hydrangea blossoming

hydrangea blossoming
Hydrangea on the Edge of Blooming

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Under Attack

Well, if it’s not one thing, it’s another, as my grandmother used to say while listening to my brothers and sisters complain about one another.  Somebody was always being a victim, somebody else was always being an oppressor.  It’s a hard life, and getting harder.

In the great extramural world outside our front doors, we now have two lengthy wars, with Pakistan looking like it might join in more formally in order to produce a much bigger problem.  We have the beleaguered Republicans increasingly under the many thumbs of the inherently disorganized but oppressive Democrats (Arlen Specter can sit next to Ben Nelson when the food fight begins).  

We have the swine flu virus on the attack as well as under attack everywhere, with  Egyptians killing all their resident swine. (And what are the Egyptians, a Muslim country, doing with all those swine?  Making footballs for export?)  Surely the existence of hogs is not the immediate problem; they don't have the virus.  And eating pork is not the problem, or not a problem for swine flu, although a big problem for Muslims.

We have the Israelis insisting that the sensibilities of Jews and Muslims not be offended by referring to ‘swine flu.’  Instead they prefer irritating the sensibilities of Mexicans by referring to it as ‘Mexican flu.’  

I, myself, am at a red alert with respect to raccoons, deer, bear, and slugs in the garden and environs.  And now I am informed that the former “LilyPoint.org has now evolved into a new expanded organization called Lily Point Defenders.”  Just in time to join the 24/7 game of ‘Life As War.’  I’m not sure, however, who is the attacker that they are planning to defend against.  (Iraquis? Al Qaeda? Swine Flu? Democrats? Slugs, raccoons, etc.?)   I would have thought that, given the recent acquisition of two large parcels of land for a publically-owned marine reserve/park, the ‘defense’ mode would be behind us and we would be signing up for the ‘stewardship’ mantle.  But if it's not one thing, it's another.

Well, at least their first step is only to plan a conference  (June 20), which doesn’t sound as dangerous as what might be coming on our southern border.  (link maker isn't working again:  www.lilypd.org/1/Home.html)

Monday, April 27, 2009

Life's Mysteries

I’m supposed to be hard at work getting ready for an exhibit that opens next Friday.  I am the ‘guest quilt artist’ at the Sunshine Coast Quilt Guild biennial (if that means every two years) Quilt Show.  Which means that I have a small, enclosed on three sides section of the hall where I will hang about a dozen wall quilts.  One of them isn’t finished yet, all of them need precisely cut dowels from which to hang, all of them need specific wall labels, all of them need a single 'exhibit book' whose pages describe them and me.  None of those things are done, though all are more or less in the process.  

Yesterday, I was told that the irregularly-shaped (19.5x8.5x12 feet, with the fourth side the entry way), semi-enclosed space was losing maybe two feet on one side.  This means that instead of being a semi-enclosed room, it is now more like a 6 or 6.5 foot-wide corridor.  Sigh.  Well, the Guild is not the owner of the room, and they cannot demand that furnishings be removed, but I am the sort of unhappy recipient of the effects of that fact.  Doing those last minute/days details suddenly dropped lower on my priority list.

And thus, this morning, instead of setting to the quilting work, I found myself vacuuming the insides of our Subaru Forester.  Last week, Ed washed it (just in time for all the alder pollen to fall and attach itself to the shiny surface: alder pollen is something of a menace in more than one way: allergies and stick-to-surfaces).  Although we’re responsible about maintenance of house and car, we are neither of us reliable house/car keepers with respect to constant attention to dust and the like, so it’s a kind of entertaining activity when I do get around to doing it.  

In the process of removing all the mats and vacuuming under them and cleaning all the vinyl surfaces, I did something which caused the car lights to turn on.  I checked all the switches, but nothing I did caused the tail light, hatch light, or front yellow light (running light?) to turn off.  We actually turned the motor on and off and nothing resulted in those lights turning off (this was like doing a reboot, I think).  

Finally, Ed decided to remove the fuse from that circuit so the battery didn’t run down.  Reading the car manual to find the fuse box (amazingly, tightly hidden behind something the manual refers to as a ‘coin holder,’ I eventually discovered a page about something called ‘safety lights,’ which appear to be the very ones that were problematically on and that, says the manual, run independently of the ignition.  Their switch is hidden behind the steering wheel, in the center at the top.  This is not the switch that turns on the flashing safety lights; this is some different set of safety lights that neither of us had ever known were there.  We’ve only had the car for 10 years.  

It may be the mark of having too much if after ten years you still don’t know what you have.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Saturday, April 25, 2009


We have now moved/are moving past the threat to growing plants from the deer and onto the full-bore threat from the slugs.  Some years when we have pretty cold or pretty long winters, the slug populations seem to diminish somewhat, or at least to consist of smaller slugs.  This year, however, despite the long AND cold winter, the slugs are plentiful and sizable.  A friend reports that she and her husband are collecting a couple of hundred of an evening.  And I don’t ask what they are doing with this collection, but I doubt if it involves a happy, museum-type ending.

I try not to plant much that the slugs are interested in.  In my experience, they don't have much interest in peonies.  When we bought our house 18 years ago, there was one sizeable, pink peony growing.  It kept getting bigger and we bought three more of different colors (white, red-violent, and darker pink) to keep it company.  Then, two years ago, I decided it was time to address the aging condition of the original peony which had now begun to produce fewer blooms.  So one day in the fall, I had Ed dig it up for me.  It was an enormous root/corm/whatever that part of the peony is called.  I read and read on the internet and did as I was told:  cut it up in smaller pieces with several eyes at least in each section, let it dry for a bit, replanted it.  And replanted it.  And then replanted it a little more because there was so much, with great hopes that the planting depth was right, which seems to be a critical factor with peonies.

I re-planted maybe 40 of them, and their first spring, at least 30 of them showed up to join the circus that is my garden.  Only two or three of these new plants bloomed last year, but I was actually surprised that any of them did.  I thought they might need some time to grow up.  Now, here they are all back, but the slugs have decided, given the abundance, that they might at least try out peony stalks in the off chance that they’re worth the effort.  What they have done, apparently, is climb about six inches up the 10-inch stalk, nibble around on the under-side of the stalk and then decide they don’t taste good.  They jump off, I imagine, plummeting to the ground, shortly followed by the upper end of the stalk which now has insufficient support because of the wedge taken out below it.

Two peony stalks gone so far.  This may require more serious measures.  Or maybe I just share my bounteous peony stalks with the slugs if they can show some discretion.  I mean, when I last offered to share a dozen small dahlias with them, they ate them all overnight.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Spring Springing Yet Some More

We drove up to B.C (the Sunshine Coast) on Wednesday, the day after the border meeting.  It is heart-breaking to leave the Point at this time of the year because everything (or at least something else) is just about to burst into bloom, including all the fruiting trees in our orchard.  We’ve had the daffodils at our house and they’re still looking great.  The purple blooms of the lunaria (silver dollar) are just starting, but they will go on and on.  However, the tulips are showing the colors in their buds and I don’t know whether they’ll last another two weeks, especially if we have a lot of rain, so I picked a dozen of them to take with us.  It is a good thing that the CBP allows us to move cut flowers over the border.  The tulips are now at home on our dining room table in Roberts Creek, pink and gold ones, orange ones with green mottling, and red ones with frilly edges, all happily blooming and helping me to fulfill my promise to keep at least a few flowers in the house all year long.

As we left, we stopped so Ed could take a picture of the spectacular show of daffodils on Tyee, the long block from Benson to Gulf.  The P.R. Garden Club has taken on the establishment and planting of this long row of berms on both side of the street, with the assistance (financial and material) of the County.  Last year was the first blooming spring in these beds and they were indeed very lovely, but this spring they are truly spectacular.  The show of bulbs began in March with beautiful little crocuses.  Now we have a world of bright yellow and pale yellow daffodils.  And the garden club keeps these beds blooming until fall with appropriate flowers of the season.  When the tall cosmos finished last year and were, at last, uprooted to prepare for the fall re-planting, it made for a fitting if hard to watch ending for this show.

What a spectacular job they have done with this.  In Vancouver, they also have big, fancy flower displays in spring, especially along Georgia near the entrance to Stanley Park.  But those are provided for us watchers by the city itself, and planted and tended by city employees.  In Pt. Roberts, it is a gift from our neighbors to all of us.  Thank you, very much, all of you who put in the work to make this happen!  We are truly in your debt.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Breaking News

Tonight, the CBP (Customs and Border Protection) sent up a phalanx of officers to alleviate our concerns, here in Point Roberts. We had a 2-star General, at least one 1-star General and eleven other CBP folks of elevated rank (all packing clearly visible guns in holsters) to talk to the maybe 80 people who turned out from the community. The CBP people were distributed in groups of 3 or 4 at tables around the perimeter of the room, and my first response was one of decided discomfort at the sight of so many uniforms, so many weapons.

And then matters deteriorated a bit. The meeting began badly because the CPB honchos seemed to think they had come to talk to us. Apparently, they had many individual prepared presentations, perhaps as a way of using up time, just in case the audience was at a loss for words. Twenty minutes in to their explaining what a hard job they have and what a good job they are doing, a hardy Pt. Roberts woman of a certain age (alas, not me) courageously got up and said, ‘I’m sorry; I’m not as polite as the rest of these people here, but you’ve come up here for 90 minutes and we want to talk to you, not have you talk to us. You need to hear from us.’

And, to their everlastintg credit, those CBP heavies spun on the dime, sat down and listened to us for the rest of the evening, responding appropriately to our concerns. At the end, they weren’t able to say, ‘Look, we’ll fix it all.’ But then, we didn’t expect that. We expected them to listen to us, to hear the legitimacy of our concerns. And for all I can tell, they heard. They seemed impressed with the depth of our concerns, our feelings, and our sincerity, and were not just giving us the brushoff in their responses. As one said to me afterwards, “I realized coming up here that a Nexus card isn’t just a convenience for you….it’s your life blood,’ and ‘Nobody ought to be fearful when crossing the border…at least not four times a day.’

They heard about people who have lost their Nexus cards for bizarre reasons, for trivial reasons, for no known reasons. They urged us to ask to talk to a Supervisor if we were offended by one of the CBP people’s behavior at the border. We told them that if you ask to talk to a supervisor, there is every chance that that request will be used against you in the future. We mentioned that the supervisors, even if you do talk to one, ALWAYS backs up the officer and then explains to YOU how YOU should be more understanding of the difficulty of their job. They told us to write to various CBP officers if we are displeased with the border guards’ actions or their supervisors’ responses. We told them that you never get a response. They told us to write to the Ombudsperson in Vermont; we reminded them that the Ombudsperson doesn’t reply or, if he/she does, provides you with no information. We said we needed a better process for dealing with the CPB perceived misbehaviors. They said that when we write to the Ombudsperson, be sure to mention that you’re from Pt. Roberts. The request for a better, different, independent, or common sense process for objecting to what was going on didn’t really make much headway, but then they’re not going to just say, ‘Cool, dude, I never thought of that,’ and then produce some kind of peoples’ court.

Finally, after many very specific accounts of bad or at least very dubious doings by their employees and colleagues, one of the officers (a Major) took out a note pad and started taking down peoples’ names and contact information so that they could look into the individual tales of disrespect and disorder that so many people here have been subject to over the past few years. General Michelle James (the 2-star), who was the primary speaker on behalf of the CBP seemed almost shocked by what she was hearing, as she again and again tried to assure us that ‘such things’ shouldn’t be happening. And that we should give them a chance.

My own feeling (which I did state) was that we no longer trusted them and it was going to take some time for them to build that trust back up but that we would be willing to try if they were; it wasn’t personal. Another local guy noted that they see us as the enemy and now we see them that way, but we’ve got to get past that, both of us. They responded that they were hearing us, that we would see changes, that they were deeply committed to professionalism, and they promised another meeting in a year (or less, was the advice of one of them privately).

Things to look for: (1) longer Nexus operating hours at least in the summer; (2) responses to complaints and to Nexus denials; (3) more clarity on the food rules (CPB did distribute a paper dated 3/30/2009) which provided current food rules, including the information that “US fruits, except citrus, may return [from Canada to the U.S.] if they are in season and clearly marked with US brand labels (For example, Washington apples with stickers).” And the officer responsible for agriculture issues (out of Blaine?) said that even citrus bought in Bellingham, e.g., labeled, packaged, and with a receipt, could go straight through to Pt. Roberts.

And some other interesting news that was not announced during the public part of the meeting but that one of the Generals told Ed and me when we were talking to him afterwards: you can now use the Nexus card in any lane because all lanes now have the ability to read the Nexus card.

My concerns were feeling a little alleviated at the end of the two hours. Anyway, I left the meeting smiling and feeling cordial, which is not always the case after meetings in Pt. Roberts, and almost never the case after a discussion of the border.

Two addresses of use from the meeting:

Michelle James
Director of Field Operations
1000 - 2nd Ave
Suite 2200
Seattle , WA 98104-1049

Jonni Galarza
Passenger Service Manager
9901 Pacific Highway
Blaine, WA 98230

Sad to say, I was not able to find a web page for the Seattle Operations Office of CBP that provided any detailed information about the names/phone numbers of the various officials operating out of that office. It may be there, but in 15 minutes or so of googling, I didn’t find it.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Story with Moral(s)

This is a story with maybe too many morals, but at least a story with many lessons, a story of attraction and distraction, a story of unexpected change and of invasion and battle, of ignorance and of failure to pay attention.

About ten years ago, we were given a dozen or so rhododendron and azalea bushes that originally lived farther south in Washington state. They were old (and large) bushes, and came to us with big, burlap-bagged, soil-encrusted roots. The first year they bloomed, at the base of two of the bushes were lovely little scilla plants, a kind blue-bell-like flowerbulb that I was familiar with and it was nice to have more of them. At the base of the biggest rhodo that first year, there was a little plant I didn’t know: it looked like a tiny, wild-type of cranesbill, maybe, with little pink flowers, like wild geraniums, but pinker. Nice little flower.

After a few years, the little pink flower plant spread around a bit and I noticed when I was weeding around it that it had a kind of unpleasant smell, but I didn’t spend a lot of time smelling it so not a problem. After six or seven years, the little pink plant’s smell was getting a little more oppressive because it was spreading throughout our very large garden (maybe 7-8,000 square feet) and you could smell it everywhere you went. I started asking around. People called it ‘stinky pinky’ and ‘stink plant’ and an expert gardener friend ID-ed it as something called ‘herbe Robert.’ So, by then I had two very unappealing names and one very pretentious one for a plant whose acquaintance I’d definitely like to unmake.

For the past three years, I’ve been trying to get rid of it. It turns out to be one of those plants that reseeds at a world class rate under all the conditions that I’ve got going: sun, shade, dry season, wet season, and during at least nine months of the year it appears to be engaging in growing, seeding, and regrowing. It is shallow rooted, but it also seems to propagate at least in some cases along a elongated shallow root system. Finally, it is just as happy growing in open areas as in areas already heavily populated by other plants where it threads its way into the existing plant arrangements and thus becomes rather unreachable. It occupies every tiny niche in the midst of a shasta daisy clump or a large cluster of crocosmyias, e.g.. Finally, my garden has a lot of wild columbines growing in it and the ‘wretched pink flower’ (my preferred name for this invader) looks, when it first comes up just like wild columbine when it first comes up. Thus, it is hard to pull it up at that point because I’m not sure what I’m pulling up.

The is a plant with a terrific evolutionary strategy, except for the awful smell. I mean what good is that doing it? The slugs aren’t interested in it and there isn’t much else here that messes with plants that small (it barely gets more than 4 inches above ground). Although maybe the slugs aren’t messing with it because it smells bad, but it is hard to imagine that something like a slug would have a highly developed sensitivity to a bad smell, given its own unseemly characteristics.

Its evolutionary strategy feels like it might be much more powerful than any commitment I could make to remove it from my garden, but nevertheless, this year I am making the big push. I spend at least an hour every day I work in the garden solely working on exterminating this plant once it is big enough for me to identify. You can’t leave piles of them around because they just re-root in the pile of pulled plants on the ground, so they all have to be dried out on the burn pile and then burned in the burn pile. I think that, compared to bind weed/wild morning glory (which I have done a pretty good job of eradicating) and Scotch broom (which we have done an excellent job of eradicating on our acre of land), this job is undoable, but nevertheless, here I am trying to do it.

So what’s the moral? Beware of Greeks bearing gifts? Soonest broke soonest mended? Look before you leap? Once burnt, twice shy? Ignorance is bliss? Beauty is only skin deep? Act in haste, repent in leisure? Let patience grow in your garden always? Or maybe the lesson I've learned from our bear and raccon co-residents: Live and let live?

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Impenetrable Forest

THIS is the forest primeval. The murmuring firs and the hemlocks, Bearded with moss, and in garments green, indistinct in the twilight, Stand like Druids of eld, with voices sad and prophetic, Stand like harpers hoar, with beards that rest on their bosoms.

Well, Longfellow actually wrote ‘the murmuring pines’ not ‘firs,’ but he was writing about eastern forests and out here in Point Roberts we don’t have pines much. But we do yet have impenetrable forests, forests primeval, that are likely to stay that way because they have been protected, at least in some cases. Today, we were celebrating the Lily Point Marine Reserve’s first anniversary as a protected park.

Last year, representatives from the Lummi Indian tribe, Governor Gregoire’s office, Whatcom County, the Nature Conservancy, and the Whatcom Land Trust all came out to congratulate one another (and the local residents, as well) on getting this Reserve to happen. This year, though, it was a smaller celebration, pretty much limited to Pt. Roberts’ folks and a rep or two from County Parks and the Whatcom Land Trust. About 70 or 80 of us locals got out there around 10 a.m. on a cold but sunny morning and listened to about ¾ of an hour of talk in advance of getting to go out on guided walks through the woods and the beach. I got so cold during all that talking that I began to think that next year they should hold the event at the Community Center where we could sit and be warm, and they could have a microphone and be heard, and then I guess we could have a slide show.

Anyway, they eventually sent us off on guided and unguided walks. Getting down to the beach involves a somewhat steep and narrow path which I'd never walked down before, but it was easy enough down (despite my uncertain knee) and hard going up because it was going up. As Ed said, ‘just work going up.’ Not recommended (at least for me) if there had been rain because that downhill path is just packed dirt and is likely to be slippery while wet.

We decided we were not feeling like being guided and instead went down to the area of the beach where the old APA cannery had done its business. The ruins of the piers are still there, and far more beautiful as rock holders (if less useful) now than they probably were when the boats tied up to them and unloaded their shiny, silver fish who were destined to be canned in tins with lead solder closures. And to then go out into the world to benefit those who didn’t have enough lead in their diet, I guess.

The woods above on the bluff were truly impenetrable, to my surprise. When I read that phrase last week in the book about the Icelanders, I couldn’t quite imagine what the author was describing. But up at the top of Lily Point, the flat paths are edged by woods that are thick and thicker with trees and bushes and lichen brabcges and other growing things as well as dead branches and other impenetrable objects. And while we were walking down a pathway through them, a bald eagle flew by, about 25 feet over my head. Very impressive.

When we left the house this morning, I was asking why I was going for a walk in the woods when I already live in the woods. It was good to ask the question because I had to see that the woods I live in and the Lily Point woods are really different places. And happy I am that Lilly Point will be able to preserve that difference over the years.

So even though they weren’t all there today, thanks again to the Governor and the County who used peoples’ taxes to buy this land, as well as to the Nature Conservancy and the Whatcom Land Trust who used peoples’ donations to buy this land, and to the Lummi Indians and the Icelandic settlers who preserved the land for so long. It’s a nice place. It has steep trails and flat trails and something for everyone, including naturalized daffodils and lilacs. But, we were advised during the talking parts, no camping, no unleashed dogs, no fires, no bikes, and no memorial benches. At least not now.

There are additional pictures of Lily Point taken during today's event, here.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Raccoon Lives Here

Living with bears has its charms, but living with raccoons is much more mysterious. Mostly I don’t see them because they are nocturnal. In the summer, they do hang around in the mid to late afternoon, wandering by on the deck within a few feet of us and studiously ignoring us. The rest of the year, my direct experience of them is mostly on sleepless nights when I can hear them when they drop down out of the maple tree and entertain themselves by marching around on the roof.

But my awareness of them is pretty constant, even if I am not actually seeing or hearing them. They leave a trail of a sort with their various activities. Over the past few months, they have been digging up the yard, the gardens, the pathways. I guess they’re looking for bugs and stuff to eat, but every morning there are dozens of holes here and there throughout the yard…often holes five-eight inches deep and as big across. Every morning, I go around and cover the holes back up, and so we engage. They dig, I cover, they dig, I cover. I don’t mind their digging, but I’d just as soon not have holes to trip on or fall into, so I cover.

At the moment, I have several flats sitting around outdoors with seeds planted. At night, I cover them with glass. I take the glass off during the day, but yesterday I forgot to put the glass back on the flat with 2-leaf lupines just starting to rise to consciousness. This morning, someone had been digging in the flat, little piled up piles of dirt and corresponding holes in about four places, one of which places had previously contained a standing up lupine plantlet. The raccoons, I guess. Looking for God knows what. But it occurred to me that while I think this is my house, my yard, my garden that they are endlessly messing with, it is possible that the raccoons think it is their house (they traipse around under the house as well as on the roof), their yard, their garden. Every night when they come out of their lairs, I'm thinking, their first job is to check all the environs to see what mess I’ve been making, what new intrusions I’ve come up with for no discernible reason. ‘People,’ they say, ‘What’s the point of them?’ And to the babies, they say, ‘Stay away from them; don’t even look at them when you go by.’ And this is how we more or less successfully share our world.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Concerning Our Concern Alleviation

The border people are coming up to alleviate our concerns next Tuesday (6:30, Community Center), apparently. I’m not even sure what those concerns would all be, but the concerns I am most familiar with are the lack of any clear rules about denial of or loss of Nexus privileges and the absence of any appeals process other than writing to a guy in Vermont who writes back to say, ‘I have looked into your case and you were denied/had revoked your Nexus card because we have a ‘zero tolerance program.’ What they don’t tolerate remains very mysterious.

However, it is not that New England ombudsman who is coming to talk to us. It is some lower echelon ‘muck’a’muck’ from Seattle who is going to address us. All our personal experience here in Pt. Roberts is that the border people under Chertoff and now under Napolitano DO NOT give you reasons for denials or revocations of Nexus cards.

Here is Congressman Larsen, in February (speaking to the Bellingham Herald):

Yet the [Nexus] program has many flaws including a rigid "zero-tolerance" policy for NEXUS card applicants and the absence of an appeals process. I have called on Congress to hold hearings on the NEXUS program. . .

On the other hand, here is the current text (Feb. 9, 2009) on the DHS website with respect to Nexus denials or revocations:

To qualify for one of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Trusted Traveler Programs, all applicants must voluntarily undergo a thorough background check against criminal, law enforcement, customs, immigration, agriculture, and terrorist indices to include biometric fingerprint checks, and a personal interview with a CBP Officer.

In the event you are denied or revoked from the SENTRI, NEXUS or FAST programs, you will be provided information in writing detailing the reason for this action. The letter will also contain guidance on how to seek additional information, if necessary.

If you feel the decision was based upon inaccurate information, you may contact the local trusted traveler Enrollment Center to schedule an appointment to speak with a supervisor. A list of locations can be found on the Trusted Traveler Programs web site. ( Trusted Traveler Programs )

If necessary, you may also write to the CBP Trusted Traveler Ombudsman at:

US Customs and Border Protection
300 Interstate Corporate Center
Suite 303
Williston, VT 05495
Attention: CBP Ombudsman

Thus we see that on Feb. 9th, DHS says there is an appeal process, and on Feb. 14th, Congressman Larsen says there is NO appeal process. It’s so hard to know whom to believe nowadays. But we’ll go to the meeting and see if, somehow, everything has changed.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Res Ipse Loquitur

But here are a few words, anyway. Over the past five days, the sun has appeared now and then, and occasionally for longer periods, and even more occasionally, it has been somewhat warmer. But the ground is still pretty cold. Nevertheless, the improving trend seems to have encouraged the holdbacks that survived the winter (our large fuschia seems not to be one of those), and they have flung themselves over the precipice or the cliff or maybe just into the next season. All over the Point, wonderful colors are suddenly appearing in masses. It is a renaissance, indeed.

Also, during today's sun interval, the horses and horseriders were out as well as the dogs and the dogwalkers. Everyone looked very happy to be outdoors.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Untrusted Travelers

More news from the newspaper: “Border muck-a-mucks to alleviate our concerns” (!) It is good to know that a mere visit to Point Roberts will alleviate our concerns, but I am pretty sure that that is a pie-in-the-sky kind of promise. It is as if Obama had turned into the man from Hope. Governor Gregoire had written DHS--some 6 months ago--asking that people denied Nexus permits or whose Nexus permits are revoked for unknown reasons be given that quaint legal right called ‘due process.’ The federal liaison eventually replied that, alas, ‘it is necessary to maintain strict eligibility criteria for participation in a trusted traveler program.’ So take your due process, he implied and, well, you know. But they’ll come up and alleviate our concerns.

George Orwell would like that trusted traveler program talk. You get a Nexus card demonstrating your trustworthiness, but then they take it away without ever telling you how you suddenly became untrustworthy. I try to think what they might mean by ‘trusted.’ Not really trusted at all is the only conceivable answer. Today, I was returning from Canada with my trusted traveler card and after the machine looked at my card I proceeded to the booth. Then the border agent looked at my card and then he poked my card into his machine (which means he’s looking at all my personal information). He then came back out of his booth and asked me in sullen tones, ‘Where are you going?’ I thought he might be talking to someone else, because I am obviously going to Point Roberts. When no one else appeared to answer the question, I replied, ‘Point Roberts.’ ‘Yes, yes,’ the surly voice continued, ‘WHERE in Point Roberts?’ ‘I live here,’ I replied, and named my street. I felt like name, rank, and serial number were going to be required next. ‘Oh, okay, go on.’ And on I went. Exactly what was I being trusted about there?? Were we checking to see if I knew that I lived here?

Well, they’re a little crazed up at the border now because they’ve at long last gotten their radiation detectors installed. That means that they've got some very expensive machines newly set up on the U.S. side to determine whether we border crossers are transporting radioactive materials across the border and into beautiful downtown Point Roberts. Back in 2006, some company got a very big contract to put these machines into all the border crossing stations and all the ports, and probably in the banks and the tunnels and in laundromats and other places where the untrusted travelers hang out. Except that they also put them in the Nexus lane, which means they don’t trust the trusted travelers not to be traveling with nuclear weapons materials in their handbags and briefcases. Some trust. In God we trust and everybody else is probably a terrorist.

So, now everyone entering Point Roberts is being checked for emitting radiation, which means that anybody who comes through the border and has recently undergone one of those medical tests that involve implanted radioactive materials gets to set off the alarm. And then gets to prove that it’s him and not his car that is carting radiation around. I found an account from some guy who got picked up for emitting radiation over at a Michigan border crossing. You can read what happened to him (posted under march 17, ‘that end of summer glow’), which wasn’t terrible or anything, but which process certainly is going to slow border crossings a great deal more since some millions of those tests are probably conducted each year in the U.S.

Well, one missed nuclear weapon is certainly going to ruin somebody’s day, so what more justification do they need? I was happy to read, in that news story about the upcoming May meeting between us residents and the muck-a-mucks, that the Dept. of Homeland Security ‘is confident that explaining [their] processes and maintaining an open dialogue will alleviate many of [our] concerns.’ I might be willing to trust them if I thought they'd be willing to trust me. Afraid the latter is off the table, though.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009


I’ve been reading a strange little book about Icelandic settlers in the Northwest: specifically, in Point Roberts, Blaine, Bellingham, and Marietta. It’s a a 2004 reprint of a 1925 book, in which Margret Benedictson took to creating a kind of census of the original Icelandic settlers in these parts. I read only the Point Roberts’ section which chronicles the arrival of 58 individuals and their various family members.

The names are mostly familiar ones if you’ve read much about the history of this place, or even if you just live here, since they are memorialized in street names: Benediktsson (which is Americanized to Benson in Benson Road), Jonsson (which becomes Johnson Road), Arnason (which becomes Anderson Road), and even Whalan (which becomes Whalen Drive and although Whalan is not an Icelandic name, it is the married name of Ingibjorg Samuelsdottir). The Thorsteinssons, the Magnussons, the many Myrdals (one of whom, Arni, was the first to have electricity in his house: he was, the author says, a very talented man with machinery). The first to arrive here was Kristjan Benediktsson and he and his wife came with such of their 16 children as were still alive.

The author had a special fondness for and/or knowledge of Point Roberts as she writes a lengthy, detailed, and glowing description of Point Roberts as it was when the first Icelandic people arrived. I had always thought that they came via Vancouver Island, but in fact the first four (in her version, anyway) arrived in 1893 from Bellingham, and another four came from Vancouver Island the next year. They initially came and took up large tracts of land—60, 80, even 160 acres. At that rate, there wouldn’t be room for many people to settle on our tiny peninsula, which Ms. Benedictson refers to consistently as ‘a spit.’

Soon there were lots of cattle on the island, not to mention lots of salmon up out of the ocean. She describes thousands of salmon being caught in a single trap, and as many as 25,000 salmon left on the beach to rot because they couldn’t get them canned fast enough. Thousands and thousands of salmon in a single day caught here, imagine. "Nowadays,” she says (and recall that she is writing in 1925), "the salmon is depleted; that is how man’s greed treats nature’s best gifts while times are good. In hard times they complain even though they were the cause of the destruction.”

Also, she describes Point Roberts as a tiny area with thousands and thousands of trees. She refers to the land as so heavily forested that it was virtually impenetrable until they cleared trees for farming and for roads. People at the southeast end would have to go by way of the beach to get to the main settlement on the western part of the spit. There were special ‘ladders’ to get up from the beach, including one called the ’99 step ladder’ at the edge of the Thorsteinsson home off the south side of APA Road.

It’s very difficult to imagine what Ms. Benedictson would say if she saw denuded Point Roberts in 2009 (she died in 1956 in Bellingham). Salmon scarce and trees getting scarcer. It’s what we call progress, I guess.

N.B. The book is currently in the P.R. library, or it will be later this week when I get it back: Icelanders on the Pacific Coast. Another fascinating book about the settling of this part of the world by Europeans is Annie Dillard's The Living, which is a novel about the founding of Bellingham, although it mentions Point Roberts only casually.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Fair Water

The April All Point Bulletin has brought us the new developments in troublesome trash collection and wandering water access. To remind: the current trash licensee says he can’t pick up recycling at the current rates and the county says he has to pickup recycling. Last month the County had provided mediation between the licensee and some local people unhappy with the situation. This month, the state decided it wanted to run things. So the state commission is now ‘conducting discovery’ and the county guy says maybe by fall there will be some decisions. I know that a lot of people have strong feelings about this, but it can't be the hardest issue in governance that the county or state has ever faced. But, if this is the way things go here, we can surely be more appreciative of why the trash isn’t picked up in Baghdad (or probably in Kabul) either.

The water problem is decided of course. There wasn’t enough water so they spent 18 months or so figuring out how to get more water (building a new storage tank) and how to raise the water rates to pay for the new tank. Then somebody decided there was an error in the planning somewhere and there was plenty of water without a new storage tank, and why not just keep the new water rate prices because there was some maintenance (replacing the pipes) that needed to be done anyway.

But there are people unhappy with the new rates and unclear why they are still there given the disappearance of the water storage tank needs and the likelihood that a new storage tank and new pipes are not interchangeable projects from a financial perspective. But what people got into the newspaper about was not so much that as that the water rates are ‘unfair.’ The headline is “WATER RATES DESCRIBED AS UNFAIR.’ I like that journalistic objectivity. They may be, they may not be: we’re just reporting what is said.

But, it is really hard to know what, exactly would constitute a fair water rate. Fairness is a tricky concept and I seem to have spent most of my life hearing people telling me about one thing or another that “life is not fair.” So if life is not fair, why would we be thinking that it mattered whether the water rates were unfair?

Nevertheless, this concern caused me to spend the last few days trying to figure out what a just water rate would be, since I have no idea what a fair rate would be (other than one that the unhappy people are willing to pay, which is more about economic ideas than about philosophical ones). The major issues here are that lots of people (mostly Canadians) don’t use any water most of the year because they aren’t here. But they don’t disconnect their water service because getting a meter connected now costs something like $7,500. So they don’t use water but they pay for the water they don’t use. A second concern is that some people use more water than others, even among those who are equally present at any moment, because there are more people in the household, for example. These people think/feel that the base allotment ought to provide more water. That is, it should be enough water for a family of four rather than for a family of two. Unfortunately, what that amount would be is not entirely clear. What you do get is almost 4,000 gallons every two months for $53.

My only real conclusion though is that we should be thinking about two rates: the first one would be the cost of just having a faucet in your house, whether you use water or not. That cost everyone ought to pay equally. If that amount were separated from the use-of-water rate, there’d be less to argue about. And water might not seem so expensive. The way the water bill looks leads consumers to think that they’re just paying for water. But they’re also paying for having a water system. Two things: water system and water. More transparency would help.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Cherry Tree Lane

Today seemed on the verge of being the first day of spring so I took a walk down APA Road (named for the Alaska Packers Association cannery) to visit the cherry trees on Cherry Tree Lane. That’s my own name for something which has no name and almost has no existence. I first saw them maybe ten or twelve springs ago…a half dozen cherry trees, neatly lined up on each side of a narrow pathway on the north side of APA. The pathway led, precisely, to nowhere. And yet, I knew it must have once led to somewhere. There must have been a house to which those trees invited friends to come in for a cup of whatever. There must have been kids who walked up that little lane after a day in school. This abandoned house had been for a long time, apparently, more than abandoned: absolutely disappeared, with no sign of the house’s previous placement even.

During most of the year, you’d barely notice the trees, but in April (or sometimes March) when the fruit trees begin to bud out, these six trees spring into bloom. And so they are beginning to do this week. The picture above is from the first time I ever saw them.

In the intervening years, I made a quilt from the picture and added those children I was sure had been there. And in the intervening years, someone came and bought the land and added a new big driveway twenty feet or so from the cherry trees. The driveway, in the nature of driveways, travels a goodly distance back to a modern house that in no way resembles the kind of house that was once there. You know that, even if you have never seen that original house. The cherry trees now looked strangely dwarfed by the new driveway, but in spring, this week, if you stand right in front of them, all the changes wash away, and they are there as they were back maybe 50 years ago. And even farther, when a neighbor (Mrs. Gudmanson?) brought the tree starts over.

For me, because I live in this part of Point Roberts, Cherry Tree Lane is one of the most memorable parts of this small peninsula. Whoever planted them can hardly have imagined they would still be here in the 21st century, still capturing our hearts and imaginations! Our gratitude goes to the new owners who were gracious enough, knowing enough, to leave them where they were in the trees' declining years.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Moo, Y'All

A return visit to the iconic cow who has been making her way about her home field over the past month or so up on Benson Road. I went to visit her in January and learned a good bit about her makeup. This was because I parked the car and got out and went right up to her and said, “Hi!” rather than photographing her with a telephoto from a safe distance away. And I was parked at her environs because Ed’s daughters were here to visit and we were trotting them around the Point to see the sights (a somewhat less scenic tour, I find, in early January: all possibilities are called into service).

She was wearing her serviceable straw hat and her silver tarp overcoat and it was cold and she doubtless needed them. When I first saw her about a year ago I assumed (from a distant sighting) that she was a metal cow with a painted, fiberglass body. To my surprise, on this up-close visit, I found that she had a metal frame indeed, but upon that metal frame was mounted in some unknown manner a foam rubber body and upon the foam rubber body she sported cow pajamas or, perhaps more accurately, cow upholstery. It doesn’t matter of course: she’s still an iconic cow, beauty’s only skin deep, etc., etc. Still it was something of a shock to see her yellow foam rubber poking out around the edges. (Note the knee in the picture: it looks like mine feels.)

Now, today, a blog reader has written to inform me that the cow has in the past week been given, by the Drewhenges, her own name: Scarlett O’Holstein. Clearly, not a cow of Icelandic heritage.

Also: it is reported to have snowed in Vancouver today, but we are thankful that the snow stayed on that side of the border. Good job! Homeland Security!