Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Smoky Hell Here in Southern Oregon

The smoke and fire situation in SW Oregon is dire. A state of emergency has been declared and the Grants Pass Daily Courier is calling the situation a "full-blown catastrophe." Nearby Grants Pass' air quality has been deemed "hazardous" and I'm pretty sure the thick smoke that's stuck in our part of the valley is the same. Respirators/masks are recommended for anyone who has to be outside.
How do I look? Wearing the mask is a lot easier than holding my breath.
This is the view across our country road today. The hillside behind the smoke is less than a half mile away, so our air quality here is officially hazardous, according to DEQ standards.
This is the same general area (same trees) photographed two days ago.
Then, the smoke made pretty colors. No more! I didn't have trouble
breathing air that looked like this. Today. Trouble. 
The garden looks sad. It isn't getting any love except for admiring
glances from behind windows. 
The weather forecast includes dry lightning and thunderstorms, which would make a terrible situation worse. We can expect more smoke from the out-of-control blazes for several days, possibly weeks. One positive: such conditions are a wake-up call for all who take for granted our fresh air, abundant clean water, healthy forests, and beautiful rivers and lakes. I can't wait to take my next gulp of the clean, clear, crisp air to which I've grown accustomed. And that I once took for granted.

Pretty, but I hope never to see sun and sky like this ever again from our garden. 

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Revisiting Harold and Maude

I've watched this quirky movie, my all-time favorite, half a dozen times since it was released in 1971. I saw the film again recently, and my, my, my, how times have changed. My times, that is. Actress Ruth Gordon was 75 when she starred as its eccentric life-affirming and hilarious heroine. For the film's purposes, she turned 80 as the story evolved.

When I first saw the film—and my pretty little unlined face ached from laughing—I was 27.  I don't remember the other times I saw it, but I'm certain that I still regarded 80 as a distant impossible-to-reach and hideous age. The difference between earlier viewings and seeing the film now? I identify with Maude! And 80? Considering how times jets past, that "impossible age" is just around the bend.

Maude used to look "old" to me. She was a fabulous person trapped in wrinkles and sags. I loved her spirit and verve, her outrageous antics and her gentle but over-the-top handling of the suicide-staging teen played by Bud Cort.

In my twenties, Maude was wonderful but old. End of story. I could not relate. Upon my most recent viewing, I admired Maude's youthfulness, although I did note that someone supposedly on the cusp of 80 with nary a gray hair is using hair dye, a perfectly acceptable tool to chisel a few years off her appearance. (Hair Dye, the Fall Garden, and the Cruel March of Time) Overall, though, it was, and is, unsettling to face the fact that at 68, I am cruising the last third of my life, fast approaching the age that Ruth Gordon was when she was so wondrous in Harold and Maude.

Longevity runs in my family. My father died at 93 and my mom is nearly 98. She's still doing relatively well, by the way, and I would not be surprised if she reaches 100+. Her heart, lungs, blood work, blood pressure, thyroid, etc. etc. are nearly perfect. She has but one mild (and generic) prescription drug. However, she's almost blind, essentially deaf, can't walk, and needs assistance with the "activities of daily living." Her mind is good (mild dementia only). She is sweet and funny and I love her, but I am not sure I want to go there.

Maude was POSITIVE she didn't want to go there. She knew she was going to die before she got too  decrepit—on her 80th birthday to be exact. She knew because she'd been saving the pills and calculating the time it would take for the pills to ease her into forever.  Since she knew when and how she was going to go, she didn't worry about it, and every moment was a joy. She was in control. She didn't give a damn about what people thought or what was legal or illegal or why anyone should try to stop her from liberating a city tree and relocating it to the forest whilst careening down the middle of the highway in a stolen truck. Maude embraced life so thoroughly it was breathtaking. And also inspirational.

I know better than anyone that I need to get over mourning my lost youth and and my disappeared middle age and proceed with the rest of my life. But here's something nobody ever tells you about getting older: age does not necessarily impart wisdom, nor does it bestow acceptance of the inevitable.

I've discovered, at all the milestones, that I have to figure out again how to be OK, or even happy, with the person that aging has delivered to my mirror. Every birthday presents a new challenge about "how should I live" more than "how should I look." Because there comes a time when, without spending thousands on having "work" done, everything is going to sag. I have friends who are "spending the thousands," or contemplating doing so. I'm not going there, either. One thing I have figured out is that physical decline and "beauty down the tubes" is inevitable and a nip here and tuck there isn't going to matter the least in the end.

I'm figuring out now how to think about being almost 70, which is "terribly strange" as Simon and Garfunkel observed in their wonderful song, Old Friends.  That song brought tears in my twenties and it still does. How bittersweet that I've become reconnected with a dear friend from that period of my life, the person I imagined I'd be sitting on the park bench with in my old age. Marcy's turning 70 this year. Unbelievable. (It would be difficult to find a person with more vitality than Marcy Tilton. She's a top-selling Vogue pattern designer, entrepreneur, and "everyday creative." Check her out.) She also tears up on Old Friends, by the way.

Am I stockpiling sedatives? No. Not yet. And even if I did, 80 is too young. I now have friends who are 80, or almost 80. They're not even close to doing "a Maude." I guess I should take a lesson from my mother, LaVone. Even though she can hardy see or hear, can't walk and so on, she still takes pleasure in life. Somehow.
My mom greeting her new great granddaughter, Hadley Rose.
She was seriously delighted by the baby.
When she was my age, a mere 68, my mom was still active in church, walked the neighborhood with friends, played bridge, did all sorts of intricate crafts, cooked up a storm, read books and magazines daily, traveled with my father, and was always making something or doing something for family. Had she known that she would live another 30+ years and be so diminished, I wonder what she would have said or done or thought.

I'm wondering the same about myself.
Mom with some of her family in June, 2013.

Note: If you've never seen Harold and Maude, you must. No matter your age. Here's some info from Wikipedia. 

Monday, July 15, 2013

Get-away on Oregon's Illinois River with Four Wheel Camper

Every now and then PK and I look at each other, nod at our modest, but deluxe-to-us, little camping unit, and, without saying much,  agree. Let's go. Even for one night. It's so easy, after all those years of tent and river camping, to just throw a little food into the Four Wheel camper's refrigerator, fill the propane and water tanks, and hit the road. Someday we hope to do this for months at a time. For now, we must be content with a few days here and there. Most recently, it was to Southern Oregon's Illinois River, a clear rushing stream near (and in) the Kalmiopsis Wilderness
Here's what I love about our Four Wheel camper atop our Toyota Tundra: It's light and portable and easily handles narrow and awkward backroads full of potholes and rocks. It has a sink, running water, a refrigerator, a queen-sized bed, a CD/radio/iPod player, a heater, a two-burner propane stove, and battery powered electricity. Lights! Heat! What luxury! We can camp in unofficial campsites such as this. Not a single vehicle passed by because, well, the road sucks. We were a stone's throw from the turquoise splendor of the Illinois River. This spot is about 90 minutes from home. In case you're wondering about the obvious, we carry a portable toilet inside the camper, but use it only for number one. For the other, we have a shovel and good knees.

The Illinois River Falls. I recently learned that son Quinn came here often as a high school student, navigating a terrible road, to walk over the rough basalt, radiating heat waves, to reach the falls and the amazing swimming hole below. What a great teenage playground. I had no idea. Parents, of course, are often clueless. I grew up in North Dakota. We could not imagine such a wonder within easy striking distance. We did have the Mouse River, though. Aptly named.

This sign greeted us at the entry to one of our old stomping grounds, the road over the Chetco Pass leading to a trail to the beautiful Chetco River deep in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness. The Biscuit Fire in 2002 destroyed 500,000 acres and was the primary reason we haven't been back for so long.

Brush is coming back strong from the 2002 fire, but it doesn't replace
the forest that used to be here. Wait another 100 years or so.

For many years we backpacked to the clear and beautiful Chetco River on Memorial Day weekends, including in 1987 when Chris was not quite one and Quinn was not quite 10. I still can't believe we packed a baby in diapers into the wilderness! Rattlesnakes abounded and all Chris wanted to do was eat rocks and throw himself into the river. (This part has not changed.) It wasn't that much fun, to tell the truth. But on this day we went no further on the road to Chetco Pass, but instead hiked a short trail to the Illinois River Falls. 

Creek crossing on one of many short hikes along the Illinois River.

Parking lot at the trailhead to the Illinois River Falls.
The Illinois River rages big time during the winter but in late June 2013, swimming holes are placid and inviting.

Forty (!!!!) years ago friend Grace and I spent four or five days camping on this beach on the Illinois River as I was handling a major transition (build up to divorce) and she was building up to her own tumult. Then, this spot was a mining claim. Today it is hiking destination for an official trail. No more mining claim, and still a gorgeous swimming hole. When Grace and I camped here, we tried to oust a thick rattlesnake by dropping a boulder from a tree (which I somehow climbed with the rock) The boulder missed the snake. The snake looked bored. Amused, maybe? We moved our operations closer to the river. But then....there were the baby rattlers. 

Rare carnivorous pitcher plants native to the Kalmiopsis. 
There's a lot to be said for getting outta Dodge, even for a day or two. Not that I don't love home and garden and friends and every day ordinary life. But somehow, those get-aways trump just about everything. What's next? A quick trip to the Oregon coast coming soon. Damn, we're lucky to live in Southern Oregon.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Simple Cucumber Salad Ushers in Sweet, Sweet Summer

It was 104 this afternoon in the Costco parking and 102 in our shaded gravel driveway. Dreadful for us, but for tomatoes!? Hot damn! About a dozen Early Girls ripened significantly since yesterday. And the English-type cucumbers rival the zucchinis in wowzers overnight growth. The bounty above made it in short order onto our dinner plates. By mid-September, we'll be tired of this fare, but tonight was a culinary celebration.
On the plate our first Caprese salad. We had to make do with cheese other than fresh mozzarella, not as good, but for our first tomato harvest, it had to do; simple cucumber and onion salad (recipe below); grilled New York steak; marinated grilled zucchini, onions, and peppers (not from the garden.)

The cuke/onion salad is a summer staple. It is so easy to make and delicious. I credit my mother, who is fast approaching age 98, for this recipe. It is a piece of my midwestern childhood that has been repeating every summer for decades. The first salad of the season always tastes the most amazing. Here you go:

Simply Delicious Cucumber Onion Salad

Ingredients (serves 2 with some leftover)

You can alter the amounts easily. Figure a medium cuke per person plus a little onion. The dressing is one third water, one third vinegar, and one third sweetener. If you use a food processor to slice the veggies, this fresh crisp salad takes about five minutes.

2 medium-sized English cucumbers (or other slicing cukes) 
half of 1 small sweet onion such as Walla Walla
3 tablespoons cider vinegar
3 tablespoons water
3 tablespoons sugar (Or sugar substitute. I use Splenda.)
Salt and pepper to taste


Slice the cukes into thin rounds. Slice the onion thinly. Place into glass bowl. Mix the vinegar, water, and sugar. Add whatever salt and pepper you like. Pour over cukes and onions and mix. Serve immediately at room temperature or wait a few hours. This is good the next day, but will have "wilted". Even then, the cukes and onions remain crunchy.