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.

Oh, the mud!

Mix two nine-month-old lab-terrier puppies, a rainy day and a pile of dirt and what do you get? Mud. I have never seen so much mud in my life. In fact, the robe I’m wearing right now is decorated with muddy pawprints, and my husband is wiping more paw prints off the kitchen floor because he accidentally let the dogs in. I had already mopped the floor and was trying very hard to keep it clean.

Annie, the smaller but trickier dog, added some mud prints to the green chair by the window. I barely got her back outside when her brother Chico (the one on the chair) slipped in. What’s a little more mud on linoleum? But in the laundry room, where the dogs live, oh, the horror. The floor is completely covered with mud and so are the tops of the dogs’ crates. The edges of the walls and the washer and dryer and are also paw-painted with mud. It’s everywhere, including smeared all over the sliding doors in the dining area. No matter how many times I wipe the dogs’ paws, they get dirty again. It’s only November. We’re in for many more months of rain. Ahhh!

There’s hope for today though. Blue sky shows through the holes in the clouds and they’re predicting some sunshine for the next couple days. Time to dry out and clean up. Welcome to life in Oregon.

Of course we could have snow and below-freezing temperatures. We don’t want that. Or do we? Snow covers the dirt, which means no mud.

Happy day after Thanksgiving to all.

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy turkey day to everyone. It’s raining here, but not too hard. It’s cold, but not too cold. Being far from family, we hadn’t planned to make a big deal out of Thanksgiving. In fact, the plan was for me to go to church and then make enchiladas while the husband watched football all day. But my stepson surprised us by showing up yesterday. He was camping east of Sisters and got snowed out. Since we had a turkey in the freezer, he requested a traditional dinner, so the bird is in the oven, the pie is cooling, the Jello is made and it feels like a holiday now. I’ve been burning up the telephone lines calling people in California. They’re all having turkey dinners with other family members, so things are as they should be.

Church was nice this morning, just a small group in our old-fashioned brick sanctuary near the beach. This version of Sacred Heart Church was built in 1952, the year I was born. We all brought bags of food for the poor, and the sermon was about all the things we have to be grateful for. After Mass, Father Brian said he would be grateful if we’d take the 2008 hymnals out of their jackets and put in the 2009 books. We assembled a work party in the hall and were done in no time. That’s a small town for you. When there’s something to be done, we all join in.

My friend Georgia, who sings with me in the choir, was there in her baseball cap and no makeup. She’s got a nasty sinus infection and a cracking voice that sounds like a 13-year-old boy’s. When I stopped at the grocery store for yams and Cool Whip, she was pulling in. She picked up a bottle of wine, saying that was going to be her Thanksgiving dinner. Hey, whatever makes you feel good.

The store was full of people buying one bag worth of stuff, all the forgotten items somebody sent them out to get. While I was in line at the register, Michael the stepson called to request a lemon. I’m not sure what he’s going to do with it, but off I went for a lemon. Now he’s busy working magic with the yams.

Newport, OR is the county seat, with a population of approximately 10,000. The weather and lack of jobs keep us from growing much larger, but it’s the kind of place where you meet friends everywhere you go, and I like that. This week, the public works department wound lighted wreaths around all the light poles and strung lights around City Hall. It is so pretty at night. I’ll try to get a picture soon. Next Saturday the Nye Beach Christmas tree will be lit in front of Nana’s Bistro and I’ll join the wandering musicians visiting the local shops. Soon we will also have our lighted boat parade in Yaquina Bay and the Festival of Trees up at the Agate Beach Best Western. It’s a nice time to be here.

And our puppies, Chico and Annie, huge at nine months, are getting to sleep inside by the pellet stove, the light of the fire shining in their eyes, the scent of turkey wafting past their nostrils.

Happy Holidays.

More Beaver lore


Yesterday at Rite Aid, they were selling a game called Beaveropoly, just like good old Monopoly, except the box was orange and the streets were football-related.

Not to leave out Oregon’s other big team, a lady in line at the pharmacy had on a bright Duck-yellow fleece jacket with a green University of Oregon logo. These people like their football.

I thought folks were nuts about the 49ers, back in the days when I could hear the game blaring from every apartment in the complex where I lived near San Francisco. Of course they were winning then.

I promised to find out why this is the Beaver State. I guessed right. The beaver, named state animal in 1969, was a big part of the early settlers’ economy. They trapped beavers for their thick brown fur. In fact, they trapped almost all of them, so the state had to start protecting beavers and they have come back. Oregon likes beavers so much, there’s a big yellow picture of one on the back of the state flag.You can find more interesting facts about this stuff at the Oregon the Beaver State web site.

Now here’s a good question, to which I don’t have the answer: Why was the kid in the old “Leave It to Beaver” show called Beaver? And what was his real name?

Watch out for those beavers and ducks

Last Saturday on my way to and from Beaverton, OR, where I joined other authors for a reading at Borders, I ran into the Beaver hordes in Corvallis. Orange shirts everywhere. Somehow my morning trip matched up perfectly with those about to attend the Oregon State football game. And then when I got onto I-5, the cars heading south wore a blend of Beaver orange and black and Ducks yellow and green. Flags waved from the cars as if they were all part of a presidential motorcade. Apparently the University of Oregon also had a game that day. I don’t follow Oregon college football so I had no idea. However, being married to a football fanatic from Southern California, I could tell you when USC was playing.

I came back through Corvallis right after the Beavers game ended. Picture cars lined up for miles, the exit to the coast blocked with orange cones, men in orange vests directing traffic through the intersections. I thought I’d never get home. The last lap is a dark, two-lane road along the Yaquina River. I had headlights in my rear-view mirror all the way to the coast from beer-fueled, truck-driving Beaver fans anxious to continue the celebration in Newport.

People around here are crazy for the Beavers and the Ducks. In two weeks, they play each other in the game known as the Civil War. I’m not going anywhere near the stadium that day.

One has to wonder about teams named for ducks and beavers. What happened to fierce animals and wild warriors? A duck? I always thought I’d like to be a duck. Not only are many pretty, but they can swim, walk and fly. But they just eat bugs, right?

As for beavers, I recently learned that they are rodents. What makes them rodents is that their teeth keep growing. They chew wood to keep them from getting too long. They make elaborate dams, live there a while, then move on. Like Californians.

Both teams have the ugliest uniforms. I guess you can only do so much with orange and black and green and yellow. Of course my college team, the San Jose State University Spartans, has beautiful blue and gold uniforms but are not usually big winners.

We have some interesting logos here. The Oregon State Beavers have a vicious-looking beaver with gigantic teeth, wild eyes and long hair blowing backwards. They also have an O linked with an S. The University of Oregon goes by just a stylized green O. That’s it; an O. Now of course both universities ignore the fact that other colleges exist whose names also start with an O. In Oregon, it’s Ducks and Beavers. Period.

It seems ironic that I was headed to Beaverton the day I got caught in the Beaver football traffic. I even heard a commercial talking about the Church of the Beaver. Say what?

Oregon is known as the Beaver State. I have never seen a live beaver, but the word is certainly everywhere. In fact, we have a Beaver Creek down the road from us. My husband Fred and I kayaked down it a couple years ago in driving rain. In August. Become one with the water, our guide said. Yeah, right. But that’s another story.

I’m going to have to do some research on why this state is so beaverlicious. I’m thinking it has something to do with the hunters who made their livings collecting the beavers’ lush pelts. Stay tuned.

And check the football schedule before you drive through Corvallis or Eugene on a Saturday in November.

I welcome your comments, corrections and education for this California transplant who still doesn’t get all the nuances of being an Oregonian. Enlighten me, please.

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