Wrapping Christmas presents in the dark

Ah, electricity. Invisible and unappreciated until it’s gone.

               
Like most of the west coast, we here in South Beach, Oregon got hammered last week by back-to-back storms. Rain came down in sheets while wind did its best to rattle everything loose. On Thursday, everyone was talking about the big storm that was coming. When I woke up to blue skies, I rushed out to finish my Christmas shopping and maybe take myself out to lunch before the storm hit. While I was in the checkout line at Fred Meyer’s in Newport, I saw people coming in huddled in wet coats and knew the storm was starting. Folks were talking about getting over the Yaquina Bridge before it was closed. Forget lunch. Time to get home.
               
Rain spattered the windshield harder and harder as I drove south. Wind gently nudged the car as I crossed the bridge. But it wasn’t bad. I still had power to warm up my leftover pizza, to read by while I ate it, and to finish my work at the computer.
               
The lights flickered. I closed my files, but Facebook grabbed my attention until suddenly, silently, the computer screen went dark. Oh. It was 2:12 p.m. Twilight outside, twilight inside. All the little green and red lights on my various equipment were out. The pellet stove, which runs by electricity, had stopped. The only sound was the rain on the skylights and wind thrashing the trees.
                
Okay. I had a plan. Power failures are not unusual around here. I have flashlights in every room, a large supply of candles, and two electric lanterns. I have wood for the wood stove in the den. I have cold food to eat, plenty to drink. One never knows how long the power will stay out around here. Once it lasted two days. An area farther south stayed dark for almost a week.
               
Since I couldn’t work at the computer, this was my opportunity to wrap my Christmas presents. So I did, with loud music playing from the battery-operated radio I keep handy for storms. The sound is tinny, but it’s company.
            
I wrapped and wrapped until it got so dark I couldn’t tell blue ribbons from green.  Now it was lighter outside than in. The rain had stopped and the wind had slowed, so I took Annie out for a short walk. Soon we heard the chatter of a radio from an emergency vehicle and came upon the source of the power failure. A giant tree on the next block had fallen into the power lines. Rain-suited crews from the electric company had cut up the tree and were now restringing the wires from the highway to the street that connects with mine. Big trucks. Bright lights. Noise. “Thank you for what you’re doing!” I called.
               
 “No problem,” a guy hollered back.
             
Satisfied that eventually the lights would come back on, we turned back home, running into our neighbor and her children coming to see what was going on. We’re all nosy.
             
I had thought I would work on my Christmas cards, but darkness in the woods is truly dark, not like back in suburbia where night is only slightly different from day. Instead, I talked to a friend on my cell phone, then settled in front of the wood stove to build a fire. Big logs, little logs, kindling, building from a spark to an orange finger of flame to a roaring fire.
              
I sat back and watched the fire, all other duties canceled due to darkness. I thought about the days before electric lights. Even with candles and lanterns, the light is limited and full of shadows. You cannot see to do anything intricate. If you spill or drop something, it’s difficult to see where it went. It’s hard to stay clean. And surely you go to bed much earlier because it’s so dark.
              
Electric lights have changed the way we live our lives. Natural light has become irrelevant. Many people work round the clock under artificial light. If we need more light, we just plug it on and turn it on.We forget how easily that light could disappear.
              
It’s not just light I was missing. I would not be able to heat my food. The food in the refrigerator would spoil if the power stayed out. My cell phone would lose its charge, the house would cool down, and I would not be able to watch my TV shows. But I could adapt.
              
Luckily, I didn’t have to. At 6:00, just as I was about to make a ham sandwich for dinner, the lights came on. “Yay! Thank you!” I shouted as I hurriedly threw a fish in the frying pan and a potato in the microwave before the electricity changed its mind.
                
Despite predictions of 90 mph gusts, it turned out to be a pretty average winter storm here. We just had a few trees and branches down. In Newport, the big sign outside Bank of America blew down. In Portland, a tree fell on a car, killing the people inside. California had flooding and mudslides. But here in South Beach, we just had a little electricity-appreciation lesson.
              
Lights. I like ‘em.
How is your weather? Any storm damage? Please share your stories in the comments.
Advertisements

O is for . . . Oregon everything!

Of course O is for Oregon. But it’s more than that. Driving along the roads in this state, one is likely to see big green, yellow, orange or black letter O’s on the windows and bumpers of passing cars. You may even see flags bearing the letter O, but these O’s don’t just stand for Oregon. Oh no. You see, we don’t have a pro football team in this state, so people are crazy about our college teams, specifically the University of Oregon Ducks–green and yellow–and Oregon State University’s Beavers–orange and black. All it takes is the one letter to show their loyalty. Fans put it on their cars, their clothes, their foreheads and chests, anywhere, just one big O. Of course folks in Oregon forget that there are other states with names that start with the letter O. Oklahoma and Ohio for example, have state universities, too. But here, O stands for Oregon.

I went to San Jose State, so I don’t care who wins the football games, but I like the black and orange colors better, so if I were going to buy a sweatshirt . . . No, I don’t dare. Once, while I was walking Annie on the Bayfront, a drunk staggered by and said, “Hey, an orange dog. Yay, Beavers.” I didn’t have the heart to tell him Annie is tan, not orange, and neither one of us is into sports.

O. Around here, everything starts with the letter O. It’s alphabet soup with too many O’s. For example:
OCCC–Oregon Coast Community College (as opposed to CCC–Central Coast Chorale)
OCA–Oregon Coast Aquarium
OCCA–Oregon Coast Council for the Arts
OCP–Oregon Catholic Press
OMTA–Oregon Music Teachers Association
OPB–Oregon Public Broadcasting
ODFW–Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife

O–kay. You get the idea. There are more, but I’m drawing a blank. Help me out if you can think of other O abbreviations. 

I’m participating in this month’s A to Z blogging challenge. O stands for Oregon and just about everything in it. It could also stand for ocean, ode, origami, old, or ordinary, which Oregon is not. My alphabetical posts are distributed among my various blogs. Here is the schedule:
 
A Newsletter–A is for Annie
B Childless by Marriage–B is for Baby
C Unleashed in Oregon–C is for Crate
D Writer Aid–D is for Deadline
E Unleashed in Oregon–E is for Ear
F Unleashed in Oregon–F is for Fur
G Unleashed in Oregon–G is for Gunk
H Childless by Marriage–H is for Harley
I Unleashed in Oregon–I is for I-5
J Writer Aid–J is for Job
K Unleashed in Oregon–Key is for Keys
L Unleashed in Oregon–L is for Lick
M Unleashed in Oregon–M is for Milk-Bone
N Childless by Marriage–No is for No, I Don’t Know Children’s Songs
O Unleashed in Oregon
P Writer Aid
Q Unleashed in Oregon
R Unleashed in Oregon
S Unleashed in Oregon
T Childless by Marriage
U Unleashed in Oregon
V Writer Aid
W Unleashed in Oregon
X Unleashed in Oregon
Y Unleashed in Oregon
Z Childless by Marriage

More than 2000 other bloggers have signed up for the challenge. For more information, visit a-to-zchallenge.com You might find some great new blogs to follow. I know I will. Visit Writer Aid tomorrow to find out what P stands for.

Torn between Oregon and California

The thing with living distant from your family, whether it be in another state or another country, is that, if you have a loving relationship, you will always be traveling back and forth. Thanksgiving, Christmas, weddings and funerals all draw me south, back to California. in the last 17 years, I have made at least 40 trips.

The airport is so far it’s not worth the trouble to fly, and it’s not an easy drive. Hot in summer, snow, rain and wind in winter, traffic year-round in the Bay Area. Last Thanksgiving, I drove through intense rain and wind that left trees, signs and roofs scattered all over western Oregon while I struggled to keep my car on the road. When I thought the hard part was over, I ran over a bicycle in the middle of the 680 freeway, shredding my tire. When I arrived at Dad’s house, I declared “never again.”

Not only was the drive horrendous, but I was missing work, had to leave Annie at the kennel and generally turned my life upside down. But as long as I live in Oregon, and my family lives in California, I will do it again and again. I love my family, and most of them are not free to come to Oregon.

When my mother was dying, I wore out the I-5 freeway driving back and forth. Now my father is ill. I always knew that someday I’d need to rush down to help Dad. That time has come. I’m into my third week in the house where I grew up. I’m cooking, cleaning, washing clothes, taking out the garbage, buying the groceries and driving Dad back and forth to Kaiser hospital. He’s 91 and facing open heart surgery. We talk for hours and he keeps showing me things I’ll need to know if the worst happens. He keeps saying things like “when I conk out . . .” But we have spent magical hours going over old photos and sharing memories. We have laughed together. This time is a gift in many ways.

It’s not all fun. I miss my work, my dog, my WiFi, but none of that really matters right now. My father may die soon. Every time he falls asleep in front of the TV, I check to make sure he’s still breathing. He was sick in bed all day yesterday while I tiptoed around and prayed a lot. He’s a strong man, but nobody lives forever.

Meanwhile, I’m loving the California sunshine and easy access to the rest of the family. Between crises, I’m sleeping soundly in my old bedroom. This house is warm and cozy, not dependent on woodstoves to heat it. As I sit in my mother’s chair by the living room window writing in the glow of a pink and blue sunrise while my father sleeps, for the first time in years I don’t feel divided between two states. But I can’t stay here. I live in Oregon now.

I don’t know what the next few weeks will bring. We hope for a successful surgery and strong recovery that will allow Dad to live on his own again. Whether or not that happens, when my father doesn’t need me anymore, Oregon waits for me like a patient lover who will never give up on me, even though I leave it again and again.

Writing my way across four states


<!–[if !mso]>st1\:*{behavior:url(#ieooui) } <![endif]–>

Pondering the river during Fishtrap poetry workshop
This week I drove through four states in one day. Twice.
Sunday I woke up in a yurt at Wallowa Lakenear Joseph, Oregon. Outside my window, deer grazed on dandelions and a covey of quail chittered in the bushes. I dressed, walked to the lodge for a breakfast of homemade coffeecake and cantaloupe, said goodbye to my Fishtrap writer friends and drove away. That night I went to bed in Missoula, Montanaat a Howard Johnson’s on a busy highway lined with motels, restaurants, casinos and car dealerships. To get there, I had driven over 200 miles of winding roads from Oregon through Washington and Idaho and into Montana. I went from the vast farms and cowboy hills of Eastern Oregon through the Blue Mountains and along the Lochsa River until I finally reached the rolling hills and suburban landscape of Missoula. Seventy-five mile-per-hour speed limit and no sales tax. Woohoo!
  
After checking in at Howard Johnson’s with Indian desk clerks whose English was unintelligible, I drove down the street to Applebee’s and suffered culture shock after a week in nature at the Fishtrap writer’s workshop. No wi-fi, no phones, no TV, no news. We sat by a river talking about poetry, wrote songs under the trees, and told secrets by the campfire. We ate healthy cafeteria style meals. Suddenly I was in a noisy restaurant with an over-solicitous waiter named “Luc” who was waiting for me to choose from a menu of over-seasoned high-calorie entrees. As I settled for a plain turkey sandwich, my cell phone rang for the first time in over a week. No!
Why was I in Missoula? The main character in the novel I’m almost finished with lived in Missoulabefore she came to Oregon. Toward the end, she goes back for a while. Because I was so close to the border at Wallowa Lake, I decided to see Missoula for myself. I’m glad I did. You can’t really get the flavor of a place from the Internet. I was able to visit the places where she and her husband lived, worked, worshipped and shopped. I ate in the restaurant where she ate. I had a great time following my fictional character through this real setting.
But it got hot, very hot, and I needed to get back to my own nonfiction life. So Tuesday I headed west, taking a different route this time. I drove through C’oeur d’Alene, Idaho, stopped for lunch in Spokane, Washington (great food at the Timber Creek Grill Buffet), and crossed the Columbia River into Oregon near Umatilla. I honked my horn in glee. Hello, Oregon!
Four states in four days. Twice. I bunked in Arlington, Oregon Tuesday night, woke up yesterday at 5 a.m. to the roar of truckers starting their engines and a freight train blasting its horn and set my GPS for “home.” After 1,600 miles, the only state I wanted to be in was a state of rest.
Stay tuned for trip highlights and pictures in the next few posts.

Hugging the open mic in Yachats

Sometimes I think to myself that Yachats, population 688, is where all the old hippies from California have gone. Here you still find people with long hair, long skirts, tie-dye shirts and flowers in their hair. They gather for peace rallies and palm readings, craft festivals and Celtic festivals. They also gather for open mics. (Some say open “mike.” I disagree. Deal with it.)
I had had the note on my refrigerator for six months or so before I finally headed south on Friday night. Most of my music time these days centers around church music, but the new song circle in Yachats spurred me to check out the open mic. There, I could sing anything I wanted.
I have been to so many open mics. Bars, restaurants, coffee shops with loud espresso machines, community halls. Drunks, rockers, stoners, Bob Dylan soundalikes, kids just learning to play an instrument, pros reliving their glory days. Good microphones, bad microphones, no microphones. But I’ve been missing the open mic we used to have here in South Beach and my friend and former bandmate Stacy was involved in this one, so I thought I’d give it a try.
The usual venue, the Green Salmon coffeehouse, was not available, so we met at Ona, a restaurant on the west side of the highway. When I arrived a little before 7, not late, there was no parking to be had anywhere around the building. Parking at the grocery store down the road apiece, I lugged my guitar to the restaurant, arriving just as another woman was opening the door, and walked into a noisy, steamy-windowed, orange-walled room loaded with Yachatsians clustered on a variety of chairs and sofas. Stacy beckoned me to the last empty chair, right in the front row, just in time for the festivities to begin. We could barely hear each other talk over the roar coming from this room and the bar/dining room behind us.
You’d think I wouldn’t get stage fright after 30 years of performing, but I do. I get anxious, and I start thinking I’ve had enough of the music business. Why do I keep doing this to myself? I’m too old. These are not my people. Why drive all the way down here when I’m not getting paid? Yada yada yada. I have learned not to take these thoughts seriously because as soon I get behind the microphone, I will change my mind and want to perform every minute of every day until I die.
Our hosts started us with some guitar and mandolin with vocal harmony. Nice. Then “Rambling Ruth” played “Three Coins in the Fountain” on her violin, along with a couple of other oldies. Stacy performed with her brother and a friend. Delicious music. A brand new quartet of women got up and sang gorgeous a capella harmony about peace, love and . . . harmony.
I was number five, thirsty, and nervous as hell. I had been clutching my guitar between my knees for an hour. I had expected to plug my guitar into an amp, but there was just one microphone that nobody seemed to be using. I had pictured us at a white-tablecloth restaurant where we sat at tables and ordered food and drinks. I had thought I’d have dessert. But no, we were just packed in this hot room and told we’d have a break around 8.
The break came after number 4. I bolted to the bar and waited in line while the bartender with the braided beard served actual drinks to paying customers. He gave me a glass of ice water. Ah. That helped.
Then Stacy read a poem written by her mom, and I was up. “Sue Lick?” The MC looked around. Me. I hugged onto the mic, wanting to be heard. I started singing and playing. By the end of the first tune, some people were singing along. They laughed at my jokes, applauded, and made me feel like a star. They also quieted down for my second song, a new one. I couldn’t hear well enough to do the fancy guitar licks I had practiced, but I sang as well as I ever have. And the last song went over big. I said thank you about a hundred times and went back to my chair, feeling happy, wanting to do this forever.
Every act after that was genius. The poets, the woman who sang “Look to the Rainbow” a capella, Ian playing originals on guitar, the woman in the red velvet mini-dress and leg-warmers who fumbled through a song she just wrote on the ukulele, the guy reading from his memoir, the mayor leading us in Roger Miller’s “You Can’t Rollerskate in a Buffalo Herd.” Loved them all. Promised to come back next month.
I’m aging into an exact copy of my mom, but inside, I’m an old hippie from California, too.
Next open mic: April 19, 7 p.m., Green Salmon. Check the City of Yachats page online for details.

Just Your Average Oregon Coast Storm

A super windstorm hit the coast Sunday and Monday. You might have heard about it on the news. Sunday night, a 98 mile an hour gust blew off part of the roof at Izzy’s restaurant in Newport. I can’t believe it didn’t blow mine off, too. Pieces of trees and yard decorations were flying all over. The wind chimes were doing somersaults. Meanwhile, I was packing for my trip to California, wondering if I could really go.

On Monday morning, it was still raining, still blowing, with reports of damage and road closures. My route was clear so far. I checked the reports over and over. I prayed. I asked my Facebook friends if I should go. I loaded the car. Once the dog was sitting in the driver’s seat, it was hard to change my mind.

I got as far as Lost Creek State Park, about a mile and a half from home, and decided to get off the road. The wind was blowing from the south so hard it was like trying to drive against an invisible wall. The rain slammed against the windows so thick I could barely see. This is nuts, I told the dog as I pulled into the parking lot and stared at an ocean that was all froth and fury.

We can’t go, I decided, but somehow when I came out of the parking lot, I turned south toward California instead of going home. The rain had eased a tiny bit, and I decided to keep going.

I had to take Annie east down Highway 34 to the kennel in Tidewater. I saw just small debris going, but 15 minutes later, coming back, there was a tree across the road. No cell phone service there. Several men had already parked and were cleaning up the tree branches with their hands. When they got one lane cleared enough, we drove over the rest of the tree and went on.

Back on 101, I turned south again. Wind, rain, water on the road, rivers rising nearby. Gripping the steering wheel so tight my hands hurt, and my accelerator leg hurt, but I couldn’t relax for a second. Speed limits meant nothing; we had to drive much slower than usual just to keep from sliding off into the ocean. I kept thinking: where will I have to stop, how will I rearrange this trip, I’ll never travel on Thanksgiving again.

I finally got to Florence, praise God, houses, stores, stoplights. I found the restaurant where I had planned to eat lunch, the Hot Rod Inn, with old cars literally sticking out of the roof. But it was closed! For sale. I drove on, hoping to eat at another place south of Florence. It was closed, too, for lease. Nuts!

The thirty-eight miles to Reedsport took forever, water blowing across the road like waves, car losing traction every hundred yards. But I made it to Harbor Lights, at the intersection of 101 and Highway 38. Got soaked on the way in. I highly recommend this restaurant. Specials in colored chalk on the blackboard on the far wall, display case with pumpkin muffins, carrot cake, Marionberry crisps, lava cake, yum. Meat lovers can order wild elk or boar, and there are eggplant sandwiches for the vegetarians. I had a mushroom burger on chiabatta bread, oozing mayonnaise. Heaven. Perfect French fries, crisp on the outside, soft on the inside.

I talked to a guy there who was worried about the road north to Yachats. Just rain and wind, I said, but it could change with the next gust of wind. It turns out we both went to San Jose State.

As I paid my bill, the waitress wished me a nice evening. It was only 1:30 in the afternoon but dark as twilight when I ran out to the car, getting wet again, and started my eastward trek along the Umpqua River away from the ocean.

I saw more elk than ever at the elk preserve, most of them close to the road, most of their land under water. Usually there are crowds of camera-bearing tourists taking pictures. Not this time. Too wet and wild.

The rain began to lighten up after Elkton, a few more miles down the road. I looked around and remembered how incredibly beautiful western Oregon is. I cranked up the radio and made it to Yreka at 6:00. Clear, light wind, temps in the 50s. After all these years going back and forth, this motel room feels like home.

I had put a call out on Facebook, asking my Oregon friends whether or not to go. My friend Pat, from Massachusetts via California, said don’t go. My friend Sandy said, too late, that newscasters were telling people not to drive if they didn’t have to. My Oregon friends said check the weather and go if it’s not snowing. My friend Lauren said she had just driven to Eugene from the coast against 60 mile an hour winds. Go, she said, we’re Oregonians.

Exactly. We pull our hoods over our heads and go.

Somewhere up ahead, there’s sunshine.

Just South of the Airport

I woke up this morning to the sound of a plane flying over my house. UPS? Fed Ex? A private plane heading to Portland or Silicon Valley? A couple years ago, I would have guessed it was a Seaport commuter plane doing its 4:45 a.m. run to Portland. That airline, like several others, tried flying out of Newport and couldn’t make enough money to stay. In the 14 years since Fred and I moved into our house a half mile south of the airport, we have watched Harbor Air, Sky Taxi and Seaport come and go. Each time, they left the airport a little more modernized for the mail transports, charter flights, and Coast Guard helicopters that continue to fly there. With new lights, expanded runways and fences to keep deer and elk off the tarmac, Newport Airport can accommodate the biggest jets, but it just can’t support regular flights that would let us avoid the three-hour drive to the Portland airport. Imagine being able to walk up the road with my suitcase and hop on a plane. Unless I buy my own plane, it’s not happening.

When we were looking at the house, the previous owner noted that sometimes the helicopter noise gets annoying. He was right. Although it’s nothing compared to our previous experiences with airports in San Jose and Los Angeles, it does get tiresome when the helicopters warm up on the runway for an hour or when pilots in training practice takeoffs and landings.
It’s also a little disconcerting to be sitting in the office and see a plane appearing to fly straight toward the house. But it’s fun to sit on the deck or be soaking in the spa and watch the planes fly over, to wonder about who’s inside and where they’re going. I have heard rumors that Bill Gates and other famous wealthy people fly into Newport to relax at the beach. I often wave at the planes, although I know the people inside can’t see me. It reminds me of when I was kid in San Jose and blimps from Moffett Field would fly over. Everyone would run out of the house to watch.
At night, the airport lights flash in the darkness, like constant sheet lightning pulsing like a heartbeat. I often hear the planes before I see their red and green lights blinking among the stars. If it’s cloudy, I may not see them at all, but I hear them flying over, hear their engines growing louder, then softer, then sighing into silence.
Living so close to the airport has its risks—and not just a plane falling out of the sky onto our house. Over the years, rumors have circulated about a resort, a housing development, new roads, and most recently an air museum practically in our back yard, but none of this has happened. Annie and I still take our walks around the open land just south of the airport, gazing across the ravine at the runways and the lights. The only thing that has changed is the pine trees and Scotch broom getting taller.
Sometimes it feels like we live out in the middle of nowhere here in the woods. All I can see from my windows are trees, but the sky is wide open and the aircraft flying over remind me that we’re not alone and civilization is not far away. I wake up to the sound of a plane flying over the house. It’s time to get up.

I write a lot more about the airport in my book Shoes Full of Sand, available at Amazon.com and at http://www.suelick.com/Sand.html.