Monday, December 22, 2008

The Ripple Effect

The snow has left me a little housebound, and the break from the normal routine gives me moments to think…no small feat with a wee hangover from last night’s neighborhood party. What particularly hit me was how our words carry weight and can have an effect beyond what we can see or is immediately perceptible to us…ergo the ripple effect. Just like a stone tossed into the calm waters of a pond, the splash of our initial comment is often our primary focus. Yet if we continue to watch we see the ripples emanate in all directions, often in perfect symmetry as the laws of nature are obeyed and sometimes for great distances. True, the magnitude of the wave diminishes as it stretches into ever-increasing circumferences and eventually beyond what we can perceive.

It reminds me of a tsunami, which is really a ripple that emanates from a seismic event deep below the surface of the ocean. Just a few years ago we saw the devastating effect of such a ripple. It was virtually undetectable to the ships it passed beneath in the ocean until the shallow seabed raised it into a series of tremendous waves that wiped out buildings and swept thousands of people out into the sea.

So it is with our words. What we say and the manner in which we say it, can have a significant effect on others…often beyond what we can immediately see. We have all had our hearts warmed…or perhaps stung, by the words of others. Sometimes those words are deliberately meant to cut into us, and other times it may be a thoughtless or idle comment that hurts. Those of us with children have seen that effect all too often. As a parent I have seen my own words, spoken in an impatient moment leave a wound on my child. Even a hastily said “not now, I’m busy” can sting to a child seeking a moment of sharing, that later I have had to seek forgiveness and dress that wound. Had I taken an instant to say something different, or perhaps in a different way, the wound would not be there in the first place.

I am by no means perfect…none of us are. Yet I do strive to measure what I say, whether it is my child, a partner, a neighbor, a waitress, even a clerk helping me at the mall. My goal is to brighten someone else’s day…to lighten their mood.

What will you say today?

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Thoughts on Pearl Harbor

A day that will live in Infamy

The words of Franklin Roosevelt following the attack on Pearl Harbor resonate 67 years later, and we like to compare it to the Pearl Harbor of our own generation…the attacks on September 11, 2001. It is a fair comparison, but I would like to pose another thought.

Imagine a young woman, 18 years old and living under the boot of the German occupation of Holland in 1941. This news brought to her, her family and neighbors, hope. Hope that perhaps now the United States would finally bring its strength to bear against the Nazi juggernaut overwhelming Europe. Perhaps now an ally would bring more than mere supplies and come to stand alongside what had been the last chance against the German onslaught, England, just across the channel.

In a way, the attack on Pearl Harbor signified a godsend of sorts for those who were desperately looking to the United States to shed their isolationist tendencies and join in the struggle to stand against Germany, and it indeed happened that way. It took another 2 ½ years before that hope in Holland was realized in the Allied invasion on D-Day, June 6, 1944. Liberation finally occurred for that 18-year old girl and her family in the Spring of 1945…though she was by then 22 years old.

That young girl became my mother. Pearl Harbor holds a special meaning to me.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Hummingbirds and Serendipity

This photo was taken last July at Mount Tabor, a park near our house in SE Portland. Yes, it is a hummingbird, feeding from a flowering vine climbing on a chainlink fence. Although I often walk this park with Frankie, this time I was there as part of a project in which the firm is reviewing several historic structures associated with the various reservoirs in the park. While taking photographs of the Gatehouse at Reservoir 1 (which was built more than 100 years ago as an integral part of the City of Portland's water system), I was "buzzed" by a pair of hummingbirds. Although all I had was my "point-and-shoot" camera, and not my DSLR, I was able to get close and zoom in on this very lucky shot. A review of the shot on the screen appeared that it looked good... and then I promptly forgot about it.

This is where the serendipity comes in. Months later, in late October, Carolyn, a coworker on the project came into my office. "What is this???" she exclaimed, "Did you take this amazing picture?". I had to squint to see it, and of course then I recognized it. She was reviewing photos for the report on this project and happened to come across it...and fell in love with it.

The more I looked at this photo, the more I realized how lucky this shot was. The thrill of seeing these beautiful but small creatures in their habitat, is recalled as I contemplate the photo. So it is in life, where we often are so focused on our tasks at hand that we run the risk of missing something unique and beautiful...right before our very eyes. We also risk losing that precious moment in the mass of files and information we store to (hopefully) later run through in our work. It makes wonder what else have I "lost"? Perhaps someone else sifting through what we all too often think of as detritus, will discover yet another treasure?

One can hope. Thank you, Carolyn.

Saturday, November 1, 2008


Most of you have already met Frankie, or at least have heard of him through stories or conversations. Last weekend I took this photo of is one of the few times he actually stood (or sat) still. I really like the photo because it captures the essence of what he is, complete with a background that resembles his heritage (mixed as it is...after all, he did come from the Humane Society shelter).

When David my son and I chose him out of the 30-some dogs at the shelter at that time, we were told he was some "lab mix", which tends to apply to most of the dogs at the shelter. It was over a period of several weeks of internet sleuthing and research we finally came upon his main genetic makeup - he is (mostly) a Rhodesian Ridgeback, also known as an African Lion Hound. They were bred in the late 19th century in southern Africa by colonists, guessed it, hunt lions . The characteristics that convinced us are the coloring (reddish-brown coat, white markings and black snout) and the body shape (he has longer rear legs), but the clincher is a strip of hair on his back (and other places) that is coarser, and will curl in the opposite direction of the rest of his coat. The parts that are definitely NOT Ridgeback are the shorter ears, a curled tail...and odd-colored eyes, one brown and one blue.

Which brings me to his name. Frankie was the name he had at the shelter, and we all thought it would be good to give him something new and appropriate for us. "Frankie" just didn't cut it...we thought. Kristin came up with Argos, who was Odysseus' dog that waited faithfully 20 years for his master's return, when others had given him up...I really liked that one. David came up with Bowie, after the rock singer with one blue eye. It was on a drive home while I was listening to music by Frank Sinatra, and the announcer made a comment about "old blue eyes"...and I thought, of course! Frankie = ol' blue eye (singular)...and the name stuck.

By the way, lest anyone think that his genetic make-up, particularly the part about hunting lions, contributes to any sense of bravery in Frankie...forget it. He is a very gentle dog that scares easy, especially around the 4th of July.

As for the photo, it was taken while hiking at Rowena Crest, at the eastern end of the Columbia River Gorge Scenic Area, east of The Dalles, Oregon. It's about an hour's drive east of Portland.

Friday, October 31, 2008

The Return of the Coho

Each year, in the Fall, I am witness to a spectacle that always fills me with a sense of awe. It is the return of the salmon.

True, there are species that return throughout the year. In the spring it is the Chinook who ply their way up the Columbia and into the various tributaries, all the way into Idaho. In the summer and in the winter it is the Steelhead run, but for some reason it is the Coho that I happen to see, perhaps because it happens when the leaves turn and create that other wonderful spectacle of colors and textures or the trees.

Such was the case one weekend in late October, when we stopped at Eagle Creek, near Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River. The stream was filled with salmon, the females clearing the rocks for laying the eggs while the males wait close by to complete the process. All around were groups waiting for the right time, while interspersed were the remains of those who had completed the cycle.
I ponder that cycle of life and death, and the promise of new life laying among the pebbles and gravel of the stream bottom. The eggs will hatch later and after a period of time the fry will become smolts and swim downstream to the ocean. There the Coho will grow into beautiful silver bullets darting throughout the ocean and live for several years...until a primordial urge suddenly draws them back to the same stream at which they were the same patch of gravel.
In the journey from seawater to fresh river water, the color changes from silver to a dark, mottled red. Some have white spots of fungus on their fins and tails. Perhaps they know they will die...they can feel it inside them as they battle currents, rapids, waterfalls, predators such as sea lions and bears who feast on the migration and depend on the oil and fat for their own survival...
..and yet they push on to that gravel patch, where I stand and witness the culmination of their life.
...and the beginning of the next.


Monday, October 27, 2008

A Moment at the Edge of Eternity

[The following was written shortly after the death of my father in August, 1999, and probably represents the beginning of my writing endeavors. Writing this was perhaps a little cathartic and helped me get through the grieving process. Of course, it also may serve as the start of yet another book project...but I suppose I'd better finish the first one, eh?]

She stood on the beach, watching the two men walk on towards the surf. Her mind was reeling with the events of the past several days and perhaps relished the soft embrace of the summer fog. Had this time finally come, she thought? No matter how much one prepares for the inevitable, one is never truly ready. No longer fighting the tears, but allowing them to flow freely down her cheeks, she continued to watch her two sons carry their package into the water. Their sandals were left nearby. She watched over them, but her thoughts were elsewhere.

Fifty years, she thought to herself. It would have been fifty years if he had lived another year or so. They were good years. Not always easy, nor necessarily remarkable, but good. Their sons turned out well, and she was proud of them both. Her mind was filled with images of the past, of when they met, the many places traveled, friends. Images of the future also played through her conscious. She was alone now. A widow. What will it be like without him? So many images, as she watched through tear-filled eyes the two figures now wading into the surf. All seemed to culminate into this moment suspended in eternity. This is goodbye, she thought. It was fitting to stand at the juncture of the land and the sea, with its endless vista. She bid her husband farewell, staying behind on the shore of the temporal as he begins his journey into eternity.

The waters of the Pacific Ocean swirled around our feet as we slowly made our way through the surf. It was a typical August day on the Oregon Coast. The sun was trying to burn away the morning mist, and the chill had not yet yielded to the sun’s warming rays. The mist and the light mingled to give the beach an ethereal feel, as though one is on the edge of space and time, and about to dissolve into another dimension. We felt we were touching on the edge of eternity, the spiritual came to meet us and blend into the realm of the physical.

The water was cold. It always is in the Northwest. I remember trying to swim in these waters as a child, but could never last very long before I yielded to the ache of the cold water chilling through to my bones. Yet the chill of the water did not concern us this morning, as my brother Mike and I carried our father’s ashes into the surf. We were fully absorbed in the purpose of this trip. There would be no waiting to acclimate, to get used to the water. No, we needed to do this and nothing would deter either of us. There was no hurry, though. It seemed that this moment needed a sense of purpose, yet there was also a solemnity that required a certain reverence. Dad would have appreciated that, I thought to myself. He loved ceremony.

We were fortunate that we had this stretch of beach to ourselves. Seaside is a popular resort, and the late morning hour would typically have brought out the morning stroller or beachcomber. It would have seemed a little strange to walk out and deposit Dad’s ashes if the beach was crowded with swimmers, surfers and sunbathers, not to mention the awkwardness they would have felt if they knew what we were doing. Truth be told, if it were crowded, we would have looked elsewhere.

But for us it was quiet. There were others several hundred yards away, but for this stretch we were alone. We waded out until the water came over our knees. The surf was not heavy, but waves would roll by, sometimes wetting the legs of our shorts. It didn’t matter. This was a sacred time, perhaps more meaningful and emotional than any other moment in my 47 years. I was strangely numb, though not from the cold water but the swirl of emotions of the past week. Had it only been a week, I thought? It seemed like an eternity had passed, and we were entering another phase in our lives.

Though no word was spoken, we both stopped and looked back at our mother. She was standing there, watching us. She stood still. Though my eyes could not focus that far, I knew she was weeping softly. In the moment I looked at her, I felt her sorrow. She looked so small there in the distance, standing alone on the sand. She was a strong woman, yet I could feel her emotion. I suppose this was something I inherited from her.

Our thoughts turned to the matter at hand. How would we do this, I thought? We had no script, no prior experience to guide us. Only the words of the mortician went through my mind, when I had picked up the ashes earlier in the week. When we told of our decision to scatter the remains in the ocean, he cautioned me about the wind. He said too many people had tried to do the same thing as us, only to have the ashes scattered back over them by the wind. Silently I opened the plastic bag that contained my father’s ashes and gently allowed the contents to roll out into the water. It was heavier and the pieces were larger than I expected. Some of the remains mingled with the water, seeming to dissolve. The lighter, dusty portion floated on the surface. I kept the bag close to the water, mindful of the mortician’s warning. After about half had poured out, I gave the remainder to my brother and he repeated the action until all of Dad’s remains were out. We watched for a moment as the surf dissipated the ashes. The heavier pieces settled to the bottom, blended with the mottled sand and became a part of the ocean floor. Then Mike rinsed out the plastic bag.

I was silent through all of this, fighting the emotion that tried to roll up and grip my throat. There seemed a sense of “rightness” to what we were doing. Dad loved the sea. He and Mom had walked this same stretch countless times over the years, sometimes by themselves and often with friends. There was no question this is what he would have wanted. So it seemed fitting to us. Then Mike surprised me, by speaking into the air to Dad . He thanked him for everything, for being a good father. Though I tried to choke back the tears, I could no longer. We embraced, then slowly turned and waded back to our mother.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Sandcastles and Steaks in Vancouver, BC

In September, 2008, Mom and I drove to BC to visit family. My aunt Leny and Uncle Bill live in Abbotsford, about an hour east of Vancouver and across the border from Sumas, WA. It takes about 6 hours from Portland. During our stay we did some sightseeing and mostly visited relatives. Here is a sampling of photos I took, and yes the weather was spectacular...a rarity in the Pacific Northwest. Enjoy!

About another hour east lies the resort of Harrison Hot Springs. We happened upon a sandcastle contest, with entrants from all over the globe. (Yes, even Holland was well-represented here.) The sculptures are made only with sand and water, but a spray was added to the finished shape to retain it. Some have been up for several weeks, and yes there were actually some castles.

This one is entitled "The Rainbow Olympics presents 'Drag Racing'", I did some drag racing when I was a young hotrodder, but this is definitely something different! (Yeah, I know...I could on with this one!)

Artist and her scupture.

Spectators, outside looking in. No, Leny and Mom weren't specifically excluded. Only Bill and I were willing to pay the admission.

This one particularly touched me. I cannot recall the title (it may not have had one), but it shows the fertile imagination of some of the artists.

Flowers from Bill and Leny's garden.

Later on Saturday we met several cousins at Jamie's new apartment in Vancouver. On the couch are Mom and Leny. Standing behind are (l-r) Patti, Lucy, Bernice, Jamie Patti's daughter) and Bernice's son Anthony.

Bernice, Lucy and Tony (Bernice's husband)

Patti and Berni

Dinner in downtown Vancouver

A wild night on the town...

Saturday, October 25, 2008

In the twinkling of an eye...

Earlier this year I had a telephone conversation with a professional associate with whom I am working on a particular project. It was one of those conversations that haunt us, and this one haunts me still and causes me to reflect on life. Even though the conversation was several months ago, it is still relevent.

She is someone who I have known for many years and consider a friend. We served on several committees, the board of a professional society, and now are working together on this project. It was rather urgent that I had her concurrence on a particular issue, so as to not hold up construction. Repeated messages on her office line went unheeded, so I called her cellphone. When she answered I asked if it was ok if we chatted about these issues for a few moments…she said sure. I heard voices in the background and asked if she was in a meeting. She said no, just having chemo.

My heart dropped.

Suddenly, whatever urgency I felt over the issue of the day evaporated. There was an awkward moment and then we briefly talked about it, a cancer that she fought a couple of years ago that seems to have recurred. After discussing the issue we each went our way, yet I could not shake that unsettled feeling that life indeed happens while we make plans and look to the future.

Some years ago, a similar incident involving the death of a close acquaintance caused me to reflect on life which in turn led to a re-evaluation of my own priorities. I decided that life can be brief, and can take turns we never anticipated. Life became something to cherish and there were things I wanted to experience…people I wanted to meet…places I wanted to see. The time for postponing those experiences was past…and I seized the day…and my life. Meeting many of the people through work, though hobbies, in my neighborhood and even in passing have enriched me, and my conversation with my associate reminded me of that lovely aspect of life.

More on Hawaii (Part 2)

(I've found this blog rather difficult to set up and add the photos. My previous Hawaii post took some effort and I didn't want to screw it up now that I finally have it looking reasonably like I want. This is Part 2, so if this is your first view, I would suggest you go to the previous post to get the context of our Great Hawaiin Adventure...OK, perhaps our Little adventure.)
This is Iao Valley, on the western portion of Maui. It is a traditional place among the Hawaiian people, and perhaps even sacred. The early people sought refuge here when attacked by peoples from other islands (yes, they fought among themselves, before Kamehameha I united the various islands into one kingdom.

Here are several of many flower photos I took. On the right is a Hibiscus bush outside the old Courthouse in Lahaina. It is the state flower of Hawaii.

On the left is a Bird of Paradise, taken at the Garden of Eden arboretum, on the road to Hana.
End of the "Road to Hana", in the town of (yep, you guessed it!) Hana. This church is one of the earlier churches, dating back to the 1830's. Apparently one could drive further and see where Charles Lindberg is buried. He lived out his years here in the area, in his quest to avoid people. Good place to do that.
Returning on what we will now call the Road from Hana. We had heard that heavy surf was predicted for the islands later in the weekend, and it looks like this is a precurser of those waves. Can you see the rainbow?

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Hawaiian Vacation (and a little work) - Part 1

Tuesday, 10/7/08 we left for a little trip to Hawaii. It started as another business trip for a project I've had in Hilo, on the big island of Hawaii. A client operates a number of Assisted Living facilities around the US, including Hawaii. This one needed a small wastewater treatment plant to accommodate their expansion...probably for all of us baby-boomers as we get close to retirement. The construction did not go as well as hoped and another trip was needed. I had already gone twice before, consisting of leaving on a Tues morning, arriving late in the evening. Wednesday was my inspection/meetings, then return to the mainland on Thursday morning. Whew...long times in the plane for a short visit.

Anyway, we decided to extend this trip and include Beth. So we stayed 3 nights in Hilo and two nights near Lahaina, on the island of Maui. The following is a sampling of photos taken on that trip.

This is sunrise on Moana Kea, taken from the balcony of our hotel. Hawaii is 3 hours behind the Pacific Coast, and since I am used to getting up at 5:30 AM...yep, you guessed it! I was up at 2:30, snoozed until around 5:30 Hawaii time and was able to catch the sunrise. It was beautiful. (We both started flagging by 9:00 in the evening, since it felt like midnight for us.)

Downtown Hilo, looking east towards the bay.

On Wednesday we drove north along the east coast of Hawaii, and stopped at several small towns along the way. This is Hakalau, about 20 miles north of Hilo.

A little further north we ate lunch at the cutest little restaurant. It was a throw-back to the 50's, complete with a soda counter, juke box and the greatest hamburger and milkshake around. The owner was a old hippie who really didn't take himself or life very seriously, as evidenced by the "pinpoint deed" he gave out, entitling us to ownership of a piece of his place...a very small piece!!

We finally came to the end of the road at the Waipio Valley overlook...literally the end of the road. One could go farther, but a 4WD is needed to go down the road. You can see a couple of cliffs and on the horizon is the island of Maui, just peeking around the last cliff.

Sunset at Kawaihae, on the west coast of Hawaii. After the Waipio overlook, we crossed the island, drove through Waimea (which is home to the Parker Ranch, the largest cattle ranch in the Hawaiian Islands) and played in the surf on the coast. From here we returned towards Hilo, stopping in Honokaa for dinner at an Italian restaurant. I wanted a glass of wine, but the restaurant couldn't sell alcohol (???), but I could go across the street to a grocery store, buy a bottle and they would gladly open it for us.

On Thursday afternoon (after my inspections and meetings) we played some more. This time we drove west and visited a black sand beach at Punaluu. We were told there were sea turtles here, but when we arrived and I saw the throng of beachgoers playing, fishing, etc...I figured no turtle in his right mind would come near this beach, so we went to a volcano instead. The photos are of Kilauea, a very active crater. The night shot shows the red-hot lava reflecting off the steam cloud (which has a high amount of sulfur dioxide, and half of the crater drive was closed).

Friday we left Hawaii and flew to Maui, where neither of us had ever been. This is the town of Lahaina, an old whaling town and home of (I think) the first mission to the Islands. We stayed at a beachfront resort in Kaanapali, about 5 miles north.

Saturday we drove the famous (infamous?) Road to Hana, a stretch of road that hugs the north coastline to the town of Hana. The road is about 52 miles long (from Kahului), has 600 curves and 60 bridges...all one way, so one had to wait for the other traffic to cross (unless you were aggressive or got here first). It took us 3 hours, but it was worth it. The views were spectacular!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

I heard the geese...

I heard the geese this morning. Through the din of the passing cars outside my office window and in spite of the clacking of the keyboard at my fingertips, their cackling and honking was unmistakable and reminded me of the passing of the seasons. I have always found the sound to be a primal one…a reminder that time and nature inexorably move and change, perhaps so subtly that we would miss it entirely were it not for the harbingers of those planetary adjustments. Our early ancestors were much more in tune with those changes, and the massing of the migratory hordes served as a reminder that changes need to be made and routines shifted.

Do we pay attention to those signs? Have our sterilized and air-conditioned lives become so anesthetized to those subtle nuances around us that we miss what is deep and primal within us? I used to measure the seasons by the calendar on the wall and by the holidays it highlights. Memorial Day was the start of summer, and Labor Day marked its end. Christmas was in the dead of winter, perhaps a bright spot in the darkness of the long nights and short days.

I now listen to the geese. When I hear the gaggles gather into the large flocks, preparing for their long journey, I know the cold weather will soon be upon us. It is also in the turning of the leaves, the crackle underfoot as I walk through wooded paths that I know that the sun will be shifting its place in the sky…and the nights will lengthen. I like that primal feeling. It also reminds me of so many other feelings and sensations of which as a human am capable. True, we strive for lofty ideals and look for the higher callings for our lives…but we should never lose sight of where we came. It is in those primal feelings we maintain our contact with the nature around us, and we can hold on to whatever shred of connection we have to the creatures around us, for they can tell us much.

I hear the geese and I know some are leaving. I also know they will be back, and I will look forward to hearing them in the Springtime, for that is a harbinger of warmer weather.