June 30, 2015

On the road again

On the road again

After a most fantastic week hanging out with Friendly Green Folks, I'm driving with Ecowoman back to her city, where I'll get on a red-eye flight back to Snowstorm City, then drive up to my parents' camp for our Fourth of July family gathering. 

June 22, 2015

Flowers, cats, and tchotchkes


Ecowoman’s home is filled with vases of fresh flowers, two gray cats who saunter about as if they own the place, books spilling from shelves, decorative pillows piled on couches and chairs, and old-fashioned china teapots crowding the kitchen counters. The hanging bits of colored glass on the front porch and the sparkly peace symbols make me think I’m in a Joni Mitchell song. She’s planted her backyard with every plant that flowers purple, and her little deck floods with sun by about ten o’clock. Everywhere I look, as I drink a mug of chamomile tea at her kitchen table, I see what she calls tchotchkes. She has decorated her little piece of the earth, inside and out.

Her neighborhood is built on a hillside above the lake, and her neighbors seem to share her love of gardening. Every little front yard bursts with flowering plants, a lush profusion. When I woke up early (my body still on East Coast time) and started down to the lake for a walk, it was like meandering through a botanical garden. I noticed that many of the houses are built high, often above their garages, to take advantage of the views. When I finally made it to the bottom of the hill, a lake stretched before me, lined with masses of water lilies. I saw just a few other people — a couple of runners, a mother with two young sons, and single kayaker paddling through the water lilies.

Lake Washington

By the time I returned from my walk, Ecowoman and the cats were awake. She fussed over me, even though I keep assuring her I could make my own breakfast. Her refrigerator is packed with good things to eat, bought at a little store up the street. I ate cinnamon bread toast spread with freshly ground almond butter and ate handfuls of fresh blueberries while we planned our day. We’re driving to a conference — the Friendly Green Conference — so we need to pack our things and buy some snacks for the road trip. It’s a conference that takes place every two years, so we’re both excited to see all of our friends. Text messages keep chiming on my phone as folks begin to gather. I’m likely to be offline for the rest of the week but I’ll return with some stories — and likely a naked photo.


June 21, 2015

Celebrating the Solstice with Naked Bike Riders


“We have to go to the Summer Solstice Parade,” my friend EcoWoman said as soon as I arrived at her house. I’d just flown across the country. She lives in a city on the west coast that’s famous for coffeehouses, the Space Needle, and the bluest skies that Bobby Sherman has ever seen.

I didn’t know what to expect from the parade. The only parade I’ve really ever attended is the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Snowstorm City, held during March which is still winter where I live. I associate parades with marching bands in full uniforms, bagpipe players in kilts, Irish dancers shivering in their kneesocks, and big floats where people wear long underwear under their costumes. 

This parade began with hundreds of people on bicycles, most of them completely naked. They’d painted their bodies — with stripes, with patterns, with bright colors, with dark colors. Some wore accessories, like tutus or capes or butterfly wings. Their bodies were painted to match superheroes and characters from kids’ books. There were mermaids and elves. I got the impression that they’d all come from a big party where artists had gone wild using all these bodies as blank palettes. The result was spectacular.

Ecowoman and I sat on the curb, with crowds of people behind us, the sun shining down on the body paint of the naked bike riders as they coasted past. We saw bikers painted red and wearing Santa hats. We saw naked Batman and naked Robin. We saw Waldo and Elmo and the Cat in the Hat, plus all five of the Power Rangers. We saw nipples painted into flowers and penises that had clearly been dunked into a paint bucket. The artists had left no body part bare: many of the bikers were covered from ankle to scalp in blue or green or fluorescent pink.


The bikers all seemed to be having a great time — whooping and calling out to friends and reaching out to slap palms with people sitting at the curb. A few of the men had a sock or puppet head strategically placed, just to be silly. Many of the bikers made us smile, but I was also struck just how beautiful some of them were — especially the women whose bodies had become silhouettes in swirling shades of green, purple, or blue. They weren’t all on bikes. Some went by on rollerblades or danced along with hula hoops, moving to the music that was blaring from a band down the street.

I turned to EcoWoman, who was laughing and saying, “I knew you’d love this.” “Next year, we need to be in the parade,” I said. I was already planning what colours I’d choose for the body paint. She nodded. “I’ve got a bicycle.”


June 19, 2015

Laptop rainstick

A couple of days ago, when I picked my laptop computer up off my desk, I heard a pleasant chiming sound, rhythmic like rain on a tin roof. I looked around to see what on my desk had caused the noise, but saw nothing. Half an hour later, I stood up from the chair where I'd been writing emails. As I tilted the laptop, I heard the noise again, like a small pebble trickling through spikes of wood or metal. It lasted just a few moments, but this time, there was no doubt where it was coming from.

Yes, my laptop computer had become a rainstick.

Despite my love of chimes, rainsticks, and other pleasant noises, I felt a bit panicky about the fact that SOMETHING was rattling inside my computer. So I sent my computer off on a little vacation, and I'm happy to report that she's back and working fine. The noise was coming from a little piece of plastic broken off the thing that holds the battery. No big deal.

Being without a computer for a couple of days was actually kind of relaxing. I think I need to do it more often. But right now I have to go answer the hundreds of emails that piled up during the last two days.

June 15, 2015

I've had the time of my life

Mountains in June

Last weekend, my husband and I went back to the mountains, this time so that he could attend a conference where he would be getting an award. I’m used to camping and hiking in the mountains, but this stay was quite different: the conference was held in a luxury resort that’s over 100 years old. 

We drove through several terrific thunderstorms and arrived in the dark to drive over a little bridge to get to the resort, which takes up a whole island. The big wooden buildings had decks and balconies. The resort had three pools, all with gorgeous views of the lake, and a boat that’s a replica of a 19th century touring boat. The little book in our room gave me a whole list of options; they had tennis courts, sand volleyball, horseshoe pits, a golf course, ping pong, and billiards. There would be croquet on the teardrop lawn. Yes, croquet. I don’t think I’ve seen a croquet set since my childhood. 

“Look there’s a dress code!” I said to my husband. I started reading aloud. “Smart casual for both ladies and gentlemen. Jeans may be worn as long as they are crisp.”

I looked down at the jeans I was wearing. I’m not sure what exactly “crisp” meant, but I was pretty sure that they didn’t qualify.

“You hate dress codes,” my husband said. He couldn’t figure out why I sounded so excited.

 “That thunderstorm must have caused a wrinkle in the time-space continuum,” I explained. “We’ve gone back to the 1960s. We’re in the movie Dirty Dancing.”

The next day, as I walked to the pool (wearing a cover-up, of course, per the dress code), I passed children playing croquet on the manicured lawn. A group of uniformed bellboys carried luggage into the front lobby, where a coals glowed in the fireplace and a grand piano waited for the musician who would arrive that evening. At the pool, I chose a lounge chair under a big umbrella: past the edge of the pool, I could see the lake, the mountains, and the sky.

I had walked into a movie. Even the chiming of smartphones in the hands of guests around me could not dispel that illusion.

  Infinity Pool at the Sagamore

June 12, 2015

Summertime music

Learning the cello

Even though my husband and I keep talking about empty nest syndrome, our home isn't actually empty yet. My youngest son, With-a-Why, still lives here. (Long-time readers will be shocked to hear that he's twenty years old. Yes. Twenty!) Most days, his girlfriend Shy Smile hangs out here as well. Oh, and they have a friend, Curly Hair, who needed a place to stay for the summer so we invited her to move into one of our upstairs bedrooms.

And all my kids still live nearby. My oldest son Boy-in-Black, who comes here often to spend time with With-a-Why, set up a badminton court in the backyard: that's his obsession when he's not playing Ultimate Frisbee. My daughter comes over every evening to "train" with With-a-Why: he's teaching her to play Starcraft, a computer game that he's apparently quite good at. I usually see my son Shaggy Hair Boy on Tuesdays, since we split the veggies and fruit we get from our CSA farm. He's a ninth grade math teacher, who teaches at one school all day and then puts in a couple of hours every evening at another school; he won't be done for the summer for another week or two.

The house is less like an empty nest and more like a train station where people come and go: you never know who might be here. I no longer have a teenage boy band jamming in my living room —yes, we gave away the drum set — but we still have live music since With-a-Why is a classical pianist. He's also decided that he wants to learn how to tune a piano, which means that some days I come home to find the top of the piano off and his tools spread out on the floor. The piano tuning was going along quite well until he broke a string. Now he's learning how to replace a piano string.

One of With-a-Why's summer projects is to learn the cello. He figures that every composer needs to know a string instrument, and the cello is his favourite. So he rented a cello, and sits down every day to practice. Already he's beginning to play recognizable tunes.

I've always lived with live music in the house. My father plays jazz, and when I was growing up, he and his friends would often jam in the house. Once With-a-Why graduates from college and leaves home, I might have to start taking piano lessons again myself, just to have music in the house.

June 10, 2015

Deer, black flies, and locals

Deer at Moss Lake

Because the summer season in the mountains hasn’t begun yet, the wildlife still have most of the park to themselves, even in the hamlets. We saw deer ambling across the lawns of summer cottages, enjoying the unmown grass. A wild turkey watched us from the side of the road, just outside town. We stopped one morning when we saw a teenage girl standing guard over a big snapping turtle that had wandered onto the road. “I don’t want it to get hit,” she said. We took turns poking and prodding the turtle until we were able to coax it off the pavement and down into a shady gully.

In the little town, many of the businesses were closed. No one stood in line at the ice cream stand. We had the public dock to ourselves as we wandered about in the evening sunlight. Floating docks were still pulled up on the shore all along the lake. The little playground, where we used to bring out kids when they were small, where in fact I played when I was small, was quiet. My father, who worked in the mountains as a musician back in the 1950s, always says, “The season in the mountains is really short. Just July and August.” It seems like he’s still right. The only people we saw were townspeople: the young couple who own the inn, an elderly woman who needed a ride to the grocery store, the teenager rescuing the turtle, and a couple of local boys sitting at the end of a pier after an afternoon of fishing.

Evening on Fourth Lake

June 07, 2015

Sunrise in the mountains

Big Moose Lake -- early

Yesterday afternoon, my husband and I drove the winding mountain roads that lead through tall pine trees to the old inn, where we’ve come for a weekend escape. Even though it’s June, the mountain air is still cool so the sunlight felt good as we walked familiar piers and beaches, finding wooden benches where we could sit and talk. The summer season doesn’t really begin here until July: the little towns were empty and everywhere, summer cottages were still boarded up. We had the place to ourselves — well, except for the black flies. We had to be strategic about where we walked, looking for any place with a breeze to keep away the clouds of annoying black insects.

I woke up this morning to blue light reflected from the mist of a mountain lake. Without even checking the clock, I climbed out of bed, pulled on some clothes, and grabbed my camera for an early morning walk. No one else was awake, not even the black flies, it seems, and I had the whole lake to myself. I walked along the shore, testing out floating docks that creaked and swayed under my feet. I wandered about happily, exploring and taking pictures, the dew soaking my socks and sneakers, until I was chilled through. I came back quietly through the side door of the inn, taking off my wet things to climb back into bed with a warm husband, who was still asleep.

Big Moose Lake at dawn

June 05, 2015

For the soul


“We need to get together more often,” my friend Beautiful Hair and I used to always say to each other. When our kids were small, just meeting for a cup of tea took all kinds of planning. But now that our kids are grown up — all in their twenties — we can meet for dinner without getting babysitters or bribing husbands or worrying about what the gang at home is eating for supper.

So we’ve been taking advantage of this new freedom. We met yesterday evening at our new favourite spot, a coffeehouse in the neighborhood where Beautiful Hair grew up. We sat outside at a wrought iron table, sharing our food: a quinoa salad made with black beans, tomatoes, and corn, a spinach salad made with fresh strawberries, pecans, and a balsamic vinaigrette. The organic apple juice I drank tasted so good, so much better than the vending machine juice I often drink at work, that I kept trying to analyze it. Finally I figured out what I liked. “It actually tastes like apples,” I said to Beautiful Hair. She laughed.

When Beautiful Hair went into the coffeehouse to use the bathroom, I stared at the edge of the building and tried to puzzle out the letters I saw. The vertical lettering read: OFE the OL. It made no sense. I finally figured out that OFE could be part of the word coffee but I didn’t see how there was any room for the other letters, even if they had somehow fallen off. Besides, painted letters don’t fall off the way the letters on neon signs do. Perhaps it was some kind of acronym the way LOL is? Maybe it was coded for a younger crowd. It wasn’t until we moved away from the building that I could see the other side of the building, which supplied the missing letters: COFFEE for the SOUL. Ah, that made more sense.

Even though we’d talked the whole time we were eating, we weren’t talked out yet, so we walked along the side streets of the neighborhood. After the hard winter we had, it felt wonderful to be able to stroll about in the evening in just a t-shirt and shorts. It felt wonderful to walk on a sidewalk that’s not blocked by big walls of snow. Many of the homes had flower gardens that were lush with blooms. We saw pink peonies, purple irises, and bright daisies.

“I love this time of year,” I said to Beautiful Hair, and she nodded. “We all do.”

June 04, 2015

Sunset and evening star

We met in third grade so we’ve been friends for 45 years. I’ve written before about Outdoor Girl and some of our high school experiences: how we used to take breaking in new jeans seriously and how we went winter camping in the mountains or how we spent hours after school just wandering the halls. Her family matched mine – five kids roughly the same ages. My mother and her father were friends as well: they shared a love of birdwatching and went to Audubon meetings together.

As a teenager, I spent many hours at Outdoor Girl’s house. Like most big families, they had two bedrooms for the kids, a boys’ room and a girls’ room, but she and I would grab sleeping bags and sleep downstairs in the sewing room, so that we could stay up and talk all night. Her family had a long red toboggan that we took on the hills in Snowstorm City, back in the days before the parks banned sledding because someone decided it was too dangerous. They had a yellow canoe, which was almost always tied to the roof of their station wagon. “It makes it easy to find our car in any parking lot,” her mother joked once. Her father did as much gardening as he could in their small backyard: he had apple trees and little raised beds of vegetables.

Their house was familiar and comfortable. The long bench along the kitchen table made it possible for extras to squeeze in, and I ate many meals there. I can remember Outdoor Girl’s father showing me how to use a spoon to twirl long spaghetti around my fork. (We always ate ziti at my house.) On weekends, he’d make us French toast for breakfast: their family used maple syrup instead of butter and cinnamon sugar like my family. Just behind the long table was the family room, where we kids would sprawl on the floor with pillows. I can remember that when we watched the movie Lawrence of Arabia, Outdoor Girl’s father liked it so much that he applauded at the end.

Outdoor Girl moved away from this area right after college, but I go over to visit whenever she comes to town to see the family. It’s always easy to pick up the friendship: she hasn’t changed much. Her hair is white, her kids are grown-up, and she’s acquired a southern accent from living in a southern rural area for so long, but otherwise she’s just the same. She still loves to be outside: she and her husband are farmers.

Last weekend, Outdoor Girl came to town for her father’s funeral. Even though we’ve known for a while that he was dying, it still seems a shock to me that the good-natured, gentle man I’ve known for so many years is gone. Often, I used to see him at Pretty Colour Lake, standing at the edge with a fishing pole. He’d look up, smile a hello, and tell me all the family news. He was a gentle, good-natured, thoroughly nice person. He was 84, and that still seems too young. I know his family is going to miss him.

June 02, 2015

Promises to keep

The trail

In the woods behind my house, shallow puddles of rainwater stretch amongst trees, the perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes, which hatched during the first warm spell in May. When I walk through, every step of my boots causes a new cloud of mosquitoes to fly buzzing into the air, swarming eagerly around me to light on my bare arms. When I garden, I wear long pants no matter how hot it is, and I spend about half of my time slapping my arms to fend off bites. I did experiment with bringing a fan out on an extension cord in hopes that the swirling air would keep the mosquitoes away: this worked wonderfully for about an hour and then I accidentally knocked the fan over and broke it.

So for a morning walk, I stayed out of my own woods and drove over to Pretty Colour Lakes, a state park not far from my house. The two lakes are plunge pools formed during the ice age when water came cascading off a glacier. That means they are very deep and rounded, and their sides are fairly steep hills, with no puddles at all. The cedar trees that line the lake paths have been there since my father was a kid, and I've walked these trails my whole life. These two lakes happen also to be miromictic, which means the water doesn't turn over each season the way most lakes do. The water is very deep and clear, with little suspended organic material, and both lakes are an unusual blue-green color that looks almost tropical.

Blue green

The first lake has a beach, which will be crowded later in the summer, but in spring, the only people at the park are a handful of runners and dogwalkers. I could smell the cedar trees as I walked. At Dead Man's Point, the reefs that stretch out into the lake were still underwater. Later this summer, they will be a primary spot for teenagers to go skinny dipping, even though signs strictly forbid swimming there. The water was so clear and inviting that I was tempted to go for a swim myself, but unfortunately, unlike my teenage self, I had other commitments waiting at home, so I forced myself to keep walking.