six (5.7)—a climb that, along with its neighbor, After Seven (5.8), I've since led. But that first time, following on the rope, was plenty thrilling enough.


Saturday, June 6, 2015

365 True Things: 70/Photography

In 2011, I started doing photographic diptych projects with a friend, Susan, whom I've known for eight or nine years via Flickr but have never met. She lives in New Jersey and is a wonderful photographer.

The first such project was the numbers 1 through 9. The second was the colors of the rainbow: ROYGBV. Both those were accomplished lickety-split, one after the other. Then we waited for a new project to emerge—and it did, a year and a half ago: the letters of the alphabet.

We've been stuck on V for months now. Not because V is hard. It's not. But because we're both busy. And for my part, distracted. For me, without a photo-a-day project, I simply forget to take pictures. But: I do have a V in mind. I just need to go out with my camera and do it.

So here, I'll share the rainbow, for your visual pleasure:








It's been fun working together across the miles—though one of these days, I hope we can work together in the flesh. Hm, I just got an idea for our next project: going out and shooting the very same subject, but working from each of our separate sensibilities, and with our own different camera equipment. Maybe at Grounds for Sculpture—and then somewhere here in California as well. Are you listening, Susan?