Neeble neeble neeble, neeble neeble— neeble neeble neeble neeble!!

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Weather Machine

The front page of Wikipedia is one of the few websites I let myself visit without guilt while I’m at work. Most of the internet I keep blocked off most of the time with the Strict Workflow (formerly Strict Pomodoro) Chrome extension, but if I get that want-to-chew-my-arm-off feeling, Wikipedia’s allowed.

Anyway, today’s featured article is about Weather Machine, a weather-predicting sculpture in Portland’s Pioneer Square that’s been here since 1988 and I never heard of it til now. How did this happen? I knew about the green and red light on top of that building downtown, but not this?

Must figure out when I can get to Pioneer Square at noon. And actually, I’ll need at least three visits.

Glad to be home

Happy New Year! I have been away–very far away, it felt like. To be specific, I was on a cruise in the Caribbean. The cruise-ship culture sometimes seemed as far from home for me as the islands are from Oregon.

“Are you having a good time?” people asked me everywhere I went. Yes, I said, I am! Then– all these people had been on multiple cruises, and there was the faintest hospitable air of recruitment–they always asked, “So would you go on another cruise?”

I wasn’t sure how to answer that. Not for the sake of going on a cruise? Not as a means of travel? I loved meeting the new-to-me cousins we traveled with, and seeing the blue water and the rainbows over the islands as we pulled into harbors on misty mornings. Yet we were a 14-story hotel pulling into those small harbors– as Sanguinity said, it was like the cruise ships warped space and time and economies all around them.

So all that is still sinking in. I’ll leave you with just a bookish note or two. The Carnegie libraries we found in San Juan and in Castries, St. Lucia, were closed on the days we visited, but we did get to go to the library in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas: Charlotte Amalie Public Library I reflexively check the Daniel Pinkwater holdings when I visit libraries, and Sanguinity checks for Peter Dickinson books. We saw one of each on the shelf.

In St. John, Antigua, there was a really good bookstore called The Best of Books. The children’s books were from British publishers, and there were shiny new paperback reprints of Enid Blyton’s books from the 1940s! I even overheard one girl in a school uniform tell her friend, “I just LOVE Enid Blyton!”

In Castries, we stopped in at a bookstore with lots of school supplies and textbooks. In the fairly small young adult fiction section, there were at least 15 copies of Sarah Ryan’s Rules for Hearts (which features lesbians in Portland)! Maybe a teacher ordered a classroom set and then the curriculum changed? Sanguinity wondered what Caribbean teenagers would make of the Portland setting. It felt so different and so far away.

Traveling was a full day in each direction– the redeye on the way out, and downtime in San Juan and Chicago on the way back, arriving at 11 p.m. Portland time and 3 a.m. by the clock we were used to. I’d caught a cough by the time we left the ship, and then there was jet lag and a day of stomach trouble when I got home. After awhile I began to feel that watching bad airplane TV to get through the second leg of the flight had been a bad, poisonous idea, and maybe part of my soul was still trapped up there in a United Airlines jet, going back and forth. When I was falling asleep and got that floating-away sensation, I tried to impress on myself that no, I didn’t feel the motion of the ship, I was in Portland. Home in Portland.

So glad to be home, but for days I was still clinging to each little Portland thing like I was stitching myself in. The chow dog that lies by a bench in Ladd Circle every morning! The cedar waxwings mobbing a tree! I was actually glad to go back to work, too, especially since the cough was finally departing by then.

So now I’m back, and I’m not minding the gray days or the chill or the rain at all, and things have been happening. Bookherd is staying with us for a few weeks before her next adventure, and we helped evannichols put together a lot of IKEA furniture, and refgoddess is renovating her shed to move into so her B&B can expand, and I went shopping for a bridesmaid dress on Northwest 23rd Avenue and actually enjoyed it. (Good thing, too, because I’m still shopping. One way or another it will be sorted out by the end of this month.)

In reading news, I added eleven new favorite books that I read in 2011 to my LibraryThing collection. If you want the whole long list of books I read in 2011, let me know and I’ll email it.

In writing news, I was turned down for the Oregon Literary Fellowships— congratulations to the winners announced yesterday! I hope to apply again next year. With a story that I haven’t even met yet–exciting.

I am busy again, so busy. (Some of you would laugh at what I consider busy.) I hope 2012 treats us all well and we all stay in touch.

Pudding On The Rice

The clerk at Pudding On The Rice said she was sorry, she couldn’t make Sanguinity and me the Shrimpy Pig crepe we ordered, because they were out of the cheese spread. “Somebody used it all up and put the container back empty,” she said.

“Co-workers are the same everywhere,” Sang said darkly.

When I paid and stuffed a tip through the slot in the paper glued down over the top of the tip jar, the clerk told me about the tip thief and how he came in, scooped money out of the jar, distributed it to his friends waiting outside the door, and they all ran in different directions. Hence the new lid.

I like being around employees who don’t feel like they’re paid to take on the corporate voice of their employer too much.

The food was just okay, but then again I don’t see a case with 20 flavors of cold rice pudding every day. White chocolate rice pudding, cheesecake rice pudding, lemon poppyseed rice pudding. We shared some rum rice pudding, which was strongly flavored but not actually boozy.

Try Broadway Coffee & Tea for a better crepe. But since I’m working days and Sang works most evenings, it was good to sit outdoors by the Park Blocks and spend an hour together before I went to catch my bus.


I’ve been paring back activities for awhile now. Last week I was fighting germs, and just barely had the energy to get through the workday. But even before that I went into hermit mode in the hopes of getting my IPRC final project underway. I’m not training for any races. I’m not taking any new classes. I really don’t like to be busy, don’t like the feeling of wow this is a busy week even if I like each thing in it. I think it will be a net gain to give up the busy.

But still, something is driving me to go to the weekly Morning Birdsong Walk at Mt. Tabor. Maybe it’s another iteration of What Kind of Tree Is That? In any case, I got on the bus at 6:12 this morning to rendezvous with refgoddess and M and listen to birds.

The 6:12 bus is a quiet bus. I get the feeling people are sitting there quietly contemplating their lives and the circumstances that lead them to be on the bus at that hour. By contrast, when we join the bird nerds at the park gate it’s quite chatty. I’ve been twice now, and there have been a couple of dozen people each time. Almost all of them are real birders, with binoculars and lists. There’s a pair of teenage twins who have lived near the park since they were small and are respected experts on the birds of Mt. Tabor. They could easily be E.L. Konigsburg characters. The leaders talk about the local listservs, recent bird sightings around Oregon, and the new storm-petrel species one of them helped discover on a repositioning cruise between Chile and Alaska, which is apparently a lovely way to check off lots of seabirds from your life list.

People were excited today because the spring migrations are underway in earnest after a late start. We stood for half an hour, probably, facing a big-leaf maple and watching ruby-crowned kinglets and about twenty other kinds of birds zip around. This was great for the jaded and knowledgeable, but less convenient for us beginners. On my first birdsong walk I learned what a robin song sounds like. Today I learned that juncoes go tick-tick-tick.

I peeled off long before the walk was over, and caught another bus to work. It was very noisy: after standing on the curb while 20 minutes’ worth of cars snarl by, I got on the #4, which is standing room only already at 52nd Avenue. Rush hour and construction were both underway. I was glad to get to my desk.

Forest Park 50k

I often wish that writing had events like running has races. Writing has deadlines. Ugh. Running has RACE DAY, when you wake up suddenly, eat your breakfast out of a sense of duty, line up all chilly and goose-bumped– and then you go out and do it. I haven’t found a way to feel that performance aspect in writing.

Yesterday Sanguinity and LeBoyfriend saw me off at the Forest Park 50k. I ended up walking 80 percent of the course because of knee pain, and finished only 15 minutes before the time limit. My time was something like 8 hours and 45 minutes. If it had been a training run on my own, I’m sure I would have packed it in long before 31 miles. But it was a training run (for July’s PCT 50-miler) and race day.

The time on my feet was valuable in itself, because I’ll be trundling along for 13 hours in July. I’ll just need to do it faster!

It was a lovely soft overcast day in the woods. I heard a pair of owls calling back and forth, and saw several of the little gray mice they probably love to eat. The thimbleberries are still green, but a few salmonberries were ripe. The trail was plenty muddy, but that’s spring in Portland.

The training notes I made seem so, so obvious to me now.

  • Have fresh socks and maybe a spare pair of shoes waiting at aid stations. Sometimes any pair of shoes that’s different from what’s hurting is a nice change! And once I was out of the mud-pit, clean socks would have saved my feet some abrasion.
  • Tuck a ziploc bag into a pocket to carry food away from the aid station. I was limited by the capacity of my grubby little hands, and happily would have scarfed another pop-tart or two.
  • Know the names of the trails before starting out and carry a little map. I met one unfortunate soul who had gotten turned around and did the terminal loop twice– two trips down the insane muddy slope that felt more like orienteering than a trail run. Another straggler told me she’d wandered around crying for an hour wondering if she was still on the race course. Her friends in the race had found themselves unexpectedly in a residential neighborhood somewhere. The colored-tape markings could have been better near trail intersections– but I think Forest Park also has a tape-vandalism problem. In any case, it’s silly to rely completely on markings.

A couple of times, my experience gave me the pleasant feeling of being able to cope. I went down the wrong path for a few switchbacks, but I figured it out, got back on course, and let it go. I was hours slower than I’d hoped, but except for some chagrin at keeping Sang and LeB out all day, it didn’t really get to me. That steadiness is definitely not a personality trait– it’s something that training and racing has given me, and I love it. It’s like not freaking out over free-writing or a short writing assignment: some days are better than others, no big deal.

Of course, I’m not so unflappable that I don’t love having my amazing crew to take care of me. It wasn’t until I had eaten some finish-line food and we were ready to go that Sang and LeB revealed that the car had broken down (again) and transportation home would take a bit of doing. You know you’re a real ultrarunner when your crew starts strategically keeping secrets from you!

“What kind of tree is that?”

It may well be that when I did get started writing I chose to inhabit the ignominious swamp of children’s literature because I knew I was just not good enough to write real books about human relations and sex–not good enough because I don’t know my ash from my elm.
–Daniel Pinkwater in Chicago Days, Hoboken Nights

That’s from one of my favorite parts of the book– Pinkwater recounts Isaac Babel’s story “The Awakening,” in which a boy who wants to be a writer despairs because he doesn’t have a “feel for nature” or know any names and facts about the natural world. In the bad biopic of Gustav Mahler that Pinkwater was watching, that bit was stolen wholesale and plunked in, so that suddenly little Gustav is being lectured by the Wise Old Man: “How can you be a composer when you don’t know the names of trees?”

Pinkwater thinks it’s ridiculous in both cases. I’m happy to join him in the ignominious swamp, but I do want to know, and I was excited for Tree Identification class at Irving Park this morning. The prospect of fast-food breakfast on the way sealed the deal.

We got to the park at nine a.m. and followed some likely-looking tree nerds (rain gear, knapsacks) to the picnic shelter, where we got handbooks and doughnuts and reflective VOLUNTEER vests so no one would run us over or call the cops as we gathered in front of their houses to inspect the “street trees” in the planting strip. I saw two looks askance at my McDonald’s cup, but it wasn’t all Concerned Progressives. One guy was barefoot and informed us that lindens are one of the rare trees with edible leaves, which have a pleasant, mild flavor. Indeed they did.

Other tidbits:

  • Honey locusts don’t grow that well here; they’re always a little thin and spindly. Therefore, they’re planted in front of the Portland Building so that people can look up through the leaves and see Portlandia!
  • The wood of dogwood trees was used to make skewers called “dags,” and the tree was called “dagwood,” which morphed into “dogwood.”
  • The dawn redwood is Oregon’s official state fossil. It grew here for millions of years, but was thought to be long extinct. In the 1940s, Chinese scientists found them growing in Hubei province in central China. A team from Harvard brought some back to the U.S. in 1948, and today I saw one in somebody’s yard, looking sassy.

So watch my stories for tree names– maybe I’ll become a bona fide regional writer yet. ;)