Monday, September 27, 2010



There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find
the ways in which you yourself have altered.
-Nelson Mandela

Mile 1

When leaves turn the color of summer squash,
weightless, broken and brooding,
like underground springs,
take the log truck route,
with weekday determination.

Cover up; morning air is the best alarm clock.
Remember that day, when all you could offer
was integrity, when your eyes crossed the country, when Oregon
pulled back, when that return promise was sealed.

Savor these days,
when time is no longer on trial,
when even adults call you “sir.”
After all, it has been 40 years since you’ve seen
your mother’s face;

Highway 19 narrows like the river,
both tiptoe from the high country,
where riffles sing, pocket water promises, and
desire, like sunlight, gets filtered.

Mile 20

First comes the covered bridge: a red cabin riddle,
with side door and dubious origin.
Fishermen used the homey design for cover from the rain.
Fly rods become lightning rods without proper care taken.

The farmers knew their horses would only cross the river
if the way over appeared more a barn than a threat.
Covered, like a prized thoroughbred mare.

The sons became lumber barons,
leaving land fallow and worshipping all the endless resource could provide.
Protect the massive bridge trusses and they will last near a century
in their private dwellings painted bright white, rust red, or not at all.
Horses and trout stalkers be damned! Keep the road passable from mill to office,
office to bank,
bank to…another bank.

Mile 60

Main branch to Middle Fork,
North Middle Fork to headwaters,
myth to eternal return.

Those many years ago my orbit began a dark voyage,
Like an orrery, model planets around a miniature sun, it takes a lifetime to
complete the path, when external light becomes internal peace.
“It’s not how much you cover,” the sage reminds. “It’s what you uncover.”
Each time I find my way back I discover more of myself,
Each rotation ends and I marvel
at water skating over rock,
at roofs, still over rivers.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Wish I Were There

When I look at the picture I begin to wonder. What would that life have been like? Who would I be and what would I care about had I been around then?
When people ask me about my parents, some are still surprised to learn that they've been gone for 30 years. I always tell them that they were married for almost 15 years before they had children; 13 to be exact. What I seldom say, unless they ask, is that my folks lived in a couple of smaller towns back east. In Port Jervis, NY, near the New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania border, they owned and operated a small combination grocery store soda fountain. The Deer Park Store was their life. They lived and worked there in the 1930s and early 40s. Right in the big middle of the Great Depression.
They had stories. Many stories. I suppose I'm the keeper of them now. This little mom and pop (literally, huh?) operation was in a town that had lots of road traffic. Pre interstate, the main highway, in those days went right through Port Jervis and all who traveled that ribbon were potential customers.
I'd have helped with the penny candy or arranged the comic books and magazines. Maybe learned to butcher meat or break down cardboard boxes. My sister would have helped my mom at the soda fountain. Make sandwiches, milk shakes, ice cream sodas for her friends.
Sometimes I wonder if my affinity for pop culture items like the images on candy wrappers or tins comes from my roots. Would I have collected a few wrappers and items as keepsakes? There are only a few traces of the Deer Park store left. The photo seen here and a Coca Cola tray, ice pick, and bottle opener. They are all antiques now. I have two other items as well. One is a display card in nearly mint condition for NAVY razor blades. All still cellophane wrapped, they make a nice navy blue impression and look as attractive as they did 60 years ago. I also have the stories.
My dad liked to tell the one where the Boston Celtics professional basketball team travelled through Port Jervis. Actually it was a New York Celtic team because the Boston professional team did not originate until 1946. During a fuel stop for their bus, the NY Celtic team made their way to the Deer Park store where my mom made chocolate malts for them all. My dad said it was something to see these big guys sitting at the counter all in a row.
Another celebrity he recalled coming through was Father Devine. This colorful civil rights activist was part spiritual leader, part social justice crusader and part questionable opportunist. Some saw him as an incarnation of God, while others felt he was more an incarnation of a demigod. Like many Depression era reformers, the truth lies somewhere in between.
When I look at this picture of my parents store I try to imagine what the inside looked like. I picture my parents, in their 30s, working hard, talking to friends, neighbors and customers, wondering about the uncertainties of the future. WWII was a few years away. People were digging in, helping one another, thinking about a better future. Wish I were there.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Leave It

Sunday is not the best day for a yard sale. People are slow to rise on Sunday. But, it's all we had. So when we agreed to participate in a friend's yard sale on Sunday only, expectations were light. We sold a few small items very cheaply to a few folks who ambled by unaware that they couldn't get through the day without that Christmas ornament or piece of colorful material. Mostly we found some new homes for things we haven't used in a good while.
Back in the 1980s I had about $600 invested in 35mm camera equipment for my "working journalist" days. That went to a 10 year old whose mom promised to help her learn the art of developing negatives and printing your own photos. They could afford $20. I liked the fact that a young girl would be learning that not all photos are available instantly and that photography is an art that can still be practiced.
I also found a new home for my depression era candlesticks. They weren't getting the use they deserve; I never stopped loving them, but let's just say they weren't "working" in my current living situation. A thoughtful neighborhood woman (by the way this was in a friend's neighborhood**) kept eyeing them. When she brought over an oak desk chair, the kind that swivel the trade was finalized in an instant.
A couple decided to by our friend's granite top cafe table. In the conversation that followed, we learned that they too had moved from the Bay Area to Portland the year we had. Further discussion resulted in the revelation that the male half and I share the same last name, shortened to it's current state GREENE around the same time for the same reason. We hugged. Stupid, I know, but it was so spontaneous.
Yard sales offer so much more than items for sale.

** Our friend lives in a beautiful part of SE Portland near Reed College. The neighborhood is very close. These people know and care for each other. This is an area of beautiful homes with well tended gardens. Three times, I walked down the street to my truck to put or take something and found myself, quite unconsciously, humming the theme to "Leave It to Beaver." Once, I swear I saw Fred McMurray step outside for his Sunday paper.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Supply Side

First day of school in my town. I still feel the pull. I have the dreams, the anxiety, the inspiration, the never leaves. Instead of 100-150 new students, I'll have a few student-teachers this year.
First it was those "Back to School" commercials and ads that began in July. Then, lots of stories and solicitations for donating school supplies to kids that otherwise might not begin the year with what they need. Mostly it's local news stations that initiate these drives. Occasionally a commercial encourages consumers to collect "box tops" for school supplies and reminding prospective buyers that "you can make a difference."
It's all well and good, right? Or is it? What does it say about a nation that has so many children that require the kindness of anonymous thousands to give it's students a proper sendoff to the new school year?
I would never begrudge a donation for a public school student, classroom, program, teacher or curriculum. The particular kindness of parents helped me get through more than one school year without running out of paper.** Yet this seemingly innocuous method of helping those less fortunate obtain school supplies has me thinking.
This is different. Why, in a nation that supposedly values education, are so many in such need? Yes, it's the economy. Yes, unemployment is abnormally high, yes poverty is just as hidden as ever, yes many of these kids really need new notebooks, pens and pencils, and plenty of paper. (Do they still use paper?) Of course they need paper. But I wonder if I'm alone in wondering about the bigger picture?
I know it must feel great to donate school supplies. I sure have done a bit of it myself on a one on one level. Still the dissonance. Does it mean something for every student to be able to get their own stuff with no assistance? How does that impact their attitude to the entire notion of being a student?

**The guilt that some teachers have for using too much paper is palpable in some faculty work rooms. Where administrators often failed to see this, I had parents who got just how important it is for a teacher to be able to have supplementary materials or a specific article that might require 300 sheets to reproduce for 60-90 students. Teachers who do not rely on questionable textbooks for everything are able to supplement their curriculum with current, relevant, thought-provoking resources. Never understimate the need for paper or a working copy machine.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Defect Reflect

Yesterday was a defective day. It began with the discovery of a twenty dollar bill by the curb where I parked my truck that morning. On closer inspection, it was most of a twenty dollar bill. The top left portion, including one of the two serial numbers, was missing. No celebration; just a trip to the federal reserve for a ruling on the matter. Things deteriorated quickly. The buy 5 summer drinks get one free Peet's card(s) I'd been dutifully carrying in my wallet for weeks expired on Tuesday last. I had 4 of 5 stamps on one card and 3 on the other. Both got tossed; summer's gone.
Next came an encounter with a parking cop. The coin machine was not accepting coins. Put in a quarter, watch it tumble back to the coin return. I was only stopping at a news stand for a few minutes in downtown Portland,but something told me to get back out there. Sure enough the Parking Nazi was there and very short tempered. I tried to explain, but he kept interrupting saying, "You need to put in more than a quarter."
"I know that," I shot back, showing him the massive coin pocket full of change on my Levis. He mellowed, but not before reminding me that technically being away from a non-stickered car could cost me $40. Apparently when the machine spits your coins back you are supposed to swipe your credit or ATM card.
I don't think that's the law, just his opinion. OK we called it even and I swiped. $2.50 is better than $40. for a few minutes of curb rental.
The next episode of de-fect-tivity occurred when Katie opened a cooking magazine she bought at the new stand. Half the printed contents were badly damaged. Dark, smudged, illegible. When we secured another downtown parking spot so she could run in and return the magazine we found all the magazines looked that way. Bummer. I sat in the car and looked away as the same Parking guy went about his ticketing.
Sometimes it just goes that way.
Fortunately the Farmer's Market turned out to be wholly adequate.