A Stitch in Time: Pendleton, Oregon…

Grateful Blog Day 104: I woke up in Pendleton, Oregon the other morning, the town made famous by its annual rodeo and the woolen mills by the same name. It was a little disorienting since I’d been camping in the desert for several days and had seen or spoken with virtually no one. And suddenly there I was, waking up in a motel with the train roaring by and a complimentary breakfast. I skipped it. I drove around downtown 5 or 6 times. It doesn’t take long and after a few trips around the downtown blocks you’ve seen it all—5 or 6 times. I grabbed coffee and headed back to the motel to pack when I noticed the Pendleton Woolen Mills store. I was wearing my favorite Pendleton wool/down vest. It’s probably the most comfortable and most versatile piece of clothing I own. Its part vest, part coat, part pillow and part seat cushion. Half the time I come in the house and keep it on for another hour; it’s THAT comfortable and frankly, why be cold while the house is still heating up?

So I wandered in and the store was dead at that hour; just me and the sales clerk. She noticed my vest and we talked a minute or 2. Mostly I told her how much I loved it but it was in pretty sorry shape due to a torn pocket and exactly five different tears—the last 2 coming courtesy of some barbed wire I got tangled with a few hundred miles ago a few days earlier. She said ‘Take off the vest, let me see’. I didn’t really think about it, I just did. She saw the damage, said ‘a whip-stitch wouldn’t be pretty but it’d do the trick’ and I nodded ‘uh huh’ as if I had a clue what a ‘whip-stitch’ was. Then she said ‘do you have 15 minutes?’ Yeah sure. ‘Great!’ It what seemed like 5 seconds, she had a drawer open and a handful of spools of thread and various needles on the table and began sewing. We talked a little bit longer but I could see it’d be easier if I just left her alone so I did.

It’s weird, the whole time I had that feeling you get when someone chooses to take over and you let them—like getting a massage. At first there’s an unfamiliarity to negotiate, then some odd warm and prickly feeling in the back of your neck and then the general feeling of well-being when someone unselfishly gives of themselves. I’m pretty sure it’s not in the employee handbook for sales clerks to offer to sew customer’s Pendleton garments right there and then—I’m pretty sure they’re not supposed to fix them at all. And I’m quite certain there job is to sell you anther one. Believe me, I looked. No luck.   

So 15 minutes later she was done. Her sewing was efficient (mind you I’m no expert) and she said it was far from perfect but I begged to differ. I walked into the store with my favorite torn vest on, smelling of campfire smoke, and she literally just took it upon herself to fix it. I didn’t catch her name but I want to write the company a letter to tell them how Grateful I was she was working that morning, and how Grateful they should be to have her be the face of their company when she’s behind the counter. Like I said, I’m a big fan of the vest, but now I’m a bigger fan of the company and the fine ladies (and men) who work there. When summer hits before long it’ll get put in the back of the closet but when I pull it out next fall, it’ll be good as new…

Lost in Translation: Shouting into the Wind…

Grateful Blog Day 103: Yesterday I stopped off at a rest area to stretch my legs and write this blog. I had it all written—a picture, the works. But a storm kicked up and somewhere in the wind of the Columbia River gorge it disappeared into cyberspace and just as likely into thin air. I can’t recreate it so there’s no point in trying. The thing is when I realized it happened I was already back in the car, driving again, and just a few hours from home. I’d been out for several days and I was Grateful to be so close to home. There are many days that I feel that the ‘Grateful Blog’ is really special—and I so value that folk’s take time out of their busy days to read it. And some days I feel like I’m just another guy trying to shout above the interstate traffic into the spring Columbia River wind and who really just wants to drive that last 200 miles to get back home to his wife. It was a long and sometime’s crazy trip, and I’m Grateful to make it home again, safe and sound.

Handy Household Hints from Heloise: Confessions of a Life once Lived…

Grateful Blog: Day 97: I met a dead woman today. Walked in her house and knew she was gone. She wasn’t there but she didn’t have to be. The house was empty but she was there in spirit. The shag carpeting is often what you see first, but usually it’s the smell of mothballs, and dust. There the 1970’s amber glass light fixtures. The condensed ‘Best of’ Reader’s Digest’ multi-volume set right next to the picture book of the Grand Canyon, the Complete Book on Home Remedies and the Living Bible all covered under a thick layer of dust on a walnut bookcase. There is the ironing board at the ready, the cupboard full of bug spray and Ajax cleaner, and the Sears ‘Kenmore’ washer and dryer from the mid-1980’s. There is the cushioned toilet seat, the numerous pictures of Jesus and the lone refrigerator magnet that just says ‘San Antonio’.

There is the old powder blue Samsonite suitcase, the beaded sombrero from a trip to Mexico, the musical LP’s of ‘Oklahoma’ and ‘Fiddler on the Roof’, and the adjustable hospital style bed, with the rails now removed. There is the box of ‘Good Housekeeping Secrets to House Plants’, the wood paneling and the chain/swag lights. And of course there is the diorama woodcarving of the Last Supper and even a corkboard with several articles clipped from ‘Handy Household Hints from Heloise’ declaring ‘How to make your own cleaning products.’ There is the requisite macramé plant holder, the Rubbermaid bins with pens that don’t work from insurance companies, and the bathroom closet with liniments and hydrogen peroxide with nary a cotton ball in sight.

In a bedroom there was a black velvet painting of a Poncho Vila—or at least his likeness, and there was a picture of a young boy and missing smoke detector and heavy, smoky, musty pleated curtains and, two deadbolts, one chain and bars over all the windows. But somehow after 95 years, and likely the last 50 years in this small house with peeling paint, substantial rot and a suspect roof, she managed to escape it all and I’m Grateful for that.

How do I know that? Well, in her bedroom, under the water stain where the plaster had swollen, discolored and cracked, there was a picture of her on her heavy oak dresser, as a young girl, in black and white, with a friend at some lake. You could see it in their eyes, in their friendship and in the way they looked at the camera. No life or body or house could hold all that and I was Grateful she was finally free…

A New Song to Sing…

Grateful Blog: Day 96: Thursday was one of those days. Not only was I woken up at 2:37AM by teenager telling me my car window was open (it wasn’t, it was a neighbor’s car), then later that morning once I’d gotten up for real I dropped my cell phone in the toilet. Yeah, not pretty. It shorted out and died a quick and ignominious death. Finally I went to someone’s house for my job that turned out to be a semi-major marijuana growing operation. It was weird, a little uncomfortable, and then after an hour and a half in the house I walked back out to my car with what felt like a full-on contact buzz. I was a bit dizzy and that’s when it hit me, I hadn’t eaten all day.

So up at 2:37AM. Check. Cell phone dropped I toilet. Check. Contact high in drug house. Check. Forgot to eat all day, well that’s just dumb. I could explain all the other things, even if it WAS bizarre that they all happened on the same day. Then I went to this amazing song circle at a friend’s house. 20 of the most amazing songwriters you’re likely to hear. I sat down. I told the story of what my day had been like. Then I played a song I’d written, in between the teenager and the cell phone incidents. It’s impossible to know if it was any good but damn, it felt better than good because although it didn’t make the day make ANY sense at all, it did make me laugh at how weird the day was and how somewhat despite that—or maybe because of it, I’d written a song that felt really good to sing, and to share. I was so Grateful about that that I stayed extra late till I was the last to leave, assuring it’d been 24 hours since I’d been waken up. I mean what the hell, who cares about sleep and cell phones and your job when you’ve got a new song to sing…

The Doorbell rang 3 times at 2:37am…

Grateful Blog: Day 95: Last night I woke up at 2:37AM. I was in the middle of some lovely dream and then I wasn’t. I was slowly trying to process why my wife was saying ‘Get up!, GET UP!’ And then I heard it, 3 separate times, the distinct ringing of my doorbell. Really? The doorbell at 2:30 I the morning? Who the F#%K does THAT???

So I got up, trying to vaguely process that burglars don’t ring doorbells and not remembering exactly where my 12 gauge lever action shotgun is but I know it’s here somewhere. I got downstairs, remembered to kill the alarm, and looked through the peephole first but looking through that 1948 never been cleaned ¼ inch piece of glass half asleep is basically hopeless. I opened the door with a ‘WHAT???’ but what I really meant was WTF???

A kid. Maybe 17. Skateboard in hand. He says ‘You left your window down in your car’ I did? ‘Yeah, that Camry’. Ugh…’Hey kid, I don’t own a Camry, must be the people who moved in next door—in fact they just moved in last night. You should go let them know. Seriously, they’d WANT to know.’

So I sent him next door. I guess I’m Grateful the kid was looking out for me. His lack of timing notwithstanding. It could’ve been my car, or it could’ve been much worse. He could’ve been hurt or knew someone who was. In that case I’d have wanted to be woken up. The thing is I wake in a hurry once the adrenaline starts pumping, so I was up for the next several hours, trying to get my mind and body to quiet down. I caught up on a little reading, about Santa Fe’s Super-Chief streamline train in 1937. I read 5 chapters that started in Chicago and ended in LA before my mind drifted into that 1930’s scene and my eyes got tired enough to let me sleep again.

Sometimes it’s hard to be Grateful for anything, all day long, and then some kid rings your doorbell at 2:37AM and your reminded that we don’t live in a vacuum, that somebody’s gonna wake up ticked off that their car is soaked from leaving their window open, that somebody’s 16 or 17 year old is still out at 2:30AM (and he’s not your kid) and that none of your worst fears came true tonight. It’s a false alarm. Everything is still safe and sound inside your own 4 walls; it’s just a door closing, a book opening and a warm bed waiting away. Damn I was Grateful for that…

Edward Abbey’s desert: ‘You only get so many chances…’

Grateful Blog: Day 94: 94 Days of the ‘Grateful Blog’…my God…only 272 days to go. ‘94’ makes me think of 1994. I was 26 and had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I had a girlfriend who I’d just driven over 10,000 miles with from Seattle to Lower Economy Nova Scotia and back (via Yosemite, Eldorado, Oklahoma and the Great Smokey Mountains no less) in a Toyota Corolla. By the time we got back its safe to say we were borderline no longer able to stand one another. Later we found out that friends had been taking odds on how long we’d ‘last’ before killing each other. There’s a lesson in there somewhere…

I had another friend who’d just read and then sent me Edward Abbey’s ‘Desert Solitaire’ and I’d read it cover to cover and wound up fascinated with the Utah desert. Somehow I procured a pamphlet on opportunities to volunteer with the Student Conservation Association (SCA) and they listed a position in Canyonlands National Park. It paid $198 per MONTH, but I’d get paid me to go check out what I’d just read in Abbey’s book. I was hooked. Sign me up! And they did…

I packed up everything I owned, threw what I couldn’t pack away, and drove 18 hours to get there. It was February and the interstates of Oregon, Idaho and Utah were snowy, treacherous and full of semis. But I got there to the SE Utah desert on the high Colorado Plateau just as spring hit. There were still some cold days but there were lots of sunny days in the 70’s. And it was gorgeous. It was everything Edward Abbey said it was and more. I worked in this place called the ‘Maze’ and ‘Horseshoe Canyon’ for about 2 years. To begin to describe either would take a book and even then you’d fall short for lack of words or lack of pages. At some point words fail to describe something THAT beautiful and just being quiet and listening becomes more important.

I learned that from the desert and a 100 more things it taught me. I’m Grateful for all of them, even the ones like heatstroke that damn near tried to kill me a few times. ‘Watch your step.’ ‘You only get so many chances.’ I learned those too. But everything has 2 sides to the coin. And while you do ‘only get so many chances’ you have to remember to take more than few—because you ‘only get so many…’

I’m Grateful I took that chance in 1994. When it gets to be ‘Suicide Weather’ in winter here in the Pacific Northwest there’s always a day in February when I realize that this is just about the time I’d be getting the call from the Park Service to go back to the desert. I know it’s been almost 20 years but I still feel that pull of the desert in springtime, I still need to go explore the canyons, see the endless, vast blue sky by day with its high rolling clouds and see ALL the stars at night. I need to soak in a hot spring for 4 hours and then come back later and do it again. The desert is all part of the process of losing yourself in something bigger to find yourself again. It taught me that too and I’m so Grateful I was listening because ‘You only get so many chances…’

Spring in Portland…

Grateful Blog: Day 93: Today was one of those days. It FINALLY felt like spring—here, there, and everywhere. I went down to the train station this afternoon to meet some friends. I roamed around downtownPortlanda bit in late afternoon. The ‘heat’ of the day as it were. The sun was perfect: warm, bright, and damn near too much but never warm enough and never too soon.Portland is no exception to practicality. All winter long women bundle up: Hats, scarves, Gore-Tex, and Polar Fleece. Then suddenly that first ‘real’ spring day like today and its skirts, heels, and dresses…

I’m a happily married guy. But you know, every year on the first warm day of spring when the sun comes up and the skirts come out I’m Grateful I’m a guy, and I’m Grateful that the world is just as beautiful as I remembered it, before the rain and the cold winter: the darkness, hats, scarves, Polar Fleece and Gore-Tex…

There’s just something special about a spring day in Portland when optimism seems to be measured in the inches of a skirt and not in inches of rain…

‘Be Prepared’: What the Boy Scouts Taught Me…

Grateful Blog: Day 92: I was Cub Scout when I was little. Mom was our Den Mother. And then I was in Webelos, followed by Boy Scouts. It was 30 years ago. Both of my older brothers were Boy Scouts so naturally I was expected to join too. It was really one of the most funs things we did as kids. Sure there were meetings and merit badges and award ‘banquets’ but all of those activities were virtual excuses for us to get together with a different circle of friends (different than school and sports) and run around like banshees. I’m sure our parents liked the down time too.

My Dad helped a lot as a leader. He drove us places, took us camping, helped us make our Pinewood Derby Race Cars (well OK, he made them and we watched but consequently they actually ran well) and got dragged along on a number of rainy hiking or canoeing trips. When my Dad was a kid he joined the Boy Scouts too. But I guess when he got home with his tan uniform on his Dad made him immediately take it off and take it back, and quit the troop. His father had fled Germanyin 1933 and had seen the Hitler Youth and Brown Shirt movements and apparently the Boy Scouts was too close of a reminder. I don’t know much about either, but I suspect it couldn’t have been farther from the truth.

I made it all the way to Eagle Scout. Of course by then I was 17 and I was ready to move on. I was headed into high school and Boy Scouts wasn’t ‘cool’ any longer. But the truth is it was ALWAYS cool. It seemed like about every other weekend we were doing something fun: Usually some from of hiking, backpacking, camping, that sort of thing. Sure we did things that sounded like work, fundraisers, paper drives, etc. but our friends were there and we made it fun. Our adult leaders, Mr. Carges, Mr. Staub, Mr. Sullivan and my Dad in retrospect were some of the coolest guys you’d want to have around. They read you the riot act when you deserved it, but they showed you a few tricks too. And unlike what you read about Boy Scouts leaders in the newspaper, there was never any hint of that. Just our friend’s Dad’s showing us the ropes—and the knots for that matter. The Scout’s motto is ‘Be Prepared’ and its funny how we it prepared us for later on in life. Maybe the best part of being a part of Troop #233 was heading to summer camp every year. Swimming, sailing (more like tipping the sailboats over), campfires, hiking, rafting, day trips into places like Lake Placid to see where they had the Olympics, and singing in the mess hall (weird food and all the Kool-Aid you could drink).

Then there was the year we went to New Mexico, to the Philmont Scout Ranch and took a 50+ mile backpacking trip through theNew Mexican wilderness. It was AWESOME! Several days on a bus across an America I’d never seen before—the Mississippi River, the St. Louis Arch, Mt. Rushmore, Yellowstone, the Rockies and Cimarron, New Mexico. The scenery was gorgeous, the camaraderie was great, and the memories have lasted a lifetime. From that point on I was infatuated with the ‘West’ and I suppose I was destined to be out here. It stoked my love of nature at an early age, that wonderment at the cathedrals and epic landscapes that I saw. Later I’d become National Park Service Ranger in neighboring SE Utah.

Also on that New Mexico trip I first ‘Cowboy’ music, the Sons of the pioneers ‘Blue Shadows on the Trail’ being played around a campfire under all those New Mexican stars. I’ve been a fan of that ‘Western’ brand of country and cowboys ever since. It wasn’t all epic trips and it was often work, but the best things in life often are worth working for and looking back now the work seems minimal. Hell, I think that Mom and Dad probably worked far harder at it than we did (so we’d stay with it), more than anything.

There’s a lot to be Grateful for when I think of the Boy Scouts. It saddens me the perception that it’s turned into. All I know is it changed my life: The friendships, the value of hard work—and playing hard, the love of nature, the ‘West’ and even the love of music. There were so many positive things about it that it’s hard to find any negatives now. The other day I ran into another guy I know who was an Eagle Scout and he’s got kids in it now too. I said ‘Oh yeah, cool! I used to be an Eagle Scout’ and he looked at me very seriously and said ‘Dan, you still are.’ Uniform or not, I guess that’s true…

The New Songs…

 Grateful Blog: Day 91: I spent the morning writing 2 new songs. They’re coming lately in bunches. I can’t say why but I think finally having my CD ‘Ash and Bone’ done has a lot to do with that. The weird thing about being a songwriter is I never know when they’re going to come. I can prime the pump for sure; try to get in the right ‘space’, in the ‘flow’ as it were but sometimes it just boils down to some finicky combination of available time, restless energy and the sheer discipline of just doing it and not letting yourself get distracted.

The truth is I have no idea how or why it works. I spent several hours on one song this morning while it was raining furiously, the song was predictably moody, poetic and full of the melancholy I was obviously channeling. At some point I ran out off steam but felt it was close. I then noticed the bright sunshine that I’d failed to see for who knows how long it’d taken to get from downpour to just gorgeous out. I went outside, it was warm and suddenly and just as predictably, moody, poetic and melancholic felt inappropriate. I sort of reflexively went for something 180 degrees different, a little boogie-woogie thing and 15 minutes later something upbeat, catchy and weirdly compelling popped out.

I don’t know which song (if either) will last the numerous inevitable revisions they’ll be put through to get to ‘keeper’ status but I can tell you this: I’m still not sure why songs come. I’m still not sure that after the last one that another one will ever, ever come again. It feels that tenuous, like one day I might wake up and say ‘nothing inspires me’. I know that may sound funny or over dramatic but half a dozen years ago I had just had several years’ without writing a song. So it’s happened before and it crosses my mind that it could very well happen again.

So the thing is, they’ve been coming in bunches lately. So rain or shine, any day of the week, when a song wants to arrive I’m ready to open the tap and see what happens. Any day is always a good day for writing a new song. I’m just Grateful when they come…

90 days of the ‘Grateful Blog’: Tick-tock-tick…

Grateful Blog: Day 90: 90 days of the ‘Grateful Blog’. At the quarter pole as it were. When I started this blog I did it because I wanted to be mindful of ALL the blessings this life has given me. And I wanted to somehow re-create that feeling we get when we’re sitting around the Thanksgiving table, when we’re all holding hands, and your turn comes when you’re asked what you’re thankful, or Grateful for…

So far I’ve succeeded beyond my wildest dreams. I’ve put myself on the spot time and time again and I’ve managed to recall some vignette of the day or of my life that reminded me why I was here, why I had something to say, why I was Grateful…

So the thing is today I don’t have much to say. I was ‘Grateful’ most of the day. Even if I was exhausted from the week, the rain, the chattering brakes, the streaky windshield wipers, the skipping CD player, the working till 8pm every night, and the reluctance to engage the Universe in a meaningful way. Today I just more or less got up, got coffee, and plowed through a long Friday in a long week of long days. Nothing amazing or special happened. I survived it–lived to fight another day.

Friday night, finally home and for the first time this week I’m alone with the tick-tock-tick of the clock in my room and it sounds for a change like music, like a rhythmic pulse to relax to. I never thought I’d say this, but I’m Grateful the week had finally slowed down enough, that I can breathe, and just be Grateful for breathing…