hydrangea blossoming

hydrangea blossoming
Hydrangea on the Edge of Blooming

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Protecting the Land

According to the Lily Point website, Stanton Northwest has done some initial work on the property that abuts the Lily Point Reserve/Park in Point Roberts, including cutting down trees and brush. I suppose once you own property, you can pretty much do whatever pruning and trimming and mowing you want to do, even if it is, in fact, some kind of site preparation for a project for which you don’t yet have approval. Of course, if that site work includes taking down trees that are eagle nest habitat, that is a different matter. I can imagine that for lots of people, the idea that a developer would be restricted from developing land he/she owned because it would inconvenience local bald eagles is an outrage or at least news. But whether it’s an outrage or not, it’s a law.

Some years back, when we were building a smallish outbuilding on our property so that I could have some space in which to quilt, we went down to Bellingham to get permits for the building. I’d never been involved in that particular kind of citizen/government exchange and was both interested and puzzled by the nature of the process. I can certainly understand, after that several hour activity, why people get so angry about bureaucrats, but the thing that most surprised me was the eagle issue. We went through person after person getting okays for various aspects of the project (keep in mind that the permit was for a 24x12 ft. structure without water/plumbing) and, at the very end, we were interviewed by the eagle person. She looked up on a map and determined that we were within the area of an active eagle nest which, she said, could change everything. The tree with nest wasn’t on our property, and in any case we weren’t proposing to cut down any trees. But it turns out that if you are planning to build anything that is within the area of an active eagle nest, there are additional regulations, including specific times of the year in which you may not build. This all happened some years ago and I can’t recall the specific months (in the spring, though), but it surely surprised me to find that that was the last approval we needed. After all, if we’d actually had an eagle nest on the property, the rules would have been even more stringent. Since it would have been a deal breaker, I would have thought they’d check that issue out first.

Anyway, I have some minor experience with eagle rules and can well imagine that there are people not too impressed with the idea that eagles would take preference over their own plans. The people at lilypoint.org say they have evidence that trees with eagle nests have been cut down, which would definitely be a violation of the law. They have a new video on their site to accompany that claim. I don’t have any independent evidence, but trees come down all the time on the Point, and not always from natural causes.

I still have trouble believing that a company with a relatively small repertoire of finished work is going to be able to find financial backing for a Point Roberts project that involves as many as one hundred homes in the million dollar range in these times of difficult credit and a dead housing market. Indeed, if they had such funding, I’d want to know the name of the bank that’s providing it so I could be sure I didn’t have any investments/accounts in that bank. This development may not be realized. But it would indeed be sad if in that process of not happening, the terrain of the land were irreparably destroyed by a lot of clearing and deforesting.

Does the County know or care? I guess we’ll find out. On October 11 (10 a.m.), the P.R. Taxpayers Association will be holding a meeting at the Community Center about the Stanton Northwest development proposal and the County’s zoning views. Everyone welcome to attend, I’m told.

10/1/08, Follow-up: A friend points out that the bald eagle is no longer on the endangered species act (as of June, 2007). However, there are still many federal and state laws that deal with eagles and eagle habitat. The most recent (February '08) information on Washington law is here.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Be Prepared

So many things to be prepared for. Girl Scouts didn’t really fully equip me for either economic depression or community disaster, so I’ll just hope that the Boy Scouts among us are better situated for life as it continues to surprise us. Listening to the bailout bill go down this morning in the House, I thought about how we sat around and listened, moment by moment that time when the news came from Texas, almost 45 years ago, now. A different kind of unbelievable moment, but just about as unbelievable. I used to work for the House of Representatives—in the 60’s—and one thing I learned from that period was how organized the House really was. People knew what was happening before it happened; there were no surprises. The whip knew how to count votes, and when something had to get done, it got done. Not so much anymore. Be prepared for almost anything, is my new watchword.

And continuing in that vein: someone wrote me today asking whether Point Roberts had a plan of preparedness for unexpected events. I’m not entirely sure that it’s right to say it has a plan, but it certainly has a group of people who are working on a plan: Point Roberts Emergency Preparedness, PREP. PREP has already arranged for special disaster preparedness training for some residents, has set up a hotline and a website, and is currently working on a residency database to establish who is likely to need what kind of help in the event of a community emergency. PREP meets the first Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m. in the Community Center, and everyone is welcome to attend, to get involved, to be prepared!

PREP’s main point is that, in the event of a real emergency (earthquake is surely the most likely, in my view), Point Roberts could be cut off and would need to provide its own help for some time. Even if the landbridge to Canada was unaffected, the Canadians might have some priorities ahead of us. According to the group’s information sheet, PREP thinks ‘we need to be prepared to go it alone for up to 3 weeks following a disaster.’

If you are not inclined to go to meetings, try this: Washington state has put out several informational packets, including a 44-page Emergency Resource Guide, as well as a quick little ‘Home Preparedness’ guide, and a ‘task of the month’ guide. I picked up copies at the post office, but they are also available at the Aydon Wellness Clinic. We went through the big L.A. earthquake in the 90’s and thus are somewhat more sensitive than many people may be to what can happen to a house in a big earthquake. When we moved up here, we were astonished to find that the house we bought had no structural earthquake protection: in the event of a big quake, it would have simply jumped right off the foundation. So one of our first ‘maintenance’ tasks was to get it bolted down. Neighbors we talked to were astonished: never heard of such a thing. I hope they never have to hear of it again, but I feel the better for knowing about it and knowing that it is done.

A Point Robert’s friend who also came from L.A. understands in a different context what happens in a significant earthquake. She has a large pottery collection and has been very careful about securing the contents of her cupboards. I’ve not done much about that because in the L.A. quake, nothing in my cupboards broke, although an apple pie I had made the night before did bounce off the counter and the glass pie pan broke, rendering the pie inedible, alas. So now, when I make a pie and leave the remains on the counter at night, I wonder whether it will be there in the morning for me. How's that for learning? We learn from our experience, but it would perhaps be better to augment that experience with others’ experiences as well as the information that is being made available to us. So get it, read it, do something about it. At least if you live in Point Roberts. If you live somewhere else, your mileage may vary.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Vocabulary Lesson

If nothing else good can be said about the crises of our time, they at least give us new vocabulary words. For example, today it was reported that the infamous $700 billion for the Wall Street Bailout will not be presented all at once to the Bailout Czar. Instead, it will come in tranches. Barney Frank felt confidence in saying that not because it is true, although it may be, but because this past week we have, if we have been paying attention to national news of high finance, learned all about tranches: it is our new vocabulary word. Last month, no one speaking to the public could have said that something was coming out in tranches. We would have all stared rudely at him/her, stunned and puzzled and wondering just what kind of elitist he/she was.

I made a loaf of bread today, and we are eating it in tranches. Our bacon, too, is being laid upon our breakfast plates in tranches. It is even possible that yesterday, I tranched myself with a knife, but not seriously. I say tranche all the time, nowadays.

we have previously known in English in other forms: trench, trencher (and trencherman), as well as trenchant and retrench and even trench coat. Tranche is a very old French word (maybe from Latin, truncare, from whence comes truncate and maybe tree trunk, too). Truncare means to cut. Tranche means, to slice. A slice into the earth is a trench. A second earth slice and you have decided to retrench. If you slice off a slab of wood to put your cooked meat on, it is a trencher. If you eat a lot off that trencher, you are a trencherman. If it rains a lot when you are in a trench, you need a trench coat. If you make a remark that cuts to the heart of the matter, the remark is trenchant.

Thus it is that when the investment banks ‘slice and dice’ the mortgages into little pieces and then sell them in tranches, they have tranched them by slicing them, and then have put them back together hugger-mugger into new bundles which are then sliced again not into slices but into slabs called tranches. And, according to Barney Frank, when the federal government puts out our tax dollars to buy the tranches, it will put the money out in tranches. It could be a new slogan for the end times we seem to be in: Tranches for Tranches!

It scarcely makes sense, of course, but I think that’s the point.

Notes for the Curious:

tranche Noun, feminine (a) slice of meat, cake, bread, rasher of bacon; edge of a coin, book; section, tax band, bracket, credit instalment, time slot; ~ de boeuf beefsteak; couper en ~s to slice

c.1386, "track cut through a wood," later "long, narrow ditch" (1489), from O.Fr. trenche "a slice, ditch" (1288), from trenchier "to cut," possibly from V.L. *trincare, from L. truncare "to cut or lop off" (see truncate). Trenches for military protection are first so called c.1500. Trench warfare first attested 1918. Trench-coat first recorded 1916, a type of coat worn by British officers in the trenches.
trencher Look up trencher at Dictionary.com
c.1308, "wooden platter on which to cut meat," from Anglo-Fr. trenchour, from O.N.Fr. trencheor "a trencher," lit. "a cutting place," from O.Fr. trenchier "to cut" (see trench).
trenchant Look up trenchant at Dictionary.com
c.1330, "cutting, sharp," from O.Fr. trenchant "cutting, sharp," prp. of trenchier "to cut" (see trench). Figurative sense is recorded from 1603.
entrench Look up entrench at Dictionary.com
c.1563, from en- "make, put in" + trench.
retrench Look up retrench at Dictionary.com
1598, "dig a new trench as a second line of defense," from Fr. retrencher "to cut off," from re- "back" + O.Fr. trenchier "to cut." Sense of "cut down, reduce (expenses, etc.)" is from 1625.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Keep Your Logs Dry

It’s all over now. The Tourists (on the Sunshine Coast) and the cottagers (at Point Roberts) have all gone home leaving us to clean up the garden, plant our spring-blooming bulbs, and engage deeply in home maintenance. Having two houses, which wasn’t exactly what we intended when we moved here (see earlier explanation, February 26, 2008, ) means having even more maintenance in which to engage. And having one of those houses be a log house means even more interesting maintenance.

When we first bought our house on the Sunshine Coast, we had neither of us ever even seen a log house from the outside, let alone from the inside, let alone from a maintenance perspective. I’d seen log cabins before, but a little 200 square foot log cabin is pretty much a different animal from a 3,000 sq. foot log house. Same genus, different species, I guess. We didn’t begin to appreciate that until we’d actually lived in the house for awhile. This experience, it turns out, was designed to determine whether we were still capable of learning.

A 2-story log house with a loft is likely to impress you (as it did us and as it continues to impress our visitors) with its inside more than its outside because you enter into a dark corridor (either from the front or the side door) and then within 15 feet, the interior opens up suddenly into some kind of sky and light-filled, giant bubble enclosed by wood. That can’t be the best way to describe it, but I can’t really find another way.

The steeply-peaked roof is filled with sky lights and the rest of the ceiling is pine. The logs that form the walls of the first story are of de-barked sugar pine and are many feet long: the longest, the ridge pole of the first floor, is well over 50 feet long. Wall logs are typically 12” to 14” in diameter, and the color of the wood itself is honey brown ranging to cinnamon. All this wood, stunningly beautiful on the inside, is, on the outside, another matter. Still very beautiful (but requiring lots of upkeep to keep it so), it is ultimately this: lunch for wood-eating and wood-boring insects, and destined to rot if it is not kept dry. All this exposed wood, in a land where it rains all the time. So outdoor maintenance is all about fending off water and the wood-eating/boring insects. The major maintenance key to a log house is having a roof overhang that comes far enough down so that it doesn’t permit rain to fall on the logs or, if there is a deck, for hard-falling rain to bounce back onto the logs.

Some years ago, we replaced the roof (cedar shakes beginning to go under from all that dampness, as well as from the maple and cedar trees which grow in the shakes) with a metal roof (a lifetime guarantee longer than our lifetime!) before we clearly learned about the importance of the overhang, which had been inadequate on one section of the the cedar shake roof and continued to be inadequate with the metal roof. As a result, those logs began to go damp, began to attract eaters. Thus, the maintenance project of last fall and on into this fall has been for Ed to design and then to build a metal-roof extension in that area just far enough out to prevent the rain bounce-back and not so far out that it collapses of its own weight or obscures the view from the windows. No small task: fortunately he was an engineer before he was an economist.

That’s the kind of maintenance you can really focus on once all the summer festivals and entertainments dry up. That’s where we are, and it’s almost a done deal, so I guess we (or at least Ed) are still capable of learning.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Crows with News

Oh, who needs to hear this? Crows with West Nile Virus (WNV) have come to Western Washington. Public health people have, for the first time, found several dead crows who tested positive for WNV. It had previously been found in Eastern Washington, on the other side of the mountains, but apparently some corvid (crow, raven, jay) with the virus made its way across recently.

It’s not the worst possible news, of course. The birds transmit it to mosquitoes and then people get it from mosquito bites. Most bitten folks don’t get anything at all but WNV in their blood (which makes them ineligible for blood donating: all blood is tested for WNV). Some people get a mild flu-like condition called West Nile Fever. A few people, the elderly in particular, may end up with encephalitis. We have had two friends, of the elderly variety, who have recently had (and recovered from) encephalitis (probably not from WNV), but for neither was it a mild experience; more like life-changing. A very big deal. Background here.

Poking round on the net, I found that British Columbia does not appear to have yet found any evidence of WNV in its mosquito or corvid/raptor population. One would think it was just a matter of time, since it’s been found in all the provinces to the east of B.C., but maybe there’s something in the crow/raven/jay population that is just saying, ‘NO!’ Both the B.C. and the Washington public health agencies, however, are doing regular testing and want us to inform them about any dead birds we run into, particularly corvids and raptors. You can do it via the internet, although they may also want you to preserve the bird specimen by putting it in a double plastic bag. And don’t touch it with your bare hands, even though WNV can’t be transmitted that way. Just don’t.

It’s an amazing thing about dead birds. When you think about how many of them we see alive and how short their lives are, doesn’t it seem like you’d be seeing them dead regularly? I occasionally see a flutter of disconnected feathers and thereby know that some bird has dined on a smaller one, but they surely die of causes other than being eaten by something bigger and/or wilier. And yet, you almost never see one. I did see a dead towhee a couple of weeks ago, when we were out cleaning up litter on the roads. He was right there, spread out on the asphalt, as if he had had a heart attack midflight and had plunged directly down to the road, wings still spread. If I’d known I should report him, I would have. If only to see what happened next.

Well, for those of us in Western Washington, what should happen next is that we should make sure we’re not breeding mosquitoes in our yards--in tires, jars, bird baths, any of numerous kinds of receptacles sitting around that fill up with quickly-stagnant water. Not such an issue in the winter, of course, but now, still for awhile, and again in the spring, those mosquitoes will be looking for not-fresh water to repopulate the place with their young. And next year, some of those mosquito offspring will have WNV to offer us. People in other places: google your county name + public health + west nile virus, to find out your situation.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


In Ha Jin’s A Free Life, the Chinese-born novelist writes about the difference between being an immigrant and being an exile or expatriate. He also observes that art requires leisure. Those two pieces of this fine novel reminded me of some things about living in Point Roberts and Roberts Creek. Many current residents of both places have come as retirees and have come from large cities, just as we did. We are definitely not exiles nor expatriates but we, too, are in some ways immigrants to a new way of life that we do not altogether understand, nor indeed can we altogether understand it. The tendency, of course, for Ha Jin’s characters as well as for those of us who have immigrated to small places like Point Roberts, is to try to understand the new place in terms of the old place and, at the same time, to try to make it the opposite of the old place. First we consider why there are not more of the amenities that we were used to in our old lives. Later, we may think about how we can and perhaps must become someone quite different from our prior self.

I considered changing my name when I first moved here. Never a big fan of ‘Judy,’ I found I was not a bigger fan of something else. Binker Wooten Wilson had a certain je ne sais quoi, but it worked only if all three parts were used, and that seemed more than I’d be able to expect. So, my antique name glided into this new life right along with me. Other things did change, though. I had spent my entire adult life as a writer, so I became an artist. If Art requires Leisure, as Ha Jin says, it may be equally true that Leisure begets Art. With job done and children off on their adult lives, there was all the leisure in the world. If you haven’t learned to keep house for two adults in about 30 minutes per day, including some cooking, you weren’t paying attention. So then there are the other 15.5 hours to consider.

I decided to focus on what I could see, and sixteen years of acute focus on the art of quilting has taught me a great many things, one of them being that the visual arts are more like the literary arts than I would ever have thought. The second is that a little bit of talent and a large amount of focused work will get you a long ways. I’m not the only retiree to find this out, of course. Artists of all kind are thick on the ground in both these places. The artist-retirees have, in common, leisure, a habit of focused work, and relatively little interest in what previously they understood as ‘success.’

They have something else in common, too. All of them that I’ve talked to hear, sooner or later, a friend, relative, or acquaintance say, ‘You’re so talented! I’m not creative at all.’ Sometimes these are reversed: ‘You’re so creative; I’m not talented at all!’ It’s a world-class conversation stopper. What is one to say? ‘Yes, I am and no, you’re not.’ Or, ‘No, I’m not, and yes, you are?’ I’ve learned to say something like, ‘Well, I work very hard at it,’ and just let it go.

But I think there’s a better way to say it: Creativity is like a seed. If it sits around in a seed package, nothing is going to happen to it. If it's planted, and gets some water and some warmth, it’s likely to start growing. If it’s in the wrong kind of soil or other external conditions are too harsh, it will die or just struggle along, inadequately. If it’s well nurtured and the conditions are made right for its development over a long period time, it will bloom well and beautifully. If it’s neglected, or nourished only fitfully, it won’t. The retirees with leisure who are working hard to foster that seed: well that’s one choice. There are lots of other choices in life that won’t get that seed to flourish, but that will allow something else to happen. It’s choice and focus, I think, at this point.

Which brings me to crayons. Yesterday, a friend sent me an interesting link to a recycle site. Many things there that I hadn’t thought about recycling. My favorite one, though, was crayons. If you’ve got crayons around that you have no use for, you can send them to this woman and she will generate new crayons from them and give them to those who need crayons, whoever that may be. Or, if you’ve been thinking about how to get that seed of talent and creativity to flourish, you can just take the crayons out and use them yourself.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Old News

I am a big fan of Harper’s magazine, not least because it costs only about $15/year to subscribe and because the company itself is not-for-profit (harpers.org on the net), but even more because its mission is to try to rectify the gross misrepresentations and misperceptions foisted onto the public by mainstream media. This morning, I picked up an issue of Harper’s and read awhile at breakfast: an essay by Wendell Berry, an essay by Lewis Lapham (its one-time editor) and an essay by Kevin Phillips (a one-time Republican). Lapham was explaining to me how disastrous the situation was in the credit markets/mortgage markets; Berry was telling me that Americans had to come to grips with the fact that there wasn’t going to be a quick, technological substitute for an oil-based economy, and Phillips was explaining to me how all the numbers that are constantly being spit out about the ‘economic fundamentals’ are basically fudged for improved public consumption and that the economy is actually in disaster status.

Well, yes, you might say. Plenty of mainstream media people writing about that this week. Of course, the Harper’s I was reading was published five months ago, was written more than five months ago, so what could possibly explain the fact that Lapham and Phillips, for example, already knew last May what Mr. Bernanke and Mr. Paulson seem only to have discovered last week? What a burden it must be to be a Harper’s writer, to be stuck with being Cassandra for the 21st Century. I suppose the Bernanke-Paulson insistence that the world must be turned around under their direction this very afternoon is a function of their being so shocked at finding out what they found out this past week. Perhaps the single, most effective thing I could do to make the world a better place would be to send Mr. Bernanke, Mr. Paulson, Mr. Bush, and a few other Mr.’s subscriptions to Harper’s. Better yet, send them an audio copy so that they can listen to the articles while they do their morning exercises. That way, they’ll get a little lead time to plan their fabulous solutions to world-class problems.

There were several things I already knew before I read these articles (even the first time, last May: this morning’s read was a re-read: I forget so easily, you know?), and one of these was about the Consumer Price Index. They’re always telling us that it hasn’t gone up very much, even though it seems to me and everyone I know that things seem to be going up quite a lot: house prices, food, clothing, gas. If it doesn’t go up much, of course, then we are not suffering from inflation. Well, maybe, maybe not. Some years back, they stopped including the price of buying a house in the ‘Consumer Price Index’ (the CPI). Instead of what it actually was costing to buy a house (you remember that housing bubble?), they substituted what you could rent the house for if instead of buying it, you rented it to yourself or to someone else. That immediately lowered the Consumer Price Index substantially. You can imagine that those three-bedroom houses on tiny lots in L.A. that were selling for $1 million are not drawing $10,000 a month in rent. If you can pay $10k/month for rent, you’d buy.

Then, a decade later, they decided that there was no reason to include the costs of food and energy in the CPI because they were always going up (and occasionally going down), so now we get the ‘Core Consumer Price Index,’ and you can imagine what the former CPI would look like in 2008, a year in which we have seen enormous increases in both food and oil, increases that don’t look like they’re going to be reversed any time soon, if ever. We can be comforted by knowing that, according to the CCPI, there’s not much inflation to worry about. Unless you are a Harper’s reader, anyway. Or unless you’ve recently put gas in your car or bought groceries.

In a time of inflation, interest rates go up; but at the moment, they are not up; they are way down. Interest on Treasuries is virtually non-existent. And that is the nature of the upside down economic world we’re in. Maybe time to re-read Alice in Wonderland.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Stocking Up

Nothing like four or five days of the stock market sinking regularly around 400 points/day to make you think of the Great Depression. One of these days, I guess, we’ll be calling it instead the other Great Depression. That would be the one that I was born in, although close enough to the end of that decade not to have any particular memories of the depression qua depression. Nobody was jumping out any windows that I was aware of; nobody I knew was standing in soup kitchen lines; my dad had a job all through those years, though of modest pay. My grandparents did lose all their money during the 30’s, though; money they’d inherited from my successful copper-miner great grandfather. It’s nice to know that the family line once had money, even if all of it was gone before I was around. A little sparkly family memory.

Nevertheless, I was brought up as a child of the depression, where space was tight, money was scarce, and food was gathered and watched very carefully. Our next door neighbors had a food cellar: a free-standing, underground structure with steep wooden steps and concrete walls and dirt floors. You walked down a few steps and opened the short doors to the cellar and what you saw was darkness and spider webs and more steep wooden stairs, and what you smelled was the damp earth, a smell I always thought of as being like a grave, morbid child that I must have been. It was a kind of scary place to a kid, but both sides of the darkness were lined with shelves between which hung a single light bulb. Turn it on and everything changed: the shelves shone with canned goods in mason jars: canned peaches and cherries and plums (we grew the plums in our yard); canned beans, peas, carrots, and tomatoes; canned pheasant and duck. (This was all, of course, before frozen foods.) The cellar was both frightening and reassuring at the same time: darkness and death before the light was turned on, and plenitude of life after.

My parents shared the cellar with the neighbors. The neighbors had a garden, as did we, and we also had my father’s hunting skills. My mother and the neighbor wife shared the canning work, and maybe we all shared the canned goods, as well. My strongest memory of that cellar is of seeing the duck and pheasant legs and wings in those big glass canning bottles, lined up on the shelves. But my second strongest memory is of the regular trips to the cellar to get something for breakfast or dinner. Food there would be, even though everything else was tight.

So, while thinking about the depression that looks like it will be and the depression that was, it seemed a good enough time for stocking up on food, just to make sure we wouldn’t starve, I guess. I don’t can things, but I do cook and bake and freeze and just eat, so by the end of two days, I had produced four quarts of split pea soup, one date cake, one loaf of cheese bread, one pan of corn bread, a spinach/ham quiche, an apple pie, and two quarts of yogurt. It all seemed a little too focused, a little too frantic, a little too much, but it made me feel a little more in control of my destiny. There are times when fantasy substitutes very nicely for reality.

The Emergency Preparedness Committee of Point Roberts (PREP) wants us to think about what we would do in times of disaster (although I don’t think the committee has a Great Depression in mind; more like a Great Earthquake). But one of the things they recommend is having a 3-week supply of food because, if we were cut off somehow, the assumption/theory is that it would take 3 weeks for anyone to get to the exclave to be helpful. That cellar would certainly have done at least three weeks and perhaps an entire winter, so I can at least imagine the possibility of consciously maintaining a three-week supply of food. It’s the three weeks worth of water that seems a little more problematic. But then, it rains a lot. Maybe multiple rainbarrels to replace the cellar.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Apples, Pies, Now, Then

Our apple trees are overflowing with apples now that September is winding down. Or, no, how about: We have no apples on our apple trees as September winds down. The first is true of our apple trees in Point Roberts where, as we drove away this past week, I was still trying to figure out whom I could call to come over and use up plums and apples that would otherwise just fall on the ground and rot while we were gone. The second sentence, however (and sadly), is true of our apple trees in Roberts Creek, B.C. So that’s a problem because September is when one really needs apple pie quite frequently.

Our trees are bare because one of them is dead, slain by our local bear who several years ago tried to climb it while engaged in apple collection work, and broke it off sort of at the base. Ed applied emergency ICU care (mostly duct tape and a stick), and it did manage to survive another couple of years, but then this spring it bloomed and every part of it subsequently died. The other one (a Cox’s orange pippin) did bear this year but the fruits were not yet ripe when we left at the end of August. I’m willing to pick them a little short of fully ripe, but these were yet short of even mostly ripe. They were hard, green little apples. They might well have ripened during the three weeks we were away. And if so, the bear might well have eaten them all. He needs quite a bit of food and he does like apples. Furthermore, there is plenty of evidence of bear in the yard, although most of the evidence suggests that what he’s eating is blackberries.

Once I found we had no apples, I walked up to our uphill neighbor who has several trees and she generously responded to my plea. This week, I have had apple pie and, if not enough to sustain me for a year, it has been very satisfying. Apple pie is good on its own terms, but it is also a family thing for me. Most of the cooking I ever learned, I taught myself. My mother taught me baking (cakes, cookies, bread), but pies I learned from my grandmother.

I think the things one learns from a grandparent are things that stay with you. Not only stay, but may not be adjusted, if my piecrust making is any indication. My grandfather never taught me to do anything, so I don’t know whether the same would be true of his educational work. In any case, whenever somebody tells me that pie crust is so much better if you make it with half butter, or with ice water, or if stored in the refrigerator for awhile, my inner grandmother says, ‘I don’t think so.’ Piecrust is to be made just as she told me to do it. That means you use shortening or lard, that you use one of those circular blade things with a wooden handle to cut the shortening into the flour, that you use cold water from the tap, that you don't handle it any more than you absolutely have to, and that you roll it out with a marble rolling pin. (I do use saran wrap to roll it out on, though. My grandmother would have included that if she had lived long enough to use saran wrap, is my belief.) There was a time when I didn’t have a marble rolling pin and it never worked as well with those wooden ones covered with knit sleeves. When my 18-year-old granddaughter, Gianna, was here this summer, piecrust making was one of the things she wanted to learn, so I passed on my grandmother’s methods. Of course they are also Gianna's grandmother's methods. I hope they’ll stick.

My grandmother was born in 1889, and her father fought in the Civil War, although I never knew him. Still it seems an enormous bunch of history between her awareness of the world before her birth and today, history that I, somehow, having known her well somehow have a purchase on or a place in. The piecrust is part of it. And the apple, something else that has a big part in our common history: see, e.g., Garden of Eden. Even more interesting, see Botany of Desire, by Michael Pollan, a book that will help you to understand why apples are so quintessentially American and what Johnny Appleseed was really doing in his travels.

Good advice from me and my grandmother: the month is almost over, so remember to have some apple pie. It won't be the same in October.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Up, then Down

What a difficult week this has been. Between the endless Palin hysteria (I can scarcely believe that Frank Rich has concluded that this is a right wing conservative ‘Manchurian Candidate’ plot: where is Frank Sinatra when we need him?), the financial meltdown, the ricocheting market, and the beginning of fall—the psychologically dark season—it’s hard to know how—or whether-- to lift one’s head off the pillow in the early morning. Of course, it is somewhat easier up here, whether in the isolated exclave or in British Columbia. In either place, I am free from newspapers and U.S. television, but not, of course, from the falling leaves nor the internet.

Fall always starts in early September up here with a great uplifting feeling: it’s crisp, blue-skied, windy, and beautiful, and that sense of everything beginning again will return. But at the moment, we’re in the other part of fall’s beginning: the part in which the skies turn gray and the temperature rises very little during the day, given the absence of the sun, and the house is cold because you are trying to put off lighting the pilot. This is the first reminder of the coming of seasonal affective disorder. How funny is it that they managed to find a phrase with the acronym SAD? If women who spend long period of times alone with their young children without any support from other adults were deemed to have a psychological disorder, we could call it MAD (motherhood affective disorder); or perhaps young boys who are overexposed to violence could have boyhood affective disorder (yes, BAD). We could go on here with CAD, DAD, FAD, GAD, etc., but we won’t.

The various quilting groups that I belong to are planning their goals for the year, looking at new possibilities for exhibits and community works. In Point Roberts, we need to finish the two quilts we are making for the local library’s walls, pieces that have been too long in the making; in B.C., we are thinking of taking on the challenge of wearable art, a move to the left (or right) from quilting, since wearable art does not need to have the heavy batting and stitched quilting that defines a quilt. In both these groups, it is clearly the fall that is bringing us to reassess where we are and where we are going.

This planning and reassessment task brought by fall may have made the world’s events much more difficult this past week: how do you think about where you are going when disaster seems to be right in front of you. Where you are going seems to be like some kind of crash immediately ahead. Where you are going doesn’t seem to be a question you really want to ask.

Today, the gray skies have turned into rain showers; tomorrow, they will themselves have decided where they’re going and will turn into more serious rain. But I am reminding myself, regularly, that all this, too, will pass and that the day will come when we will be asking whatever happened to Sarah Palin in the same way that we might ask whatever happened to Dan Quayle if we cared enough to ask.

Those whom the Gods would destroy, I remind myself, first they raise high. This is the end of the ‘raise high’ part, I think. The tree leaves, the summer flowers, the long summer nights, Sarah Palin, Wall Street wizards…all on their way down. Good-bye!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Not So Vite!

The U.S. election is tragedy and although the Canadian election is not farce, it certainly has its humorous aspects when seen from the outside. Yesterday, I mentioned the Sunshine Coast Green Party candidate who only two years ago was the Sunshine Coast Liberal Party candidate, but who migrated parties as a result of alleged election finance improprieties. Today, I find that the Sunshine Coast NDP (most left party) candidate was, fairly recently, the Sunshine Coast Marijuana Party candidate (even farther than 'most left', I guess). Not so much of a problem there, but this candidate’s recent association with a company selling coca plants does threaten to interfere with the proper level of campaign seriousness, so he has dropped out leaving the NDP temporarily candidate-less with three weeks of campaigning yet to go. I suppose by next week, it will turn out that the Conservative Party’s candidate is a secret cross dresser or perhaps just a former member of the Canadian Natural Law Party which planned to introduce Yogic Flying as an integral part of government when last it was heard from. I am forced to conclude that party allegiance here is much more arbitrary than in the U.S. I mean, is there anything that will finally and completely separate Joe Lieberman from the Democratic Party other than the death of one or the other?

Additionally, it turns out that at the B.C. provincial level, Premier Campbell (a member of the Liberal Party who, nevertheless, seems very much like a business-oriented Republican to me) gave senior government managers very sizable salary increases (double digits!)—which he announced on a Friday afternoon during the Olympics—and then cancelled the fall session of the provincial Legislative Assembly on the grounds that there was nothing for the MLA’s to do. He thought it would be better if they spent their time in their home ridings talking to their constituents. Better than messing with him, anyway. A bunch of them had been planning to talk quite publicly with him about these pay raises as well as the Premier’s decision to fly to the Beijing Olympics in a private jet with a developer who does business with the province, as well as a few other things. The Legislative Assembly has been in session only 47 days this year, I am told. Oh, if only Bush could so easily get rid of the Congress, although he has found ways of having them around without their being much of a problem. ‘They have questions? Tell them no, okay?’ This is government that could be the basis of a TV show, I think. At the very least, it certainly gives Ms. Palin a run for her money in the category, ‘You Did What?’ And the possibility of yogic flying or even national levitation is certainly an inspiring thought.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


Perhaps Canada has simply succumbed to election fever by proximity. Last week, the Progressive Conservative (read, very conservative) Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, called for a new election, barely two years after the last national election. Or maybe he just became incredibly envious of the Americans' enthusiasm for their upcoming election. Maybe a choice, maybe an echo, maybe a disease: regardless, the federal Canadian politicians are all off their starting blocks because they have only until October 14 before the election is all done. Just think of that. The beginning and the end of a national election in a five week period. Wow! Feel the envy!

At the moment, the Progressive Conservatives are presiding over a minority government because they don’t have a majority in parliament. But they have enough members to cobble together some kind of majority with others, but it hasn’t lasted very long. Things are looking good for the PC’s though as their brand of politics seems to be catching on. The PC are a mix of social conservatives and neocons, from my view, but they may be better (or worse) than that. They are up against the Bloc Quebecois, a sort of center left party that espouses Quebec’s departure from Canada; the Liberals, a sort of center left party that prefers Quebec to stay in Canada and is otherwise noted for its undistinguished leader--a Quebecer whose French is significantly better than his English—and its earlier-in-this-decade financial scandals; the NDP, the most left party, whose leader is a man, following a decade of women as party leaders; and the Greens, the environmental party which holds one seat in Parliament, but only as a result of strange events. The PC's Harper is something of a George Bush fan. To his credit, I should note that Harper, whose native tongue is English, is said to speak better French than the Liberal Leader speaks English. I’ve heard Harper’s French; it’s not that good. We get quite a bit of mail from Mr. Harper, assuring us, in English, that he is going to do the right thing for us and that the liberals are (have I heard this before?) nothing more than ‘tax and spend’ guys. Somehow, I doubt that, but maybe his message is more successful in Quebec.

At the moment, the secessionist Bloc Quebecois is doing poorly in Quebec. Perhaps those folks have grown tired of the idea of secession and have decided just to slog on with the rest of the country, even if in a different language. However, the lagging Bloc support is going not to the liberals, where one might expect it to go but instead to the PC, improving their chances of getting an actual majority. Harper’s French, again, perhaps.

Here in our own riding, we have the one and only Green Party member currently sitting in Parliament. We didn’t elect him, though (that’s the royal We since we at our house do not vote, of course). Two years ago, the Sunshine Coast elected Blair Wilson, who was a member of the Liberal Party. But in the intervening short period of time, Mr. Wilson got in a little bit of scandal himself (election money, not sex) and was thrown out by the Liberals. Still, he had been elected. He sat as an independent for a bit, but then crossed over to the Green Party. This gave the Greens a presence in Parliament, and now gives them the opportunity to have their party leader (not Blair Wilson, of course: he is simply their only Parliamentary member) appear in the national debates that will be occurring in the coming months.

Given all the complexity, I almost wish I could vote, but on the other hand….well…maybe not. The Sunshine Coast has a big Green Party presence; there are lots of very progressive environmentalist types here. But if the Green Party candidate’s most notable commitment to the Green Party’s values and policies is that he came inside when the Greens offered him a place to sit down? Well, other peoples’ elections are probably never very clear to an outsider. But, at least in Canada, they don't drag on forever.

Which Way Up?

B.C. Transit or B.C. Roads or whoever in the B.C. government is responsible for signage on the highways simply never fails to disappoint. The agency seems to have a relatively random policy for highway exits: sometimes the sign is before the exit, sometimes right after, so it is never quite clear where or when you should exit if you don’t already know how it works. Because the Olympics is coming to Vancouver in January of 2010, barely a year from now, there are lots of new roads with new signs, particularly in the area to the north and west that leads to Whistler where much of the snow-based competition will occur. Also in that area is the Horseshoe Bay Ferry Terminal, which is the place to go if you want to go to the Sunshine Coast and Roberts Creek. And indeed that is where we were heading today.

About a mile from the terminal, there was a standard rectangular metal road sign indicating that there was a new routing for the ferry terminal. Okay, that’s good. And then there was a sign that said something like ‘ferry terminal and village to the right,’ which is also good, and we went right. And then, not so good: there was one of those signs that change, using light bulbs or LED’s or something. It showed the words, ‘Ferry Terminal,’ followed by a new sign that showed a right-pointing arrow. Okay, but that was immediately followed by a new sign that said ‘Village,’ followed by a new sign that features a left-pointing arrow sign. So, logically, you get: Ferry, go right; Village, go left. But it says that logically only if you come in at the right moment. It can equally well say, ‘left-arrow, ferry terminal; right arrow, village.’ Four instructions, but since they are not numbered on the sign, they can be read as 1,2,3,4, or 4,1,2,3, or 2,3,4,1, or 3,4,1,2. You have two choices to go right to the ferry terminal and two to go left. Go, sign designers! So many more opportunities before January 2010.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

All Alone?

It is possible that by the end of this campaign season, I’ll be standing all alone: no friends left. I am trying to stay away from it, for the most part, noting only headlines and their sources. An acquaintance, a self-described independent, reports that he is watching the news carefully to determine where he stands in this race, which of the candidates he judges will be best for the country. I am stunned to think that there are people in this country who think that the TV, newspaper, and internet versions of the ‘campaign’ are being run by Emmanuel Kant (or even by Will and Ariel Durant), intellectual masters who are serving up a feast of ideas that we can all look over and consider carefully. The closest connection I get to the ‘pig in lipstick’ comment is that we are generally being served swill and, worse yet, are lining up to consume it.

Very mysterious.

The last day or so, I have received several opportunities to vent my spleen on a website called womenagainstsarahpalin.blogspot.com. As a long-time reader of George Lakoff (Metaphors We Live By, Don’t Think about an Elephant, etc.), a former English/writing teacher, and a garden-variety over-educated elite member, I’d like to say a few words about why I find this language offensive. The website explains how the women in charge wrote to forty of their friends asking them to write about why they opposed Sarah Palin’s entry into the presidential campaign. Those forty then sent it out to their many friends, and now they have over 140,000 women writing about why they oppose Sarah Palin.

Fine. I’m cool with that. I didn’t join the fray, despite these invitations from long-time friends, because I am not a woman against Sarah Palin. I am a woman, and I would never vote for Sarah Palin for anything I can think of (animal control officer?), but I am not in any way, shape or form uninclined to vote for Sarah Palin because either she or I are women.

This group makes me embarrassed for the political left just as I have become profoundly embarrassed for the political right. I fear that the political left is just getting its sea legs in making the whirling descent down the hole to the bottom where we just grunt at one another, hurl insults, and brandish weapons, where language, ideas, and discussion is lost in the maelstrom; where, at the end, we ascend bloody and beaten all, pompously congratulating ourselves on “our democracy.”.

Okay, so what’s wrong with ‘women against Sarah Palin’? Let me pose this. If you ran into a group titled ‘Progressives Against Sarah Palin’ or ‘Liberals Against Sarah Palin’ or ‘Pro-Choice Advocates Against Sarah Palin,’ or ‘Pacificists Against Sarah Palin’ or even ‘Moose Against Sarah Palin,’ you wouldn’t bat an eye, nor would I. The meaning and message of all of those groups is clear: Sarah Palin does not share the values of those who are opposed to her, she is being excluded from those groups. ‘Woman Against Sarah Palin’ is absolutely different: exactly what are the values of ‘WOMEN’ as a group that Sarah Palin doesn’t share? How can she be excluded from the group 'women'? It is clear in the letters posted to the website what values THESE women don’t share with Sarah Palin, but THESE WOMEN do not, now or ever, constitute the group WOMEN. Just how arrogant is that? The group, the category ‘WOMEN’ IS a vastly larger group. By trying to appropriate the larger group as their own identifier, these particular women are simply gutting the language further as well as indulging a colossal degree of narcissism.

I’m sorry to see these women doing this. If all of this seems tiresomely fine-pointed, consider the fact that you have never heard of the following groups: Men Against McCain, Men Against Obama, Black People Against Clarence Thomas. Or, how about ‘Tall People Against Bill Bradley,’ to reach back to an earlier and simpler time. And that’s because there are no such groups, even though lots of men don’t like McCain for President and lots of other men don’t like Obama for President. I’m pretty sure that Jesse Jackson was no fan of Clarence Thomas but Jesse Jackson knew better than to name a group ostensibly speaking for Blacks against a Black candidate for office, a suggestion that Clarence Thomas wasn’t really a Black man. Anybody can attack Sarah Palin’s ideas all they want. That is what freedom of speech is all about, of course. But nobody gets to say that WOMEN reject Sarah Palin because she does not share the values of women, or even that WOMEN is a category that contains specific values. And also, those tall people who were against Bill Bradley: what was their story?

Sunday, September 14, 2008

A Penny Saved

Update on Litter Collecting: Yesterday’s fabulous find of a bottle partially filled with pennies has occupied far more of my time today than I like to say. A friend was amazed to hear of the discovery in the litter clean-up activity, but I was not. For years, we have picked up money on the streets and the sides of roads and have more than once come upon what is called, in the trade, a ‘penny drop.’ It seems that people collect pennies in their cars in a cup, a jar, a container of some kind and then eventually get tired of looking at the container and its contents. At that point, they just dump them by the side of the road. It isn’t always pennies; sometimes it also include dimes and nickels, but it’s still called a penny drop.

This particular penny drop was more problematic than others we have found: they have just been unceremoniously dumped into a large Mexican pig bank that we keep for found money (now several hundred dollars worth). And that is because this penny drop was in a closed jar in a ditch, but not entirely closed, so dirt and water had seeped in. I had to wash the pennies and then dry them. Most were moderately oxidized, which doesn’t restrict their value, but did make piling them into Canadian and U.S. penny piles more time-consuming, since I couldn’t always tell which was which. I cursorily checked them for rare penniness, but they were all recent coins: none of the U.S. pennies had wheat on the obverse side; all of the Canadian pennies had Queen Elizabeth's image on the front (meaning all are at least post-1957). So, having dispensed with that important issue, there remained only the counting.

About three dollars worth, and three Canadian pennies for every two U.S. ones. Fortunately, we have a now-nearly-filled bank of U.S. found money for the U.S. pennies, but I don’t know what to do with the Canadian ones, because the Canadian found money bank is absolutely full. Just dump them behind some unsuspecting teller’s wicket in B.C.? Maybe the prior owner had the same problem, which would account for the jar in the ditch. Well, $3.00 for an hour’s work. It’s not like it’s skilled work, after all.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Neatly Done

Home by dinnertime after 2+ hours of roadside litter collecting. Here’s the sociological data: Ed registered us in for this previously announced community activity this morning. We were responsible for doing the 6 blocks of South Beach Road, down to the beach. A neighborhood group was responsible for Maple Beach. No one else had registered by noon. We were given half a dozen large, clear, plastic bags and offered tongs and orange vests. We took the bags and declined the accoutrements because I have my own trash grabbers and I figured we could be seen on the road adequately.

Around 3:30, we headed out with the tools of the trade and indeed were visible on the road. One neighbor couple out for a walk congratulated us on being good citizens; a man in a car stopped and told me that there was really a lot of roadside trash about a block further along and also, ‘thanks for doing this’; a man on the beach, when we got there, asked us if we were doing this on our own time; a woman with a baby was reminded by the sight of us that this was the day to collect litter and vowed to get involved next time; and a lady in a car, as we neared home, stopped and said, ‘Oh, I’m sorry; I thought you were someone else.’

The wages of the work? Well, a tidy pile of asphalt shingles, an extraordinarily heavy glass bottle that had at one time contained some fancy kind of alcohol; various metal pipes and strips; a real estate sign; a regulation-sized tsunami warning sign complete with post; a deteriorated aluminum lawn chair; and a plastic quart jar about one-quarter full of pennies. Also, the expected beer cans, soda cans, newspapers, bottle tops, plastic cups, plastic bags, and cigarette packages. The worst? Hundreds of cigarette butts. The other worst? Styrofoam packing peanuts. And the final worst? Plastic bags that have started to fall apart into a hundred smaller pieces of plastic bags. Worst in a different category? The neighbor who has a sign on her front fence that says, “Beware of Dogs.” When you walk by, the dogs race out of the yard in a very threatening manner. Maybe she should keep them in her yard if I need to be beware of them.

So now, we’re all tidy on these streets. It’s a nice fall activity; makes me feel at one with the numerous spiders on our house and in our yard who daily mend and straighten their webs. I hope that there are lot of other Point Roberts residents who are feeling satisfied with their contribution to the community this evening.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Trying Too Hard

Every climate has its limits and its strong points with respect to gardening. I’ve lived in a lot of places and had to learn in each place an entirely new set of both. In Idaho, you have impossibly dense clay soil, intense but brief summer sun, and no rain ever. In California, you have all the sun in the world, no rain and easy, reasonably rich soil. In Washington, it’s thin and sandy soil, endless rain, and no sun. You want to work with those strong points and steer away from the limiting factors, rather than try to fight them. At least that seems like what you’d want to do.

Nevertheless, I have noticed that there is a propensity for gardeners not to follow that rule. For example, in Los Angeles, somebody was always trying to grow midwestern lilacs which need winter freezing to bloom in the spring. They would try to get around that severe limitation by watering the bushes with ice water during the winter. Here on the U.S.-Canadian border, the town of Tsawwassen, which is right on the other side of the border from Point Roberts, I find the local government’s landscaping division has decided that what Tsawwassen really needs is palm trees, despite the fact that they get snow and fierce winter winds and not much in the way of summer heat. There is an entire row of very short palm trees parading down the main street and they are a sorry sight in the winter when the winds have just torn their fronds to tatters. Similarly, a little farther north toward Vancouver proper, in a part of town largely housing immigrants from India, you will see every so often a house that is sheltering banana trees. Buy bananas, people!

So much work to get those things to happen and the results are never exactly what you had hoped for or, at best, are a dimmed reminder of what one envisions. Having said all that, I found myself this spring planting about fifty seeds of red Mexican sunflowers sent to me by mail by my daughter who lives in New Mexico and is the real gardener in our family. Sending me those seeds suggested a confidence in my gardening abilities that seemed largely misplaced. You can grow sunflowers here in Point Roberts if you put them in a sunny place. I have precious little sun because our land is mostly heavy in tall evergreens and maples, but nevertheless there are places that are sunnier than others. On the other hand, these are Mexican sunflowers and there is nothing about this climate or this soil that is reminiscent of Mexico.

However, I put the seeds in the faux-greenhouse I keep, early in the spring—maybe March--to give them plenty of time, and the seeds took weeks to germinate. Most of them just quit at that point. But the remaining maybe ten seedlings I nursed up for awhile and then moved them over to pots. I needed to put them in big pots so that somebody else would water them when I wasn’t here. They did grow, but ever so slowly, and by late August they had the beginnings of buds. And now, the flower itself.

I suspect it is a very dim reminder of the actual Mexican red flower as it manifests itself in its homeland. The tallest of the plants barely got to four feet, but most reached only two feet. The flowers are barely 2 inches across. They’re pretty in a delicate, unsunflower-like way: these plants are more like bonsai Mexican red sunflowers. Well, good try, guys! [Correction: after I posted this, I actually measured the flowers and they are two inches, not four inches as I originally wrote.]

Why do we do this? Why not follow the advice in paragraph one, above? For some, I think it’s the challenge; for some, it’s a yearning for something they had someplace else; for some, it may be an appreciation of a kind of aesthetic contrast. For me, it was more a package of free seeds. But it was an awful lot of tending to do for the results. I'm sure there's an aphorism that would fit this situation: maybe something about trying to get a camel through the eye of a needle?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Community Organizing

Lucky Obama! Before he tried to get the country organized, he spent a few years learning something about community organizing, which is to say, getting members of a community to learn to act in their own interests rather than to accept the role of victims or of passive recipients of whatever was being handed down by government or just offered to them by the status quo. Point Roberts may be a community in need of that kind of organizing. I think this because there is such a pervasive sense by people who live here full-time of being the victim of the county, state, and U.S. government. Unfortunately, I don’t have much sense of how to do that community organizing. Nor do my friends and neighbors, I fear, who probably don’t think that the community actually needs any organizing but instead think that the various levels of government need improved organizing.

This is occupying my thoughts because I attended this evening the monthly meeting of the Point Roberts Community Association, a new group that has been meeting for about nine months. Time for the baby to be born. But things are going a little slowly. The immediate object of our attention is the community events sign which we decided early this spring to replace because of its being in such a state of disrepair. Those of us going to these meetings (anywhere from 5 to 10 people) saw this as a relatively simple job that we could get done quickly and use as a kind of demonstration project to show our good intentions. This, we thought, might draw a larger membership.

People here are very suspicious of community groups because they work so poorly. There are doubtless many causes of this lack of sustained interest in the community as community, and I wish we could have a visit from a diagnostician—Hey, Obama! Where are you when I need you?-- but so far it is just flailing along, trying to find a formula that might work. It seems to me that if you have only 1700 people, you ought to be able to reach out to them in some meaningful way. But seeming isn’t doing.

So, we have gone over the sign design yet again tonight and I am promised by those actually constructing the actual sign that it will in fact be in place by October 15th. After that, we can put out a community questionnaire. The idea is to introduce the community to the new sign, a small attempt to improve the state of the community, and inquire of them what other things they think would improve the community: things that are, in fact, doable by the community itself. (It would, of course, improve the community to have a hospital, e.g., but that’s not going to happen.) Those answers, we expect, will lead us to a second project that will draw more community member participation. And with two projects, we can organize a community website to keep track of and to communicate information about these projects.

That’s the plan, anyway. Will it work? I’m trying to be optimistic, but I’m working from zero history and zero experience, so I am just trying to take it one meeting at a time. If the only thing we achieve (other than the sign) is getting to know each other better, that can’t be a bad thing. I'm prepared to take what I can get out of this adventure.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Are You Amused?

Several people have written to me asking whether I plan to write about Sarah Palin. It seems to me unlikely that I would have anything to offer on that topic that others have not already written. Nevertheless, a couple of things that have been written have come to my mind in recent days and roiled around there. The first, a book written over two decades ago; the second, an essay published in the L.A. Times this past week.

Neil Postman was a NYU professor, a media theorist, and a cultural critic. In 1985, he published a book called Amusing Ourselves to Death. It was about the way in which the pervasiveness of television was altering the culture. Wikipedia describes it thus: “Postman argues that television confounds serious issues with entertainment, demeaning and undermining political discourse by making it less about ideas and more about image.” I read the book in 1985, sensed that what he was saying sounded right, and kept it in mind. Part of the reason that I thought he was onto something was that I was teaching bioethics/’legal and ethical issues in healthcare’ to undergraduates at UCLA at the time and was comparing them to the undergraduate students I had first taught at UCLA twenty-five years earlier, in 1960, when I was teaching rhetoric/English composition to students of the same age.

The students of 1960 didn’t know how to write any better than the students of 1985, but no worse, either. What seemed to me to be different was the students’ understanding of the context they and I found ourselves inhabiting. In 1960, we saw it pretty much the same: I was the instructor and they expected me to teach them something. They assumed that I had something to teach them and, though they might not like learning it or might not entirely see what was the value of learning it, they expected to try to learn it. I, similarly, thought I had something to teach them and expected them to try to learn it. By 1985, I was still in the 1960’s context, but these 1985 students had moved on, for the most part, to a different context. And it was something like ‘education as a television program.’ Their question was not, ‘What have you got for me?’, as the 1960’s students’ question might be understood. It was more like, ‘Do I like this? Am I enjoying this? Is this class any fun?’ During those intervening 25 years, the students had transmogrified from students to audience, I had been moved in their view from teacher to performer, and the entire operation had been reconceived of as entertainment not education. Just as Postman said.

Now I didn’t think I was an entertainer nor that what we were doing was entertainment. But that didn’t really matter because a context is created by all parties to the activity. If I was to make any headway with my idea of what we were doing, I had somehow to incorporate their idea of what we were doing and lead them through it to my idea. I tried to be more entertaining and slip the education through where I could. I wasn’t unhappy some years later when I moved on to other worlds and no longer had to entertain people who wouldn’t mind being educated but only if it came through an entertainment context.

So, I now look at this campaign process and feel some sympathy for the people who thought they were going to be journalists but have ended up being performers in an entertainment endeavor. And I feel some sympathy for politicians who thought that they were going to explain their political views and policy goals but are instead expected to be star performers in an entertainment world. The American public appears, largely, to be interested in being entertained first, last and foremost, although it’s possible that the right person would still be able to slip in a little enlightenment here and there. But I don’t feel much sympathy for the audience that eagerly seeks out this entertainment extravaganza, pretending that it’s a political campaign or that it has any enlightenment or education at all, even as I understand how they got into audience mode. If we weren’t watching, obsessing about, writing about, and generally enjoying it as an entertainment spectacle, the politicians and the journalists wouldn’t be doing what they are doing. It takes two to engage in this. And it is here, alas, where I see Postman’s book title as prescient: We do, indeed seem to be amusing ourselves to death.

Which brings me to the second piece of writing, an op-ed by Sam Harris, in which he says, with respect to the press’ and public’s enthusiasm for Gov. Palin (and President Bush) as a 'regular guy’ (or gal), not some fancy-pants educated twit, but someone just like them (but with more money and political pull), someone who makes them cheer and hiss and boo as if they were at a wrestling match: ‘This is one of the many points at which narcissism becomes indistinguishable from masochism. Let me put it plainly: If you want someone just like you to be president of the United States, or even vice president, you deserve whatever dysfunctional society you get.’

Amusing ourselves to death. I am surely seeing the death part, but I’m personally having a little difficulty experiencing the amusing part. But then, I’m an educated twit, I suppose, even if I’m just a girl who grew up in the potato fields of Idaho. Forgot to learn to shoot large quadrupeds, however.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008


This Saturday, the local trash collection company--the one that has the community in something of an uproar over whether curbside recyling collection is one of the defining features of modern life—is sponsoring a local roadside litter cleanup day. We’ll see whether those who are deeply in favor of curbside recycling are equally in favor of curbside litter pickup. If recent history is any indication, it doesn’t look promising. Last spring, when such a day was scheduled—just in time to greet the summer visitors with clean roadsides—the response amounted to three or four kids, most of whom were the children of the guy who runs the trash collection company and sponsors the litter roadside cleanup. We were up in B.C. that week, but we will be here for this session and will make our appearance on the road with bags and tongs.

Of course, if people stopped throwing crap along the roadside in the first place, none of us would have to go out and pick it up in the second place. It just wouldn’t be an issue. The received wisdom, of course, is that the people who do the throwing are NOT the same people as those who do the litter picking up; instead, it is our friends and neighbors whom we normally think kindly towards. Some other received wisdom is that it is the NOT the residents of Point Roberts who do all this throwing of stuff out their car windows or out of their hands and pockets, but instead are the summer visitors whom we think of as an important stimulus to our local economy when we’re not thinking about them as mindless litterers.

I don’t know who it is who does all this throwing out and away. I wish they’d stop. Maybe they are the same people who are trying to overturn Seattle’s recent law requiring that people pay for plastic bags at stores. An initiative was recently sponsored by the American Chemistry Council. (According to the Seattle mayor, this is a trade group for, among other things, plastic bag manufacturers.) It was a paid signature initiative drive, so it was successful and now Seattle voters will be able to do the metaphorical equivalent in content if not in time of picking up local, roadside litter. If Seattle is able to defeat this attempt to repeal its plastic bag fee, it will certainly lead to fewer plastic bags in lots of places, including by the sides of roads. I hope they get out and vote in significant numbers against this repeal initiative. But then, I hope that people in Point Roberts will turn out in significant numbers to help clean up the roadsides. In addition, I am keenly aware of the fact that hope is not a plan.

My plan is to, in words ever present at Neilsen’s Hardware, ‘Just do it!’ I am hoping that those of you in this vicinity just do it, too. It’s tough to be a community; we are living through an era in which there is less sense of community than we have had in a century. (See Bowling Alone, Robert Putnam’s book on the collapse of American community and the steady reduction of community volunteer activities). This Saturday is a small thing to do, but that doesn’t make it an unimportant thing to do. Pick up bags at the Transfer Station. I don't think roll will be taken, but I'm pretty sure it will be on the final exam.

Monday, September 8, 2008

It's All History

Yesterday and everything before that: history. All we know: history. Our entire lives: history. You might think with history comprising almost everything about people that people would be more interested in history. But, it seems so, well, past. Even Point Roberts, anomaly that it is, joins the rest of the world in having a history. And it also has a historical society. What it doesn’t have, though there have certainly been efforts to obtain it, is a place for the records of its history to call home. There’s a community project in need of being taken up by the larger community.

The historical society also has an extensive collection of photographs of Point Roberts and of its inhabitants of long years back. I’ve seen a number of them because the Point Roberts Quilt Group looked at them before it made the Community Quilt that hangs in the Community Center. Each block in that quilt is based upon an actual photograph of a Point Roberts long gone. I made the one that has what looks like a lifeguard station at Lighthouse Park, but is actually the lighthouse that was there before it was a park. And also the heron part of the center panel.

The Historical Society has turned some of the photographs into notecards that are sold at The Blue Heron. The Society also runs programs each year, including an excellent one on the Point Roberts’ cemetery. An accompanying booklet is available from them about the cemetery and its origin and experiences. And some years back, the Society sponsored a show of 'Abandoned Houses of Point Roberts,' a series of wall quilts I made. They've been terrific to work with.

Most recently, the Society put out a call for those of us who are the Point Roberts of the ever-so-brief present (and who will be part of the Point Roberts past all too quickly) to write the story of how they came to Point Roberts. They hope to collect enough to create and ultimately publish a kind of social history of our own times, a time when photographs are so voluminous that they need to be accompanied by more words than are now being written. There used to be letters and journals to tell about daily life and daily decisions. Now, there are blogs, of course. But I can count on the fingers of one finger the number of actual letters I’ve received in the mail during the past eight months. So the Historical Society is hoping to get people to do a little writing, and their members will be responsible for keeping track of it. Imagine, years in the future, social historians and local scholars reading through your accounts of how you got here (that, of course, assumes you actually are here). Imagine you, in the nearer future, reading about how your friends and neighbors got here.

I wrote ours awhile back and a nice guy from the group called me up today and thanked me. That alone might be enough reason to get your story to them. He’ll probably call you, too. Anyway, if you are a local dweller and own a pencil or pen, you can send your story to The Point Roberts Historical Society, at PO Box 780, 98281. And if you don’t have a pencil or any paper or a stamp even, you can just email it to them at historicalsociety, followed by at-pointroberts-dot-net. (Do the address the right way; I just write it this way to keep their spam mail somewhat reduced.)

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Gone So Fast

Today, on the first Sunday after Labor Day, the Point Roberts’ streets are empty: no horses and riders, no walking families, no runners, no cars full of kids going down to the beach. When I drove down to the beach this morning, there was only one car coming the other way up from the beach, and that one was towing a boat away to wherever the boat spends its winter. The Blue Heron (an art and gift gallery which largely caters to tourists) was deserted and the cross-the-street gallery, The Maple Studio, was closed ‘4 birthday' despite the fact that it was a beautiful, sunny, touristy kind of day. I passed four gas stations, and none had at that moment more than one car pumping gas. The plant nursery is closed for the season. At the International Market, there were two check stands working when I came in, but only one when I left, shortly after noon. And that’s where we are: end of summer.

Point Roberts is what in Canada is called cottage country. Most of the maybe 3,000 summer residents (as opposed to the maybe 1600 permanent residents) fit themselves into snug little cottages that usually don’t have or need all-year heating systems. When we bought our 700-square-foot cottage house, it had two bedrooms, neither bigger than 7’x 8’, both accommodating at least two people, and one of them sharing the bed space with a water heater. I imagine there was a makeup bed in the front room, as well, and that six people would have been populating the cottage at some point in the summer.

The ‘cottage’ now has transformed into a house, with only one bedroom and all-weather, propane tank heating, as well as rather more insulation than it used to have. But it still has cottage qualities: a roof without an insulation space; precious little sub-flooring over the bare ground; under-the-house pipes that have to be wrapped and heated in the winter to keep from freezing, and a somewhat limited foundation. But there’s a phone now and an internet connection and double-glass windows to keep the heat in during the winter and double-glass transom windows to keep the heat out during the summer. It doesn't feel or look like a cottage anymore. We are clearly in residence all year round.

Today, it was cool, the kind of cool you don’t get in the summer but that reliably appears around September 1. It’s crisp, smart, accompanied by a clear but pale blue sky. It’s windy too, with the wind coming not steadily as it does in late fall, winter, and early spring, but in short gusts, so that when working outside, I am repeatedly brushed by a cascade of dry leaves careening through the air. The leaves show up suddenly and, in my peripheral vision, it’s as if someone is throwing something at me, over and over again, trying to get my attention. Saying goodbye.

So, Goodbye to the Cottagers for awhile, as well as to the formerly green leaves, and the long summer days. We won't be lonely without them, but we will be aware of their absence. I wish they would be accompanied in their departure by the adolescents (whatever their age) who gun their cars every time they plan to move down the road. Once it gets pretty quiet, I tend to want the perfection of that quiet and it doesn’t co-exist easily with young men in their cars or motorcycles peeling out of their parking spaces. But they too will grow older, will grow up and learn to treat their cars with some respect and their neighbors with the same. Or, if not, they will just grow up and leave.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Holy Cow!

One of the very nice features of the post-60’s world is the reintroduction of folk art into our lives. I’ve written previously about Patrick Amiot of Sebastopol, California (June 15, 2008), who has peopled that area with wondrously fantastic metal sculptures, and about Axil Stenzel of Roberts Creek, B.C. (June 23, 2008), who has peopled his yard with dozens, perhaps hundreds, of strange metal beings. Those who make the trek down the I-5 to California from up here have doubtless seen Ralph Starritt’s rusty cow sculpture to the east of the highway near Yreka in an endless stubble field. It is a life-size cow of welded sheet metal named ‘MooDonna,’ and it’s been in that field for well over a decade.

Down in Sebastopol, Patrick Amiot also has a semi-realistic metal cow sculpture (in addition to his fantasy creatures) that lives in a field populated by real Holsteins. According to the San Francisco Examiner, ‘At dusk, the live cows congregate around the artwork and use it as a scratching post, frequently moving it a few feet a day. Amiot has worried that they might knock over his creation. Which would probably be a first: a cow-tipping with cows as the perpetrators.’

If you google ‘metal cow sculptures,’ you will find that there a lot of them in the U.K., so it’s not just a U.S. thing. But now, Point Roberts has joined all these other excellent towns in having its own metal cow sculpture. [Correction: A reader points out that this cow (referred to as a 'lawn cow') is more likely to be fiberglass or resin than metal.] On the south side of Benson Road, just before you get to the admirable Aydon Wellness Clinic, there is DREWHENGE, where the homeowner and patenter of some kind of interlocking blocks has interlocked them to create an impressively large arch over his entranceway. On the large, grassy field that constitutes Drewhenge’s front yard, stands the cow in the photo above. You can’t always see the cow right from the road as you drive by because the cow moves around. Not under its own momentum, of course: it's a metal sculpture. Nevertheless, one can only hope that, someday, the Drewhenge cow meets up with the Point Roberts’ Marina's cows. I have, of course, no real understanding of why the marina has cattle, but maybe they’re folk art, too, even though they do move on their own and are eventually headed for an abattoir.

Friday, September 5, 2008

A Little Extra Piece

From another blog:

Monday, September 1, 2008

Buried Lede

From Peter Baker's New York Times Magazine feature article "The Final Days", on the last act of the Bush presidency, from page 4:

"'They’re friendly,' said Senator Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican and McCain ally who has watched the two men up close. 'They don’t hang out together. I don’t think John’s ever been to Camp David. I think it’s respectful. President Bush respects Senator McCain, and I think Senator McCain respects the office of the presidency.'"

How You Feeling?

An interlude with the dentist reminds me of the question people who don’t live in Point Roberts often ask me about Point Roberts. Specifically, “What do you do for health care?” Good question. As one can imagine, the almost 4-square-mile peninsula does not have an HMO, a hospital, an ER, a fully-staffed clinic, or even a doc-in-a-box, let alone a dentist. There’s no home health care business, no hospice program, and no pharmacy. The International Market does carry a respectable but limited supply of over-the-counter medicines, so we are never deprived of, say, aspirin. In a sense, you are unusually on your own, so mostly, I think, we try to stay well.

When we moved here, the options were either try out the Canadian practitioners who are just minutes across the border or drive to Blaine/Bellingham, either of which has its problems, although I did try the Canadians who, I found, had special prices for Americans. But when we moved here, we were still also living in Los Angeles, so we pretty much waited until we went down there, even for emergencies, as it turned out. Once the L.A. part was over, though, we somewhat incorporated ourselves into what is here. Canada has dentists and their charges and services are pretty comparable to the U.S. (especially now that the exchange rate makes the two dollars about even). My U.S. dental insurance pays for Canadian care, although it doesn’t do it at a very rapid rate which, I assume is a result of their having to figure out the exchange rates.

Medical care: a little more complicated. About five years ago, Point Roberts managed to put together a special, targeted tax increase that funded a local clinic—the Aydon Wellness Clinic, pictured above--and staffed by a nurse-practitioner. It is also connected in some way with a Bellingham hospital, so you can get a referral to docs who practice at that hospital. Bellingham is about an hour’s drive away assuming the border crossing is minimal time. The nurse-practitioner’s husband happens to have laboratory tech experience and so he does some of that work here, as well. The clinic is good for simple ‘emergencies.’ You run a nail into your foot; you can get a tetanus shot. You fall off your deck (as I did), and the nurse-practitioner can tell you whether you need to go to an ER or just go home and lie down with an ice pack. Routine monitoring for chronic conditions is available there, as are routine tests, immunizations, injections, and other stuff common to routine general medical practice. However, it’s open only three days a week. And the NP and lab tech husband are a special combination of service-providers, not likely to be duplicated. Furthermore, they were already retired and living in Point Roberts. If they quit (by choice or by inevitability), not clear whether they could be easily replaced.

Thus, one is still dependent on some other medical system. People often comment that it would be good if we had a doctor here, but we did once and it didn’t work out at all. Maybe eight years ago, a Canadian M.D. managed to get himself licensed in the U.S. and procured a green card and set up shop in Point Roberts. But there wasn’t enough clientele to keep him occupied. I think that’s ultimately because people aren’t looking for a doctor here now: they’re wishing there had been one here a long time back so that he/she would already be their doctor. After all, one makes some accommodation to the system you live with and starting up with a new doctor is a big psychological investment. Maybe he won’t stay; maybe you won’t like him; maybe you’d better hang on to whatever doctor-connection you’ve already made, even if it’s inconvenient.

A few years later, the B.C. insurance company that provides malpractice for B.C. physicians announced that it would no longer include in that coverage care provided to Americans. Later, the insurance company said it would make an exception for Americans living in Point Roberts, which was nice, but a strange business decision that I wouldn’t want to rely on if I were a Canadian doc. Medicare is said to cover costs of care in a Canadian hospital if it is closer than the nearest American hospital and if you are not in Canada on vacation. That is, the Canadian hospital must be nearer to where you live than the closest American hospital is to where you live. I looked it up in the Medicare regulations and wrote down the regulation section number in case I ever needed it. I suspect that, like the dental insurance reimbursement, that check will not be quick in arriving in my mailbox, though.

A commitment to Christian Science or exclusively to alternative medicine is probably the best answer to health care in Point Roberts. Or maybe just a strict regimen of daily exercise, no smoking, moderate alcohol use, and balanced and moderate meals, plus no prior medical conditions. Hard to know which one to choose

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Stick Figures in Peril

Point Roberts isn’t just an out of the way place with nothing in common with the rest of the world. We share, for example, an interest in tsunamis and their consequences with many others in this world. I don’t know that there’s been a tsunami in recorded history that significantly affected Point Roberts, but there was a tsunami on the West Coast back in 1964 that was generated by an Alaskan earthquake on Easter Sunday, an 8.4 on the Richter Scale. People died in Oregon and in California from that upswelling, so the tsunami concern is a realistic one for emergency planners on this coast.

On a more humorous note, however, I offer an impressive collection of stick figures in peril in the face of a tsunami. It is interesting to note the similarities and differences in these signs. Some, in Thai and/or Indonesian, speak to those country’s very recent experience with tsunamis, if not with stick figures. Others seem to suggest that the response to a tsunami is to move quickly to the right (indicated by the right-pointing arrow); yet others would have you climb the nearest cliff, preferably the one directly in front of you (with the wave directly behind you). Good advice all round, I’m sure. This advice compares favorably with that offered by our own stick figure in peril, seen several places around the Point, including South Beach Road off of APA Road, and Gulf Road in front of The Blue Heron, the source of my photo.

This site is but a tiny segment of the much larger ‘Stick Figures in Peril’ site. The iconography of many of these signs is fascinating, not least because I can’t even begin to imagine what the sign is supposed to be conveying. Don’t push people in wheelchairs into bodies of water wherein crocodiles reside? I would think not; surely that is not its meaning? Nevertheless, I have difficulties with all these signs, although they seem to be much beloved by the signage agencies of all governments. I understand that you can’t assume everybody who needs warnings will speak English (Oh, why not, she thought crankily?), but why would you assume that everyone understands pictographs? Better yet, where is the dictionary of pictographs for us to consult? Is this an international convention? Is the U.N. involved? Why does the tsunami wave look like a big saw blade? Why are the tsunami signs for Point Roberts so much like the ones for Indonesia, except for language, which is supposed to be unneeded because of the pictograph? Ought these pictographs not be culture specific? Or is this to be the final evidence of ‘it’s a small world after all’ (at least if you leave out words).

Because we have a lot of deer around, both here and on the Sunshine Coast, we frequently get signs that feature pictographs of prancing/jumping deer along the roads. (Stick animals in peril?) Are we to assume that these are warnings, specifically, ‘Don’t run into a jumping deer’? Or just information: ‘Hey, watch the jumping deer on this road!’ In any case, although I’ve seen deer in both places, including near the road, I’ve never seen one prancing or jumping. Just another misleading sign, I’m obliged to conclude. Or maybe uncooperative deer.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Those Falling Leaves

The falling leaves drift by my window...’ Don’t they just? September is here, the mornings are already cold, and the vine maples have been turning red in the woods for almost a month. ‘Autumn Leaves,’ this most romantic of American songs, however, turns out to be this most romantic of French songs. Words originally written by Jacques Prevert, lyrics by Joseph Kosma (both French), with the English lyrics to the credit of Johnny Mercer. The French lyrics don’t seem to be about autumn, so at least it is the most romantic of American lyrics about the seasons. In any case, when those falling leaves drift by my window, I don’t much think about the sun-burned summer I am leaving or how much I miss you, whoever you happen to be. That is because I am the steward (or the co-steward) of five or six big-leaf maple trees. Also sometimes called ‘dinner-plate maples because the leaves are the size of dinner plates. And they really are. So, if you are the custodian of five or six big leaf maples, you are the owner of bales of autumn leaves. And there is no romance in trying to figure out what to do with them.

This morning, I got up and swept several hundred of them off the deck--remember the phrase 'the size of dinner plates'; by noon, several hundred more had taken their place and we haven’t even begun to deal with the bulk of them; 90% are still on the trees. I raked today’s allotment up just now and stuffed two big garbage bags tightly: today’s autumn leaves. I store them back by the compost, but we are now collecting this year’s leaves and I haven’t yet finished with composting last year’s leaves. This is because there are just too many leaves. Several of the trees are in the woods and those leaves I don’t touch. It is only those on the deck, in the cleared areas around the house, in the near garden beds where autumn’s leaves will not protect the flowers over the winter but will protect the slugs who will then eat the flowers in the spring as they come up, right before I rake the leaves out of the bed. Thus, they have to be raked in the fall.

There is this strange abundance at this time of year. It’s not only the apples and plums, but also maple leaves. And you can add to that hydrangea flowers and dried lunaria pods. Point Roberts seems to be the perfect environment for both of them. The hydrangeas come in all colors and I can change their color by fooling with the soil chemistry or just by planting them somewhere else in the yard. All of the dozen or so hydrangeas in my yard are offspring of one hydrangea; new ones are made by sticking a cut stalk in the ground in August. That’s it.

Lunaria (often called ‘silver dollar plants’) put out these gorgeous seed pods in the fall after providing excellent purple flowers with dark green leaves in the early spring, flowers that provide a wonderful contrast to tulips and daffodils. Each circular, silver pod carries 3 or 4 seeds with twenty to a hundred pods on each stalk. My experience suggests that every single seed will grow into yet another lunaria plant, anxious to provide in alternate years more enormous stalks of silver dollar seed pods and seeds.

People are always talking about developing the economic base of Point Roberts, but the only thing they seem to be able to come up with to achieve this reasonable goal is to build more houses. My suggestion is that we take some of Point Roberts’ absolutely most abundant resources and figure out how to develop them economically instead: apples, plums, dried maple leaves, hydrangea blossoms, and lunaria pods. There may be a few other things like this (starfish? sand dollars?), but we could just start with the obvious ones and work out from there.