hydrangea blossoming

hydrangea blossoming
Hydrangea on the Edge of Blooming

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Fair Warning


Time for the State Fair. Perhaps that’s what we really need in Point Roberts, assuming we need something else. I was listening to Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion this morning and he was singing the praises not only of the actual Minnesota State Fair but also of his memories of that fair. I wonder if people ever have memories of fairs that they attended as adults? They seem, to me, to always be about being a child in that wonderful maze of events and animals and food. As an adult, I once read an essay by Calvin Trillin that advised me to eat as much as I possibly could when attending a state fair because none of the goods on offer would ever taste as good anywhere else. It was good advice, but not memorable advice, insofar as I don’t remember much of anything I ever ate at a state fair.

Garrison Keillor, however, would have different memories, perhaps. This morning, he was checking out blue ribbon corn relish and plum jam from the canning competition and, memorably, chocolate-covered bacon as well as macaroni and cheese on a stick. I’ve been to fairs in Minnesota and eaten deep fried curds and the like, but never MC on a stick. I’m sorry to have missed that. Not so sorry about the chocolate-covered bacon, though, but if I’d been there I would have tried it.

Still, it seems unlikely that we’ll ever have a fair here. Too small, too hard to get to, no organizing body. Also no animals crossing the border, willy nilly. So we will just have to do with the apple harvest as a stand-in. We have a bunch of apple trees. Pretty much everybody in Point Roberts has a bunch of apple trees. The early Icelandic settlers, I believe, are responsible for many of these apple orchards whose remnants, even now, are ripening on long abandoned properties. Our own apple trees were planted by someone else, not us, not Icelandic folks. They came with the house and without labels. One of them has three or four grafts, producing transparents, which ripen in August; what I think are Jonagolds, which ripen in early September; and a truly undistinguished variety of red delicious, which ripens some other time, or not at all. In addition, there are three other trees whose variety I have no clear ideas about. Two ripen in September—one might be some variety of golden delicious-- and the third in November and none of them is a spectacular apple, though they are certainly pretty enough and adequate for eating, given that they are above all fresh.

The Jonagolds are the really the most exquisite of apples. We missed the transparents--which are very fine cooking apples--this year because they started to ripen just as we left for B.C., so we left them to our neighbors and when we returned that part of the crop was finished. The Jonagolds are stepping up now and, last night, we had the first apple pie of the season. That is truly like going to the state fair and eating gastronomic splendors. We have had the pie both with and without ice cream, and either way it is toothsome, tart, sweet, spicy, crisp and crumbly, even though it is made with slightly under-ripe Jonagolds. They will be riper soon and more pies and tarts and eventually apple sauce will follow.

The first apple pie is the big treat: three or four pies after that, we begin to be inundated with apples and soon we are dumping them into our friends’ cider press, running them through an applesauce press by the bucket, and finally, at the end, when we are having dozens of apples a day, letting them just fall under the tree where they serve as delights for the slugs and sow bugs or are moved over into the compost.

Early fall in Point Roberts belongs to the apples; to be followed, in equal abundance, by plums and pears. What Eden this? No snakes in sight.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Longings

The folks at lilypoint.org have included among their other site features a survey about what we’d like to see in Point Roberts that isn’t currently here (doesn’t include ‘Gated Beach Club Development’ as one of the choices, I’m afraid). It’s hard to know what to make of any survey, even those with highly respected methodological designs, but a loose internet survey such as this? Who knows who is responding? Awhile back, some folks from the Point Roberts Community Association were designing a survey which included some similar questions, including (my favorite), ‘Was the survey taker interested in fine dining at Point Roberts?’ I mean, I suppose I’m interested in fine dining anywhere, including in my own dining room, but do I think that Point Roberts in general or the Community Association ought to be responding to that interest (we can scarcely call it a need)? Well hardly. Or that my days would longer or happier if it did?

So I don’t know why those kinds of questions come to peoples’ minds. They seem to me like the questions philosophers pose to college students: ‘If it snows in summer, would it be winter?’ Or, ‘If your mother were a bicycle, could you ride her?” If everyone would like, say, a movie theater in Point Roberts, could we go to the movies? Will everyone being interested in a movie theater’s appearance lead a movie chain to appear here? Or to some otherwise secret entrepreneur among our 1600 residents rising to the occasion of meeting our desires or vague interests? Unlikely.

But more than that, I am somewhat puzzled by the very idea of people even asking the question, ‘What does Point Roberts need?’ I would think that Point Roberts already has what it needs and if it doesn’t, why do people move here? With the expectation that their arrival will occasion the creation of answers to their unmet needs?

I grew up in a small Idaho town and I certainly thought that what it needed was to have me not living there, but I can’t imagine what it could have incorporated that would have made me want to stay. I lived most of my adult life in Los Angeles, which pretty much has everything one could think of, but the one thing it doesn’t have—rain—was not possible, even in the land of a million entrepreneurs per square mile. So, I left for the love of rain and greenery.

Here’s what the lilypoint.org website guys (who are much younger than me and this may be the answer to all my questions) suggest as possible Point Roberts’ current needs:

Pharmacy
Doctor's Office
Restaurants that Deliver (eg; Pizza)
A Bridge to Bellingham
Car & Passenger Ferry to Bellingham
Passenger Only Ferry to Bellingham
Movie Theater
Fast Food Chain
Trader Joe's
Farmer's Market
Sewer System

Alas, they do not offer the survey taker that answer most needed for all surveys: ‘None of the Above.’ The possibility that Point Roberts is fine just as it is, with all its quirks, its strange weather, its staggering limitations, and it’s beautiful location does not seem to be one of the choices.

But maybe this is all, really, just in the nature of humans or of Americans or of Westerners, or of people under the age of 70. Most of the people I know here think Point Roberts is a wonderful place: that’s why they are here. Nevertheless, that doesn’t stop them from thinking about how they could change it to make it a little more like where they came from. But if Point Roberts were an urban metropolis—with Trader Joe’s, fine dining, and movie theaters--would we live in an isolated, peninsular exclave of amazing beauty?

Friday, August 29, 2008

In a Nutshell

This week, it seemed like fall had come early. Since Sunday, it has been grey, very rainy, and unseasonably cold. Everyone with a wood stove is staring at the woodstove grumpily, thinking it is way too early to have to start having a fire. And then, most of us march outdoors to bring in some wood to start a fire because someone in the house keeps talking about how cold it is. But then, this afternoon, the rain and grey and cold disappeared and it was a summer afternoon again. This is life in a nutshell, here, as far as weather goes. Never quite what you expect or have in mind, even when it’s the same every year. Reliably, come April, say, I start to point out that it’s really pretty cold this spring. But that’s always true. This is a place with a long, cold spring. This is not, say, Pennsylvania.

Because it’s the end days of the month, the monthly paper is now in our mailbox, telling us what happened last month. I always think of September as the real beginning of the year because of school starting, even though I haven’t been in school or had anyone in the house who was in school for many a year. The September All Point Bulletin is pretty wonderful this year, looking more forward than backward as it should at the beginning of the year, and--another nutshell--contains what I suspect is a fine compendium of everything we’ll be obsessing about for the next twelve months, when we’re not obsessing about the weather.

Article after article reminds us of what we’re not through arguing about and what we’re just starting to argue about. There’s the cell phone tower that some folks are still fighting against, though they seem to be on the losing end of the fight. And there's the curbside recycling problem which is more of a draw at the moment but looks to have a lot of life left in the dispute. There’s an argument between the Parks Board and the Seniors Group over who gets some money that didn’t get spent for what it was allocated for, a dispute in its very initial phase. We’re revisiting the need to keep boats from chasing the orcas off the coastline of Point Roberts. The Voters’ Association is trying to become an active group again by collecting up-to-the-minute news on all the ‘hot button’ items that all the other groups are already arguing about. And, finally, the Taxpayers’/Property Owners’ Association is re-emerging from its semi-dormant state in order to oppose the fabulous Stanton Northwest ‘Beach Club’ development and its 100+ million dollar houses.

I can hardly wait for fall to start, all things considered. The ‘Beach Club’ development, I suspect, will generate the most energy. One speaker at the Voters’ Association commented that Stanton Northwest’s publicity brochures about this fabulous development indicated that Stanton Northwest doesn’t have a clue about what it’s like to live in Point Roberts. “Picturesque,’ says the brochure; ‘at once, convenient and isolated.’ Convenient to what, I can’t imagine. To the border, I guess.

It's too late to help them with their brochures, but what I’m thinking for a fall and winter plan is this: I get Stanton Northwest to hire me as someone who can meet with their clients to explain to them exactly what it’s like to live in Point Roberts, so that said clients will be able to give genuine informed consent to their million dollar purchases. I’ll start with telling them about the really long, cold spring, and then work up to the September All Point Bulletin. That effort alone ought to be enough to stop the ‘Beach Club’ in its tracks.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

No Shame

Two big border revelations this month. First one is that U.S. border agents now are entitled to remove your laptop computer from your hot little hands should you present yourself at the border with said laptop. And they may take it away from you for an indeterminate period of time, and forget about your Constitutional rights, I guess, because if you are presenting yourself to the U.S. border agents, you aren’t actually in the U.S., my friend. Furthermore, the 9th Circuit Appellate Court has agreed that this is a situation in which search does not require a warrant nor reasonable cause nor I guess any cause at all. You can read about this more fully here. Schneier, a security expert, also includes information about how to avoid having information on your laptop when you cross borders.

And the second? Well every border crossing now includes the creation of a permanent record of you making that crossing and your picture is attached to the record. Said record to be preserved by the government for fifteen years. Furthermore, it is not just the information obtained from your passport that is to be part of this record but any other information obtained during a secondary inspection. You can read about this part more fully here. Hard to know exactly who eventually will have access to such information.

The Congress, of course, has not authorized any of this, but then they haven’t yet been given the opportunity, I suppose. Inevitably, this offers enormous possibilities for irritating events here at the Point Roberts border where we make crossings so frequently. If nothing else, all of us Point Roberts’ residents’ back and forths to the laundromat and the thrift store and the grocery store will use up a lot of K’s of storage in the government’s data base, but I suppose we can learn to leave our laptops at home when going to those places. Don't say we weren't warned, because this is exactly what privacy advocates have been worried about with respect to new technologies for the past 30 years or more: that the government would simply have everything about us in its files, to be used for any purposes that it chooses. I know, they keep saying they’re doing it only to protect us from terrorists, but that ruse is getting a little old since they don’t seem to have shown much skill in catching any terrorists. And every day there seems to be some new story about misuse of data base information. I mean, think about all those medical records of celebrities being perused by interested staff at the UCLA Medical Center.

Some commenters have been surprised that Homeland Security has authorized both these significant lurches toward privacy invasion without any official authorization; other have been not surprised by the decision itself, but appalled by the fact that they don’t even bother to keep it a secret. No shame at all any more is the sorry conclusion.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Time Passes and Changes



Today, for the third month in a row, we were wait-listed for the ferry of our choice. It is a very discouraging moment when you find that you are the very first of 30+ cars filled with people not to get to drive on to the ferry, and then you get to watch it steam away without you, filled with some 250 other cars filled with people. Sittin’ on the dock of the bay, indeed.

But we put in our waiting time like grownups: Ed read and slept, I knit on a pair of purple socks and walked around to see the wonders of the ferry parking lot. Two plus hours later, on the next ferry, I continued my walking and came upon a sight of interest. This particular ferry, named The Queen of Surrey, was recently retrofitted or generally dusted and cleaned in some elaborate way by the B.C. Ferry Corporation. In the process, some things changed. The children’s area, which used to feature some playground-style plastic objects, now has a big wall TV that, at least today, was showing a cartoon with orange flowers. Coffee bars have appeared where there were before no coffee bars. And the Queen of Canada, Her Majesty Elizabeth Two has aged 30 years, at least. We have a new Queen Two picture on the ferry. A very different picture from the previous one.

I remember the old picture largely because Queen Two in that picture was so much younger than I know she actually is. She looked middle-aged and attractive, albeit still stodgy. I remember her when we were both children during WW II (Elizabeth and Margaret, the brave little princesses!) , so I know for a fact that she is closer to my age than she is to being middle-aged. I just took it as one of the perks of queendom that you get to look forever young, or at least sort of. So, I was surprised to see that with the Surrey’s cleanup, Queen Two was now looking her age. Stern, of course; no merry twinkle in this Elizabeth’s eye. World-worn, I’d say, though maybe only family-worn.

She was, however, regally dressed. A crown of course, and a necklace of many serious jewels: diamonds, I’d think from the lack of color and size; the Order of Canada prominently placed on the shoulder of a dress of lace with three-quarter length sleeves, slightly flared, and the edges of the sleeves themselves jeweled. She is wearing what appear to be 12-button white (kid?) gloves. Tres elegant! And then, and then, I saw…a fashion statement? The queen was wearing on her left wrist, over her 12-button white (kid?) gloves what appeared to be a watch with a platinum band.

It’s been a long time since I wore a pair of 12-button gloves; say 54 years. But I’m pretty sure that we were taught never to wear a watch on the outside of a long glove. Not ever, not even if you really needed to know the time. And why would Queen Two need to know the time? She has people who tell her the time. She was having her royal photo taken; that’s what time it was. So have standards changed? Have I lost track of what the standards really were? I think not.

I took myself, of course, immediately to the internet to determine glove etiquette. The Gaspar Glove Company enunciates the standards:

  • Don’t eat, drink or smoke with gloves on.
  • Don’t play cards with gloves on
  • Don’t apply makeup with gloves on.
  • Don’t wear jewelry over gloves, with the exception of bracelets.
  • Don’t make a habit of carrying your gloves—they should be considered an integral part of your costume.
  • Don’t wear short gloves to a very gala ball, court presentation or “White Tie” affair at the White House or in honor of a celebrity.

Rule number 4 is the relevant one here and surely a watch isn’t a bracelet, even if the watch has a very platinum watchband.

Well, what have we come to? One woman almost nominated to become President of the United States, and another woman who heads the British Monarchy wearing a watch over her 12-button gloves. Traditions being shattered everywhere I look.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Casting Off Chains

One of the things about living in an out of the way place like either Point Roberts or Roberts Creek is that you are oblivious of much that goes on the in world. I seldom experience traffic jams or daily newspapers or even traffic lights. I don’t know anything about the kinds of things that are advertised on billboards. Since I don’t have a TV, I largely don’t know anything about most of popular culture. The tabloids at the grocery store are filled with headlines about people I’ve almost never heard of except in those (repeated) headlines. I’ve never been clear about whether Paris Hilton actually does anything other than be Paris Hilton. I know who Regis used to be, but am not clear at all about who he is now or who is the Kathy who is so frequently attached to him. I remember Oprah largely from ‘The Color Purple,’ and although I know she has a TV show and an eponymous magazine, I have never seen the one or read the other. She changes size, I know from the tabloids. And I know she endorses and causes to be sold large numbers of books, mostly about victimized people who eventually triumph over adversity. I’ve learned, over the years, to avoid the ‘Oprah's Book Club'-labeled books. Not that I have anything against triumphing over adversity. I mean, are not many if not most of the great 19th Century novels—Dickens, Thackeray, Gaskill, even Trollope—about people triumphing over adversity? It’s more the whininess of the adversity part than the triumphing that I object to.

In any case, all these things, I am untouched by. But what I receive in full measure are the chain letters of wonders that circulate endlessly around the internet. Virtually every day someone somewhere, someone that I actually know, sends me some series of sayings, or pictures, or videos meant to amaze or amuse or educate. The internet seems to be a hot medium, in the McLuhan sense, because I find it hard not to look, at least a little, at these wonders as they unfold via my email screen. Only yesterday, I was being counselled that all the wonders of our world were intended by God to do honor to humans: walnuts, look just like brains, and good for thinking; grape bunches, the shape of a heart, and excellent for lowering excess blood pressure; celery, like bones, and a real contributor to preventing osteoporosis;oranges prevent breast cancer; olives, you can imagine; etc.

Today, Ed got a video of a carnival ride in Texas that combines bull fighting with an Octopus ride; by the end of the video, people had been flung off the octopus and were being chased by the bulls. Yesterday, he got a b&w video of an Italian uniformed motorcycle drill team that looked like its routines had been devised by Albert Speer or whoever choreographed all those military drills in Triumph of the Will (or maybe it was in Riefenstahl’s Olympic Games film from Nazi Germany).

Ed’s chain letter gifts from others are largely action videos; mine, more like art stuff. I’ve received numerous examples of toothpick art, of street painting, of peachpit carving, of painting on feathers (feathers, I might add, that were much more beautiful before they were painted on than afterwards). There seems no end to this stuff. Today, I was visited (for the third time this year) with the fabulous series of painted cats. When I first saw these, my reaction was, ‘Amazing!’ Most of my family tends to respond with ‘How could they do that to cats?’ Perhaps this is because I take it as a given that nobody does anything to cats that cats don’t choose to have done to them, but perhaps I just don’t take cats seriously enough. In any case, sometime after the second email visitation of the fabulous painted cats, I had occasion to track down the pictures to show to a grandchild. Imagine my surprise when Google offered me, high up, a link to Snopes and the painted cats . Turns out the painted cats are a stunning example of (and might as well be a brilliant advertisement for) Photoshop: a fraud, a hoax!

I like those cats, though. Even photoshopped, it seems like a very interesting idea. When I first saw them, I couldn’t imagine how they got the cats to submit to it, but I walked right into believing that it was the real deal. Now, of course, I don’t know about any of those other things. Carved peach pits? Maybe not. Spectacular sand sculptures? Dubious. Italian drill teams, octopus rides with bullfighting thrown in? All of unknown status. If I have to check with Snopes before I look at every one of these chains, I might at last find a way to keep from looking at them. Unchained, at last!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Political Steroids

Up here in Canada, the Liberals and the Progressive Conservatives (or whatever they’re currently called) are both threatening to make an election happen. So strange to have it not be a regular kind of thing. On the other hand, so wonderful to have it occur of a sudden with only a relatively few weeks allowed for the campaign. So unlike the current and dreadful election in the U.S, which seems to have been going on for most of my adult life.

This week is really one of the times I’m particularly grateful to have broken the TV habit. I actually do have a TV set in the Canada house, but I never think to turn it on to TV: it’s just there as a way to watch DVD’s. So, I am managing to miss both the Olympics and the Democratic Party Convention. Two of a kind: Did the U.S. win? Did the Chinese win? Do I care? I’m actually pretty enthusiastic when some Somali or Jamaican runner wipes everyone out. Just what the big nations deserve, I’d say. Bob Barr is looking interesting; even Ralph Nader is beginning to come in for some sympathy.

The Olympics, I guess is actually over now, but the Democrats are just beginning so I could give it a try yet. But, but, but…I imagine turning on, say, NBC (our basic cable does not offer CNN), and I can know only too well what I’d be seeing and it wouldn’t be Adlai Stevenson giving a smart, funny, and informative speech that made you understand what politics was about and why you ought to be paying attention to it. Instead, whoever is giving whatever speech will (on Monday afternoon) be far away in the background while some brag of pundits maunder on about the kinds of things that the rest of us quit thinking and talking about when we got out of high school.

Pundits! Did we used to have that word? Let alone have those tiresome people with their repetitive thought syndrome? Do they ever appear alone, or are they always in groups? What is their attraction and why do they breed so rapidly without having attraction? It will only be minutes before they start discussing what Hillary is wearing and whether it means Too Much Hillary or Not Enough Hillary. Or, I guess, because it’s Monday, they will be discussing what Michelle is wearing and what it really truly tells us about just how angry she is. I, myself, appear almost always in black slacks, black turtle neck, and red silk shirt, and if that tells you just how angry I am, then my message is getting across. I hope Michelle will be wearing black and red. She deserves to be angry for the way in which she is being trivialized by this process.

It seems to me that the political class (which includes the politicians, their managers, their hangers-on, the sycophantic press, the pollsters, the pundits, and lobbyists) has finally achieved what I would have thought impossible. They have turned me off politics. They can have it all to themselves, as far as I am concerned. Maybe that’s what they always wanted, of course. So, I’ll keep watching them if only from a greater and greater distance. Surely I won’t be watching their faux competitions, but I will be wondering why anyone else is.

Modern politics in the U.S. is a true rival for the Disneyland pageantry of the Olympics: if only there were rules about the use of steroids or the political equivalent thereof, we could have regular truth tests, or even brain cell testing, and thought specimens would be collected after every race. And then there would be hearings in Congress where last week’s winner could swear he only played by the rules, never took those political steroids. But we’d know better. They’re all on political steroids.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Barbarians

Just a brief post tonight. First, to send you to a new website, lilypoint.org, where you can read more about what is going to become a dominant topic in the life of Point Roberts: The Stanton Development. That, and a poem.

This is the kind of development that shows up everywhere. And those who are most affected but are not going to be making (or potentially making) money from it are likely to be very unhappy about it. Nevertheless, it is hard to stop developments of this kind if there is sufficient money behind them. Which is not to say that there is bribery or chicanery of any kind...just that money does tend to make the world go round when it comes to property development.

In addition, there is an element of NIMBYism about it all. If people need million dollar houses at the beach, they should go to some other beach. OUR beach is too precious for such living. Even though there are plenty of million dollar houses that have been built in the last decade on or in sight of our Boundary Bay or our Georgia Strait. Not a hundred, certainly, but maybe fifty. And if fifty, why not a hundred?

If they ask me, I'll vote no. But so far, I'm not at all sure that I could defend that position. It can't be enough just to say that I don't like it, don't think it is change for the better, or even to say that this will somehow destroy the environment when all that went before may have been equally dubious. More to learn as we go. And now for the poem:

Waiting for the Barbarians
By Constantine Cavafy (1864-1933), translated by Edmund Keeley

What are we waiting for, assembled in the forum?

The barbarians are due here today.

Why isn't anything happening in the senate?
Why do the senators sit there without legislating?

Because the barbarians are coming today.
What laws can the senators make now?
Once the barbarians are here, they'll do the legislating.

Why did our emperor get up so early,
and why is he sitting at the city's main gate
on his throne, in state, wearing the crown?

Because the barbarians are coming today
and the emperor is waiting to receive their leader.
He has even prepared a scroll to give him,
replete with titles, with imposing names.

Why have our two consuls and praetors come out today
wearing their embroidered, their scarlet togas?
Why have they put on bracelets with so many amethysts,
and rings sparkling with magnificent emeralds?
Why are they carrying elegant canes
beautifully worked in silver and gold?

Because the barbarians are coming today
and things like that dazzle the barbarians.

Why don't our distinguished orators come forward as usual
to make their speeches, say what they have to say?

Because the barbarians are coming today
and they're bored by rhetoric and public speaking.

Why this sudden restlessness, this confusion?
(How serious people's faces have become.)
Why are the streets and squares emptying so rapidly,
everyone going home so lost in thought?

Because night has fallen and the barbarians have not come.
And some who have just returned from the border say
there are no barbarians any longer.

And now, what's going to happen to us without barbarians?
They were, those people, a kind of solution.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Dark Futures

Point Roberts is such a puzzling phenomenon that it is hard not to think about alternative futures for it. My most frequent dark vision is that the U.S. government will apply the powers of eminent domain to the whole place and turn it into Guantanamo II: The Sequel. All those people on the watch list will need a place to be watched more closely, I imagine. Fahrenheit 451 comes to mind (and it is Ray Bradbury’s 88th birthday today. Happy Birthday, Ray!).

Today, however, I was contemplating what the Sunshine Coast has become with all the development that has gone on here in the past decade. And it occurred to me that ten years from now, that’s what Point Roberts could be like, too. The Stanton Properties development (that 100 residence ‘Beach Club’ I mentioned on August 8) could be the beginning. I hear there are plans for another big development on the golf course, and yet another one at the marina. Next thing you know, Point Roberts, too, will be having non-stop summer festival events, no available parking spots, and a need for traffic lights.

All that seems very unlikely to me, though. The difficulties of getting in and out of Point Roberts are really too great, at least right now, to make that kind of development very likely. If banks and other big lenders are going to exercise some much-advised real-estate lending restraint, it seems unlikely that they would rush to populate Point Roberts with more unsold houses, even if it is a beautiful place.

No, I have a new dark vision for the future of Point Roberts, partially inspired by the giddy press excitement about McCain and his many houses. I’m thinking this: one of those trillionaires that are floating around the new globalized world and investing heavily in the U.S. (because we no longer have any money of our own to invest in the U.S.) could breeze in any day now and with pocket change buy, first, The International Marketplace and all four service stations. After buying them, he could just close them down. Then T.J.’s and The Reef would come into his portfolio, and they, too, would go away, along with their clientele. The same with the hardware store, the liquor store, and the remaining handful of small tourist shops and eating places. Six months later, after a winter of the residents having to go somewhere else to obtain everything, the trillionaire’s agents would be knocking on doors, offering a pleasant price for every residential property.

Six months after that, the trillionaire would own all 4.9-square-miles of Point Roberts, now a lovely gated-estate protected on the north by the U.S. and Canadian border people, and on the other three sides by the U.S. Coast Guard. The billionaire and his many guests could come and go by helicopter, thereby never having to fool with that border nonsense. Ed says the whole thing could be achieved with well under a billion dollars.

About ten years ago, there were rumors that Bill Gates was going to buy a big piece of Point Roberts to put a Microsoft campus in. Didn’t happen, but surely there are other billionaires out there, looking for a nice vacation home to add to their housing collection. It would be an extraordinary and rare Northwest project, an exciting opportunity to get in not only from the ground up but from all the ground up, and perfect timing for the investor who wants to be not only the end user but also the only user. Excellent location, steps to the ocean, the sky, and another country.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Mine, All Mine

Another tourist festival here on the sometimes sunny Sunshine Coast. Rain welcomed the 5-day long, Gibson’s Landing Fibre Arts Festival, which has been an August feature in Gibsons for the past eight or so years. It includes classes, an exhibit, a merchant mall, a film evening, a reception evening, and a variety of demonstrations. It focuses on all the ordinary fibre arts (knitting, lacemaking, rug hooking, quilting, ornamental clothing, weaving, felting, crocheting, embroidery, paper-making, fabric jewelry, and wood-working, because wood, too, is a fibre, as the promotional materials inform us.

The exhibit is the part I’m mostly interested in, but it has a checkered record. The goal of the exhibit is to attract high-quality stuff from off the coast, but that has not been easy to achieve. There are no significant prizes, no significant publicity, and no significant ease for getting your work to and from the festival. It is a juried exhibit, but some years the jurying appears to be non-existent with plaintive letters going out to various fibre groups on the coast begging for submissions. Other years, the quality is very good. I’m just one of the tourists they’re attracting so I don’t know much about what’s behind it all, but this year, things took another turn downhill from my perspective.

The exhibit was excellent. I took my camera with me because I have lots of friends who would like to see what was on display, friends who don’t live on the Sunshine Coast, but who might try to get here if they saw the quality of the display. ‘No Photographs,’ I was told. ‘Copyright issues,’ was added vaguely, as if that explained everything, as if there were no such concept as ‘fair use.’ One of the attendants went on to explain that I, personally, could give the Festival permission to use a photograph of my quilt (I had one quilt in the exhibit), and that a professional photographer would take such picture. Hardly a response to my request, I thought. In any case, since I had just sold that quilt, I suppose the ‘copyright’ (whatever that might mean in this situation) would be going to the person who bought the quilt.

Intellectual property is what we were dealing with here. Thoughts, images, ideas: all mine, or all somebody’s, never to be touched, seen, thought, or even imagined without giving that unknown ‘ME’ credit or getting ME’s permission or providing ME with money. I heard that the festival had run into some difficulty earlier when they had used a photograph of a quilt from a previous year’s exhibit in their publicity materials. Apparently, the quilt was made from a copyrighted design (dear lord, you can copyright almost anything, including the simplest quilt design), and the brochure had not given credit to the copyright holder nor, I guess, had anyone asked the copyright holder's permission to use a photograph of a quilt made by somebody else in the festival’s brochure: I mean, why would they? TOO bizarre for me. I take a picture of a deer in someone’s yard. Does the image belong to the person who owns the front yard? Surely not. Maybe we should be getting the deer’s permission to take the photo in the first place, and then pay or give credit to the deer when I put the photo on my blog, in the second? Does the image belong to the deer? Have I captured its soul? Should Dorothea Lange’s estate have ensured payments to the woman whose photograph Lange made famous throughout the world?

I know there’s another side to all this, but I’m not persuaded much by that side, at least not when it's exercised in unreasonable ways. I’m happy to think that images (and information), as the phrasing goes, would like to be free. That’s what is destroying newspapers, I am assured, but it seems to me that newspapers, e.g., have done a very good job of destroying themselves by their mediocre display of journalism. I hope the Fibre Arts Festival doesn’t go the same route. Images are what is on view at an exhibit. Surely, the purpose of an image is to be seen?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Fewer Choices, More Order

I remember the how, back when I had a job, my world was largely organized by external forces. I drove to Orange on Monday to meet with a hospital group, went to the UCLA campus on Tuesday and Thursday to teach a class, attended a Bar Association meeting on Wednesday night, and so on. All events that were largely a function of others’ needs, availability or arrangements. I had a day planner; I looked at it all the time. Then, I would be off for a two-week vacation and when I came back, I couldn’t exactly remember how to do my job until the day planner told me what to do.

In retirement, the external world does very little to arrange your days (other than, say, raining when you were hoping to garden). In fact, the single most important skill of retirement may be in learning how to organize your day yourself. Even when you’ve learned to do it, however, something comes along now and then from the external world that interrupts that organization, something like family visits. After a while, the visitors leave and, although you never got the hang of a new schedule when they were here, you have now lost the old one as well. And unlike the days when you could look at that day planner and get it back, there is no longer anything to look at in order to inform one’s self about what you are supposed to be doing. Oh, the dishes always need to be done, there’s always some laundry and ironing and watering of plants, but I’m talking about a more purpose-driven sense of one’s day, one's life.

Quilting offers me my best hope, but even that doesn’t exactly work for me at the moment. Because much of the quilting that I do is of the ‘art quilt’ variety, I can't seem to just slide into it easily once I've put it aside for awhile. You can't just wait for inspiration, of course (that could be a long time coming), but you have to have some kind of starting place and I’m not finding it. So, today, I went backwards to the tradition of quilting, to lots of labor-intensive cutting of strips and squares and making of blocks, all of which will result in some version of a traditional quilt based upon one of the two basic quilting designs (the nine-patch and the log cabin: for this quilt, it's the nine-patch).


I have narrowed the task by limiting myself pretty much to two colors (different values of orange and of blue-green) and to two basic forms of 9-patch (a 5-4 checkerboard and a cross), and a symmetric arrangement of the blocks. That means the initial constraints of construction are considerable, although the arrangement of blocks has a lot of possibilities.

In the photo, there are about 100 five-inch square blocks, but nothing is sewn together or even in a final arrangement. I may move each piece somewhere else this evening or tomorrow morning to see whether some other arrangement is more appealing, thereby creating some different quilt. The cutting, the sewing, the ironing are all occupying my time and energy very nicely at the moment, filling my day and, because of the constraints, not leaving me with too many choices.

That’s the problem with having your day planner empty: the choices with which you could fill it when you have no schedule appear to be unlimited. Less choice, less choice: that is what we need. What more un-American sentence could there be?

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Signs of the Times

Signs are getting ever more peculiar, as if we were quickly losing touch with the English language and slowly moving into some other related language with a very different grammar. Today, at the super market here on the Sunshine Coast, I am told via a professionally-made sign at the entrance: “Please Use a Basket for Your Convenience.” Now, it seems to me that they may have provided baskets for my convenience, in which case the sign would say ‘Baskets provided for your convenience’ or even ‘Baskets happily provided for your convenience.’ Alternatively, perhaps they think I should be so considerate as to use a basket for their convenience (presumably to keep my purchases from falling out of my hands and onto their floor). Then the sign would say, ' Please use a basket for our convenience.' But in no case could I reasonably be thought to be pleasing them by using a basket which serves my convenience. I just have a hard time thinking of a bunch of grocery executives sitting around talking about how to get customers to recognize that using a basket serves the customers’ own convenience. ‘Maybe,’ says one well-mannered executive, ‘we just need to say, Please!?’


Not a mile away, I was greeted on the highway by a sign that said ‘Skilled Carpenter, Large or Small,” followed by a phone number. I’m thinking about the jobs that I would need a small skilled carpenter for as opposed to jobs that definitely require a large one. Or the jobs that really need a medium skilled carpenter, but then would a ‘medium skilled’ carpenter be medium sized or medium skilled? Hard to know. Although it may not matter, because they do not appear to have medium carpenters. In any case, too many choices are required to hire those carpenters, regardless of their size or degree of skill.

My favorite sign on the road home from the supermarket, however, is not ambiguous in anyway. Nevertheless, I have spent a good deal of time thinking about what it implies, if not what it specifically means. There is a modest house with a small, hand-painted sign mounted on a post next to the driveway. The sign says nothing more than ‘BISCOTTI.’ I think I can safely say that the sign means that someone in the house is making and selling biscotti to highway passersby. But what kind of business can this be that sells nothing more than biscotti to drivers?

Biscotti, it seems to me, is a pretty specialized baked item, largely associated with Starbucks and similar coffee places. You buy them WITH a cup of coffee. I like them, but on their own, they don’t seem like that much of a treat, at least not one that would merit the least bit of inconvenience. Would I be driving down the road on a cool morning or a hot one, a rainy day or a sunny day, and say, ‘Wow, I think I’ll just pull off the highway so I can pick up a biscotti to go with the cup of coffee that I just pulled off the highway to buy at Tim Horton's'? It just doesn’t seem likely.

And since the clientele levels seem small, how many biscotti would you have to have on hand as a responsible biscotti proprietor to ensure that the need was met? What would you do with the stale ones that didn’t sell? And would you have to have multiple kinds of biscotti for this small number of customers to choose from? And, although biscotti tend to be pricey, they’re not luxury items, so it’s not like you could make any kind of living from selling the occasional biscotti to the occasional driver who suddenly felt the need. It would seem that one might do much better selling fresh eggs.

But maybe the householder associated with the sign isn’t in it for the money; is instead a dedicated biscotti maker who just likes to make biscotti and doesn’t care whether anybody buys them or not but is willing to sell to the random customer since he/she is going to be making more biscotti than he/she can really use him/herself, anyway. I don’t know; it just seems an inexplicable business. It could be a narrower business: the sign could say ‘Almond Biscotti’, of course. But either way, I’m baffled by that sign.

It’s been there for several years. However, on my last couple of trips by, I didn’t spot the sign (although I was driving rather than riding so I might have missed it because I was actually looking at the road). But if it’s gone, I’ve missed my chance to buy a biscotti, of course, from the former proprietor and get all my questions answered. Maybe these biscotti were incredible. Maybe I’ve missed the best biscotti ever made. Maybe not. Most small businesses don’t turn out well because they’re under-capitalized. But I doubt if that would be true of the roadside biscotti business. If very little gained, at least very little ventured.

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Long Goodbye




The kids turn eighteen, they move out of the house, and you start saying the long good-bye. Which is to say, that you keep saying ‘goodbye’ to them, over and over, year after year. I suppose you keep saying ‘hello!’ too, but it’s the goodbye that stays in my mind. After five weeks of staying with us, our oldest granddaughter is leaving today to make her way back to her California home and then, a week later, to UC Berkeley to begin her freshman year in college.

She has done us an extraordinary favor coming to spend this time with us. When she was a baby, I used to take care of her one day or one afternoon a week, but when she turned one, her parents moved with her to the Midwest and we, eventually, moved to the Northwest. As a result, our visits with her and them have been regular but not frequent: that is, not frequent as in every week. We have watched her grow up largely from a distance, watched a bit here and a piece there, as is so common now as children not only move out, but leave for far away with the grandchildren in tow. I should be grateful, of course, that my children have at least stayed in the U.S. A friend’s three children each moved to a different continent. The difference of a time zone or two pales when you compare it with an entire continent away and even an international date line.

These five weeks have been filled with lots of activities (rock-climbing, kayaking, cooking—she learned to make ravioli and pie crust, for example), but also with lots of conversation, which is far and away the best part from my perspective. I was fearful, before she came, that she’d be expecting a kind of Disneyland vacation and, although I suppose it would be possible to provide it given the many possibilities of the Vancouver-Seattle nexus, we weren’t really planning to provide it. Fortunately, she seemed open to the possibilities of ‘meeting the grandparents.’ Ed and I do feel well met; and we think and feel that we have met her as she stands on this cusp between childhood and adulthood. Now we look forward to hearing from her as she progresses through Berkeley, even as we know that we are beginning that same long goodbye to her, as well as continuing the long goodbye to her dad.

Spending extended time with an eighteen-year-old inevitably makes you think about what it was like to be eighteen yourself. By that age, I was finishing my first year of college in Idaho, and I, too, was planning to go to UC Berkeley a year later (a goal I never reached, though). I am sure I was na├»ve, guileless, and unworldly, given that I had almost never left my small, Idaho hometown. And yet, looking back in my own memory, I don’t see the naivete, the guilelessness, the unwordliness that was doubtless there because I never knew about it; even in memory it has been as if varnished over with all that came later. A long goodbye to one’s self, as well, I guess. Turning eighteen looks less Janus-faced than I would have thought: not so much looking both backwards and forwards, but more a division between what went before and what will be a long process of becoming. Which serves to balance the parents' and grandparents' recognition of the beginning of that long goodbye.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Well-Crafted Work



This is the weekend of Sechelt's Hackett Park Craft Fair, sponsored by the Sunshine Coast Arts Council. We have been going to the Fair for as long as we have been here and have watched it grow and change, ever better in its presentation. There have been very few years when the weekend had rain or drizzle but as far as I can remember it has never been cancelled for bad weather and today was full-blue-sky. It is held in a park in Sechelt, is juried, and features maybe 60-70 different booths of many wonders. It has no food to speak of, unlike some craft fairs and any county or state fair in historical memory. In this way, it keeps its focus on the art of craft, which seems appropriate for something sponsored by an arts council as opposed to a good times council.

I did a quick Google on the history of craft fairs and came up with very little. Few of the individual craft fairs list their dates of origin, but those that do seem to come from the mid-70’s. I certainly remember no craft fair in Idaho in the early 50’s, or in upstate New York in the late 50’s, or in California in the early 60’s. I do know from personal experience that, as an aspect of the great hippy movement of the late 60’s and early 70’s involving dropping out, there was a sudden and new interest in craft of various sorts including beading, jewelry making, stained glass, decorative pieces generally, and hand-made clothing. I would guess that the first, albeit small, craft fair I ever saw was in the late 60’s in Los Angeles and involved those kinds of goods. In some ways, the 60’s craft fair seems to have been an outgrowth of head shops, those odd little places that sold marijuana paraphernalia.

Whatever their origins (and I imagine there was a history before the 60’s, but that it was an interrupted one), they are big deals nowadays. My visiting children had last week attended a big craft fair in Sebastopol, California, and now were here for the big craft fair in Sechelt, B.C. They were in a position to tell me that the crafts here in B.C. were superior in quality to the crafts there in CA, but that the food in CA was definitely vastly superior to that of the B.C. event. So, there is one piece of data, I guess.

Because the Sunshine Coast is increasingly about tourists, we have more than one craft fair each year but no more than one craft fair each week. Last week was Sechelt’s 5th Annual Arts and Craft event, not to be confused with this week’s even longer ago annual event. There are several more during the summer, and there are many of them in the fall and around Christmas. No shortage of crafts here. And, apparently, no shortage of customers for crafts or, I’d guess, they’d stop holding the fairs.

I wish (and this is a frequent wish about all kinds of phenomena) that I’d taken notes all along about the kinds of things that are sold at the Hackett Park Craft Fair so I could systematically trace the changes over time. I do know that there used to be several hat sellers and this year there were none; that there used to be a lot more sellers of clothing more generally than was the case this year; that potters are regulars but that each year they seem to be a different group of potters; and that jewelry sellers are always numerous. I think there were fewer wood workers in this year’s fair than has previously been the case, and I know that there were many more sellers of items that are intended as decorative features for gardens than ever before. So I would guess that we have now moved on from adorning ourselves (except for jewelry) to adorning our gardens.

This year’s Best of Show award (at least from my family) goes to Douglas Walker, who is from Black Creek, B.C. He is a former photographer who, in his 50’s, ended that career and went on to become a maker of metal/water sculptures. His metal sculptures are fountains, but they are made largely of recycled metal pieces, such as trombones or flutes, e.g. In some pieces, the pump actually moves a visible wheel that somehow then causes all the water to flow beautifully. These pieces are large (2 or 3 feet high at a minimum) and exquisite. They start at around $400, as I recall, and the largest one he had on display was $2,200. His web site shows many more of the fountains than he had in his booth and they are well worth seeing. Walker has been doing this work for only a few years and, he said, has been very successful so far. He manages to be one of the lucky few crafters whose work is not only endlessly interesting to the crafter him/herself, but is also so remarkable that the fair attenders are willing to pay substantial amounts for the pleasure of having his work in their own life.

The essence of a successful craft fair lies in its ability to show you something not only well-made, interesting and beautiful, but also surprising. Mr. Walker’s fountains certainly filled that bill for me. A very good day!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Ferry Commerce

Well, who would think that shopping on the ferry is a good idea? I think it is a very bad idea, and as a result I never buy anything on the ferry past the ferry ticket. It always amazes me that people pour onto the boat for a 45-minute ride and then immediately pour themselves even further, into the food concessions, looking as if they had spent much of the day just waiting for the moment when they could buy ferry food, most of which appears to come sealed in plastic wrap.

This last trip, however, all that changed for me. Arriving on a very hot day, I looked through my purse for a tube of chapstick which I always carry. However, because of a recent airplane trip to California, I had been required to remove the dangerous chapstick from my purse and had subsequently failed to restore it. So there I was, on a very hot day with very dry lips and no lip balm. I needed balm, so I went to the ferry store, knowing I would be overpaying for the object. Looked all round, could find no lip balm. Then, just as I was leaving, I saw a few tubes behind the cash register. The closest one to me was ‘Bert’s Bees' Lip Balm,’ so I took the package, knowing it was even more expensive, as a niche item. My reasoning was that since I was going to overpay anyway I might as well overpay for something allegedly worth overpaying. I gave the cashier a $10 bill and she gave me $3 and change. Awesome! That’s world class overpaying, I'd say.

Since, because of the trip to the ferry, I had not had my afternoon cup of coffee, I decided to blow the rest of the ten dollar bill on a cuppa.

‘Where are the short cups?’ I ask the cashier in the coffee bar.
‘Short?’ she replies. ‘What do you mean? You mean small?’
‘Well,’ I answer, ‘the sign says short, medium, tall, and grande.’
‘Really?’ she answers. ‘Well, the small ones are here.’

It is $1.89 for my very short cup, I’d guess under 8 ounces. Which means I’ve got a dollar yet to burn, but there is nothing on the ferry, I suspect, that costs only a dollar. I get my very short cup and fill it, inquiring as I pay where I might find the cream. A little old white-haired lady—even older than I am--comes up to the register as I leave, asking whether she can have a refill on her coffee. The cashier looks amazed that anyone would even ask such a question. ‘No,’ she replies with perfect equanimity and as if it were a decision made personally for (or against) this woman. ‘No, you cannot have a refill.’

The little old lady accompanies me to the cream/milk/cup-lid/napkin table and proceeds to fill her very short cup with cream. Aaaah! Ferry Corporation-1, Little Old Ladies-1.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Ferry, Ferry Bad

In the midst of a five-day heat streak, we shift ground to the Sunshine Coast, which trip includes a picturesque ferry ride on a picturesque ferry. It is picturesque, but I grow increasingly irritated with the fact of having to go anywhere via ferry.

When we moved here, the ferry was never a problem: there was lots of room for cars so you didn’t have to come way early, and you could buy and use discount ticket books easily. Nowadays, not easy at all, summer or winter. First of all, the traffic to the Sunshine Coast has increased dramatically but the number of ferry trips has increased very little. Second, the price of the ferry ticket has increased regularly and considerably and they no longer allow you to buy books of tickets at a discount. Instead, they have devised a system by which the ferry corporation sells you a debit card that must always have a value of at least $75.00. Which is to say, they always have the free use of $75.00 worth of your (and everyone else who uses the card’s) money.

When you use the debit card, they give you a receipt that is almost incomprehensible, stating as it does what they are charging you and what surcharges they are adding, and what discount you are getting for using the debit card, but nowhere stating what is the basis for these charges/credits. And then you get a second receipt that tells you the balance on your debit card after all that has happened, but does not tell you what was on your debit card before all that happened. Which means you have to keep track of it yourself with the receipts from last time. Isn't electronic information supposed to make things easier?

It’s not that it’s incomprehensible, actually. It’s just that you are in a long line of cars just before this transaction takes place. Then you are expected to drive away immediately without even having a chance to look at the receipt. By the time you get that chance, you are sailing away, far away from the place where that financial transaction took place. Regularly, when I talk about this with people I know who use the ferry, the conversation slides around to the topic of whether the ferry corporation is actually cheating us in some way during this transaction. That is remarkable, I think. I don’t know any other institution which automatically is thought to be cheating its customers in ordinary transactions. At least I don’t think it of any other institution. The ferry corporation, doubtless, thinks all of this is a step toward efficiency, but what it is, is a giant step toward distrust, as well as obscurity, which is to say the opposite of transparency. Where we cannot see, we are likely to think something nefarious is going on.

So now we have a ferry corporation that doesn’t provide good service and that we feel is cheating us. How good is that for PR? Up here on the coast, there is a feeling that ferry service ought to be treated as part of the highway system. The logic is strongly with that position, as far as I am concerned, although I could doubtless be easily out-argued by those who say, ‘Well you chose to go there, you know.”

The idea that we should all bear the consequences of our decisions is an interesting part of public policy discussions nowadays. Sometimes, it seems appropriate to me, mostly not, and that is because we seldom make decisions whose consequences we can understand. People decided to move to the Sunshine Coast. Were they supposed to know that in the future there would be a large population growth and that the ferry corporation would make no effort to respond proportionately to that? Should those who moved to the exclave that is Point Roberts (I love that word, exclave) have realized that an attack on the World Trade Center or some comparable building would lead to a very difficult border? Seems hard to make that case.

Certainly I never thought about/anticipated either of those things, but with the great wisdom of hindsight, I could conclude that, when contemplating a move, beware of isolated locations. Best to stay in New Orleans, say, or even Los Angeles. Who could blame the residents of those places if, say, there was a hurricane or a major earthquake that changed everything?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Up in the Air, Down on the Ground


Once Ed saw the photos of the project to photograph all of the California coastline and put them on the Web, he’s been thinking about doing the same for Point Roberts. Now that the Point is once again threatened by development, it seemed even more important to get that project done so there would be a record of what it looked like right now, not yet built out, not yet a destination, still a funny little exclave, 'a spit of land dangling below the 49th parallel from the mainland of British Columbia’ as the Seattle Times described it this past week. Still not that far away from a hundred years ago when settlement by Americans was first authorized.

The California project went on for a long time, of course, but so did the Point Roberts project what for one reason or another. The helicopter wasn’t available, the photographer wasn’t available, the right camera wasn’t at hand, the weather wasn’t cooperative. I was the reasonable photographer for this project (even though Ed’s a better photographer than I am), because Ed has to fly the helicopter. But I don’t like flying in helicopters because of the noise and because I just don’t (no reason needed, in my view). Furthermore, my digital camera doesn’t have image stabilization and any pictures I took in a moving helicopter would be of dubious quality.

So we needed to find someone who wanted to fly, was available to fly on short notice, and had a fancier digital camera than I did. And we needed the helicopter to be available. Last Thursday, everything came together at once because the adventurous 18-year-old granddaughter was here with her fancy camera at the same time that the helicopter was available and the weather was beautiful. And now the Point Roberts Coastline Project is up on the web for the world to see at ross-park.net/prcoast/

In some ways, these pictures show the reality of Point Roberts better than any words I could ever write. But in others, my words and Ed’s and Gianna’s pictures go together perfectly to illustrate The Whole Picture that I had in mind when I first started this blog, seven months ago. Enjoy!

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Mysterious Stranger


Some eight years ago, a good friend of Ed’s from his college days at Cal Tech washed up in Point Roberts. Ed had lost touch with the friend and his wife over the years (though he had been an usher at their wedding, as I recall). So, the friend didn’t know we were already living on the Point when he and his wife arrived. The fact of both of them being in this obscure, little place became known through an alumni magazine note. It is the kind of thing that would seem fake in a short story, but seems almost inevitable in actual life.

The couple were in the process of selling their house north of Seattle. A lovely house, as it turned out when we went there, with beautiful grounds...several acres worth. The property was being sold to developers and all the buildings and grounds and their contents would go away. They offered us rhododendrons and azaleas. The place was full of them, all very old and quite large. We visited the bushes a couple of times to do some pre-moving pruning over a period of six months, as I recall. And we talked a lot to border people at various levels in order to figure out exactly how moving 15-20 large bushes from the U.S. through Canada and back to the U.S. of Point Roberts would work.

It seemed, for the most part as if it wouldn’t work. We needed, in essence, passports for each bush. Said passports needed to have the exact name of the rhododendron/azalea and a certificate of its purity. These were old plants; nobody knew their names and getting them certified would be an expensive proposition: better to buy new ones up here.

And then, at almost the last minute, we discovered that it would be possible to get (that is to say, ‘pay for’) a ‘seal’ for the vehicle that carried the bushes so that, in essence, somebody promised that we wouldn’t drop any of these plants off in Canada on our way through. We weren’t, of course, interested in leaving them in Canada, so felt fine with this method. And it worked.

The first spring after we planted them, about half bloomed, and bloomed beautifully. So nice, so beautiful, so northwest spring. The bushes even came, as it happened, with a few small flowers at their bases: mostly scilla, a kind of bluebell like spring-flowering bulf. And one bush had a small flowering plant I’d never seen before. It looked a little like a dwarf cranesbill geranium, although it had leaves a little like feverfew, but more rounded. Very delicate, very pretty. A bonus to the grand rhododendron caper.

Fast forward to now, with the horror film music in the background. The little cranesbill-like plant is actually called herbe robert (in the French way), although it is also known as ‘stinky Pete,’ and ‘stink flower.’ Doubtless other similar names because it has an awful smell. But more than that (why should there even be anything more than that?), it is a truly invasive plant. From that one little plant, we now have thousands of such plants. And each plant produces a thousand new seeds every year in that wonderfully logarithmic way. This year, we had about ¼ -1/3 of all the planted areas smothered by the bonus herbe robert.

So that’s how I’ve spent my gardening summer: digging up the stink plant and smelling it all the while. It will doubtless be back next summer, but in lesser numbers because I’ve interrupted its cycle to some extent but, in taking it out, I’ve additionally removed all its remaining (though losing) competitors. (It had already driven out several natives that previously populated the areas.) But we can try to get the good guys back in time.

It certainly gives me a new appreciation for the concept of invasive plants. From so little, so much. Clearly, it’s better adapted to conditions here than the things that were growing and for that it gets an evolutionary blue ribbon. If it were the plant olympics, it would get the gold. On the other hand, I don’t want it. We’ll see whether evolution or I have the upper hand here. The bigger truth, though, is that nature abhors a vaccuum and nature isn’t going to let the barren ground stay bare. Either stink weed grows there or something else does. I’m pretty worried about what comes next. Will I one day be looking back fondly, longingly at my time with herbe robert?

Sunday, August 10, 2008

What's to Eat?


When you live in a government-gated exclave where egress is sufficiently burdensome to reduce one’s desires to cross the border unnecessarily, the issue of food is a big deal. Fortunately, the Canadians are interested not only in cheap U.S. gasoline, but also in cheap U.S. food: things that, in Canada, are priced higher because of government supports. It is highly unlikely that the International Market (above) would be interested in providing an extensive selection of food for the paltry 1300 or so Americans who are here year round. But, with the dollar weak and the gas prices relatively low, the Canadians help us along by ensuring that a big grocery store stays open. Talk about hands (and mouths) across the border!

Yesterday, a big summer weekend on the Point and a big summer shopping weekend at the International Market, all the check stands were operating by noon. There weren’t long lines at any of them and nobody was buying giant shopping carts filled with processed foods, but still it was a busy day and notable for that. I asked Rick, the produce guy who was checking, how business was. ‘Best ever,’ he said in his world-class taciturn but not unfriendly manner. (One of my regular tasks in life is to try to engage Rick in conversation, and yesterday was my very best day yet on that front. We discussed the pleasures of not having to arise early in the morning when retired--more of a pleasure for me, of course, than for him since he was at work at 8 a.m.)

Good business is good for us because that means that the International Market will be continuing to supply us with free range chicken and New Zealand apples and such produce and other fresh goods as we like. Half a dozen brands of ice cream, at a minimum, for example. Grapes, constantly. The B.C. Delta, which is minutes away from the Market grows a lot of produce, as does the farther away but still reachable Okanagan, which also grows summer fruits of exceptional quality. We rarely if ever get any of those, of course, because….well, I don’t exactly know why we don’t, but if you want those, you have to actually go over to Canada to buy them. NAFTA doesn’t seem to be working for us on that front. But it does mystify me why we can get grapes from Chile but can’t get cherries from the Okanagan.

I can make my peace with such limitations, of course. When I lived in Yap, in the South Pacific near the equator, in 1975-6, the only grocery store on the 25-square-mile island was not a worthy competitor to the average 7-11 in rural Nevada. I’m happy to have all that they offer here, and happy to have them continue to offer it even when the U.S. dollar is strong and the Canadians aren’t buying so much, as was the case for most of the past ten years.

Yesterday, the guy in line behind me (I was third, he was 4th) asked his wife, ‘Isn’t there an express lane?” I wondered whether he realized that for 8 or 9 months of the year, there is only one checkstand open most of the time and no line of people at all, and in the dead of winter, I am often the only person in the entire store other than the employees. The produce and bread isn’t always as varied or as fresh as one might wish, but at least I have no longings for an express lane. It’s nice to be satisfied with what’s on offer.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Parties of August



Today dawned grey and cold, the rain coming down strongly at 9 a.m. By eleven, the rain had lessened somewhat, but the clouds looked pretty solid. Unfortunately, 11 a.m. was the opening time for this year’s 100th Anniversary Heritage Picnic, to be held at Lighthouse Park (where there is no lighthouse). This is an annual event, but this year was to be quite special because of it being the 100th anniversary. The plan was to replicate to some extent the 1908 picnic and, I assume, somebody had some kind of record, doubtless including photographs, so they knew something about what was to be replicated. There were to be games typical of the period (a potato-spoon race, for example), and a pie contest and a quilt contest. The contests were to have prizes typical of the period, as well. And, a reenactment of the actual picnic entrance with appropriate costumes.

The rain wasn’t that heavy by 11, so I assumed that they would either move the picnic indoors to the Community Center or just endure at Lighthouse Park. Because the rain had actually stopped and blue skies were visible behind the puffy white clouds, I drove down there around 12:30, only to find the sign above at the parking lot. Alas, all those plans in vain. And I don’t think if you have a 100th Anniversary Event that you can just hold it next week instead. Muich work gone down the drain.

We tend to have lots of events in July and August in Point Roberts because those are the only months of the year that you have a pretty good chance of not getting rained out. In the past eight days, we’ve had two days of art and music festival, one day of art meandering and now almost a day of heritage picnicking. A friend commented that the schedule here was beginning to resemble the schedule at her father’s assisted living facility. Maybe too much. And especially if we are going to get rain.

A few years back, a friend’s daughter was married on the summer solstice and the party that accompanied the wedding was just spectacular. The older houses here on the point are mostly fairly small so a big party requires that it be an outside event. This one had 60 or so people wandering around among the trees, musicians playing in the garden, a pot luck dinner eaten on paper plates while sitting on the ground. It was about the most beautiful party I’d ever been too.

I’m not much of a social type, not inclined to be giving parties just for the sake of it, but so memorable was that wedding that I threw all caution to the winds. This would never have happened to me in Los Angeles, I think, because I wouldn’t for a moment think that a party was astoundingly lovely because of the weather and the setting. L.A. as a setting is mediocre in my view, and the weather is frequently terrific, so no surprise there. But here in the Northwest, the weather is rarely lovely, although the light is almost always beautiful, and the setting is drop-dead gorgeous. To get both parts together on one day, a day with the longest day of the year, well....even I couldn’t resist it.

Because no one we knew needed a wedding party, I decided we would just have a solstice party. We engaged a small string group, we arranged for drinks and food, we invited all our friends and acquaintances. And then it rained. Hard. All day long. By mid-day, I had to face up to the fact that no party was going to happen and so emails and phone calls engaged me as I cancelled everything. Such a disappointment. I should have known better: it was June, after all, not even late July or August. June is an entirely unreliable month.

And now, August has turned out to be unreliable as well. To all those who spent so much time planning and hoping for today’s event: I’m truly sorry for your troubles. And I know how you feel. I do hope that, unlike me, you are not discouraged from ever trying again, though.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Storm Developing


Some years ago in Point Roberts, there were plans for a big golf course on the bluffs at the south eastern end of the peninsula. Several hundred acres were to be involved and I think there were also to be houses along the fairways. This was back before 9/11, I am pretty sure; back when we first came here. But the plan for this all fell apart for some reason. Later, a different 18-hole golf course was built up on the northwest side of the peninsula and, I suppose, everyone breathed a sigh of relief because surely we wouldn’t have two golf courses inflicted upon us. That completed golf course had its problems: it immediately adjoined the heron rookery, one of the largest on the West Coast. A lot of negotiation resulted in a special building schedule to keep the developers from irritating the herons during the nesting season. The developers followed the rules, but within two years of completion, the herons up and left anyway. Not actual partners to the negotiation, they were apparently irritated by some other part of the deal. So now we have the golf course but we don’t have the rookery. Unintended, if foreseeable, consequences.

The original golf course planned property, however, remains an issue. There are three pieces of it (roughly 100 acres each, I think): the first part is Lily Point, which is now a public park area. The second part appears to be the subject of negotiations for an additional park area, with big conservation groups actively involved. So things look good for maintaining those areas.

The third area, however, is more of a problem. There is now a plan before the county to create a gated community on that 100 acres: a private and gated “Beach Club,’ with about 100 residences, a ‘community center’ (in quotes because, of course, it wouldn’t be a center for the Point Roberts’ community, just for their community), and a swimming pool, and presumably an enormous amount of traffic increase down that narrow road that would bring those 100 families into town should they ever want to drop in to see how the other 95% lives. Emails have been flying about locally on this issue and clearly the air is growing thick with unhappiness.

Development rarely draws a lot of ‘Hurrahs!’ from local residents anywhere but, in the case of Point Roberts, everyone who lives here is a local resident with respect to any development that is planned. This development—unlike anything here on the Point--will, of course, be made possible by those recently discovered water connections (see July 30, 2008 post, below, ‘Mistake Were Made’). It’s not a done deal, of course. We are in a pretty bad time for selling a hundred high-end houses in a gated community inside another gated community and where access to the ROTUS is difficult at most times. It’s going to be a hard selling campaign: I mean it’s a Beach Club, but they’re high on the bluffs, way above the water: it’s more of an ‘Ocean View Club,’ at best. Nor will they be docking their boats at the bottom and thus never having to deal with the border for ingress and egress.

I don’t think it’s a project I’d be willing to invest in, but if nothing else, the past five or ten years have shown us that people are willing to sign bizarre pieces of paper if, thereby, they think they’re going to make money. The storm approaches.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Good Manners

This past week, we have crossed the border in the not-Nexus lane a number of times because of having children and grandchildren visiting who don’t have Nexus cards. What that means in practice is that you have to go through the lanes with lines. We have them fly into Vancouver rather than Seattle because that eliminates having to go through the extremely long lines at the main border crossing. (It is in this that I most experience knowing how the actual rich live: when you pay more just to avoid some inconvenience that irritates you but isn’t of any real importance. Specifically, a plane fare to Vancouver is maybe $100 more than to Seattle, and I’m willing to pay the $100 extra (or, apparently, have others pay it) to avoid having to sit in that long border lane. I don’t find this particularly admirable in me, but at least I am aware of what I am doing, which is the only consolation I get out of it other than, of course, not having to sit in that long line.)

In any case, we have gotten to spend more time in the border lines than usual and, happily, the border agents in each of these interchanges have been notably pleasant and non-intrusive. They have asked reasonable questions and have said things like, ‘thanks,’ and ‘have a good day.’ It is amazing what a difference that kind of thing makes to the person who lacks power in the exchange. I'm not thinking about inviting them home to dinner, but I'm also not thinking that they are planning to cause me harm.

It does seem to me that the government ought to figure out where citizens have the most contact with the government and then make absolutely sure that, at those frequent contact points, good feelings, civility, manners—all that kind of stuff—are emphasized. Even when the interchange is not what one might want or have expected, it need not be done punitively. That probably isn’t going to be a useful plan in the prison system, say, but at the border, at the Department of Motor Vehicles, at the Post Office: civility is critical. They like to call it professionalism, but my grandmother would say good manners.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Swing Time

For the past several days, we’ve been learning West Coast Swing dancing, compliments of the 18-year-old. She’s off to Berkeley shortly where she is hoping to really learn how to do it and to find someone to really dance with. But in the meantime, there’s Ed and me. And there’s YouTube. She calls up some videos showing people doing it. Then she calls up some instruction videos, same source. And we watch intently on our fairly big, flat screen monitor. It’s 1, 2, 3 4, 5&6. Or something like that.

We try singly, then partner up, then back to singles. And we sort of get it. And then we lose it. We give up on the YouTube videos and try to find some music in our own CD collection, since the YouTube videos are fairly short in length. Maybe Abba? No, too, too, too fast. Maybe Manhattan Transfer? Should work but doesn’t. Maybe I’ll just sing ‘42nd Street’? No one waxes enthusiastic about that attempt. It turns out that we have only singing music, and no dancing music in our CD collection.

Finally, we borrow a Fred Astaire CD from a quilting friend and we discover that ‘Swonderful’ works perfectly. Eventually, near exhaustion, I go to bed, only to find myself lying there, moving my feet in that 1,2,3 and 4,5&6 pattern. Do I have the triplet right? If I do, why am I ending up on my right foot, which I need for the next 1? Can’t sleep, can’t dance.

I’ve never been much of a dancer. My older brother taught me to jitterbug in the early 50’s, but I was never sure he knew how to do it, so didn’t trust that I was actually learning anything useful. When I was in high school, maybe 14 or 15, I went to an LDS Stake House dance and danced with an 18-year-old who obligingly told me I was a terrible dancer and didn’t follow. That probably sealed my doom.

The sixties worked pretty well for me because during that time we just gave up on the idea of partners who do the same thing but in reverse. I can move my feet to the music; I can keep the time and even feel it as I move. But I don’t get the idea that we all have to be doing the same thing at the same time. I like doing my own steps, my own way. Which may be true in more ways than dancing.

Nevertheless, there we are, dancing to YouTube, learning the steps that I will sooner or later refuse to follow. Ed and I and the granddaughter are all in giggles by the time the first evening of dance lessons is over. Ed and I couldn’t be more pleased to be doing this with her, couldn’t be more surprised to be doing this at all. We tend to think about what we can do for the grandchildren, and here is a grandchild doing something for us, instead. Even if I never do West Coast Swing dancing again, we’ll always have this week in August. Which is at least as good as always having Paris.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Sedentary Art

Today, B.C. Day, marks the 150th anniversary of British Columbia. Considerable fireworks last night, followed by a very hot day that provided much beach celebration. Also, this is the Monday of the Art Meander (previously called the Art Walk, but people got a lot slower, I guess). Last year, it was organized by one of the local glass workers (there are a higher percentage of artists in Point Roberts than in most places, I suspect). This year, the glass worker who did such a good job of publicity and enthusiasm generating was elsewhere, so this year’s Meander seemed to have a smaller turnout. Could this possibly be caused by global warming? Or election fatigue? Or the fact that the temperature in mild P.R. was about 85 degrees?

The Point Roberts Quilters--a hardy group of about 11--take part in this escapade. The idea is that the local artists/artisans set up shop somewhere (in their own studios or in available public spaces) and do their thing while the local non-artists/artisans walk around and look at what the artists do. It’s a kind of artist/artisan zoo experience. But, it has the added feature of allowing the spectators to do some art zoo things themselves. So each place has some activity that kids and adults can participate in. Down at the Maple Studio, people were painting rocks in aboriginal dot painting formats; at The Blue Heron, they made artists’ trading cards, which can be traded at a later date. The quilters provided lots of fabric and lots of scissors and glues so that people could do fabric collage.

It surprises me how enthusiastic people get about doing this kind of thing. It is as if no one but the artists/artisans were allowed to have paints or markers or glue or fabric scraps. Of course, the explanation is that few people think to include in their schedule that kind of laid-back activity, and many adults would be hesitant to put themselves in that position because, as they are always telling me at shows and exhibits: ‘You’re so creative; I’m not like that at all.’ I always want to pummel them with timbits when they say that. Because it’s all untrue. Creativity is largely a matter of focus and on having a problem. You find a problem (or a problem finds you), you focus on it, you find a solution that wasn’t in your mind before. That’s creativity.

Sometimes the problem is ‘How can I pay my kid’s college tuition?’ Sometimes, it’s ‘What can we have for dinner tonight that I haven’t cooked ninety times already?’ And sometimes the question is ‘How can I make a really leafy-looking tree using this green fabric that’s in my hand?’ The willingness to focus on the problem and think up an answer is all creativity. If you are lucky, somebody else gets to see and to appreciate the results of your creativity. And having our quilts at the Art Meander is one of those lucky parts.

We quilters set up shop with 20 or 30 quilts around and the quilters themselves working on projects. I took my 11-year-old granddaughter and taught her how to make crazy quilt squares: she was my project. And people came by to look and to talk with us.

Some people looked quickly at the quilts and moved on and out as if they had just checked us off some list. Others looked long and if they did, one of us would go over to them and tell them something about the piece they were looking at. They have terrific questions, reminding me how little people know about the process of quilting. Everyone knows the objects, but that knowledge is pretty much limited to straightforward traditional bed quilts. It’s fun to see their eyes opened to things beyond that, and I am very grateful that I had the opportunity to talk with them this afternoon, as we meandered around the room together while the art stayed very, very still.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

CDR from the CBP

Customs and Border Protection, the sterling office of Homeland Security keeping us safe and/or keeping us irritated, announced recently its new program to improve ‘professionalism’ of staff. According to the public information officer down at the Blaine crossing (Peace Arch), the CBP (what do you think that acronym really stands for?) is ‘in the middle of a reinvigorated professionalism training process.’ No more discount charm school consultants, I’d guess. They’re making promises of all sorts, including to treat us all ‘with courtesy, dignity and respect.’ I wonder whether that means I can have my middle name back or whether ‘courtesy, dignity and respect’ is provided only as a last resort, which is to say after all else has failed.

You can see that I’m still pretty irritated about having my real middle name (my maiden name) lopped off by a border agent because his view of the law is that my birth-certificate middle name is ‘my legal middle name.’ No sign that he was a lawyer, so perhaps I should be filing a citizen’s complaint against border agent Sean for practicing law without a license.

Well, I wish them well in their professionalism quest, but I’ve seen these aspirations before with real professionals. That is to say, doctors, lawyers, and teachers. And I was never very impressed with their level of achievement, so it seems unlikely that the CBP would do any better, given that they don’t even have the hallmarks of professionalism (self-regulation, codes of ethics, etc.).

But the effort at Peace Arch may need to be transferred to some other border stations, anyway. To see how it’s going on the border crossing north of Detroit, go here. Yikes! A dramatic increase in potential for losing our Nexus cards, I’d say. Here is a link to the news that the CBP has been given new powers to seize things of ours. I don't know what happened to things like reasonable cause for search and all that. Part of the Constitution we didn't need?

Which reminds me, have I confirmed with CBP that I haven’t moved anywhere? No, I haven’t. But a friend who checked with the Nexus people down at Peace Arch reported to me that those CBP were of the opinion that we didn’t have to confirm that our address was the same; rather, we had to tell them if our address was NOT the same. So, exactly why did the CBP hand out all those flyers telling us otherwise? More courtesy, dignity, and respect, I guess. CDR from the CBP; or something.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Celebration of a Sort



This weekend is Point Roberts’ traditional International Arts and Music Festival, a phenomenon that is organized by three or four people in the community every year. It can only be a phenomenal amount of work to get a couple of dozen vendors, food sellers, and musical groups to come down here or up here, as the case may be, and do their thing, such as it is, to the limited audience of Point Roberts.

We went over to Lighthouse Park, the park with no lighthouse, this afternoon to watch a couple of groups, including a sorority of belly dancers, and to see what food and craft were on offer. Lighthouse Park normally is a series of small buildings and boardwalks on the beach that house, most memorably, an Orca Center. But today, there were tents and sound systems and a filled parking lot in addition. And a respectable crowd of visitors, but not an overwhelming one.

The grandchildren, who come from bigger places than this, were underwhelmed, but one takes what one can get here if you, as taker, are a resident. For anyone to come here from outside to work, whether selling hammocks or a group’s latest CD, requires that anyone to cross the border at least once and, in the case of U.S. residents, twice on their way up, and to do it again on their way back down (or up, depending upon which way they are going). And to do it in the heart of summer when the lines at the border are at their very longest. And no going in the fast Nexus lane because you can’t be in the Nexus lane and have items related to your work. That is, no business materials. And if you are Canadian, I am not at all sure how you come down here to sell your goods or your time (if you are a performer), but I would bet a lot that it involves more than just mentioning to the border guards that ‘you’ve got a gig in Point Roberts.’

So it amazes me that the organizers can get anyone at all to make the effort to entertain us at such an event. But it is probably the case that those who are willing to make the effort didn’t have a significantly better offer. Nonetheless, we appreciate the effort. Like the Fourth of July parade this year, better this festival than no festival.

I walked by one lady who was watching the belly dancers cavort while herself knitting a tweed wool sweater. Dozens of little girls crowded the boardwalk stage to take digital pictures of the belly dancers. What will they do with those pictures? A ton of shaved ice, at least, made its way down the gullets of young and old alike, festooned with syrups of colors that don’t even vaguely resemble anything seen in nature. It is hard to imagine exactly what we were celebrating, but perhaps just a sunny day in August.