Hard Times in Babylon

2024-04-03T15:45:39-07:00Categories: creative aging, family, featured posts, journalism, memoir, Seattle, writing|Tags: , , , , , |

Bangladesh, 1987. A few months after the Haiti trip. Photo by Hilda Bryant. Thirty-seven years ago, I said yes to this guy. It was April Fool’s Day, but he wasn’t kidding, and neither was I. We were in Haiti at the time, on assignment for the TV station where we both worked, full of hope for our shared future and for Haiti’s too: Haitians had just held their first free elections in the republic’s history. Such hope seems quaint in 2024. Haiti is at the mercy of violent gangs; dreams of any future that resembles democracy are currently barely plausible. And democracy is being tested and threatened and tested again here too. Right here in these United States, in ways we could not have imagined. Just as we could not have imagined, 30-plus years ago, that we would someday be engulfed by a worldwide pandemic. That more than seven million people would die (1.2 million in the U.S.), and countless others be permanently affected by their run-in with the microscopic virus. Who wants to dwell on any of this? Or read about it? Let alone write about it? Turns out that guy I said yes to wanted to dwell on it, to observe it, and to write about it. Turns out writing a novel, starring real people not unlike ourselves, made the most sense to him. There would be plenty of scholars and epidemiologists who could weigh in on the pandemic from their positions of expertise. There would be plenty of famous and glamorous [...]

Still

2023-09-25T07:35:20-07:00Categories: creative aging, featured posts, memoir, Seattle, Uncategorized, writing|Tags: , , , |

   The nectarine blush of evening on Mt. Rainier still makes me shake my head in wonder. A stroll through the Pike Place Market still cheers me up, no matter how crowded it is, because the presence of lots of happy tourists means our city’s beloved market is still thriving. The Chinook salmon are still thronging up the ladder at the Ballard Locks, a fact I’m happy to report after my first visit in about twenty years. And I’m still a fan of the word still. Some people think it’s a negative word, that it implies that the opposite is more likely. Still running, at your age? Good for you!  But more often, for me, it’s a word that connotes a moment of savoring. Marveling. At something that happens night after night (sunset glow on Rainier) and is still worth stopping to take in. At something that is still true (the Market is a mood-lifter) no matter how much downtown Seattle has changed, or I have changed, since my last meander through the stalls.  At something that brilliant engineers built long ago (the fish ladder at the Locks), that is still getting salmon back to their streams to spawn. Salmon know the power of home. And so do we. This year, I feel like my connection to my hometown—Seattle—is not just still strong, it’s stronger. Maybe because I’ve been doing a bit of roots research and learning fun facts such as this one: Turns out my Norwegian great-grandfather lived out his final decade or two in [...]

You Who Know

2022-05-17T17:05:32-07:00Categories: arts, creative aging, family, featured posts, feminism, health & medicine, human rights, parenting, Seattle, women's rights|Tags: , , , , , , , , |

Who knew that one of the central themes of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro is droit du seigneur, the feudal “lord’s right” granting the lord of a medieval European manor “sexual relations with servant brides on their wedding night?” Since I am a kindergarten-level opera fan, I am grateful to Seattle Opera General Director Christina Scheppelmann for stating it so clearly in her program notes. Because who knew I’d be watching The Marriage of Figaro—the first performance I’ve seen in Seattle’s McCaw Hall since before the pandemic—just days after the leaking of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito’s medieval memo detailing his lordly belief in a woman’s lack of rights over her own body? On the morning of Mother’s Day, I googled “senior rush tickets Seattle Opera.” Yes, the Opera’s rush ticket program was alive and well and yes, I now qualified! So off I went to McCaw Hall, where I bought my ticket at 12:30, which gave me plenty of time for a long walk. The sun was out at last, and the lovingly tended gardens of nearby Queen Anne Hill sparkled as they shook off the rain. By 2 p.m. I was back at McCaw, happily settled in my seat in Row P on the main floor, just off the aisle. Forty-five dollars felt like both a splurge—so self-indulgent!—and a bargain: only $45 for such a fabulous seat! And what a delightful, self-indulgent bargain of a splurge it was. To hear and see, in person, in all the immersive, sensory beauty that the word “live” [...]

April Come

2021-04-28T14:18:16-07:00Categories: creative aging, faith and doubt, family, featured posts, hiking, memoir, nature, parenting, quiet, Seattle, Uncategorized, urban life, writing|Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

“April come!” our daughter Claire used to plead at bedtime. Her favorite lullaby was Simon & Garfunkel’s classic, “April Come She Will.” But the pleading was play-acting: she knew her father loved nothing more than to sing that song to her and her baby brother Nick. This morning, my husband teared up as he read Robin Wall Kimmerer’s poignant account in Braiding Sweetgrass of taking her daughter off to college. He and I laughed as we recalled our own last manic trip from Claire’s dorm room to Target for hangers—the only remaining little something we could think of to do before we would have to say goodbye. Three years later, we did it all again when it was Nick's turn. I read Kimmerer’s book a few months ago, and loved it, and so it made me happy that Rustin was loving it too. And remembering that long-ago college move-in day—can it really be nearly 14 years?!—was a moment of April sweetness, one of so many in this showery, sunny month, when streams are ripe and swelled with rain; this moment of the year that is bursting with newborn life every which way you look. On one morning walk in the scrap of forest that backs my urban neighborhood, I saw this. And this. And this.  And yet. I am still so quick to brood (that editor hasn’t gotten back to me) and fuss (why is my stupid Zoom suddenly going choppy?!) and whine (wish I could… wish I could… wish I could…) And yet. I got [...]

Pandemic Patience

2021-03-29T14:48:19-07:00Categories: featured posts, gun control, health & medicine, human rights, journalism, midlife, politics, Seattle, urban life|Tags: , , , , , , , |

“Patience,” wrote an early master of social media, is “a minor form of despair, disguised as a virtue.” How absolutely true, I thought. Despair. But minor. Disguised—but poorly, in my own case—as a virtue. This timely quip dates back more than a century, to when the dashing Civil War veteran and writer Ambrose Bierce published his “Devil’s Dictionary,” a collection of satiric definitions he had penned, over several decades, for newspapers and magazines. I was rummaging on Google for a bit of standard etymology for the word “patience” (“from the Latin patientia, the quality of suffering or enduring”) when Bierce’s one-liner popped up. So very descriptive of where many of us are right now, isn’t it? In the past year, there has been unbelievable suffering. And endurance. But in November, we learned two huge things about 2021: 1) We would soon have a new president (although we didn’t yet know how many people were in deep denial about that) and 2) We would all be vaccinated. Eventually. But definitely in 2021. Ever since, the worldwide call to action has been for patience. Sadly, I do not have a great track record when it comes to patience. But surely that won’t be a problem, I thought, back in December. Because I’m turning 64 in January! And then when the initial vaccination phases were broadly outlined, and the number “65” was in bold type everywhere, I thought: That’s okay. I can be patient. Because after they vaccinate all the 65-year-olds, they’ll give me a call, right? My big, [...]

365 Days

2021-01-18T18:12:50-08:00Categories: creative aging, featured posts, feminism, human rights, midlife, politics, Seattle, travel, Uncategorized, urban life, women's rights|Tags: , , , , , , |

365 days ago, I celebrated my 63rd birthday in California with close friends. We marched in the 2020 Oakland women’s march, shouting with and talking to many total strangers, and admiring everyone’s signs. We dined out at a brewpub for lunch and an Italian restaurant for dinner. There was a stop for oysters somewhere in there too. In case we might still be hungry, my friends had hidden a selection of fancy birthday desserts in the back of the fridge. Wow. Though I had just returned from a long trip to Mexico, I thought nothing of hopping a flight from Seattle to Oakland for that weekend. My husband had been sick with a strange and  terrible flu through the last several days of the trip. There were a few days he couldn’t get out of bed. Not like him, at all. There were other days he couldn’t stop coughing. He was finally on the mend, but we had both been shocked by how hard this illness hit him. I know what you’re thinking. And… we’ll never know, though he recently donated blood and the Covid-19 antibody test came back negative. But back to my 2020 birthday weekend. I’d really like to dwell on it some more. There was a long afternoon at the SF MoMA. There was another afternoon of walking all over the UC Berkeley Campus. There was talk, so much talk: my friends and I worried together about whether Trump could be defeated, and if so, which candidate had the best chance. Harris? Warren? [...]

Hello, Ceiling

2022-01-15T14:02:26-08:00Categories: arts, brain, Creative, creative aging, dementia, faith and doubt, family, featured posts, health & medicine, memoir, midlife, Seattle, writing|Tags: , , , , , , |

“Mom is trying to see a bug on the ceiling using binoculars,” my husband texted our grownup children recently. “Should we be concerned?” “The pandemic has altered everyone’s perspectives in different ways,” my daughter responded. “Or is she just delirious from her reading??” Among the many first-ever virtual experiences I had this year was to participate in an online literary reading hosted by About Place Journal. I was thrilled that they had published my essay, "Regeneration," and equally thrilled to be part of the reading. Alas, we had technical problems. The show did go on, but it was stressful. Remember Willie Nelson’s classic breakup song, “Hello, Walls?” --In which he talks to the walls, and the window (“is that a teardrop in the corner of your pane?”) and, finally, the ceiling? (“I’m gonna stare at you awhile.”) In the final verse, he addresses them all: “We gotta all stick together or else I’ll lose my mind.” Pandemic Winter: it’s a little cozier than Pandemic Summer, isn’t it? Me. My laptop. My walls, windows and ceiling. After the tech-trauma of our reading, I guess I just wanted to figure out something in my tiny world, like: what the heck is that winged insect on our ceiling? Instead, it became kind of a Lucy Lucy Lucy moment of hilarity, which really was much more cathartic than actually figuring out what the creature was. (A moth?) And I learned something: binoculars don’t really work very well for indoor wildlife viewing. As I wrote about in my last post, six whole [...]

Use Your Fear

2020-03-31T09:28:21-07:00Categories: faith and doubt, family, featured posts, health & medicine, nature, Seattle, Uncategorized|Tags: , , , , , , |

“Want to hear what our resident coyotes sound like?” read the headline in our south Seattle neighborhood’s Nextdoor Digest email. You bet I do, I thought. Anything to distract me from the latest coronavirus news. I clicked play. Do you know the sound? It’s not haunting in an old Western movie way; it’s more like something out of a horror film; like the screeches that slice along with the killer’s kitchen knife in Psycho. I want to play it again right now, so I can do a better job of describing it, but actually I… don’t want to. What I’ve heard from neighbors is that we have exactly two resident coyotes in our local greenbelt. But the noise they make sounds like a screaming chorus of two dozen starving dogs, ready to hunt now. And here’s what I didn’t think about when I pressed play and the coyotes started howling from my computer speakers: our cat was in the room. The second he heard that noise, he leaped straight up from a sound sleep into his maximum-alert posture, which he maintained for several minutes as he scanned the neighborhood from our upstairs window, his eyes darting like an air traffic controller’s. I tried to soothe him, but he would have none of it. Did I not understand that his life was at stake?! Finally, satisfied that the danger was past, he curled up and went right back to sleep. He knows how to use his fear, I thought. Danger at hand? Be maximum-alert. Get an immediate [...]

Wild Isle

2019-12-09T14:04:05-08:00Categories: featured posts, hiking, memoir, midlife, nature, parenting, quiet, Seattle, Uncategorized, urban life, writing|Tags: , , , , , , , , |

Wild Isle: what a beautiful pair of words. But where, on earth, might there be a wild isle in a city? Right in my back yard, as it turns out. One hundred and just about nine years ago, the voters of Seattle gave themselves a gift they decided to call Seward Park: an island of wild old-growth forest that juts into Lake Washington from its southwest shore, barely connected to the mainland via a then-slim isthmus. It seemed only right to name this green jewel box after William Seward, best known for negotiating the 1867 purchase of Alaska, a territory that Seattleites were very fond of, back in 1911, because of the money that had poured into the city as gold prospectors from all over the world stopped to gear up before sailing from Seattle to the Klondike by way of Alaska. On their way home, the miners stopped through again, and spent more money. At last, Seattle could afford the wild isle at the southern end of the stunning chain of parks and boulevards laid out by the famed Olmsted brothers of New York. And now our Wild Isle has its own beautiful book.  Published by the Friends of Seward Park under the painstaking direction of writer/editor Paul Talbert and photo editor/designer Karen O’Brien, Wild Isle in the City is full of “tales from Seward Park’s First 100 years,” as the subtitle promises. But it goes back much, much further, all the way back to the Ice Age geology that shaped our city; the abundance [...]

This Large Light

2019-11-07T14:46:38-08:00Categories: faith and doubt, gun control, human rights, politics, Seattle, urban life|Tags: , , , , , , |

Driving west up Union, we could see taillights stretching ahead in a long, slow column. We crossed 23rd Avenue, turned onto a side street and parked. As we walked uphill towards Seattle’s storied Temple de Hirsch Sinai, my husband and I fell in step with a few others, then a few dozen. And then suddenly we were part of a stream of a few thousand, or more. Volunteers directed us to the ends of the long lines that circled the temple block in every direction. The quiet was palpable. The announcement soon went out that the synagogue, which holds 2,000 people, was full. Police blocked off the street in front and encouraged the hundreds of us who couldn’t get in to gather outside. Loudspeakers were set up. Someone began to strum a guitar and lead us in song. I stood behind a tall man in a fedora with a voice like a deep, clear bell and tried to pick up a few of the Hebrew words. One of the rabbis came out and spoke to us. He told us God’s tears were mixing with ours, as we stood together in remembrance of the eleven people murdered two days ago at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. He talked of planting a new Tree of Life, where love can—no, must, he said—have the last word. I thought of a film I saw this weekend, at the Friday Harbor Film Festival, that was all about how trees communicate with each other, underground; how the roots of wholly [...]

Seeking Shade

2019-11-07T14:37:29-08:00Categories: creative aging, faith and doubt, human rights, immigration, nature, politics, Seattle|Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

There is a toxic, orange glare emanating from the White House. We’ve got to seek shade wherever we can. As I hopscotched from one patch of shade to the next during our most recent heat wave, feeling grateful for Seattle’s generous canopy of trees, I thought: this is what we’re all doing now. Seeking shade from that poisonous glare. It’s a matter of spiritual and psychological survival. My own shade-seeking, Summer of 2018 mantra is this: “I am NOT going to let Donald Trump prevent me from writing my book.” Easier said than done, in the summer of 2018. But I’m doing it: I’m writing; I’m fitting in an hour or two a day, more when I can, less when work takes precedence or it’s time for a hiking break. Writers, here’s my advice: close your email and your browser. Silence your phone. Set a timer for an hour. Checking your email, texts and news once an hour is enough. My own recent favorite reads And readers: show yourself some kindness. Tear your bleary eyes away from the news alerts and the OpEds and read a novel or a memoir or a short story or a non-political essay. Feel your breathing change and your shoulders relax as you settle in. Parents and grandparents: read stories to your kids. The book I am writing is about faith and doubt: the fervent faith of my youth, the twenty-year break I took from religion, the meaning I’ve found in accepting that doubt is where my faith now [...]

State of the Union: Flashback

2019-11-07T14:49:23-08:00Categories: memoir, politics, Seattle|Tags: , , , , , , , |

I had a flashback during the approximately 30 minutes I could bear to watch of the State of the Union address. In the summer of 1974, which for me was the summer between high school and college, I was working the front counter at Kazdal’s Deli on University Way in Seattle. Kazdal’s (which later became the Lock, Stock and Bagel) was more of a lunch spot than a dinner restaurant. So just before 6 p.m. on August 9, the place was pretty quiet. Suddenly, someone burst in our door and asked if we had a TV. “Nixon’s about to resign!” he said. No, we didn’t have a TV. “But the Continental does,” said the cook, who had come running in from the kitchen. “Let’s get over there.” The Continental was the Greek restaurant across the street. The cook dashed on over. I looked around—not a customer in the place—grabbed the keys, locked the front door and followed him. I was about halfway across when a cop on a motorcycle roared up to me. “Get back on the sidewalk, Miss. I’m writing you a ticket for jaywalking.” “But Officer, don’t you know? Nixon’s resigning right now and I have to get to the Continental to see it on TV!” The policeman was unmoved. He took down my name and address and gave me my ticket, watching me as I ran up to the crosswalk, waited for the light to change, and ran into the Continental, just in time to catch Nixon weirdly yammering on to the American [...]

After 2017: Wound Care

2019-11-07T14:50:14-08:00Categories: human rights, immigration, journalism, memoir, midlife, Occupy, politics, Seattle, Uncategorized, women's rights|Tags: , , , , , , , |

One year ago—before the Inauguration, before the women’s marches, before everything else that has happened since—I attended a New Year’s Eve get-together at which everyone made a prediction for 2017. Mine was that the next (“hopefully great”) Democratic presidential candidate, “someone we haven’t even thought of yet,” would emerge by the end of this year. Others predicted that Trump would be impeached. Or that his first Supreme Court nominee would somehow be blocked. Some guests offered more general forecasts: “the pendulum will swing;” “people will come to their senses.” My husband vowed that we would see the “total cratering” of the Republican Party. His prediction may have come closest to the mark. And though my own hope was misplaced—I think we’re still not even close to identifying the next Democratic candidate for president—I do believe the pendulum is swinging, and many people are coming to their senses. They just may not be the same people we had hoped would come to their senses. The people who are coming to their senses are not the people who voted for Trump. We now understand that most of them (a minority of Americans, let’s not forget) are very unlikely to change their minds. The people who are coming to their senses are us. By which I mean the whole big crazy quilt of the Left. Or “The Resistance,” as Trump now likes to call us, in air quotes, thinking that it’s a scathing put-down. To which I say: Congratulations, Everyone! We’ve made enough noise this year to get our own [...]

American Infection

2019-11-07T14:50:44-08:00Categories: economics, health & medicine, human rights, immigration, politics, Seattle, Uncategorized|Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

Sometimes we writers search too hard for the perfect metaphor. Sometimes, it’s right under our nose—or, in my case, right under my blue, Velcro-strapped boot. Infection: that’s what Trump is, I thought this morning, as I took my nineteenth of the twenty Amoxicillin tablets we brought home from the pharmacy ten days ago. Trump has infected our vigorous, 241-year-old democracy. And like so many infections, this one is fire-engine red and spreading, unchecked and unmedicated. Meanwhile, the patient is hot with fever one day and shaking with chills the next. Nothing tastes right. Muscles ache. Vaguely flu-like feelings abound. Waves of determination to soldier through—we’ll get over this!—are followed by languorous apathy: let’s just give up. Speaking as one who tried to ignore an infection for several days, I can tell you it is not a strategy that works. After foot surgery on November 6, I assumed the three incisions on my right foot were healing up nicely under all those bandages, just the way they had on my left foot, last May. And they probably were, for the first several days. But then something somehow went wrong along one of those neat lines of stitches. At that point my foot was in a plastic cast, so I couldn’t see it. And for reasons I cannot explain, I chose to believe that feeling like my foot was on fire was probably “normal,” that fever and chills were a “part" of healing, and that I would magically “get over it.” Wrong, wrong, wrong. Thank God for antibiotics. [...]

Field Trips

2019-11-07T14:53:02-08:00Categories: midlife, nature, quiet, Seattle, writing|Tags: , , |

Restless Nest readers, I want to share with you this guest post I wrote for the Wide Open Writing blog. Wide Open Writing is for writers in search of inspiration; they offer a few gorgeous retreats every year, virtual writing groups and one-on-one support. Their website will make your mouth water. What I wrote for them is below. I didn't take pictures on the day of my field trip, so here's one I took at Seattle's Lincoln Park, just to get you in the right mood: Why Writers Need Field Trips I thought I was going to take a quick stroll down the beach. Instead, I walked straight to the water’s edge, sat down, took off my shoes, and waded into Puget Sound. My toes dug happily into the dark, kelpy sand. My calves were electrically, perfectly cold. After a few minutes, I backed up and sat down where the tide could still lap my toes. I lifted my face to the sun and the breeze, both newly freed from the summer wildfire smoke that had blanketed Seattle for days. I felt like I’d come home, after a long time away. None of this involved thinking. All of it simply happened, as if some irresistible magnetic force was pulling me. As if I knew with my body, not my brain, that at this particular suburban Seattle beach, Richmond Beach, the thing to do was to get yourself right into the water the minute you got there. I never go to Richmond Beach. I live in southeast Seattle, [...]

The Long Game

2019-11-07T15:23:32-08:00Categories: hiking, human rights, journalism, politics, Seattle, women's rights|Tags: , , , , , |

It was the hottest evening of the year. So far. I rested my post-surgical, boot-encased foot on my husband’s leg as we sat with a group of like-minded, anxious Seattle progressives and listened to the ACLU’s state communications director answer questions. “What should we do?” was what we wanted Doug Honig to tell us. Meaning: about Trump? During his presidency? What should we do? How can we help? Honig’s advice, which I’m paraphrasing and which he delivered with more nuance, was essentially this: Try to stop obsessing about Trump. This isn’t about Trump, this is about the Republican plan to remake our country. The Republicans have deep pockets and many loyal foot soldiers and they are in this for the long game. And so we need to be, too. What does that mean? It means supporting local, state and national politicians and candidates who stand for compassion, not cruelty. It means raising our voices in defense of the Affordable Care Act, immigrants’ rights, our national parks and monuments, clean air, clean water, and everything else we care about that is threatened not just by Trump’s vicious, bullying twitter feed but by his clever cabinet appointees and his allies on Capitol Hill, who love love love that he is providing constant, highly distracting cover while they pursue their draconian agenda. Stay in, people, for the long game. “There’s a part for you to play in the next great progressive comeback story,” Senator Al Franken writes in his new memoir, Al Franken: Giant of the Senate. “But only [...]

Stay Hungry

2019-11-07T15:31:01-08:00Categories: economics, education, faith and doubt, feminism, human rights, immigration, journalism, politics, Seattle, Uncategorized, urban life, women's rights|Tags: , , |

2016 was a hungry, hungry year. Month after month, we hungered for justice and peace and hope, and we just kept getting hungrier. We thought November 8 might take the edge off; might give us a little encouraging broth for the journey. But no. Now we’re more famished than ever. And it’s very easy to feel like the best solution might be to simply curl up in a fetal position and hoard what little energy we have left. But we can’t, can we? We owe it to ourselves, our children, our neighbors down the street and around the world, to stay hungry. To feel that driving bite in the gut, that ache, that howling growl that demands attention. We are going to be offered pablum and junk food and we’ll be tempted to take it. We’ll be told to eat this, calm down, stop your bellyaching. But we can’t. We’ve got to stay hungry. Yes, 2016 feels like the Worst Year Ever. But as one friend brooded on Facebook, what on earth makes us think 2017 is going to better? Lest you think my only goal here is to write the most depressing post in Restless Nest history, I offer this morsel of optimism. Here’s what could be better about 2017, if we all stay hungry: this could be the year that we all do more than we ever have to make the world a better place. Instead of giving money to presidential candidates, we can give it to the people who are in the trenches, [...]

How Trump Made Me Love My Day Job

2019-11-07T15:33:47-08:00Categories: dementia, economics, film, health & medicine, human rights, politics, Seattle|Tags: , , , , , |

       As I write, Donald Trump supporters are lining up outside a stadium about thirty miles north of here for a rally that begins many hours from now. This is confusing to me. Lining up for Trump? Who are they? Yesterday, my husband and I met an immigrant family of nine and talked to them about how a local non-profit is helping them through their grief over the death of their baby girl. Last week, we visited an Adult Day Health Center that serves people who have dementia or have suffered brain trauma. We talked to a woman in her fifties whose face lit up with joy as she described how the time she spent at the center had given her the courage to go back to work after a stroke. The week before that, we interviewed a Seattle teacher who found an affordable apartment for herself and her son, with the help of a housing non-profit. This is our day job: making short films for non-profits to help them raise money and spread the word about what they do. August is always a busy time for us, as our clients get ready for their fall events. We feel very lucky that we get to do this work for a living. That we get to hear, and tell, stories about people helping people. Stories that debunk, over and over again, the American myth of rugged individualism; that show how much we Americans can do, when we pay attention to one another’s needs. When we are able [...]

Father Solstice

2019-11-07T15:38:41-08:00Categories: faith and doubt, human rights, Seattle, urban life|Tags: , , , , , , , |

 I was in it for the Beaconettes. What’s not to love about a holiday choir decked in sky-high beehive hairdos festooned with strings of lights? So I braved the bone-chilling Seattle December rain and headed for the annual tree-lighting at our neighborhood’s new gathering spot, a mini-park called the Columbia City Gateway. My husband was waiting for me, hot chocolate in hand. Aahhh. We tried to figure out where the tree was. Turns out it was a telephone pole. This would be a pole lighting. But that’s OK—it’s Columbia City, where even a pole lighting in a downpour can somehow still promise to be festive. There were some mercifully short introductory remarks, and then the night’s celebrity guest was introduced: Father Christmas himself, or, as the announcer added, “Father Solstice, if you prefer.” And what a magnificent Father Christmas/Solstice he was: fur-crowned, green-robed, cascading white beard and hair. I was kicking myself for not having added one more layer to my winter-rain getup and feeling anxious to see the Beaconettes before I crossed over into hypothermia. My husband saw me shivering and put his arms around me. Then Father Solstice stepped up to the microphone, wrapping us all in his gentle yet commanding presence: the kind of presence that long years of addressing such crowds can give a man, especially one with mythical tendencies. I’m paraphrasing here, but this is what I remember of what Father Solstice said: “I won’t talk long, I promise. I know you’re wet and cold. But I just want to remind [...]

Restless Night

2019-11-07T15:40:26-08:00Categories: arts, film, memoir, midlife, parenting, Seattle, urban life|Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

There was a solemn three-year-old firefighter and a fierce four-year-old Batman. There were many princesses, one wearing a football helmet. There were moms dressed as witches and one dad in a hardhat carrying a cardboard model of Bertha, Seattle’s doomed supersized tunnel driller. There were some very sweet baby bumblebees. It was Halloween night in Columbia City, and my husband and I were there for the show. We left a basket of candy on our front porch with a sign: “Happy Halloween! Take a few and leave some for your neighbors.” We’ll never know whether the trick or treaters did that, or whether one or a few them could not resist the temptation to empty the entire basket into their bags. What we did know is that we were too restless, this year, to sit home and wait for the doorbell to ring. So there we were, a dozen blocks away in our neighborhood’s hopping, decked-out business district, watching what has become a wildly popular south Seattle ritual: trick or treating at the bars, restaurants, galleries and stores in rustic, red-brick Columbia City. We ordered beers at Lottie’s and stood outside, protected from the rain by the awning. We complimented the trick or treaters on their costumes and chatted with their parents. Rus took a few photos to send our children, currently living far away in Colorado and New York and busy at that hour dressing up for their respective Halloween parties. After dinner at Tutta Bella, we raced up to Taproot Theatre in Greenwood to [...]

Rain Forest

2019-11-07T15:45:04-08:00Categories: hiking, nature, quiet, Seattle|Tags: , , , , , , , |

 Rain Forest: the most cooling words in the world. Can’t you just feel the rain, dripping through the cool, deep shade of trees draped in moss? Aaahhh. I’m speaking of our Pacific Northwest rain forests, the great temperate forests that once stretched from Alaska to southern Oregon. Now, what is left of those ancient mossy kingdoms form the rich lungs of the Olympic National Park, breathing moisture through the valleys of the Queets, Quinault, Bogachiel and Hoh Rivers. They are where we go when we crave not just green but a thousand shades of green; not just trees but hundreds of giants, each one of them hundreds of years old. My husband and I were there this weekend, backpacking along the Hoh River. As always, we packed fleece and rain gear. You never know, in the rain forest. But this was no ordinary Fourth of July trip to the Olympic Peninsula. This was the Fourth that came right after the warmest June in our weather history.     It’s hard to describe to someone from, say, Arizona, what exactly is so strange about all this. Why it is incredible to camp on a gravel bar on the Hoh River without a rainfly over your tent, your sleeping bag unzipped and thrown open, the dry, clear summer twilight still faintly pink at ten o’clock, the full moon about to rise. Not only will there be no cold breeze or rain on this night in the temperate rainforest, there will barely be any darkness at all. It’s wonderful, it’s [...]

Beyond the Trail

2019-11-07T15:46:19-08:00Categories: arts, brain, dementia, hiking, memoir, nature, reading, Seattle, writing|Tags: , , , |

  “End of Maintained Trail,” read the sign. “Travel Safely. Leave No Trace.” We had hiked the 3.1 miles up to Glacier Basin in Mt. Rainier National Park on a mid-June day that looked like late July: wildflowers everywhere, sky bluer than blue, glaciers looking decidedly underfed. I could use that “end of maintained trail” metaphor to riff about global warming, couldn’t I? But my mind is traveling in a different direction. More of a life direction. More of a… what it might feel like to get a scary diagnosis direction. For 5.3 million Americans living today, that diagnosis is Alzheimer’s disease, and it may as well come with a trail’s-end message attached: This is the end of the maintained trail, pal. Sorry. Travel safely. Oh, and leave no trace of your fears and feelings because frankly, the rest of us can’t handle hearing about it. For their family members, the diagnosis message is the same: your life, too, will now proceed on unmarked terrain. There will be rocks, some slippery, others sharp. There will be immoveable boulders. Crevasses of anguish. The endless putting of one foot in front of another, as you wonder what lies around the next switchback or over that looming ridge. The Alzheimer’s Association recently switched its awareness month from November—cold, barren, dark—to June: mild, lush and flooded with light. At first, I didn’t get it. November had always seemed like the perfect Alzheimer’s Awareness month to me. But I think the point is to get us all thinking about just how [...]

Spring Fever

2019-11-07T15:47:56-08:00Categories: hiking, midlife, nature, Seattle|Tags: , |

What a great day it was to have five working senses. My nose might’ve had it the best: from coffee to strawberries, lavender, mint and, topping the list, dirt. I wallowed in it like a three-year-old in a sandbox: scooping wet compost into my garden bed, raking it, poking holes, patting seedlings into place. Rainbow chard, Merlot lettuce, Dinosaur kale: day one for this year’s 2 feet by 4 feet vegetable kingdom. Reach high, seedlings! Shake off that greenhouse gloom: you are outside now, kids, and every day, we’re all going to get a few more minutes of this golden light. My husband and I started our Spring Fever Saturday with a long tromp through the Washington Park Arboretum. For two hours, we were the greenhouse transplants, stretching into warmth and light. Spring in Seattle is like that: everyone turns into happy seedlings, faces pointed skyward, toes in the mud. Or maybe we’re more like a tribe of Munchkins, blinking and wide-eyed as we obey the urging of the sun to come out, come out, wherever we are. The Arboretum trails were thronged with strolling birders and blossom-lovers, painters with easels all along Azalea Way, runners and rubber-booted families in the marshes of Foster Island. What an old friend of a landscape this is for me, I thought as we sat and put our boots back on after wading across a submerged bit of the Foster Island trail. On suddenly warm spring days just like this one, I used to come down here on my bike [...]

Dignity is powerful

2019-11-07T15:48:53-08:00Categories: faith and doubt, film, human rights, Seattle, travel, war, women's rights, work, writing|Tags: , , , , , , , |

 Resistance is “people insisting on their dignity and humanity in the face of those who would strip them of it,” said author and documentary filmmaker Jen Marlowe. She was speaking from the base of a tiered classroom in Seattle University’s Sullivan Hall, which made her appear even shorter than her five feet and one quarter inch. It was 9 am on a Saturday. Her talk was titled “Reflections on Resistance: Palestine, Darfur and the Death Penalty.” I had arrived a few minutes late, not anticipating the crush of humanity at the check-in table for the Search for Meaning Book Festival, which packs the Seattle University campus with more people than it holds on any other day in the year. Apparently there are many of us in this bookish, broody city who are searching for meaning. SU has responded by bringing to one campus, for one day, a dizzying variety of authors who have found meaning in faiths and places and chapters of history I never knew existed. Hild of Whitby, for example—the subject of Nicola Griffith’s book, Hild: The Woman Who Changed the World 1400 Years Ago. Apparently Hild persuaded the Celtic and Roman bishops of the Dark Ages to sit down together, work out their differences, and unite the unruly believers of ancient Britain: quite an achievement for a single woman in the wilds of Northumbria. Back to Jen Marlowe, who is a bit of a present-day Hild. Marlowe’s search for meaning takes her to epicenters of resistance: to places like Palestine, Darfur in Western [...]

Dateline Máncora

2019-11-07T15:55:12-08:00Categories: family, midlife, quiet, Seattle, travel|Tags: , , , , , |

There are only so many ways to describe a beautiful beach. The true beauty of it, for writers and readers, is the way it allows your mind to travel lightly, far and wide, or to venture deeply and with great absorption, as you wish or as you dare, always returning to the anchor of the beauty before you. The surprise of it, on this trip, is that our beach is in Peru. Peru is the Inca Trail, the glorious Andes, sprawling, sleepless Lima. It is also one of the most ecologically diverse countries in the world. From where I’m sitting now in Máncora, on the north coast, the Amazon basin is not far away. Nor are the snowy high sierras. But this coastal landscape is a rugged desert edged by a strip of long, curving bays and beaches. We came to Máncora because it is a town my great-uncle and his family lived in for a year in the 1950s. It was a dramatic change from their elegant Lima home. My cousin Andy remembers Máncora as an 11-year-old’s backwater paradise, where he played in the dusty hills and on the sublime beach. We are in Peru to wrap up filming on our documentary, Zona Intangible, which was inspired by my great-uncle, who lived here for two decades and was a pioneer of Peru’s fishmeal industry. The film won’t be all about fishmeal or all about my uncle; it will, mostly, tell the story of a handmade city outside Lima where a clinic on a dusty back [...]

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