hydrangea blossoming

hydrangea blossoming
Hydrangea on the Edge of Blooming

Monday, May 31, 2010

Supporting Everything

This is the week for supporting things.  Actually, in recent months, it seems like we have lots of things we need to support, and lots of opportunities to support them.  Last weekend, we needed to support the library at its fund-raiser.  And this Saturday, we needed to go to the Pt. Roberts' elementary school's garage sale in order to support the equipment/materials needs of the Point Roberts' Elementary School.  And yesterday, the Point Roberts' church had a concert which we needed to attend in order to support its purchase of a generator so that in an emergency we would have a generator.  And I think this coming week we need to have dinner at South Beach House in order to support the local high school and college students who receive financial assistance from 'Dollars for Scholars.'

And during the entire month of July, I hear, the Department of Defense is going to have an extended and extensive Bake Sale in order to support its ongoing wars in various places.  Or maybe just use taxes for that?  Or maybe just use taxes for all of it?

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Strange Times, Strange Voices


 It's been about six weeks since we last were drawn up and into the distress about the 'Point Roberts Beach Club at or near Lily Point Housing Development."  At that time, the County was about to approve the environmental assessment plans of the development company.  And, in general it did, although it also put some things over, including a historical assessment of the two houses on the property.  Also, over this time, the developers, mainly Wayne and Anders (of previous discussion) have been meeting with a group of folks on the Point in an attempt to reconsider some of the planning, including saving more of the trees that border APA.  All to the good.

But not, necessarily, all to the best, at least not to those who think that a development of this sort is a poor plan for Point Roberts, although it might be a good plan for providing economic improvement for Wayne and Anders.  But this is the sort of thing that will doubtless go on here for years to come.  In fact, of course, this particular one has been going on for years, although the players have occasionally changed.  I think that the opposition is not so much a 'not in my backyard' feeling as a sense that things are difficult enough in this strangely appealing place without adding to the difficulty at the same time as one is taking away part of the appeal.  And especially when, on the other side, there is nothing much more than money to be made by outsiders.  (I know, Wayne lives here, so he's not an outsider.  But in my view, developers are by nature outsiders.  I will not defend that proposition here, however.)

Anyway, there's this general community uneasiness about this proposed development, even if it's not as over the top as the former version of it.  And, during this past six weeks, there have apparently been two incidents in which some vandalism has been committed or allegedly committed on the property.  Survey sticks removed, strings uprooted, etc., causing economic loss to the owners.  The only reason I know about this is that Anders has written the residents of Point Roberts twice--on Point Interface--to warn us that if this doesn't stop, he will be obliged to close up the property so that we can no longer have access to it.

I found these communications strangely condescending.  It's his property, of course, so he can keep it unfenced or fence it or whatever.  And, since most of us here don't spend a lot of time trotting around in other peoples' property, it is likely that closing it off will be no greater loss to us than the loss of access if Anders takes to building 30 or 40 or whatever number of houses on it.

But beyond that is the assumption that it is the readers of Point Interface who are up to no good here, while the Lord of the Manor is killing himself trying to accommodate our views.  Such ingratitude on our part!  And so in need of a punishing response.

So I just want to take this opportunity to say that, if he keeps up building this development the way he seems to want to, then I will really, really be offended, even though I'm normally a friendly, good-time Charlie.  Further, to clarify the extremity of my irritation,  I'm throwing down the gauntlet right now.

Anders:  If things go on the way they are,  I'm not inviting you to my birthday party....Not this year, and not ever. You've been warned.

Reber informs me today (May 30) that the County has voided/declared moot the previous ruling on the Beach Club project that it made earlier this month (because of technicalities) and the whole process now starts over again.  June 15, July 15 seem to be relevant dates for further hearings, meetings, what have you.  One is reminded that 'the wheels of justice grind slow but exceeding fine.'  And, in this case, perhaps all for the good, once again.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

No More Confusing the Readers

Chaircreature Reber of the Community Advisory Committee has written me again, this time with his concerns that I am confusing my 'thousands of readers' with my suggestions that the County Supply Attic has no Border Guards that can be sent to lengthen the Nexus lane hours here at Point Roberts and no llamas that can be distributed to needy residents and no docks that can be installed at Lighthouse Park.  (Although it doesn't have those things, in fact.)

So, let the confusion cease.  First of all, let's not be confused about my thousands of readers.  Hundreds, yes; thousands, no.  And even the hundreds have shown no evidence of being any more confused than everybody else I meet, so I'd like to assert that there is at least no evidence of confusion.

But let the facts stand as Reber reports them.  There is some actual money in a Whatcom County account in the amount of $370,000 but it is not the County that won't let us use those dollars for border guard salaries or llamas or docks.  It is the State.  Those moneys are only for roads, a word whose meaning can apparently be broadened to include walking trails and bicycle paths and, perhaps, public transit, as in the return of the Blue Heron Van.  Definitely no llamas.  End of subject.

Now, my personal knowledge of lawyers (which is actually pretty extensive, having even taught once in a law school) leads me to believe that the State has a pretty second-rate bunch of lawyer/statute interpreters if they can't squeeze more meaning out of 'roads' than that.  But, I do not know that for a fact, so do not be getting yourself confused here.

And, if there are to be no border guards, no llamas, and no docks....well, what else do we need?  Bicycles is the answer to that question.  We need bicycles in large numbers lying about on the sides of the road so that anyone who wants to ride a bicycle someplace can pick one up from the side of the road (instead of from some resident's yard) and then drop it off at the side of some other road when he/she is done riding.  And it could also include some large 3-wheeled adult tricycle-like vehicles for those who have reached the age where balance issues might suggest that a 2-wheeled vehicle was not such a good idea.

And if that went well, we could have kayaks lying around at the beach for people to take rides in.  This, I claim, would be at least as legitimate a use as the Blue Heron Van (which is said perhaps to be a viable option) under the heading of 'Public Transportation.'

Next year, we'll talk again about the llamas.  You can be preparing for it by reading this.

If you wish to bring these matters up to the Community Advisory Committee, you are encouraged to do so by responding to their survey which is included in the All Point Bulletin E-NewsLlamas...remember it has two l's.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Sterling Returns

Just a little update on the Sterling Financial saga which affects us here in Point Roberts only minimally, except that it is happening to one of our two banks, and thus shows how even we are connected to the financial world's vicissitudes.  After a number of months of a sinking stock price, a continuing failure to pay either dividends to their stockholders or their TARP interest to the government, a starring role on the 'bad bank' list, and a warning from the stock exchange because of the company's stock price having sunk below a dollar a share, Sterling is making a reversal.

Despite the sinking of the Dow and the NASDAQ and the other averages these past few weeks, Sterling has been in an upward trend, closing today at 90 cents per share.  This has all been the result of two private firms agreeing to put many millions into Sterling in exchange for many millions of new shares of stock.  These are people who are definitely buying low and hope to be, eventually, selling high. Just goes to show that there's money around somewhere.  Anyway, if Sterling can get its capital situation improved sufficiently with deals like these, it goes back off the FDIC's 'bad bank' list.

And if we'd all bought shares when it was at forty cents, we could have sold them today at a significant profit.  But when it was at forty cents, it didn't look all that promising.  Ah, the nature of the stock market.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Triumph of Kale

I'd like to say a few words about agriculture in the Pacific Northwest.  Not the greenhouses filled with water-saturated tomatoes or the acres of blueberries or even the fields of cabbage on Highway #17 that spend the winter looking like mud/dirt fields filled with bodiless heads.  I've always assumed there isn't enough of a market for cabbage to justify cutting the heads and taking them to market, so they just sit there looking bodiless, week after week, until they are plowed back into the fields in the spring.

No, what I want to say is that, although I've grown vegetables in Idaho and in New York and in Los Angeles and in Massachusetts, I have never had as unsatisfying an experience growing vegetables as growing them in Point Roberts has turned out to be.  You can grow potatoes and lettuce here, it is true.  Even an incompetent can grow potatoes and lettuce here.  But there is little sense of achievement in it.  The potatoes just grow in the compost if you send them that way.  The slugs aren't particularly interested.  The lettuce is possible only a good distance above ground because of the slugs.  I have had some success with snow peas and I have once grown a zucchini with a satisfactory amount of zucchinis upon it.  But really nothing else.  No tomatoes, no bush beans, no peppers, no basil, no corn, nothing that really requires heat.  It's a great place to grow fruit, adequate for herbs (other than basil), but it is not a great place to grow vegetables.

With the exception of kale.  If you can get a kale plant past the place where the slugs' interference is not the end point, a kale plant is a plant that gives and gives.  You have to like kale, of course.  I don't know many things to do with it other than to eat it by itself, steamed, but that is pretty much enough.  Six kale plants will take you a long way.  And, at the end of a year, just as your new kale plants are beginning to take off, your old kale plants which have fed you all through the previous summer, fall, winter, and now spring grow to be ten feet tall and sprout lovely little yellow flowers.  The picture is of the very top piece of a ten-foot kale plant, I think Russian blue kale.  It's the Miss America of vegetable gardens, in my view.  You can see an even larger version of it here.

And when I am finally finished with the kale plants, they go to the llama and goats for a final dinner: flowers, leaves, stalks, and all.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Advising the Advisers

Chaircreature Reber has responded to my suggestion that we use the $370,000 to provide funding for additional Nexus lane hours by saying it is a funny joke, but then goes on to say that surely I understand that the border is controlled by the Federal Government.  Well, shucks, yes, Sherlock.  I did know that.  But I assumed that Whatcom County was collecting the penny/gallon tax on gasoline in U.S. dollars, rather than in drachmas (which Greece may be needing again) or, in chickens as in the infamous Lowden barter plan  (that's one unplucked chicken/dollar).  I did consider the problem in converting U.S. dollars into Canadian ones to extend the Canadian Nexus Lane hours, but thought that there was probably enough currency exchange going on in Point Roberts that that, too, could be managed. 

But, apparently not.  Whatcom County will build us some little walking paths or some little biking distances.  And we can be happy with having had our opinion sought.

It occurs to me, of course, that, although I was not making a joke, I did make a fatal error.  Like those who are under the misimpression that the Social Security Tax is being kept in a literal lockbox to be spent on securing the social, I foolishly thought that what we were talking about were actual dollars that were down there in the possession of the County.  Now, I have no real knowledge here, but I'm guessing or inferring that what happens is something like this:  Whatcom County gets the pennies per gallon and puts it in its accounting credits and then it spends it for whatever things and services that Whatcom County buys, and puts the cost of that spending in its accounting debits.  And so, there no longer is any money to spend.  That's all done.  The money came in; the money got spent.

What Point Roberts gets to do is to go poke around in the Whatcom County attic where the County people keep all their office and other county supplies that haven't yet been used or aren't currently being use.  And Point Roberts can then ask for $370,000 worth of that stuff.  Could be street signs, could be walk-making labor, could be an old snow plow.  But it couldn't be longer Nexus lane hours because Whatcom County didn't buy any of those last year. 

Also, we can't use the money to buy a llama for all the Point residents who want one because llama ownership isn't related to transit, and even if it were, the County Attic is devoid of llamas for us to choose from.  Too bad.  Either longer Nexus hours or a llama per household is what we need, of course.  But the joke is on us!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

What Do We Really Need?

This spring, the County has named a Point Roberts Community Advisory Committee, presumably on the off chance that there could be conversation on difficult issues prior to the high level screaming point from the Point.  The five people are to be meeting monthly in open meetings and their first meeting was this month but I, alas, was not here that evening.

However, the chairman of the group has sent us round some information and a request.  What it amounts to is this: Sometime ago, the County put in a penny a gallon tax on gasoline which was to be used by the local community.  Now, in that case, that 'local community' is us here in Point Roberts.  So the first thing the Advisory folks are doing is trying to figure out what we might use that money for.  At the moment, thanks to all those Canadians who come down here to buy cheaper gas, the fund for P.R. holds about $370,000.  That's an economic development plan all in itself, surely.

The kicker, however---and there is always a kicker when dealing with government (not a criticism, just a recognition of inevitability)--is that the use of the money is tethered to transit.  Specifically,

NOTE: These funds can only be used for “Roads and Transportation.” They cannot be used for docks or piers, lighthouses or whale watching platforms. State law limits them to “investment in new or existing highways of significance, public transportation, and other transportation projects and programs….”

In a place this small, it's a little hard to imagine too many transportation needs that involve roads.  I mean, we already have roads.  Of course there are things like wider shoulders for bike lanes or off road trails.  Unfortunately, we are also cautioned about the costs of such things:  Off-road paths: $2,000,000 per mile
            Widening road shoulders: $500,000 per mile

Okay, then, we could get a short path to somewhere or a few blocks of widened shoulder and then next year we could turn it into a bike path.  Oh, well.

My first thought was that there should be a transit lottery in which everyone with a permanent P.R. residence AND a car registered here would be entitled to enter the daily lottery for $1,000 worth of gasoline.  That would connect it to transportation because, at least in theory, those 365 car owners could drive more than they might otherwise do.  And people really seem to like lotteries.  And even I might like a lottery if I didn't have to pay for a ticket and there was some reasonable chance of winning something.  It seems to me as if it might easily be a 1 in 3 chances of winning $1,000 worth of gasoline in any given year.   And, at a thousand dollars a day, we could use up all $370K during one year.

On the other hand, the powers might not think that was really improving roads and transportation.

But then, here's the real idea.  What would improve transportation in Point Roberts?  For people who are in Point Roberts and particularly those who live here?  The answer to that, really, is simple: longer Nexus lane hours, both coming and going.  Almost everyone who lives here has a Nexus card.  So, just how many border guard salaries could we pay with our $370,000?  I don't know, but surely including benefits, they don't get more than $100,000 each?  (What do I know about salaries?  Nothing.  No one's paid me one in 15 years.)  If so, that's almost four additional guards.  Surely with three additional FTE salaries, both the Canadians and U.S. people could manage one extra shift for the Nexus lane each day.  Opening it at 8 am, say, and keeping it open until 10 pm or later.

Somebody else can work out the money and staffing and all that.  But surely there's nothing that would improve transportation in Point Roberts more than this.  Take it away, Chairman Reber.  The ball's in your court.

Monday, May 17, 2010

I Meet a Llama

Today, Ed and I went to visit Lily, the llama.  Our friends, Heidi and Tor, brought Lily over on a relatively small boat from Blaine a week or so ago to stand guard over their small herd of small goats (pygmy angoras).  Lily's previous work was as a B&B llama.  Now she has a new job.

I wrote about the arrival of the first three goats a couple of months ago.  In the interim, the friends have learned how to shear pygmy goats, what kind of home pygmy goats need, and what kind of protection pygmy goats need.  With respect to the last, Point Roberts is home to the occasional loose dog and, much more important, home to the not infrequent coyote.  In a contest between goat and coyote, there is no contest.  So, also in the interim, our friends have been looking for a reliable guard llama.  And it is Lily.

We were not available to welcome her when she made her sea journey to Point Roberts and then, one thing or another had kept me from going to meet her.  I've no particular experience with the knowing of llamas.  I see them occasionally on the side of the road on the highway between Vancouver and Bellingham, and once we went to visit an alpaca farm.  That visit, of course, taught me nothing about llamas because all I saw were alpacas.  But it probably got transferred into my brain as something like: llamas, probably a lot like alpacas.  Correction: probably not.

So what was most surprising upon seeing Lily was how very big she is.  She stands easily six feet tall at the top of her head, and more with her amazingly shaped and decorated ears.  And not only big, she also is shaped in a most elaborate way.  If they made llama animal crackers, it would be my favorite because the shape would be so distinctive.  Her chest is very deep at the front, and very high at the back.  Her hooves are (relatively) small with exquisitely distinct toes that look as if they might articulate like fingers and would surely function at a very high level of impact if she chose to aim them at you. Her pair of lower front teeth, which look from a few yards like a discreet tongue stud must have some functional purpose, but I've surely never seen teeth like them.  (There are no corresponding upper teeth.)  Her neck ruff is so elegant it is easy to imagine that she has a beautician doing the hair styling thing on a monthly basis.  And gorgeous eyes, surrounded by nice eyelashes.

When we first saw her, we were outside the fence of the animal yard and the animals were all on the inside.  The goats came right up to us, but so did Lily.  She came right up to me, really closer than I am generally comfortable having almost anyone--human or non-human--come up to me.  I did not feel she was going to injure me or anything, but more that she was trying to determine my motivations or the nature of my soul or something.  It wasn't at all like when a dog runs up to you and starts jumping on your ankles or licking your hand, which mostly just seems like exuberance.  With Lily, it seemed much more planned, much more intentional.

And when we got to the part where we not only touched our foreheads together but also blew into one another's nostrils, well, I was just stunned into adoration.  This is very anthropomorphic, I know.  But I never had this anthropomorphic sense with any other animal.  If I were younger, my first words after the visit would be, "Can we have one of those?"  As it happened, after Ed had walked her (with a halter leash) out toward the beach and Tor walked her the rest of the way right down to the water, we walked back to the car, and Ed said, "Should we get one of those?"

The only reasonable answer is probably that everybody in Point Roberts with enough space ought to get one.  It could be the start of a wonderful economic development plan.  Or at least a way for us all to entertain one another.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Maybe Grass Mowing?

This is the time of the year when the grass pollens hit their high.  If you have problems with cottonwood pollen, you probably have the same problem with grasses.  This past two weeks, there's been, first, some rain, and then day after day of sun and even, amazing, heat.  Which has been delightful as a kind of weather.  The gardens look great, even with a few weeds still uneradicated and growing bigger everyday, because everything is growing bigger every day, and lots of things are either staying in or coming into flower.  It's a delight and, every day, I get as much time as I can physically manage out in the yard.

That's been a little difficult this past couple of weeks because I definitely have those aforementioned plant allergies and, every four or five years, it gets bad enough to turn into asthma.  And this, it turns out, is one of these four or five years.  So, my nose is running, I'm sneezing constantly, I'm coughing, I'm congested, and I'm popping pills.  So, I looked on the net today to see what the pollen count was in Whatcom County and, actually, it's quite low right now.  But, the site warned, the grasses are on their way and they're going to be big.  Apparently, in my yard, they're already big.

The site went through various treatments for allergies, all of which I've participated in at one time or another.  Yesterday, I stepped up to the asthma inhaler and got a better night's sleep than I'd have for several days.  It also urged sufferers to stay away from the wild grasses that are giving off the pollen.  That had never occurred to me as a possible response.  I mean, the air is full of pollen and the garden is right outside my door and the air is coming right into my door, so how is it that the air indoors would be better than the air outdoors?  Staying in the city, as opposed to the country: that I understand.  But, if you're in the country, aren't you actually there?

Apparently not.  Thus do I now understand why my allergies get worse when I spend hours each day with my head in the weeds.  What I need, I guess, is more rain.  Or less grass?  The reason I have so much and such tall grass is that I quit mowing it on the grounds that grass didn't need to be tamed by me.  Maybe it does, though; at least if I hope to get a regular good night's sleep in May.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

On Being a Dog

There's a very famous New Yorker cartoon in which a dog is sitting in a desk chair at a computer and he is saying to a friend, 'On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog.'  But it is also the case that on the Internet, sometimes you look like a dog even if you don't mean to or really aren't one. 

Today, I got an email from a gentleman who owns one of the abandoned houses in whose images I have made quilts.  He had been given a link to this blog and probably to a post in which I had written about his house and a farmhouse on APA Road, each of which were showing some signs of restoration.  Unfortunately, he took my post to be one of complaint that his property was something of an eyesore because it appeared to be 'abandoned.'  He explained that he had suffered some illness that had seriously slowed him down and had unsuccessfully tried to sell it.  But he wanted to apologize to me for not appearing to be a responsible property owner.

Now I have to say that if someone wrote about my yard (whose lawn is never mowed, e.g.) as a neighborhood embarrassment, or even implied such a thing, I would think that person was a dog and not a good neighbor.  So I am now acutely embarrassed for having anyone think I would say or even think such a thing.  I have written him to assure him that I meant no such thing and that, in fact, I love the way his house looks, even though it looks abandoned.  It is that which is so appealing to me.  Although I know that people own these properties, my conception is that for whatever reason--and life surely offers plenty of reasons for a property in Pt. Roberts no longer to be a home--the owners can no longer exercise the ideal care that makes a house a home and the houses are now their own custodians, doing the best they can under the circumstances.

It is just because Point Roberts has so many 'abandoned houses' that I wanted to draw attention to them and to preserve them as they slid down their own slide, each one in its own way.  They are one of Point Roberts' things of beauty to me: not only because some of them are of historic importance, but because all of them are of 'historic' importance, even if I know the history only of their last years.

I wrote to the gentleman and explained my views and he offered to call me and tell me something of the history of his house.  His misunderstanding of my motives thus results in his helping me to understand what his house has been doing all these past years, including a previous owner who was a nun (perhaps a former nun, insofar as the Catholic Church doesn't usually have nuns living on their own in coastal retirement communities where there is no Catholic Church).  The Internet triumphs!  Even for apparent dogs.

Monday, May 10, 2010

A Matter of Balance

Yesterday was one of those days that really seemed light on positive qualities and indeed heavy on negative ones.  This, of course, is the kind of judgment that one might make in a country whose per capita income is at least $30,000.  Which is to say, there are plenty worse things that could be happening in a person's life, even if you live in a country with a per capita income of at least $30K.

I mean, it was Mother's Day and I'm a Mother so on my day, things ought to go a bit right.  We began the day by getting an early start in order to get on the 10:20 a.m. ferry to come back to Point Roberts from the Sunshine Coast.  It seemed likely that the major Mother's Day traffic would come after lunch, at which point all the Mothers would have been fed.  A 10:20 ferry would be safe even if the Mothers were all going to brunch.

Alas, although we were there in plenty of time, other people were there in even more plenty and we were Car #7 not to get on the ferry.  (Is it worse to be Car #1 not to get on the ferry?  We've been that car once before and it surely seems worse.  But it really doesn't make sense: after all, #1 or #7, you're all still not on the ferry.)  And where you are instead is hanging around the ferry terminal parking lot for a couple of hours, which is pretty much like hanging around any other parking lot for a couple of hours.  Cold in cold weather, hot in hot weather, but yesterday was just medium, so there's that in its favor, but there's really nothing else in its favor.

After the two hour wait, we entered the 12:30 ferry satisfactorily.  And drove the long route around Vancouver.  Somewhere down hear Marine and Argyle, we were stopped at a stop light to make a right turn onto Marine.  And, we looked and all that and made an appropriate right-on-a-red-turn.  Except that two teen-age boys who couldn't see around the corner made an sudden angled run into the pedestrian crosswalk just as we turned.  They couldn't see us, we couldn't see them... until we made the turn.  Of course we could both have seen one another had they entered the pedestrian crossing from the corner, but there we all were.  We weren't going all that fast, of course, but Ed made a very quick stop, which resulted in the three12-foot boards which were tied to the roof rack making a sudden forward exit, so to speak, landing immediately in front of the car in the street.

The boys run off across Marine, I jump out of the car and try to wrestle the three boards on to the side of Marine (with the help of a gracious young woman pedestrian), while Ed tries to get the car backed on to the side of Argyle, since he can't turn because the woman, the boards, and I are right in front of him.  And he's got cars behind him.  Oh, yikes!  It was just a quick adrenaline rush, but it could have been dreadful and if that woman had not helped me with the boards, it would have been worse.  And Ed hopes that those boys' mothers are reading this and will advise them to get their access to the pedestrian crosswalk at the corner and not ten feet into it by angling from the sidewalk past the intersection, IN THE FUTURE.

And then we got back to Point Roberts, turned on the hot water heater, and found that that precipitate action rewarded us with a collapse of the hot water heater's integrity of surface, and for the next 8 hours we were on our hands and knees, getting water off the floor and out of the carpet and out of the water heater, mostly using sponges and towels.  And so those were the three great unpleasantnesses of this Mother's Mother's Day.

On the other hand, this is what the garden looked like from the kitchen window upon our return.  The sight of the garden made me think that, on balance, it was a very good day.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Our Own E-News?

The All Point Bulletin has sent forth Issue #1 of its E-news.  You can sign up for delivery to your email address here.  I had heard around that they were going to start with some kind of blog operation but if this is it, it isn't a blog operation.

It's called The All Point Bulletin E-News.  The first issue, which just appeared yesterday in my email box, includes four short news stories as well as meetings, events, and classifieds.  It doesn't say how often it is to be published, but it certainly would be nice to have them providing us with at least middle-of-the-month updates on breaking news.  Indeed, it would be nice to have reminders of the upcoming week's meetings.  As well as what's playing at the movies.  If there were movies playing.

Anyway, might as well sign up and encourage them to provide this service.  Since the Bulletin doesn't charge us for the newspaper anyway, it can't be driven by its economic need to make up for falling newspaper subscriptions.  Still, it's not hard to see that we are moving quickly to a world in which the New York Times as well as the All Point Bulletin will exist solely in digital form.  And we'll be able to read them on our Kindles or our I-Pads or whatever comes next.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Grass By Another Name

Friends of mine recently came into a large quantity of bark chips which they did not, as it happened, have any immediate use for.  They offered them to me.  I have a lot of square feet of yard that is criss-crossed by dirt paths covered with bark chips.  Well, they were covered with bark chips several years ago, but it turns out that the principles of composting apply equally to things that aren't even in compost piles, things like bark chips, say.  As a result, my many pathways have become pretty barren over the past three years during which their chipness has not been renewed.

And so, I gratefully accepted the offer of the bark chips.  The problem is...well, the problems are, because there are several problems.  First, I don't have a truck to load all these bark chips into; second, even if I were to borrow a truck, it would probably take me a week or so to load them into the truck, if it didn't take a month or so, given my relative lack of strength because of advanced age; third, I don't have forever to move the chips because they are taking up a lot of space in my friends' driveway.  Actually, they are taking up the entire driveway.

What to do?  I collected a dozen five gallon plastic buckets, a number which fit neatly into the back of my Subaru.  And I drove to my friends' house on the other side of the Point, filled all dozen buckets with chips using a gardening trowel, put them into the Subaru, drove back across the Point to my house, unloaded the buckets in pairs (about 10 pounds per bucket), and carried each pair of buckets to a path location.  There, I dumped them and then walked back to the Subaru to return the buckets for the next trip.  The entire process took about a half-hour, except that it took more like an hour and a half because, before I could dump the buckets on to the pathways, I had to crawl around on the ground and remove all the maple tree seedlings that have germinated this spring so that they don't keep on growing under the bark chips.  At the end of the entire process, I might or might not feel up to making another round trip.

Over about 18 days, I made one or two trips every day...say 25 trips.  That amounted to about 3,000 pounds of bark chips overall being transported and then carried some distance by my hand.  It was precious tiring work but now, at the end of it all, the pathways look truly gorgeous.  Very pleasing, but....

Several years ago, I persuaded Ed to stop mowing the grass on the grounds that everybody seemed to spend a lot of time encouraging their grass to grow so that they could spend a lot of time mowing their grass.  Somehow, building lots of cute little pathways covered with bark chips which then decompose (albeit without any effort on my part), resulting in my having to expend an awful lot of effort to restore the bark chips seems remarkably like the grass game in reverse and by another name.

I have noticed that the local cats and dogs when wandering through my extensive yard all choose to walk on the pathways.  So, too, the raccoons and the deer.  So kind of me to go through this effort for them.  I begin to think about whether there's any potential for a toll road to pay off the effort?

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Closer to the Border

It's been a year since the residents of Point Roberts held their landmark meeting with the Customs and Border Protection personnel.  At that meeting, there were a lot of armed border agents and a lot of residents looking like those weapons were understandable.  The residents were very, very angry, and the agents had to sit for a couple of hours and listen to us count and recount the ways in which they had been behaving pretty abusively toward us.

At the end of that meeting, Michelle James, the head of the Northwest office, promised that they would do better and would come back in a year to see whether we felt differently than we did that night.  Last Thursday night, about 125-50 people filled the Community Center (and a lot of that number was CBP and Canadian customs and border personnel, this time much less obviously armed).  Happily, the community people also seemed less metaphorically armed.  And that is because Ms. James has been as good as her word: conditions have improved vastly at the border.  Oh, sure, we've still got a bunch of irritations, but it's not like it was last year when people seemed in fury or despair, as often as not.  The CBP met with thank you's and cogently put questions; no one seemed on the edge of tears, as I was, for example, last year.

First some current data.  At the Point Roberts border station, 43% of the crossings involve people with Nexus cards.  Overall, there are 175,000 Nexus cards issued in the western U.S., with 86,000 cards issued by the Blaine enrollment center, alone.  Of the approximately 1,500 Point Roberts residents, 1,066 have Nexus cards.

Some history: Last year's biggest complaint, perhaps, was about what appeared to be random denials or seizures of Nexus cards.  Ms. James ordered a review of every situation in this area in which a Nexus card was either revoked or denied.  They found 167 such instances, but they were unable to locate the people involved in all of those cases.  However, about a third of them were contacted after the review and 14 of those individuals had their Nexus cards restored.

Some future news: At the end of June, Point Roberts border crossing will get an agriculture specialist five days and week.  This will make it possible to determine whether it would make sense to have a full-time agricultural specialist stationed in Point Roberts.

During the past year, there has been considerable increase in U.S. staff which has made it possible to keep that second lane open all the time, which has made a big difference to everyone.  The Canadian side is still working to improve their lineups...or maybe to de-prove them.

Agricultural issues continue to be a lively matter of concern.  The current problem (for us if not for them) is that the U.S. has a clearly defined 'in transit' policy for people coming from Blaine/Bellingham, etc. directly to Point Roberts.  The policy is this: if you buy it in the U.S., then you can take it 'in transit' into Point Roberts as long as you have a same-day receipt.  This was very exciting sounding to those of us at the meeting.  But then the Canadian folks dropped their dime: Canada has no comparable 'in transit' policy from Blaine/Bellingham to Point Roberts.  Which is to say, if you can't bring something into B.C. in the first place, it doesn't matter that you are going to Point Roberts and have a same-day receipt.  Thus, e.g., oranges could go from Bellingham to Point Roberts under the U.S. 'in transit' policy; cherries can't because you can never take cherries across the border to Canada, whereas you can take oranges across the border into Canada.  So, the 'in transit' policy gives people going to Point Roberts some leeway, but not complete leeway.  No stone fruits, e.g., go into Canada, so no stone fruits, with or without receipts, go 'in transit' into Canada.

Questions were posed about the practice variations by which some of the (especially new) border guards seem to feel a need to ask an awful lot of questions of us Trusted Travelers, whereas other (especially older/more experienced/been here longer) border guards move us through rapidly as if they did indeed trust us.  Not much to hope for with this problem, though.  The CBP position is that there is a learning curve on this job and they are learning on us.  So, I guess, try to think of yourself as a teacher.  However, the P.R. port director assured us, being a learner does not justify disrespect, rudeness, or abuse.  If we have a complaint with how we are being treated by an officer, however, this was the strong message: Do not deal with issues 'on the line.'  Take your concerns to Port Director or the Supervisor inside.  Or call 945-5211 during the Monday-Friday day shift to discuss the problem.

Finally, about those random inspections down at the Peace Arch where they search your car when you can't see what they are doing.  Travelers are separated from the agents at that point to ensure the agents safety.  The traveler, it is said, may behave badly.  I noted that the agent might behave badly, as well, and was advised that there were always bad apples, blabla, but the bottom line was the agent's safety is what matters.  Although, there was later a suggestion that a new/trial program currently in use in Detroit could be introduced here.  It would allow people to stay with their cars when the inspection was just a matter of random inspection, as opposed to 'for-cause' inspection.

And, finally, I wrote here several months ago about, during a random inspection, being asked whether I was travelling with scissors.  The explanation was simple: again, it is agent safety.  If the agent is going to be putting their hands into places they can't see, they want to know whether there are sharp implements in the car that they need to be careful of.  That explained why, when I said that I was travelling with scissors but that they were in my purse, the agent said, 'Oh, good, that way they won't find them.'  He meant find them unexpectedly and painfully.  Fair enough.

After 90 minutes, everybody went home and felt a lot better about things than they had last year.  We've still got some ideas about how things could be better, of course, but then we are American in that way.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

A New Life for a Chair

I was away all day Tuesday so the lonely chair had to just endure the day more or less in solitude.  I'm hoping the occasional walker-by at least acknowledged it, asked how it was feeling.  But then, in the evening, an email arrived from a blog reader asking a little more personal information about the chair.  Could it be dried out?  Could it be clean enough?  And, if so, a new life might be possible.  I promised that, in the morning, when it was light and I wasn't so tired, I would make an assessment.

Fortunately, in the morning the sun was shining and a light breeze was blowing and the chair was presenting itself at its best, which was a low standard, but still.  Sitting there in the somewhat de-forested copse, it didn't seem so wet, or even so put upon by the birds.  The top of the cushion was damp to my hand, and when I lifted the cushion up, there were clearly water stains beneath where the rain had run down.  But that breeze was feeling very good and the sun was gentle upon it, so I turned the cushion upside down so that the air could reach down into the chair and gently roped a half-tarp about the whole thing in order that, if it started raining again, no further water would assail it.

And returned to report my assessment.  Which was that it was probably not terribly wet nor terribly unclean.  In fact, looked pretty clean and might dry out okay, but probably a personal look-see by the inquirer would be worthwhile.  And, by the end of the day, the inquirer's freighter had whisked the chair off to a new life.  Or a soon-to-be new life, as it was going to spend a little time drying out first.  And then, the end of the story is the beginning of a new story: Can a formerly homeless chair from Point Roberts make it in a Seattle apartment?  Big Chair in a Much Bigger City.  Or, Traveling without a Passport.

Thanks to the inquirer for moving things along.