Friday, August 31, 2007


It always works this way. I never take pictures of the people I spend the most time with.

I see her all the time. If I want to know what she looks like, I'll just drop by.

I should know by now that life doesn't work that way. The person I see every day may move tomorrow.

I never took pictures of Shelli until I moved away and went back for a visit. Now I've got a nice little collection of photos proving we've done fun stuff together. I guess I'll have to do the same with Sara. Because, despite the fact that we've been prayer/Goodwill/tea/hang out buddies for the last year and a half, I don't have a single picture of her, except the one we took for the church directory. And, trust me, that doesn't count.

Okay, I know I should have seen the warning signs like the FOR SALE sign in her front yard, her husband's job interview in another town, and the fact that she kept stacking packed boxes in her garage. But I was in denial.

So now she's gone, not from my life but from my town. I can still pop up and see her from time to time, but I'll miss those spontaneous trips to dumpster dive, those lazy cups of tea, the way she breaks out in prayer without even missing a beat, the way she always seems to know exactly what punishment to meat out for every circumstance.

Sara, I miss you already. I'll be up there soon.

And I'll have my camera in hand.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Back to Walking in the Dark

Not to Yada, Yada through 11 legs of the race (including Christine's incredible feat of shaving almost two minutes off each mile, David's sub-eleven minute miles, Rici's walk in the dark with nothing to light her way but the moon, and Kathy's cheerful six miles), but let's get back to me.

I had the team run me ahead to my relay station so I could spend some time in the port-a-potty. A combination of nerves, heat, motion, an odd assortment of food, and the fact that it was 3:30 a.m. left me feeling more like finding a bed to crawl into than going on a trudge in the dark. Bonnie, our fearless driver, even offered to walk my leg if I didn't think I could do it.

"I'll try..." I said, promising myself I'd take it easy.

It was the strangest feeling, walking away from the relay station with its handful of generator-powered lights. A motorcycle patrol up ahead shone its headlight across the pavement and, beyond that, total darkness.

As I approached the motorcycle, I noticed a sign pointing off the the left.

Elk Reserve. I was supposed to pass the elk reserve, but I thought I was supposed to stay on the same road. With no walkers in sight in front of me, I made the decision to keep going straight. As soon as I crossed the Elk Reserve Road, the lines on the one I'd chosen disappeared. No white line edging the street. No center yellow line. More than once I wandered off the side of the blacktop into gravel.

I glanced behind me. The light from the relay station had disappeared. No walkers, no vans, no anybody. I hoped I'd gone the right way. If I hadn't, how long would it take my team to find me and turn me around?

I had chosen to walk with a headlamp. Its small circle of light illuminated a gray circle of pavement in front of me, but beyond the reach of its beam, total darkness. Frogs chirped in the surrounding woods. Twigs snapped and set my imagination to work. A van zoomed by, but not a race van. I looked back again. Where was my team?

Finally, a pair of runners approached and passed me from behind, the first of many involved in The Portland to Coast high school running challenge. I breathed a sigh of relief and quickened my pace.

Funny how time stretches out as your imagination is at work. I couldn't have been on the road more than 7 minutes before my van approached and my team shouted encouragement. Bonnie paced with me and lit the road ahead for a while. Then, with a mile and half to go, the van pulled out ahead to prepare the next walker for his leg.

That last twenty minutes of walking was my favorite part of the race. I knew I was on the right road; I was feeling pretty good; and I saw another walker up ahead -- someone in striking distance. I passed her with a mile to go and covered the rest of the distance in the dark again.

This time, though, I reveled in the darkness, enjoying its peace on solitude for its very uniqueness. Those twenty minutes made the whole trip worthwhile for me.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Walking in the Dark, Part III

When I pictured the race, I imagined walking in a pack all the way from Portland to Seaside, but that's not how it happens. Race officials send off about 20 teams every 15 minutes to avoid congestion. By the time your team has covered a few legs, racers are pretty well spread out.

I walked the last miles into Scappoose, a distance I was used to covering, but never in the middle of the day. The 85 degrees reflected off pavement and sidewalk to feel like 185. When Joanne handed me the baton, I stepped out with great confidence that I could catch the walker 200 yards ahead. As I walked, though, he grew gradually smaller and smaller in the distance.

Another walker passed on my left. I quickened my pace to try to keep up, but she was much too fast. Then another, an older lady with a long gray ponytail, raced walked past so quickly that I could almost feel the breeze she created.

Good thing my team wasn't competing to win.

There was plenty to see on the route. Cars and trucks zoomed past on the highway. I could catch glimpses of the river to my right between the trees. As I approached the town, I passed a beautiful nursery and a not so beautiful ling cod processing plant. Other teams had scrawled encouraging messages on the sidewalk in chalk. The most entertaining activity by far, though, was watching the race vans leap frog along the road.

Support vans are not allowed to follow their walkers, but they can pull to the side of the road wherever there's space and shout encouragement, offer water and advice. One of the vans that kept passing me had Dorothy sitting on top of it with "Follow the Yellow Brick Road" emblazoned in window paint across the back. Another had a huge red plywood high-heeled shoe on top and still another sported the skull and crossbones.

But my favorite van by far was the gray one that read "Salt and Light Power Company".

One more person strolled past me as we neared the finish line. I only saw four racers on my leg. I was road kill three times.


But my team still cheered me in as I passed the baton to Ron.

Monday, August 27, 2007

A Walk in the Dark, Part II

Let me back up just a little and fill you in on why I was walking alone in the dark.

17,000 participants.

127 miles.

12 walkers on our team.

29 hours and 43 minutes.

The Portland to Coast Relay, the walkers' counterpart to the Hood to Coast running relay is the largest walking relay in the world. I'd considered joining our church team before, but several factors prohibited me.

Until this year.

Our start time was 8:30 a.m. on Friday. Our van held the first 6 walkers. I would walk the 4th and 16th legs, just 4 miles a leg. No big deal. Except that all the unknowns and expectations I place on myself started building up a ball in my stomach. Would I be able to beat my regular time? Would I drag the team down. No, they assured me. It wasn't about how long it takes, but about building friendships, facing challenges, supporting each other.

At 8:29:50, we started the countdown.


Our first walker, Chelan, took off along the Portland waterfront and mounted the Hawthorne bridge. We made the first of many visits to the port-a-potty, jumped in the van and headed off to cheer on our first walker.

(to be continued)
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Saturday, August 25, 2007

Walking in the Dark

Many times, at many phases of my life, I've walked in the dark.

My earliest memories of the dark are of standing outside the ferry terminal, stomping my feet to keep warm and waiting for guests to arrive in the middle of the night. Times when the northern lights were visible were always worth a trip outside, especially when the dancing green and purple sky curtains reflected off our snow-covered yard. Trick or Treating meant a dark time stroll through the neighborhood.

When I was older, I walked to school in the dark. But not pitch dark since a string of orange-yellow streetlights hummed out their droning tune.

I used to meet a friend, Tina, to walk in the dark around Harding park in later years. Then again, we always had bluish street light filtering through the trees.

In Africa, a night time walk could remind me of how different I was from those around me. Darkness should have blacked out the difference between black and white. But with my glow-in-the dark skin, I had a distinct disadvantage.

Even though I've taken all these night time walks, I've never walked in complete darkness, all alone, with no person, house or vehicle in sight.

Just me and the dark and a back country road.

Never, until last night.

(to be continued)

Thursday, August 23, 2007

summer smells

In the cartoon Rose is Rose, it doesn't take much to turn mother to child. A water sprinkler, a wad of cotton candy, a pretty flower all have the power to shrink her down to a time when life was new, fresh and exciting.

Nothing pulls me back in time like a smell from my past. Creosote and salt water, wood smoke, mossy banks holding in the moisture of life...

For some reason, my strongest smell associations remind me of my grandparents. The scent of fresh tomatoes and dirt and hot pavement conjures memories of Grandpa Hugh. Granny Ruth smelled like fabric and starch. Just to brush past a juniper shrub floods my mind with memories of Grandpa Wyatt. Grandma Alta smelled of fabric, salt water and green onions.

Then, of course, there was Old Spice and Soap on a Rope.

What smells conjure memories for you?

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

My Long Lost Twin

When I was in High School, I had a twin. It didn't matter that she was 3 years younger and Chinese. We did everything together for a season. We dressed alike, hung out, even sang some pretty ridiculous songs over and over and OVER to learn the harmony.

I moved away, she moved on. We both got on with our lives and lost touch with each other.

She called yesterday. She just moved to my town.

I wonder, will it be one of those relationships that doesn't diminish with the passage of time? Or will we have an awkward start? Have we grown in such different ways that we won't have anything in common? Will she be so busy with her life and I with mine that we won't see each other or will we be twins again.

Honestly, I can't imagine buying matching outfits, but maybe we'll have to try out a chorus of "We're Melody and Harmony and Harmony and Melody and everything we say and do is sweet just like our song."

The difference is this time we'll be annoying our kids instead of our parents.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Those Dirty Fingernails Were Worth It

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A Year Ahead

As I celebrate being 39 for the first time, I don't feel too much impact. Maybe it's like Sara says - it's just a number. Or maybe it's that I've spent the last 10 months already thinking of myself as 39.

My husband is 10 months older than I am and, for some reason, when he has a birthday, I feel like I'm that old, too. I think I just can't hold too many facts in my head at once, so it's easier to round up to the next year. That way I only have to remember one number.

Most years my birthday comes and goes without much fanfare. This year, though, I'm happy to say that I'll be spending the evening with friends and family, indulging in a feast of fresh Alaskan seafood and group games. I think the last time I had a party was almost 10 years ago when my team kidnapped me and took me out to Alt Munchen, a fabulous German restaurant in Lome. (Thanks, guys!)

39's not so bad, but in 2 months I'll think I'm 40!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

State of Fear

Why does the media feel the responsibility to provide daily reasons for mass hysteria? Everyone on the news is either "Devastated", "Outraged", or completely shocked to find out the nice man next door is a serial killer.

It seems to me that with the "shocking" and "horrifying" news about massive toy recalls, anchor men and women are slightly delighted underneath their masks of concern. What a tremendous opportunity to expose the incompetence of big business, question the wisdom of buying imported goods, and give parents yet another reason to lie awake worrying.

I'm neither shocked nor horrified that toys with lead paint have entered our market place. What does shock me is that parents are surprised that some of those toys have magnets in them. Have these parents never touched their children's toys? Of course they have magnets. That's what makes them cool and interesting. Don't all those toys with small parts and magnets also say, "Contains small parts. Not for children under 3 years of age"?

A little prudence can go a long way, but I think we're being fed so many lines about all the things we should fear that when something big comes along that we really SHOULD fear, we'll be too desensitized to react appropriately.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Nice To Know

I'm not much of a daredevil so I don't tend to get myself in sticky situations very often. Still, it's nice to know that if I did, chances are someone would rescue me.

For all the bad things people can say and have been saying about America, there are still a lot of wonderful aspects of living in this country. One is that we place a premium on the worth of a human life.

I watched a rescue yesterday, what I suspect was a training mission. For over two hours, this helicopter hovered beside the North Head Lighthouse. Its rotors flattened the water below and forced back the tide. From time to time a rescuer in orange would descend to the cliff where two men clung. Finally, the two stranded men were lifted to safety. Then the helicopter started circling over the waves, first in low tight circles, then in widening, higher ones.

Not that I would ever be tempted to climb the cliff at North Head (no comments, Lori F.!) but isn't it good to know that if I did, someone might see me and come for me? On the other hand, perhaps we Americans rely so much on our safety nets that we feel we can get by with anything.

Then again, isn't that human nature? It seems like the apostle Paul said something about people sinning more so they could get more grace. As if God is some giant rescue helicopter who will swoop in at the last minute and save us from our own stupidity again and again and again.

Oh wait. He will.

It's nice to know.

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Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Stories that Change the World

Story is a powerful tool. I can't quote much of what Plato, Aristotle, or Caesar said, but I could recount fables by Aesop all day. The words of the prophets get a little muddled up in my mind, but Jesus' parables are there to stay.

Great stories can change the world. Here are a few that have done just that:

Uncle Tom's Cabin put a face on the cruelty of slavery. It did what years of debate and analysis could not do and ushered in the Civil War.

To Kill A Mockingbird, likewise, exposed the voicelessness of the downtrodden and became a story the civil rights movement could rally around.

The Good Samaritan tells, better than any theological textbook, what it means to be a Christian, a neighbor, a lover of mankind.

On a smaller scale, there are the books that shaped me personally-- stories like Tisha, Deadline, The Trouble With Jenny's Ears (seriously), The Great Divorce, and Anne of Green Gables. Little pieces of these stories lodged in my soul and found a place to grow there.

Some might add 1984, Animal Farm, or the Lord of the Rings Trilogy though many of these classics gave more commentary on the situation of the day rather than seeking to change it.

IYHO (In your humble opinion), what stories have changed the world? Did they change the world at large or just your own corner of it?

Sunday, August 05, 2007

A Blessing or a Curse?

I don't plant zucchini. Never have. Never will.

It might be because of the canned zucchini Mom made us as kids (the kind in tomato sauce that makes your teeth squeak) or perhaps it's because of the mysterious qualities of the gourd.

Consider how zucchini grows. It hides under leaves until it's the size of a city bus. In a single day, a zucchini can grow to 27 times its original size. As a gardener, you never want to look at a sweet, succulent small green zucchini and say, "Oh, look how cute. I'll pick that one tomorrow." Tomorrow it will be bigger than your dog.

Then there's the way zucchini multiply. If you pick 3 and use 2, you will have 7 left over. I promise.

Also, zucchini has a way of sneaking around. It likes to curl up in paper grocery sacks with its friends and hide in obvious places like the front seat of your car, on your front porch, or on your kitchen counter. Neighbors ring your doorbell and run, leaving a whole flock of the green torpedoes behind. That way you can't refuse them the joy of sharing their garden produce with you.

Share with me all you like, but please hold the zucchini.

(I don't know if it's rubbing off or if it's an inborn trait, but my cucumbers are starting to show some of these same sneaky qualities as their cousins)

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Self-discovery du Jour

I would make a terrible migrant worker.

  1. I don't like working in direct sun (a remnant of a time when only mad dogs and Englishmen...)
  2. I can only lean over for about 20 minutes at a time.
  3. Wet plants make my arms itch.
  4. I like to nibble as I harvest.
  5. I like having my own house with my own stuff.


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