hydrangea blossoming

hydrangea blossoming
Hydrangea on the Edge of Blooming

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Flu: Not for All

Having pointed out only a few days ago how well the All Point Bulletin informs and reflects the Point Roberts community, I return from the Sunshine Coast today to find the November issue of the paper with the following headline:  ‘County Hogs First Supplies of Vaccine’.

So, what does that say about us?  Well, first of all, that we are very plain-spoken and perhaps even outspoken.  Second, that we are a little on the cranky side.  Third, that we may be a little confused in our irritation.   Exactly who is the ‘County’ that is hogging the flu vaccine?  I mean, aren’t we part of the county, of Whatcom County?  I can imagine the county might be refusing to let people from other counties come to their vaccine clinics, which would, of course, allow Skagit County residents to complain that Whatcom County is hogging all their vaccine for their own residents.  But the paper, if it speaks for us, seems to be complaining that those of us in Point Roberts aren’t getting our fair share of the Whatcom County vaccine supply. 

Join the nation! You can’t turn on any public radio station or otherwise talky radio without hearing people complaining about and/or explaining the insufficient availability of H1N1 vaccine.  We are ALL being deprived, apparently.  Says our local health clinic head, ‘When we get it, you’ll get it.’  Which is what health clinics are saying everywhere.  But somehow, I guess, anybody who wants to have the vaccine today and who isn’t getting it is entitled to be outraged about their fair share of health resources, even if they aren’t people who are considered priority for the service in question.

As near as I can tell from reading the article, in Point Roberts, there is some concern that seniors are being denied access to the vaccine.  Like a death panel deal, I guess.  But seniors, unless they have other very serious conditions, aren’t the clientele for this vaccine.  Perhaps all the years of trying to make all seniors take the regular flu shots has simply convinced people that flu and seniors are inextricably connected.  I rejoice that I am not expected to have one of these shots.  Point Roberts’ larger senior community could well be rejoicing with me rather than feeling victims of ‘The County.’

So, there we are: plainspoken, outspoken, cranky, and confused.  My Point Roberts.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Fruit Flies

Now has come the time of gray days and wet days and leaves falling everywhere.  It’s hard to get anything done if I’m in a room with a window because the falling leaves constantly distract me: ‘What was that over there in my peripheral vision?  Oh, another leaf falling.’  Since there are about 3 million leaves fairly close outside the house, this can be more than a little repetitive as each one makes its way groundward, and as it goes, requires me to acknowledge its presence.  If I really need to get something done, I have to keep the curtains closed, which only increases the overall darkness.

Also, it is the twilight time of the apple and pear and plum abundance.  They ripen and fall off the tree, perfect, ready to be eaten; but inside the house there are yet all their siblings that fell off the tree yesterday and the day before, and we just can’t eat them fast enough.  And thus do the fruit flies come to join us in the despairing activity of hovering over the fruit.  I’ve eaten and frozen lots of plums and lots of applesauce, but yet there are plums and apples.  I don’t believe one can freeze pears (or at least can’t imagine the outcome), so the excess just goes bad quickly and is almost wept over.  Perfectly wonderful pears going bad: that can’t be the sign of a well-planned or well-lived life.

The apples are the most likely to be rescued because George and Rose invite us over to a grand apple juicing evening with their beautiful apple press and their excess apples and their hovering fruit flies.  We spent such an evening a couple of weeks ago and came home with six half-gallons of fresh apple juice.  The evening’s full haul was 35 half-gallons, and about half of that went to the food bank.  Of course, we can no more drink up six half-gallons of fresh apple juice than we can consume all those excess pears, but the freezer has a tall shelf that accepts what cannot be drunk immediately.  And all through the dark season to come, we will be slowly allotting  that juice into our eager cups, and remembering October.  And thanking Rose and George.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Almost Dark: Not Quite Yet

This month’s Harpers has an article by Richard Rodriguez called ‘Twilight of the American Newspaper.’  I’ve followed Rodriguez’s literary and TV career over the years and have always found him the most interesting and most eloquent of despairers.  I mentioned to Ed this morning that there was a Rodriguez article in Harpers, and his reply was, ‘What is he sad about?’  Which may about cover it.  He used to (and may still for all I know) convey his hopelessness as an occasional contributor to the PBS evening TV news, and I always felt the better for knowing that someone shared my feeling that things were indeed going to hell in a handcart, as my grandmother always said.

But, that sense of doom needs to be taken in small measures.  And one article every year or so in the morning with coffee is about my allotment.  His point was that newspapers are not disappearing because the internet has overtaken them, or at least not just because the internet has overtaken them.  His claim is that newspapers in the U.S., anyway, arose in order to tell us who and where we were in this new land.  Thus, using San Francisco as his examplar, the first newspapers in S.F. followed close upon the gold rush and the great intake of people who had no sense of community in a town which hardly existed anyway until they all got there. 

The San Francisco Chronicle (in its first form) told the first-comers what was happening, and then told the second-comers the nature of the place in which they were now living.  Rodriguez’s account seemed right on to me.  I grew up in a small town in the West, and it, too, had a daily paper.  If you wanted to know what was happening far away, in Europe or Utah, you read the Salt Lake City Tribune, but if you wanted to know what was happening in Pocatello, you read the Pocatello Tribune, even if you were just a 12-year-old.  Who was born, who died, who did well in school, what the high school basketball team was doing, what jobs were around, what houses were for sale or rent, what church was conducting what community event, what the City Council and the civic organizations were up to.  Boys scouts, girl scouts, cub scouts, brownies, campfire girls, bluebirds, 4-H: every kid in town, at one time or another, had his picture in the local paper.  That’s how we knew who we were and where we lived.  That was the town, and just as much so as its physical existence.

Rodriguez went on to say that we don’t live in those kinds of towns anymore.  The physical places are still there, but our newspaper existence has pretty much disappeared.  And that may be true.  When my son and his family lived in a small town in Minnesota, the local paper was largely classified ads and syndicated stuff from wire services.  Maybe it’s different in other small towns, but all small towns with newspapers are having difficulty staying alive, and their preferred business plan is probably not more coverage of girl scout meetings. 

So I would join Mr.Rodriguez in his despair, if it were not that I lived in Point Roberts where, even though it is only a once-a-month publication, the All Point Bulletin is totally devoted to tracking and demonstrating our existence.  We are here because the APB says we are, and we are what we seem to be because the APB keeps reminding us of it!  So, down with doom, and up with Pat, Louise, and Meg: our authenticators and chief reminders of what a motley, crotchety, generous, and interesting lot we are.

Sunday, October 25, 2009


The Community Events sign was, last week, surrounded by scaffolding, suggesting that the roof is finally on its way.  It will be good to see the whole thing finished, although its progress has certainly been something less than a straight line.  The now-defunct Community Association took on the task of revivifying the former Community Events sign almost two years ago.  It wasn’t what anybody much thought the Community Association would be doing, but it seemed like a reasonably small task that somewhat needed doing and that could be done fairly quickly and inexpensively because fairly easy.  In addition, it seemed like an opportunity for the members of the Community Association to get to know one another better through the process and to develop some habits of working together.

None of those goals worked out, of course.  It turned out not to be neither a small, quick, or inexpensive task (perhaps there are no such things in Point Roberts), and by the time it was partly erected, most of the hopeful Community Association members, myself included, had moved on to learn something else with someone else, I guess.

Nevertheless, the people who were doing the hands-on building have admirably stayed with it, though its costs keep going up.  There is talk of copper gutters round the sign’s roof, although when I look around my street, I notice that the rest of us are doing okay with aluminum gutters. 

And the sign itself, as can be seen in the two photos seems now to be conceptually metamorphosing.  First, the posts have sprouted a second sign space which seems to be a permanent sign for a new organization.  One wishes it well, but it seems a little premature, given the history of Point Roberts’ community organizations, to begin with a permanent sign.  Or, self-defeating, since a sign that is always there quickly becomes a sign that no one sees.  And, second, the idea of community seems to have broadened substantially since the main sign space is largely occupied by an event that is taking place in Bellingham.

Ah, well. . . as it says in the very small print at the bottom of the sign on the left-hand lower corner, ‘some rules may apply.’ And, presumably, some may not.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Strange Days in Banking

Banner Bank is our second bank in Point Roberts.  I follow it the same way that I follow Sterling Savings Bank as its fortunes ebb and flow (currently more ebbing than flowing), but Banner has been rather more stable.  Banner Bank took the same big initial hit last fall and winter, but then has just been moving along in a relatively steady path.  It's a smaller bank than Sterling; it’s still paying a dividend on its common stock, even though it’s only 1 cent per share in each of the last couple of quarters.  I’ve seen no mention of it in relation to TARP funds.  All of which makes it seem like it's doing okay in this very difficult environment.

Clearly, Banner wasn’t on an upswing.  This past week, it announced $8+ million in losses, but they weren’t as large as expected--analysts had expected losses of twice that much.  And then, yesterday morning,  Banner's stock took off during the first part of the trading day, gaining almost 75 cents--which, if you are selling at less than $3.00 per share, is a very big increase.  And then, during the rest of the day, it lost all that gain and closed back at about $3.00.  

Banner normally has sales volume of about 220,000 shares per day; yesterday, the sales volume was up in the millions.  A big day for somebody, but not as a result of anything specific to Banner in the financial news that I could find.  Well, other than Obama’s interest in saving community banks that, it turns out, may be too small to fail.  Today, Banner lost another $.19, but with only regular volume.  Maybe just some strange clutch of events that have not yet been reported in the business news?  Maybe a misalignment of the stars?

Sterling’s troubles continue.  Yesterday, it announced enormous 3rd quarter losses, almost a $1/2 billion.  And today, on very high volume, it lost another 25% of its stock price, closing at 86 cents.  Even a quixotic purchase on my part seems dubious right now.

NOTE:  These banking issues reflect problems for the stock/shareholders, not for those who simply have accounts or loans at these banks.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Hear It Now!

In Point Roberts, earlier this month, I was driving west on APA Road and eventually came to Tyee.  And what to my wondering eyes should appear?  Something round and modular and white upon a tall pole.  I couldn’t remember having seen this previously; on the other hand I often don’t notice things.  But it has turned out to be a pole of recent placement.  It is a tsunami warning siren. 

It goes with the signs that don’t exactly lead anywhere.  Well, I suppose they lead to higher ground, but they don’t tell you when you’ve gotten there.  The signs around the peninsula indicate that you should go this way or that way, but when you come to the end of a route, it doesn’t tell you’ve gotten to the place you should be.  If it were me, I’d just keep driving, waiting for the next sign to tell me where to go for the next sign, which would eventually lead to a sign that says, ‘Okay, you can stop now and just stay right here until somebody tells you to move on somewhere else.’.

I’ve seen only one of these siren towers on the Point  (which I’m afraid is going to be more than adequate).  I’ve poked around on the net and have found that there are many kinds of sirens available for this kind of task.  The one we have is a ‘federal signal modulator,’ or at least it looks like the pictures of such sirens.  If you would like to find out what it probably sounds like, here is a youtube of such a siren. Remember not to be wearing earphones when you play it. 

Many places, according to Wikipedia, test their sirens every so often.  In Cannon Beach, Oregon, they have a tsunami siren that they test, but they don’t play the sound of the siren when it is a test; they play, instead, the sound of a mooing cow.  Youtube of that, too, here.  There at Cannon Beach, I guess they are still waiting to here what it really sounds like.  May they hear, forever, only the sound of a mooing cow.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Grammarian at Work

Round the corner from our house, someone—clearly not a market timer—has put up a homemade sign in order to try to sell 8 pocket-sized lots on a couple of acres of land.  A year ago, or more, there might have been a lot of customers, but in the current financial/housing climate...well, probably not so much.  But, perhaps it is a triumph of hope over rational expectations.

The sign went up a couple of months ago, after we had been privy to six months of various noises emanating from that land: noises that included well-drilling and tree-felling and rudimentary road-laying.  And, one day, the wholesale moving of the neighborhood mailbox stand without so much as a mention to us.  No one in the neighborhood is very enthusiastic about this proposed mini-development, but no one is very convinced that it will turn into anything any too soon, either.

The sign has a map of the proposed development, as you can see.  What you might not be immediately able to see is that the map is pretty confusing.  The sign is oriented toward (i.e., faces) South Beach Road, but the map is oriented toward North Cedar Park Road (which it incorrectly describes as Cedar Park Road).  So, you stand there and try to figure out exactly where all these eight lots are going to be.  It does not inspire confidence in the seller.  And the '8 lots f. sale'--when did 'f.' become an abbreviation for 'for'?

What has gotten everyone’s dander up, however, is the fact that ‘Cedar Park Road’ is misspelled.  The first time I saw it, I wanted to take my correcting pencil out and change it right on the spot.  However,  my days as a writing teacher are over and I don’t really need to correct other peoples’ spelling or other peoples’ signs, and, because of that, I don't carry a marking pen everywhere I go.  (Although I do despair of what has become/is becoming of both spelling and grammar.  When The New Yorker concludes that ‘none’ demands a plural verb...well, the cause is a lost one, I’m afraid.)

However, 8 weeks or so into the sign’s existence, someone--not me--has had enough.  They came, they saw, and they corrected, and with a red marker, at that.  And, while they were at it, they took the offending ‘E’ and left it right there, dripping down toward the right-hand bottom of the sign.  That was the touch that made me laugh out loud!  An irritated grammarian at work!  (I have no idea what a spelling specialist is called, but I doubt if it’s ‘grammarian.’ )
UPDATE: It's 'orthographer,' Ed says.  Should have asked him first.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Two Guys Get on the Ferry . . .

Last week, some of the B.C. ferry runs were extremely problematic: it was Canadian Thanksgiving weekend and one of its biggest ferries, The Spirit of Something, had a fire which put it entirely out of commission for a week or so, beginning Friday morning.  This is a Tsawwassen-Vancouver Island ferry which even on quiet days is a heavily trafficked route.  Just one more thing to drive a commuter crazy.

We travel on the Horshoe Bay to Langdale route, which gets smaller ferries but more and more traffic all the time.  Today, however, the Saturday of a rainy, rainy weekend and the week after Canadian Thanksgiving, people must have just decided to stay home.  The 5:30 pm ferry had fewer cars/passengers than I have seen in a long time.  The festivals really are over.  Until they start again next tourist season,of course.

I was sitting by the window when two guys sat themselves in the seat in front of me.  We were pretty much the only people in about 8 rows of seats.  They, like me, were people of a certain age, an age that starts around 65, of course, when one, long ago caught, is now released and is required to find a new life strategy.  They were not travelling together on the ferry but had apparently run into one another on their travel up from the lower decks where their cars were parked.  Because they had voices that carried well, I was privy to their conversation, although they were largely unaware of me since I was sitting behind them.  Indeed, I would have to have done something radical not to have heard it.  I’m used to other peoples’ conversations of course since we have been blessed with cell phones, but there you get to hear only the one side. 

‘What,’ I asked myself, ‘do such guys talk about when they are (more or less) alone?’  The answer to that question is this:

A. ‘Yeh, I sold my condo, and then I bought another one.  It’s okay.  I like not having to do the yard work.’
B. ‘We’re going to Thailand for the winter and then will come back to the Sunshine Coast in March.’
A. ‘We’re having our first grandchild.  It’ll be born in March.’
B. ‘We don’t have any grandchildren.  Our kids don’t want kids.’
A. ‘Well, yeah; it’s a scarey world.’
A.  ‘We’re going to Florida for the winter, but we'll be back in March, too.  For the grandchild.’
B. ‘My bicycle got stolen.  I don’t like the new ones, I don’t like the aluminum.  I’m getting old and want more of an upright ride.  I found a new 1991 model in Vancouver.  I’m on my way to pick it up now.  I like bicycle riding.’
A. ‘I’ve given up ballroom dancing, but I’m still teaching Tai Chi.’
B. ‘In Thailand, we live like kings.’

A offers a long monologue on bicycle gears.
A and B offer one another a long discussion of stocks: which ones they made money on, particularly.  A is currently in high-yield bond funds, and B in stocks still paying dividends.  A sold his stocks before the crash pretty much; B bought and held on.  They agree that it’s a problem, knowing what to do now.
A. ‘Still got your boat?’
B. ‘Yeah, although I don’t go out much on it.’  This is followed by a long listing of people whom they know who own boats and what those boats are like.
A.  ‘Doing any consulting?’
B. ‘A little.’  This is followed by a long listing by both of all the guys they know who are doing consulting/contracting work.  (The two apparently both previously worked at the Howe Sound pulp mill operation.)

The ferry sound system announces that it is time for us to go back to our cars.  And we do.  And that’s what men talk about (to misquote Raymond Carver) when they talk about retirement.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Sterling Update

Sterling Bank, it has just been announced, has received a 'cease and desist order,' which puts it on the list of banks likely to fail.  Not immediately and not necessarily, but in sufficient danger that it must either raise new capital or be taken over by the FDIC.  It's stock, not surprisingly, sank again today, down to the $1.40's this morning.  The CEO has been replaced.

Update:  "Customer deposit accounts and non-classified loans are unaffected by the agreement with regulators. Deposits remain fully covered by FDIC insurance to at least $250,000 per depositor. In addition, non-interest bearing transaction accounts and qualified NOW Checking accounts are fully guaranteed by the FDIC for an unlimited amount of coverage under the FDIC’s Transaction Account Guarantee (TAG) program, in which Sterling is a participant. The coverage under the TAG program is in addition to, and separate from, the coverage available under the FDIC’s general deposit insurance protection."  More info on the nature of the agreement with the FDIC here

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Read My Magazines!

I am a reader of magazines, feeling bad about the future when they will be only on the computer screen.  I don’t mind reading books on my Kindle, like it even, but I don’t like reading magazines on my Kindle, although my Kindle is not the kind, I think, that reads magazines or newspapers.  Maybe I could learn to like it, but I have tried reading them on my computer screen and I just don’t like it.  It’s tiresome, and a magazine you have subscribed to by choice is rarely tiresome.  (Although The Atlantic has become so, except for James Fallows.)

Here in beautiful downtown Point Roberts, we have no book store with a terrific magazine rack so if you are a magazine fan you may have actually to subscribe.  I subscribe to The New Yorker and Harpers and Washington Monthly and Mother Jones and, up until next month, to Foreign Affairs which has turned out to be too dull even for me.  Actually, if you subscribe to The New Yorker you really don’t need to subscribe to anything else because it comes about 50 of 52 weeks each year and there is always one on the table that you haven’t read.  We have boxes of New Yorkers from the 80’s that we didn’t have time to read during our working days and that we brought with us when we moved up here, but the current New Yorkers are keeping us too busy to work on the backlog.  The New Yorker will sell you an external drive that has every New Yorker ever published.  I plan to be buried with this drive so that I will always have something to read.

Up until this week, I have taken my completely-read New Yorkers and Harpers and all the rest over to the Community Center where, in the hall outside the library, a couple of boxes sit on a bench.  This is the magazine exchange and you can put your magazines there when you are through with them and somebody else will take them.  I’m in and out of that hallway and I’ve never seen my New Yorkers sit there for long.  Sometimes they are gone just in the time that I am inside the library checking out a book.  This is a great recycling/exchange/community service. 

I  occasionally take a magazine, but mostly I am a leaver of New Yorkers.  I take few magazines from the boxes largely because I am trying to keep up with those New Yorkers.  Today, when I went to drop off one New Yorker and one Harpers, a sign informed me that my magazines were not to be left there and if I wanted to donate material to the library, I should talk to the librarian.  But I never thought I was donating “material to the library.”  I was recycling magazines with my fellow readers/residents.

In the library, I spoke to the head librarian who told me that this new policy had nothing to do with the library but was, in fact, a decision by the Parks Board, a group of five whom we elect and whose job it is to care for the Community Center and some of the parks around.  This is what passes for local government here, as almost all the rest of our government is located down in Bellingham with the County.

While discussing this unfortunate turn of events with the librarian, I noticed that one of the members of the Parks Board was in fact sitting at a nearby computer.  ‘What’s the deal?’ I asked.  He mumbled on about the cost of recycling old magazines and the fact that the boxes were not tidy.  People, apparently, left magazines on the benches and then the magazines flung themselves on the floor. ‘It is,’ he concluded, ‘An aesthetic issue.’

Well, perhaps the five members of the Parks Board are particularly highly qualified to make aesthetic decisions and perhaps we were well-briefed on their aesthetic theories before we voted for them.  Nevertheless, I think they might have asked those of us who use the magazine exchange about the value of this service and how that service weighed when placed on the balance scale with their aesthetics.  Or might even have come to the community and suggested that maybe we needed to think about another way to handle the magazine exchange. Point-Interface would be a particularly good place to leave such a message, to begin such a dialogue.  It seems just a tad high-handed voting in this new policy without any community discussion.  We have time here.

Now, in Los Angeles, nobody is going to discuss something like abolishing a magazine exchange at a local library with the community.  That’s the whole thing about living even in a moderate-sized city.  But in a place with only 1400 or so residents, perhaps some more respect could be shown to the residents from the government.   

Magazine subscribers and exchangers, Unite!  At the very least, we could all go to the next Parks Board meeting and exchange our magazines while they work through their agenda.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Tarnished Sterling

Sterling Bank’s stock continues to struggle; today down in the $1.70’s per share, and lots more sellers than buyers.  Part of the problem, I assume, is that this past week it was revealed that among the many banks nationwide that received federal money from the TARP (troubled assets relief program), 33 have now failed to make at least one dividend payment to the U.S. Treasury.  (As a condition of receiving TARP money, each bank was to pay a 5% yearly dividend to the Treasury, in quarterly payments.)  Sterling received over $300 million from the TARP program last year, and thus would be expected to pay $15 million yearly/$3.75 million quarterly to the Treasury.

CIT Group also failed to pay its much larger dividend to the Treasury.  CIT Group is almost too big to fail even as it struggles to avoid bankruptcy.  Sterling Financial Corp: not so big.  Sterling previously cancelled its dividend on common stock and preferred stock, and also deferred payments to bondholders.  It did pay its TARP dividend payment in May, but missed the August payment.  This is not good news for our Point Roberts branch.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Blowing in the Wind, Not?

There are times when I cannot really believe what country I live in; no, what planet I live on.  The New York Times tomorrow’s edition explains to me the painful problem of association rules prohibiting people who live in ‘private communities’ (and according to the Times, 60 million Americans currently live in such communities) from hanging their laundry out to dry.  States (including neighboring Oregon) are now moving to pass laws in order to protect peoples’ right to hang out laundry, overcoming these private community rules.

People not only don’t want to look at old houses; they also don’t want to have to see their neighbors’ underwear.  It reminds them that their neighbors wear underwear, I guess; perhaps reminds them that they themselves wear underwear.  Or that there is something under the underwear, although there is certainly enough evidence of underwear in our daily lives given dress standards that you’d think we were passionately interested in looking at underwear, our own and others.

Yesterday, I was at the International Market here in Point Roberts when I could not miss a young man (maybe 20) walking ahead of me into the grocery store with the peculiar low-slung pants that one sees frequently on young men.  His, however, had passed all bounds of reason such that he was required to wear a belt to keep them on.  But, strangely, the belt—and his pants—were draped?  Had fallen? entirely below his underwear on the back side and then reached up higher on the front where presumably a nail kept it attached to his abdomen.  In any case, it was all underwear from my perspective.

I think, all things considered, I’d rather see it on clotheslines than in the grocery store.  But in a time when there’s a lot of serious concerns in the states, I am absolutely stunned to find that legislators must use five minutes of their time to protect our right to hang out laundry.  On the other hand, I’m so grateful to have such rights that, even though I have no laundry at the minute, I think I’ll wash some and go hang it on my clothesline in order to celebrate my rights.  Or something.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Ravages of Time

At a social event the other day, I found myself in a conversation about the many abandoned houses in Point Roberts.  A local resident, who knows that I have made a series of abandoned house quilts based on these buildings, offered me her views on this matter.  “I think it’s just a shame that the County doesn’t require that these houses be torn down, don’t you?”

Well, since I definitely don’t think that and in fact have gone to considerable trouble to honor the houses in their current state and thereby to express my admiration, I was surely taken aback.  Not so far aback that I couldn’t express my disagreement, but still…

Like everybody, I find that there are things that seem so obvious that I can’t quite believe they aren’t obvious to everyone.  Before I made the house quilts, I understood that there were people who were trying to force their destruction because, as they said, they were ‘eyesores.’  But I actually (obviously naively) thought that in making the quilts I would in some way be showing them the beauty that was there.  And indeed, my critic (or, more accurately, the houses’ critic) went on to say that in making the quilts, I had of course made them beautiful but that was because I was an artist.  But, her look suggested, they are not beautiful; they are an eyesore.

My view, of course, is that all I did was reproduce what was there before me;  if she can’t see that the major difference is between life and fabric, between what actually exists and what I have the technical skill to reproduce.  Ah, well.  There you are.  People.

But it made me think once again about why I think the abandoned houses are so beautiful, why they grab my attention.  It's mostly a matter of contrast, I suppose.  First, of course, is our time's peculiar obsession with youth.  Not so much being young as pretending that we are young, whether it’s cosmetic dentistry or cosmetic surgery or the sudden abundance of strawberry blondes among women of a certain age.  The houses are not kept up, but if they were, we would not even notice them; they would just be another of the many unremarkable houses that line streets and roads.  It is their age and their agedness that draws me so to them, that makes them exceptional.  Like so few things we people touch, they are—or at least have finally become—exactly what they are.

Second, we like trendy things, new things.  ‘Can’t sell our house,’ a friend says, ‘because we don’t have granite counters in the kitchen.’  And how many millions of houses have there been that had no granite counters and that were beloved by the people who lived in them?  The abandoned houses surely don’t look new or trendy; they look old and ravaged.  They look like houses that have been around for awhile and have bravely survived the loss of the need they once served.

Third, we are afraid of growing old.  And the abandoned houses do it and they do it publicly.  Time to convene a death panel?  Or time to see what we can learn from them?  Certainly time to go visit them all again, at least all those that are still standing, and to take another round of photos for their autobiographies.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Criminals Come to Point Roberts

Back in August, there was a flurry of excitement when some B.C. guy living and working down in tinseltown escaped the U.S. through Pt. Roberts on the way to killing himself after having killed his wife in southern California.  A gruesome tale all around except for the excitement of his having passed through here after getting a boat in Blaine and, presumably, exiting to Canada through the casual border part of Tsawwaasen backyards.   

I was at a gathering the other night when a Canadian resident of P.R., at the mention of this passing-through criminal, interjected, ‘He definitely didn’t kill himself.  I don’t think a person who is 5 feet 6 inches is likely to hang himself from a closet bar that is 6 feet and 4 inches off the ground.  That was a drug deal gone bad, I’m pretty sure.  They got his wife and then they got him.’

Somebody else asked, ‘How do you know that?’   (Obviously someone who will never get a job as a TV interviewer.)  And the Canadian answered, ‘Well, I read the papers.’

And I looked around at the rest of us who, apparently, don’t read the papers.  Or don’t read the papers that cover that kind of speculative material.  Crime reporting just isn’t what it used to be.  But soon we will be reading those papers, I suppose, if only to keep track of local crime.

Meg Olson, the All Point Bulletin’s crime and everything else reporter who covered that crime story in September, in October had to cover the new P.R. crime story.  An 18-year-old who has taken to living in the woods is alleged to have stolen a 28-foot boat over in Orcas Island and made his way to Point Roberts, abandoning said boat at the Marina.  And then, the young man—named Colton Harris-Moore (remember when a hyphenated last name suggested British upper-class?)—took to burgling Point Roberts houses, again allegedly, where he ate food from the refrigerators and took naps and showers.  A tidy, hungry, sleepy criminal.  Presumably, Mr. Harris-Moore has moved on by now, we thought, although there are plenty of empty homes here at this time of year wherein one could surely find a bed and maybe get a shower, although the refrigerator is unlikely to be well stocked.

But then this morning, Ed got an email with the ‘Pilots’ News’ with this info drawn from an article in the Seattle Times:

“Law enforcement officials believe an 18-year-old serial burglar stole his third plane last week, breaking into an Idaho hangar to snag a 2005 Cessna Skylane. Colton Harris-Moore fled a juvenile detention facility 18 months ago and has been a fugitive ever since, the Seattle Times reported. Harris-Moore never had flight training but officials think he may have picked up the basics from reading books and Internet sites. In November 2008, a plane from Orcas Island, in Puget Sound, went missing and turned up damaged after a hard landing in eastern Washington. Then last month, a plane stolen from one island in Puget Sound was found on Orcas Island, also following a hard landing. From there, officials believe Harris-Moore fled to Canada, stole a car, drove east and ditched it before walking into Idaho. They say he stole another car in Idaho to take him to Bonners Ferry, in the far northern part of the state. An abandoned car was found there last week following the theft of the Skylane. A logger in the Cascade Mountains northeast of Seattle found the same Skylane crashed in a clearing last week, but there was no one nearby. Officials do not know where Harris-Moore is, and he has not been charged with a crime in connection with the most recent incidents. “

Mr. Harris-Moore is doubtless in L.A. at this moment lining up his very own biopic and/or arranging for a drug deal; by November, the modern-day equivalents of Bonnie and Clyde will probably be dropping by to check us out.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Birds Say 'Bye!'

This morning, it was far too dangerous to go outside the house.  For reasons not entirely clear to me, the near yard was filled with birds this morning, many kinds, whooshing to and fro so fast that it seemed like you would be impaled on a passing beak if you were out there, put well off your stride by a beating wing.  Pretty exciting stuff.

There is a mountain ash tree outside our kitchen windows, about 15 feet from the house.  Earlier in the week, I noted that it had an excellent crop of berries this year, that they were ripe, and that they had as yet been untouched by the birds who usually clear them out the minute they ripen.  The elderberry tree has already surrendered its crop (usually to cedar waxwings, although I didn’t see them this year), and this morning it was the mountain ash’s turn.

First came a flock of flickers.  Flickers are big birds (about a foot long and with a wingspan of 18-20 inches), and a kind of woodpecker. I don’t recall ever seeing them in a flock before, although the google tells me they migrate in ‘loose flocks.’  This was a small flock, but because they are so big, it seemed like a lot more than 6-8 birds.  When one of them lands on the end of the mountain ash branch where the berries are, the vibration makes all the branches shake and the particular branch can spring up and down a foot or more.  It makes for a lot of commotion in a tree.

And then, right after the flicker flock flew in (How many times do you get to say that?  Not enough.), a big flock of robins came in to work the other side of the tree and then passed five or so minutes while the two brands shook each other out of the tree, with an occasional grab of berries in between the action.  On the ground beneath the tree there suddenly arrived a few juncos and chickadees to pick up the leavings, and then they were joined by a couple of spotted towhees.  From the fir tree behind the mountain ash, a pair of woodpeckers started bouncing up and down.  And then strolled across the deck, in front of them all, a yellow-rumped warbler.

It was like being at the opera.  Dramatic exits and entrances, big actions, and in the background a steady chorus.  The hard news?  We’re finished with the good weather.  They know more about this than meteorologists is my guess.  Time to go south.  Happy that we could send them off with a luscious berry picnic.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Where in Point Roberts?

We have been taken with Flickr, which, for those of you who don’t know, is a website where you can store your digital photos and where people whom you choose can go to look at your photos.  I started using flickr for the blog because it let me put a bunch of pictures about a single subject (like the July 4th parade) in one place for people to easily look at when I couldn’t put that many pictures on the blog easily or at all.

But now Ed has shown me things about Flickr that I didn’t know.  First of all, you have to know that Flickr has millions of users worldwide.  The other day, I was uploading a single photo and the site informed me casually that, during the last 5 minutes, over 5,000 photos had been uploaded.  Day in, day out, people are putting pictures of their cats and kids, of their vacations and their work products and their anything and everything up on the net, most of them for us all to see.  Those are all individual users (and use is free, although if you want to use more space/upload higher resolution photos or do various more complicated things, there is a small yearly charge).

Many of these users have, in the social network way we now are learning to deal with, also voluntarily joined themselves together into groups with a very particular common interest.  Groups are constituted by some kind of unique subject matter.  There are groups  that include photos only of pink flowers, of golden retrievers (every picture is exactly alike here, of course), of seeds, of trees, of stick figures in peril; there are about 50 different groups about quilts, each one focusing on a somewhat different aspect of what a quilt could be about.

We have barely looked at the extent of these groups because we are currently stuck on a group called ‘Where in Vancouver?’  This group has 750 members and the members post photos of places/things/phenomena in Vancouver and  the other members try to figure out exactly where in greater Vancouver a picture was taken.  Currently we have achieved two points for being the first person to identify a photo (one was of a ship in Burrard Inlet facing West Vancouver; the other the ‘reducing congestion’ sign out by the Port Mann Bridge).

So we were thinking about starting a Flickr group called ‘Where in Point Roberts?’  If there are 750 people in Vancouver’s group, there would be about 1 person in the Point Roberts group, so we may not rush to do this.  But until we do get around to doing that, here is the blog’s ‘Where in Point Roberts?’

Post your answer in the comments.  You don’t have to leave your name.

[I’m not sure who can look at what on Flickr, but here’s the link to the ‘Where in Vancouver?’ page, in case it’s just open for anybody.  You can’t post an answer if you don’t have an account (the free kind), though.]