Thursday, August 23, 2007


Do vacations prime you to see things differently? Maybe not the kind filled with drives to vacation "destinations", where the expectation of what you will see and experience is created in brochures and through the don'tmissyougottasee comments of friends or relatives. Maybe not the kind where your express reason for travel is to see those relatives or friends, which lead you to visit places like Detroit in August. NotThatThereIsAnythingWrongWithDetroitInAugustExceptTheHellishnessOfItAll. My vacations tend to fall into one of a couple of categories, with my favorite category being the go somewhere beautiful and read/relax/write/singsongs/walk/eatwell/drink wine/laugh much/talk irreverently about everything under the sun. I need that type of vacation at least annually. I just had one, a trip to the Oregon coast from my home in Boise, trading dry desert summer for the cool wet coast in August.

It is an amazing thing, to feel the slow uncoiling of tension that happens in me when I unplug. For some this relaxation requires backpacking crazy mountain peaks in extreme weather, or riding bicycles to exhaustion up or down mountains, or across miles of roadway. But for me it takes only quiet, beauty, no phones ringing, no devices clamoring for my attention. Water speeds the process, particularly big water like the Atlantic, Pacific or Superior. My favorite stretch of Oregon coastline, thus far in my travels, is the one south of Newport. No wireless coverage reaches SouthBeach, as they call it. My cell phone worked only spottily, though it worked beautifully when we drove into town. No high speed internet - in fact, I brought no laptop! Five full days, four books, a pile of magazines and a lot of iTuneage brain feels restored to some state of ease.

The drive back from the coast was tiring, but uneventful. Driving it, I noticed things. The long and deserted stretches of road through Oregon's southern desert valleys alternate on this drive with the wide green spaces with black, black bottomland, where farmers grow everything from grapes to onions to organic lettuce in fields that seem effortlessly groomed. Lazy late summer farmstands rolled past now and again, wood-slatted counters filled with the big bushel baskets of tomatoes, melons, peaches, peppers. Summer's richest colors show up now, I remember from the gardens we grew when I was a kid. All of summer's sun and good rain packed into the dark red and juicy flesh of a tomato, thinly sliced on toasted wheat bread with some mayo and lettuce, salt, pepper...a bit of bacon, thin sweet onion and avocado strictly optional.

I remember gathering peas, and then baby cucumbers, and then in late summer the cherry tomatoes in our garden. In late summer my hands filled with small red fruits, fresh rinsed from the garden spout. At first ripening we could not eat these vegetables fast enough, greedy fingers overfilled. But by the late summer ripening of the tomatoes we knew - no hurry, there will be plenty of tomatoes. Our eagerness tempered with knowledge. But we knew, too, by August that the season lasts only so long. In a few weeks, the tomatoes would be bitten by frost and gone.

The light on this vacation captured my attention as it hasn't in such a long time. Here is what I remembered, driving across Oregon with my peaceful brain listening to cello music alternating with buttshaking Motown and anything Rick Rubin has ever produced: moonlight from the risen moon on the ocean surf outside the window of our rented house, or off the deck, the silver light a pathway, gorgeous and soft on the water in perfect harmony with the sound of the surf surging to shore; the sun setting and spilling lovely pink and peach tones across the sky, staining the fluffy white clouds with color, rinsing the water with a wash of rose; soft morning light on tall white bouncy Shasta daisies and Oregon holly and rhododendron's dark green, the bright pink and orange of a thousand blooms of late-summer lily on a hillside above the beach while I walked the packed sand and marveled that I was there. Light changes - even while you stand on a sandy stretch of beach, the light moves and changes and will not return to that space again. It is wondrous.

We can have so much, so MUCH, but we can't have everything. Isn't the trick to accept the gifts of life, to reach but not grab, to allow hunger but not greed? It is a trick that takes every day to relearn. I'm greedy for experiences - and so I have too much crowding in my life, too much pressing at my fingers and demanding my minutes, so that I find myself not choosing but simply reacting to schedules, deadlines. I need to change that. That's what vacations are for, I think, the best kind. To remind me to live in real time - get out of the past, stop thinking so far into the future, and take excellent care of the now. To remind me, and maybe you, precisely what it is that you want more of in your life.

Seek joy. ~ patti

Sunday, August 12, 2007


Is this the height of ego, starting a blog?

Here we are, August. I'm about to take my annual trek to the Oregon coast to play in the surf and let the sounds of the water and the wind soothe me. But before then I have a big week - lots of work herding the cats through peanut butter at my place of employment, a subpoena-ordered appearance at a trial, and of course PACKING.

But that can wait a bit - what I'm thinking about today is connections, and about something I read this morning by Mary Clearman Blew. I am missing a connection that has sustained me, and maybe that is why this leaped out at me. It's an excerpt from her memoir, All But the Waltz, part of a textbook that I am helping to edit. Blew is in the cab of a pickup truck with her grandmother and uncle, looking out across a river swollen with runoff and rain at a pig and her piglets, moored on an islet of earth. It reads, in part:
My surge of understanding arcs across the current, and my flesh shrivels in the icy sheets of rain. Like I cringe at the roar of the river, although behind the insulated walls of the cab I can hear and feel nothing. I am in my center and they are in theirs. The cur­rent separates us irrevocably, and suddenly I understand that my center is as precarious as theirs, that the chill metal cab of the old truck is almost as fragile as their ring of crumbling sod.

I'm taken aback by this passage, today. Two things strike me: we are all separated by currents, whether they are physical, like the rain-swollen river in this excerpt, or more ephemeral, like currents of mistrust, doubt, fear or misunderstanding. We are all, then, stranded alone on tiny islands of earth, or moored in the relative comforts of houses or offices or cars. It seems, today, as though all there might be that matters are these arcs of understanding and connection that surge across the currents that isolate us.

It is the mark of my heritage, my Scottish, and Irish, and steeped in lapsed-Catholic fatalism, that in this realization, this imagining of isolated souls being connected by arcs of understanding, that I find hope, and the beginnings of joy.

I'm going out to my pleasant deck, in the cooling August night air, to drink a glass of wine and try to feel surges of understanding arcing toward me across the currents that isolate me. Peace and hope, light and love to us all tonight.

~ plk