Tree cemetery brings forth new life

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Fed up with the news and everything else, I took Annie walking on Saturday up the old Thiel Creek Road here in South Beach, Oregon to soak in some nature. It was sunny but cold, the sky a watercolor wash of dark and light blues and grays. These days, we usually stay on the paved roads and clearly marked paths, but there’s a path that Fred and I used to walk with our old dog Sadie that I had been wondering about.

What used to be a fairly open trail through Scotch broom and conifers is now almost completely blocked by salal, a thick shrub whose leaves are often used by florists for greenery and whose berries were a staple in the Native American diet. There used to be an open area a ways in with remnants of an ancient house and paths that led in several directions, including a clearcut area to the east where the stumps looked like gravestones.  To the north, we used to be able to walk to the edge of the ravine that separated our neighborhood from the Newport airport.

The entrance is barely visible, but there’s still a sign forbidding motor vehicles, not that anything on wheels could fit there now. “Come on,” I said. Annie, game for any new trail despite her gimpy hip, plowed through nose first, pulling me along. The bushes were way over her head and brushing her sides. Deer would hesitate to squeeze through here, but she’s a determined pooch, and I was not in the mood to be deterred.

Memories flooded through me of walking here with Fred and our old German shepherd-Lab Sadie, both img_20170128_1505229871gone now. Last week was the eighth (!) anniversary of the day Fred fell and was taken to the hospital, never to come home again. That week began his journey through four different nursing homes before he died from the effects of Alzheimer’s Disease.

Walking was something we could still do together up until that week. We would make our way to the clearing, pick one of the paths spoking out of the circle and thread through the tree stumps till we found our way back to the road. We’d make discoveries: a new plant, a new bird, a dead rabbit, a pile of trash, tire tracks. As you can read in my Shoes Full of Sand book, I watched Sadie kill a squirrel here one day.

As always, small planes flew overhead across the domed sky. The sky always seemed so round here, as if we were standing inside one of the glass floats artists make here on the Oregon coast.

A half mile in, we came to the clearing. The baby pine I photographed way back before my cell phone had a camera in it is a big tree now. And now, east of the clearing, I found a grove of red alders, named for the red wood inside the patchy gray and white trunks. The trees stretched skyward, looking strong and healthy. Beyond, salal, Scotch broom, Douglas fir and Sitka Spruce had risen up above the stumps. It didn’t look like a cemetery anymore.

I felt tears coming. I sat crossed-legged in the weeds and let them fall. Annie licked my face, then snuggled up against me, gazing at this new place in the forest that she had never seen. I could see some of the old paths leading out of the clearing, but they would have to wait for another day. Annie’s leg was shaking from the effort of getting here. My back hurt. Plus I was due to play music at church in an hour. Somehow I felt I had already been to church. Trees fall and new trees grow in their place. An old dog dies and a new dog leads me through the woods. There’s always another path to follow. You cry and you go on.

Some things you just can’t do alone

I’ve been thinking a lot about doing things alone. After all, I’m alone most of the time. It’s me talking to the dog the way Tom Hanks talks to Wilson the volleyball in that movie where he’s stranded on an island. At least the dog wags her tail, and I have discovered that if I wink at her, she will do her darndest to wink back, usually with both eyes. She will also yawn if I yawn. But if I start making funny faces, she just stares at me like I’m nuts, which is totally possible.

Anyway, I’m alone a lot. This April, it will be six years since I became a widow. It’s already eight years since Fred went to the nursing home. After so much time, being alone feels like my default situation.

No, don’t get all sorry for me. I do that enough for myself. Besides, I love not having to deal with another fussy human’s needs. Today I’m on a scientific quest which could lead to a longer project in the future. Let’s explore what you can and cannot do alone.

It’s like having two hands or just one. When sprained my wrist a few years ago, I discovered it’s almost impossible to open a can, cut meat, hook a bra, or play the guitar with one hand.

You can play the harmonica with one hand or even no hands. You can eat a hamburger and fries with one hand. You can drive with one hand, preferably the right hand so you can turn the key and shift the gears. But open a bottle of beer? Not unless you smash it on the edge of the sink and drink around the jagged glass.

You can make love with one hand, but two hands are better.

All those one-handed things can be done if you have another person to help you. But what if you don’t? Let’s look at what you absolutely cannot do alone.

  • Get a hug
  • Make a baby
  • Sing a duet
  • Play football
  • Get a decent picture taken
  • Play Frisbee
  • Play Marco Polo
  • Water ski

Search online and you’ll find religious sites that eventually get to the fact that you need God. Agreed, but God won’t help me move my megaton TV to the other room (hint, hint) or hold the ladder while I clean the gutters.

You’ll also find various inspirational sites and go-get-‘em women’s sites that urge you to try going to a restaurant or a movie all by yourself because somehow it will make you a better person. No it won’t, but at least you’ll get to eat all the popcorn.

Some things you CAN do alone, but it’s not a good idea. I have done most of them.

  • Move furniture bigger than you are.
  • Eat an entire large pizza.
  • Hold a wine-tasting party.
  • Go hiking or rock-climbing
  • Drive way out into the wilderness where there’s nobody but bears and the guys from “Deliverance” and your cell phone doesn’t work.
  • Soak in a hot tub until you fall asleep and stay asleep until the rain wakes you up.

A lot of things, like eating out and going to a movie are just not as fun alone. Here’s an amusing page that talks about things you can do solo but would probably rather not.

And some things are good to do alone:

  • Think
  • Read
  • Sleep (actual sleep, not sex)
  • Pluck, shave, wax, nuke unwanted hairs.
  • Learn to play the violin.

I need your help with these lists. Add your suggestions in the comments. I really want to get a comprehensive list going, and Annie is no help at all. Wait, yes she is: Here’s something you cannot do alone: Get snuggled by someone who loves you. Annie, here I come.

Choir nightmares echo waking mishaps

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Valley Chorale back in the 1990s. I’m in the third row, far left.

You know those dreams where you find yourself walking into a class where somehow you have failed to show up for the whole semester and now it’s finals and you don’t know anything and the teacher doesn’t even know your name and you’re for sure going to fail because you never studied or did any homework? You know that dream, the oh-shit-I-forgot-to-go-to-school nightmare? I get those. My shrink says everybody does.

But more often I get choir nightmares. I have been involved in various singing groups since fourth grade. I sang in school choirs, glee clubs and madrigal groups from elementary school through college, followed by a serious of adult ensembles, including the Coastal Harmony Vocal Band, the Billy Vogue Country Singers, the Skillet Likkers (not the famous ones), the Lincoln Community Chorus, the Central Coast Chorale, and for 14 years, the Valley Chorale in Sunnyvale, California. I have sung in church choirs since 1989, joined the choir at Sacred Heart Church here in Newport in 1996 and have been accompanying and co-directing since 2003.

In my dreams, the church choir and the Valley Chorale stand out.

Directing the choir at a small-town church like ours means simultaneously singing, playing piano and leading the choir—which may be only two people at some Masses. It’s watching the priest and listening for cues. When he says the last Kyrie Eleison, I need to be ready to play the “Gloria.” When he raises the cup, I need to wrap up the Offertory song. These days, with our chant-happy priest, our Masses are almost constant singing. By the end of the 10:30 Mass on Sunday mornings, my throat is raw, and my brain is shorting out. I keep thinking about lunch and other non-religious subjects.

The anxiety plays out in dreams. I’m late, I find someone else sitting at the piano. I can’t find my music and the priest is already walking into the church. My hands don’t work, my voice quits, somebody moved the piano or unplugged it. I wake up with some song from church playing over and over in my head until I want to dig it out with a grapefruit spoon.

Although I have sung in many other choirs, The Valley Chorale is the one that keeps showing up in my dreams. The Chorale (not “choral,” not “corral”) is still going back in California. It was started by a group of friends with a strong religious component that has faded away over the years. I joined when I was only 23, newly married to my first husband. They called me “Little Susie.” Through the years of that marriage, the divorce that followed, and the second marriage to Fred, the chorale was my family. Under the direction of mother-daughter team Marian Gay and Cathy Beaupre, we rehearsed every Monday night, sang almost every weekend during our fall and spring concert seasons, went on a weekend bus tour twice a year, and gathered for parties and dinners, weddings and funerals.

The men wore black tuxedos. The women wore loose pastel gowns that we declared a good fit if we could get them on and they didn’t fall off. We perched on the risers in jeweled sandals at senior centers, mobile home parks, shopping centers, churches, retirement homes, and the occasional concert hall. We’d break into song in restaurants, on buses, or at people’s houses. We were not out to make money or get rich. We just loved to sing.

The concerts, billed as Bach to rock, always included some classics, some gospel tunes, some folk and pop, and a medley from a Broadway musical, complete with costumes. It was corny. Think Lawrence Welk Show, if you can remember back that far, but it was fun.

Illness forced me to quit in 1995. The following year, we moved to Oregon, where I joined new choirs, but I never dream about them. I dream about the Valley Chorale. In those dreams, I show up after years away. I don’t have the right gown or I don’t know the music. Sometimes I have changed so much they don’t know me. God knows I have changed. When I left, I was in my 40s with curly black hair and a much higher range. They have changed, too. Member have died or retired. New people have joined. They have learned new songs. But I keep going back to those dreams. I’m on the bus, I’m at the semi-annual “bash,” or we’re getting on the risers about to sing and there’s no place for me to stand.

Some of the dreams are based on reality. There’s always a moment of panic when you’re changing clothes between numbers and your zipper gets stuck or you can’t find your shoes and you’re terrified you’re not going to get back to the stage on time—but I always did. Yes, your music goes missing, you suddenly can’t remember the second verse, you trip coming down the aisle, the strap breaks on your sandal, or you start coughing and can’t stop. Stuff happens. You sing on.

This morning I had a different dream. I can’t call it a nightmare, and I can’t remember many details, but I do remember I was introducing a new, young singer to the Chorale, offering her the experience of this wonderful musical family.

That’s progress, I think. Valley Chorale, I miss you. I still have my jeweled sandals. Keep singing. And church choir, please show up for practice tomorrow night. Father P. is making us change the service music again.

What do you dream about? Do you have school nightmares? Choir dreams? Sports dreams? Dreams about your kids? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

Still no heat–and then it snowed

snow-1417cThose who follow this blog will remember that last week I was struggling with a dead pellet stove and a conglomeration of space heaters that kept tripping the single electrical circuit that powers my kitchen and living room. The temperature had landed firmly in the 30s, and it was COLD. I had taken to wearing thermal underwear in the house, moved to the bedroom that was a couple degrees warmer and allowed the dog to join me for added warmth.

It stayed cold all week. On Wednesday, the third time weathercasters predicted we might have snow, it finally happened. I could see the white light coming through the windows before I crawled out of bed. Snow everywhere. Pretty. Powdery. Magical. But underneath that snow lay ice. Hard, slippery, can’t walk-on-it, can’t-drive-on-it ice. Everything canceled. Schools, meetings, my dentist appointment. We were stuck in the house with puny heat, except for a slip-sliding walk. Annie and I learned that pavement is bad, grass is good, and mud is messy but it holds onto your shoes.

The snow stuck around until Saturday. It was too cold to melt. But the roads cleared up. I got out on Thursday for a haircut and much-needed groceries. Free at last! I know, it was one day, and nothing compared to the folks stuck for weeks with snow up to their roofs, but I was running out of food.

Friday, the electrical outlet into which I had plugged the biggest space heater and my tiny Christmas tree ceased working, taking the porch light out with it. We have some interesting wiring around here. I played with the circuit breaker switches. No go. Plugged and unplugged, wiggled and shoved. Called my electrician dad, who said get it fixed immediately; you could have a short that might start a fire. Crap. Freezing and fighting electrical problems. At least a fire would be warm.

Broke and disheartened, I called my neighbor. “Do you know anything about electricity?” He replied, “I know if you stick your finger in the socket, you get a shock.” Funny. I explained my problem. He limped over on his healing broken ankle and was soon crouched on my floor pulling out my dead plug. A wire had gotten disconnected. Stuff is all corroded in there, he said. He fixed it. The lights went on. Glad to help, he said. Thank God for small towns and friendly neighbors.

While the neighbor worked on my plug, I took down my Christmas decorations. Not in the mood anymore.

All day Friday, the temperature seemed to go down instead of up. On our brief walk, the cold wind tore at my skin and made me want to cry. But Saturday it started to get warmer. And then the rain came. It got warmer still. I took off a layer of clothing. The patter of rain on the skylights sounded like music.

It rained hard. It rained cold. It rained sideways. I got soaked in five minutes in the yard. My gutters overflowed. New leaks sprang up in the laundry and garage. But this is all normal for January on the Oregon coast. It’s still frozen east of here, so I feel blessed. This morning at 9 a.m., it’s 42.8 degrees, and the only things frozen at my house are the ice cubes, peas and veggie burgers in my freezer.

No, the pellet stove is not fixed yet. I’m hoping it will happen today. But I’m warm enough.

NOTE: This was supposed to be just a caption for my snow photos. My brother wonders why people up here talk so much about the weather. We can’t help ourselves. It’s a new show every day.  I know this winter is crazy everywhere. Right now it’s flooding in California, land of perpetual drought. How is your weather? Tell us what’s happening at your house.

In search of heat in South Beach

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I have turned into one of those women who is always freezing, whose fingers are icy when you shake hands, who wear three times as many layers of clothing as seems logical. It’s not my age, and I certainly haven’t gotten skinny. No, the pellet stove, the main source of heat at my house in the woods, is defunct again. On the Thursday before Christmas, it developed this habit of starting to light a little fire in the pot and then moaning to a stop. No more fire. No heat.

I cleaned it, scraping out a layer of pellets burned into  rock. Surely that would fix it. Nope. Little fire, moan, darkness. I hit reset 10 times that day. No go. I called the stove guy. Got the machine because a hundred other people are having stove problems  around here.

The poor stove had been working overtime for weeks, with temperatures staying in the 30s much of the time. Threats of snow and ice had not materialized here yet but Portland and places not far inland were going crazy, with cars sliding all over in the big freeze. Schools and businesses were closed. A friend in Eugene had no power for six days. Not a good time for a dead pellet stove.

I love small towns for their lack of traffic and crowds and the way everybody knows everybody. I love that I can walk into the post office and Valerie grabs my package from the stack because she knows who I am. I can walk into my favorite restaurant and they know I want iced tea with no lemon. I can park my car by the pallets of pellets at Copeland Lumber, and a guy will start loading them into the Element before I even go in to pay. They know I’m getting 15 bags, 600 pounds of processed wood. It’s all good.

But this no-heat business stinks. You see, we have no gas out here in South Beach, unless you install a big expensive tank, and most of the houses were built without electric heating systems. We have baseboard heaters in some rooms, little “Cadet” heaters installed in some walls, but mostly we heat our homes with wood in the form of logs or pellets. Chimneys sprout from every roof, most with metal caps that swing around in the wind.

We used to have two woodstove shops in town. One went out of business. The other is trying to take up the slack, but there are too many stoves out here, and one must wait for an opening to get service. I was lucky the guy made it out here last Wednesday, after only six days and a chilly Christmas. He took one look and declared that I need a new thermocouple, a little piece that sticks out above the burn pot and enables the stove to light and stay lit. He would have to order one. It would not be here before New Year’s. Looking around at my assortment of plug-in heaters, he sympathized. “Well, you have some heat.”

Yes, enough to stay alive but not enough to be comfortable. Plus I have knocked out the circuit breaker six times so far. My electrical system cannot take the added stress of a plug-in heater plus almost anything else in the kitchen. If I want to use the microwave or toaster oven, I need to go without heat for a while. At least now I know exactly what to do when suddenly everything goes dark and silent. It’s number thirteen on the circuit board. My electrician dad says I can’t keep doing this; it’s dangerous. He says you get 20 amps on most circuits. The heater takes 12.5. That doesn’t leave much for extras, and if the refrigerator cycles on, it’s over. Maybe I don’t need the microwave.

The picture above was taken at 10:21 a.m. The sun was shining outside, and the three-foot-tall electric heater I bought with Christmas money two years ago had been on full blast all night. It wasn’t going to get much warmer.

People who live in snow country are thinking I’m a wimp. It’s not like it’s 30 below. I do have sources of heat. Remember the bedroom I moved out of a couple months ago? I have moved back in because that bed has an electric blanket, and I can’t afford to buy one for the other, larger bed. It also has a baseboard heater that I use reluctantly because it’s too close to the sheets. In addition, it has space on the floor for Annie, who can no longer jump up onto the bed and has decided she is not going to freeze alone.

The master bedroom, pretty though it is, is just too cold. In fact, when I was cleaning out Fred’s clothes after he died, most of his neckties had mold on them. It’s that cold and damp back there.

I have a baseboard heater in my office, too, but I only feel it if I’m sitting right here typing and only on my legs. My hands feel like iced bones with a thin covering of skin.

This morning, the frost-crisped lawn and leaves are edged in white. The sidewalk and driveway sparkle with flecks of ice. My phone weather app claims it’s 35 degrees now but feels like 26. I know it’s worse elsewhere. On the radio, the guy said it was below zero in Bend, Oregon. I’m not going to Bend or anywhere east. I’m from San Jose. I don’t do snow and ice.

Next time I go house-hunting, my first question will be: What kind of heat does it have?

Meanwhile, my neighbor across the street walks around his house in shorts as smoke billows out his chimney. It’s actually hot in his double-wide. Maybe it’s time to go borrow a cup of sugar.

May you be warm and healthy in the new year, and may the world come to its senses.

Photo excursion up Beaver Creek

beaver-creek-122116mI have been scouting with my cameras for covers for my upcoming novel currently titled “Up Beaver Creek.” I’m not sure I’ve got the right shot yet–next time I should avoid shooting in early afternoon on a rare sunny day–but in this week between the holidays, I thought I’d share a few pictures with you.

beaver-creek-122116fThere are numerous Beaver creeks in Oregon and in other states. This one is just north of Seal Rock about the middle of the Oregon Coast. From Ona Beach, it travels east through marshes, farms, and hills. Sometimes it’s a wide river, and sometimes it divides up into trickling fingers that meet again later.

beaver-creek-122116bbMore on the book to come.

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All images copyright Sue Fagalde Lick 2016

 

 

No, these aren’t Christmas trees

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I squinted to read the orange sign up ahead as Annie dragged me up 98th Street. Even with glasses, I can’t always make out the letters. Logging? Wait. Logging?

The road splits by the big house with the twin Blue Heeler dogs who always howl when we pass. The upper road, 98th Court, is graveled and wild. The lower road, dark and tree-shaded, is mostly paved. After a short straight stretch, it makes a 180-degree turn at the blue house where Annie and her siblings were born.

Up ahead, I saw massive trucks and bulldozers. I saw men with hardhats. I saw that the trees enclosed in that big curve in the road were gone or lying in the bushes waiting to be moved onto log trucks and taken away. Jagged stumps remained, some of them several feet in diameter. It smelled like Christmas. The road was several inches deep in mud and sawdust. In shock, I pulled out my phone and took pictures. I asked a flagger stopping traffic what was going on. Something about the airport approach was the most he could say. We live a half mile south of the Newport Municipal Airport. Apparently the trees were in the way.

Tree-lover that I am, I tried to wrap my head around the fact that we grow all kinds of plants and harvest them. Why not trees? These trees are spruce, hemlock and red alder. We cut down evergreens for Christmas trees, put them up in our houses, cover them with decorations and throw them out two weeks later. How is this any worse? People clear space in the forest to build their houses, their cities, and their airports. And yet, this felt so vicious, so lacking in respect for trees that had been in this forest much longer than we have.

Beyond the work site, the forest remains untouched, dark, cool and green. We walked a ways and gazed across Thiel Creek. So beautiful.

It was getting late, and Annie was starting to limp again. This year, she has begun battling dysplasia and arthritis. Her spirit is willing, but her hips disagree.

I saw a tall, slim woman coming toward us. A new neighbor who lives on 98th Street, she was coming to see the trees, too. She was nearly in tears. It’s like killing animals, she said. Trees are sentient beings. She told me about a meeting happening Monday at 1 p.m. at the airport. I said I’d be there.

We gathered around a table in the upstairs meeting room at the airport, neighbors who knew each other and neighbors who were meeting for the first time. We ranged in age from 60s to 90s. Emotions ran high, as they will when one’s property is threatened. I felt for Melissa Roman, the public works official trying to explain the situation. People got red-faced, standing and yelling. Their voices shook with barely contained tears. How could you do this? You’re ruining our neighborhood! How come nobody warned us? It’s all about money, isn’t it?

The poor woman was just trying to do her job. When you mix cities and nature, there’s always a conflict, she said, exhibiting great patience when I would have been in tears. She’s doing her best.

Here’s the deal. One of the airport’s two runways has been remodeled and the navigation system upgraded. Although earlier environmental studies didn’t show a problem, when planes actually got ready to start flying off that runway, the trees on the 3.14-acre section around which 98th Street curved blocked the navigation equipment. That land is private property, owned by a local developer. The city negotiated a plan in which Integrated Resource Management—foresters, not loggers, she stressed–would cut down the trees. Once the logging is finished, they will cover the remaining slash with plastic until spring, then burn it. After allowing time for the land to recover, they will plant new trees. They will also repair the road where their trucks have damaged it.

For those who mourn the death of the trees, at least they are going to a good cause. At the last minute, arrangements were made to send the logs to the Siletz River for a salmon habitat restoration project. Much better than the wood chipper.

I can live with all of this, but my house doesn’t overlook the destruction, nor do I have to drive through the trucks and mud every day to get to work. Plus, well, if you buy a house near an airport, you have to expect to make some concessions. This isn’t half as bad as what I have seen in San Jose and other big cities where entire neighborhoods were leveled.

However, just when people were starting to calm down, Roman dropped a bomb. In the years since the airport was built in 1944, our few blocks of houses have been exempted from the requirements of the “Maintenance Protection Zone” in which we sit. Not anymore. Within the next year, the city will be asking us for easements on our property to cut down trees that rise higher than they should be in the airport area. Although most of us live on county land, because the airport is in the city of Newport, they have power over the situation.

Ooh, that made people mad.

As long as I live on my land, nobody’s cutting down my trees, said one resident.

I’ve been taking care of those trees for over 40 years, said the very old man beside me.

Me, I thought, well my trees need some thinning out, and if the city will pay for it . . . What can I say? I love my trees, but I also worry about them falling on my house.

Throughout the two-hour meeting, I took notes because that’s what I always did as a reporter. I also tried to steer the conversation away from attacks on Roman, who was doing her best. I can see both sides. We need the airport; we love our trees. It’s a bitch being the person from city hall that everybody hates. The old trees were beautiful. The new trees will be, too.

About 10 years ago, I interviewed the previous airport manager for an article for Oregon Business Magazine. He talked about plans to cut down trees. I was shocked. I asked questions, I did research, and I mourned the passing of the forest. Back then, trees were cut, but they grew back, and these will, too. Meanwhile, Santa will find it much easier to get to our chimneys on Saturday night.

Merry Christmas, my friends!

P.S. You can read about the airport-forest situation in the last chapter of my book Shoes Full of Sand. The ebook is only $2.99, and the paperback is also reasonably priced.

P.P.S. This is my first attempt at a slide show here on WordPress. Let me know how it works for you.