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.