Snow’s not so bad if you think like a kid




After whining about the snow here in South Beach, known for surfing not skiing, I received my stepson’s happy reaction to the white stuff in Portland by e-mail and decided to stop watching the disaster reporting on TV and embrace the weather. I put on my thermals and boots, stocking cap, gloves and heavy coat and went out with the dogs. I laughed as they pawed at the snow and ate chunks of it as if the yard were a giant snowcone. I savored the crunch of my boots on the snow, tested the top powdery layer, the brittle frozen center and the solid ice at the bottom and measured the depth with a ruler: approximately two inches. I snapped endless photos and threw snowballs for the dogs to chase. I let my inner child out to play.

The second morning dawned blue and pink, and we had sun on snow that had been whipped into peaks like frosting by the dogs’ running and wrestling. They played for hours, seemingly unaware that it was 25 degrees. The front-yard snow lay perfectly smooth, except for bird tracks, like tiny quotation marks. The driveway still showed the tire-tracks from our brave newspaper carrier and my footprints to the mailbox—which was frozen shut.

Alas, my giant blue hydrangea plant sits broken under the weight of frozen snow, but the junipers, rhodendrons and azaleas stand strong, and I’m hopeful for my rosemary and lavender.

I will be so glad to see grass and clear pavement again, but that’s not going to happen for a few more days. A blend of rain and snow is predicted for today and tomorrow, but the temperature may actually get up to 40. Meanwhile, there is something magical about all this amazing snow. I wonder what I could use to sled down the hill. Hmm.

Snow? But It’s the Beach!

I have never seen so much snow falling in my life. We live on the Oregon coast, near the beach, at sea level. Before we moved here, we came up in February for the annual Seafood and Wine Festival. It was snowing then, but lightly, and everyone said, “Oh, that never happens.” Wrong. It seems to snow more each year. The above picture was taken Sunday morning, before the heavy snow came. The dogs had a great time sliding around and eating chunks of ice. Now everything is solid white, it’s about 25 degrees, and the dogs are huddled together on the big green chair in the living room.

Thank God I did my singing in Nye Beach on Saturday when it was merely cold. I woke up Sunday to the so-called “Winter Wonderland.” I have learned over the years that it’s only a wonderland for skiers and characters in fairy tales. Those of us who need to work in it, drive on it or who have broken heaters don’t enjoy it so much.

Yesterday I made it to church during a lull in the storm, zipped to Fred Meyer’s to buy a few last Christmas gifts and made it home just as the snow started to fall. I spent hours looking out the window, amazed. So much snow, so thick. So beautiful. But this California kid keeps thinking, All right, I got my photos. Enough already. There’s some blue in the sky, and it is absolutely gorgeous out my window, but we’re afraid to go anywhere because everything is turning to ice and expected to stay that way for several days.

Now I know you folks who live in real snow country are thinking, big deal, a couple inches for a few days, but we Silicon Valley expatriates are not wired for snow. I don’t have chains for the new car, and I forgot to wrap the pipes. Mostly I worried about the dogs turning into pupsicles in the laundry room where they sleep.

Up in Portland, where the weather is worse, our son Michael rode his bike to the store. He only crashed once, he said. Unfortunately, he was carrying his groceries and watched his milk trickle one way and his hot chocolate the other. Oh well. He’s young. He sent photos of snow angels.

Singing to the Salami


Scene: Nye Beach, the frou-frou section of Newport, 4:15 p.m. Saturday

I walk into the Nye Beach Market and notice a boy and two girls sitting around a gingerbread structure. It isn’t a house. It looks like a pile of squares. Gingerbread condos? I am weary, having roamed from shop to shop seeking willing merchants with actual customers since 3:00.

“Would you like some music?” I ask, spreading my gear on the cushy red chairs. “Why not?” says the young woman behind the counter. “It might just be us though.” Whatever. I whip through “Feliz Navidad” for the third time today, followed by “The Marvelous Toy” and “Mary Did You Know?” As I sing, struggling to be heard over the refrigerators, I realize those are two-foot-long salamis hanging above a counter full of sweets, including three-quarters of a chocolate cheesecake. Two women come in and browse shelves of chocolates and fancy olives while the boy leans over the cake, carefully frosting the edges. Next time I look, all the kids are licking the leftover frosting out of a bowl.

I decide to move on.

I have already been to Coastal Breezes, a knick-knack shop where Mr. and Mrs. Santa waved at me coming and going while I sang to patio chairs occupied by stuffed Santa figurines. Every time a truck came by, I lost audio contact.

Next I walked up the hill to the wine shop, where I expected to find our old friend Wendy behind the counter. Who were these strangers surrounded by wine-tasters talking the language of color, nose and provenance? “Would you like some music?” I asked. The two men behind the bar shrugged. “I guess we’ll turn the jazz off,” the older man said. The other man just kept talking. And talking and talking. As I squeezed between the wine racks and sang, my voice cracked. “You need some wine,” someone suggested. “No,” I said. “It would coat my throat.” Besides, I knew I was just unnerved by the haughty attitude of the audience. Wine did sound good.

I swigged my water and went on. A middle-aged couple, possibly Hispanic, came in, loudly proclaiming, “Sue Fagalde Lick,” my full name. “Who are you?” I asked the woman, but I guess she didn’t hear me over the wine clamor. Her husband followed. “Hi Sue,” he said, clearing knowing me from somewhere. “I love your books,” the woman went on. “I didn’t know you were such a beautiful singer, too.” “Oh, thank you,” I said. I had no idea who they were, but I did an extra song for their benefit.

On to the Dapper Frog gallery, where my friend Nancy works amid glass art priced at thousands of dollars. At least it was warm and pretty in there. I sang to $100 candle holders, $4,000 masks and swirly chandeliers that cost almost as much as my car. Oh, and don’t forget the lime green Buddha. I think he was only $1,500.

I was lucky to get out of there without breaking something. Nancy was the one who sent me to the market. She meant well.

Business was slow everywhere because of the weather. It was in the low 40s and the weather forecasters had bee predicting snow for tonight and tomorrow. Yes, snow on the beach. I wore so many layers I felt like one of those kids so bundled up they can’t walk. Last weekend, the weather was comfortable and dry. I played outside, and the stores were jammed, but this time, merchants twiddled their thumbs, watching their holiday profits disappear. . .

From the market, I head west. I stop at the tea shop and this old woman with hair, face and coat all the same pale yellow informs me that the tiny gift shop is open but the tea room is closed. She clearly doesn’t want company. “I’ll move on,” I say. She suggests “next door.” Uh, the Sandbar, one of the roughest bars in town? I don’t think so. Not the lingerie shop either. I consider the Chowder Bowl restaurant, but upon opening the door, I am deafened by the roar of a vacuum cleaner. Again, no.

It begins to rain hard nuggets of water that drive me to the shelter of Illingworth’s, one of the oldest gift shops in the area. As I park myself in a corner between the salt water taffy, chocolate truffles and a Christmas tree decorated all in silver, the page-boy-haired manager and her few customers welcome me and laugh when I say it’s starting to rain “or something.” “It’s that ‘something’ that worries me,” someone says. “Rain, I can handle.” Amen. By then I have set up and taken down my music stand and guitar and changed eyeglasses about 10 times. The acoustics are good, the audience complimentary. I’m staying here for the rest of my tour.

Finally it’s 5:00. Darkness has fallen, but the rain has stopped. I pack up and head past the lighted shops to my Honda.

Across from my car sits Café Mundo, sort of like a restaurant in a treehouse. I’ll have to describe it in a future column, but the light glows red from the windows and I think about how I’d like to slide into a chair, take off my coat and order something intensely alcoholic. Lacking that, I would settle for going home and throwing myself on the floor in the corpse pose for a day or two, but it’s time for real life, dogs at the door, everybody needing dinner, chores to finish, and one more chance to practice my piano music for tomorrow morning’s Mass.

Feliz Navidad, already.

Was it born in a bakery?

Annie and I were walking Thiel Creek Road again yesterday when we came upon a young neighbor with a baby in a stroller. I was prepared to discipline my pup if she tried to jump on them, but the stroller made her nervous, so she wouldn’t go near it. “Pretty dog,” the mom called. I know I should have said something back like, “Beautiful baby,” but it didn’t come out of my mouth. I’m as unused to babies as Annie is.

Anyway, we were distracted by the arrival of the woman’s dog, a dachshund which had often come roaring out into the street to bark at my dogs. I always worried about her getting hit by a car. From a distance one could barely see her. Turns out she had already been hit. A while back, the doxie almost died when a car bashed into her, cracking her skull. But she has recovered and was back out in the street, barking at us while its owner hollered, “Punkin, come, Punkin!” Finally Punkin’s owner picked her up and I hurried Annie up the hill and around the corner out of sight.

Actually I don’t know if the dachshund’s name was Punkin or Pumpkin; lots of people mispronounce that word. But the bigger question is why name a dog after the big orange Halloween squash? Especially a dog who is neither orange nor big?

It gets worse. Last week when I was walking Chico, we ran into an older man with a black dog he’d picked up at the Humane Society. The dog’s name was Donut, he said, shaking his head. Can you imagine saying, “Donut, heel”? What if the dog thinks you’re saying “Do not heel”? Either way, Donut was not heeling. As the man admired my reasonably well-behaved pooch, I said lessons had helped us a lot. Yeah, he’s thinking about it, the man said as the dog pulled him halfway across the street.

So why are people around here naming their dogs after food? Mine have always had human names. But I guess that’s nuts, too. Back in the good old days, dogs had names like Blackie and Spot.

Then there was the dog Grandpa Fagalde tried to name after the first President Bush. The dog didn’t respond, must have been a Democrat, so Grandpa renamed him Skipper. Don’t ask me why. But the mutt barked so much I think his middle name must have been “Shut Up!”

Take a walk. You never know what you might see.

Hot yoga

Location: Waldport, on the Oregon Coast

Inside an old building that looks from the outside like half of a tin can, we gathered in a circle with our yoga mats and blankets. It was hot in there, the lights turned down, red lamps glowing off a molded ceiling that looked as if it were carpeted. It reminded me of an Indian sweat lodge.

Two yoga teachers were offering a special “restorative yoga” class to help us de-stress during the holidays. We drove through the rain to meet late on a Sunday afternoon. Although I have been doing yoga off and on since my teens and seriously for the last couple of years, this was big league yoga. Several of the students were yoga teachers, and I could tell by the way they immediately settled into deep meditation that I might not be able to keep up.

But I did. With Indian music purring in the background, the teachers, Ursula Adler from Switzerland and Brigitte Herold from Germany, led us through long, long periods of meditation, followed by rapid-fire asanas (yoga postures). I could do them, but as I looked around, I couldn’t believe how flexible some of these men and women were. Where I could barely touch my ankles, they could reach far beyond their feet. But yoga is not a competitive sport. You work from where you’re at. I must have tried too hard because I’m still sore.

The second half had us holding various poses for at least five minutes at a time. Many seemed easy enough, stretching out over a folded blanket on our fronts, backs and sides. There was chanting and soft talking as Brigitte quoted a sage who said that when we accept that the life we have is the only one we get and stop worrying about what other lives we might have led, we will stop suffering.

I keep thinking about that as I deal with various challenges ranging from stove troubles to family members and friends who are terminally ill. Couple that with last night’s sermon at Sacred Heart where we met for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. When God asks us to do something, do we say yes, like Mary? How many times do we say no to what God wants us to do because we’re busy or it seems too hard?

Back in the sweat lodge, the teacher instructed us to surrender into the poses. “You have nothing else to do,” she said. What a thought. You have nothing else to do. Not just in yoga, but in whatever we do, if we live in the moment and enjoy the one thing we’re doing, how much happier we might be.

I didn’t come here to sermonize. I just want you to picture this circle of people lying completely still, breathing softly into gray wool blankets, feeling the warmth of their breath on their own faces, red light glowing overhead, music playing softly, and this sweetly accented voice saying, “You have nothing else to do.”

Think about it.

***
Today a book called Doga arrived in my mailbox. After all this serious yoga, it is truly delightful. It’s a collection of photos of dogs doing yoga postures and explaining them to us stiff-bodied humans. Yoga comes to them naturally, and we have much to learn from our friends the dogis (pronounced DOH-gees, as in yogis). Every page makes me smile. I bought it used on Amazon.com. You can, too. Sometimes what you have to do in this moment is laugh.

Namaste.

Great Blue Heron on Thiel Creek Pond


Down the street and around the corner from our home in the Oregon coastal forest, we turn onto Thiel Creek Road, where just beyond the fire hydrant sits a pond no bigger than most swimming pools. The tree-shaded pond is dark, dotted with water spiders, newts, pine needles and an dead limb that fell last winter. Two pink blow-up floaters have run aground, shriveled hunks of plastic. I always wonder how deep the water is and imagine it is painfully cold. When I walk by at sunset, the pink of the sky reflects in the glassy water, and I am glad to live so close to this piece of nature.

On Wednesday, I was walking my dog Chico at lunchtime. It was a cool, clear November day, the air sweet and refreshing in my lungs. As we turned the corner, I heard a loud rustling and watched a great blue heron rise up in front of us, flying across the pond to perch on a tree, from which it sat watching us, tilting its head from side to side. Now, I am used to Stellar’s jays, robins, Oregon juncos and the occasional crow, but this huge and magnificent bird is a rare visitor whose wings seemed to reach from one side of the pond to the other. What a gift to see it even once.

It was still there when we came back. We walked through trees so tall I couldn’t see the tops of them. I took the dog through his training routine. Sit, stay, come, down, yes, I mean it, down. By the time we head home, he’s slowing down, starting to match his steps to mine. As we approached the pond, the heron rose up in front of us again. This time, it flew west toward the ocean. “Look, Chico, look,” I said, but the dog had his nose on the ground, sniffing the remnants of someone’s lunch.

Later, when I walked the other dog, Annie, all we saw was a squirrel, brown with a rusty chest, busily eating a pine cone. The squirrel ignored us, and Annie ignored the squirrel.

On our walks, we always see something. Maybe it’s a newt slowly crossing the road, a gopher snake, wooly bear caterpillars or the black ones that look like they wear two strings of jewels. We meet the dachshund who lives just past the pond or the limping man with two basset hounds. The flora changes with the seasons from the first trillium in early spring to wild daisies, cow parsnip, and Scotch broom so yellow it glows to the fall mushrooms that look like pancakes on sticks or the ones that hang out of the mud like jingles on a tambourine.

Thiel Creek Road is officially 98th Street now, and the creek is only visible here and there until we move farther east where the houses yield to forest and swamp, but every walk brings something new to see if we bother to look.

All Aboard the Ark

In uptown Newport, a funky old place called The Ark has always fascinated me. Built in the city’s early-1900s heyday, it started as a theater. When I arrived in 1996, it seemed to be a quirky cult-like youth hangout. Back in ’98, when I worked for the News-Times, I was sent there once to take pictures of the elaborate Christmas decorations. The lights were so dim I couldn’t see what I was doing. Picture a movie theater just before the show starts and then imagine trying to shoot photographs there with a film-type camera. Can you turn up the lights, I asked. No, they said. Needless to say, my photos weren’t great, but we got something printable out of it.

My next experience at The Ark came about two years ago when Fred and I joined some writer friends seeking a new venue for the Nye Beach Writers Series. Under new owners, the building mostly sat dark, but they offered dance classes there occasionally. When we arrived, the place was painfully cold and smelled like mildew. The mother-son team who owned it greeted us warmly enough and led us on a tour. Most of the theater seats had been replaced by cozy groupings of sofas and tables with all kinds of knick-knacks, from a ceramic elephant to an oversized xylophone. The stage held a permanent setting of chairs gathered around an electric fireplace. Cool. However, the owners are highly religious. When they insisted they would have to censor the readings to make sure we had no sex or profanity, well, that wasn’t going to work. Plus if we got a good crowd, there weren’t enough seats. And that smell, ugh. The ultimate deal-killer for me was the rat that ran across the floor right in front of me. Uh, no thank-you, ever so nice to meet you.

I went back to The Ark Friday night for a concert by the local Sweet Adelines chorus, about 30 middle-aged-to-old women in glittery Christmas sweaters. This time, the Ark was warm and smelled of popcorn from a machine in the corner. No rats. The soft lighting reflected off the revolving ball overhead. With all their families and friends, the Addies drew a big crowd, more than fit in the seats. I’m glad I got there early. The ancient theater seat felt comfortable, the acoustics were good, and the music was not bad for very far off Broadway. There’s a bar at the back of room, which is nice, but a shortage of restrooms, which is awkward when all of the performers are female. I used the men’s room. The aisles have been “carpeted” with aqua rope that is supposed to be nautical, but I kept tripping on it. Overall, the Ark is still strange and funky, definitely quirky, but I wouldn’t mind sitting in one of those chairs on the stage and singing my songs.

The Ark is one of the pillars of what Newport is calling its Deco District. In an effort to bring folks uptown and slow the constant turnover of businesses there, they’re trying to make all the buildings, new and old, fit the Deco tradition with pastel paint and faintly Moorish décor. The Ark is showing weekly old-time movies, and people can rent it for various events. Check out The Ark’s website at http://www.thearkatnewport.com to see what I’m talking about.