hydrangea blossoming

hydrangea blossoming
Hydrangea on the Edge of Blooming

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Sweet Sounds

This past weekend, we in Point Roberts were gifted with two extraordinary concert performances on Friday and Saturday nights.  You'd think we were an urban setting to have such options for our entertainment.  But, we are not.  We're a very small place that's difficult to get to.  And thus it is worth calling to all our attention what extraordinary events these were.

On Friday night, Michael Munro impressively performed four big pieces, one each by Bach, Berg, Schoenberg and Schubert.  On Saturday night, The Mystic Winds (a woodwind quintette) gave us a swirling experience of many pieces associated with World War I, whose 100th anniversary we just 'celebrated.'  (Actually, hard to think of celebrating that event.)  Both performances involved professional musicians coming here to give us an evening of splendor.  (Not enough that we live in a place of unusual beauty but we also get culture!)

That we get it at all is to the credit of Lucy Williams who has been producing dozens of concerts on behalf of the community and Trinity Lutheran Church for the past half dozen years or so.  She started out doing it as a way to raise money for an emergency generator that the church needed in order to qualify as an emergency shelter in the event of a real emergency.  And after that was paid for, she continued bringing us music of all kinds in order to fund the annual children's summer music camp and, more recently, to help with fundraising for the new library.  (Since I'm heavily involved in the new library fundraising, I'm particularly grateful to her for this help.)  But, more than that, we can all be grateful to her for her gift to the community: it is not an easy matter to produce a dozen concerts a year when it is all voluntary.  Lucy has been able to find individuals and groups of all kinds--jazz, fada, Barbershop, popular, classical, etc.--AND has been able to persuade them to come here to play for us without having to pay them: they perform as a gift.  Furthermore, she does not sell tickets to these fine performances: it is all by donation, because it is all for the benefit of the community.  A gift squared.

In Vancouver and other places where I have lived, concert tickets are not obtained by donation.  It's another part of the unusualness of Pt. Roberts that our concerts do not require us to buy tickets, although we are asked to make a donation to something that is for our own benefit and use.  So extremely admirable as a community model.

I wrote last month about local institutions and our need for them to be strong.  Lucy has a very strong record for the institution of producing concerts here.  How can we thank her for her service?  We can thank her best by going to the concerts whenever we can.  She already has 10 more concerts scheduled including a trombone group and TWO choirs singing ABBA!  Great.  Come, enjoy!  Thanks to Lucy!

Church concert schedule, here. (down at the bottom of the page)

Friday, February 20, 2015

Archeological Discovery?

Well, it's hard to know how to feel about phones nowadays, but this does seem something of an extreme response.  Could it be reported as some kind of code violation?

Fortunately, there's still a phone outside the front door of the library at the community center, free for the use as long as you just want to call locally.  I think this one had more features; or at least one more: that you could dial out of Point Roberts.  Anyway, another thing to remember: "Remember when there was a phone booth on Pt. Roberts; maybe in front of the Chevron station, or like that?"

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Signs of Life, Signs of Progress

Gasoline, at Pt. Roberts's stations, is selling for (lowest) $43.9/liter.  That's about $1.75 a gallon.  (The other four stations are rather higher, but it is something I never expected to see in all the rest of my life: gas in P.R. looking cheap.

The yellow crocus in my shady yard are blooming; the yellow crocus on Tyee out in open sun are blooming; it's January 28.  I've not, in my 22 years here, seen crocus blooming before February, or for the most part even before Valentine's Day.

And last night, the Whatcom County Council stood up in unison and said NO to the radio station's towers application for a conditional use permit.  It was hard to imagine they would do otherwise, but nowadays, it's hard to really imagine a sure thing.  Of course, the radio station owners can apply for yet another hearing in Superior Court.  But if so, it seems like the County would have to defend their position, not the residents of Point Roberts.  The County has a lawyer on salary, which we in Point Roberts do not.

Update: I am told by those involved that if KRPI chooses to appeal, then the NO Towers folks here in P.R. will also have to mount a legal case; i.e., hire a lawyer.  This would be because the County will hire a lawyer unfamiliar with the case and, as I understand it, the NO Towers' folks current lawyer IS familiar and thus more likely to mount a persuasive case.  This is tactics beyond a blogger's paygrade, so I don't know.  But that's what I am told.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Communication: Always a Problem

Always an issue: as Steve McQueen summed it up in "Cool Hand Luke" about 4 decades ago, "What we have here is a problem in communication."  That may be the essence of what we always are having here in Point Roberts.

Last week, I heard from the PREP group.  This is another volunteer group, in this case one organized around having solutions ahead of time for at least some of the problems that might confront us in the event of some kind of disaster where the peninsula became at least metaphorically cut off from the mainland in terms of getting needed help.  How do we communicate with one another in such a situation?  All the regular electronic methods might well be unavailable: no functioning land phones, cell phones, or internet.  (What, they're going to deprive us of G3 or whatever it is that gets to the cloud all the time?)

The good news is that there is old-fashioned ham radio, which, I think, is the kind my father used to fool around with in high school about 80 years ago.  PREP has received a $7,500 grant from Puget Sound Energy to provide them with more of the kind of equipment that is needed for that to work for us.  There is a ham radio operators group here on the Point.  That is good to know (which is to say that we have people who know how to use the equipment that is being made available).  Good work, PREP!  And thanks to Puget Sound Energy's community giving program.

Another kind of communication problem was evident last night at the Fire District meeting.  There has been a problem with the various communication systems used by the District Volunteers for many years, apparently.  When an emergency call is issued, it is sent to the pager of whoever is first in line on duty, who then goes to the location where help is needed.  That volunteer assesses whether additional help is needed and puts a call out to other volunteers.  The problem lies in the fact that the pagers don't always work very well with the antennae available to them here or in Bellingham.  So nobody may get the call.  And the additional help doesn't show until they find some other way to communicate.  They have radios in the vehicles, but if the volunteer is performing CPR and needs backup, he can't easily say, "Just wait a minute while I go out to the vehicle and make a few calls on my radio."

So it's a communication problem that apparently can't be solved with different/better equipment: the problem is too many trees on the ground and too little antenna way up high.  Or at least that is how I understood the problem.  They're working on it, but I'm thinking that they've been working on it for some years and aren't getting it solved.  There was a suggestion that the problem was "political," but I don't know what that might mean.  Perhaps the hand of the do-no-good US Congress is reaching clear up to Point Roberts?

[Note: the Fire District videotapes their meetings and posts the tapes on their website (Fire District 5, Whatcom County).  You can listen to the discussion of this topic yourself and, if you are more technically competent than I am (wouldn't be hard),  you may obtain a better understanding of the problem that seems to be lacking a solution other than a giant antenna.  The video site is here, but the January 9, 2015 video is not yet posted there.]

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Institutions in Little Places like Here

I have been thinking about the existence/role of social institutions in places like this.  I know, there aren't any places like this one, but for the moment let us at least contemplate the possibility that there might be places at least sort of like this one.  What put me into these thoughts was the collapse of the Christmas Craft Faire (which has had a pretty long run...maybe 10 years or so?) with the mass resignation of its organizing board, which followed the resignation of the single organizer for the summer Community Market.  If you had such social institutions in, say, Bellingham, that wouldn't happen perhaps because people would arrange for a new board to keep the 'social institution' (of whatever kind) going once they have resigned.

In a small place, that is less likely to happen in part because everything is done by volunteers, so there hardly are any real social institutions that involve the community directly.  Things come, things go, as some individual or small group is more or less interested in making such things happen reliably.  And then some other group comes along, perhaps or perhaps not, eventually to fill that niche and in that interval enormous amounts of knowledge about what works, what doesn't, what helps, etc. is lost.

What do we have here in the way of social institutions?  Definitions first.  I'm not including government institutions because we hardly have any government in the first place.  There are the five Districts and they continue by law but whatever they do is largely a function of their Commissioner's interest in doing much of anything, just as the Craft Faire's existence is a function of a few peoples' organizing it because they care about it happening.  A social institution and its events should be open to everyone.  They should not be exclusively commercial.  If you open a business, that's not a social institution, although you might be a business that sponsors/underwrites activities that constitute a social institution.

Some of the property owner's associations have annual/regular events, but they're not open to the rest of the Point's residents, so do they count? The Food Bank is open to all those who need food assistance; the Seniors' Group and events are open to all those of a specific age.  So maybe the property owners associations ought to count too, even though they have some exclusionary criteria.

So, what else do we have that seem to fit into a fairly loose definition of social institution?  The 4th of July Parade and the Fireworks (the latter of which is definitely an off-and-on matter); the Arts and Music Festival; the Church's Summer Music Camp and public concerts; Park & Recreation's Summer Camp and kayak program; the Garden Club's biannual Garden Tour; the Friends of the Library's book sales; the Community Market (it's made it for about 4 years now, but it's a little dicey for next year); the Quilt Group's providing raffle quilts for various charities; and the Library's sponsorship of children's programs throughout the year.  The Taxpayers Association and the Homeowners Voters Association both would qualify.  Charitable groups like Dollars for Scholars, and the Food Bank.  Have I missed anything?  Probably, yes.  [edit: missed PREP, of course.  Also PAWS and Point-Interface which deserves a column all its own]

But do we have what we need?  And if so, what could we do to make such institutions more stable?  Maybe nothing; maybe that's one of the prices you pay for living in small communities.  Maybe it just requires more people to have a bigger commitment to community activities to stabilize such institutions; maybe it requires direct government support.  Recently, I read a piece in The Atlantic in which a former military guy talked about his discomfort in being 'thanked for his service.'  What he wanted, he wrote, was for such people to make a commitment themselves to serving their country by being responsible citizens in the way of voting, e.g. (he noted that the last election had a 40-something percent turnout), in the way of caring for their communities.  I guess one could add by paying their taxes and ensuring that social programs that are needed are both adequately funded and adequately monitored.

It's still close enough to the new year; maybe we should all try to be better citizens this year?  Or lose weight, get more exercise, drink less, or whatever...  I'll come back to this when I have something clearer to say about it.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Internets and All That

A couple of days ago, I accidentally signed up for Tumblr when I was trying to follow a tumblr blog called "Humans of New York" in which some guy daily publishes a picture of someone on the streets of New York with commentary from the someone about their life.  I don't know whether I'm following it or not; I'm certainly not getting it in my email, but maybe that isn't where it would come to.

So I wrote to my Internet savvy son as to whether I wanted to be involved with Tumblr.  He handed the query off to my 22-year-old college student granddaughter, who replied,
"No, no we don't use that. That's what 11-year-olds use when they first discover online social networking so they can share pictures of what other people post because they have nothing to say for themselves. From tumblr you graduate to MySpace and from MySpace to Facebook."

When you live in such a faraway place as Point Roberts, even the Internet sometimes seems remote, even if you use it a lot and are even on Facebook.  I try to keep on good terms with some local 10-year-old so that I can ask him/her to reset my watch when we come to the daylight savings changes.  I have the instructions that came with the watch, but they don't work.  The 10-year-old just looks at the watch and makes the time change.  

Next, perhaps we'll consider Skype, now that my on-line phone company has gone out of business.  Succumbing doubtless to some other fancier way to make a phone call.  Probably smart phones, whatever they are?

Sunday, January 4, 2015

The New Year

I seem to have taken a little two month break from this blog.  I think largely because it was getting cold and Christmas was coming and all that.  But now we are past all that and it is 2015, and how is Point Roberts doing?

It managed New Year's Eve very quietly as far as I could tell: a minimum of explosive sounds at midnight, anyway.  The throngs thronged at the package stores, including a new/replacement one on Tyee...a new name, something like In and Out Mail has replaced The Mail Carrier..and a second new one on Gulf and Tyee which, alas, missed the giant package season of November/December (or any other two months you might choose) because it's not yet open.  But it will open I imagine and in a very fancy restored building.  The old, abandoned, overgrown blue house across from the Post Office has now been brought into new life (I believe that it was a house made of fish traps, which lumber perhaps will last forever) by the owner of the (also) new Valero Gas Station.  I am told that the Valero station still sells cheap butter, which nobody else seems to be doing.

More money was genially raised for the No to the Towers campaign down at Kiniski's place, about the same time as the Radio Station that causes all this radio-tower-grief was being put down both by Canadian authorities and the Whatcom County Planning Dept. Hearing Officer.  Fire Dept. Volunteers raised $1,000 for the Food Bank and then lost it by leaving the door to the building open, from whence someone entered, lifted the dollars, and took them to some other life.  Auntie Pam, offended at the burglary if not the carelessness, raised 3 times as much to replace it, I am told.  The Food Bank's pantry is pretty well filled as a result.

Today, the Artisans' Guild, a group of 5 or 6 folks who put together the Christmas Craft Fair each year announced they were resigning en masse from the (now) essentially non-existent organization since it apparently had no members other than its board of directors.  They have grown tired of producing the craft fair, which has a fairly long history, I am told, of people giving up on it after a few years.  A thankless task,  I imagine, as most such things are.  If I have learned anything in my two decades of living in a small community, it is that taking on responsibility for organizing any organization or activity had better be its own reward because it probably will neither win you many friends nor lead to your being a positive influence.  And people will criticize; it is what we know how to do.

We hope someone will take on this task of organizing the Christmas Craft Fair as many people seem to enjoy it.  But if no one does, then the Christmas season will go on without it, and still we will have the package stores and their customers.  Perhaps they could have musicians in front of their places of businesses, playing Christmas music.  At least if it weren't too cold or too rainy, which it has been.

Happy New Year!