Friday, July 22, 2011

Art on the Walls; Art in the Streets

SEATTLE IS QUITE A BIT COOLER THAN BIRDLAND AND I'M GLAD I packed several sweaters. Ellis has taken to wearing his brother's fedora. My youngest would fit right into the Seattle fashions, especially with guidance from Chad. While my oldest worked, Ellis and I had to find our own amusements. Luckily Chad had provided us with a hand-drawn map. On it a star marked the restaurant that Chad proclaimed “the world's best donuts,” so of course we had to make a detour and see for ourselves. They had pretty good coffee, too, and 40 foot ceilings with simple but elegant maple shelves full of books up to the top. It made me feel smart while I ate my donut—the most delicious old fashioned maple iced donut I've ever eaten. But I don't think anyone reads those books. They were nicely bound, and sharply lined up, but I think they were decoration. They looked like sets of encyclopedias picked up at yard sales. Chad says that they are standard d├ęcor for coffee shops.
 After the donuts we went to the Seattle Public Library, where people do read the books. Chad put the library on our list because he wanted us to see the unique architecture, and it was a little like walking into an industrial Hogwarts. The fourth floor is all red—the walls, ceilings, floors—and seems to be made of molded fiberglass with smooth, glossy walls and weird hallways. No book shelves on that floor; it is all meeting rooms and we wandered around through curving hallways until we felt like we were stuck in a dream. In one wall was a plexiglass window bolted over a hole that looked like it was smashed in the wall. Inside we could see faces projected onto big egg shaped, so the eggs themselves seemed to be making faces or engaged in silent conversation. On the other side of the wall was an escalator, and we watched people going up and down in pursuit of knowledge. Most floors had tables and tables of computers, and most computers were occupied. We went up to the top and discovered an atrium. People were reading in the sunny room in comfy chairs or at the tables arranged around the central stacks. We discovered there that the floors seemed to spiral down, so you could follow the square down, browsing the stacks along the way, perhaps all the way down to street level. We took the escalator, so we could see the egg heads again from the other side. Yep. They were still talking.
 Back on the street we make our way back up to Capitol Hill, but we keep our eyes open because in Seattle artwork is everywhere, from the manhole covers which have whales and fish stamped into them to the yellow bricks laid into the bridge. The bricks are stamped with words of poetry written by local high schoolers and glazed with clay dug from the site of the bridge. In Chad's neighborhood is a colorful mosaic of broken crockery and china plates surrounding a tree between the sidewalk and the street.

Chad calls us from work to ask if we'd like to go to the rock climbing gym, and of course we do. I sit on the padded floor and crochet while I watch my boys ascend the blue wall with the color coded toe holds. Different colors signify the degree of difficulty. Chad's friends are there too, and they all share encouragement and hints for each problem. (A particular path up the wall is called a “problem.”) In Seattle, even the climbing gym has a garden and I wander over to the deck to check out this one—burlap bags filled with dirt hold tomato and basil plants. The sun is beginning to set and the breeze blows lightly over my face, and I watch my boys helping each other solve problems.

Ascend in Beauty; Descend in Peace; Blessed Be.

Monday, July 18, 2011


 I'M THINKING ABOUT BIRDLAND AND WONDERING about rain and heat and bugs there. Here in Seattle it's sweater weather, at least until afternoon, when I shed my sweater and carry it around until evening, then put it back on. We had one evening of negligible rain, more like walking into the mist next to a waterfall than actual rain. The longer days, rich soil, and damper climate is good to the plants, and we find flowers twice as big as those at home. Daisies as tall as a 7 year old child; generous Roses the size of my grandmother's china tea cup nestled in in its saucer. Our first day, Ellis and I were on our own, as Chad, my oldest was working. We decided to walk down the hill to the Market, and a block from Chad's house we found an organic community garden. 

The lot is dedicated to mixed beds of vegetables, herbs, and flowers, with a winding, cobblestone path leading to a small shed and composting bins. Each plot has its own personality, some with naturally shaped raised stone terraces, like small hillsides and cliffs, others with rectangular wooden, waist-high beds of railroad ties. Lilies grew next to Kale and Chard; Raspberry canes arched amongst wrought iron chairs and stone birdbaths. Crisp lettuces waited freshly in rows and Foxgloves stood guard. When I asked Chad about the garden he told me there was a waiting list, and no wonder. I would wait a long time for a chance to garden there. Luckily, it is open to the public for wandering, if not picking. (Signs ask visitors to respect the gardeners' harvest.) 

 When we'd had our fill of colors and scents we continued on to the waterfront where the market is bustling. We followed the brass hoof prints, but didn't find Rachel the Pig.  We found a pig down by the waterfront, sitting on her haunches, smiling, waiting to be admired, but I wasn't sure it was Rachel. In the market I bought the bouquet I'd been thinking about since my visit last year. Sweet Peas, Gerber Daisies, and rusty red Lilies. The bouquets are wrapped in plain, white paper, standing in vases and packed with water in a plastic bag. I carried them plus the sweet yellow cherries I bought all the way back to Capitol Hill, and they didn't wilt at all. You can get bouquets of various sizes: $4 to $10. The four dollar every bit as lovely and crisp as the ten dollar bunch, maybe only a little smaller.

 That evening, Chad took us to a pizza restaurant with a wood fired oven. We sat in view of the open oven door, and I could see the flame dancing inside. The oven was a large, tiled hemisphere with an arched opening. I watched them pull our pizza from the oven with a long handled paddle, called a pizza peel. 

Next morning, Ellis and I were on our own again, and we took the opportunity to walk down to the Space Needle. The view from the top was nice, but most fascinating to me was the blacktop yard of the nearby music museum. From above we watched a pick up game of basketball, some kids doing tricks on the stairs, jumping over the banister, one even doing a back flip. We kept circling the needle, admiring the view, looking for various landmarks, but I kept returning to that blacktop because painted there was also a labyrinth, the same pattern as the one I visit in Crystal Lake park. At first nobody was using it, then a child ran across, stopped in the center and came back to the start. A couple more kids came, and then a woman with a stroller. She left the stroller on the edge and slowly began walking in. Soon 5 or 6 people were walking the pattern at various speeds. Watching from above is nearly as satisfying as walking the labyrinth yourself. Several walkers makes the experience dynamic. Of course when we descended I told Ellis we had to find the labyrinth. It is painted in electric orange on black, and from up close you can see that the paint is chipped. Walking the pattern on industrial orange paint with Nirvana blasting above from the billboard advertising the music museum is a different experience from walking at home on cobblestones surrounded by a fragrant garden. As I walked, I gathered energy from the music, from the basketball game, from the children still running up and down the spiraling path, from my center. I thought about how I can find a labyrinth here or at home, about how I carry my center with me wherever I go.
Walk in Beauty; Work in Peace; Blessed Be.

Saturday, July 9, 2011


BIRDLAND IS FAR FROM HERE. 2241.6 miles to be exact. Who would have thought that Ellis and I could get in the car one morning early, and drive drive drive for three days and then a little more, and end up in Seattle? My youngest drove at least half the way, probably more, and I'm sure that when we do the math we will find that he's more than fulfilled his fifty hours of practice driving for his license. 

 The first leg of our journey was the shortest, and we spent the 4th of July in Ames, Iowa with Elaine and Matt. It was good to see them and their sweet daughters. We arrived in time for an afternoon swim and fajitas on the deck with their friends, where I got to hold a tiny baby. We drove into the campus to watch fireworks. We were still in the central time zone, but so much further west that the fireworks didn't begin until after 10 when the sun finally set. We parked in a the stadium parking lot and sat in the grass median watching families set off sparklers while we waited for the colors to light up the dark sky. Afterwards we stayed and talked and watched kids race through the grass while waiting for the cars to file out of the parking lot.

 I had expected Iowa to look a lot like our corner of Illinois, and it did in parts, but also had rolling hills. We saw more silos and more picturesque barns, and drove past lots of windmills in the fields. We also saw them being trucked in parts—one gigantic blade at a time, like twisted wings of jets laid on the bed of semi trailer trucks.
 After taking advantage of Elaine and Matt's kind hospitality, we snuck out in the morning. I was trying not to wake the girls and went out the back door and nosed around their yard until I found a gate in the back fence just under their lush grape arbor that is dripping with green grapes, the vines climbing up their roof. I was glad I found the gate, or else I would have missed their sweet little vegetable bed at the side of the house. We got back in the car and continued driving west. We had a long drive through South Dakota, which had very rolling hills that mess with your sense of distance. The hills are green, but covered with a smattering of sage colored plants, stones, and sometimes cows and sheep. The cows on the far hills are tiny, sometimes the size of a jelly bean. I finally figured out that at home if a cow is more than two miles away, we usually can't see it, since the land is so flat. But in the hill country, we can see much farther, so the cows themselves can appear much smaller. It took me awhile to understand it was cows gathered on the hillside, and not some kind of rabbits or prairie dogs. Along the interstate was plenty to look at and we saw a tiny roadside chapel, and one rest stop was really a museum dedicated to Lewis and Clark's expedition, and Native American culture and tradition. It had an observation deck made of a keel boat, and a teepee and beadwork.

On to Wyoming, where we stayed with my friend, Claire and her husband, Chris. I don't know where I get the gall to email people I haven't seen in so many years and ask if they can put us up. Claire inspires my admiration for living her dream. She has always loved horses, so what does she do? Moves out west to live on a ranch. She makes the most lovely leather work: saddles and chaps. I actually got to see a pile of saddles in her house. We left early the next morning for our last leg, but not before she invited us to stop by on the way back. I was so glad because I hope we'll have time to get a better look at her leather work, and walk out to see the new foals.

The last leg through Montana was the longest, and we'll try to do it in two days on the way home. Driving through the mountains is best and safest when you are not so tired. We couldn't quite make it all the way to Seattle, and pulled off on a rest stop just inside Washington for a nap. When I woke, the sky was just getting light I took some pictures of the windmills surrounding the rest stop, and when I turned to get back into the car I could see Mount Rainier to the west, floating like a ghost above the horizon, pulling me toward Seattle and my firstborn.

Travel in Peace; Move in Beauty; Blessed Be.


AT THE MOMENT I'M TAKING A BREAK FROM YARD work to sit in the shade by the aviary, which is still full of chicks. They are adolescent chicks now, at the gangly stage, feathered out and growing, but not fully chicken shaped. They are alleged to be all pullets, but we'll see. I chose this spot, in the shade of the ancient apple tree to sit in the chairs my friend Barb found on the curb one day. We had plans, but our coffee date got sidetracked when she spotted a couple of white wicker rockers. She called me and said, “You like to dumpster dive, right?” and we drove over and somehow stuffed both chairs into the back of her little car. 

They are perfect for this spot. I wanted to sit peacefully by the chickens to help acclimate Ursula to them. She tends to get excited and race around the aviary, while the lone rooster baits her. I came armed with dog biscuits and the clicker, and after only a little redirection, she is now quietly sitting at my feet, helping me enjoy the shade and the breeze.

Earlier this week I got a surprise call from another friend, another Barbara, this one in from Upstate New York. Many years ago, she brought me a little yellow puppy, and always asks about Isis. Isis' brother, Jack still lives in New York with Barbara's family. I've heard that dogs have long memories, remembering the scent of a person they haven't seen for years, and I believe this. Isis is near the end of her days. She is deaf and arthritic. She still loves a walk, but even going as far as the cemetery up the hill exhausts her now. If I want to take a long walk with Ursula, we have to sneak away. Isis no longer sheds her winter coat, so that we have to get her a summer cut, but I can see that she still loves Barbara. Isis can be rather standoffish, and generally won't allow a stranger to touch her. But she put her sweet nose right up into Barbara's face, slowly wagging her tail in loving recognition. Barbara's son, Cameron, drove out with her, and Isis remembered him, too. They reminisced about the day Isis was born, April Fool's Day, fifteen years ago. Barbara was glad to see Isis. She said she might not get another chance to visit her, and I know this is probably true.

But Isis is not the only one getting old and decrepit. I offered my friends a drink, and tried to think of some little snack to offer, but they snuck up on me and I wasn't prepared. Suddenly I remembered that the last time I made a pie, I put away in the freezer some little mini lemon treats I made with the leftover crust and lemon curd. These are fun to make, like little jeweled pastries you can pop in your mouth. I told my friends the story of my last pie while I arranged the snacks on a little plate and put them into the microwave to thaw. We caught up a little. I heard about Cameron's job in Chicago. The timer rang. I checked the pastries and they were still a little cold, so I put them in for thirty more seconds. In thirty seconds anything can happen. An egg can begin to hatch. A pie can begin to burn. A friend can tell a story or give a hug or wipe away a tear. An old woman can walk out of the room, forgetting that she put the pastries back into the microwave. Somehow we ended up in the yard again, talking, talking, talking. Suddenly Barbara looked at her watch. They had to get back on the road. A couple of quick photos, hugs and kisses, and they were gone.

Hours later I find the pastries in the microwave and think of my friends driving north, hoping that Isis will hold out for one more visit. Next time I will bake a whole pie.

Visit in Beauty; Recognize Peace; Blessed Be.