Time Catch

A friend recently reminded me of a poem I had included in my little book on tidal action. In remembrance of all those summer months at all those beaches and all those tides, I’m re-visiting the poem this month, “Time Catch.”


The tide laps closer. It seeps
into the dungeon and moat,
and finally absorbs the castle.
Up and up and almost to our log,
and then it pauses.

We watch the hesitation step
and wait. The day the baby
choked, everyone stopped, leaned
forward and waited, and then
breathed again when he coughed.

The tide recedes. It bares
wet beach and exposes
all the other secrets.
It moves out and out and beyond
where we had ever walked.
And then it pauses. Beyond
the lover’s question and before
its answer we wait. The ocean
has skipped a heartbeat.

–from Second Beach near LaPush, Washington














Mixing Colors

After a visit to Sequim, Washington, I propose we color all our states purple, not red and blue. After all, if you mix red and blue–if people are talking together and united in love for our country, our world, and for each other–we’d have purple, right?

We visited Sequim (pronounced “Squim”) one week before its annual Lavender Festival. Purple, lavender, and magenta shades were everywhere. Every shop we wandered into (including a thrift shop) highlighted a display of some kind of those flowery hues near the entry. Besides that, everything was so spiffy and clean we could have eaten our lunch off any sidewalk.


This small city has a lot going for it. Lavender fields, of course. Also, located in the rain shadow on the Olympic Peninsula, close to the beaches of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Sequim Bay, close to the Olympic Mountains, and a couple of hours from Seattle, it’s become a popular retirement city.

The small museum, just off main street, is delightful. One corner features the story of the mastadon bones that were discovered here in 1977 by a farmer excavating an area in his field with a backhoe to put in a pond. A slide show about the discovery is narrated by the farmer himself. What made this find especially interesting is that a spear point (made from another bone) was embedded in this mastadon, indicating the interaction of humans and mastadons at this site about 12,000 years ago.

Another area of the museum features the story of the rowing team from the University of Washington who not only made it to the Olympics in Berlin in 1936, but beat out Hitler’s German team for first place. One of the American rowers was from Sequim. His story is told in The Boys in the Boat, by Daniel James Brown. It’s a fascinating story–and it’s one of those books I plan to re-read. The museum attendant also started a video there for us–footage of the actual race.

We will go back. One day was not enough. I had been at lavender farms in the area before, but would like to visit them again. And next time we’ll also visit the Dungeness River Audubon Center. If the season is right, we’ll stop at a u-pick berry field.

We’re already a mix of skin colors. Let’s mix up the reds and blues, too, for some shades in the color of those fragrant purple/lavender flowers. We may need to learn to listen first.

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March to June, Step by Step

This month of June will be warm, and my veggies will stretch up and out, green and leafy and showy, but March came in like a lion not so long ago. Like a ravenous lion whose favorite fast food was slow walkers like me.

I’m not a slow walker. It’s just that I get distracted, so I slow down to look, and before I know it, the wind is taking a bite out of me. One March day I had stopped in a strong wind to see a body in the road. Two crows were nibbling on a small dead being, but I couldn’t tell what it was. Not willing to get any closer, and not wanting to interrupt their fine dining, I turned and walked on. About seven paces later, I saw a bit of fur at my feet. And then another–and another. Rabbit fur, dinner leftovers that the wind had re-positioned, and an answer to my question. They looked so soft I wanted to hold one to my cheek, but thought better of it.

I’ve been walking this route for almost 50 years. You’d think in that time I’d have seen it all, but I continue to be surprised.

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Walking beside the waves, low tide in May

Recently a pickup truck stopped beside me and the driver called out, “Look up–see the eagle at the top of that tree!” The tree was almost right beside me and I would have missed the eagle if not for this man, a neighbor I do not know well.

A friend has started walking with me quite often and she, a creative artist, is more aware of the visual than I am. One of the first days we walked together, she stopped suddenly, looking down at something at her feet. Frothy-topped weeds beside the road were throwing their shadows onto the pavement, creating intricate, lacy patterns that looked like Chinese writing.

The kindness of a stranger, the mystery of a meal, the beauty of shadows. All of us are facing tough lives in one way or another. Walking is such a simple and ordinary activity. It’s just one activity that eases us through the tough parts–at the least. At the most? An adventure!

    This is a wonderful day. I’ve never seen this one before.
              –Maya Angelou

Bathroom Gardening

Bathrooms and who can use them are the news of the day. In my house it’s no different–my bathroom is the most popular room in the house right now. No, it’s nothing fancy–the old fixtures are rust-stained and the ceiling needs a coat of paint.

I must admit it’s a little awkward when a guest comes in the back door and I say, “Please come into my bathroom–I want to show you something!” I haven’t had anyone refuse me, although with all the media hype around bathrooms, that may happen yet.

The small window in that very private room is about 24 inches by 16 inches. As you look out the window, this is your view looking to the left:

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To the far left you can see the white rhododendron “Unique” that blossoms near my birthday. Next are the shy lavender and salmon-colored azaleas, and then, on the right, the  stately, dark red rhody “Jean Marie.” Branches of the cherry tree are in the background. Underneath the azaleas is a little native ground cover that moved in on its own some years back and decided to stay. It will have small white flowers and then die back during the summer.

Now take a second look out the window. This is your view looking to the right:

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The striking “Jean Marie” rhody again claims the middle of the stage, and a calla lily is just to the right of her, holding the promise of more blossoms. To the right of the calla lily is a native fern just beginning to unfurl its new fronds, and then the rosemary bush, also blossoming. It got an expert trimming from a gardening friend earlier this spring. Below the rosemary are those lovely little lilies-of-the-valley. Behind the rosemary is a peony bush that has a couple dozen buds about to pop. You might see a hint of dark blue behind the fern. Those are the bachelor buttons, or cornflowers.

Right behind the calla lily you can see a lush-looking plant. It is the most obnoxious plant I’ve ever met. I’ve written about it in a previous post (“The Curse of the Voodoo Lily”). A botany professor described its aromatic fragrance as “a mixture of cow dung, carrion, dead fish, manure and halitosis.” The voodoo lily isn’t blossoming yet, but when it does, visitors will no longer linger at my back door–or possibly even in the neighborhood.

I once went skinny-dipping with a friend in her big old claw-footed, sun-heated bathtub out in her back yard, with native woods all around us. If the UPS truck had come, we might have been in trouble, but her yard was so remote, that thought never occurred to us.

I swear you can find anything on the Internet. When I googled “Bathroom Gardening” today, the first bathroom that popped up was one that I could live in as a house. It had some gorgeous plants, including one good-sized tree. Another site, “Outdoor Bathrooms and Indoor Gardens” had photos of really lovely bathrooms–yes, outside. The only drawback to these tropical-type rooms was that I was pretty sure there was a snake curled up in the corner of almost every one.

I think my bathroom garden, the showpiece of my yard, tops them all. And the irony is that for all the hours I spend weeding in other areas around my yard, this bathroom area, for the most part, just takes care of itself.

Perhaps people who use public bathrooms can do the same thing?

Birds in Trees–Natural, Right?

When we walked the Nisqually Delta on a warm spring day last week, this was a sight we never expected to see. I’m guessing you’ve never seen it, either.

Nisqually Delta, to set the scene of this abnormality, is a jewel of Washington State–almost 800 acres restored to a natural estuary, located just north of Olympia. It had been diked for farmland, but in 1974, the area was bought up and made into a refuge. This was about the first time I visited it. Then in 2009 the dikes were removed. The refuge now has four miles of trails, much of it in wooden walkways over the tidal flats, although I enjoyed the walks beside the river and through the woods even more. When we returned the second day early in the morning, we were able to see more birds, and what was probably a beaver swimming near us.

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Beyond the woods, the boardwalk extends over tide lands

These were days for swallows practicing their acrobatics. We also saw a red-winged blackbird, green-winged teal, robins and sparrows, coot, grebe, mallard ducks, bufflehead ducks, shoveler duck, great blue heron, and gulls. We watched bird-watchers watching hummingbirds, but never saw them ourselves. One of our best sightings was a pair of beautiful wood ducks up close. With the leaves not quite open on the trees, we had a good view of the birds.

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A pair of handsome wood ducks

The second day brought the surprise. We came upon a bird-watcher with his tripod focused high up into a cottonwood tree. When we asked what he had found, he pointed–there, high up in a fork of the cottonwood, sat a Canadian goose! It took me a moment to remember that geese have webbed feet. They do NOT land in trees. But this silly goose had. My companion, a veteran bird-watcher who is always excited about any sighting, just about fell over, “That’s the damndest thing I’ve ever seen!” Tripod Man agreed.

A short distance down the path we met a woman who was watching a hummingbird nest, so we led her down the path to the goose. She was quite excited, “So that’s what they were talking about! I had been asking at the visitor center about the long-eared owl. I watch for that nest being built every spring and hadn’t seen it this year yet. They told me that the eggs hadn’t hatched, the owl had abandoned the nest, and a goose had taken it over!”

The goose we saw wasn’t setting on a nest–you can see him in the photo standing in the tree, but I’m guessing it’s the same one.

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Can you find the goose in the tree?

After a little bit of research, I learned that geese in trees are indeed occasionally seen, but not often. One Nisqually Delta blogger says that they are seen quite often at the Delta, but these two birders we met had never seen them before.

Spectacular place to visit! The two weekdays we were there were the first warm days of the year, and there was a parade of moms with strollers and small children, old birders like us, and flocks of photographers with tripods. They were all as much fun to watch as the wildlife.

When I recently experienced a grief spell over the lack of interest in tending to climate change problems, I decided I could do three things to deal with it. One, I would contribute what I could to 3-4 very reputable groups who are actively campaigning to protect the earth. Secondly, I would write letters occasionally to newspapers or organizations about climate change issues–and mention them in conversations, as well. Finally, I would spend more time treasuring and enjoying all the natural beauty around me. Part of that beauty is the unexpected–geese in trees!


The Dark Side of the Wild

The shriek woke me out of a sound sleep, and then I heard a second one. I’ve heard these other years, but it’s still chilling enough to make me pull the covers up over my head. If I had house guests from the city, they’d have dialed 911 on their cells.

I know, though, that I live next to a woodsy area where raccoons, owls, rabbits and coyotes hang out. I used to think the dreadful sounds were raccoons fighting, and sometimes I think it is. But this spring I think the coyotes are cleaning out the rabbits one by one. And rabbits can produce human-like screams when attacked.

Those cute little critters have overtaken my yard the last few years, forcing me to fence one of the vegetable beds devoted to their favorite crops. Easy job. What was more difficult was watching them eat the crocuses and tulips down to green stubs every spring. They turned up their little button noses at the daffodils.

This spring the crocuses, like Charlie Brown trying to kick Lucy’s football one more time, somehow gathered enough strength and courage to push themselves up out of the dirt and they’re blossoming! Dark purples, some yellows, a little lavender, so lovely–the first of spring flowers in my yard, along with a few daffodils. Are the rabbits gone? I’ve only seen one in my yard in the last few weeks–and I haven’t seen him since the shriek in the night.

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Crocuses nestled up against some hyachinths

Living on the edge of the wild is not always as idyllic as it may seem. My stately old madrona next to the water develops a disease and rots away. An old crow takes several days to die out behind the garage. I find blue baby bird shells in unusual places. Once I found a dead snake in the bird bath, partially eaten.

My sister also lives away from the city. Several years ago, she described her horror as she watched a neighbor’s young cat being picked up and carried away by an eagle. She, an artist, resorts to the canvas instead of a keyboard, and did a striking portrait of the experience–angry black slashes against a blue/gray sky.

Not always lovely, no.

But still. The bright crocus colors overwhelm the darkness. We’re in that season of rebirth, of new life. The following quote, from Parker Palmer in a colder part of the country, pretty much sums it up from a different angle:

“There is a hard truth to be told: before spring becomes beautiful, it is plug ugly, nothing but mud and muck. I have walked in the early spring through fields that will suck your boots off, a world so wet and woeful it makes you yearn for the return of ice. But in that muddy mess, the conditions for rebirth are being created.”

The Month of Kale

So January leads the march of the months, and then here comes February, keeping step right behind it. But did you know that originally there were only 10 months in the calendar, and January and February never existed? That explains why several of our months have names that don’t match their “number names,” like October (8), November (9), and December (10).

Numa Pompilius, the second king of Rome, added January and February in the 700’s B.C., and then adjusted the number of days in each month. February was named for a Roman festival of purification, Februa. Incidentally, dictionaries now say this month’s name can be pronounced either “FebRUary” or “FebUary,” even though some of us had the first pronunciation so pounded in by grade school teachers, we’ll never accept the alternate.

What I find most interesting about this month is what happened to it in England. Before we started using the Latin name, this month was called “Solmonath,” or “mud month” in Old English. I think we can all identify with that during this time of year.

The other name that was sometimes used was “Kale-monath,” or “cabbage month.” Some have speculated that people were eating a lot of cabbage that month. Perhaps they were using up vegetables that had been stored over the winter? The more popular theory is that this was the month that cabbage and kale sprouted.

Cabbage and kale are closely related, so I’m choosing to believe that families back in the 1100’s in England were treasuring their kale plants that might have not only survived the winter, but were also yielding fresh leaves as the weather warmed.

Cabbage may have been stored inside through the winter, but my one vegetable crop that over-winters beautifully outside in the garden is kale. When the farmer’s markets are closed for the winter and the supermarket greens look a little suspect, I run outside and clip a few leaves for dinner–and the plant continues to grow and sprout more leaves.

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This is a photo of my stand of kale last spring. I’d been harvesting from it all winter, so it was getting scrawny, but then as the weather warmed, it leafed out like crazy!

Kale has been called one of the “most nutrient dense foods on the planet.” My favorite way of fixing kale? Wash the leaves, tear out the tough stalk, and then tenderize it. Use a big spoon to beat it if you’re squeamish (or if someone is watching!), or simply roll a handful of leaves back and forth on a flat surface with your hands until it wilts a bit. Chop it, add some lemon juice, a little olive oil (or not), maybe a favorite seasoning, and then whatever you have on hand that sounds good–dried cranberries, chopped onions, grated carrots (or cheese), some leftover cooked veggies, raisins, chopped red or green peppers, sunflower seeds, some fresh fruit, pumpkin seeds. Sometimes I mix it with cabbage. Occasionally, I add a dab of honey. Every time you serve a kale salad, it will be unique.

My closest friends know how I feel about kale. Anytime someone suggests going back to the name “Kale-monath,” I’m in!



Floating in Fog

Yesterday on my way to the post office, I experienced one of the delights of living in a small town. I had to wait at a stop sign for a little wiggly line of day care children (I counted nine), all connected together by a rope, being led across the street by their daycare leader.

January is our year’s monthcare leader. It directs the way and pulls along the rest of the months, whether they’re ready or not. They follow, bumping and stumbling, all with their own unique characteristics and quirks–hot sun, falling leaves, spring flowers.

But January leads the pack. Sometimes it rains nonstop, like today. Sometimes it’s cold and icy, like the day earlier this month when I took this photo of frost on the native rhododendron leaves.

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And sometimes this month gives us fog. Several years ago I was walking beside the bay on an early January morning. Not even a wisp of wind stirred the water and it was still and gray. A heavy gray layer of fog blended into the water and for the life of me, I could not tell where the water ended and the fog began. Water and sky became one gray mass. But scattered across this mix of sky and sea were about 30 ducks, just little black blobs that looked like they could be floating either on the water or in the sky.

Then, as I watched them, I realized there was a little bit of morning light just beginning to break through the eastern sky from behind me. Eerie light had begun to streak onto the water, but it didn’t permeate the gray mass ahead of me. I felt like I had stepped forward into another world–until a car stopped up ahead of me and a couple got out to also admire and take photos.

This year I love January, its quiet time with fog and rain, and flannel sheets on the bed. The promise of a few sunny days in February is bumping up next on the rope. And it can give us its own beauty as well. Just a few days before January this year, the Potter caught this beautiful photo up on Chuckanut, near Bellingham, of some of the heavy clouds we see this month.

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The Grasses of the Field

We were seniors at Pacific Lutheran University in the spring of the year, a time in my life when I thought everything would last forever.

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Beach Grass

One Saturday afternoon, my boyfriend suggested we visit Paul and his wife. He wanted them to meet me. I remember being reluctant. Not only was I not on a first name basis with my professors, but I never “dropped by” their houses on a weekend afternoon.

Paul wasn’t actually a professor. He managed the very small campus radio studio, and since Don was involved in campus dramas, they had become acquainted.

I’m not convinced they were happy to see us, but they warmly welcomed us into their home several blocks from campus. Two young children were bouncing about and a harried wife was struggling with the weekend load of wash and a cluttered house. I don’t remember that we stayed long.

A dozen years before, in 1951, a PLU regent and benefactor from Burlington gave the school a radio studio as part of the Eastvold Chapel which was being built, hoping that someday PLU would have a radio station. For 15 years it was used for speech classes and a few radio programs.

I graduated and left PLU that spring in 1964. Two years later, on November 16, 1966, KPLU-FM went on the air with the objective of providing “top quality information and musical programs.” It operated four hours daily, from 4:30-8:30 p.m. Paul Steen was the program director.

“The antenna towers 121 feet above the campus atop the Chapel roof,” reported the December 1966 issue of the PLU newsletter.

Paul Steen only stayed a year or so in that position. He then signed on as general manager of KPBS, a new public television and radio station in San Diego that was just getting on its feet. He stayed there for 26 years.

About one year ago, a year before KPLU-FM would be sold to KUOW-FM, Steen died. He was described by one co-worker as a “visionary.” Steen died at 82. KPLU-FM was sold at 49 years.

We have come full circle. The college confidant is gone, and so is the radio station he guided through its birth. Both exited within a year of each other and they both lived their lives extremely well. The grasses of the field (or beach) that are alive today and tomorrow are…..

A couple of weeks ago I received a letter to alums from the PLU president explaining the rationale for selling. In a time when public radio is struggling, the two stations were duplicating their news and commentary coverage. KPLU-FM would continue to operate as a provider of first rate jazz music.

The other evening I watched PLU students on the local news (a commercial station) demonstrating on campus against this sale. I’m glad to see students with enough passion to get out and march and shout, and I hope they’re doing that for some other causes as well. Our country needs some strong, young–and idealistic–voices in these times.

We don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.” Howard Zinn




Crawling Backwards

“Architecture is inhabited sculpture.” — Constantin Brancusi

Maybe you and I are not that far from the cave? A few steps perhaps?

When I was five or six years old, we lived in a house that had an old barn, but I have no memories of it, although I do recall the ladder leading up to the hayloft. That ladder called my name any time I wandered near it.

What I do remember is a very small, shabby shed out behind the barn. Dusty dirt floor. No windows. Light leaking in between the siding boards. A little dark, but not scary dark, although I never dared go out there after the sun set. It became a favorite play spot. I have a vague memory of one of us being in trouble for starting a fire there. It was our space, small, intimate, and the big people never ventured out there. We accumulated small treasures and furnishings there–a couple of chipped cups for the “kitchen,” some broken toys, a row of very valuable rocks.

Last summer we walked the beach at the Point No Point Lighthouse and passed some seven or eight driftwood creations. Every 30 to 50 feet would be another unique structure–never a driftwood animal or sculpture, never a tower, but always a small cabin-like structure we could walk or crawl into. Some of them were tall enough to allow us to stand upright in them.

Driftwood sculpture at another Salish Sea site--a Bellingham Bay beach.

Driftwood sculpture at another Salish Sea site–a Bellingham Bay beach.

Like a sandy subdivision, they lined up in a row down the beach. Days like that restore my faith in people. Why? They stood upright, unguarded and unprotected. Even though they were fragile (no nails, of course), they stood! No one had come along and knocked them down, one by one, just for the heck of it.

Unfortunately it wasn’t more than a couple of weeks later that someone lit one on fire (I choose to believe it was an accident) and during a summer that was way too hot and dry, it created considerable problems for the fire department.

Something draws us back into the tight, small, warm spaces. Like babies playing with cardboard cartons, like the architects of tree houses and playhouses, like tent designers, like my friend Jean’s beloved little domed “Turtle” she pulls behind her car, we crawl back into the cave. It makes me wonder if the architects and buyers of the current Monster Houses might be misguided.