Washington (for B.)

One of the few blogs I follow recently commented in passing about Washington State in the USA and said, “I hear it’s breathtaking.” (You know who you are.) Although Oregon and California give it a run for the money, those states are not as geographically diverse. I moved from the state where I grew up in 1992, prior to digital photography, returned when crude digitals were just being introduced, left again in 2001, and visited selectively from that point forward. Most of these photos, therefore, are from an Introduction to Washington trip we did with our NC friends in 2017 when forest fire smoke hazed the atmosphere. Forthwith:

Smack dab in the middle of Spokane (my hometown). August 2017.
The wheat fields of the Palouse. Southeastern Washington. August 2017.
The Hoh Rainforest in Olympic National Park, Washington. March 1998. [low-res digital camera]
Beach at Kalaloch, Olympic National Park, Washington. August 2017.
Columbia River Gorge and I-90. Near Vantage, WA. August 2017.
Diablo Lake from the North Cascades Highway. North Cascades National Park. August 2017.

I could continue: the North Cascade Mountains (or the Olympics! or the volcanoes of Mounts St. Helens/Rainier/Adams/Baker); the ‘true’ Columbia Gorge from Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA east for 60-100 miles; the scablands shown here by inference in the Vantage photo; the Puget Sound inland waterway which with the Salish Sea offer a worthy challenger to Chesapeake Bay on the east coast; and…but let’s stop there. I think I need to plan another trip to Washington!

Golden times

Oregon Coast. October 2011.

In October 2011 my wife and I rented a house just outside Newport, OR, where we vacationed with my brother, his daughter, and our parents. Our last night there an amazing set of conditions created one different sunset after another. (I’ve posted other photos of it here and here.) For more than twenty minutes I stood on the bluff outside the house snapping photos as the rest of my family waited to go to dinner. We might have had reservations, I don’t remember. I ignored their growing impatience to capture these photos. Thus, the photos have an undercurrent of discontent, though I don’t regret taking them. It represented the self-centeredness they would say I’ve had all my life. I’ll have to explore this later.

A follow-on about clothes

Ocean Isle Beach, North Carolina. Still there in November 2007.

A little bit ago I wrote about the longevity of clothes in my closet and how they mark the march of time in reverse. I’ve realized lately that they have staked out the future too. Today I wore a fleece top purchased when we took a Thanksgiving getaway to Ocean Isle Beach, NC, in 2007. It’s none the worse for wear (the fleece top, not Ocean Isle Beach which might very well be the worse for wear). It dawned on me today that a heavy flannel shirt/jacket, the aforementioned fleece top, the sweatshirt I wore last week which was given to me by my employer in 2003 or 2004, etcetera, etcetera, will possibly be in my closet when I die.

Recently I’ve tried to lengthen my time between Now and Death. “It’s likely twenty-plus years, you fool,” I tell myself. Retirement planning forces one to focus on ‘how long do I have’ and then hope the money lasts that long. It fosters looking toward the end instead of the path toward the end–instead of focusing on where you are right now. And lately, I’ve been successful in realizing where I am relative to my likely End. I accomplished this by looking backward the same amount of time I can expect to live. Today it means focusing on where I was twenty years ago. “Goodness, I thought things were grand back in 2003!” he thinks. It feels many years ago when looking backward. Then why not many years ahead when looking forward?

These darn clothes tell a different tale, or at least they have their own tale to tell. “We’ll still be there in your closet. This is your wardrobe for the rest of your life.” It’s weirdly depressing and freeing at the same time.

Missing from the brochures

Lurking everywhere in Florida–black vultures. March 2010.

One thing the Florida travel brochures seem to forget to mention? How you and your car will be inundated by flocks of vultures. Everglades National Park in particular has signs warning about damage to your car. (I think part of it is their fondness for the rubber on the car wipe blades.) My wife’s in Florida right now. Maybe they’re leaving her and her group alone? (And in actuality, they’re getting to be more of nuisance throughout the southeast part of the US.)

A better Valentines Day

Clearwater Beach on the Gulf of Mexico. February 13, 2013.

Sure, flowers are nice–especially the two dozen roses I handed my wife a few hours ago. But warmth, white sand, palm trees, the Gulf, and a previous visit to the Phillies Spring Training Camp? Priceless. “Bouquet” is a fluid term.

Me stuff

When I tossed my 1968 J. C. Penney’s Towncraft wool coat, it was older than about half my co-workers. Its brown, blanket-thick fabric had kept me warm for 38 winters. It arrived in my life as I began my freshman year for high school (still to be served in a junior high school), when my mother decided my brother and I needed new coats. We both came home with nearly identical wool coats, cut at the hips, and lined with polyester faux fur. They cost $20. According to the website in2013dollars their purchase price would be $170 or so today. That’s a little difficult to believe, because I know Mom wouldn’t have spent $170 in today’s marketplace to buy me a coat, but not everything remains the same today as it was then. A gallon of gas should cost about $2.90 based on 1968, but I’m paying more than that and only briefly did I see it below $3 at all in the past twelve months.

But back to the coats. In January 2006, more than 37 years later, I threw that coat away. It had hung in our basement, only coming out when I took walks in the woods behind our house, and the coat had developed a green sheen indicating some type of moss which I couldn’t see individually had taken over the wool. I promised my wife I wouldn’t try to save it when we moved south to North Carolina.

Moments before it went into the dumpster: the 37-year-old coat. Grafton, New York, January, 2006.

I still hear my parents saying you wear clothes until you outgrow them or they wear out. Before I reached 30, I realized I wouldn’t be throwing many clothes away for the latter reason because I just didn’t wear clothes out much for reasons I still don’t understand. Sadly, I do outgrow them still, but these days it has to do with an expanding waistline. I absolutely love buying clothes. The fact that they will take years to wear out frustrates the consummation of that desire. I prod myself to ‘just give them away–if they don’t bring joy…’ but it’s a lost cause. Most of them still bring joy. A few bring sweet pain:

  • There’s a wool Pendleton wool shirt I just took off two days ago. My father wore it in the last years before he died at the end of 2013. The shirt shows absolutely no wear, and I would bequeath it to my son except I don’t have one. I’ve donated most of the shirts I took from his closet, but a fleece pullover remains for reasons which elude me: I dislike it and wear it little, thus ensuring it will be good enough to bury me in, or at least keep me warm in the nursing home.
  • Look up at my avatar photo. Though difficult to see, I’m wearing a robin’s-egg blue sweater. The photo was taken at Christmas 2009. There are several other sweaters in my closet purchased at the same time, since I tend to buy several things at once but only once or twice a year.
  • Yesterday I wore a pair of sneakers which I distinctly remember purchasing when we lived in New York. We left New York in January 2006 as mentioned above.
  • I’ve lucked out more with t-shirts. The oldest one (I think) appears to be one purchased while on vacation in Boone, NC. We took that vacation in May 2013. The T-shirt looks fine; I’m sure it has years ahead of it given that I’ll only wear it in certain circumstances because it’s not 100% cotton, and I dislike such shirts. (“Why don’t you throw it or donate it?” “Because…”)

In the room two doors down from this office, a leaf-green down jacket is draped over a plastic lawn chair. I purchased three items in the summer of 1972 to keep me warm while camping in the Rocky Mountains. Recently graduated from high school, I had never camped in my life, and in the fall of that year I would enroll at the University of Montana in a program featuring frequent camping trips. My new advisor recommended two things for camping: a down jacket and a wool sweater. More precisely, he recommended buying two wool sweaters at Goodwill, cutting the bottom six-to-eight inches off of one and sewing them on to the other to make a wool tunic. I bought the jacket and the two sweaters as directed, paying $1.99 for one sweater and 99-cents for a second. My mother made the necessary alterations. (The more expensive sweater fell to her shears.) When camping ended a year later, I removed the add-on, and kept the 99-cent sweater until it joined the mossy wool coat from 1968 in the commercial dumpster in my front driveway. Mostly I tossed it to appease my wife, but I admitted to myself that the high neck on the coarse wool sweater irritated my skin. The green down jacket sports a two-inch square of green plastic tape on one elbow where a spark from a campfire fell and melted a hole. It’s the original tape from 40 years ago. I wore the jacket just a few weeks ago during a cold snap when temps lived in the teens and twenties.

My first real camping trip with Woolco, a group of us leaning in to the message of our faculty advisor: “you gotta wear wool if you wanna stay warm”. Arrowhead Lake, Glacier National Park, Montana. October 1972.

I’ll toss expired food as if it insulted my mother. I’ll throw away half of our Christmas decorations because I don’t like putting it all up in early December only to take it down as January begins. I once sold off virtually every piece of furniture from a 4000 square foot house prior to a cross-country move. I don’t hoard in general; I hoard specifically. To wit:

  • While working in New York I picked up the habit of using scratch paper for most computer printouts. From that point forward I routinely brought home scratch paper from work once I moved to North Carolina at the beginning of 2006. I still run across paper from those years. We’ve moved three times since then.
  • I recently forced myself to ‘designate for assignment’ most of the old computers I’ve clung to. Those which remain able to perform at an acceptable speed sit around waiting for a purpose in their sad little electronic lives. Until I joined the ranks of music streamers a year ago, an old laptop from 2012 sat on my downstairs bar to serve up our digitized music. Though it’s slipped into retirement again, it sits on the bar still. Perhaps it will become a photo display.
  • But for a divorce, I would still own a Yamaha amplifier and its matching cassette tape deck, purchased in 1986. (Well, not the latter. I’ve not needed a cassette deck for a decade.) I still cart around the Boston Acoustic speakers which they powered; these speakers were in use through 2009 when I discovered the woofer in one had shredded. I still plan to fix it, more than a dozen years later.

I want to think my distinction involves the usefulness for the tools in my life: the clothes which keep me warm, the computers which enable me to work and communicate, the audio/video equipment which entertains me. If so, how to explain all the memorabilia, the extensive library, the suits I will never fit into again, or, frankly, the pool table which came with the house and hasn’t heard the crack of a cue stick on the white cue ball in years? Perhaps the memorabilia serves as a tool for memory, and I can rationalize the books because every few months I want to look something up in them, but the suits? The pool table?

We’re all biologic collections at war with ourselves: laziness versus industriousness versus mindfulness versus purpose; emotion versus analytical thinking versus empathy versus pragmatism; habit versus creativity versus spontaneity versus thoughtful planning; childlike wonder versus mature knowledge versus arrogant authority. Those things around us, be they physical or metaphysical, play the part of a charcoal rubbing of our psyches, of who we are. I’m going to look a bit more closely at this “stuff”. It seems to want to tell me something.

Comin’ into Lost Anjeleez

On approach to Raleigh-Durham airport. January 2020.

About three years ago today, as we ignorantly assumed nothing like Covid-19 lay on the horizon, I returned to Raleigh, North Carolina, from my boyhood home of Spokane, Washington. I had spent two weeks sorting two lifetimes’ worth of goods my parents stashed into their house. Raleigh never looked so good to me: I carried the deep satisfaction from accomplishing a complete journey through the whole household, and I had left the cold, snowy north to the lovely near-spring weather pictured above. My retirement might have officially begun 50 days prior, but it didn’t really begin until this moment of coming home. One month later we returned through the same airport from New Orleans, unknowingly passing Patient Zero who brought The Covid to our area, and we spent all of March sitting on our butts wondering what had kicked them so soundly!

17 years

Grafton, NY. January 2006.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about chunks of time. “How long do I have to live?” and “Where was I that many years ago?” and “At this stage of my life, a half century after graduating from high school, what did I think?” …and crap like that. The chunk that keeps coming up, though, is this one: 17 years ago we prepared to leave the snowy realms of upstate New York and head to North Carolina. A truly shit job and what should have been a wonderful company (and was for many others) had ended unceremoniously with a layoff. Less than three months later we were headed to what became the best dozen years or so of my working life, and ended with a pandemic and my retirement. Above, we’re about five minutes from leaving our home and never seeing it again. (I had to use the snow blower on the driveway that morning.)