Bi-Mart: Eighty-five stores in the Northwest, bright open spaces, imperceptible music, friendly staff in red or blue smocks—and stuck in the past. But I had to go there. Our K-mart closed, our Fred Meyer wouldn’t have what I was looking for, and I knew that the store was easy to navigate once I got past... Continue Reading →
I retired. I’m retired. I’m a retiree. Is there a less appealing word for such an appealing status? Literally, retire means to pull back or withdraw (think of tire on doors in France, meaning pull). That isn’t even what I’m doing. That definition makes me think of a horse who is trotting along doing its... Continue Reading →
Tikal, Guatemala According to an epic poem written more than 3000 years ago*, Gilgamesh, who was the ruler of Uruk, and his opponent-turned-best-friend, Enkidu, decided to destroy the Cedar Forest where humans were forbidden to enter. Gilgamesh and Enkidu, both of whom had super-human strength, traveled across seven mountains before they came to the forest.... Continue Reading →
Last weekend at the cabin, everything was raggedy: trees were down, nothing was blooming, appliances were acting up, and roads, boots, ditches, and even our faces were running with cold rain. But, or, as Butt the Hoopoe says in Salman Rushdie’s playful Haroun and the Sea of Stories, “but but but.” But but but for... Continue Reading →
My friends, how do I love you? I love you as the vibrant pulse of life. I love you as a wild ginger. A bleeding heart. As cactus, cloven, we know not why. And staghorn ferns, as well . As nettles, with their spines we learn to live with. Veronica seed--a heart that follows bloom.... Continue Reading →
You may know I’m a tree physiologist and that my research has been in how a plant gets water to go up the tree, but it wasn’t until I started making maple syrup that I started thinking about maple sap. The sap we collect comes out of the wood, and it has sugar in it.... Continue Reading →
How we make maple syrup from bigleaf maples in Oregon and why we even consider it, when it's a lot of work for the syrup we get!
We walked farther than the dogs needed to because I needed to keep going. In the illumination of a streetlight, I saw concentric circles in the knobby twigs.
People believed we did not have common sense. We crawled through the chaparral over sharp rocks barefoot and in shorts. We stayed out exploring until we could not see where our fingernails ended and our fingers started. We asked too many questions and pushed ourselves in environments that were dangerous and mental realms that were... Continue Reading →
Here’s how you shut it off. You leave town with your husband. You rent a place that has kayaks. You concentrate on figuring out how to pull yours through the sand to the lapping ocean, then on how to get into the plastic shell. Then you row, or paddle, or whatever it is that you... Continue Reading →
This story is about three of the people on this solid earth. This story is about them in the middle of September up until now, and it is about them before that time and after. It is about the people they knew or know or will know, too, and indirectly, it is about the ground... Continue Reading →
This story is not about Marion’s casserole, but that is where I have to start. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Partially brown a pound of ground beef, then pour off the grease. Scrape the ground beef into a lasagne pan, then pour in a few cups of elbow macaroni. Find the can opener and... Continue Reading →
One night on the way to visit my father, I heard about a crime that was allegedly committed by a twenty-year-old man. My first reaction was to be upset: it was none of our business how old he was, or even that it was a “he” and not a “she.” I remembered my reaction when... Continue Reading →
My husband, the dogs, and I spent last week at his family’s beach cabin. It’s a modest structure with a flat roof and a lot of history—his family’s history; I married in relatively recently. The cabin sits on top of a cliff above a long narrow beach. The beach’s upper terrace is a strip of... Continue Reading →
Today there were flickers of fall. I spied them in the curled leaves beneath our cherry tree, its crown still green. I smelled them in the air, both brisk and sour. I felt them on my feet which brushed against the dew. I wore the flickers in my spine, which hunched today to force the... Continue Reading →
I like our little tractor, a lot, although I like what it does more than I like operating it. All the bits about pre-warming the coils and managing controls in the right order unnerve me. There are clutches, hand-levers, and foot pedals for going forward or backward, going fast or slow, lifting (or dropping) the... Continue Reading →
I have to grease our little tractor. That means I have to skootch on my back, grease gun in one hand and manual in the other. I will concentrate on my three hopes: That the tractor won’t roll. I know it won’t because it can’t: it’s parked on the level and has both of its... Continue Reading →
I think of the eye tests where the ophthalmologist says, “Which one’s better, One or Two?” and I ask to see One again. I try to keep Two in mind as it blinks off and One takes its place. “I can’t tell you,” I say. “It’s all right. Let’s try this,” she says. “Which one’s... Continue Reading →
With our monitoring of first flowering date, we have a feeling of belonging to the world, rather than resistance to it; of concordance, rather than shock.
When visitors show up, you need to remember these two words: igualmente (likewise, but easier to kick around) and tampoco (me neither but casual, like uh-uh.) Just say them over and over, and then get ready to drop them as your guests began to talk. “I’m so glad to be home,” someone says. Actually, I... Continue Reading →
I’d like to start my closing remarks by telling you about a pleasant symmetry. In 1975, during winter break of my sophomore year of college, my friends in Pennsylvania took me skiing for the first time. I had much trepidation. It was here they took me: to Mount Snow, Vermont. Now near the other end... Continue Reading →
Dogs: what are they thinking? What keeps them in check, what lets them break loose? Who are they, each of these canines who live beside us, who we live beside, who drive our love machines? We got possession of an almost four-year-old dog* about five weeks ago, named Sundance. His personalities are as varied as... Continue Reading →
In the weeks leading up to my 40th college reunion, I started musing about Barb now and Barb back then. I collected my few mementos: a yearbook, the freshman book with all of our high school photos in it, and a set of peach-colored towels that we are still using. I considered the astonished Barb... Continue Reading →
Last week I attended a symposium on Environmental Arts and Humanities. I listened with creeping discomfort as three speakers talked about “truth” as if it were subjective. One speaker talked about her research on photos, not what is in them, but what observers of the photos take away. These takeaways were the big feelings like... Continue Reading →
I’ve known that feathery plant with tiny green bobbles for so long. It grows between the flagstones. I’ve known the wide leafy thing that isn’t a mint, and the tiny-leaved tiny-flowered spike that grows through lawns like miniature garlands. Bear with me here: I have a point to make. I’ve known weeds and their patches... Continue Reading →
Letter to my boyfriend after my junior year of college. I had just returned to California for the summer from Pennsylvania by Greyhound bus, May 29, 1977. My kids don’t know what a stubbed toe, a stubbed heel, or a scraped knee is, really. They understand the concept, but they aren’t even sure how you’d... Continue Reading →
Edges hold the world in, so I can live here. And yet the pursuit of edges pulls me out of my world to see what else there is.
I’m in position. I’ve rocked forward, left leg in front, body planted on the right. Now I’m rocking back. My left knee rises, my right should cocks back, my elbow, and then my right hand follows. Now I explode like a spring, hurling every joule of available energy—from my leg, torso, shoulder, biceps, forearm, wrist,... Continue Reading →
Some time last year, the plants around our cabin started grabbing atoms from the air and soil. They jammed them together, then used solar energy to stick them into molecules that were no longer gas or liquid, but were solid. For the rest of the growing season, the plants doled out those molecules to whatever... Continue Reading →
When I chose to study the ecology of western poison oak (Toxicodendron diversilobum, also known as Rhus diversiloba), I knew I would have to learn how to minimize the risk of “getting poison oak” and of causing other people to get it (11, 12, 13, 14). Here I describe the nature and seriousness of the... Continue Reading →
Chorus frogs are peeping, the trillium blooms have turned from white to purple, and leaves of all the deciduous plants are bursting forth in an orchestrated unfolding, filling, and spreading. And among the most beautiful displays is poison oak. Its buds open to crimson or red leaves that uncrinkle and spread. They stop at a... Continue Reading →
I am writing about herbicide here, and I am aware that my discussion may alienate some people, and yet I believe that in some circumstances when managing lands, herbicides are the best alternative. Note, however, that I’m not an expert on this. My brief statement of support for the sparing use of for herbicides in... Continue Reading →
ludic (adjective): (Of play) spontaneous and without purpose; (of behavior) undirected and spontaneously playful. I need the occasional ludic break to get through the day. Ludic is running through the park with a young son. Ludic is playing tug-of-war with the dog. Ludic is arranging blueberries on the rim of my plate; it’s humming or... Continue Reading →
Who goes there? I am usually too ignorant to even know someone is passing by. And when I do pay attention, I am astonished to learn the extent of transit, variety of travelers, and breadth of cargo that moves in my neighborhood. I live near a residential home for women in rehabilitation, and I see... Continue Reading →
Great glory, wonderful day! I’m astonished how good it feels when the sun finally shines, when grasses show as mounds in unmown lawns, and cherry petals start to grace the ground, reminding me to look up. Dogs walk faster, squirrels linger with more derring-do, college kids talk louder as their masses move up sidewalks. At... Continue Reading →
Can you conjure the time when you most experienced bliss? Have you felt suspended among bats of down comforters above and below, your body—and your thoughts, or lack of thoughts? That’s how I was.
Our weekend cabin is about a mile off the paved road. It has sunlight and wind, the music of two creeks, and a wood-fired hot-tub. It has indoor water and electric wiring. But it’s off-grid. Off-grid means complications for keeping a refrigerator cold (and I have sagas about our propane fridge.) Off-grid means a diesel... Continue Reading →
You are Barb-the-Tourist-in-Thailand. Switch. You are Barb-the-Resident-in-Oregon. No, not so quick! You cannot switch from one Barb to the other, not in a matter of days. And yet you do. You wake up at some point and check your clock. You are all by yourself in an Airbnb. You check your phone for messages, brief,... Continue Reading →
I slide open the window, the adrenaline shoots through my spine, and I reach out to put the first clip on my dripping shirt. I’m squeezing it so hard it will wrinkle. I put on a clip, and another, and another--six clips on one light shirt. With every new clip, I still grip the fabric... Continue Reading →
“Why do you have to step in the mud?” Sharon complained over the drone of the generator. She had come to the door to greet Delmita, but now glared at the imprint of Delmita’s boot in the February mud. “Because I kind of like walking through it,” Delmita said. “Course, not that I want... Continue Reading →
A week from today I will go to Thailand to visit my daughter who lives there. We often talk on phones or computers a few times a week, and we message and use e-mail. There are periods when I think we are caught up, and periods in which we lose track altogether. I cannot wait... Continue Reading →
Challenge: Take photos of all the letters of the alphabet in nature. Do not move except to get the camera into position. Do not alter images other than cropping them. See what I learn from the challenge. Outcomes: A bunch of photos. Pleasure while pondering views and images. Skills in photography. Skills in imagining features... Continue Reading →
My son and his wife have been together for almost eight years. For the moment, and maybe forever, they have no human kids, but they do have five chinchillas. When their winter-break sitter fell through, they asked if I would step in. And I knew: it was time to get to know my grandchillas. They... Continue Reading →
He asked me to come see the tractor close up. I followed. He invited me up into the cab. I climbed up and into the one seat with him. What else could I do?
When I was twenty, I took a year away from college. I was a Californian, but I’d been going to a small, extremely intense liberal arts college in the East, and it felt right to leave for somewhere for a while. My first move was to France for a semester abroad. I recall that our... Continue Reading →
Maple syruping: that’s my topic this week, although it had stiff competition with landmark events and astonishing everyday occurrences. Landmark events? Early in the week I finished the first draft of my second novel. I was travelling, but not for work, which gave me the time to concentrate. Another landmark event: My dad turned 92. My... Continue Reading →
Our picket fence was built to perfection during a dry Oregon summer several years ago, but in the winter, it goes out of plane. The pickets are still vertical, but it’s as if they’re nailed onto a ribbon. And it’s because of the wood quality of the horizontal part of the fence, the crosspieces, technically... Continue Reading →
This time of year, the natural beauty in our part of Oregon is in the textures of branches and barks, and the patchworks of greens showing through yellows and browns of fallen leaves. It’s in mists that rise and fogs that settle. It’s in sun that glows, white not yellow. And nothing botanical is gloriously... Continue Reading →
We arrived in the morning. We usually arrive the night before. We started the woodstove, and then put together beans and corn and olives and tomatoes and chili powder so they’d meld by dinnertime on the stove. My husband made us each a cup of coffee. It was still morning, after all, and there was... Continue Reading →