“Beach Lessons”

Cannon Beach, Oregon, 1950

Our several days at Wells Beach, Maine, reminded me of how much I know about the beach, the tides, the undertow, the textures of sand and the sensation of the elements on my feet. From 1949 until we left Oregon in 2001, I was at the Oregon Coast countless times. Once I was 10, I was frequently on the beach either alone or with friends and siblings. In order to be safe, I had had to learn a great deal about the ocean, much of which came back in Maine.

The first and prime lesson was “never turn your back on the ocean.” “Sneaker waves,” unusually far reaching ones, could occur at any time. We were constantly reminded of the time our friend’s mom had noticed the ocean unusually far out. She grabbed her kids and ran up to the edge of the sand. A huge wave would have swamped them if she hadn’t been paying attention.

The second, equally important lesson, was to never climb on logs which were in the water. Each year an unsuspecting visitor was caught by a wave tossed log rolling over him. There were no logs at Wells, but I remembered the warning as if there were!

Thirdly I learned to tell if the tide was incoming or outgoing, not just by consulting a tide table. We observed the sand and the motion of the waves. When I was a kid we could only wade or swim on an incoming tide since the undertow of the outgoing was so treacherous. This came back to me as we walked at Wells on an outgoing tide. I asked a native about the undertow. She said it was very strong. Later we saw a sign warning of the same danger.

I grew up without helpfully stationed lifeguards. We were responsible for keeping ourselves safe. We learned our lessons by heart.

“The View!”

We spent three nights last week by the ocean in Wells, Maine. I will write more about that in the coming days, but wanted to start with a Robert Frost poem that came to mind when I saw a row of ocean facing benches. They were occupied at the time, but this photo shows the same perches when no one was on them.

I have always loved Frost’s attempt to understand our fascination with staring at waves, ships and sea birds. We literally can’t look out too far or down too deep. Of course, he is playing with the idea that we are in deep contemplation as we gaze, hoping for some profound insights otherwise unavailable.

But as he says “when was that ever a bar?” I keep looking too, deep insight or not. Mostly not.

“Form Follows Function 3”

I love cookbooks. I love looking through them at bookstore. I like buying them and bringing them home to read peacefully. But true confession time: I like reading them much more than I like actually using them to cook. In fact, when I want a specific recipe these days I am much more likely to print one off the internet. Most of what I cook requires no recipe since I basically cook the same things year after year. By the time a cook is 74, that is not unusual.

But still I love cookbooks. So in the great restructuring I added a comfortable chair, a tea stand, a lap blanket, a foot stool and a lamp to the converted sun porch on our first floor that serves as a travel library, toy chest, art supply room, puzzle storage and shelves for our books not needed for writing or genealogy. To the right of this photo you can see my thorough cookbook collection. It includes many about baking, both sweet and savory. My earliest Fannie Farmer cookbook for kids rests there. Laurel’s Kitchen, essentially the Bible in my back to the country days occupies a space as does the Berkeley Coop Low Income Cookbook I wrote about some years back which I used in my totally without funds days.

They no longer chastise me as I walk by asking why they are ignored in favor of the internet. Instead they welcome me to sit with a cup of tea and do what I love best. READ cookbooks.

“Form Follows Function 2”

Any skeptical reader, seeing yesterday’s minimalist look, might reasonably wonder “where is all the other stuff in her office?” The above two photos show the other two corners of the room. Somehow the combination of the four pictures from yesterday and today make the room seem much larger than it actually is. In reality it is about 11X14 feet and was originally one of three bedrooms in this 1929 house.

On the left are the file cabinets and working desk space. Here in a box are the scattered papers formerly resting next to my computer. Previously they called out to be dealt with, taking my focus away from writing. Now they have their own space, complete with stamps, tools, a bulletin board and a comfortable chair. Behind them are the two file cabinets where everything is stored, from paid bills to medical records.

On the right you can see all the supplies needed in an office. An over the door shoe bag holds things like replacement ink cartridges, pens and envelopes. The closet, minus its door, houses paper of all types, note cards and greeting cards. The bookcase to its right holds all my genealogy resources. My other main passion, besides writing, is continuing to flesh out the stories of my forebears. Eventually I will turn this research and mountains of notes into biographical sketches which do more than give dates and location. I hope to answer such questions as “why did great-Aunt Lucy go to China in the late 1800’s to work in a school for blind girls?”

Rest assured that the desk on the left is extremely unlikely to stay that pristine for longer than it took to write this post!

“Form Follows Function 1”

I have finally finished the first stage of my restructuring process I mentioned a while back. I took a long time to consider how I now want to use the spaces of our home. When we moved here twenty years ago we had to quickly put furniture in somewhat appropriate places and resume our lives. I was working then and didn’t have the opportunity to do much more than unpack.

Above are two views of my office. Previously a calming yellow, it is now an energizing blue. Everything extraneous to my present needs are gone. On the left is my computer for writing. the desk no longer also housing unpaid bills, unanswered correspondence, and other miscellany that tends to accumulate on any horizontal surface I come near. To the right is the bookcase holding all my books about writing, both nonfiction and poetry. I relocated them from my downstairs library so that they would be close at hand as I compose.

The poster highlights a motivating quote from Sojourner Truth, reminding me of why I write. The dog and eagle on top of the bookcase represent two basic human drives: to connect(the shaggy dog) and to protect(the eagle.) I honor both when I share my writings in public.

My desk’s new position looks out a French door into our yard. It is a calming view, great for pausing for just the right phrase or word.

It is wonderful to be writing in this space and I am glad to reconnect with all of you in the months (and years, God willing) ahead.

“Rearranging!”

I have been away from the blog during this time clearing, cleaning, moving furniture, and repurposing a couple of rooms. Thankfully I have hired a friend to do the actual wallpaper removal, plaster patching and painting. I have reimagined the room where I write. As you can see from the photos above, the room is currently not conducive to thoughtful writing!

For a couple of more days I will be behind on reading and commenting on my friends’ posts. Then I will return writing from a freshly repaired and painted room, this time set up to make writing easy and enjoyable. The desk will face the window, the piles everywhere will be gone, and I will no longer bang into the desk leg with my chair when I sit at the computer!

With even a modicum of self restraint I should be able to curb my pack rat tendencies. At least in my office. (I can’t promise the same for the basement and attic.)

“It Was Just Right”

The weather around the world has confounded the best of us with either too much or too little rain and too much or too little heat. But in the early part of this summer I found myself basking in moderate temperatures, unusual for New England. The humidity never rose to an unpleasant degree. The thermometer often hovered between 70 and 75 degrees F and it felt very familiar and very comforting. I kept saying ” this feels like Oregon summer weather.” Except by this point the Pacific Northwest was experiencing record breaking and literally fatal heat. So maybe I was casting that rosy glow of nostalgia over my childhood summers.

Then I found the chart pictured above. I spent the 1950’s as a child aged 3 to 13. I loved being outdoors: swimming, walking to see friends, biking, camping and going to camp. And I hadn’t been idealizing that time; it really was much cooler than the following decades. Although it was atypical weather over time, it was the summer of my memory.

I am grateful that for a couple of months in 2021 I was transported by my senses back to the 1950’s. No humidity. No need for air conditioning(which we never had when I was a child anyway.) A gentle breeze. Walking without effort. Sitting outside. Knowing that I hadn’t imagined those years in the 1950’s. Summer 2021 really was “just like the good old days.”

“In the Aftermath”

I recently read the debut novel written by the young man pictured above, Sweetness of Water. I can only say that I hope he continues to write and to bring his thoughtful perception of character to the page.

I have often wondered what it was like for recently freed enslaved people and how it was for the people who had so recently “owned” them. Harris tackles this question subtly by immersing us in the lives of several characters in a small southern town just as the Union troops are moving in to take control. We meet two recently freed black men, two white Confederate veterans, and an aging white couple living on the outskirts of a rural town. Harris focuses on them, their interactions, their challenges, and their ways of dealing with their conflicts. Other people play a background role to the central drama surrounding these six.

With a title about sweetness, I hoped for a optimistic but realistic read. Harris delivered it honestly, not sparing real horror, but also showing glimpses of redemption. It wades into much less than sweet water on the way, but the book leaves us with a real sense of each of the people we have met, no matter what befalls them. (Some of the book is quite graphic, so if you are looking for a light read, I can’t recommend the novel.)

“American Ahistorical Insights”

As mystifying as racial realities are for an American, I imagine they are even more so for many of my readers. But this recent book How the Word is Passed, A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America by Clint Smith will shed some necessary light on just how differently United States history is perceived across this nation. Smith visits several tourist locations which have a connection with slavery and talks with visitors about the issues each place brings up.

Most fascinating, to me, given the current acrimony about what is taught in schools, is the story at Monticello, ancestral plantation of Thomas Jefferson, third U.S. President. Smith talks with park guides about their experiences as he tours both the mansion and takes an add-on walk about slave history there. He learns of some visitors’ anger about hearing “political” things when they just wanted to look at a beautiful house. By “political,” they mean that the guides tell the truth that the house was built by slaves, that slaves tilled the grounds, and that slaves were bought and sold by Jefferson. Jefferson also fathered children by one of his enslaved women, proven by DNA testing of descendants.

I recommend the book highly for anyone wanting to understand just how ahistorical much of American history taught in schools has been. Many unpleasant truths have been omitted or watered down. Sadly, some still want to tell only a slavery free history of this country. No such history is accurate. I think of the old adage “the truth will set you free, but first it may make you miserable.” Forward is the only way possible for this country. There is no going back, and all of our citizens deserve to know the true history of how this country became great, including the contributions of free, indentured and slave alike. Only then can we move forward as one American people. As an optimist, I think it is possible.