Saturday, October 30, 2010

Nothing Guns Like A Deere

It is a sad fact of human nature that, when faced with a gathering threat, we dismiss or deny evidence of impending doom until it is blatantly obvious, when it might be too late to do anything about it. This was never more clear to me than when I opened up the Sunday paper and found not one but two articles about people who had been murdered by their riding lawn mowers. Wake up, America. Our garden tools have been conspiring against us for a long time.

I'd become aware of this menace years ago. It starts in all innocence with bulb dibbles and trowels, but soon enough a couple hoes are leaning up against the wall of the shed and the neighborhood goes all to hell. Pruners and loppers move in, followed by gangs of hacksaws and chainsaws, until eventually the shed is all blades and teeth. Leaf blowers inspire sensitive people to homicide. And yet no one seems willing to put two and two together and mount a defense.

The only time I ever dared to operate a riding lawn mower was at my sister's house in Maine. Something in the water there--lobster sweat, perhaps--has led all rural residents to blanket their considerable acreage in lawn, each abutting the neighbors', stretching for miles in every direction. Even with a riding lawn mower, the task of mowing begins on a Monday and culminates on a Sunday, by which time it needs to be started anew. One member of the household is dispatched to deliver periodic sandwiches and no one rests until late fall. My sister's mower had five speeds, and I planned to get familiar with only the first. The topography seemed certain to tip me over if I tried to get the speed up, and I am not a courageous soul. I rumbled off on my first pass trailed by a fleet of curious snails and promised to check back within the month.

Sadly, it was black fly season. We western Oregonians are unfamiliar with black fly season, but the learning curve was zippy as hell. Plugging along in first gear, I gaped in horror as tiny flies swarmed onto my face and chunked divots out of it and injected anti-clotting juices until my blood trickled freely in such a way as has not been seen since the Crown of Thorns incident. What fresh hell is this? I jammed the shift into second, then all the way up to fifth, before outrunning the flies. I got a little air time over the quince bush hummock and had the whole acre scalped in no time, bailing out at the backdoor and vaulting into the kitchen on the dismount. The mower was on a trajectory to return in a few weeks, by which time it would be mosquito season. Maine has its charms. But.

The woman in Oklahoma who was done in by her mower had six speeds on her machine. She had taken it out on the city streets after 10pm, hit a pothole and overturned. This is what happens when the voters care about nothing but tax cuts. I believe a person should be able to gun her lawn mower down the street after dark without worrying about potholes, but I'm a liberal. She was subsequently run over by her own mower, suffering a severe thatching, and then done in when the mower returned for the cross-cut.

The other mower incident was a murder-suicide. The unfortunate fellow perished when his mower burst into flames. Why did he not disembark, you ask? It's so easy for us to second-guess after the fact. But when you're just about done with your acreage and are making that final swing around the crape myrtle, your plastic flamingoes under one arm ready to re-stab into the ground, you always think you have a little more time before you catch fire.

Finishing that mowing job for the week is a powerful motivator. Let us never forget the case of the man in Mississippi whose feet caught fire when he was nearly done. He finished the job and was almost home free, jumped off, grabbed a mattock and began chopping the fire line to keep the flames from spreading to his torso. Bled out, poor guy.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Nuts And Weenies

When I was working, I scavenged my breakfasts and lunches myself, and Dave took care of everything else. I ate exactly the same thing for breakfast and lunch because thinking irks me. On my days off I'd skip breakfast (too fussy) and have a peanut-butter sandwich for lunch (folded over, to save the hassle of precise bread-to-bread placement). Then the big dinner fairy showed up with a heaped plate of eighteen different vegetables, a slab of perfectly-cooked meat of some kind and all the food groups abundantly represented, including butter, salt and alcohol. We never get sick. All the vitamins are bound to be in there somewhere.

If Dave gets hungry of an afternoon, he might call out, "you want a little nosh?" and I'll say, sure. A little something would be nice. Then ten minutes later out he comes with a plate of sliced apples, an orange, salami-cream-cheese-chili-pepper rollups, olives, crackers and cheese, with a spray of celery and carrots hanging off the side, all arranged so attractively that Druids could use it to line up the equinox. The man's a whiz. Also, he doesn't want to eat the same thing twice.

That whole variety thing goes to pieces during the World Series. For however many days it takes, we eat salted peanuts in the shell, Crackerjacks, hot dogs and beer. I really understand the game, having been well coached in softball. You can learn a lot from the end of the bench. In fact, you will not find anyone with my particular dearth of skills who understands this game any better than I do. I love it. Not enough to watch it all season, though. Every year there is some upstart team that I've never heard of that makes a run at the pennant. By the time I start paying attention, it will be down to something like New York versus the Amarillo Crabwhackers. Amarillo Crabwhackers? I'll say, and Dave says, sure, they used to be the Minot Wheatwatchers. Oh.

I'm a Red Sox fan. I lived in Boston during the '75 World Series, when Carlton Fisk waved his hit fair and hopped up and down and clapped all the way around the bases. I've even done a remodeling job on my memory so that I was there at Fenway watching, although I was really in Somerville in front of the TV, but you could hear the whole town roar at once. They didn't win that year, of course. There's a pain associated with being a Red Sox fan that is almost exquisite, a beautiful ache. It's a concrete shoe for the heart. Victorians used to think there was something pale and sexy about tuberculosis sufferers, and I feel the same way about Boston fans. Yankee fans do not have the emotional stamina to withstand what a Boston fan can withstand. Staying with the tuberculosis-victim analogy, Yankees fans are, um, rich fancy boys who will not die.

October 26, 2010
The Red Sox messed up a few years ago when they accidentally won the whole thing, which wasn't nearly as thrilling as getting into that series at all by coming back from 0-3 and beating the Yankees for four straight games. Since then there hasn't been much to interfere with the purity of our suffering. This year the Texas Rangers humiliated the Yankees to get in the series, and they'll be meeting San Francisco. I don't care who wins as long as the Yankees didn't. We've got the giant bag of peanuts ready to go.

But this year the diet got screwed up early. About five minutes before winter, we got our first ripe tomato of the year, in October. That's it: fifteen tomatoes all season, and we've put them to their highest and best use. That means we've already had BLTs every night for a couple weeks. When we run out of Ts, the Series will start. In deference to our age, we've reined in the menu by eliminating Crackerjacks. So it's just peanuts and hot dogs and beer from Oct. 27 for about a week. I've got a massive case of diarrhea penciled in for the 29th through Election Day. I don't care who wins, but my lower GI tract hopes they can do it in four games.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Straight Up

I have a reputation for hauling people on what they claim are unacceptably steep hikes, or "death marches,"  as some prefer. It's entirely undeserved. For one thing, hardly anyone has died, although one fellow went a little bluish, and several have exerted themselves clear out of conversation, which is not always a bad thing. Also, it is not my fault that we are very near sea level here and all the good stuff is up around 5,000 feet. That's something you'll have to take up with whoever was responsible for the Cascadia Subduction Zone.

Besides, people are always finding something to complain about. "Look around," I tell them. "It's gorgeous. Try looking at something besides my ass," and they complain that they would, if my ass wasn't always right at their eye level. And it's not true that they keep smacking their faces on the trail in front of them. That only happens sometimes.

It's gotten to the point that when my guests ask me what a proposed trail is like and I say "it's not that steep," everyone groans and pantomimes shooting themselves in the head. Myself, I rarely remember how steep a hike is. I'm always surprised. It's the same sort of mechanism that allows women to bear more than one child.

Once people get themselves to the splendid vista with views of volcanoes, the drone of hummingbirds, and drifts of little alpine flowers that don't grow anywhere else, they hardly ever are moved to push me into the crevasse. They're secretly grateful, they are, quite secretly, and by the time they have hitched themselves back down the trail--and sometimes that do go awfully fast, don't it?--and drained a shelf of my beer, they've forgotten all about it.

Still, to any of you out there still harboring a grudge about all those magnificent vistas and alpine flowers I made you look at, you will be happy to learn that Dave turns the tables on me on our urban hikes. He walks every the heck where. Frequently by himself, but he tries to entice me with talk of an ice cream cone, twelve miles distant. "Go for a walk?" he'll sing out, enthusiastic as a cocker spaniel, and if I haven't had the foresight to make other plans, I'll assent. "Where this time?" I asked the other day.

"Oh," he says, voice light, as if coaxing a parakeet to his finger, "I was thinking hill walk."

This would refer to the West Hills above downtown Portland, the site of my entire postal career. These days, no one is paying me to walk those. We head off.

Soon enough we find ourselves at the bottom of a set of wooden steps in the woods. I peer up, but the apex is shrouded in clouds and eagle butts and angel feet. The steps are in good condition, rarely used; Icarus's younger, timid brother installed them when he got a good deal on lumber. There are little resting benches every thousand feet of elevation, probably thirty of them. We emerge eventually near SW Davenport Lane, and Dave turns to me as bright as sunshine and says "There! That wasn't so bad, was it?" I have parked my last syllable three or four benches down, which he is counting on.

We are smack dab in the middle of the very first route I ever delivered, and I know it well. I have traveled five miles up and thirty years back. It is, in fact, worth the climb, with sights and sounds not encountered in the lower elevations: palatial homes, views of volcanoes, the drone of Mexican-powered leaf blowers, and, blooming everywhere in gay profusion, drifts of Republican lawn signs.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

By The Skin Of My Shin

When I was in seventh grade, some girls trying to get a toehold on the adolescent food chain pointed at me in the hallway and made fun of my hairy legs. They were extrapolating from a fine blonde fuzz above my knee socks. My classmates were wearing nylons with garter belts by then. I found myself incapable of consulting my mother about shaving, let alone nylons. I was the baby in the family, with old parents, and already had internalized my role as the one who would keep my parents young, so I couldn't bear to remind them I was growing up. I shut myself in the bathroom and grabbed my father's razor to take care of this vital issue myself. I remember thinking it would require a lot of pressure. I started with the shin bone and neatly peeled off a long strip of skin. In too big a hurry to put two and two together, I did the same thing on the other leg. It looked like the Bates Motel in there. I pressed layers of toilet paper to the shins and hid them under knee socks until the scabs fell off.

The first time I recalled and related that episode, in my forties, I burst into tears. Over leg fuzz.

You can still see the scars. It's a little reminder of the power of peer pressure. If we'd been expected to shave our wrists, I wouldn't be here today. It's a dangerous age, and those who sprout out a little ways from smooth will get shorn down. The bulletins on acceptable behavior and wardrobe are changed almost hourly and it's essential to keep up. Sometimes it's a matter of life and death.

Right here, we've heard report of a student teacher, Seth Stambaugh, who was dismissed because of a short conversation he had with a kid in his fourth-grade class. Johnny wanted to know why the teacher wasn't married yet. "It's illegal for me, because if I did marry I would choose a man," he told the youngster. Wrong answer. Oh, not wrong in the sense of being anything but the truth. But as everybody knows, the correct answer is: "I just haven't met the right girl yet." Not "I just haven't met a girl with a penis yet." The teacher failed to stick to the script, and the script has been around a long time.

1916, Iowa. Johnny: Who are you voting for for President, Mrs. Bonkworthy?
     Incorrect answer: I am not legally allowed to vote, Johnny, but if I could, it would be for Mr. Wilson.
     Correct answer: Heavens to Murgatroid, Johnny, my brain is far too fluffy to hold facts and opinions in it! Now let's move on to our history texts. Johnny, maybe you can read it aloud, and that way I can learn it, too.

2010, Texas. Johnny: Why is the sky blue?
     Incorrect answer: Well, Johnny, the longer wavelengths of light pass right through the air, while the shorter blue wavelengths of light are absorbed and then scattered off the gas molecules in the atmosphere that God probably didn't whomp up in one day a few thousand years ago.
     Correct answer: Who knows? Purty, though, ain't it?

Kids really shouldn't get too much information. Not in an institution of learning, certainly.

No one has said, but I suspect Johnny was put up to this question by his parents. Somebody had already complained to the school about the student teacher's attire, which was suspiciously neat and tidy. I think somebody's parents tried to seal the deal by putting him on the spot and hoping he'd tell the truth, and then this dire threat to their son's welfare could be excised from the classroom.

He's probably not a direct threat, or he would have answered "I am not married because I am waiting for the nanosecond you, Johnny, turn eighteen, after I have groomed you for ten years."

He's probably just the other kind of threat, the one who demonstrates that it is normal for some people to be gay, thus setting into motion a vacuum of impressionable youngsters into the irresistible gay lifestyle choice. Johnny's parents obviously realize that anyone would choose a same-sex relationship as long as it was acceptable. Who wouldn't?

Odds are, at least one child in that class, maybe even Johnny, has an inkling that he might have something in common with that teacher, and he has just learned the consequences. That strikes me as being a threat, but that's because I've never thought Johnny would be better off dead than with Fred.

As lifestyle choices go, suicide is a poor one, with no future in it. I would have thought it was a more difficult choice to make than, say, snapping out of it and cruising the opposite sex for someone you could always divorce later. But apparently, for some of our children, it's easier.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Call It Merriweather

It is worth noting that Lewis and Clark, after having withstood hardships and horrors and ambush by mosquitoes, were nearly done in after a few days in the rain at the mouth of the Columbia. Their very survival was in question; their clothes were a fright; they near perished from whininess. They had fetched up in a dot of a cove they called Dismal Nitch, and so it is called to this day, there being no compelling reason to change it. Dismal Nitch is south of Cape Disappointment and just around the bend from Go Stick Your Head In The Oven Bay. It's rainy.

This is the kind of trouble you could expect from an outfit calling itself the Corps of Discovery, bound and determined to discover things all on their own, when they could have asked anybody and they would have found out how rainy it is. The whole area is renowned for moistness, but they'd have done fine with a little rain gear and a proper attitude. "This is the first of ninety consecutive days of rain," they might have said, "a good time to catch up on our reading."

Instead they come boating up wearing buffalo hides that promptly rotted away, and they got out of their canoes and into a giant snit. It rained sideways for six days, which anyone could have told them is quite typical of November, and--as Clark described it--our camp entirely under water dureing the hight of the tide, every man as wet as water could make them all the last night and to day all day as the rain Continued all day...and blew with great violence immediately from the Ocian for about two hours. Were this not Dismal enough, some of the party elected to drink too much salt water and on them it acts as a pergitive. That probably put a capper on things.

At least they had salmon. Salmon are anadromous fish that spawn in tiny streams and make their way, against great odds, to the Ocian, where they live and grow for up to five years, and if everything goes just right, they return towards the waters of their birth and become quite delectable in a lemon caper sauce, if they're not overcooked, and that's where most people go wrong. It's hard to beat a properly prepared salmon, and yet that is just what Lewis and Clark did; they subsisted on "dried fish pounded," which pretty much defines overdone. Even if they had had the faintest idea what to do with a salmon, it's going to get on your nerves if you eat it every day all winter long. It's not like peanut butter.

The native Chinook people, meanwhile, were happily high and dry, wearing clothing woven from the bark of cedar trees--essentially, they were wearing lightweight log cabins, and the rain just sheeted off them. Things were even easier on their descendants, who were able to update with aluminum siding and proper gutters, but these people were sturdy and strong. They steadily supplied the hapless Corps of Discovery with pounded salmon in an effort to turn the tide of invasion, but it was for naught. Soon enough there was an epidemic of white people everywhere you looked, and they commenced doing things Lewis and Clark couldn't even have dreamt of. Bottled water alone would have rendered them flabbergastric.

They also laid in a bodacious bridge across the mouth of the Columbia, over which Lewis and Clark could have simply strolled to Oregon, not that it would have improved their mood any. They invented automobiles to stick on the bridge. And once they had achieved the invention of the kilometer, they were able to concoct the Great Columbia Crossing, an event wherein thousands of people are bussed over the bridge to good old Dismal Nitch and allowed to walk or run 10 km back to where they started. You can almost hear Lewis and Clark's minds blowing across the winds of history, but the fact is many activities become plausible when you do not have to slay your own dinner or duct-tape your disintegrating buffalo attire on a daily basis.

On the day Dave and I joined the Great Columbia Crossing, heavy clouds were everywhere, rolling in off the ocean and piling up inland. Nary a drop of rain touched us, because God favored our endeavor, although all around us we could see the squalls dumping rain on the folks He hated. For two hours half of the bridge was closed to automotive traffic. Modern people, especially in the blue states, love bicycle or pedestrian events that inconvenience motorists, and we swell with satisfaction when we see the line of cars creeping sullenly along at our sides. For a short while, we have defeated the scourge of modern-day dependence on fossil fuels, and we swing our arms and thump our chests on our commemorative T-shirts. It's a great feeling, well worth the two-hour drive from Portland.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Nor Any Drop To Drink

Many of us who grew up with black-and-white TV have been led to believe that the key to happiness lies in the chance discovery of oil while shootin' at some food. Ol' Jed's a millionaire, so it worked out well for him, but in the real world, it is a very unlucky thing to live over an oil reservoir or a seam of coal. Before you know it, Jed and his buddies are busily stripping oodles of cash off your land, then stripping off your land itself, and you're left with a god-awful job, poor health, no education, no topsoil, and few options. Warriors thunder through. Stuff blows up. You might get the feeling someone at a remote distance is pulling all the strings, and you'd be right.

I won't even shoot a rifle at the ground lest I ding a salamander, but I'm not going to discover a bubbling crude in any case. I'm one of the lucky ones who live on top of the best resource of all: water. We're planted on spongy ground, and if we sit still long enough our northern bits green up.

The annual rainfall is less than you might think. Most of the time it hangs in the air, sometimes acquiescing into a drizzle. Oh, we have had considerable deluges from time to time, notably during the last ice age, when the Columbia River repeatedly flooded to a height of a thousand feet, strewing chunks of prehistoric Montana and some surprised indigenous people all over the valley.

For the longest time, humans could be found only in places with good water. We don't do well without it; our cells gum up. A native American term for water is "pah," and it shows up in many place names in the arid west: Pagosa Springs, Tonopah, Pahrump, and the like. Pittsburgh, PA? Even coal country has its priorities straight. We need this stuff. The other stuff doesn't matter.

But because we are clever, we have come up with ways to make water potable and transfer it all over the place. Now we're everywhere.

Generally speaking, in view of the vital nature of water, communities band together to see to its distribution and safety. The Romans rendered unto Caesar and rigged up some mighty spiffy aqueducts. That's how we do it today: everybody chips in, and out comes the water, Crystal Light optional. It's hard to imagine doing it any other way.

Unfortunately, our powers of imagination are not required. The water we need is already being treated as a commodity to be bought and sold and traded to whoever can afford it. Examples abound. The oilman T. Boone Pickens has bought up significant acreage over the Ogallala aquifer in order to pump its water and sell it to cities. The aquifer is replenished but slowly, and not nearly as fast as he plans to pump it; in fact the water he's drilling was deposited in sands millions of years ago. It's fossil water, basically. Stop me if any of this sounds familiar.

"I don't have any concerns about depleting the aquifer," Mr. Pickens has said. That's a relief, because stress can kill a guy. "And it could make a lot of people a lot of money."


There are other ways Ol' Jed and his buddies can privatize and profit from the water we need. Take the notion that people would actually buy tap water if only it were served up in a petroleum-based container and labeled something like Mother Nature's Woo Woo Dew. That succeeded beyond any sensible person's wildest dreams. In fact, the Nestle Corporation has been able to tap water sources for about $.002/gallon and sell it bottled for $5.30 a gallon all over the world. They are proposing to perform that very alchemy not thirty miles from here, in the gorge, where our seemingly inexhaustible supplies of water have already been drawn down, pumped, dammed and diverted; groundwater levels are in steep decline. Free speech tends to be less effective than the paid-for kind, but if you want to tell Nestle to stick to mining for chocolate chips and leave our water the hell alone, you've got till October 29th to do it. It's either that, or we start rinsing off our steelhead and salmon one bottle at a time.


We have interrupted our regularly scheduled Murrmurrs to slip in this post on Blog Action Day, sponsored once a year by This year's theme is Water. Bloggers worldwide, including my pals Sara Stratton and Vickie Henderson, are spreading the word about clean water issues. I encourage you to click on the "tell Nestle" link above to comment on the proposed bottling venture. 

And because I'm a softie, I'm going to go ahead and put in your regular Saturday Murrmurrs on Sunday. Y'all come back now, hear?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Community Baby

Faithful readers might recall that air travel is not my best thing. It isn't even down the hall from my best thing. They said it couldn't be done, but I once missed a connecting flight during a five-hour layover by falling asleep in a gate in the wrong terminal. Air travel and I have agreed to hate each other.

Still, my recent trip to Boston seemed auspicious. I had booked my first-ever cross-country trip that was non-stop, on an airline I hadn't tried, and it was a cheap ticket besides. I sat in a middle seat between an old, small, translucent gentleman, and a younger opaque fellow who studied a PowerPoint presentation on financial planning for six hours. Neither one had any body odor, if by "body odor" we are referring only to a surface fug, and not something manufactured on the spot internally using only beef jerky and a team of bacteria. So things were looking up. As I sat down, I noticed a small sign printed under the window that said "seats in this row do not recline," which was disturbing. I chose to see this sign as a directive to adjust attitude, and sat up in mandatory primness imagining that all the rest of the rows said "seats in this row do not recline all that much." It helped. 

The flight was fine, the pilots hit the ground with the restraint they get the big bucks for, and I was in a good state of mind for the return trip. And that is when several miracles occurred. I arrived at the correct gate in time to visit the IPA dispensary across the way, unpacked my new used laptop, located a wireless connection, figured out how to suck out some Internet all by myself and had a Facebook chat with my sweetheart. Somewhere, pigs flew and weasels learned to play Parcheesi. So things were looking up.

I sauntered over to the gate and inquired whether my Alaska miles could be credited to my Delta account, and they made it happen. Just then a woman came up and said she had been talking to someone--she pointed towards an old woman trembling behind a massive baby stroller--who had never flown before, let alone with an infant, and could use some help. The counter people peeled out and began to speak to the old woman with kind voices, one shouldering the baby and the other folding up the stroller and seeing it to the plane. The old woman was rigid and mute with terror, and the personnel were respectful and reassuring, easing her on board.

She and the baby, of course, were installed in the row behind me.

My seat mates were two jolly Boston men who looked like they might be capable of both odors and excessive noise, and exhibited neither. So things were looking up.

We may have been two-thirds of the way across the country before the infant behind us reminded everyone he was there. The old woman, still more or less paralyzed, was not able to be a comfort to him. Within a minute, the Alaska Air flight attendant, Mr. Kelly Morrow, scooped up the child and bobbled him up and down, entertaining him with his shiny name tag for a good ten minutes before he had to distribute sodas. He produced for me a hot sandwich that was amazingly not bad. The infant rediscovered his lungs a bit later.

Two rows up, a beautiful woman asked to hold him, took over the easily-consoled baby and wrapped him in a dashing faux-leopard blanket. He was adjusted to full-view cooing position and handed around the plane. An old man in the next row demonstrated his foot-tickling expertise. The baby body-surfed around the cabin.

Flight attendant Kelly dropped to one knee to check on Grandma, who revealed that she was, in fact, great-Grandma, and had had all her lower teeth removed the day before. This is a really hard thing for anybody, taking a baby across country, especially on your first flight. You're doing a wonderful job. Was anyone planning to meet you at Portland? Her daughter and granddaughter were, yes. Do you know where they were planning to meet you? Not exactly, no. Worry bloomed on the old woman's face. How many parts to an airport were there? Kelly extracted some phone numbers and went to call the family and make sure they were coming, and find out where he might personally escort her. The baby was briefly returned.

At the next squall, the beautiful woman jumped up and asked for diapers and baby wipes along with the baby. She disappeared for a while and came back with the child pink and resplendent in leopard fur, and the old woman's neighbors distracted her with chat and cheer during the landing. Someone retrieved her bag from the overhead bin, someone else carried it, someone held the aisle clear for great-Grandma and her escort Mr. Morrow, and there was a general blessing of hand-pats and foot-tickles all around. I believe back in row twenty a collection was being taken for the baby's college fund. And someone who is not comfortable with or attracted to babies and had nothing else to contribute decided to pen an essay.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

It Came From Out Of The North

I am deeply interested in international relations, and that is why I was so pleased to have my friend Sara Stratton visit. Her personal awesomeness did not factor in at all. Sara is from the great state of somewhere-in-Canada, a landmass celebrated for its northness, but she speaks real good English. I couldn't wait to show off our corner of the world, and we have a lot of good material to work with.

It started out great. We set off to explore the wonders of nature, starting with Dave's neck, which is spectacular, and then moving off to the waterfall region of the Columbia Gorge. On our very first stop, we trotted down the path to a lovely cascade in front of which stood a young woman with, as Dave pointed out, no mistakes on her, who immediately removed a trench coat to reveal a pink bikini and high-heeled shoes. Tip: natural wonders are best presented with nonchalance. "Oh, a young woman with no mistakes on her in a pink bikini and high-heeled shoes in front of a waterfall," we said. "They're getting to be as bad as fruit flies around here."

At the next lovely cascade, we scored a magnificent red-legged frog that was completely naked, so things were getting better and better. The remaining waterfalls came plain, and we rested up in Hood River for sandwiches and a hearty, nourishing beer so strong it could stand up without a glass and slap you if you nodded off. As we rounded the valley for a trip around Mt. Hood, Sara found herself so overcome by beauty and hops that she had to rest up her neurons, but by the time she woke up again, we had her 6,000 feet up the flanks of a snowy volcano with a raven in charge. The road downhill bounced with elk. Natural-wonder-wise, I'd have to say things were really going well.

Now, you may have heard that the ancient Persian weavers always introduced a flaw in their carpets as a reminder that only God's creations are perfect. The statement being made, as I understand it, is "I am exactly like God, except for this little boo-boo I am putting in on purpose," which, you have to admit, is mighty humble. In this spirit, I decided to introduce a flaw into Sara's perfect day by picking up a stray ("Willy") in Rhododendron who had missed the last bus and wanted a ride into Sandy, twenty miles away. Sometimes I like to do favors for strangers to remind myself why I do it so seldom. I did think he looked dull and a little pungent, but I was wrong. Willy was thunderous stupid and loud and stank at least four different ways. Individual fugs of alcohol, pot, cigarettes and B.O. set up an intricate weather system in the back seat, where Dave, who is an awfully nice man, kept up a lively conversation while Sara and I counted mileposts as fast as we could. He had a lot of interests, foremost among them medicalmarijuana (what we used to call marijuana). For a living he made little screening boxes for medicalmarijuana, and in his off hours he liked to skateboard, use medicalmarijuana and miss the bus.

What is the sound of two brain cells flapping?

He mentioned he actually lived in Portland, so I was prepared when we rolled towards Sandy and he asked if we were driving any further. "I'm dropping you off at the Arco station," I said without explanation, because the Arco station is six feet inside the Sandy city limits. The rest of the trip home was pleasant, windows rolled down all the way, and the next day was sunny and bright all over again. An excellent day to shop, see more of Nature's wonders, and have the car upholstery burned.

International relations remain good, and if you have any more nice Canadians, roll them on downhill. We're ready.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Personal Horticulture

My Friend Joanie
Recently a man was admitted to the hospital in pulmonary distress, and X-rays revealed he had a small pea plant growing in his lung. These things can happen. A friend of mine, Joanie, once checked into the doctor's with respiratory difficulties, got a battery of X-rays and what-have-you, and was just a week away from starting chemo when she sneezed out a fava bean and that was it for her cancer.

So what makes this gentleman's experience so unusual is not that he inhaled a pea but that he was able to grow a pea plant in his lung. Just the right conditions had to prevail. He might never have gotten a start if he hadn't been in the habit of huffing potting soil, and once he snorted the Osmocote it was a done deal.

My Friend Tamara
My friend Tamara is brilliant and beautiful, but the best thing about her is she snorts when she laughs and she laughs all the time. Still, I was astonished when she mentioned she had gone to the emergency room because she had aspirated a piece of linguini. I was astonished because I thought she had already been to the ER several years back for the very same thing. "No, no," she assured me, "that was vermicelli." The girl's just one good pun and some pesto away from growing a lasagna in her lungs, and that's yet another thing I love about her.

I had a good idea I had a hop vine growing out of my liver once, and with good reason, but it turned out to be a pulled muscle. However, if the history of the earth teaches us anything, it's that life will prevail anywhere it gets a foothold. This is why it's so dangerous to eat raw eggs. Medical lights try to scare you away from the prospect by raising the specter of salmonella poisoning, but the real danger is an inadvertent hatch. It's uncomfortable, it's unsightly, and the intestinal crowing can lead to insomnia and loss of companionship.

This is the real reason constipation is so hazardous to your health. If you have an intestine packed with fertile soil that isn't going anywhere, it is essential to get it moving again lest something take root. High-fiber cereal should be ingested immediately, and then the race is on to see whether the obstruction can be moved before you sprout a field of oats. Massage can help. It's touch and go all the way.

An awful lot can go wrong--and you might want to make a note of this--when you put things in the wrong holes. We each have many holes, each with its own dedicated function, although there is some overlap (whistling, for instance). I've done such a careful job minding what goes in my holes, if you don't count the Seventies, that I've even managed to avoid swimming for decades. You would too, if every time you came up for air, you were still underwater. Last thing I need is a bunch of lungfish.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

A Brief History Of Air

In the beginning, about four and a half billion years ago, the earth was very hot, but at least it wasn't humid. The atmosphere, such as it was, contained hydrogen and helium, elements that were so tiny they kept floating off. Nearly a half-billion years later, the crust had finally begun to sturdy up, so the molten bits had to blow their way through it via volcanoes. This produced carbon dioxide, steam and ammonia but no free oxygen. It was not hospitable to life, and I believe it. I visited my fourth-grade teacher's apartment once, and it smelled like ammonia, and I thought I was going to die.

The carbon dioxide dissolved in the new oceans, which set the world up with a big wad of carbon, the atom of life. There was just a huge bunch of carbon in there, none of it aspiring to become humans at the time. Then as now, we were more or less unthinkable.

About a billion years later, there were all sorts of life-forms, microbes that produced free oxygen out of the carbon dioxide. They got off to a slow start; you know how it is when you're just starting a project and you're in the dithering phase. But by about 2.7 billion years ago, we had what you could call a proper oxygen atmosphere. This was known as the Oxygen Catastrophe, because most of the things zipping about at the time found oxygen poisonous. You see, it's all a matter of perspective. Some of us like to think that the world as it is currently constituted was made for us, but they have it all backwards. If it weren't just this way, we wouldn't be here, and if it changes much, we won't be, no matter who loves us. But I digress.

Thanks to plate tectonics, our continents began doing the bumper-car bop all over the globe. Mountains wrinkled up. A molten rift in the middle of the ocean pushed the continents apart like it was a speculum. There was a huge shift of carbon to land-based forms. In the Carboniferous Period, forests towered and ferns fronded and swamps proliferated, jammed with plants. Talk about your humidity. There were more plants than the world has ever seen, before or since. All this sent oxygen into the air in enormous quantities, leading directly to the pinnacle of creation, the age of giant salamanders, and we've been declining ever since.

On numerous occasions the planet clogged up with ice, even--at one point--being completely covered in the stuff, more ice than the world has ever seen, before or since. Various things factored in. Panama, for instance, not only bogged down shipping traffic until we sliced it open, but changed the flow of the oceans and ushered in a new ice age. It was just one thing after another. By the time people showed up, we were squeezed into a relatively small area because of the massive ice sheets. An apartment in Manhattan, for example, was completely out of the question. We wandered around and whacked the random mastodon and more or less fit in with the scheme of things, and then about a month ago--or 11,000 years, it works out about the same, geologically speaking--the ice retreated. Well, boy howdy. Party time!

We were having some fun now. First we burned up all the forests that were hanging onto most of our carbon dioxide. That gave us some cool stuff, cities and roads and big-box stores and gigantic deserts and whatnot. Ask any infant slapping her hand in the strained carrots--it's fun to have an impact. Then someone discovered all that plant material that had been buried in the Carboniferous Period, and now the  ceiling's coated with strained carrots.

People started sucking it all out and burning it up and some people made money, more money than the world has ever seen, before or since. And the atmosphere started changing again, faster than ever before.

Some other people started getting whiny about it, but they're the kind of people who never get invited to parties. The people who made all the money got together and listened to Al Gore, and they knew something had to be done, so they made up some stuff about him and mocked him for it. Then we got a new President who looked like he might want to try something, too. He got started with some baby steps, and then the people who made all the money got together and told everybody he was a Muslim alien, because they aren't allowed to say "colored guy" anymore, and that was that.

The End. No, really.