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Archive for August, 2009

Sweetness and Discord

If you live in Oregon or Washington this time of year and have a place to broadcast your stories, you can hardly help but write about blackberries. They really are phenomenal, these bushes that never stop, encroaching along road sides, seeming to double their size each year, and thriving even when cut all the way back in the spring and sprouted in the unfriendliest of soil. My favorite part, even more than the endless ingredient potential is the constant snack they provide. I took a longer-than-expected walk last week. Thinking I could reach my road by a certain street, I followed it, walking all the way up a very large hill and all the way down a very large hill only to come to a “Dead End” sign. It was hot and I was becoming hungry as I trudged back up the very large hill. Had there not been blackberries, there would have been tears.

Yes, the blackberries are delicious and I have the scratches to prove it. I like how Shauna of “Gluten-Free Girl” writes about it, describing her berry picking experience as “a constant quest for the biggest berry, never coming to terms with the fact that the best ones are always out of reach.” It’s true. I don’t think I ever will. What one must come to terms with, though, is an August of scratched up arms and legs, and toes and fingers, or if you’re really hard core, faces.

I derive a lot of pleasure from reading other writers discussing their experience picking blackberries, an activity that doesn’t require a trip to the U-pick farm or money, but a simple step out the door with a tupperware container. A practice that is, at once, recreational, pleasurable, sustainable, daring, humbling, and spiritual. It is shared summer ritual between strangers that is almost as wide spread as the berries themselves.

Speaking of the humbling part, I had a rather gnarly encounter with a blackberry bush earlier this week, leaving me with several scratches on my back and arms. It was the result, I think, of a bit too much frivolousness in the face of the ruthless berry brambles. It was also the result of a new turtleneck sweater.

I have been on the lookout for a new job and have had several interviews in the last few weeks. This weekend, I decided I needed a few more options for my interview wardrobe, so I went to TJ Maxx and bought four new shirts, all of them short sleeve turtleneck sweaters. I think it’s safe to say I have never bought a turtleneck of any persuasion in my life, and now I have four, some of them tight-necked, some of the loose-necked, one of them more of a dress, but all of them turtlenecks. Weird. It must have been what was catching my eye.

Well, it turns out I like my turtle-neck sweaters. A lot. And when I returned from my interview on Monday, I did not want to take the one I was wearing off. So, I slipped out of my trousers, put on a skirt (which happened to be white), and then decided I wanted to make a clafoutis, with the bulging ripe berries I could see from the living room window. Given the closeness of the picking location, I didn’t bother to change my wardrobe. I simply slipped on some flip-flops I really only wear around the house because they are slippery and unsupported, and grabbed a container. I also decided this would be a good time to call my sister.

Looking back, I’m not sure how I was doing this, because it would seem I would need three hands once I began to pick, so there must have been some sort of propping or balancing occurring. Fortunately, the chosen bush is one that grows right up next to the garden fence, so the berries I sought were easily accessible. There is however, one bramble stem that has found it’s way over the fence and is inching its way toward the garden. This was my downfall.

As my flip-flops began to slip down a drop-off of soil I had not previously noted, my primary thought was, “Not the sweater!”

It seems as though I fell for a long time down this few feet of drop-off, several seconds even, at first clinging to the blackberries and phone, trying to arch my back so as to avoid contact between sweater and thorn, all the while shrieking, “Oh no! Oh no! Emily! I’m falling!”At some point, I let go of the berries, and then, of the phone. Yes, Emily, I value our conversation, even over berries. My vivid memory of these conscious decisions is what makes this fall seem so drawn out. Finally, I landed, and found the unmistakable feeling of blackberry thorns piercing my back. From the phone, I could hear Emily’s distant voice calling my name.

At that point, I had what will probably be the closest I’ll ever come to one of those Jame’s Bond gun-just-out-of-reach moments. “Emily,” I said when I had the phone in my hands, “I’m okay. I just have to take my shirt off.”

More accurately,  the task at hand was to extract me from my shirt, to slip out of it slyly, one arm, then head, then the other arm, without pulling it away from the thorns. I finished picking in this condition, which, I suppose, is just about as silly as wearing a shirt I didn’t want to tear into the brambles, but aside from the bleeding scratches on my arm from my first tumble, I escaped unharmed. So did the sweater.

Laughing about the experience, I told Emily about a poem I wrote a while back about blackberries and Eris, the Greek goddess of discord. I did not think to include it here until she reminded me of it today. I wrote this for a class, and the assignment was to weave together two unrelated stories, to choose two things very different from one another. I tried, but  probably true to the purpose of the prompt, one’s mind has a way of finding similarities, especially in poetry, where the primary goal is to derive relationships between seemingly unrelated things.

I have to commend my younger self just a bit for this comparison, which I believe, having spent two additional years picking blackberries in Oregon, is actually rather apt. For both Eris and the blackberry, there is some underlying desire to be loved, that delicate berry, plump with sweetness, the young goddess, just desiring an invitation to the party.  And yet for both, the pernicious force prevails. It entices the vulnerable with a fleeting glimpse of fame. “To the fairest,” says Eris’ apple. “To the most committed,” call the berries at the top of the bush. Tempting claims from both; how easy it is to lose sight.

Fortunately, the discord does not prevent me from loving either one.

Eris Plants the Golden Apple

Outraged to be the only goddess not invited to the wedding of Peleus and Thetis, Eris threw into the banquet hall a golden apple inscribed “To the fairest.” Three goddesses laid claim on it, and in their rivalry brought about the events that led to the Trojan War.

-paraphrased from “Theoi Greek Mythology”

Her eyes were spiteful
like blackberry thorns
when she let it drop.

So there, she breathed.
Beware the stray bramble
that droops over the garden

path with stems that prick
the feckless heel
and ink-colored fruit

that bleeds fading stains
onto bare ground, so there.
And the apple tumbled over

the rutted sandy floor
packed solid by stool legs
and footsteps, its dense

uneven bulk meandering
between calves and over
embedded pebbles, teetering

on its rounded edges,
and nestling slyly in the arch
of someone’s sandal.

She watched from a cloud.
And anticipation swelled
like lava under water

or a wind in the woods
behind the hall, where
she trampled from Hera’s orchard,

the golden fruit’s triumph
heavy in her palm,
Her shoulders prickled

with retaliation, dark hair
tumbled haphazardly
like the brambles.

Beware, she thought. Those tangles embed
fibrous hooks in the skin that sting
like nettles when you rub them out.

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My Own Backyard

“The best thing to do if you have hypothermia,” my sixth grade teacher told my class one day, “is not to put on a bunch of clothes, but to all get naked and lie together.”

Teachers say many things, but this one stuck with me. To this day, it surfaces on camping trips and during anecdotal visits to the past. I think of it during any discussion of cold-weather safety and survival, and picture Ms. Burdick-Evenson at the front of the class, her eyes wide as she shares this fact she knows will shock us. Its mention is also a good way to broach the subject of nudity if ever such an icebreaker is needed, and let’s just say that sometimes, it is.

As we are all apt to interpret things differently, upon hearing this, I probably giggled along with the rest of the class and then let my pre-teen mind ponder the image “all get naked and lie together.” I pictured a pile of naked people stacked like logs, their limbs dangling, their clothes strewn about across the drifts of snow. Never mind a general shelter, these people were using their resources.

Last weekend, Jake and I ventured out for our first camping trip of the season. It was an August night in an Oregon campground where temperatures forced me into four layers and a close hover over the fire. Later, in the tent, I began to think of the hypothermia procedures I learned in sixth grade, not as a course of action at this point, but simply in the context of useful things I know, for survival or otherwise. Scanning the recesses of my elementary school knowledge as I lay on a quarter inch mat labeled “too thin” at an REI Scratch and Dent sale and under an assemblage of throw blankets, I was hard-pressed to find anything so pertinent or, yea, so pleasant-sounding as stripping down and lying in a pile of warm human bodies.

“Really?!?” I thought, the most memorable thing I learned in school is something I hope I’ll never be so unlucky as to have to use. It was a dismal realization—twelve years and this is all I can think of?*

But, figurative language is our friend, and in four years of liberal art education, I’ve seen a few analogies, metaphors and the like, so determined not to let twelve years of my life succumb to any accusation of frivolousness, I analyzed this claim about hypothermia like a line in a book. The conclusion? While a useful piece of knowledge in itself, this statement represents the motif of self-sufficiency Ms. Burdick-Evenson developed all year.

I used to think it was stupid to analyze literature. I would read the book and then still having no clue, look to Sparknotes to enlighten me on the many symbols I had missed. I remember finishing The Great Gatsby, and upon seeing a Sparknotes blurb about the green light on Daisy’s dock, thinking “WHAT?!? That’s supposed to symbolize Gatsby’s hopes and dreams for the future? F. Scott Fitzgerald could never have intended that.” Ah, but young Jessie, how silly you were! When I began to write poetry, I saw that I was, in fact, toiling over specific words and commas, trying to get the symbols exactly right, making my sentences conjure up the perfect image to keep the themes consistent. And at that point, I had to eat several years of morose mental curses against literary criticism.

Of course we can’t always be right, but why not give the writer the benefit of the doubt? I believe Ms. Burdick-Evenson to be a very skillful author, especially when it comes to her authorship of a sixth grade classroom. And whether she meant to or not, when she told us how to cope with hypothermia, she effectively summed up her legacy in my learning career, which to quote Dorothy, was roughly, “If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own backyard, because if it isn’t there, I never lost it to begin with.”

There are many times when I’ve thought I lost the ability to write poetry. I’ve gone in search of new ideas and subject matter, but over the course of a few ’bouts with writer’s block, I’ve found that the solution, for me, involves going back to something I know, and undressing it more thoroughly. Ms. Burdick-Evenson taught us to use the resources we had at hand, and whether it be the body heat from fellow travelers, a shocking fact to keep some sixth graders interested, or the personal experiences that can give a piece of writing depth and detail, it was a valuable lesson indeed.

I credit Ms. Burdick-Evenson with many of my crucial early learning advancements, but most notably, she refined my early writing, and taught me to “write what I know.” She gave me average marks on creative writing until I abandoned surface stories about a snotty girl ripping her pants in gym class, and got personal with my feelings about moving. It wasn’t a great story, but she recognized that I’d let my guard down and written something I cared about.

That’s not to say that it always stuck. In high school, I wanted to be angsty—oh, how I wished I was angsty enough to write a deep and meaningful poem, but I tried and they were so awful. I froze many a poem to its rigid death trying to be too dramatic, with frilly adjectives and stabs at life-changing action. I dressed them, if you will, in warm-fleecy pants and down winter jackets, danced them around ‘til their backs hurt to keep them alive, but none of these solved the problem at hand. My poems had hypothermia and nothing but some warm naked truths can help that.

I don’t mean revealing truths necessarily (don’t worry, dear family), but rather unwrapped details, distilled to their most personal and timely form, details as nuanced as the skin of a cherry. I’ve admired other poets’ well-formed details and imagery just as I’ve admired this rich red color–if only you could capture that in paint–but it’s so speckled and rounded and deep, so personal to the summer cherry, that nothing could fit so perfectly, and nothing could recreate it.

I’ve been reading some poetry this week, namely these lovely sites by Missoula writer Emily Walter Seitz and Portland writer Kristin Berger. They have me in the mood to post something poem-y. I’m finding that the poems I enjoy of other people are personal, they show something of the writer. Personal experience needn’t be the whole thing for me, nor do they need to be obvious, but I love when the vividness of an image makes you feel that a writer has actually seen or felt, or heard some aspect of what they are expressing.

Henceforth, inspired by Ms. Burdick-Evenson and these poets, I make it my mission to undress those familiar details that have been traveling with me all along and to assuage the threats of hypothermia and written dullness alike with a generously-bared naked belly.

*I have a hard time even writing this given the slew of enlightening teachers I’ve had, so please bear in mind, my survival instinct was just a bit more active than usual and it was cold!

[The formatting on this is a bit messed up because the lines are too long for the margins.]

Hurricane Bertha, Nags Head – July 1996

We were there when the red flags went up on the end of the boardwalks, flapping against
the mural of dull grey sky and dense turquoise ocean. Silent wind swallowed

the coast and the swelling waves were the whirr of crickets chirping, a muffled, persistent
roar. We stayed after torrents hammered the east-facing windows, as if we’d slipped

through a trapdoor to autumn. The ocean disregarded its tide-lines, wind quickened
its course, but the dunes were hesitant, spattered by salty rain that left a humid taste in the air,

and a crust on the sand. Before we left, my sister and I lay in low tide and let each shallow wave
wash like thunder over our faces. Shell fragments pattered our cheeks and plastered our hair;

bits of the shore clung to salt-sticky skin. Even my lips were raw— cold, fresh, where trickles
of water seeped between, rinsing a filmy taste over my cheeks and teeth. And I was the sand crab

caught under the crust, whose legs felt the quake of the churning water, the internal rumble
as the walls of its hole trembled, and sand sifted downward — It wasn’t the water that haunted me,

but the lingering coast that suffused through the haze like a fog horn on a cloudy night. A hollow yowling that crept down the crab holes and trailed our dripping calves to the car,

where I sat, wrapped in my damp towel as sand fell like bread crumbs from my scalp.

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It’s a free park.

This weekend, Jake and I attended Much Ado About Nothing at Shakespeare in the Park. My summer is complete.

Of course, I don’t really feel that way, but there really is something about spreading a blanket on an oak shaded hillside, digging into a picnic made 75% from ingredients you picked yourself, watching the girl nearby stretch into camel pose, an apple in her teeth, or seeing in the distance a circle of actors, half-dressed in pantaloons and t-shirts cooing and smacking their faces to the direction of a tall man with a beard who sings in a deep monotone as he breaths from his belly “This—is—where—the—power—is.” I would never have put all of these things together, but I am here to tell you that they make it feel like summer, and a wonderful one at that.

So wonderful, in fact, that the elated feeling you get from it might make you want to go on and on, as we did, about how great it is to be sitting on a hill at Shakespeare in the Park.

No, seriously, the hill was awesome. Sitting about 15 yards away and directly center stage, we could see everything and hear everyone, except for Don Pedro, who did not project as well as he could have. At previous performances, for example, I would never have been able to tell you that Beatrice was wearing mule colored pumps with a half inch heel. Couldn’t have seen it—there would have been too many chairs in the way.

Not this time.

What’s more, every position is more comfortable when implemented on a hill. When sitting, the angle between torso and legs is larger, so neither is there so much work for the abs nor so much strain on the back. I never once wished for a chair. When you are tired of that, though, with just a bit of extra prop under the head, you can lay feet downhill and still see the whole stage. We were one of the first groups at the show and we still chose to sit on the hill, farther away from the stage, because it was such prime viewing terrain. With the dappled sunlight and gentle breeze (any greater wind was blocked by the hill!), it was just like summer.

Never mind the two snotty ten-year-olds beside us with each her own BlackBerry and perpetual sneer. I hope they know they are not like summer, but I will not say anything more about that.

Few things could sour the prospect an evening in the park watching my favorite Shakespeare play. If  I could not recite for you every line in Much Ado About Nothing, owing to the fact that I watched the Kenneth Branaugh version about a million times before I was ten, I could tell you exactly the inflection Emma Thompson would have used.

But, in truth, the play is not so much my concern at these events. There have been times where I’ve not been able to pick up on any more than the main love plot, because of wind, or distance, or my sheer propensity to become distracted in these situations. There really is so much to watch.

A few minutes before the show, a man with a goatee, who was unmistakably the director given his rushed and imposing manner prior to the show, appeared on stage “to give us our lines.”

“You are the final cast members,” he said. “I can see each and every one of you. I can see that lady there with the brown bag. And I can see you over there with the curly hair. And I can see that man in the back.” He pointed up the hill, then waved his arms up and down as if signaling a plane. “I can see you. That means that everyone on stage can see you. They’re giving it their all up here, so let’s give them our undivided attention. I’ll be watching the show, too, from right there.” He pointed to a set-up we’d seen when we arrived. It was a carpet: yes, a 6 x 8 foot carpet. And upon it sat an oversized velvet pillow that happened to match this man’s shirt and was no-smaller than the island in our kitchen.

“Alright,” I thought. “That’s a nice sentiment. Maybe not one a director of outdoor theatre should invest too much of his energy in given the eminence of distraction, but a nice reminder, nonetheless.” I also mentally patted us on the back for picking a place on the hill, where a slight whisper/lean would likely go unnoticed.

With his announcement and the shrieks from oncoming actors, our director giddily leapt over the rope divider and ran to his pillow. “He’s goofy,” we agreed.

Enter villains: Up to the right of the audience area, we had noticed a large group of people setting up what appeared to be a very well prepared picnic for watching Shakespeare, complete with camp stoves, paper plates, and bags of food from WinCo. They set this up on a picnic table and we forgot all about them. They lay in wait until after intermission. Then, somewhere during the night watchmen scene, they struck, with an unmelodious “Happy Birthday” that came wafting over the hill. When it stopped, there were hoots and hollers. Although these actions were fairly tolerable, if inconsiderate, given it was a public park, they crossed the line when they began to hoot and holler again. You could almost see the steam billowing from the ears that rested on the oversize velvet pillow. Our director was up within seconds, jaw-clenched, storming toward the revelers.

At this point, we were given a choice whether to watch the performance or to turn our attention to the pertinent drama unfolding behind us, this showdown of greased hair and cookstoves, of rivaling preparations and plans, of what couldn’t help but end in a quotable moment. I think you know where I looked, and it was a good choice, because when approached by this theatre enthusiast, who amazingly appeared to have cooled his temper just a tad during his walk up the hill, this group, and I say group because more than one of them contributed, replied with the always defensive, rarely tactful “It’s a free country.”

Only, that’s not what they said. No, these people had had time to prepare. In singing happy birthday in the first place, they knew they were starting something. Yes, it’s a public place, but there are other picnic tables, and audience members were already assembling before they arrived. What I mean to say is that it’s not like this performance just popped up in the middle of their birthday party. There were people in pantaloons and hoop skirts for heaven’s sake! The birthday partiers expected to be reprimanded in one way or another and so they had tailored their assertion of rights to the situation. So what they said was, “It’s a free park. We’re having a birthday party.”

What do you say to that? “Oh, good point?” If you’re our director, you storm off behind the stage and return with a bright green sheet of paper. Then, you spend the rest of the performance writing furiously and muttering angrily to yourself, at least until the last scene comes up.

If you’re us, you throw that into the list of statements that permeate your conversation for the rest of the evening, along with quotable gems like, “No [I don’t love you], no more than reason.” Or “he is no less than a stuffed man!” Or, “go you and tell her of it.” Or, our up and coming favorite, “By my troth.”

We had to pick up some toilet paper after the show, and as we came out of Safeway, Jake slammed the 24 pack of rolls onto the hood of the car, looked at me defiantly and said, “It’s a free parking lot.”

In retrospect, an appropriate response would have been, “By my troth, I think not!” Instead, I kicked the tire, and said, “It’s a free car.”

After the birthday episode, the play went fairly smoothly. It was a very special moment, when Benedick, having stopped Beatrice’s mouth with a kiss, cried, “Let’s have a dance,” and our director, who had stopped his scribbling to watch what appeared to be his favorite scene, let out a guffaw of a laugh. This guy was nutty! Really, sir, you didn’t see it coming? But, he was too busy thinking, “Oh, oh, Benedick! You get me every time!”

For my part, I would have appreciated a more joyous jubilation than the rather constipated scarf-waving that followed. Not to be mean, but you don’t have to be too creative, nor have great dancers to give a much more convincing demonstration of merry-making. You just have to care.

After a particularly stunted partner lift, where the men clasped their hands awkwardly around the womens’ waists and then all paused for what seemed like several seconds before lifting them pitifully few inches off the ground, I turned to Jake and said, “I think I will start choreographing for community productions.” I knew he was on the same page when he nodded emphatically, saying, “yes, I think you should.”

A few years ago, Jake and I attended a South Eugene High School production of “Sound of Music.” It was indeed fabulous in many ways. The singing was terrific as were the costumes and the nuns. Gretl, a local four-year-old, gave a most convincing performance, as did the soldiers placed directly in front of our seats during the von Trapp family performance. They were creepy. However, Captain von Trapp, with his constant far-off gaze and raised chin, seemed to be more interested in what was happening in the light booth than with his family (maybe that was his problem all along), and the dancing–oh, it looked like bad.*

I felt a little like David Sedaris watching the elementary school Christmas play criticizing the Virgin Mary for her poor acting and lack of virginity, but seriously, high school Liesl: if you were really in love with Friedrich, would you hesitate before each 1 ½ foot gap between benches, making him halt his joyous gallivant because you were holding his hand and couldn’t keep up. I know, he’s running around the inside of the gazebo, his circle his smaller. Yes, I understand the stage crew might have neglected to screw down two of the benches and you’re worried you will fall and flash your bloomers to everyone sitting on the right side of the audience. I know, it would be embarrassing. But if you were in love, really, would you stop?

By my troth, I think not.

In defense of last night’s performance, though, and because I like to give people the benefit of the doubt, we did note that on the program, the same actor who played Jon the Bastard, was also acting as “co-dance captain.” I think that if you had personal demons in your heart, you would also find it difficult to choreograph a free and merry wedding dance scene that you originally tried to sabotage. Poor villains, they’re bound to fail from the start.

In short, this community production showed itself to be steadfastly average. I liked it, but no more than reason. I do, however, harbor great feelings of love for Shakespeare in the Park, hardly ever for the play in itself, but for the part of it I do manage to catch, the outdoor eating and people watching and the growing shadows as the light wanes. Every summer it’s a treat. And so with Much Ado About Nothing under my belt for the year, go I now into the final weeks of August a fully sated theater attendee.

*I feel the need to credit this to a video of three-year-old Jake in the bathtub.

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Keys aren’t always there when you need them. Too many mornings, indeed, I have been snapped out of a semi-leisurely shower-breakfast-lunch-making routine, when I discover 5 minutes too late that I don’t know where in tarnation I placed my keys when I arrived home the night before, threw down my bag and flounced to the kitchen, a whole nights sleep between me and the next time I need to unlock anything.

On one similar experience of note, I was at the Portland airport returning from a dance festival in Utah the first Sunday of spring break. Several of us had driven up in three separate cars a few days before. Some people went straight from the airport to their break destinations. I would be driving back to Eugene with my friend Alex, in my friend Kate’s car, while she traveled away for the week. Waving good-bye to the other Eugene-bound crowd, Kate, Alex and I happily boarded the red trolley to the parking lot and headed for the car, only to realize that no one there had the keys. Kate remembered giving them to me. I had no recollection, but didn’t feel such an exchange was beyond the grasp of reality. She had given me the parking ticket, after all. As we began to search our bags, the Oregon sky began to rain, and we retreated to the bus shelter: tired, wet, and hungry, but cackling with laughter none-the-less. Such mishaps can bring out the best in people. (They can also bring out the worst, but I try not to travel with those people).

I found myself in a similar conundrum this Monday following my flight back from Missoula. I received a plane ride to Montana from an exceedingly generous Pilates client. He and his friend, Jerry, were traveling to the Oshkosh air show, an event Jerry referred to as “pilots’ Disneyland” with formation flying, planes of all proportions, and endless exhibits. They dropped me in Missoula on the way out and picked me up on the way back. I did not go through security, did not sit and wait by the gate, did not buckle myself in only to sit for 20 minutes as oncoming passengers stuffed suitcases the size of small cars into the overhead bins.

What’s that you say? Down on commercial planes? Well, only just a bit. When it takes you longer to travel by air from Eugene to Missoula than it is to drive, it’s easy to be a skeptic. My private flight, however, was quite a different story, even when, on the way back, we headed toward Seattle to drop off the plane Bob had borrowed from his friend, Bill. The plan from there was to drive the remaining four and a half hours back to Eugene. A simple thing–unless, of course, you have no keys.

Having planned to return to Eugene before returning Bill’s flying plane, and with the initial pick-up a few days before our our departure, we had left them there. The conversation that followed a very brief moment of panic was a slew of ideas for getting the keys to the car, all variations on what would end up being three trips between Seattle and Eugene by midnight.

It was funny to hear these pilots talk about shuffling airplanes like you would the two family cars on the night of soccer practice: “Well, why don’t you take the Prius to get Jessie from practice, I’ll drive the van to the grocery and pick-up Jerry on the way back? Or maybe you should take the van, if you’re going to grab those boxes from your office before tomorrow.” The options were endless. Did Bill need to go? Did Jerry need to go? Would we fly all the way to Eugene to drop me off? Would we stop in Sandy river to pick up Bob’s plane from his Bonanza mechanic, then continue in that plane to Eugene, while Bill and Jerry continued back to Seattle to wait for Bob to bring the keys. I don’t know that that was ever an option, but we threw a lot around. They all seemed a decent deal for me since I was I was being delivered to Eugene by mid-afternoon any way you figured it. But these were not cars, they were planes. When we realized we couldn’t take the car, we climbed back in Bill’s plane and took off into the air! When we arrived at the mechanic’s and the hood of the airplane was open, a man in dress pants and a button up shirt holding spark plugs still waiting to be installed, we hopped back in the plane and were off the ground in the time it takes to pull a car out of the driveway.

I can easily say this when plan B got me home at least as quickly as plan A, but I love these times of reconfiguration: the moment when everyone stops worrying and starts brainstorming, decides to look at the set-back not as a burden, but an adventure. Maybe it’s the 75+ hours I’ve spent driving across the country every summer and winter for the past 10 years. We’ve driven for what seemed like hours on a spare tire at a speed that seemed like crawling, been in McDonald’s late enough on Christmas Eve to feel like some sour reincarnation of “A Christmas Story.” We’ve replaced the car battery at midnight in a Wal-Mart parking lot and literally lasso-ed our station wagon out of a snow bank with the help of a friendly Wyoming trucker.

Fortunately, these adventures are sometimes for the best, like the glorious, glorious snow storm that holed us up in Vevay, Indiana with all of our playgroup friends one New Year’s because we couldn’t get up the hill. Showing up to your third grade classroom is never better than when you are three days late back from winter break and have a captive’s story. Why do you think I’ve moved down a gravel road?

Still, even though I enjoyed the change in plans, it really isn’t fair to Bob that this is what I post about this experience, because I thought he and Jerry were exceptional pilots: smooth, with bounce free landings, and very little turbulence. They even corrected the bonanza boogie, which Bob described as a tail-wagging that happens with v-tail planes like the Bonanza we were flying. All my concerns about dying in a fiery wreck or getting my head ripped off by broken shards of metal were much assuaged in the first few minutes of my flight.

It was my hope that I would be able to find, in a gesture of sentimentality, a picture of me on my first ever flight off the ground, which happened to be in a small plane. My second grade teacher’s husband was a pilot, and in the pre-terrorism, pre-don’t-trust-strangers age, it was apparently allowed for him to take us each up three at a time in the small airplane to view the city from above. Upon descent, someone snapped a picture of my group in front of the plane:

  • the other two girls: smiling happily at the camera
  • Mr. McKenna: standing behind us, his hand on my shoulder
  • me: my head down-turned looking suspiciously toward his hand

I remember not really caring that he’d placed his hand there, just wanting everyone to know he wouldn’t get away with that without my noticing.

I hoped to post that with a picture taken this time, post-landing in Seattle, having come full-circle—small plane to small plane. I have only the latter to post, but it’s for the best. I behaved better in this one anyway.

montana trip 087

Thank you to Bob, Jerry, and Bill, for a wonderful trip!

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