hydrangea blossoming

hydrangea blossoming
Hydrangea on the Edge of Blooming

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Mistake Were Made

Sometime back—maybe 2+ years ago—it was announced that there were virtually no new water connections available in Point Roberts, even though the area is not built out at all. A major part of the reason was that the Vancouver Water District was not legally able to increase the water allotment for which Point Roberts had a long term contract. There were still a few connections available but how to give them out and what to do next? (I wrote about this back on February 21st.)

The Water Board met and hired consultants and worked hard to figure out both an allotment plan for the existing connections and a plan for the future. The lottery was held and some people were happy and others weren’t; the rates went up rather dramatically in order to pay for a new, much bigger holding tank that would maximize the use of the water that we did receive from Vancouver. (One problem is that it is a daily water allotment and that we don’t use it all in the cooler months and use more than the daily amount in the summer and the excess has to be stored.)

Now, we are told that there is actually no problem and there is plenty of water available using the current storage tank. Mistake, apparently, were made. Just one, as it were, not the usual 'mistakes were made.' Initially it sounded like some kind of mathematical problem in some kind of engineering report and some other report that was approved but got lost somewhere, misfiled, put in a box, and what with employees coming and going, well, who knows? It’s a complex system, I guess, and nobody has a great grasp on the details . The devil may be in the details, but it very much sounds like a formidable screw-up for which no one involved has any interest whatsoever in being held accountable. Could be an accurate account, though. Mistakes do get made; certainly I make them all the time and I imagine others do, too. We might hope that people would check their math more than once, might even consult someone else about how the math looks to them, but probably that doesn’t always happen. Somebody in the government reports that there was no mistake made; just a report that got overlooked which is, I would think, at least some kind of mistake.

So, it happened. But what I want to know is, regardless of who is responsible for it happening, how come nobody is talking about putting the water rates back to where they were, now that we don’t have to pay to build a new storage tank? Well, last June, and it would appear from the local newspaper coverage that this was after the Water Board had discovered the new, 3 million gallon storage tank was not needed, they began to talk about the need for a million dollar water line replacement for Point Roberts. So I guess those increased rates will go for something. There’s always something that needs to be fixed; the nature of infrastructure, maintenance, and all that. It is at such moments, however, that I would rather not hear about events like Alaska Senator Ted Stevens being indicted for corruption.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

No Right to Plastic Bags?

This past week, the Los Angeles City Council passed an ordinance imposing a 25 cent fee for the use of each plastic carry bag in commercial establishments. This ordinance will go into effect in July of 2010, which should leave people with plenty of time (24 months) both to obtain a canvas bag and to remember to bring it/them to the market, etc. And yesterday, the Seattle City Council joined the effort, with a 20 cent fee, starting in January of 2009. The Seattleites will have to make a concerted effort to get those bags together and into their cars in only five months, as opposed to L.A.’s 24 month conditioning period. Is it possible that we’ve reached a tipping point?

In other news on the plastic bag front: at the beginning of July, the Toronto Globe and Mail reported that a Canadian teenager had developed a method to make plastic bags decompose in months rather than years by using high concentrations of bacteriae that could be introduced into landfills. Somehow, it’s hard to believe that this method was so complex that plastic bag manufacturers couldn’t figure it out in the past, say, 50 years, but high school students could. But then, I’m not particularly knowledgeable about the chemistry of plastic bags or about the quality of Toronto's teen-aged chemistry students.

If Point Roberts had a local government, it could join this sensible move and add to the momentum. Since it doesn’t, I guess people could just start bringing cloth bags. Or would that happen only if some government made them do it? What would explain that?

Monday, July 28, 2008

Day Out of Time



Last Friday was Day Out of Time Day in Roberts Creek. Located between Gibsons and Sechelt on the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia—both of which are regular towns with regular governments—Roberts Creek is an unincorporated and much more self-invented locale. A history from the 60’s of American draft avoiders and a later and continuing influx of hippies and free spirits still provides a focus for the community. But more impressive is its strong sense of itself as someplace different from the rest of the places around. And part of this difference is in its holidays.

While Sechelt and Gibsons organize for regular holidays and for tourist kinds of spectaculars (Festival of the Arts, Festival of the Written Arts, Fibre Arts Festival, Sea Cavalcade), Roberts Creek specializes in a special kind of home grown celebration. They have, of course, their own Earth Day celebration, but they also have, in August, the Higgledy Piggledy Parade--a wonderfully home-spun phenomenon--as a major feature of Creek Daze, which also includes music, food, and craft fair. Any Creek celebration will include a weekend with special live music at the Gumboot Restaurant and with a dance or concert at the Roberts Creek Hall.

Day Out of Time is the occasion for all those things, but it is especially the occasion for the re-introduction of the Roberts Creek Pier Community Mandala. Each year, someone in the community provides a new design--this year a tree--for the mandala, and everyone in the community who wants to, comes out to paint a section of that design as suits their mood and talents. The mandala, which is about 35 feet across, is located at the end of the street that leads to the Roberts Creek Pier, itself a fairly simple arrangement of rocks, benches, and water.

A few days before Day Out of Time, the design outline is painted on the street and then the folks, young and old, come in to paint their own special segment of it. The picture above is an aerial photo of this year’s finished mandala. Here are photos that Duane Burnett took of the painting and of the festivities. And here are photos I took of the day after the festivities, primarily close-ups of segments of the mandala in order to illustrate the painting style, and the way in which one walks through it.

This mandala creation tradition began maybe ten+ years ago, and it is remarkable to see it bloom again, each year, with a different form and features. Kids and adults come year after year to add their visions to a solid piece of Roberts Creek. Great memories, as well as real participation in actions that build the tradition, as opposed to just observing it. Lucky kids! Lucky adults.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

What's Our Problem?

I remember World War II quite distinctly and especially the sense of urgency about doing things that were in the service of the war. The ration books that told you how much stuff you could obtain, the saving of things that the war somehow needed: tin cans, toothpaste tubes (which I think you had to take back to the drug store when empty in order to get a new one), jars of meat fat from cooking (like bacon fat), tin foil, tin anything (I guess). The saving of small amounts of money so that you could buy War Bonds. (If you could get together $18.75, the government would pay you back $25 in, as I recall, ten years). Even little kids saved their money for War Bonds. The practice air raids in which the black curtains had to be put on the windows and the local air raid warden walked around to make sure no lights were visible. There was such an every-day presence of the idea that we all were in a big problem and only if we all worked on the big problem would the big problem find its ultimate solution.

It is such memories, I think, that made the 9/11 advice from George W. to go out shopping so profoundly irritating. One the one hand, I was being told that life as I had known it was now gone (as in, after 9/11, everything changed); on the other, I was being told that nothing was any different, just get a nice, expensive meal at a nice expensive restaurant and you’ll feel fine. Cognitive dissonance, I believe that’s called, and an invitation to a schizophrenic response. So maybe we are just in the schizophrenic response phase.

It certainly appears that we are in a really big problem, at least as big as World War II. Perhaps we are just waiting for the equivalent of Pearl Harbor to join up. What would that be? Record floods? Record large hurricanes? Record heat waves? Melting glaciers and ice shelves? Apparently not. Whatever it’s going to be, I guess it will have to be more astounding than 9/11 for everything to change.

I saw Al Gore’s film; I thought it wonderfully impressive and, given all the positive response, I thought that the film itself might be somehow the equivalent of Pearl Harbor (at least in the sense of convincing people that something astoundingly dangerous had happened). Al Gore now has a website where you can sign up to be part of the solution: it’s called ‘We Can Solve It.’ I signed up, you can too, but so far I doubt if any of us signing up will be as helpful as my saving tinfoil was in WWII, and believe me I don't think that had much effect. But it’s something. Maybe it’s a start. The site itself urges you to tell other people to sign up and to nag your elected officials. I have to say that the site disappointed me because I want to be saving tinfoil or being told what my ration card allows (even if I don’t particularly long for a ration card itself). [ JUST IN: Having sent out a puzzled cry for help to my offspring, I am told that Al Gore’s site does have advice for individual action. It’s well hidden here. And it’s good advice.] /

Switzerland has something called the ‘2,000 Watts Society,’ which urges people to try to think about the energy they use. If everybody used 2,000 watts/year, that would be sustainable. In Europe, the average per-capita use is 6,000 watts; in developing countries like India, closer to 1,000. And, in stunning first place, we find Canada and the U.S., with 12,000 watts per person. So my next job is to try to figure out how many watts I am using per year and at least to think about how I can reduce it. I already have the swirly low-watt lights in all the places they can be; I keep the thermostat in the house at 65 degrees during the time we need heat, and we don’t have or need air conditioning, luckily; full washer loads, only, with cool water; clothes drying outdoors during the non-raining months; no driving without multiple reasons to go out. Stuff like that.

A small community like Point Roberts is, conceptually, a wonderful place to try to create community programs to showcase what people themselves can do, either singly or as a group. But somehow, I have the feeling that the libertarian nature of Point Roberts doesn’t exactly lend itself to this. But in time, real necessity will overcome even that, I suppose. I have been saving flattened tin cans for several years: it was for an art project, but maybe it will come in handy to defeat global warming. I mean, didn’t it work to overcome the Axis Powers?

Friday, July 25, 2008

Generational Drift




We are lucky to have our oldest granddaughter (18) spending a month with us before she makes her way off to UC Berkeley. It’s oddly difficult being a grandparent. Well, it’s easy when the grandchildren are little because mostly you hold them and then you play with them. Then as they get a little older, you still play with them, but the games are more complex, and you marvel—to put it kindly--at the way their parents are raising them. A little later, you are still restraining yourself from criticizing the parents, but you are beginning to think about starting to criticize the grandchildren (these are the early teenage years). But the thing about it is, I have very little idea of what the grandparent role is actually supposed to be about. I don’t know whether I’ve been badly cast or this is just one more of those things (like being a parent) that you just have to invent as you go along. And good luck!

I had only one set of grandparents and mostly that involved my grandmother cooking for me and my grandfather frightening me because he tended to yell. Not so much at me, but it always seemed possible that I might be next. I saw them occasionally when I was in my 20’s and after my grandmother had a stroke and my grandfather took over housekeeping, our conversations were fairly limited. With my grandmother, who had lost most of her ability to get around, there was TV to talk about; with my grandfather, it was more like talking about grocery shopping and exchanging recipes, since each of us was fairly new to housekeeping.

When a grandchild comes to spend a month with us, she gets the full range of our isolation of our mobility: the two weeks on the Sunshine Coast and then the two+weeks in Point Roberts, the ferry rides, the border crossing, the whole 9 yards, our entire peculiar set of arrangements. Fortunately, kids come equipped with computers nowadays and that engages quite a bit of their time. I mostly read and sew and garden and cross international borders, and so I offer those activities if they have any appeal. And all three of us cook for one another. But Ed comes into his own in this situation. For the past week, the granddaughter has been rock climbing and kayaking on alternate days. And as preparation, she climbs the side of our two-story log house.

This is how the culture has changed, maybe. Or maybe, it’s just chance variation. But I simply cannot imagine any of the grandparent people I ever knew 54 years ago (not my grandparents or the grandparents of friends) doing these things with their 18 year-old grandchildren. And perhaps that’s why we have to invent what the grandparent role is each generation. But, neither can I imagine any of the 18-year-olds that I knew or the one that I was 54 years ago even thinking of spending a month of summer with their grandparents. So, perhaps the grandchildren are having to invent their role as well. Many thanks to this granddaughter for inventing a role that gives us so very much pleasure.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Recycling Remnants


There are a lot of small and large pieces of fabric sitting around in Canadian and U.S. houses. Not just the fabric that is in dresses and sheets and upholstery, but loose pieces. Some eyelet that someone bought once to make a baby bonnet but never got around to actually making and now the baby for whom it was intended is graduating from college; some remnants from a beach cover-up that was made of fabric too cute to throw away, and even though the cover-up was eventually cast off, the remnants remain in a drawer. A fancy fabric piece from a South Pacific vacation. That kind of thing. If you are a quilter, people eventually give you this fabric. And if you are a quilter, you accept it because it’s absolutely possible that someday you will need it, even if that day is far in the future.

If you are a quilter known to use unusual bits and pieces of fabric in a quilt (as I am), then even other quilters give you fabric. It is the fabric that they can’t imagine ever using themselves, so it tends toward the unusual and the exotic and the not-cotton or not dress-weight anyway. And you accept it because you are doing them a favor taking it off of their hands and it is always possible that some day…etc.

In just that way, I have acquired left-over stretch bathing suit fabric, fiber-glass screen, indigo blue landscaping/shade cloth, many and varied pieces of silk and satin and lace and velvet and velveteen, and an entire large paper sack full of excess prom dress or fairy costume materials (not obvious which). Costumers for theatre companies send me small boxes of fancy costume stuff. There is no end to it and I have many boxes of it in my workshop, nicely labeled as ‘Exotics’ or ‘SILK/SATIN’ or ‘Miscellaneous.’

One of the largest caches of such fabric comes from interior decorators or friends of interior decorators. Apparently, the decorator fabric companies put out new lines regularly and send sample books to two or three million interior decorator stores or free-lancers. Then, when their next line comes out, they send out another two or three million, and the previous sample books get given to me. Sometimes, especially if they are elaborate prints, the samples can be quite large and in that case, they can be quite useful. Mostly, however, they are small, emphasizing texture more than design, and then a sample book may be around 6”x10”, and not so useful. A sample book can contain 20-30 different pieces or, more likely, slight variants of the same piece. Each sample has a heavy and permanently-glued paper label that covers about one-fifth of its surface, further rendering this fabric not so useful.

Nevertheless, I and many of my quilter friends have entire boxes of these things. Beautiful fabric, beautifully designed. Must be useful for something.

Today, I spent about five minutes looking at them, trying to figure out some better, higher use. I had actually been using them to make disposable booklets for an Art Walk in which we are participating in Point Roberts next week. In my five minutes of thinking, however, I figured that if I doubled the samples, used rag bond for the inside paper, and ribbons to protect the central paper seam, I would have a very classy little blank book. Which would take me about ten minutes to make.

So now I’ve found a super use for all these small fabric samples. If only I had a super use for large numbers of very classy little fabric covered books with high-quality, blank paper pages.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Deer Not Interrupted

This morning I ran into a young doe in my neighbor’s yard; ran into it in an almost literal sense: I turned a corner round an apple tree and there she was, eating on the other side of the tree. Forbidden fruit, indeed. I was surprised, but she wasn’t. She gave me an indifferent stare and then looked away as if I weren’t worth bothering about. (And indeed I’m not.) A few minutes later, after I had gone up to the neighbor’s porch, she moved on to eat from their raspberry bushes, fruit that is just beginning to be adequately ripe. Later I found her in my yard, but there she was not finding much to eat as I don’t grow much that deer like. But nowhere was she the least bit fearful.

The thing was that the deer was not in the least opposed to sharing that space with me. Nor with my friend’s husband who went out yelling, waving a stick, and wielding a turned-on hose. Couldn’t care less, was the look on her face. Couldn’t care less about any of us. Previously, deer in this yard have been seldom seen and very, very skittish when passing through. But this summer, they are around frequently and behaving like very large pets. That doesn’t really seem right. I’m tolerant of wild animals, but I like them to be wild, or at least wild enough to have second thoughts about the wisdom of hanging out with people.

Something’s changing, I suppose. That’s why they are here more frequently; that’s why they are less shy. Fewer acres they can call their own, more experience with our presence, maybe less water outside peoples’ yards where ‘water features,’ as the gardening magazines call these small and not-so-small ponds are common. Doubtless, global warming has some role in their newly familiar presence. It seems to be a part of everything we notice.

Al Gore wants something of me in this respect, but I don’t exactly know what it is. I was reading an article in a recent New Yorker about an island in Denmark that is energy independent. It took them ten years to get to that point, but they did it. Experts involved said that the technology was entirely available for doing this. And I got to thinking about whether, if I knew how to access and incorporate that technology in my own life, would I do it? Probably not. It’s just me and what difference would that make?

But of course, that’s the whole point and the whole problem. We are spending countless hours and dollars and psychic energy carrying on about the most trivial things, the most pointless things: things that don’t matter in the least, ranging from choosing a fancy handbag that we have no need of to fighting a war in Iraq in which we do not even understand who it is that we are trying to defeat. (Granted, that war matters a lot to the people involved, but not to most Americans: we just want out in the quickest, least embarrassing way. That war is over for us, just as the war in Vietnam was over long before we stopped and formally called it quits.) But no energy for global warming, for what looks like an ecologic catastrophe. We are, I guess, waiting for someone to lead us, to tell us specifically what to do, because if we don’t all do it, it won’t matter. And whoever passes for a leader nowadays (the kind that has some actual power to do something) is waiting for us to demand that they lead, I guess.

But whether they lead or not, whether we demand it or not, change of a sort that is not going to be easy is coming. Ten years, it took the Samso Islanders. Ten years from when they decided that they might do something of this sort. How many deer will be in my yard in ten years? Maybe, like the deer who seem to be moving from their own land to ours, we will just have to take over some other peoples’ yards--yards that provide us with more of what we want. Or does that already explain how we got to Iraq?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Apples, Tulips, and Reservoirs


What an extraordinary book is The Botany of Desire (by Michael Pollan). I have been sitting on the porch reading it, off and on, these past few days. If you are a fan of books that tell you a great many new things about subjects you thought you already knew about, it is a book you, too, might be very pleased by. I’ve only read half of it so far, but even if the second half is an absolute dud, the first half will have been plenty worth it. It is divided into four parts; the first deals with the human desire for sweetness and looks into the nature of the apple. Part two ponders the human love of beauty, focusing on tulips. Part III elucidates intoxication and marijuana, and Part IV, control and the potato. As an apple grower and tulip grower, myself (though on a very small scale, of course), I thought I knew quite a lot about both. Wrong. I’ve never grown marijuana, but I grew up in Idaho, ‘The Land of Potatoes,’ as every license plate told me, so I think I’m genetically knowledgeable about potatoes, but we will see. The book is part science, part literature, part personal observation, part general wonder, and the best parts of all of them.

It is a summer kind of book, slow, leisurely, wondering, and wandering. And we are having a lovely summer right now, with three weeks or more of no rain, 70+ degree days, the slightest hint of clouds now and then for entertainment. I sit outdoors, reading, and feel the air barely moving about me, as if it were delicately marking the edges between me and itself: this is Judy, this is air.

The sun means that flowers are flourishing, including the mallows (picture above) that appeared in our garden this year, certainly an illustration of the botany of desire if I needed one. There are five of these volunteers (brought, I imagine, by the birds), and ranging from five to eight feet tall. Their seed output will presumably be prodigious and perhaps next year, the entire garden will be mallows (which look to be related to hollyhocks but are not: instead, they are related to hibiscus).

But all this lovely summer/no rain means that we are starting into drought status, the brown lawn areas confirming it. We are supposed to use water sprinklers only on even days or odd days, I can’t remember which, largely because I don’t own a water sprinkler. If things get watered, I must stand there and make it happen, hose in hand. So watering is rather minimal. The mallows seem indifferent.

It seems so ironic that each summer brings water shortages in a land with so much rain. But the rain is all year except now: July and August. And if you don’t have much time without rain, then it doesn’t pay to build big reservoirs. Reservoirs here are small relative to the population using them and it is always a crisis of sorts in the summer. If these rainless days start to extend to a longer period due to global warming, then the crisis will be a real one. But for now…more like a possible problem than a crisis.

However, the Sunshine Coast Regional District (sort of the equivalent of a county government in the U.S.) takes the water supply very seriously. A year or so ago, they realized that with the significant increase of population here on the coast, the water supply was going to be seriously inadequate. Building new reservoirs: very, very expensive. So, in an act of what seemed to be extraordinary thoughtfulness and political courage, the District instituted a program through which the District paid for two, new, very low-volume flush toilets for every house, and paid for the installation as well. It’s an expensive program, but the District reasons that the amount of money saved by NOT having to build a new reservoir will more than pay for it. An Australian company supplies the toilets at low cost in order to have real data about how much water savings their use provides. Because flushing is a household’s major water use, it makes sense to reduce use in ways that don’t depend upon voluntary efforts.

It is nice to have somebody actually thinking about and working to solve a problem. The District reps will probably not go into history like Johnny Appleseed distributing his apple seeds, or ever be featured in a book like The Botany of Desire, the subject being toilets and all, but I salute their courage and foresight, especially during these days of no rain.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Feet, Pythons, and Nuclear Things

The Vancouver Province today offers Canadians four or five front page (website) stories about the multiple severed feet that have turned up about the province over the past several months. On the Eastern side of Canada, a Globe and Mail’s lead story details a Montreal woman’s discovery of a 40-inch python under her bed in a basement apartment. Not something she put there.

Summer’s slow news days, maybe. But not so slow as all that. After all, last Friday, the New York Times published an op-ed by Benny Morris on the need for much more war in the Middle East. Reading this op-ed, early this morning, pretty much ruined my day, my week, and perhaps my entire life. Morris is a highly respected Israeli historian, and one of the things he is respected for is that he produced the first scholarly work demonstrating that the Israelis had forcibly expelled the Palestinians from their homes in 1948. The reigning ‘truthiness’ in Israel for many years had been that the Palestinians had fled because (a) the Arab countries told them to, and (b) the Palestinians were cowards. Which was why they had no 'right of return.' Turns out Morris was right. The Israeli army had forced the Palestinians from their homes, and in that act lies much of the Palestinians’ claim to ‘a right of return.’

So, when Benny Morris writes, I read attentively. He’s demonstrated his ability to think past and through the information that clogs our minds. Unfortunately, what he’s writing in the New York Times scares me much more than loose feet or loose pythons. His pitch is as follows: If Iran ever gets a nuclear weapon, Iran will destroy Israel with it; thus, Iran must never get a nuclear weapon. Israel, he says, will ‘almost surely bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities 'in the next four months,' but this attack might not be entirely successful. As a result, Israel would ‘subsequently’ have to use its nuclear weapons to destroy Iran. Such a nuclear attack is not in the United States’ or Iran’s interests, he allows. Better to have the U.S. bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities in the next four months because they have much more military power at their disposal and will be more successful [and Iran can't retaliate by destroying the U.S.]. But the U.S. probably won’t do it, so Israel will have to. Whether the Israelis are successful or not, the Iranians will strike back at Israel, and then there comes the nuclear war we’ve all been trying to avoid. But, what is Israel to do?

This is, I think, a pretty straight reading of Morris’s essay, which gives few to no reasons for any of his assumptions. There are a couple of responses on the Huffington Post here and here. None of this made me feel like being smart or funny or silly today. Or maybe ever, or for the next four months, whichever comes first.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Elephants and Art


We have no elephants in either Point Roberts or Roberts Creek. Just as well, perhaps, as they are hard on trees and we have a lot of trees for them to be hard on. But they are such unusual animals. Emotional, communicative, communitarian, intelligent, maybe even thoughtful. And such good memories, of course.

Elephants are on my mind for two reasons. First, I got an email message providing me with a link to elephants painting elephants. In order to do this, however, they need training. And second, because the Richmond, B.C., Art Gallery suggested I send them a set of 9 ATC’s for an exhibit on the theme of ‘Life as Art.’

ATC stands for ‘artist trading cards.’ Like baseball trading cards, they are 2.5x3.5 inches, stored in plastic sleeves, and are traded. Unlike baseball trading cards, they are each original art and are never sold, only traded. At least, that’s the basic idea. Started about a decade ago in Switzerland, the practice of trading ATC’s quickly spread to North America, and now throughout the world via the internet where many trading groups exist. (You trade the actual card by mail, but you make the trading deal via pictures on the net.) The kicker to it all is that there is no required media for the card: if you can get it on a 2.5”x3.5” card and put it into a plastic trading card sleeve, the method is up to you. I’ve seen them made of plants, plastic, fabric, sand, beads, and metal, as well as painted with acrylics, watercolors, oil paints, collaged with anything that can be flattened, and drawn. In my reasonably large collection, there are cards made by old people, by little kids, by professional artists, and by untalented amateurs. And all the in betweens.

So, I’m thinking elephants for ‘life as art’ because elephants' lives are surely artful when they’re allowed to have their lives and when they’re not destroying trees. Furthermore, elephants have wonderfully broad sides which could be used directly as a canvas or covered with a canvas. Thus have I set myself to making a crowd of elephants whose life is art. Like the elephants who, with training, have learned to paint elephants, I have learned, with training, to ‘paint’ elephants with bits of thread and fabric. Now completed, they go on to the Richmond Art Gallery, and after the September-November exhibit, they will be traded one at a time for something that other people have been thinking about these days and have also sent to the exhibit. And then they will live in their plastic sleeves in my collected ATC books.

So strange, elephants. Because we don’t have them in North America, we don’t know that much about them. Circus animals, largely, even if where we see them is zoos. I know four wonderful books about elephants: White Bone by Barbara Gowdy; Silent Thunder by Katy Payne, Elephant Memories by Cynthia Moss, and The Cowboy and His Elephant by Malcolm McPherson. The first is a novel in which the main characters are all elephants. The second and third are accounts by women whose research interests took them to Africa to study elephants. The last, the story of a man in Colorado (the man who was the photo model for the original Marlboro Man) who came into having an elephant of his own. Definitely not circus elephants.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

How's Canada Doing?

Back in British Columbia this weekend to find that the Canadian government is engaged in the kind of fear-mongering, swift-boating, character assassinating, or whatever adjective best describes the scurrilous mode of speech that typifies U.S. political communication nowadays.

In our mailbox, we received a one-page flyer, ‘Compliments of Stephen Harper, MP’ (as well as Prime Minister of Canada and the leader of the Conservative Party), providing us with what we jokingly might refer to as information; information that doesn't even rise to the level of truthiness. Like the U.S., Canada has experienced imported goods that are not manufactured under Canadian safety standards. Dangerous chemicals, dangerous toys, UNSAFE things. Last fall, in the ‘Throne Speech,’ the Conservatives pointed out that in the past, almost everything on a Canadian store’s shelf was made in Canada, but now, 65% of those same items are made somewhere else. Somewhere, I imagine, where manufacturers don’t have as their very top priority a concise knowledge of Canadian safety standards. That’s how global trade works, I’m afraid. Foreign manufacturers don’t necessarily have either of our safety, labor, or environmental standards. In part, that’s why they are not us; they are different, have different priorities, concerns, agendas, values, economics, problems, and laws/regulations. They are from different countries.

So, what’s a country like Canada or the U.S. to do? Well, the policy questions are doubtless complex and I am no expert on them. But one thing that a person like Steven Harper can do is send out a flyer assuring the citizens of Canada that he and his party are “protecting children from unsafe products.’ We are entitled then to return his flier, after having answered Mr. Harper’s multiple-choice question, “Who is on the right track on protecting children?’ Our choices are Mr. Harper and, respectively the leaders of the Liberal, New Democratic, and Green parties. We have no information at our finger tips in this flier about any particular legislation or any particular views that the other parties hold. We are given only Mr. Harper's assurance that the correct answer to his question is The Conservative Party. Once we choose, we mail this flier back to Mr. Harper. And exactly what is he going to do with it? I ask myself.

The implication, of course, is that those nefarious other parties (i.e., #’s 2,3, and 4) are not interested in ‘protecting children from unsafe products.’ I suppose the further implication is that they don’t even care whether children are protected from unsafe products. Perhaps they are engaged in foisting unsafe products upon the country. Perhaps the Green Party, an earnest, sincere and seriously peripheral party is about to require people to use unsafe products? I don’t think so. Well, Mr. Harper didn’t say that, so maybe he doesn’t think so either. All in all, though, my impression of this flier is that it is very low-down stuff. The kind of thing that Lee Atwater wouldn’t have done, but that Lee Atwater would have admired others doing. Lee Atwater, of course, was engaged in much more egregious stuff. This would have been small time for him.

But Lee Atwater gave us the politics we now have in the U.S. It’s sad to see Canada, whose citizens so often insist to me that Canada is very different from the U.S., going right down that U.S. road. It’s enough to give the phrase ‘political speech’ a very bad name: something like, ‘liar, liar, pants on fire…’

Friday, July 18, 2008

Happiness

I noticed an article on the net a few days ago which reported “new” research indicating that older people are happier than younger ones. For me, this goes in the category of obvious research. Who would think that older people would be less happy than younger ones? I suppose it is possible that younger people might think this because it would (a) cheer them up to think there is someone more unhappy then they are; and (b) because they assume that old is, well, old as in broken, of no further use, and if that’s who you are, then you are obviously unhappy.

Not so, in my experience. It seems to me that being old is, for the most part, an enormous improvement upon being young, upon being younger. Not without its downsides, of course: that death is the next likely big step in your life, so to speak, is one of the main ones. And there are the physical changes, of course, which vary from old person to old person and from time to time. But for the most part, I’d say, there is much less unhappiness and bedrock anxiety than at any other part of my life, other than my first few years, maybe. World War II provided me with enough anxiety to limit my happy childhood to the part that I don’t much remember.

The reason, I think, that old people are happier than younger people is that fewer people are messing with them. Once your children move on and you stop dealing with the world of employment and your difficult relatives have either given up on you or moved more permanently on, there are fewer people in your life who are interested in messing with you.

What I mean by messing with me (or you in the case that it’s you that’s being messed with), is that people don’t get in the way of my projects. Nowadays, I am pretty much left alone to figure out my projects and to do them the way I want to. Not so when I was working for the corporation or the institution, or when I had children always happy to interfere with my projects (and with every right to do so, to a considerable extent, I think, but irritating nonetheless), or when I had parents and other older relatives who felt pretty free to tell me every step of the day what I ought to be doing.

Not that I am entirely left to my own devices, even when old. Only a few weeks ago, I set out to buy a string trimmer as a joint project with a neighbor. I thought I might need it but had never used one; she had used one and wasn’t sure whether she had enough current use to justify the purchase. So, we agreed to purchase jointly a string trimmer and given that the sale price that week was all of $23, I didn’t think that either of us would have much to lose. But then things got more complicated and the neighbor’s husband got involved and eventually he bought a string trimmer for their use and assured me that I was free to use it any time I wanted. But then they’ve been away for 3 weeks so although I wanted to use it, I didn’t know either where it was or how to use it. So, I was messed with in my project.

The border, like my neighbor’s spouse, probably doesn’t think it’s messing with me. The agents of the U.S. government and Homeland Security probably never think about the fact that I had a project that involved my living in Point Roberts and, with proper documentation, pretty freely moving between Point Roberts and the ROTUS, as well as lower British Columbia. But I did, and they have definitely messed with that project.

A good friend has lost her Nexus card for unknown/undisclosed/undisclosable reasons and she now carefully calculates when the traffic flow is likely to be low so that she can cross the border in something less than a half-hour. She says she crosses less now and, as a result, spends less money, buys less stuff. Not so terrible, she says. But I think that is because she is younger and hasn’t yet realized that your life can be very happy, or at least it can be as long as no one is messing with you.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The No Help Line

Today, Ed decided to see if he could do better in trying to confirm his address for his Nexus card. Unfortunately, nothing he did turned out to have any different results from my own, which I described yesterday. Now, he too has a complicated secret name, but he doesn’t know mine and I don’t know his (just as I don't know mine and he doesn't know his); he has security questions whose answers he must look up, and he can’t find any way to confirm his address. It is possible, he thinks, that he could change his address, but what would he change it to?

His response, so much more trusting of the internet world than mine, was to contact the help line. Here’s what he wrote:

was instructed by a document numbered 08-024 handed to me at a nexus inspection booth to update/confirm my mailing address by august 15, 2008. i attempted to do so but got stopped at the final step. after creating a goes account, i was able to access a page titled nexus application/enrollment showing my information. as far as i can tell, there is no way to update or confirm my mailing address. only three actions offered at the top of the page: print, replace card, terminate membership.

how do i update/confirm my address, please?
thanks, ed


In less than twelve hours, he received the following reply:

Dear goes user,
Please as soon you received your new passport, go to the nearest
enrollment center so they can update the new passport in their system.
Thank you

Jorge L Robles
CBP GOES Support

Okay, neither of us has a new passport, so that’s no good. Maybe we could at least change our address now that we are members of the GOES (NO GOES) program website, but before we can do that, I guess we’ll have to move somewhere else so that we will have a new address to change to. Probably somewhere far away from the reach of the Nexus program, border agents, and the Dept. of Homeland Security.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Border Strikes Again

This week, when crossing the border into the U.S., I was given a printed flyer advising me that in the fall I would receive a new and improved Nexus card (the famous ‘trusted traveller’ card that homeland security might give you if they feel like it). In order to receive this card, they tell me, I must ‘update or confirm’ my mailing address by mid-August. Okay. I’m okay with that. Apparently Canadians in the Nexus program will not get the new and improved card because when I cross into Canada, the border guard do not provide me with a similar copy of this request.

A few days later, I again crossed the border into the U.S. and am offered the original printed form, but now with a second sheet…not printed by a commercial printer but printed off a local computer printer. It purports to give me more instructions about how to update or confirm my mailing address. The very nature of this piece of paper gave me some cause for concern. It says this:

“getNEXUS.COM
1. Apply for NEXUS online
2. PRINT—Prior to LOGGIN {LOGGIN?????] onto GOES
Step by Step Instructions for Applying Online for NEXUS and SENTRI
3. Register in English
4. Next
5. START—GOES user registration”

I’d not give those five steps a stellar grade as instructions. But who knows, maybe it’s going to be easier than I think. So I go, as the original printed form advises me, to the “Global Online Enrollment System” website, where I am required to register as a GOES user, even though I already have a NEXUS card. The security requirements of the password are fairly onerous since they require me to have a number in the first place of the password. I have a stable of passwords that I use, but none of them has a number in the first slot, so I have to add yet another password to the stable. If I kept racehorses in this stable, I would be rich in experiences, but probably poor in earnings. Then, I have to pick five of eight security questions, to only two of which I would be remotely confident of the answers, which means they will also have to be recorded in that place where no one but I can ever find them, and maybe not me either. More repetition of providing names (including ‘Maternal Name’: What is my maternal name? What is my mother’s last name? My mother’s married name? My mother’s maiden name? Not a clue how to answer that, so I guess the last one and keep going, only to find, later, that the correct answer was my mother’s married name, which they already seem to know since it has been filled in on the blank 'Mother's Maiden Name'). FinallyI push ‘next’, and there I am registered as a GOES user, which means I’ve already gone through Step #5 above, but have not yet confirmed my mailing address. Nor, am I able to find anywhere that that could happen, anywhere that they are interested in having me do any changing of information or confirming of it either.

So I try the second option on the original printed material they gave me and go not to the GOES website but to the NEXUS website. The NEXUS website wants to know the secret name that the GOES website has just given me, a name no human could ever remember, but I must always use and I must always keep it very secret. Since I wrote it down on an old envelope two minutes ago, I am able to tell this to them and they log me in and offer me the following information:

“If you applied to the NEXUS program using a paper application and do not have an online account, you should register for a GOES user ID by following the instructions provided on the GOES Web site. Once you have registered, you can log in to your account to update your contact information at any time. The purpose of this simple registration process is not to submit a new application but to ensure that your mailing and e-mail address information is up-to-date.”

So, now I’m being sent back to the GOES site where I already could not find anything that would make it possible for me to confirm anything at all. Time elapsed to fail to complete this ultra-necessary procedure? Fifty minutes so far, doubtless more to come since I haven’t done it yet.

Feeling more secure? You can imagine how reassured I’m feeling. And August 15 will doubtless be here before I know it. And there will be another reason to take my NEXUS card away: I refused to confirm my mailing address, which has not changed for 14 years.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Blogging Made Me Do It

Today, we drove to the airport to pick up our oldest (18 y/o) granddaughter. Along the way, we stopped at a traffic light in the little Canadian town across the border. There was a young guy, 18-ish, who caught my eye at the intersection because he was wearing an interesting black t-shirt with a raised-gold city-skyscraper drawing (maybe puff paint?), and then I saw that he was wearing those dopey, droopy black levis, but with beautiful gold-embroidered back pockets (somewhere in the vicinity of the other side of his kneecaps). As I was watching, he pulled out a cigarette pack, pulled open the thin cellophane strip at the top, and then dropped it onto the sidewalk. I gasped mentally. And then he took the rest of the cellophane package and threw that, too, on the sidewalk.

Because I had been writing about this kind of thuggish behavior only a day or so ago, I felt that I ought to do something, so I rolled down the window and yelled at him, “Hey, don’t throw your trash on the sidewalk!’ And as I did so, I realized his ears were all stoppered up with iPod earphones. So, I yelled it again, but louder; loud enough to penetrate the 15 feet and the earbuds that separated us.

He turned and looked at me, heard me, squinched his eyes up, gave me a disdainful look, and proceeded to walk across the street as the light changed, absolutely indifferent to my views. And we drove away. So there it was. Action following words. Talking the talk and (sort of) walking the walk, or at least talking the walk. Like anyone who has ever taught elementary school kids, I have the general feeling that I’m entitled to correct young kids in public should the need arise. But I have never, in all my years, corrected a perfect stranger of even vaguely mature years in a public setting.

This is what went on in my mind in that brief moment: it seemed to me that if I was going to write on this blog about how much I dislike that kind of behavior, about how uncivil it is, then I ought to be willing to back it up with actual words spoken to actual people upon need, even if they were, gasp!, not little kids. So, the blog made me do it. I don’t know whether the blog is thus making me a better, more consistent person or just a crankier person, but if it’s the latter? Well, in one’s eighth decade, one is entitled to choose curmudgeonliness--at least now and then.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Trash, Again

Here it is Bastille Day, that terrific holiday in which everybody locked up in a Parisian jail was set free in a mad frenzy of liberty, equality, and fraternity. Something about that image really captured my imagination as a schoolgirl so that the date is firmly fixed in mind. Presented some other way, it could appear to a kid as some kind of scary jail break, I guess. Well, perspective is everything: perspective, in the sense of from what angle you are viewing this picture, which is very probably not ‘the whole picture,’ for example. In fact, it’s really hard, in the short run anyway, to get anything like the whole picture, the title of this blog notwithstanding.

More about the trash in that respect. The full email box that I mentioned yesterday was obviously not about an abandoned roadside stove but instead about the issue of how garbage and recycling will be conducted in Point Roberts. When we moved here, some fourteen years ago, nobody was collecting trash. The County has some legal responsibility to do something, but my recollection of what it did was this: it operated a transfer station which was open a couple of days a week and you were free to take your garbage there on those days and pay a fee directly. I don’t remember that they had recycling, but that was a long time ago, too long to remember what is usually a minor issue in my life.

Nine years ago, a guy came to town and set up a regular garbage and recycling collection business, licensed by whoever in the state does that kind of licensing. He’s a nice guy in my experience and easy to do business with, at least if your business is household business. His business seemed to work, although there were obviously inherent problems because the government would not mandate that everyone participate in and pay for garbage collection service. Since only about a quarter of the homes here belong to full-time residents (those who were likely to subscribe to the trash collection service), he had a very small customer base. The Canadian cottage owners, for the most part, didn’t want to pay for service that they weren’t using most of the time and they could always take their trash to the transfer station and pay a single fee for whatever amount they brought, or take it home with them to Canada, or bury it in their backyards, for all I know. But refuse/recycling collection equipment is expensive, and needs to be spread over a bigger customer base than the trash business has.

This spring, the company stopped picking up recycling when its recycling truck reached its final hours, but we could still take it ourselves to the transfer station. For most of us, not a problem. But a big problem for some parts of local government and for some locals who think that a contract is a contract and since he said the business would provide curbside recycling he must do that or go out of business.

In addition, I hear, there is an issue about how the business was charging for collecting containers of building debris. Some people, especially those who had building debris that needed to be disposed of, found his attitude hostile and his prices too high, and a couple of them went into business in competition, sort of. That is, they aren’t collecting building debris, but are collecting and recycling building debris, though how that stuff gets recycled is not entirely clear to me, and apparently not to some others.

My part in this brouhaha was to forward to a dozen or so friends and acquaintances a letter explaining why one couple favored the County helping the current guy to continue in operation. Forwarding this email turned out to be one of those good deeds that does not go unpunished. Two people—friends--immediately wrote back, outraged that I had forwarded this letter to them, even astonished that I had engaged in ‘politics,’ and insisted that I immediately remove their names from my email list.

The response seemed way out of proportion to the “affront.’ Just politics in a small town, is what another friend told me today. But all the emotion and energy involved in this topic suggests something bigger at play. Is the trash collecting monopoly license for Point Roberts really a treasured asset? Are there big bucks involved? (Follow the money is never a bad strategy for understanding les choses Americaine.) Loose talk tells me that there are people lined up to take over the refuse/recycling collection monopoly license here on the Point, despite the fact that it doesn’t seem to be a paying proposition. New efficiencies? Higher rates? Outside forces? Secret deals? Who knows? As the war in Iraq (possibly) tapers down, are the private war companies looking for other income streams? If that’s what it is, I’m thinking Halliburton or Kellog, Brown, Root will soon be providing our trash service. Ed, though, says his money is on Blackwater.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Neighborhood/Neighborly Trash


Yesterday, my email box filled with trash. Well, that’s not unusual, but these were messages about trash and the local collection thereof, rather than that dreary array of penis enlargement, drug access, Rolex watches, and fake Louis Vuitton handbag scams. Here on the Point, it appears, trash is a really emotional issue.

Who knew? It’s sometimes an irritating issue, certainly. Anyone who has ever lived in a resort community in the vacationing season will know what I mean. Take a walk and take note of not only the beer cans and fast food containers, but also the entire bags of garbage that fill the byways of your little community. I’ve never actually seen anyone pitch stuff out the door of their moving car, but it must be happening, because there are the roads, there are the cars, there are the tourists, and there are the trash bags. Hard to think of any other explanation. And, since we live in two different resort communities and we have experienced this detritus-by-the-road in both, that seals the case for me.

Right now, down the street, there is a painfully unusable 4-burnerless electric stove sitting by the side of the road where someone has kindly offered it to his neighbors as “Free!” I guess so, since garbage has such a low value. Some irritated local has crafted an additional sign on the hapless stove, pointing out that some ‘loser’ is hoping others will take his “free” garbage to the dump for him.

At least, the tourists can’t be blamed for this unless they are now vacationing with their old appliances. I can’t think of any way that the high price of gas would account for such activity (“What with the price of gas, we had to dump our old stove by the side of the road when we were vacationing down in Point Roberts”?), so I must assume it is one of my less-than-thoughtful fellow community members who has decided he’d like to share the view of his old stove with the rest of us. Years ago, when I used to attend rural auctions in New England, whenever some obviously useless bit of crap was being put up for auction, the auctioneer--facing no bids--would eventually point out to us that object could be used for a planter. So maybe a stove planter is in somebody’s future—you could put a geranium pot in each of those burner holes. Actually, I hope someone picks it up for that purpose. Otherwise it’s going to be a long summer, fall, winter, spring and summer again before that stove goes back to the metallic dust from whence it came.

Some years ago, up on the Sunshine Coast, we came upon a tourist bag of garbage that had been slung by the side of the road. Good sports that we were, we carried it home to dispose of in our own trash barrel. When we got home, though, we found that there was an interior bag entirely filled with junk mail addressed to a fellow in North Vancouver. So we mailed that part back to him, with an enclosed letter pointing out that his junk mail was even more useless by the side of the road in Roberts Creek, so could he please attend better to it and, if he couldn’t master the skill of properly disposing of personal goods, could he try vacationing somewhere else in the future. He didn’t write back. It is possible we did not include a return address, of course.

So, those of you who are driving and walking about, throwing garbage and trash out on the roadsides where other people live and walk: Cut it Out! If you think somebody else should be taking care of your garbage, you are either a full-fledged loser, as the sign says, or an immature teenager. In either case, time to grow up.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Sixties Momentum

This past Thursday was the monthly meeting of the Point Roberts Community Association. Everyone, at some time in his/her life, goes to meetings like these, I imagine. A somewhat amorphous group with a somewhat amorphous purpose struggling to find a way forward. Such meetings are profoundly frustrating in some ways (can’t we just do what I want and then get on with doing it?), and profoundly interesting in others (what’s really happening here?). The frustrating part is immediately available to everyone, I think, but the interesting part takes a little more work to discern.

The ten-twelve people who show up for these meetings do not come from the same generational, educational, or experiential backgrounds. They are not all committed environmentalists, or political enthusiasts, or evangelical Christians, or home schoolers, or anything unifying. Except for the fact that they live in Point Roberts—well, that’s the unifying point. And it’s often hard to believe that that is enough of a shared experience to make the group work.

It sometimes feels like that reality TV show—which I have never seen, so I may have it wrong—in which a bunch of people get put on a desert island and each week, I think, someone is voted off. Similarly, at the end of each of our meetings, I worry about whether someone will decide not to return the next month. After all, if the members of the Point Roberts Community Association can’t get along together as a group of people willing to try to work together, why would we think that the larger community, whose members have not made any particular commitment to trying to do something together, could operate in a more harmonious fashion?

Why would we think that just showing up in the same place (either in Point Roberts, or at the PRCA meetings) would be enough to enable us to overcome all our differences? I ask myself this frequently, and especially right after the monthly meetings. And the answer, for me anyway, is that I come from the land of the ‘60’s, when people with vastly different views, ages, experiences, and backgrounds came together all over the U.S. in very different groups and made something happen.

It’s hard and maybe impossible to explain the sixties (and early 70’s) to someone who wasn’t there. The feeling of hope, the feeling that things could change, the fact of endlessly multiplying groups that formed to carry forward those hopes and actions, ranging from the many groups that went to form the Civil Rights Movement (it wasn’t just Martin Luther King), to the Black Panthers, to the Free Speech Movement, to the Students for a Democratic Society, and on and on. This blog post would be a lot longer if I just let myself list all the groups I can remember. And though all those groups had disagreements with one another, there was a steady sense of forward movement in which the various institutions of society (the press, the courts, even the U.S. Congress and state legislatures) seemed to be reflecting, following, or even leading, on occasion. That sense of movement is what kept us going. And momentum is a very big thing.

Not so much now; really, not any now. Starting anything nowadays is starting from pretty much a dead stop. The internet is full of recently-formed groups/movements, but they pretty much just talk to each other and/or send checks/emails to one another. So, the fact that a dozen people are willing to come to a meeting in a building once a month and do anything at all is a great success, I remind myself. At least we aren’t voting each other off our island.

The sixties made it seem easy. But it wasn’t, even then, as I recall.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Spoils for Our Elders


An acquaintance and fellow blogger down in Santa Fe, New Mexico, posted a story the other day about age, mortality and the shedding of belongings. It seems that an 80-year-old friend of the blogger had had a mild heart attack, and that this brush with mortality had loosened his hold on his belongings. A box of treasured opera CD’s arrived by mail to the blogger, a gift that seemed to offer some kind of continuity to the giver. The puzzling part was that the blogger himself is 85-years-old and had several years ago suffered some very serious cardiac problems. Now, the 85-year-old has even more of things he needs to get rid of, while the 80-year-old has somewhat fewer.

I think once one hits one’s 70’s, the awareness of how many things one has and the question of what is eventually going to happen to the more treasured of those things (not IF but WHEN one dies) presses more quite sharply. Because I’ve moved around so much, all my life, I have (happily, I think) ended up with nothing from my ancestral life other than a couple of photo albums, and my mother’s christening dress. When I lived in New England, I was amazed at all the houses that were chock full of ancestral belongings. What a weight of the past was there. And, I suppose, the refusal to have that ‘weight of the past’ is much of what the western U.S. has always stood for.

Earlier this year, I sent a box of doll furniture that I made in the 1970’s to a granddaughter, but other than that, I haven’t actually done anything to start this needed (or perhaps unneeded?) dispersal of treasured things. Treasured by me, of course, but not necessarily treasured by anyone who is on the recipient end. Mostly, at the moment, I’m focusing on the ‘finishing unfinished things’ part of the spectrum. Knitting includes unfinished pairs of sox, hats, shawls, sweaters; quilting includes blocks that haven’t yet been made into quilt tops, quilt tops that haven’t yet been made into finished quilts, and no end of pieces in various stages that would someday be an art quilt/wall quilt if I refined my ideas about them sufficiently to progress to that stage. Lots of embroidery work also sitting around in a nearly finished stage.

Only yesterday, though, I actually finished the quilting on a ‘cathedral windows’ quilt that I started 25 years ago. I began that quilt so long ago that I no longer even know how that traditional pattern is made. It’s a kind of origami folding technique: I look at the finished work and, except for the fact that I recognize the main fabric was from a dress that I once wore, I wouldn’t know that I was the one who had made it. So how treasured is that? Well, at least it is a brand-new quilt that is simultaneously and instantly a vintage quilt.

Perhaps the dispersing can be put off until the finishing is done. And then, well, maybe I could start shipping the treasured and finished objects around to friends who are older than I am. If everybody disperses upward, at least we will have avoided burdening the future with our past. But those centenarians are going to have to get much bigger houses in which to store everything.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Always Something


My mother used to say that it wasn’t one thing after another, but the same thing over and over, and the thing she had in mind was things that didn’t work, things that broke. My father was a great fixer of machines (for a living, he fixed radios, two-way communication systems, record players, and tv’s), and I think that made him somewhat more confident about having things around that were likely to stop functioning. But, like the shoemakers’ children who have no shoes, our house had shelves full of things that were waiting to get fixed. Real fixing went only to fundamental needs.

My life in that household led me, as an adult, to put very little stock in having things that were likely to break because neither I nor anyone I lived with for most of that adulthood was likely to know how to fix them when, inevitably, they ceased functioning. For me, when things break, the things need to go somewhere far away where they may or may not recover but I will not need to know about it. Or, if I have things, I am very careful with them. E.g., I have an I-Pod, but I use it sparingly so that I will not wear it out and have to attend in some way to its failure to work.

Not so Ed. He, like my dad, is a fixer of things, but he’s more likely to get around to fixing them sooner rather than later. The fundamental things get attended to right away; the leaking skylight covered with a blue tarp…somewhat later. This week, the Water Department of Point Roberts sent us our bill and a suggestion that we might have a leak, which accounted for the size of the bill. The first task was to locate the leak and pretty quickly, Ed determined that it was between the meter and the house, but not in the house or the yard hoses. The Water Department said, don’t bother to look any further; they are old pipes, they are bound to leak, replace the pipe. Which is, of course, our pipe, not the Water Department's.

So this past week, instead of drywalling, Ed has been digging a trench through the front lawn-like area: 18” deep, minimum, and about 30+ snaking feet long (Correction: Ed says it is 80 feet. I have little ability in the spacial perception aptitude area). Our soil is pretty sandy, so it can be dug with a shovel, but it is pretty rocky. That, for me, is the good part because I have a wonderful new store of large rocks to use in the gardens. Probably less wonderful for the guy on the other end of the shovel.

There are big piles of dirt in the yard (one about 24 inches tall I managed to walk into yesterday when my thoughts and my eyes were on higher things), and also a deep canyon wherein the new flexible, plastic water pipe has made its bed and will now sleep in it. About six hours of shut-off water yesterday (the worst: being without water….all it does is make me want to turn on faucets; my needs for water turn out to be non-stop when water is not available), and we have new pipes, a new pressure regulator, and a new water meter. So, for now, it is fixed, and presumably for my lifetime, since the pipes themselves are unlikely to wear out within the next 20-30 years, whereas I surely will. But I was looking suspiciously at the electricity drop line today. Isn't it a little, well, saggy?

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Strawberry Success




During World War II, my family had a Victory Garden and after my dad got off work, we would all pile in our tiny car and drive out to it and work in the dirt while there was yet light. I became an enthusiastic gardener in those days (I was almost 5 when Pearl Harbor was bombed), and after the war, when we bought a house with an acre of gardening land, I came into my own as a gardener. Southeastern Idaho has heavy, clay soil and precious little rain, but irrigation ditches are provided and things will grow. My father gave me total responsibility for the strawberry bed and I worked it, ate and sold its fruits, and went to summer camp for an extra week each summer on its profits.

But my strawberry growing days ended when I left that house. There were a few plants here and there, but nothing like that large original bed until four years ago when we bought the lot adjoining our house. There, I found six formerly-producing raised strawberry beds. Alas, they were in disastrous shape, filled with as many weeds as strawberry plants, the wooden surrounds begin to rot out, the ground sodden all spring. I worked the first spring just to get the weeds cleaned out (bindweed, buttercups, and various grasses, all destined to reemerge from the winter’s gloom, year after year). Once I had actually found the plants and brought them into the light, I realized that three of the beds actually weren’t in the light because a willow tree had grown so large as to send them into perpetual shade. So I gave up on those. The other three beds produced few flowers and no edible berries.

Then, in the second year, I had three raised beds. I weeded them, I fertilized them, I improved their wooden surrounds, I kept track of the poor drainage--which their raised bed status helped considerably—I talked to them companionably, and in year two, they bloomed, fruited, and showed great promise. I left them alone in late June just as the fruits were beginning to show a red blush and returned, two weeks later, to find them all chewed up by slugs and sow bugs.

By year three, I had found a 10-inch wide roll of copper mesh to wrap around the edges of the three beds. Slug slime and copper produce a slight electric charge that, wisely, slugs avoid. I got it on in early spring, hoping that the beds weren’t already full of slugs that now, couldn’t get out of the strawberry beds. I did the routine: fertilizer, weeding, and cheerful conversation, and strawberries began to appear. No sign of slug damage, although I hadn’t yet defeated the sow bugs. After the reliable two week absence in late June, I returned to find all the strawberries eaten by raccoons. But, even the raccoon leavings showed no signs of slugs.

For year four, I improved the copper mesh coverage (no slugs), spread straw generously around and under each plant (no sow bugs), bought nets to cover the beds (no raccoons), and talked non-stop to the plants. I didn’t really expect much from it because we had record rains all this spring and the plants were now virtually hydroponically grown, at least as far as their roots were concerned: the plants themselves, though, were sitting well up on the straw (perhaps from this comes the word ‘straw-berries’?).

After the rains, came heat and no rain. Two weeks of heat and three weeks of no rain, that famous two weeks that I am gone turned this year into three weeks. I expected to return to find the plants dried up and the berries dried up with them. But on getting here, there were bright red berries all over the beds. Success! I have gathered this past week about 3 pounds of strawberries and we have eaten them with great pleasure. They, of course, bear no resemblance to what the stores up here sell, those large, hard, beautifully-shaped, beautifully-colored (on the outside; white on the inside), items referred to as California Strawberries. Ours are smaller, juicier, more flavorful, somewhat misshapen, reminiscent of the ones I grew sixty+ years ago, but they are our own and I love them. My dad would be proud of them and me. And if I paid myself commensurately for the pleasure of eating them, I could surely afford an extra week—maybe two--at camp.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Belt Sanders Rule





Yesterday was the International Belt Sander Drag Race, last held in Point Roberts maybe 8 years ago. Belt Sander Drag Racing was invented or created or brought to life here in Point Roberts, by Lorne Neilson who owns Neilson’s Hardware. The point is for belt sanders of any make or model, decorated or not, improved upon or out-of-the-box, to race each other in pairs down parallel tracks about 30 feet long. And eventually, the fastest belt sander wins something. But it’s really about the race more than the winning.

Sunday dawned clear and warm and by the time we got to the parking lot at the hardware store, the bleachers were almost full. A very nice gentleman offered me his bent knee to stand on so I could climb up to the higher seats from the side, and thereby get a better view of the races. (It felt a little like Elizabethan England: if it had been raining, would he have thrown his cloak down for me to walk on? In any case, my virtual thanks to him for his kindness and his willingness to risk injury to himself to allow me to have an improved view.)

Ed was designated the photographer of the day because he’s better at shooting than I am, and this was likely to be more difficult because the sanders were moving. So thanks to him, too, for the pictures.

This is the only event in Point Roberts that we have ever had to think about where would we park. Parking is never a problem here and it wasn’t a problem today, either, but we did have to drive around the block to get a place that wasn’t already parked in when you approached the store directly. Inside the ‘arena’ (which is to say the parking lot), there were maybe 250-300 people already eagerly cheering on the sanders. Also, the Fire Department was selling hot dogs.

By the end of the first set of races, a beautifully costumed belt sander named ‘Yellow Submarine” simply wiped out ‘The Grit Reaper’ and “Wall-E’ and a really funny cat with a mouse bouncing in front of its nose to win first place. Second went, surprisingly to ‘Rule Brittania,’ a very conservatively costumed sander with inflated balloons of red/white/blue, though the blue balloon was not inflated. Now, in my science education (which wasn’t actually all that good), I was more or less taught that if you put inflated balloons on a belt sander and then tried to race it against other belt sanders without inflated balloons, you would lose. And you would lose because the balloons would provide a drag/resistance on your race to the finish line. Although, my science teacher never actually mentioned belt sanders, but nevertheless. So maybe I learned the wrong science, or maybe science has changed, or maybe ‘Rule Brittania’ would have soared into first place at an amazing speed if only it had dropped the balloons.

This is the silliest racing competition I have ever seen. It gladdens my heart to see people taking competition a little less seriously than is the custom. But why don’t they also have a category for costumed sanders that don't race, but just stand and look very, very beautiful? Or maybe sand something delicately, while still looking very, very beautiful? Maybe next year.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

No Clicks Without Bricks

Today’s post is primarily from Shelly Albaum who explains what he meant when he told me that a web site would not be sufficient to create community communication because ‘no clicks without bricks.’

"The research shows that most people do not regularly visit very many websites. They have dozens or scores of bookmarks, and they could check them all regularly, and a few people do, but the vast majority have only a few well-traveled paths -- less than 10 sites visited weekly -- and people are resistant to change. For example, just knowing that a great website is out there, or a better search engine than Google is out there, has almost no impact on my actual behavior.

That's because I don't have a real problem with Google, and information overload is such a serious problem for most people that news of a new website isn't really all that welcome. Or at least it's not particularly good news.

So creating the website that has all the information about Point Roberts is critically important, and is a must-do, important step. However, 95% of your intended audience won't remember to go there, and thus they will not hear the news. RSS was supposed to solve this by pushing the information out to your customized Yahoo Portal Page or your iGoogle Page, or your iPod, or your cell phone, but that still doesn't reach most people.

In the physical world, we have many more well-worn paths and thus are way better at receiving serendipitous information from our peripheral vision. That's why the big sign at the main intersection is so helpful.

What you'd want ideally is a big comfortable public space with great seating, occasional entertainment, lots of displays and bulletin boards, great drinks, cheap food, and convenience services like photocopies, faxes, or whatever people need. This would be a meeting place that everyone would have occasion to visit daily, or at least regularly, and would encounter visual reminders of interesting things, and then they would check the website to find out more. In its most fully articulated version, this idea would actually bring blogs and web sites into the physical world with large screens and plenty of free browsing terminals.

This kind of thing would have a different personality in every town, but every town needs something like it. Almost no town has one, though, I think. The main thing is to create a common public meeting space that is analogous to and complementary of the virtual town square that is a web page."

The Point Roberts Community Center comes immediately to my mind. It isn’t what Shelly describes, but it is extraordinarily easy to imagine it being that. I can see where we are; I can see where we can end up; but I can’t at all see what are the steps in between. I suppose that’s why ‘almost no town has one.’ More to think on.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Institution-less in Gaza

And maybe eyeless as well. I got an email the other day from a sometime Point Roberts visitor and relative of locals who is putting up a new web site in hopes that it will help to address Point Roberts’ residents’difficulties in creating some kind of community voice both for dealing with the community and for all kinds of other purposes, as well. So, I’ve been thinking today, having witnessed some of that broken-ness yesterday at the 4th of July parade, about why Point Roberts is so fractured. Things work for awhile, and then--all too frequently--they suddenly fly apart. Maybe it's not 'too frequently' but inevitably.

There are all the obvious reasons for the fracturedness and fractiousness of the Point community: lots of full time residents who don’t actually live here full-time; more Canadians than Americans who own property, but more Americans than Canadians who can vote; the border (which could itself be reasons numbers one through ten); a substantial portion of community members who are retired and thus less concerned pragmatically about the issues that affect younger people (jobs/economy) and younger people with children (schools, recreation). When the old people want some recreation, they take a cruise.

Other reasons are possible, but I don’t have any data to confirm them. However (never to be stopped by the absence of data), I strongly suspect that there are a lot of people who came here just because it was a kind of outpost where they weren’t going to be put upon by other people and weren’t going to be badgered into being members of a community. Voting patterns here suggest a hardy band of libertarians and they are bound to come in conflict with that other resident group of former hippies who are happy to have everybody in the soup together.

There are plenty of reasons why community doesn’t really work here. But I think the biggest one may be that we are a community without community institutions. We have a community health clinic, and a community library, and a community center and a community church. None of those institutions is set up to in any way create a sense of community beyond their narrow focus. Kris and staff run a great little library; Virginia and staff run a much needed health clinic; the community center itself is just a building, really, for events that somebody else has to figure out. The church is as ecumenical as a Lutheran church can possibly be, but it has worked hard to broaden its reach without substantial success, although the new minister is working hard to bring more people into the church for non-religion-specific events. But there’s nothing else: the newspaper, once a month, just isn’t enough, or often enough, to provide that center point.

In a brief conversation with my son (a web publishing/internet maven) about the possibility of a website as a community institution, he replied cryptically to me, ‘No clicks without bricks. You need a pub.’ I’m looking forward to hearing more from him on the topic, but I have so far figured out that he’s saying a website won’t work if it doesn’t also have some kind of physical community presence. I’ve looked at a few previous local website attempts, and they certainly don’t seem to have generated that conversational focus on their web basis alone.

So, we need a pub; I don’t think he meant a bar, though, because there are plenty of those already. It hasn't helped.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Parading Around

Noon today saw the beginning of the however many year’s annual Point Roberts’ Fourth of July Parade. The sky was blue, the air was plenty warm enough, and a goodly crowd of people were settled on their portable chairs and the curbs and sidewalks over the maybe 5-block parade route (up Gulf Road and then right on Tyee to APA Road). Many kids mushing about, in eager anticipation of the candy that will be flung toward them by the parade participants. Their eagerness for that candy makes it seem as if this was the only day of the year that they were allowed to have candy, although we know that is not so.

The parade always begins with the Vancouver RCMP motorcycle drill team. But this year, it didn’t. The Chamber of Commerce, which sponsors the parade, has had the misfortune to misplace virtually all its members in recent months, making the parade and accompanying beach festivities something of a hard go. As a result, the lone remaining member cancelled the beach festivities and did the best possible with getting the parade to happen. So, it was a disappointment, but Heather is to be much praised for getting it to happen at all, I think. No parade would have been a real disappointment. Another thing to work on for next, year, I guess.

So, no RCMP carrying ons, no stilt walker, no music of any kind, no white dog parade, no decorated horses and riders. But, there were other things: the Fire Department with its treasured array of vehicles; bikers from the Red Hat group with umbrellas; a truly funny cadre of imprecision bicycle drill team members, in various and uncoordinated costumes; a tiny, tiny horse walked along by one of my quilting students who is, herself, not very tall; a man walking with a small sign opposing the war (we cheered him quite a bit to, I think, the consternation of our parade watching neighbors); a number of vintage cars from different vintages, with local people known to be local people riding, waving, throwing candy. The Shriners came down from Canada with their truck, but without either their organ music or their tiny cars or bikes, so we had a Canadian flag there, too. A few floats from the local businesses, throwing more candy, sporting more or fewer flags. Pictures here.

It was all right and an adequate celebratory parade. By comparison with other years, less. But that’s going to be true half the time, anyway. Thanks, Heather; and thanks to all the people who walked and rode and decorated. You made sure we had a Fourth of July Parade to remember in 2008. So much better than remembering 2008 as, well, the year we didn’t have a parade.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Cloth of the World


I’m not sure whether it’s an ordinary stage in late life, or the stage of finally facing up to all the stuff one has gathered up over the years, but whichever, I’ve gotten to that stage. For you, it may be shoes or clothes, but for me, it’s fabric for quilts. For years, I’ve been buying more than I needed, because I eventually would need it. But at this point, with about 10-15 average years left to me, there’s no chance I will ever use this all up. So, I’ve sort of decided to work on using it all up.

Part of that work has been roughly to assess what’s around. In that search, I came upon a nice group of relatively small amounts (less than a half-yard each) of ethnic fabrics, primarily from Africa, Indonesia, and India. The reason they’re in a drawer together is that they don’t blend well with American fabrics, but they do very nicely with each other. I took them all out, cut them up into pieces that would work in a traditional pattern called ‘square in a square,’ and when i had about 250 of them, I turned it all into a queen-sized quilt top. Now it has to be quilted, but because I am primarily a hand quilter of large quilts, that will take some time and, in any case, that is evening work.

So, in the daytime, I took all the pieces left over and sewed them together more or less randomly and finished up a second, though much smaller quilt, a nice size for putting over your lap on a cool fall day. Looking around, a month later, of course, I see no sign that anything has been used up, but I suppose one day I will look around and it will all be gone. That’s hope not a plan, I’m pretty sure, but I like to pretend it’s a plan.

What struck me about all these beautiful ethnic, hand-made fabrics (printed, painted, batiked, whatever, all show the sign of somebody’s hand) is that they represent something we no longer really have in the U.S.—hand-made fabrics that arise from local design traditions. I thought about calling this quilt ‘Third World Beauties,’ but it seemed somehow less than complimentary to refer to these countries' and their peoples’ work as ‘third world.’ Not like wonderful us in the first world. Well, it’s true, of course, these people are different. They know how to make marks of beauty on cloth and most of us in the West haven’t a clue how it’s done and certainly don’t have any local traditions to help us along in the process, nor, of course, any particular desire to do such laborious, time-consuming work even if we did know how.

U.S. fabric is beautifully designed, but it’s designed in the ‘modern’ way that leaves no room for the designer to leave her touch. The designer was a long way away from the American fabric that I use; American fabric is machine-made all the way. And it looks like it. Yards and yards of it pour out of a giant machine, every yard exactly like every other yard. The ethnic fabrics, not so much. They are strangely irregular, their designs surprising and beautifully irregular, simpler in a very compelling way that actually makes them more complex, whereas U.S. fabrics just appear complicated.

Some American quilters are reaching out to the spirit represented by these 'Third World' artisans, these artists, though, and are increasingly making quilts whose every piece of fabric has been designed and colored—painted, dyed, stamped, written upon, all the methods by which you can get marks and color on cloth—by their own hand. We would never think to call their work ‘ethnic’ because it does not come out of any cultural base, any ethnos, I guess. So we call it art, instead. But would we call their quilts ‘First World Beauties’?

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Partners, Please

Back in Point Roberts, I was suitably impressed by the speed with which we were hurried through the border station. It was almost as if they had finally decided that having a Nexus pass actually makes you a ‘trusted traveler,’ as they say in all their published materials, rather than just someone called a 'trusted traveler'; trusted enough to get to go through without a lot of questions about why you are here, e.g. ‘I live here,’ the routine answer. Not only was it fast but the border agent, one of several known for less than stellar cheerfulness, said ‘You’re welcome,’ when I offered my routine ‘Thank You,’ as he told us to go on through. I am forced to conclude that they finally hired some higher quality communication-education programs for them.

And then on to a newspaper filled with events of the past month that we didn’t much know about because you can’t know about them until the newspaper comes out on the first of the month and tells you about them. One other newspaper event also happened. The Bellingham Herald, which last month featured a very critical article about Point Roberts, an article that occasioned about thirty people to write very unkind comments in the on-line edition, turned out an extraordinarily welcome editorial on the topic of Point Roberts. (I wrote about that article on May 26, 'Volunteer Rules.')

‘Give them a break,’ was the essence of the editorial, titled ‘Pay attention to frustrated Point Roberts residents.’ (May 31, Bellingham Herald, B3). My favorite sentence is ‘Because of its unique geographic position. . . the Point has scores of unique problems and conditions.” Absolutely: that is exactly the point about the Point that, I think, we would like the government to understand. The problems are unique, and whether we get standard solutions or no solutions because the problem is unique is irrelevant because both make us fairly crazy.

At the moment, the recycling issue is boiling over again because the county is recommending that our trash collector (private) be decertified/lose his trash collecting license, because he can’t offer curb-side recycling. If he and his business go away, there won't be any trash or recycle collections, let alone trash and recycling handled exactly the way that some legislative entity thinks it should be done everywhere in the state. There aren't likely to be a line of people anxious to collect the trash and recycling of approximately 17% of the local households. We need to hang on to what we've got.

Listen up, Whatcom County! I think it’s important to admit, to make absolutely clear that we understand one thing: our problems aren’t more special than any other community’s problems; it is just that solutions that work most places probably won’t work here. Here’s the chance for you all to demonstrate your creativity, to demonstrate that government can work, can be responsive to local issues. And here’s a chance for the local residents to demonstrate their creativity, as well, by understanding that the standard response to slow government won’t work here either. Threats, whines, generalized complaints: we need something better, more imaginative than that kind of stuff. The County has to work on their end, but we need to work on ours, too.

Also, Whatcom County: Thanks for the financial support in purchasing Lily Point.