Thursday, February 2, 2012


            Being at the bottom has its disadvantages.  It is also good for us.  In some cases, it leads to humorous situations.  Let me explain.
            I started my first nursing job a few months ago!  And yes, the exclamation point was necessary.  The irrepressible joy of having a job that I love has so far outweighed the stresses and strains of being the new kid on the block.  Well, most of them, anyhow.  I’ve been to church only once in a long, long while.  I never knew how much I would miss the fellowship and comfort of a church service!  Although I remind myself that my work as a nurse is an important opportunity of service, I find it difficult to be unable to carry on a cherished weekly tradition.  And thus the story begins.
            It had been nearly two months since my schedule permitted me to be at church, and I was going a little stir-crazy.  Yet another Sabbath came, and I was working day shift yet again.  Catching snatches of sermon over the radio for the bits of time spent in the nurses’ station just increased the longing to be there in person.  So as soon as I clocked out that afternoon, I headed over to the University Church.
            My hopes of snagging a seminar or concert lifted as I spied a scattering of cars in front on my arrival.  Walking through the lobby, I passed a stack of programs on a stand, but didn’t take one – not wanting to throw it away later.  There was a hymn playing, and a men’s trio up on stage.  Oh, how wonderful, a concert!  Slipping in, I chose a seat as far forward as I dared for my late arrival.  The music continued for several blissful minutes.  I was enjoying myself immensely when a local elder took his place behind the podium. 
            “Friends and loved ones,” he began, “we are here to celebrate the life of . . . . . “
            Oh horror!  This was a memorial service! 
            The back of my neck was burning as hotly as my face, but there was no decent escape to be made.  Walking out now seemed infinitely worse than staying!  There had been no casket up front to signal the ceremony, I had not taken a program from that stack in the lobby, and I was sitting far enough forward to be conspicuously visible if I tried to leave.  So, I sat tight, feeling very awkward indeed and trying not to laugh at my strange predicament.
              The service itself was very nice; full of fascinating stories of wartime escapades and community leadership.  A solemn but true celebration of a life lived fully.  There was a great deal more music.  Clear voices, cascading piano, and soaring cello.  I found myself drawn out of my embarrassment ever so slightly, enjoying the music and the reverence.  Once my row was ushered out at the end though, I ducked through the crowd and made a dash for my car.  Having a conversation with a curious mutual acquaintance would be the end of me for sure! 
            And that, my dear friends, is the end of that.  Quick observation though – God has a wicked sense of humor!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Project Backpack....

            Only crazy people do what I do, right?  I mean, who in their right mind would perch a 25lb bag on their back (the pelvis and spinal column, technically) and traipse around in a location where motors are forbidden to enter?  Well . . . . come to think of it, quite a few people sign up for that sort of thing.  But I took my parents.  Yep.  I’m crazy.
            Daddy wasn’t such a big stretch.  He did this sort of thing in college.  So his college years ended in the early 70’s – that’s not the point.  Mom, on the other hand, was another ball of wax entirely.  My amazing mother grew up in what is now a neighborhood of Seoul, South Korea.  Not exactly the outdoorsy type, she firmly believes that camping is something you do in a box perched on wheels, with a fully functioning kitchen and climate control a mere generator switch away.  Talking Mom into going backpacking took over a year to accomplish!  How did I – er, we – pull it off?  That was pretty fun, actually.  
            It all started when I dragged Dad into the Wallowas the summer before.  Taking the wrong fork in the trail may have sent us an extra 7 miles out of the way, and we did nearly expire on the Stevens-Johnsons pass (whoops!), and the WalMart tent was 6 inches too short, but a world of possibilities was opened!  Limping back into our normal routines, we sang the praises of roughing it to the Empress Brueske.  She dug in her heels of course.  So we switched bait. 
            “We’ll take the horse, Mom, you won’t have to carry anything!”
            “Backpacking isn’t the same as the 70’s – they make proper equipment these days!”
            “Daddy and I will do all the work, you can stroll around the alpine meadows.”
            And so it went.
            When she took interest in a down sweater/jacket I’d bought at REI, I knew there was a chance.  I showed her the pink version in the catalogue.  God worked a miracle – she ordered one!  Daddy kept mentioning how nice it would be to have her come along on the trip we were already planning.  I bought the best-of-gear volume of Backpackers magazine, and read quite a few of the reviews aloud.  The breakthrough came about the time of the REI spring sale.  I was visiting my parents in Arizona.  Dad and I were pouring over websites and magazines, looking for the perfect tent, when Mom piped up with “you should get a 3-person tent, so we can all fit in.”  Our jaws had to be picked up off the floor, but a 3-person tent it was!  After the sales pitch of my life convinced her that she really did want a modern sleeping bag, we were set.  Now all we needed was a break in the weather.
            2011 was the wettest, coldest spring and summer I can remember in my lifetime.  The last frost was in late May.  It killed most of my tomatoes.  The snow pack, even in the Blue Mountains, was still heavy.  Parts of the Wallowas were still off-limits due to avalanches.  Thankfully, my parents hadn’t been in Oregon for months.  They were blissfully unaware that snow camping was still a very real threat even as we neared late July.  I, of course, never mentioned it.  It’s a good thing too – our chosen destination was only reached by climbing up and over huge snowdrifts for the last two miles of the trek!  It was worth it though. 
            It was all worth it.  Well, most of it.  Mom disregarded our careful advice on how to pack, and hauled up an extra five pounds of books, canned food, and other luxuries.  It meant that Dad and I hauled her pack for her about half the time.  But watching my parents gaping at the scenery and grimacing as they crossed a swollen, icy stream was definitely worth it.  So too, was the human-free wilderness!  I guess we were the only ones who didn’t get the memo about the fact that Spring hadn’t quite set in yet.  But the weather was clear and sunny, the stars were gorgeous, and the lower meadows as lush as I’d ever seen them.  The best part about that whole thing?  My mother was having fun!  Since Daddy and I did all the cooking, cleaning, and hauling, she got to relax and enjoy herself.  Watching her enthusiasm for the wilderness I’d already fallen in love with was reward enough for all the hard work that had gone into that trip.  In fact, I already have the next destination in mind.  More on that later.
            Wanna come?  ;)

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Things that go "yip" in the night....

           I am not a light sleeper.  Back when I worked as a summer camp wrangler, I was not the one who was wakened by horses stepping over me on the overnight camp trips.  Few wilderness noises manage to rouse me from slumber.  Fewer still merit the kind of notice that take you from dreamless sleep to instant wakefulness.  But there I was, leaping out of bed with mere seconds between unconsciousness and the ability to sprint up a flight of stairs! 
            The beginning of this tale is a little further back in time.  The chickens had been disappearing.  This happens occasionally.  Mom had finally managed to build the flock up to five hens and a rooster from a lone female who had been spared the enormous blood lust of a dog the hired hand left behind after a day of work.  Now the little flock was being whittled down again.  Two hens were still hanging around, but the rest had vanished in the last several weeks.  Puzzlingly, there was no evidence of a struggle to be found anywhere.  No squawking had been heard, no feathers scattered on the ground, no trails, nothing.  Until tonight.
            “Yip, yip, yip . . . .”  My eyes shot open!  Was that really?  “Yip, yi, yiii, yip . . .”  That thing was close.  Close enough to be near the . . . . run, Mara!
            I covered the hall in three strides and took the stairs two at a time, letting out a warning cry as I burst through Mom and Dad’s room on my way to the office.  Poor Mom must have thought the sky was falling – she didn’t understand a word of what I yelled!  Leaping onto the cluttered desk, I pulled a rifle from the rack hanging above it, a box of ammunition from a drawer, and rushed back out the way I’d come. 
            “Mara,” I heard, “what are you doing?” 
            “Coyote!” I shouted again, “out by the chicken coop!”  And this one wasn’t howling at the moon.
            Telling my city-dwelling friends this story is enormously entertaining!  Their eyes get big at the thought of a “dangerous” predator lurking just outside, looking for an opportunity to snatch away the innocent.  The idea of running out to meet such a vicious animal without a flashlight, barefoot, and carrying a single-shot .22 rifle is a little beyond their realm of normal.  To be honest, it doesn’t happen regularly out here either.  But when your animals need protecting, you don’t really think about what is or is not normal.
            Turned out the coyote was across the road instead of at the chicken coop.  By the sound of his yipping, he was challenging my dogs – who, it must be pointed out, were nowhere to be found on the guarding circuit.  Not wanting ANY wild animal feeling free to challenge my property, I shot off a few rounds just to let Mr. Coyote know who was boss.  Convinced that he was gone, I went back to bed.  Haven’t heard from the scoundrel again.  Guess my “bark” was more intimidating than his J

            More later . . . . . .

Monday, October 11, 2010


       I was headed onto 205N around 9:15pm last night.  Out to satisfy a craving for frozen yogurt.  Came up on the Glisan overpass intersection.  There were police and emergency vehicles hovering near the bridge over the Maxx line, the road was blocked; this was a big deal.  I was peering that way, trying to get an idea of what happened.  Fatal motor vehicle accident seemed unlikely - no real chance to pick up speed in that busy area.  Shooting?  Yeah, that might have been it.  And the Maxx was right below there.  Could have been a suicide attempt.
       In the middle of my curiosity, I saw two people hurrying up the side of the off-ramp - as if they'd hopped out of a car.  A man and a woman; petite, with her hair tied up in a knot, light hoodie not enough for the cold.  She had that gait . . . . not sure whether to walk or run, dreading and having to know all at the same time.  The man was in loose-fitting clothes, cap, short sleeves.  His fingertips rested lightly on the woman's back, his posture protective, long stride to keep up.
       As they approached a policeman stepped forward.  She tried to step around, he blocking her way, her hands on his chest, on tip-toe, craning her neck to see.  A third man in a heavy hoodie and baseball cap stepped out from behind the flashing lights and towards the woman.  They knew each other.  Her posture asked a question.  He put his hands on her shoulders as he replied.  She half-turned, half-sagged, his arms wrapping her up and now keeping her standing as her shoulders shook.
       The light had turned green.  I had to go.  But the tragedy of that moment seared into my happy mood.  Death or injury - I don't know.  But I had just witnessed the breaking of some terrible piece of news.  A moment - difficult to take even in the quiet company of your own home, surrounded by friends - had been lived out in front of flashing lights and lines of stopped cars, and me.
       Tears welled up and spilled over.  I felt like the little girl again, struck by the thunderbolt of realization that my older sister - my hero - had slipped into a coma she wouldn't come out of.  That scene out there wasn't my life, wasn't my grief, but it felt close enough.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Childhood Galaxies, and Other Stuff

       To be honest, picking a story is difficult.  I know so many, and my life has been interesting enough that I can go on for hours.  But that makes for a long read, and I even lose interest in typing the whole thing out..... but I'll try to keep it up.  After all, I do want to be able to write a book without stopping in the middle :)
       When I was little, I loved exploring the canyon below my house.  There was a whole world out there that only I knew about!  Like the tunnel under the dogwood by the pond.  The pussywillow on the other side of the fence.  The way the shrubs would bend but not break when you lay on them - creating the perfect "air castle."  The strawberry patch down the hill.  The summer sledding runs over the long dry grass.  The berry patches and apple trees, and the bear scatt that let you know caution was needed.  The spot where the elk liked to cross the creek.  Which banks were best for picking wild irises, bachelor buttons, indian paintbrush, lupine, or yellow dog flowers. 
     I could tell you which abandoned homestead site had the banana and strawberry-flavored apples, and which had the best lilac bushes.  I knew the reservoir pond that stayed full all summer.  I knew that the trail to Pine Creek had a wild onion patch which perfectly complemented a Big Frank when roasted on the same stick.  I could lead you to the coyote dens.  I could take you anywhere you wanted to go within a couple miles of the house.  The landscape was my stronghold, my expertise, my refuge.  
       If I couldn't be outside, I was reading a book about things people did outside.  Clara Barton was my favorite character!  She rode horses astride, was stronger than any boy, and served as a heroic nurse during the Civil War.  I wanted to be as crazy and caring as that!  Miss Barton and I had something else in common - I was painfully shy as a kid. At church I hid behind my mother's skirts as a toddler, hated being up front, and refused to shake men's hands until nearly in my teens.  I was not an especially timid person, it just took a lot to get me out of my shell.  Then there were my tomboyish ways.  I preferred hockey sticks to dolls and didn't like wearing skirts, or even shoes.  It's funny how some things change and some don't.....
     This summer I spent the first big chunk of time at home in a while.  I rode horses, cooked to my heart's content, and basked in sunsets unpolluted by rooftops.  Idling in Walla Walla's fancy new restaurants was nice, but the real joys came in rediscovering the world I knew as a child.  Finding that thicket with the plums so ripe you could hear them falling without so much as a breeze.  Hearing the bear cubs scramble up the tree while riding by.  Picking blackberries over the old cellar. "Spying" on the valley from the old dead combine out back.  Reading a book in the grass with the dogs sprawled out beside me.  School and the city seemed to be distant memories.
     But a distant memory is still reality in many cases.  And mine is back to haunt me.  Well, it's not THAT bad :)  School is interesting and challenging.  Portland has good shopping and lots of ethnic vegetarian food.  I have access to fast internet and unique cafes, and great concerts.  
     But even a performance by Jon Foreman can't quite measure up to the thrill of an unspoiled landscape ahead and a fast horse below.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Sailing through the air off a horse rarely ends well . . .

     Ever been thrown from a horse?  Oh, it's lots of fun, trust me!  There is a wrench beneath you, and even if you've clamped down hard, your knees and hands just aren't enough to keep you from losing contact.  And off you go in a blur of thinking "Oh crap, I hope there's no rock down there" and before you know it, the ground has risen up to meet you and you're either scrambling for footing or gasping for air which that thing called impact has sucked from your lungs.  
     Now the way that you fall is always different.  I've landed on my feet with the reigns still in my hands.  I've had the horse fall into a deep grass-covered ditch and been tossed up on the other side.  I've had to bail off a horse that brilliantly tangled himself up in electric fencing and was going crazy.  I have slid off the side and come down full on my tail-bone (complete novice of a beginner back then).  But the winner, that tumble that will forever take the prize in its category, was all because of a wire fence.
     Fences are a problematic part of riding.  They keep you locked into a specific area.  You cannot simply jump over them - horses don't jump wire safely.  When the posts rot or fall over, the fence becomes hidden in the brush or grass, and you've got a perfect recipe for some of the worst spooks and cuts you've seen on a horse.  
     My - and I say that because the story is very much mine - fence was a 4-foot sheep wire bridging a gap of about 15-feet between two 5-foot-high barb wire lengths.  The gap had been a corridor into an area with a lean-to and water trough the horses had used during winter.  It being spring, and wanting to plant potatoes in the then well-fertilized lot, someone had closed the gap with the aforementioned patch of 4-foot wire.
     I came along one Saturday afternoon, enjoying a good gallop.  Now, if you know anything about horses, you know that they like going back to their barn.  The last time my horse had been in that pasture her barn lay beyond that narrow corridor, and the low wire had not been there.  Upon approaching the corridor I wanted to veer left, and pulled the reigns accordingly.  Nothing happened.  I pulled harder, my horse absorbed the pain in her mouth and kept right anyways.  The fence was coming up awfully fast.  I pulled left again, and the mare seemed to yield just a bit.  Now that I look back at it, I can imagine that the horse was paying all her attention to getting to the barn, and probably didn't see the thin wire at a lower level than the rest of the fence.  Yielding to me was a way of getting her mouth back, but she did not intend to give in.
     Just as we had almost passed the corridor, the horse made a sharp pivot and jump to the right - directly into that low fence!  Because I was not prepared for it, and I was riding bareback, and the horse had been loping, I did not stop when the horse did.  Oh no, I did not stop for another 12 feet!  
     I don't remember having time to utter a sound.  The only thing I remember is a feeling of observing myself lift off above that outstretched neck as I became airborne.  The next instant I was jarred back to reality by the brutal, brutal impact.  I don't know how it happened, but my grip on the mane must have turned my body in the air, because I landed flat on my belly and pelvis - facing the opposite direction I had been going and still clutching long strands of hair.  
     Ever belly-flopped onto cement?  The dirt was dry and rock-hard and strewn with thistles.  Enjoy that feeling of your chest heaving for oxygen without any making it in?  I could hear myself gasping and gagging as I stumbled to my feet.  I would have laid there, but the first thought racing through my brain - almost before I realized I couldn't yet breathe - was that my horse was tangled in that fence and could panic and rip herself up, and I didn't want that.  Dragging myself to my knees I started crawling, then stumbling, and finally jolting forward on unsteady feet towards that flailing horse.  I didn't manage to draw my first breath until I was at the downed fence, but by then she was free and limping frantically away.
     Everything hurt!  But I could still walk ok once I could breathe again.  My right wrist was strangely tingly and a bit numb, but since it wasn't hanging off at a weird angle I didn't stop to check it.  In a few moments I had caught my stunned horse, rapidly running my hands down trembling legs to check for gashes or breaks.  Nothing.  Leading her forward a few yards I carefully watched her gait, in case she had pulled anything major.  Her gait was improving my the second.  Relieved, I started hobbling the long walk back to the house, that silly horse in tow.  
     It must have been a curious sight dragging into the yard - that horse and I - all shaky and dusty and bruised and bloody.  Aunts and uncles, Mom and Dad, siblings and cousins dropped everything and came rushing over.  I was still worried about my horse.  My mother wanted to spank her for running into the fence and throwing her baby!  Someone took the horse, I made it into the house to clean up and the adrenaline wore off.  
     Long story short, my wrist was tingly and numb because it was broken.  Come to think of it, if I had cried instead of calmly stating that it hurt just a little too much and asking to go to the ER, I might have made it that night and not 24 hours later!  But after 4 months of casts (very slow-growing bone called the navicular) I was once again flexing a shriveled claw.  I didn't wait more than a week to get back on the horse though - you just can't wait that long for another thrill!

     And that is that.  More later . . . .

Monday, December 28, 2009

How to Survive a War, the Checklist

     War is a dangerous affair.  These days you can get blasted by an army sitting thousands of miles away who mistook you for a dangerous suspect due to a glitchy satellite signal, you can step on a land mine, get shot, blow yourself up on purpose, be blown up by the person blowing his/herself up on purpose . . . well, you get the point.  Fifty years ago it was a bit more simple; planes, artillery, land mines, and bullets were the gist of it.  Dodging those methods weren't any more or less terrifying, of course, but most of those you could see or hear coming.  My grandpa, Cecil Williams, would know something about this - having obtained some uninvited first-hand experience as a civilian evacuating from the Korean War.

     First off, don't run away from a dive-bombing plane!  Running away will give them more time to shoot you or drop bombs on you.  This was one of several pieces of advice given to my dear grandfather by the American Army Sergeant who also claimed to be his "mother and father from now on!"  Hmm, wonder how that worked out.

     Next, don't run at all - just sit tight, shut your eyes, and pray the bullets away (yeah right!).  That particular tid-bit was not even remembered by the elderly sage of a missionary who uttered them.  Once he saw the fighter jet strafing towards the bus he actually beat everyone else out of the vehicle and was found in the ditch right beside an amazed Cecil!  Note: when evacuating, stay near the exits or risk being trampled by crazy people.

     Wear multiple layers of clothes.  Really.  When the Postal Exchange on the Army base was opened to civilians for free (in reality, only white males were allowed in), Cecil saw one man layer on four or five suits!  All because he wanted free clothes.  Another guy covered his entire arm in Rolex watches.  A lot of good they did him when he was being shot at a few hours later!

     Bring a sledgehammer for fun.  You get to smash typewriters, computers, cameras, and car engines to bits in an effort to keep them from the enemy.  But by all means, never let the locals have anything valuable!  They might actually be able to better their situations then.  To avoid such a catastrophe, drive cars off of piers, burn the food, and don't hand out clothes to anyone who doesn't look "American" before you burn that too!  Seriously, it happened.

     Don't sleep on the 10th floor of a fancy hotel during an ongoing invasion!  You may look out one evening to find a bomber heading straight for your room.  Think of all the heart-stopping fun THAT will be as you throw yourself on the floor, making out with the carpet in an effort to become as small as possible!  Cecil didn't think it was very funny at the moment as he watched possible death just barely miss the building - close enough to make out the facial features of the pilot!

     Most importantly, be sure you book your evacuation flight on one of three cargo planes that have NOT been bombed out of the original five!  Learn - real fast - how to lock arms and lean forward to help the plane lift off the runway!  And don't forget to leave all that expensive merchandise you just looted from the Postal Exchange in a pile by the wayside along with all the other junk that won't keep you alive when you have to cram twice as many people into a plane because the others were destroyed!  Of course, being on the very last flight out of a war zone makes for great stories to tell the grandkids - but you're not really thinking of grandkids at a time like that . . .  

     What, nobody taught you this stuff in school?

     More later . . . . .