Cycles of Life

Each Spring I sit with the vertical snow bank of white cherry blossoms decorating my childhood cherry tree, now in the neighbor’s yard. I sit for as long as I can manage, breathlessly poised for the moment the petals release into a wind-driven avalanche. I remain entranced for the couple of days they take to fall, musing on the first year I may have noticed this event. I was probably four years old, watching from the same house, these same windows. I fly with the petals, aloft on the gratitude I feel for this personal tradition between this glorious tree and I, for the understanding that time is marked by growth and death. It’s something I have learned from trees, from plants.

Each Summer I watch for the birds to come by the flock to feed on the red, bitter orbs.

This is done for now, and I’m not even a little sad. I welcome the new air given to the sunrises; the unobstructed view of my church’s steeple a block away seems miraculous, although the steeple was always visible.

In this weird pandemic shut-down, it’s hard to think beyond the next few days, few months. I’m sure 2021 will be a monster in ways we can’t picture yet, just like 2020 rolled in and changed what seems to be everything.

For months I have toiled at ground level, removing at the root level over-grown and life-clogging vegetation, raking humus well-broken down from beneath trees left undisturbed for the last several years. Bushes as big as cars were removed with my new-found skills with a saw. An accident of fate got the biomass mulched, and now I plot the winter’s composting, moulding.

The cherry tree gets trimmed to 20-foot tall stumps, suddenly several years from regaining the fecund branches that will grow back to recreate the glorious crown. The cougar in me enjoyed watching the confident young lumberjacks as they wielded their chainsaws to break the tree down into manageable pieces. The smell of sawdust and noise of the saws, the familiar worry over humans at work in trees, were sharp sensory reminders of life in the Pacific Northwest of my wood-burning fireplace-having childhood.

The fireplace was converted to burn natural gas years ago, and I moved to the big city. Change comes to trees, to people. The forest surrounding my rural hometown is no longer a source of winter warmth for me, but the trees still embrace our little village, still make-velvety the steep slopes at the southern end of Oregon’s Willamette Valley. I was young, but I saw the end of the timber industry glory days, the end decades later of the federal subsidies meant to support a world losing its living.

Now we worry the world is ending again. Pandemics, election nonsense and the now-a-year-into-it sense of personal anxiety and the burden of living through historical times that make anything in my prior 50-plus years seem naive and child’s play.

It was a comfort to see the cherry tree trimmed and know that, given the fair chance and time, we’d both see another season of blossoms come and go.

The tree thinks it will happen. For now, I trust the tree and think of the hope it offers those of us living in its now-limited shadow.

The birds will return, and I will be watchful.

The Reals, Peace

November 3, 2020, Creswell, Oregon – An unknown person leans against a lightpost as they await a bus at Creswell’s downtown bus stop during the last hours of the election. The ballot box is visible to the right of image center, past the left upright of the bus shelter.

This image, and the following images made on the same night, were made while I sat in the shadows in my car for a couple hours observing the ballot box as part of an organized team ready to call 911 should anything untoward happen.

Ahhhh, nothing did.

Oregon has enjoyed around 30 years of mail-in voting and the slow trickle of cars laid clear the truth of our voting quickly and easily, most of us having returned our ballots within days of receipt. Lane County Elections even provides a service online that confirms receipt of your ballot, a service located elsewhere, I’m sure.

Two days earlier, Creswell had a peaceful protest turn ugly. I’m still shook. Please see my prior post and the commentary thread for information. I don’t have the strength to re-tell that story tonight. Our little town is having growing pains, and these were especially acute for some of us.

These images celebrate the peace and quiet in Creswell on the final evening of the 2020 election. The yellow-vested trio appeared for the final hour of the election, and turned out to be Lane County Elections officials present to collect the ballots at or just after 8 p.m., per established rules.

I came out of the shadows and made the Election Officials’ acquaintance as they began to collect the ballots, and they graciously allowed me to photograph them at this important moment.

I am so proud of Creswell, proud of the rule of law, proud of a system that supports the peaceful transfer of power, and happy to face a new era.

Lurching Forward into History Together, or, an Afternoon of Rights Violations in Rural Oregon

A November 1, 2020 peaceful protest by approximately 30 local people was met with home-grown violence. The photos below are mine and were taken before the Springfield Trump rally came to rescue the Creswell Trump contingent, 5:1 or so. I stood in front of the BLM line, wandered the crowd as people from both sides mingled. Until the Springfield rally appeared, this expression was a win for Creswell.

Creswell went onto elect its first female mayor, current Council President Amy Knudsen, and Shellie Clark to city council. Ms. Clark sent the equity and inclusion memo to city hall earlier this year, setting into place a conversation about privelege and institutionalized racism that was painful and awkward and nascent.

This is not finished, but the conversations need to come off the street corner and into our socially-distant safe spaces (I use a covered porch and a back yard fire pit.).

I’ll host. Let’s talk about Creswell.

Let’s talk about what we value, and what we accept.

Let’s pay attention, especially now.

On Considering the Memory of Water

Thirty days to a new habit, they say.  What about coming up on six months of global pandemic and election-time mayhem?  What gets forgotten after you fall down the rabbit hole, before you somehow surface somewhere else later?  When everyone is going through this same disturbing evolution, who or what remains behind to marks the standard fading in the rear view mirror?

I don’t know.  I wouldn’t believe you if you said you did know something.

A year ago I would have drawn a different map of my life, although from nearby no one would notice anything had changed.  Literally, even, as I live in the house I grew up in.  The house my parents bought a little over fifty years ago now protects me from social non-distance, as it kind of always has.  I learned to be a toddler hermit in this house as I longed for social opportunity and playtime with others.

One could make the argument that my life has a remarkable level of stability and sameness in its rural, small town setting.  It’s a country within a country, when comparing rural and urban culture.  I’ve enjoyed both, and am super-happy to be in my small town during this time of change. 

There is a lot of time for thinking about connectedness/disconnectedness.  Less than a year ago, looking at the end of a four-year term as a city councilor, I was considering a run for mayor – my second in the ten years of city hall-related volunteerism that I fell into after moving to Creswell following 20 years in the Portland area.  Now, I’m happy with the mayoral candidates in place and am finishing my term on city council and resigning from nearly everything. 

My gut says do this.  My heart says I owe no one my time, attention and energy, but has love for all – or most; that what I rush to share with others is a gift that I need to spend on myself for a while.  My body says it’s healthy and strong, let’s keep that trend up!

I felt connectivity through service, but leadership for women can be isolating.  I’ve had friendships change as I’ve come into my own, as I’ve gotten my feet under me these last four years as a sworn public official, as the post-menopausal woman warrior I am morphing into.  I have skin in a game that others see as a spectator sport, and my thick skin was worn thin and tender.

Relationships and roles reach capacities; big words like loyalty, compassion and kindness fall away under the daily battles between ego, self-protection, growth, gender and whatever other obstacle we find in the rocky, windy, narrow path.  Transformation bowls over and past us with or without consent.

What is my context is if it isn’t as someone’s X, or a member of this council or that board or committee, or whatever?  Who am I now, if none of this matters?  We aren’t who we think we see to each other, and sometimes change happens so fast, we need to take a minute to assess our own selves.  It might mean walking alone, listening to others less, keeping one’s own counsel, lots and lots of peaceful thinking, hopefully out in Oregon’s gorgeous woods somewhere.

We calve from each other like the craggy frontispieces of tidal glaciers rushing to the sea.  Sometimes we’re the calved portions meeting their freedom in the cold, maybe-indifferent ocean; sometimes we’re the left-behind monolith from whom escape was always in the story-line. 

Lately I feel like the glacier; a soiled, slow-moving river of destruction and beauty, making peace with the pieces of herself rushing to transform.  Does the water remember the ice, the many laps of freezing, thawing, fresh, salty, rain, groundwater, sustenance for those of us plants and animals whose cells are made up of the recycled hydrogen and oxygen?  Does it care about any iteration, other than just being whatever the conditions call the water to be? 

Is water lonely for the shape of ice?  Does steam aloft miss the heaviness of the lake?

The glacier might consider the loss as the concentric waves of displaced sea push out into open water.  Interior pockets of blue ice-melt form into buried, invisible streams surgically effective at carving the fractures that commiserate with gravity, to temperature, to fate.  Another lesson in detachment learned (although one must admit that expectations of the eventual calving were met), and a fresh, seaward visage decorates the glacier’s weighted, melting, flaky, shedding, temporary terminus.

The bubbly little fragments of bergie seltzer might enjoy their fleeting autonomy prior to melty assimilation without looking back, making no excuse, shaming no one.  Off they go, aided by new form and natural law.  Feelings don’t play a role, say the little ice cubes to the reduced river of ice as they bob and roll among the waves of the salty sea. 

The bergie seltzer might also bubble out the message that change is constant and everyone goes away.  Solid ice becomes conditional love aided by the calving process, and suddenly I am the calved portions, unretractibly gone from worlds in which I thought I belonged.  (I do belong on city council and may serve again someday – this has to do with how I am relating to others socially, and it’s all connected.) 

The doubling down of isolation this pandemic affords me (a natural state for me anyway), has allowed me to consider my relationship with fear.  The harm I fear from others is really the harm I fear doing to others.  I’m the bad player, perhaps, likely, sometimes, and so I don’t fight the calving, the expulsion, the momentum of the natural heave into a separate future. 

I fear growing out of people.  I fear letting them down.  I fear one day turning to them and saying the thing that severs whatever cord – and I fear not severing the cord, fear the exposure of time-worn intimacy, the soft underbelly exposed and vulnerable to forces beyond my abilities to manage.  I fear the constant failure to meet the unmarked goals of conditional, seasonal love.  I fear the end of a failed experiment, where people agree to the glacier analogy and chose roles, comfortable in the tide taking everyone’s fragments away, comfortable in forgetting time.  There is only forward.

The lessons we learn from each other don’t require intention, presence or a clue.  They just happen, or not.  Isolated in our bubbles more than ever before, we are faced with ourselves sans the lowest hanging fruit of distraction – each other; the dust gets to settle on what we thought were default perspectives. 

Ah, the settling of ice dust and potential tsunami waves after the calving of glaciers.  It took months to accrue clarity and distance; to enjoy the sloughing of things I tolerated prior to falling into the sea and gaining this new consciousness.  I have detached from what I thought were pieces of myself, only to find that I am intact where I am.

A year ago someone told me my life would be better if I looked more like Grace Kelly.  The glacier, my old friend, calved me from their world that day.  Any risk in the ocean is better than being the ugly girl told how the world works.  We know.  I calved like a rock star, refreshed and renewed by the splash of melting ice dust on fractured pieces, not afraid of drowning or sinking, just leaping to find the more welcoming reality.  The glacier always knew there’d be calving.

The dislodged remnants of the glacier never try to re-attach, right?  I don’t think I’ve heard a scientific term for the accrual of frozen bits of calved tidal glacier piling up like scree at the water line.  Doesn’t happen. 

We move on, glacier and debris.  Tides come and get you, as directed by the moon.  Situational ethics fluctuate like temperatures, heating up and cooling off once-joined elements.  People get cold.  Egos feel the heat of a thoughtless sting, bleed out from a thousand cuts, a little more ice melted and gone from a once-attached heart.  The glass was already broken, say the Buddhists as they lean into the moment’s beauty, functionality and temporality:  the betrayal, the distance, the change of course were already in the stars.

Worlds morph.  People say one thing and mean another.  We grasp for a beginning for which there was no notice.  I embrace calving glaciers and new cartographies and the importance of respecting my inner water wisdom.  A lot of what I thought was rock was ice, real was hologram, love was tolerance, home was a piece of a glacier doomed to return to the sea.

Calved bits melt, join the sea, assimilate, disperse.  All is well, I think we can expect, with the atoms as they shift from fresh water ice to salt water sea, from portion of massive glacier to a new lap on a big planet.

We are going to be ok, too, as we come and go from each other, finding our new footing.  It’s okay to be the glacier, the calved bergie seltzer, the tide.  It’s just ok.

The Patient Raven

Raven was waiting.

The burned out landscape was a miniscule portion of the vast pine forest; the near-cremains of the trees a welcome respite from the tyranny of green just a few hundred yards away.

Waiting for mice? Renewal? Raven was jaded enough to appreciate the benefits of a fire, unfortunate temporary loss of habitat aside. There were many denuded branches on which to alight once the flames had cooled, and views unhindered by needles, leaves or nests.

All within a few flaps of wings from the tree was visible. Raven was unmoved, a statuary unresponsive to the life emerging from the fire’s work as the afternoon wore on. There was only the waiting.

Sahalie Falls Reverie

Sentinel pines offer a glimpse from down the trail, looking back up into the spray of Sahalie Fall’s terminal pool. Cold, unrunnable whitewater cascades westward, carving out the McKenzie River valley as it rushes to join the Willamette River, the Columbia River, the Pacific Ocean.

Two or three months into The Great Hunker, a forest escape was plotted. The Willamette National Forest a couple hours east of home called to us – and apparently many others, as the trail-head parking lot was crowded with other escapees. The goal was Sahalie Falls, one of the two points where groundwater surfaces to magestic effect, creating the headwaters of the McKenzie River on the western slope of the foothills of the Cascades. Snow melt on red and black lava fields and in Clear Lake filters downward, flowing in the subsurface for a couple years before surfacing at Sahalie Falls.

I might be wrong, but I think the water goes beneath again, surfacing at Tamolitch Pool, a blue gem of inviting clarity and deathly cold. Hikers are lured to their drowning deaths regularly, to the sadness of locals tired of the news stories of arduous rescues miles town trails packed hard with the footsteps of greenhorns marching to danger they don’t grock.

Skunk cabbage (Lysichiton americanus) blooms beside a spring that flows into a short stream subsumed by the nearby McKenzie River.

A stellar trail runs along the river here, making a loop – apparently. Eschewing my young companions’ pace and earnestness in the face of the steep hike, I quickly faded behind them under the ruse of taking photographs. I didn’t want to be alone at home, but I sure wanted some expansive, pine-scented alone-time in the forest!

Stepping off the footpath to powder my nose, I was thrilled to discover a graveled service road! Ha! From a hike to a ladylike stroll! The narrow road led to the Koosah Falls parking lot and restroom, which I would have totally missed from the riverside trail.

As if an easy path before me wasn’t enough, another discovery awaited – a spring forming at the foot of a basaltic slope across from the parking area! Skunk cabbage bloomed in the boggier places, and a light rain made the spring’s surface dance with splashy, momentary domes of wetness. The ponded springwater flowed, like everything else capable of any sort of fluidity, westward into the forest, rushing as if late for a date with the McKenzie River. Perhaps at this elevation the river is eager to increase her flow, her girth, the momentum of the unstoppable push to the ocean, and makes demands of tributaries to not dawdle?

Fear fails to float

Greetings to you, fellow hunkerers, during these weird times. I hope this week finds you safe, sane and enjoying an expanding sense of flexibility, patience and kindness towards yourself and others. It’s gonna be a bumpy ride.

Last month I was minding my own business, hugging people, fixating on things barely remembered now, when a whisper of a news story reached my ears: “There’s a run on toilet paper. Something bad is coming toward us.” Wha?!

The Great Hunker was on. No lead-up. No chance to stockpile, learn, consider, mull, ask others questions, wrap my head around anything.

Days before, I was kayaking on the Umpqua River for the first time ever. Decades of passing the Scottsburg boat ramp, yearning to find a way onto that water but responding to that need with helplessness and mystery were ended that day. Eventually. At first there was some not-so-real fear to get over.

The boat was off the car, bobbing half in, half out of the water on the ramp as I stood looking across the gorgeous, wide flow. Upstream, work on the new bridge seemed to be carving a new world at the foot of a mountain whose toes rested in the river. Velvety, dense fir and oak forest sweetened the air. Rapids upstream gave out to swift, shallow, dancing water devoid of any other human.

I encouraged myself that the far-bank houses would be behind me soon and the lush Oregon forest would bound the river and me. It was one of those late-winter days that gives hope in the sun’s warmth, carried by a salty breeze from the ocean a handful of miles west.

All that and I still tried to talk myself out of getting into the boat, tummy fluttering a nervous alarm. Little voices said I didn’t belong there; something bad would be my reward for this somehow bad judgement. Like I didn’t belong there; that it wasn’t safe to be out there alone; that my 16-foot sea kayak wouldn’t handle well in the tidal river.

I negotiated a five-minute float along the bank going upriver so I could float back to the ramp and bail out if the fear won. It was “Go time.”

The rest is history. Two strokes in, laughing, I turned the boat downstream and took my chance. It was glorious.

The water was cold and shallow. An eagle flew overhead as if flight was normal. The sun twinkled on the water. An upstream glance showed blinding quicksilver on the dancing water coming at me, and a memory of morning floats on quicksilver wild and scenic rivers in the West washed over me as if I was sitting on each of those rivers again all at once. I was happy, warm, safe, and aloft of water – my very real safe place for decades.

A few hours later, approaching the ramp, I marveled at how different the river looked on the return. But it wasn’t; the only thing different was me.

I keep having to learn that fear is a trick I play on myself. In these supremely weird times, I hope you’ll entertain this thought exercise with me: perception is self-interested. It’s how we’re made, this seeing of what we want, what we are expecting. I wanted to see a monster in the river. I wanted my fear to win because it sends me back to somewhere safe and familiar. I packed the fear along with my straps, life vest, lunch, paddle and was ready, almost eager, to submit.

Fear is a construct. So are society’s institutions: religion, education, government, defense, community and whatever else is bigger than the individual. Our perceptions are often formed to match our limited expectations and thought to be as solid as concrete or law, and we are the creators of our worlds. Even if we are wrong, right?

And what if, in fear, we are wrong about a few things, just as I was wrong about the Umpqua float?

Please join me in facing fear and chasing it off. Please give yourself and others the benefit of the doubt that everyone is doing the best they can under constantly changing conditions. Please don’t believe everything you are told or read. Please take time away from the news and the internet to poke your head outside and understand that you are a glorious, good, sentient being that has vast amounts of courage, love, compassion and hope that is only at the start of being tested.

In the near future, my bet is that we’ll look at this time as a honeymoon period as some things get worse. Since at least the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, we’ve been able to create lives removed from natural laws. We don’t worry about where our food comes from, can travel faster than horseback without much thought, travel around the world with ease, light night as if it’s day; the list goes on. The mere suggestion of a shortage of toilet paper sends us into a communal panic attack, even before we understand how the TP is going to keep us safe, or why we are hoarding it.

We are going to have to get on top of this fear thing, and I ask that we spend time trying to do that now. Something powerful is happening around us, so big we can’t even really make sense of the borders, the metrics, the effects. We just don’t know, but we get that it is bad, and we have so little control.

Fear causes our bodies to release cortisol, a hormone associated with the fight-or-flight response, and too much of this response weakens our immune system, making us vulnerable at a cellular level. What if fear feeds the virus and our faith, hope and love is a vaccination for it?

The river told me so.

This piece and the accompanying images were published in the 22 April 2020 issue of the Chronicle, the Creswell-area’s weekly newspaper as one of a series of op-eds written by locals for locals about these weird virusy times.

Please consider supporting the Chronicle via a monthly patronage or annual subscription.

Nueva Luna, Nueva Terra

Worm Moon highjinks

Could it already be that two weeks ago a Worm Moon in March, a mega moon based on its nearness to our marble, rocked our worlds?    

Today a new moon marks the pas de deux of our planet and the moon, for whatever that means.  I can’t tell you the why or how, but it’s always seemed instinctively correct to me that we are affected by the Earth, the moon and the rest of the Universe’s stars, planets, clouds, empty spaces and things unseen and unknown.

Scoff, but you’ll still respect the tides.  If you’re a woman, you know that your period and the moon have a connection you have no power over.  Day becomes night, and my planet affects me.  The moon is full and I watch for the crazy to come out. 

The rest of it, the understanding, is beyond me, and I lump that into the many things in which I have faith.  What we call God, Jesus, Love all blend into the engine of the Universe for me.  I don’t waver, I just don’t compute, and that’s ok. 

I don’t know how cars work, but I turn the key and floor it down the road.  I don’t know how television or electricity works (c’mon, I have a clue in general, but not on a function level), but I flick the switch without concern.  There are many things that make life easier that we don’t bother to understand, and we use them anyway.

I speak of things too large for us to understand as something almost too small and squiggly to understand, a virus and all of its mutations, comes at us.  This microscopic little monster is just as invisible as the dark side of the moon, but we know it’s here, circling the planet and suddenly reminding us of laws of nature that we’d become accustomed to bypassing.

Signs of the Time, Downtown Creswell

Yesterday, our city council (Creswell has about 5,550 souls and growing), of which I am a member now for three years, cancelled our regularly-scheduled work session to meet in a special emergency meeting in which we would discuss the declaration of an official state of emergency and outline how to maintain public meeting laws in a new world of no public meeting.

Our City Manager and Mayor last week made the call and lined up a conference call.  Technology worked for everyone and we chimed in for a 23-minute meeting, eventually voting unanimously to declare said emergency state.  I made the motion, understanding the gravity.  Yes votes came in carefully, clearly, one by one.  A few statements for the record regarding our confidence in staff and our decisions were made and the meeting closed with the mayor’s distant gavel. Facebook and YouTube and the local paper assist us in getting the meeting audio (no video) out to those that wanted to hear the event.

This is such a big deal on so many levels.  I was almost nauseas before the meeting, and afterwards I shook for hours.  Normally I’m a pretty chill person, not much rattles me.  Let me unpack this, please.

Ten or so years ago we had a peaceful revolution in which we, citizens suddenly alarmed that the popular kids in high school were in charge (that’s how it felt!) at city hall and that they were douchebags, looking out for their own interests in key, unpleasant ways.  No one is all good or all bad, but the tipping point had been crossed when personal interests were being prioritized over private interests by council and staff leadership, and a perfect storm of change came over our town.

I was there as a curious and increasingly-involved citizen, and it’s that era that led me to serving on council now.

Before I showed up, an emergency response plan had been put together and was in draft form, and a Citizens Emergency Response Team (CERT) had been formed of energized, passionate people that were eager to continue the preparedness training.  Requests were made to finalize the draft plan and I was in the room to witness the soon-to-be outgoing city administrator (we’ve changed the title since then) tell the room that nothing would happen, there was no need to finalize the draft plan, that no action was needed. 

He continued to assert that emergency planning and preparedness would not be a priority at our city hall in the face of citizens requesting such planning.  Later, the fire chief confirmed the craziness of the non-preparedness plan and we were doubly-glad to be rid of the prior crew.

Fast forward to the last few years, and we have moved forward at the city level not just emergency-related plans, but all of the major strategic plans that help us map our future. 

Last year, council adopted a sub-document that maps out the five biggest risks to our area, emergency-wise, and other documents that formalize the transfer of power and method of public meeting in a disrupted time.

Yesterday, we needed that plan for real and it was utilized for a smooth transfer of realities.  Our city manager (Michelle Amberg, a Renaissance woman of science and heart) is in charge in an environment in which normal rules are suspended, allowing her to execute major decisions on her authority alone.  She, of course, is not alone, and orchestrates staff and citizens to appropriate actions on normal days.  In these extraordinary times, we want her empowered to make the calls she needs to make, without processes that take months normally.

Ten years ago, I would not have trusted the leaders that said nothing would ever happen emergency-wise, but I wouldn’t have known why, or how to respond from a policy perspective to urge a more active response. 

But I knew something was wrong, and others sensed it, too.

How do you like us now, past people that said we’d never need an emergency response plan?

How do you like us now, internet trolls and snarkers (you know who you are), that enjoy pitching insults at city leaders without knowing our names, work, accomplishments, process, heart, goodness, or even showing up in the council chambers almost ever?

In the face of an emergency of unknown shape or proportions, our city’s leadership is responding peacefully and clearly, doing our thing without relying on plans in draft that had been maybe untouched for years.

A month ago, I went at it on Facebook with a man that called the folks at city hall “ass hats.”  No one else took him on from my side of the argument, knowing I had it under control.  It didn’t hurt me to publicly argue with him that we deserve respect.  It empowered me to realize that I finally had skin in some game in my life, and that I was finally a bona fide member of a team that would not only have me, but on which I could serve my hometown and grow up a bit myself.

There was a second internet troll that likes to snark for his own ego and entertainment, typically responding to city hall’s request for public input with a statement that we aren’t sincere in the request.  I take his self-entertaining comments personally, and he typically inserts into our back and forth that if I am in politics, I should be able to take the toxic ingredients he brings to our mass stew or quit.  He’s not able to state more of a goal than stirring a pot, but he is unaware of the stir being a good thing or a bad thing. 

For the trolls, city hall is populated with non-humans.  They throw out their insults and snarks as if we aren’t their neighbors; aren’t people who have helped them directly in the near-past (I helped this guy and his family move – truck, trailer and teenaged labor); aren’t the people at the table at a library fund-raiser looking at them wanting to understand the attack.

City management is policy, not partisan politics.  It is a volunteer role that has real-world impacts and exposure.  The councilors are personally liable on many levels.  It is real skin in the game.  No one is playing.

A few weeks ago we had the luxury of sniping back and forth about things that seems suddenly less important.  City hall went on with its work, much of it now stopped but a lot still continuing, like utility line repairs and other necessary services. 

Staff are not in quarantine at home and are required in the case of an emergency to report to work, and they are, as usual.

So, a decade ago, we had no plan.  A year ago we make major plan progress and yesterday, the plan kicked into action in a legal and real way.

I sit back, trying to piece together this big and little world.  Thinking about planets and stars and neighborhoods and viruses and fear and not-fear; thinking about what I can and can’t do in this new world; of extrapolations that end in the zombie apocalypse or a global rebirth.

And I think about how proud I am of our town’s leadership in this last decade, and hope that the nattering nabobs of negativity out there have reason to re-assess their perspective about city hall and council and come join us.

And the irony, I am binge-watching Survivor, Season 18, as we await the tsunami of germs coming our way.  I am on Team JT. 

Picture This, If You Would/Wood

Was a heart carved into the bark of this cemetery guardian years ago?
Can you see the dragon? I can’t look away. Look for the feet…
“P” is for Peace

A few miles west of town and a few hundred feet off of the valley floor, the Creswell Pioneer Cemetery welcomes all comers, breathing or not, for a moment’s rest among a quickly-diminishing forest. The march of time is witnessed by the incursion of new home sites, the living crowding around the dead even in a rural setting.

It’s nice, though, to hear signs of life from up there, to my surprise. Our little cemetery has been a favorite escape of mine for a decade; a park in the forest, a guaranteed absence of heavy traffic. If others of the living are there, space and privacy are given on the loop as people park out of reach of each other’s moments with their loved ones. Once in awhile I discover the headstone of a classmate and am shocked into reality. Not just a distant exercise, walking through one’s home-town graveyard, is it?

I live in a house built more than a hundred years ago on what was a huge lot then a few blocks from town, now long-incorporated into the community. The original owners are buried up here, as are some of their family members. I know living nieces and nephews, great- and great-greats by now, and among my elders now are some who knew the original couple as elders.

I’m always a little jealous of those at their peace, but I’m in no rush. They share the quiet of their resting place, the wind and trees, the chain saw and hammering and dogs barking from down the hill aways, and I take my little photos, think my thoughts.

Life wants to happen, and so does death. Mostly it feels like being on a storm-tossed boat, hoping to see land, but sometimes, ah, like on a Spring afternoon when you can’t tell if it’s cold or warm out and the clouds are threatening then playful, sometimes it’s just quiet and nice and peaceful, like up here.

We get our shot and make room for others to have their experience, and in some places we overlap. Even the future is called up as I wonder about who will be sitting here some day wondering about me, as I sit here and wonder about them?

Music Conquers Fear!

The Creswell

Community Choir

Sings for Us All!

The Creswell Community Choir posts enthusiastically for their portrait as I click away!

Fear’s a funny thing.  A year into the mind warp that is trying to be a professional photographer/creative (more on that later, probably), I am happy to report that 2020 finds my creative vibe gestational (but maybe not quite birthed) and with a strong pulse.

The fear thing, though: fear of failure or success, they are both terrifying: fear of change or non-change: fear of disappointing: fear of not disappointing and having to live up to competency.  The list goes on as long as the little grey cells are percolating, blood flowing through arteries coursing with anxiety-rich, oxygen-saturated plasma.  Without it breaking a sweat, fear can send me looking for my belly-button, going deep to distract, to find other less reachable issues to grapple with than the one peeking from behind the tree showing just enough form at the edge of my night-darkened interior forest to freak me out.  It costs me time, peace, opportunity.  It convinces me that my skills and abilities are those of an impostor; that the truth is a big “I can’t.”

Well, until the beginning of this decade, at least.  Change is a gift, and I’ve challenged myself to welcome and embrace whatever change and knowledge I’ve been holding at arm’s length for however long.  We all have our stuff.  I’m done fighting whatever truth I feel, and to accept that there is truth in whatever I am afraid of suddenly disempowers the threat – not empowers it!  Why do I have to get to old age to learn this stuff, dang it!?!

There are still fears, of course, bogey creatures of my own creation and attachment, mistakes that I am in the process of making, solutions I have yet to find.  To no small degree I wander clueless without a map within the confines of the house I grew up in.  It’s weird to be rootless in situ, but here I am, living out one of the many dichotomies that makes me unique and wondrously-made.  Outgoing but aspiring to active agoraphobia; creative but nerdy about public policy and science-ey things; loud and quiet; confident but a puddle of goo…I could keep on going, and so could you, I bet, dear reader.  My guess is that you’ve started considering your own list of coin sides, each equally authentic even as they oppose each other.

A recent fear-destroying adventure was the taking of a picture of the Creswell Community Choir, a group in town that performs a lot locally and practices with enthusiasm and diligence.  They provide music to the community like a food kitchen for the heart, music feeding souls and bolstering hearts for challenges to come. It’s a huge community asset, and I am honored to get to make an image of the choir!

The choir is led by Mrs. Mary Ellen Yost, who is also my first music teacher.  Retired now, Mary Ellen (eek, no more “Mrs. Yost” for me!) started teaching in 1972.  I was in 3rd grade.  I remember little of those years, but I remember her and the music lessons, and I was so excited to get to junior high and learn the recorder, a precursor to picking an instrument (trumpet).  Music/band literally got me through school.  I hauled the trumpet around for years in adulthood until donating it to the school district, and today have three accordions that I enjoy playing loudly in private.  It brings me great joy, and Mary Ellen was an important part of nurturing that seed in me.

It was Mary Ellen that called for the choir portrait, offering me paid work, an opportunity to do what I say I want to do.  Soooooo scary.  I really am at the beginning enough here that everything feels like it is the first time.  Each project a new experience in adulting, each proposal the work of Professional Martha, a woman I remember from my halcyon days as a Staff Scientist with an environmental services firm.  I wasexcited to be asked and super-ready to give it a try and then…then…all of the scary thoughts started.  I won’t list them here, as I bet you can come up with a list yourself of the creeping negative voice’s undermining notions. 

And then I remembered something.  I’d already taken the photo before; same group, same church sanctuary in the daytime, same camera even!  Several years earlier I was there for our local paper, and I can’t remember if I was there as an employee of the paper or a volunteer (things overlap), but a photo was needed and I ran out and got it.  No sweat, no fear, less than an hour of work, no big deal.  Not even worth remembering, even for the photographer!  What was I afraid now?

Mary Ellen was a joy to work with, as she knows her mind and communicates clearly, kindly, and we came to an agreement easily regarding her plan for the following week.  Choir practice was informal but focused, as Mary Ellen stood in front addressing the pew-seated choristers.  OMG, it was such a flashback to childhood!  She’s retired now, but clearly enjoyed being in her director’s position and it was a delight to me to be sitting amongst the choir, listening politely, remembering being less than 10 years old and watching Mary Ellen, eagerly awaiting the information she was presenting. 

Populating the pews were a woman I’d babysat for when I was in high school (they called me “Marshy” and I kinda loved it) whose husband I was trying to reach (done!) for a city park project, several strangers with kind smiles and a bunch of my church family, including another childhood music mentor, Barbara Few. 

Barbara served as the little kid’s choir director in our church for decades as her husband, Norm (“Otto”) Few tended his flock as pastor for 54 years.  I was in the Ambassador Choir (fine, no “little kid’s choir” moniker) for eight years, until I was too tall and tenor-voiced to stand among the wee red-robed ones.  I sang in the adult church choir briefly, and to this day love singing hymns in church on Sundays.  Makes my heart soar. 

Musically then, I was under Mary Ellen and Barbara’s musical tutelage as a youngster at the same time, and here we were, decades later, singing our hearts out like it was a normal, every-day thing!  And it kinda is!

Sitting behind the choir taking warm-up shots, I enjoyed singing along, trying not to distract from their real work or attract unwanted attention to myself.  I was equally at risk of being told to quiet down from lack of appropriate tuneage to being invited to join (I am notoriously unwilling to commit, and this is a choir for retired and/or independently wealthy folks, not someone still out making their living, like me).

Looking at the choir’s twinkly-wrinkly faces and appreciating how many of them I loved and didn’t remember ever not knowing, I realized that several of them probably didn’t remember not knowing each other.  As they sang and I clicked away, I saw looks of encouragement and friendship that spoke of lives spent in the same town, same church sometimes. 

Part of the charm of being geographically attached to a place and spending large chunks, if not all of your life, in a rural area is the knowing of each other.  We serve as museums for each other, as retainers of treasured, or not, past stories and knowledge.  We remember each other’s long-gone parents, maybe spouses, adventures, low/high points, children/grand-children/great-grandchildren/puppies, and keep secrets for multiple decades, the delicate strings connecting everyone knitting together over the years into a mat upon which worlds are lofted in a sort of a magic carpet of love, if my imagery holds up.  In that space, it did feel magical that afternoon. 

At the appointed time, Mary Ellen grouped the choir together as posed in the final image, above.  She had the positioning all planned out, the raised arms, and when she asked the choir to go for it, they did, smiling and stretching their arms out.  Off-off-off-Broadway, indeed!  The best image was selected and post-processed immediately, and emailed later, and I understand that the board of the choir liked the image!  Yahoo!

Not everyone gets to witness or even wet their toes in something like this connectedness, and maybe I have taken it for granted that this sweetness exists and is extended to my crusty self.  Sitting there among these beloveds, I focused on inhaling the moment, absorbing the goodness, the love, the musical healing offered as we lifted up our voices in praise and hope, singing songs of which most of us would know at least the first verse and chorus. 

The gentleness of the melodies, the harmonies of the different tonalities as Mary Ellen sought to help each find their roles, high to low, the ease of sitting in the airy, wide-open church sanctuary on an early-spring day with shocking blue sky, the main doors left open welcomingly, informally, as if to allow some of their musical goodness to flow out and into the world, unbidden but much-needed, all were a balm to my soul.  Fear was not a part of this very real experience.  There were even cookies afterwards.

Sitting in that choir practice, I saw the safety net that offers itself in the dear hearts rooting me on, in Mary Ellen hiring me to do a real photography job, in the kind words afterwards.  I felt membership, worthiness, encouragement, acceptance and love, and creative appreciation.  Fear would like to have kept all of that from me, the wimpy scamp.  No longer, but I’m still wrapping my head and heart around being on the receiving end of such support without fear.  My hope  2020 will be the year of easy learning and a deeper savoring of this deliciously connected little world we have here.  Lucky, lucky us. And I finally get it: lucky, lucky me.

There is so very much to be said for growing up.  Is 56 too late?

{Written with deep appreciation for the kind support of Mary Ellen Yost and the Creswell Community Choir.  Thank you very much. – Marsha/Marshy/Martha Jr.}

Callie Cat, my new feline overlordess, turns out to like getting her picture taken! Goody!

New Year, Oh Dear

3 January 2020

First Blog Post of the Decade

Sometimes the question is “Where to start?”, but what if it really should be “Where to end?”

Can we gaslight ourselves?  Can we self-manage feelings and perceptions so well that we lose track of the truth enough to harm ourselves, hopefully not others, and leave ourselves strangers to those we love?  Can we think we’re doing the right thing in the moment only to find we were taking the easy, false path that ends in a steep drop?

I’m passing through a threshold into a new era even more-so than almost a year ago when I announced my new photographic career (which moves steadily along, thank you kind people!).  It isn’t fun or comfortable.  My first response to a lot of things is sadness, and my sadness just now is a sea anchor slowing my flow.  Process is important, and I have a grip on the best next head space.  It’s called reality.

As a Wise Old Crone wannabe, some unexpected consequences of last year’s efforts include the acknowledgement that some of the perceptions I tried to bat away and manage were real.  That while I focused on the long game, the game got away from me.  I may have been ejected or at least quietly benched.  Those around me know the drill, but I am left confused and so very unsure of anything good.  The bad, now, that stuff I have a very firm handle on. 

There were telling moments, but I brushed them aside.  I was right, but didn’t want to be.  Scales have fallen from my eyes in what is a natural and human process.  Fears are being shown to be mapped locations on the pictorial description of my world.  “What ifs?” have become “Oh, right, ok.”

The up side is learning that the fears are a chimera, a figment, and lose power when confronted and allowed their truth.  What if it’s just real, not good or bad?  I already feel a lightening, a coming freedom as I move forward more fully understanding my lane.  This is what healing may feel like.  I have only been treated with love, even if I suffer in relationship.  It’s not anyone’s fault, other than my very own.  In my isolated position, I see this as a mess of my own making, the end product of a series of choices and opportunities that brought me a lot of joy, healing, happiness…until it didn’t.  Have I failed myself when I thought I was making good choices?  Am I really a bad choice to be turned from?

We are all broken, just sometimes so self-involved, the brokenness of others becomes unbearable, or too familiar.  What if I learn to be selfish and make all of this about me?  There is a lot that I have no control over, and a peace in letting go.  I am glad for the chapter that is ending, but hope a new one begins that leaves me happy and secure.

Maybe this is all so hard because I’m not looking to blame anyone else for my storm, my own personal knot.  Maybe it’s hard, too, because I am complicatedly simple, or simply complicated, and above the pay grade of some that I would ask to assist, those that I would shelter with until the sun comes out.

What would it feel like to be on the receiving end of me? I don’t expect that I am everyone’s cup of tea. Those for whom I am palatable, and who I trust the most, get to see the wild, loud, expressive, energetic, passionate, spunky, reactive, loving, compassionate, needy, broken, sad, happy, struggling, lonely woman trying to balance her inside needs with what is available and given.  They let me blow off my steam without taking my agita personally, say encouraging and loving words that I manually etch into my memory for playback later and intentionally chose to believe (instead of the usual brush-off).  I return the favor, eagerly and openly.

I worry that some think of me as a black hole of need, an endless maw of strong feelings and unbidden tears, but these friends see the cyclic demolition and rebuilding of a growing heart and consciousness, and I feel an acceptance that works as a salve to my soul.

But I get that I am a handful.  And no one’s problem.  And that I’m shown extraordinary (for crusty, semi-loner me) kindness on the regular, but still – something makes me wake up in the middle of the night pre-regretting the something bad that I can tell is happening but can’t pin down.  I have made choices in one world that would not happen in another, and have disrespected my own dang self, gaslit my own goofy, vulnerable, jaded but still kinda innocent self, and what we have now are growing pains I will no longer avoid.  Frick.

But what if others reach their capacity with me as I expand my own capacity?  What if getting better at life means the ending of chapters?  What if your heroes are human and of limited skills?  What if you really are tertiary to the social worlds you pass through?  What if love doesn’t mean like, or a healthy result?  What if a world that was easy and healing becomes not so good, without any bad players or victimization?  What if you need to talk with someone, but it doesn’t seem to work and then you spin out even more at the understanding of how unsafe at the heart level you feel, and how the only solution is extraction.  But there’s love, so it’s all very confusing.

When people show you who they are, or who you are, believe them.  Believe yourself.  I say that without snark or rancor, but with a gentle passivity meant to uncomplicate things.  We show and tell each other so very much.  We are covered in antennae, are far more tender and sensitive to each other and our environments than we show or realize.  In the midst of my being triggered, I am surprised to wonder if others are then triggered.  We cycle back and forth freaking each other out, pointlessly missing targets, the debris piling up into a boundary wall.

I was gaslighting myself by not believing what I saw and experienced with a beloved friend.  No one and nothing is perfect, and there was no outright unkindness or hostility to fend off, so I could bat away my observations and enjoy the vast amount of love and kindness shown (and sincerely meant, I have no doubt).  I have deep, unchanging love for this person; connectedness and disconnectedness are painful for me and somehow a chasm has opened in this friendship.  I will love from afar for a while, hoping for a new, better chapter unfolding between our worlds but at peace with whatever paths open up.  It is the beginning of a new era for me, and I cast myself adrift in yet another way.  Worlds fall apart, things are put back together again, today’s drama is a form of passing weather.  But it’s my weather, and I need to give it more respect, stat.

What I perceived was that I wasn’t a whole person in that other world.  I was appreciated, enjoyed, treated very well, brought into a fold, but somehow leave the fold feeling unglued, unseen, unknown, misunderstood, shushed, my language policed but felt strongly the absence of space held for me, the careful measure of concern that goes far enough to ensure that my feelings are not a management concern for others, leaving me to deal with the dregs of my situation alone – even after clumsy cries for help, after long texts saying that which I hid most.  Even after offers for the help, of encouragement to share.  I shared, thinking it was ok, having been encouraged.  The brief response was unsatisfying, clarification unneeded, unwanted. 

I suspect a capacity has been reached and an ending begun.  The joke was on me – the ending had maybe begun earlier when I thought beginnings were happening.  My confusion really is real.  It’s all true, and that’s ok – this is the first step on a new path, maybe even with some of the same people in the future.

The worst is real, and that’s actually ok.  Whatever is happening is the result of two seekers sharing some time and heart and listening to what needs to happen.  The unfortunate, unadmitted disinterest I sensed was real, and I woke to find I was a bit player in someone else’s movie, found that gender issues are real and difficult to manage even among evolved, loving humans, and that maybe we are just distractions for each other for a minute.

I do feel like a broken toy, but that is passing.  The truth was always there, and pain comes from the distortion of not acting based on the reals.  I’ve fumbled the ball on myself, choosing to pass the win to someone else and discovering invisibility and thanklessness on the back end.  And maybe I’m the thankless one; maybe some open hearts are invisible to me? 

It’s ok, I’ll figure this out.  There are others with whom to speak, and certified Wise Crones that are already sharing calm, loving, insightful words that are shifting my thoughts from a miasma of chaotic, jagged feelings to a more orderly, empowered, encouraged and hopeful place.

The end result is that I will love on and better, me first.  I will keep my heart open and hope that someday getting what I wished for means getting what I need.  And I hope that for you, too, dear reader. 

Seals in Love, a Movie

The images below were captured a few weeks ago on the Oregon Coast, south of the town of Yachats. As we looked over the edge of the viewpoint, we noticed a seal rookery; babies and frisky mating activities and all. It was such a gorgeous day. I was jealous of the seals and their water-bound frolicking. Some leapt from the water, others slept on rocks in sun or shadow. Each were marked or scarred many times from what must have been wildlife tracking, scientific study, or battles. They were all fat and blubbery, unafraid of the massive waves, unfettered in the aquatic acrobatics. At the right times of year one can see whales migrating not far off of the shoreline. For reals.

Winter Surrounds Us

So, what does a burgeoning photographer do when the sun sets at 4:30 on a day only just begun, forcing us to make our peace with the every-year-surprising dark?  Somewhere in the northern reaches of our hemisphere just about now the days stay dark, the sun declining to peak past the horizon, and Persephone’s mythic absence sends plants to root, to sleep, to winter over.  I wanna root, sleep, winter over, larder filled by online retailers delivering for free, Netflix auto-pay in place, leaving my warm cave next year, writing my second annual “Spring is Here and it is Bright” post, feeling all traditional and oeuvre-creating albeit squinty-eyed and hungrily.

The flowers outside the window are Fall’s last roses, yellow to start with, a dark yellow now, droopy troopers clinging to the furthest nether-reaches of branches proudly, an homage to their own darned selves.  I don’t have the heart to dead-head them, and photos of the withered blossoms are a literal memento mori cliché, and I’m not propagating that vibe – today, at least. 

The lawn, or blanket of dandelions that remain evergreen and low for the Winter, providing a nursery for snails, slugs and other ground-dwelling life-forms that are better off with me being ignorant of them, stretches out like a faithful blanket surrounding the house.  A moat of green fringed with the remains of last year’s vegetation, uncleared witnesses to birth, life, decay, then birth again.

There are chemicals here.  I don’t use them, but I could.  Well, probably not, but it could come to that.  Likely by the time I get to the plastic jugs with faded labels under the porch the materials inside would have coagulated into a spent mess the strength of sun tea.  For the best.

The jugs and bugs are safe for now.  I lurk indoors, pondering the snow in our forecast, glad to be at low elevation.  It should be wet here with the warm coastal rain we used to suffer from but now, decades of rolling drought cycles later, we miss and speak of the near-constant seasonal dampness and precipitation with poignancy.  Our world quickly comes back to green and lush following the Summer yellowing, and our populace so expectant of the historic photophilic verdance as to express an unbecoming entitlement to water.  We pour treated water on the ground to show the neighbors we can afford it, then complain of the expense.  I like a lawn that makes its own living, and the survivors are welcomed warmly, the dried up husks of those for whom the climate is no longer hospitable, or whose roots can’t reach the lowering water table, like rhododendrons, are eventually removed.  The small, dead rhodies look like Charlie Brown Christmas trees, just rust-colored and weathered, not evergreen and pine-scented.

I love the rain, and it’s so infrequent lately that I look for multiple signs of its presence if suspected:  the smell of wet, dusty asphalt, a patch of dry gravel, testimony of a parked car now gone, the taptaptap on the bushes nearby as leaves are bombarded with large, glorious raindrops, maybe an accompanying wind from the southwest, the birds tucked in and the frogs tentatively coming out, finally hydrated and urged to live out their cycles while the conditions allow it.  Finally, rain!  You can feel everything alive in the environment sigh, relax, enjoy the life-giving hydration.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving.  A cyclone bad enough to have the word “bomb” added to its name bears down on the west coast.  We are just damp, but less than an hour away south, east or west one would need chains to get through the passes.  I-5 north and south of the Oregon-California border is simply closed, and the news says hundreds of people are stranded trying to get to their holiday plans.  The media also tell us that the rest of the country is having historically cold and bad weather.  Our little valley is on some fringe of two weather monsters and all I have to report from the safety of home is a little rain.  I’ll start by being thankful for that.

{The day after Thanksgiving}

I-5 is open.  The morning’s frost remains in shadow.  The fog has burned off, tricking one into thinking there is warmth outside.  Nope, just an Arctic brightness, a breath made visible as it trails from the intrepid, hopefully jacketed and mittened human.  The weather that was feared did not reach us.  The rest of the world seems weather-beaten and news-worthy, and I wish everyone the best, and safe travels, safe lives.  Our turn on the wheel of weather’s vagaries will come later.

And for that, I am grateful.

Shooting Off Sparks

Being a human is such an adventure, sometimes a struggle, often hard. We forget others have the same struggle, look around, pretty sure others have it together, thinking we can judge with a glance. Intact and upright does not always mean someone feels like that on the inside. A trope in my life has been to appear well enough to be passed over for encouragement, assistance, a hand up – though I certainly have been blessed with those elements in the past, sometimes, now and then. And to armor myself, I became a helper, found my context in how we fit together, and I like it. Most of the time, service to others is my normal, as it is in my community. I’m not used to being on any receiving end, and lately I have had to be, in a material sense and in an interactional sense. Such adjustments.

Folks have always thought of me as outspoken, too, but I hold a lot in (like many of us). Part of my new adventure is to explore my interior and help it be expressed to my exterior world, an authentic, joyful burst of human-ness on the scene. I am lessening the time between when I think and speak, undoing years of difficult training to hold in the bubbling brook of life that wants to escape me and add its funk to the mix. I say my truth more each day.

And it’s messing me up, maybe. I can’t tell, and that’s messing me up, too!

Diving into this intentionally creative life for a year now (one year as of 11.07.2019!), I feel like the last person to judge whether progress has been made. I think I have gained some ground in general, but lost ground in other things. I feel wiser and stupider than ever, trusting my gut, then challenging the wisdom of my feeble attempts in the cold, deep space of electronic communications. I question my in-person communications, too, but take fewer risks in the milieu of the real world. Aren’t we all a little braver behind the keyboard, perhaps miles from the recipient of our leaked bit of crazy?

Last week it was hard to be me. Self-regulating in the storm was difficult. Days and nights felt not unlike waking up from a long sleep to find I’d slept-walked and made ridiculous choices, now un-doable. I’m menopausal, happily and for several years now, but it all felt like piled on PMS, the craziness of hormones and chemicals so familiar to the younger, fertile me – but worse. The waves of need to express myself came unbidden, and my stumbles at sharing unintentionally but likely painful for the reader.

But I felt better. The morning after my first blurp, I felt lighter. Nothing about my communication felt wrong, so, empowered and self-emboldened, I continued. 1,087 words via text. Poor recipient, but still, I must learn to let these things out, take the chance that my people are trust-worthy (as they are). I still feel better, but in the absence of follow-up conversation I ponder the real impact on my friend, whose response was kind, compassionate, oblique and unsatisfyingly brief. And fatigued. I can’t make my trip their trip -don’t think I want to, but when is it ok to blurp?

So I dove into a portrait event a fellow photographer and I were planning. Our first booth at a local craft market in which we set up a pop-up photo studio, took portraits and printed them, or emailed them, or both! Next month we will have the same booth and Santa, so this was a good shake-down event. And a good distraction from my navel gazing. I learned you can buy photographic photo backgrounds and got three. Practicing with the background I got into playing with long exposure and light.

And realized art was imitating life: I’ve been shooting off sparks! That is exactly how it’s felt lately. Exciting, knowing, driven to express outward, earnest in the need to have the light emit. I like the images in which I am obscured or transparent, where the light is in focus and I am a blur. That is so how I feel, and it took me a couple days to realize that…wait for it…my process is displaying an honest, connected continuity between my interior creative universe and my human cells’ ability to express that universe.

So, be warned all, especially as we head into the trigger-happy holiday season. Keep a fire extinguisher handy – sparks are aflyin’!

So many images, so little time

View up the McKenzie River, Oregon

Oregon is spectacular in general, but my heart lies in the Willamette Valley, especially the last 10 miles. I-5 shoots like an arrow through the middle of the decreasing flatland, low hills of two ranges joining south of Cottage Grove and ending the range of the Bretz Floods’ southerly impacts.

I grew up feeling sheltered on both sides. Foothills of the mighty Cascades to the east and of the subdued and mossy Coast Range to the west are gentle, forest-covered hills rising from the valley floor. The valley floor, flat by contrast, is maybe 10 miles wide near my hometown, Creswell. The forest felt like geographical harbingers of comfort and safety to my childish mind. The green, velvety slopes, the furthest gaining a blue cast, stood on either side of us as if to presage other worlds beyond, as if gate-keepers and watchers of human tides. An hour takes us to the ocean, and a little more than that provides views of lava fields and snowy peaks in the other direction, and in all directions are lakes, rivers, trails, forests, meadows. The advent of the automobile suddenly saw us able to travel on newly-civilized asphalt roads by 1922 in this part of the Pacific Northwest, and the first thing the lucky mobile were doing was heading to the coast or the mountains and reporting back to the rest of us by the mile. News articles in those days chart the adventures of moneyed people eager to document the previously-impossible. In these modern times we have forgotten just how hard it is to get to the coast from the valley, or up and down the coast on the shoreline during low tide. The few miles between Florence and the Haceta Head lighthouse took nearly a week, and wheel ruts worn into also-dynamited rocks along the sand are still visible at low tide.

Many roads take us in all directions, but we still manage to not go places nearby that we hear about, that we know are special and unique but somehow take it for granted, swimming in an amazing environment as we are here. For me it was Clear Lake, the source of the McKenzie River, a cold, clear, shallow, fast, pure, waterfalling and spectacularly pooling stretch of water that falls out of the western slope of the Cascades to join with the Willamette River near Eugene and Springfield. World class fly fishing, whitewater rafting, camping and scenery make the McKenzie River valley a desirable location for tourists and locals, and Autumn brings leaf-peeping to rival that of any other location in the world. This was a bright, glorious year of trees choosing reds, oranges and yellows all at the same time, a slow-moving kaliedescope of seasonal expression, a last act before the hibernation of Winter.

A rented row boat in cold winds took us around the north end of the lake, and we did see one tree beneath the waves. It was black with a bright white side where the sun shone on the trunk through the clear, pure water. Waves prevented us from seeing more than shadows, but we enjoyed the three or four kinds of dunks sharing the lake with us, and admired the old cabins at the year-round humble resort, a throw-back to a simpler time.

Friends took my cameras and I to Clear Lake (and other amazing new spots) yesterday. These valley dwellers were surprised when we made it up past the typical elevation for deciduous trees and lots the last bits of color remaining on the forest we’d just gone through. The Willamette National Forest did not come close to disappointing us. Our back yard is amazing.

Clear Lake is the source of the McKenzie River. Google the lake and you might find video of scuba divers floating through a forest of dead trees, left in place despite the volcanic blast that formed the lake. The ash on the bottom of the lake allows water to seep into an aquifer of porous lava, holey like a sponge. I’ve heard that two years is how long it takes for the water to emerge at the surface as the gorgeous McKenzie River!

Clear Lake Takeoff
Do birds judge each other?

Out on the water for 45 minutes, we felt brave and intrepid, and really cold. The wind from the west made the 62-degree Fahrenheit feel like -30, and the brutal shock of the elements were nearly too much for the valley dwellers. Snow was going to happen soon, you could just feel it!

The drive home on Hwy. 126 was filbert-lined and gorgeous, of course. A stop I’ve been wanting to make for years at a little town on the way resulted in the picture below of an event center back yard that you can barely glimpse from a passing car. Long out of business, the art and structures behind the shuttered shop paid homage to a dream someone had, and to heart being put into the locale. I just know I’ll be dreaming of this place, and of Clear Lake, someday, when my mind needs to wander off to a verdant world of natural laws and inspired imagination. I just love Oregon.

Hidden Treasures,10.27.2019

A Benefit of Poor Eyesite; or, How the Spiders Stayed Hidden

The image series What Nightmares Lie Beneath, Numbered contains images of an early-Summer morning dew caught on the web of a funnel spider.  Irregular, somewhat-conical trapeziuses hung improbably between blades of grass read as white blotches throughout the yard, appearing overnight en masse; an ant-scale, ground level circus device.  Overgrown grass suffices for improvised bulwarks with their blades skyward reaching in circular clumps fairly inviting the low patches of spidery doom. 

Most humans walk respectfully past without a devastating foot destroying the arachnid’s sole effort to make a living, or even its life.  It is a mutually-beneficial agreement that prevents any closer human-spider interface, and sometimes I am neutral enough about them to not even notice the temporary funnel nest metropolis during its mere days of existence.  I don’t like spiders.  They are welcome to live outside, but I chose to ignore them from my happy place.  I probably appear as a massive shadow to them, if I show up on their spidery radar at all, perhaps reflected in their several pairs of eyes.

In fact, on the morning these images were made, the prolific funnel spiders populating the shaded, cool front yard were an afterthought.  What initially charmed and drew in The Artist were the sparkly billions of drops of dew caught in each web.  The web of this series contained an anomalous yellow reflective glob among the crystal-clear surrounding congregations of morning dew drops.  The actual architect, the spider, was found only them when looking at the images onscreen.  A suitably safe distance for us both.

It only occurred to me later that the yellow drop likely was the spider’s doing, a lure planted deep into the funnel trap.  How humbling to realize that the spider’s enticement caught me, too!

It will come up again, I’m sure, that I don’t see or hear that well.  My really bad astigmatism plus a youth spent at loud concerts has made a mole person of me.  Each sense, sight and hearing, compensate for the other’s deficiencies.  I can lip read a little, and read humans in their non-sound communications pretty well.  For sight, as soon as macro was a thing on consumer-level, small cameras I was in.  I could click happily away, enjoying that I wasn’t burning expensive film, and later see the spiders (like this series’ funnel spider lurking beneath the web) and other small features that escaped me in real life.

Bees laden with boulders of pollen regularly defy my belief by demonstrating not only flight, but that they can add more pollen to their hairy legs and still float about, making it look easy!  I had no idea.

Cameras have always enticed me.  This compensatory role in perception is a surprise, and a literal example of the alchemy image making brings.  There is something else that happens, and I chase its definition.  Something that opens the viewer to an unseen part of the image – a feeling, a memory, a forgotten mystery, a dream barely recalled.  In What Nightmares Lie Beneath, Numbered, the Viewer is invited to dive in and look closely, face those dragons, make sense of the multiple reflections, find the spider – or not.  The Viewer is the last step in the art process perhaps, making a personal decision on meaning or aesthetics.  I go to spooky and don’t want to know more for the moment.  How do you respond to the spider?  Did you find it here?

A Corollary, or…We’re All Related on the Inside

A Corollary to My Last Post

There is a step past dealing with the shock of getting (even somewhat, even just a glimpse, a peeking around a corner) what you want, past overcoming the paralysis of potential when one looks around and notices there is much in the world wasn’t asked for that is supremely good.  Years of a mind-set of wanting what was around the corner prevented me from realizing the great riches not of my own creation that make up my world, my surroundings.  I am stupid lucky, a blessed human among blessed humans, living a first world life-style that allows for an unawareness of those that sit outside of whatever bubble I call home.

It doesn’t take much to gain an awareness of others.  Just putting one’s head up and paying attention is a great start, but I’m not talking about others here, just now.  I’m talking about being brave enough to  ask oneself the hard questions:  What don’t I know about myself?  What role am I playing in the miasma of  life swirling around me?  What have I not seen that has been underfoot the whole time?  Who have I misjudged and lost out on knowing better?  When do I misjudge myself and hold back?  Or burden myself with low expectations, only to become my own jailer, having learned the terms and conditions of my entrapment?

To an extent I can’t describe, we exist in a mystery of part world of our own making and part board game that we were dropped into, defenseless and clueless with the exception of the amazing biology we carry around.  Our bodies serve us through lots of fun abuse, take us on adventures, house our minds and souls without complaint (that I can hear), provide the tools to observe, appreciate, participate in, experience this world through our five senses and the million unseen antennae that we use to discern our now. 

Sometimes the body lies to the inside parts, or the mind tricks the body, or the soul over-rides them both, always for good.  Or any variety of chess moves with these three components.  We are miraculous machines of love, mobility devices for fragments of a compassionate God, wandering nomads in space hoping the answer to the “Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything” is more explanatory and helpful than “42,” but thank you for that Douglas Adams.

Self Portrait in Blue
A Self Portrait in Blue, My New Favorite Color

So, this morning (it’s already noon, so how’s that working for me!?), I plan to:

Look around and use fresh, grateful eyes to see the beauty around me

Allow myself to feel spoiled and lucky and deserving, at least for today

Lie in wait, hoping to receive the loving ministrations of my world as it reflects back to me its goodness

Turn my face towards warmth, looking with the fresh, hopeful eyes of a child, for the long moments that can be mustered

Understand that the challenges I sought are here, are not a burden but an opportunity that I envisaged, and that my art will contain the seeds and flowers of this struggle, both in words and images.

I want to tell you all that I am a grateful human peeling away the layers between myself and the joy that surrounds us, that was meant to be ours before thinking got in the way.  I know you are a seeker, too.  We’re in this together and my hand reaches out to you.

When you get what you’re asking for…

Time is so relative, says The Artist on her 56th birthday.  I’d make a case that it’s almost arbitrary except the regular machinations of our celestial neighbors and our own orbit would betray my theory.  It’s hard to believe that months have passed since creation of this blog, and it has occupied my mind daily.  Not that my mental mastications made it to the page, or screen, or anywhere beyond my little grey cells.

Starting off on the intentional step to be a professional photographer (however I end up defining that for myself, because I’m certainly not a typical anything, much less someone highly trained in the care and feeding of a camera), my mind was blown away on a million levels:  This lovely blog, so easy to use it’s scary; the wonderful artist’s reception earlier this year and the sales, support and projects that resulted; a Facebook page for my photography that gets a few hits every day even though I haven’t done much on it since Spring.  These benchmarks represented possibilities that I yearned for and didn’t realize were so very accessible.  So possible it freaked me out and sent my thoughts tumbling inward.

Good use has been made of these months, this nearly-finished Summer.  Household maintenance tasks including plumbing, carpets and painting of childhood spaces directed my attentions to terrestrial tasks, while my mind wandered to the afore-mentioned freak out.  What happened?  What was the sudden block?  Had I gotten what I wanted in some way, finally, only to realize…[fill in the blank here with the million self-negating thoughts humans like to hide behind]…

Only to realize that it felt incredibly narcissistic to purposefully market my images, to suddenly be discussing money with people when I really just wanted to throw my photographs up like confetti and let them fall like the flower petals, to be – eek – marketing myself!  Ridiculous, in this age of social media that I would show up shy, but there you go.  wtf.

What the heck, indeed.  What was at the root of this?

One, be careful what you ask for, you just might get it.  I was used to carrying that invisible bag of aspirations and hopes around with me but not used to the feeling of setting the bag down and looking through it, getting my hands on those bright, shiny ideas and playing with them in the real world.  That took a moment.

Two, in the increasingly-longer moments when One was deemed manageable and set aside, the results of a ton of deferred maintenance on my house and life became obnoxiously apparent, and off I darted to tend things that suddenly seemed important but of which I was either unaware or in denial up until a few minutes prior.  As if clearing my desk off in preparation of creative work, and the marketing of said creative work, I realized that fixing plumbing, painting and other even less onerous challenges lie between myself and a blank slate.  It might have seemed a temporary misdirection, but the level of creative empowerment I received when overhauling/refreshing my childhood bedroom, installing a new toilet and fixing long-drippy sinks was enormous.  It was next-level.  I learned that I could sit at an open cupboard beneath the kitchen sink and marvel at the simplicity and impossibility of the drainage, certain that I would never manage to put the pipes back together and return the sink to operation, falling for a good ten minutes into a black hole of uselessness until suddenly one piece falls into place, followed by the rest in about the same amount of time.  So, half an hour to go from impossible to flowing water and no drips.

The story repeats, the impossible (or at least not seriously considered possible by me) is conquered in baby steps, and with the house in adequate order, I return to my hiccupy start.  Welcome back to us all!

Now?  Now I sit at my shiny glass desk from the recycling center, a magnificent edifice of frosted glass on the bottom of a massive slab of tempered, blue-green reflective potential, considering all of the baby steps that call.  Signage, cards, a look book or three, the continued venturing into the yard with my cameras, the stalking of birds, the seeking of water, the learning how to sell my vision in order to free me to follow it, the creation of a language with which to share with others that moment when one falls into the image and lands in a place of feeling and peace and focus/no-focus.  Backgrounds, context, story – they fall away from a flower observed at a perhaps impolitely too-close distance. 

Art You Can Take Home

Fall Leaves, 13″ x 19″, $150 framed 
Local delivery available

How do you like this photograph? I love the primary leaf, a ginko biloba, and how there isn’t an inch of this image that isn’t interesting. In real life, it has the feeling of a painting.

I would like to sell many framed copies of this, and other images.

I would like to avoid the distraction of honorable but minimum wage work while pursuing creative pursuits that enhance our world in general.

This involving money in my photography practice is so uncomfortable. It feels impolite, not demure or ladylike. It feels exposed and it is. Other less artful choices await my failure at this effort, however nascent. My hope is high, my fingers crossed, my world trusted, and I’m not afraid of hard work. I’m afraid of not spending my time where my heart is. At 55, it’s too late to spend my time on anything else.

Art heals. It heals me, and it’s my earnest hope that that healing can transfer through my imagery. Life is challenging. I offer a brief respite, a momentary escape in to a sensorial world, an interior landscape. I hope to find that has a value worthy of my support.


Martha McReynolds Jr.

Photography vs. Being a Photographer

Dexter Lake Reflection I, 25 April 2019

“If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.”

William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1793)

Each day dawns with tossing and turning, first thoughts given to what was needed for the day. How to earn a living being creative? How to dig deeper into that interior terrain through larger chinks with no thought to the business end of framed photograph distribution? Have I lost touch with what is practical, like a child running amok, acting out an imitation of the adults’ performance?

So days are spent wondering what to do, how to do it, where energy should go. Imagine my surprise to find there are so many other considerations beyond looking down a long lens at a bearded iris! I have leapt but not landed. Would you wonder, like I do, if the wind whipping past you was from falling, or an updraft lifting you higher?

Abstract images are a comfort in this liminal state, suggesting it’s okay to not understand where the edges, boundaries, surfaces lie. The image sits there just being, allowing your observation without making an effort to represent anything.

Is abstraction a visual expression of equanimity then, in its expression of peace and self possession? Is there a message of acceptance in an image that doesn’t lift a finger to accommodate the expectation of order, explanation, representation?

Anyhoodle, I wander; typical. That’s the struggle. I could naval gaze for millennia, ponder the falling of a magnolia petal when its branch was disturbed by the alighting of Raven and the sound the still-fresh falling former flower as it alights on the dry, crusty ground beneath the tree. Down there, beneath the old tree, a shadowed room is so dark, grass won’t grow there. I could think those thoughts all day, every day, coffee cup nearby as I sit in my corner office watching the yard go through its seasons.

But what does a career photographer do during the day to pay the bills? How do I find those who need an image on their wall, or a gift, or a special project made real? How do I make a living being the creative goofball smarty-pants I’ve grown into being? Will the world welcome the product of my creativity, my eye, my words in a way that keeps me out of wage-slavedom, or will it all fall apart because I started too late, too far behind?

These thoughts take a break as I fall into these abstract images. I catch my breath, unsure if I’m under water or not, but pretty sure I’m all wet.

It Always Feels Like the First Spring to Me, Every Year

Last year’s peony, I can still smell its faint perfume. Now, the peony bushes are growing by leaps and bounds just outside my office, pre-blossoms, covering even the sidewalk with shiny, long-tongued leaves.

HIgh Prairie Pre-Dawn Near Oakridge, Oregon.

I’ve come to love driving in the wee hours. There’s a time before the sun comes up when it’s easy to think that the world is in order, and all is ok – for a moment, at least. This was so out in the middle of the forest that I was able to stop in the middle of the street and snap a couple quick shots. The lines all taking the viewer to the right and out of view are delicious to my eyes. The blur, the fog – or clouds at ground level, road striping in focus, other elements blurry as if suggested, not recorded by a camera make this an interesting image for me, peaceful.

I was on a job that had me driving at this time of morning often, all around the Willamette Valley and beyond. It was great for the driving and world-watching, less so for the sitting in a Prius like a part of the machine for long shifts. If I had only one image from that time, that job, I would want it to be this image. Luckily, it was ten months of dawn mists on coastal rivers and pretty forests. You’ve been warned!

Happy Easter! He is Risen!

Ok, just to get this out of the way: Chill, a Christian reference isn’t going to kill you, my post-religion or atheist friends.

For those of us followers of Jesus, his remarkable story of birth, death and resurrection is everything. A massive act of love determined before his birth on this planet, a life-long mission carried out flawlessly, selflessly to bring love, grace and forgiveness to us all, to rend the fabric of our universe, break it open with love and cover us all with his sacrifice, is powerful.

Even if you want to enjoy it as metaphor. Humans have long told stories of death and rebirth. Stories meant to explain the seasons, comfort us as we bury our dead, describe the world around us and offer context where control or power is absent.

Flowers push through the remains of a snowfall in Creswell, OR. The view is on Oregon Avenue looking eastward near 5th Street.

For me, I embrace the chance to do better, to start again, to shed past skins, to ask for grace, forgiveness, compassion, kindness from my God and from you. I offer it.

Becoming a declared professional photographer is my resurrection: the images an effort to view my world more closely, to see what I missed the first time. This blog, Diary of a Young Artist…at 55, will contain written musings alongside my visual musings, a wandering path of discovery and rebirth. We are all doing this work, in our own way. Let’s be creative together.