Things done, things yet to do

Putting in the well pump was an ordeal. The house water was off for 2 days. Many people here do not have any indoor plumbing, but I am a sissy, I need water from faucets inside. For 2 days I improvised with difficulty. Pam and Joee who live across the street have never had indoor plumbing; they have a system and a routine for living life without it. They keep a large bucket of water on the wood stove for hot water. Pam says she hauls 5 gallons in every day. I suppose one becomes careful with the use of water indoors, does not get hands dirty or wash them often, saves on getting dishes dirty, and develops a routine for washing and rinsing them. Pam and Joee have an old ringer-washer outside for doing laundry and they go to the Washeteria to take showers: not every day. One doesn’t ask how often.

While the indoor water was turned off Jerry and I put water in buckets for flushing the toilet and and jugs of drinking water from the town well (that water is filtered). We ate dinner on paper plates and I washed pans in a plastic dish pan with water heated on the stove. I rinsed them in another plastic dish pan. The water in both pans got kind of dingy. There were no showers and our hands were not always clean.

The first pump installation day was occupied with taking out the old pump. The well is 86 feet deep and the old pump was about 70 feet down, suspended by 70 feet of heavy galvanized iron pipe. Jerry had rigged up a support, attached to the house, on which he hung a length of chain attached to a come-along (I suppose everyone knows what that is — although I was totally ignorant of such devices until I knew Jerry). The chain was attached to the top of the well pipe and the pipe and pump were ratcheted up, about 4 feet at a time, with the come-along. When it got to the top of the support, the come-along had to be reattached at the well level and the process repeated. There were 3 21 foot lengths of pipe, so when each length was exposed, and the pipe was towering in the air, I went outside to help  steady it as Jerry unscrewed it (with difficulty — it was old, rusty and stiff) from the next piece, then together we lowered it to the ground. When he got to the part of the pipe that was in the water the pipe was covered with more rust and black slime. Jerry said the slime was zinc oxide. I resolved never to drink the water from the well. It was late in the day when he got to the pump. After some time spent messing with detaching it from the house pipe connection which is about 6 feet down the narrow well caseing he finally hauled it out of the well. It weighs about 50 pounds. It was wine time.

The next day was for putting the new pump in. Jerry had already wired all the components, both inside and out. The new pipe was plastic, in 10 foot lengths, and much easier to handle. Everything went well until mid-afternoon when he got to the point of attaching the well pipe to the house pipe in that 6 foot deep opening in the well caseing. The connection and the hole it has to fit into are both square. At one point Jerry came in and asked me to Google something he called a well bittles. I found nothing useful. I tried a lot of variations of “bittles” without success, but I came up with a diagram of well pump connections and he discovered that the thing is called a “pit-less”. It showed how the pipe-house connection works. Both of us went back outside to the well. I held a light (we tried a bulb on a wire and a flash light. Neither worked very well. We could just barely see where the hole was, but trying to maneuver the heavy pump with its square side connection into a hole we could hardly see looked as if it was going to defeat us.

Jerry said if he couldn’t get it in it would be a disaster. We would have to come back next summer and dig up all the pipe from the well to the house. Plus, I thought, we will have to be here for 2 more weeks with no running water. I have never known Jerry to fail to accomplish something he set about to do, but I began to lose heart. It just looked impossible. It was a chilly 25 degrees F. I decided that my standing around in despair was not helping, so I went inside the house to try to compose myself and become reconciled to weeks without water and a summer trip here — when mosquitoes are swarming.

Ah, me of little faith! After I had moped about the house for about an hour Jerry came in with a satisfied look on his face. He said, I think I got it in. I was incredulous. You did? Yes, he said quietly. In few minutes he had a hose connected under the kitchen sink, run out the door and over the porch railing. He turned on the water and brown water squirted out of the hose. He said it would clear up soon. Not long after that we had hot and cold water from faucets in the kitchen and bathroom and the toilet flushed!

It was a lovely evening. We had steak for dinner which we ate on real plates (my mother’s old everyday china, pretty). I cleaned up all the kitchen surfaces and washed the dishes in nice hot water from the tap.

Since we were back to normal with plumbing, the next project was to finish painting and lay carpet in the new tiny downstairs bedroom. That was accomplished in the next couple of days. Now there is soft green carpet under our feet when we get up in the middle of the night. This is the nicest little house ever!

I turned my attention to painting a picture for the new bedroom to hang over the bed. I picked out a photograph of the Alaska house taken in the snow, late in the afternoon. I liked the light. Jerry was in the picture carrying the old pan he uses to empty ashes from the wood stove. I spent a morning laying out the building and the figure on the canvas. At lunchtime I realized that the building was all wrong and I smeared out the whole thing. After our nap I repainted the main areas, this time correcting the errors in shape of the building parts. Jerry came in from trimming weeds around the house and said he liked the picture. That’s unusual from Jerry. I was encouraged, and I liked it too. A couple of days later I had finished it in time to hang it up before Pam and Joee came to dinner. Jerry and I both enjoyed showing off our new bedroom. There are still wall cabinets to be finished on the wall opposite the bed, but that’s a project for next year.

I have had a lot of positive response to the picture, and that makes me happy, but it also has the peculiar effect of making me think I can never paint one that good again. It helps to tell myself that it isn’t really that great. It is difficult to evaluate one’s own work. I know my work is conventional and literal. I hope it has some element of originality. I don’t want to just copy.

A painting of our Alaska house in winter

Now we are getting ready to leave Manley in a couple of days. Jerry is stowing and sorting tools, I am washing, cleaning and deciding what food can be left (it has to withstand freezing–we can leave vodka but not wine) and what can be taken to Pam and Joee. Pam gave us a lot of moose hamburger and we didn’t use it all. But I did pretty well planning food. There’s not much excess.

There is snow now in the woods where we walk. We look for animal tracks and have seen many mouse tracks, a fox and some grouse.

I am sad to leave, but pleased to be traveling and to be taking the ferry.  I will be glad to see my Lummi house and friends and my garden. My lawyer daughter tells me that the lettuce I planted before we left is up and there are beets and carrots to be harvested.

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A new pump for the well

Things are changing a little bit in our life in Manley. Jerry built a base for a new bed, and since we had a mattress that we bought the last time we went to Fairbanks we are now sleeping in the new bedroom even though the painting is not finished (because I ran out of paint) and the carpet is not yet down.

New bedroom, not finished

But at least there are no more midnight trips down the ladder-stair. In many ways we miss our upstairs bedroom. Perhaps sometimes we will take a nap up there.

We have an interruption in our daily routine. Jerry noticed that the well pump was running constantly. That almost certainly meant a leak. The well pump is old and Jerry was worried. He checked out all the above ground pipes and connections, and concluded that the leak is in the well and probably the result of holes in a rusty pipe. He decided it is time for a new well pump and plastic pipes instead of iron ones. In the meantime, we only have the pump on when we need to run water.

Constructing a device to pull up the old well

So we had to make an unplanned trip to Fairbanks. It was a chance for me to get paint  for the new bedroom. And, oh my, we were running out of vodka again. On the 150 mile drive to Fairbanks we saw, as we had on our last trip, lots of grouse, sometimes in flocks of 7 or 8 hanging around the edges of the road. They wait until the last minute to fly as the truck approaches. I kept trying to get photos, but almost all the ones I got are blurry. They blend into the gravelly edges of the road, and the camera focuses on the bright grasses behind them. My old eyes are not good enough to focus manually, and I am not quick enough.

Grouse by the roadside

But we had a wildlife bonus — 2 moose! First a cow moose ran across the road in front of us.

Moose crossing the road to Manley

Just up the road was a handsome young bull moose! There are still hunters camped along the road with their RVs and 4 wheelers. It is illegal to shoot moose from the road so they run the 4 wheelers through the bush, spoiling the dog mushers trails. When Jerry was young and hunting (for food, not “sport”) hunters went into the bush on foot and camped in tents. I hope the hunters don’t get that fine bull moose. Jerry says he would probably be really good eating as he is not yet in his prime. His rack isn’t as big as it will get if he survives the season.

Young bull moose

We got to Fairbanks around noon and then began the pump quest. We were told where we should go first by a friend of Jerry’s (Kurt) who had recently installed a new well. Kurt had invited us for dinner a few days before. That was a pleasant evening; another old pilot was there and the three pilots talked about airplanes and flying experiences most of the time. Occasionally I introduced another topic; they listened to me politely, made a comment or two, and then went back to airplanes. The food was all cooked by Kurt and was really good. We started with jalapenos stuffed with goat cheese and herbs. Yum. Jerry couldn’t eat those, and he hesitated about quinoa which was the side dish to steak and chicken cooked on the grill. I assured him it wouldn’t hurt him and he ate it without complaint.

Well, I’m  rambling. Back to the pump. We got to the plumbing supplies place where Kurt told us there was an old guy who would know all about what Jerry would need for a new, modern pump. I opted to stay in the car while Jerry went in. The radio was playing traditional Hawaiian music, because the concert and event series held each year in Fairbanks is having some traditional Hawaiian musicians for its next concert. I loved the Hawaiian music, and I hope Hattie will recommend a CD that I can play at home. The pump discussion going on inside lasted so long that I actually got to hear previews of the whole 2014-2015 season which sounded quite interesting and imaginative. Culture is alive in Fairbanks. Fairbanks also actually has a symphony orchestra that plays a whole separate season of concerts, plus it has a lively drama community that puts on frequent plays.

Finally, after taking an hour of time and spending $1000, Jerry emerged and we went around the back to get plastic pipe which had to be securely bound to the roof rack of the truck canopy. Steel cable was needed and was not available at the pump store. So we went in search of it. That involved 2 stops and then, since it had to be cut, another trip back after a call to my cell phone that it was ready. In the meantime, I called our financial adviser, Toni, in Bellingham to have some money put into our account to pay for the pump. She told me that she had come home early from a conference because her beloved dog was dangerously ill. Happily, the dog is now getting better. I told Toni about our pump quest. I said, “I can’t tell you how much fun I’m having” Toni said, “I can hear it.”

While we were waiting for the cable to be cut we went to Sam’s Club (there’s no Costco in Fairbanks) to get Jerry a new electric shaver. His old one died and he was looking pretty grizzled from using my old leg shaver. He had tried to fix his shaver, but after having it all apart with the pieces scattered all over the kitchen table, he decided it was truly dead. There were no shavers at Sam’s Club. We were told (naturally) to go to Walmart. By this time we got a call that the cable was ready, so we went to pick that up and then back to Walmart. It was getting late. We were both getting shopping schaden. We tried to do the rest of our miscellaneous shopping at Walmart, a terrible place to shop. You can’t find anything. The shelves are not well stocked. There were no loose baked potatoes, only 20 pound bags. I wanted 5 potatoes. I said, “lets go back to the Golden North and have a drink. We can do the rest of this tomorrow.”

The next day we had to get a bunch of really boring little things plus a sheet of plywood (for the new bedroom) at Home Depot. That’s similar to shopping at Walmart, except that at Home Depot there are people to help find stuff. It took almost an hour, but finally we were on our way home. Jerry said, “It looks like rain up there.” The rain began, first as a mist, then a drizzle, then rain, then sleet and finally, heavy snow when we got to the high places on the Manley Road. We could barely see 20 feet. I began whine, “Are we going to get home?” Jerry said, “Yes, but it will take time.” We didn’t have chains with us and the studs on the tires were worn flat. But it got better as we began to come down from the high places, and by the time we got home it was rain again.

We went to Fairbanks on Monday, shopped and came home on Tuesday but were both too tired when we got back to do much. We put away the groceries and I cooked a simple dinner. The next day I had an upset stomach. Jerry emptied the truck of all the pump supplies, but not much else got done. On Thursday morning he did some preliminary wiring of pump components and made plans for pulling up the old pump. At lunch time Pam called and said that at the Tanana River landing the Fish and Game Department fishwheel was going to be brought ashore for the winter and it would be interesting to watch. So at 2 o’clock after a short nap, we went down to the landing.

Bringing out the fish wheel was quite an undertaking. The wheel is about 25 feet tall. It has 2 baskets that rotate and catch fish as they swim upstream to spawn. The wheel floats on a deck of big wooden logs.

Fish and Game fishwheel

It’s a big thing to pull out of the water. This was done with the Department of Transportation road working equipment. First an old, broken fish wheel frame had to be got out of the way of the new wheel parking place. This was done with a big road building truck that had a giant fork lift on it. The problem was that the fork-lift vehicle got stuck in the copious river mud. The driver called the road grader to come and pull him out.

Grader pulling forklift vehicle out of the mud

After that problem was solved the fish wheel finally arrived at the landing, having been pushed by a boat form the place where it had been operating down river. Bringing it to the landing took longer than anticipated because it had to be pushed against the current. Small logs were placed on the muddy ramp and the wheel was lifted by heavy chains enough to get its log floats on the small logs.

Starting to pull up the fishwheel

Then it was slowly and cumbersomely pulled up the bank, rolling on the small lots as they were pulled from the rear and placed in the front of the wheel.

Jerry spent a lot of time at the landing talking to old friends, some he hadn’t seen for many years. He met an old friend, another pilot (just about everyone around here is a pilot) and they talked about flying. Jerry looked happy, and I was glad he had that break from worrying about the pump.

Jerry enjoyed himself

On the way home we stopped to look at the new Manley airport. I asked Jerry if he was sorry he had given up flying when he was 70. “Yes,” he said, “but I’m too old now.”

Today is Friday. There are many things to be done about the pump. Jerry is trying to assemble all the bits and, get all the electrical wiring done, the cable placed and the pipes ready to go. Perhaps tomorrow the new pump will be in the well. Perhaps not.

When the pump is in the well, we can finish the new bedroom. We leave here in less than 2 weeks. It has been a busy vacation.

Posted in Alaska, Day to day | Tagged , , | 8 Comments

Living in Manley

Here we are, Jerry and I, in Manley Hot Springs. For anyone first time visiting this blog let me explain that Manley is 150 miles west of Fairbanks, Alaska. It isn’t near anything else and when I walk in the woods behind our tiny house I like to think that there’s nothing for hundreds of miles but hills and valleys full of spruce and birch. We come here once or twice a year for a month or so. The rest of the time we live on an island in Puget Sound.

Why Manley? Because Jerry used to live here in the prime of his life. He owned the power company (that served about 80 people) and he started a telephone company for this community that had only one radio phone at the town’s only store. Jerry owned the store too, for a while, until he got tired of the retail business. He and I got married here 8 years ago during a trip we took 6 weeks after we met. I could see his nostalgia for the place and we bought this little house and fixed it up. It’s comfortable, warm and full of light.

We sleep in the upstairs which has loft-like features. It’s partly open and the stair to it is steep, almost ladder like. Jerry built the stair, which wouldn’t pass building codes, except out here in the unincorporated wilderness there are no building codes or inspections. No property taxes either. That makes Jerry happy.

Now that we are in our 80’s we are converting a small workroom downstairs to a bedroom so we won’t have to make the somewhat risky trip down the stair-ladder to the toilet several times a night. Yes, we have indoor plumbing, something of an exception in this tiny community. But we don’t have a washing machine, so I am writing this as I sit in the Native run Washeteria waiting for my laundry to be done. The Washeteria also has showers for townsfolk who don’t have indoor facilities.

I like Manley in the fall. It’s usually sunny, and this year it is peculiarly warm. Daytime temps have been in the 60’s and 70’s for almost a week. That means we still have lots of mosquitoes. There’s a sign on the wall of the Washeteria:

Keep the misquotes out

The other day we had a minute of excitement: an earthquake! There was a thump — I said to Jerry, “What was that?” Then the house began to shake and things fell off shelves. It was probably less than a minute. I said, “It’s an earthquake!” He said, “No it isn’t — well, maybe it is.” Some things fell off shelves upstairs. About that time it was over. Usually earthquakes scare me, but this one was only about 5.3 and over too fast to be scary. The center was near here, about 40 miles away on the Minto Flats. We heard on the radio that seismologists from the University of Alaska’s Geophysical Institute were on the verge of installing new seismographs on the Minto Flats. They were chagrined that the earthquake got there before they did.

The Minto Flats seen from the Manley Road

Last night I woke up at 1AM and saw a display of northern lights. Sheets of greenish light with pinkish red at the edges swoop across the sky. Some just appear, stay flickering and go. I stood on the porch in my nightgown and bare feet for about 10 minutes watching, but it wasn’t too cold –about 45 or 50.

Sometimes a moose wanders through our yard. Here’s a cow moose with her calf that I photographed through the living room window.

Mother moose

It’s hunting season here now, so bull moose are in danger, but it is not legal to shoot a cow moose, so she and her calf are safe from hunters.

What do we do in Manley? We maintain our regular old people routine. Up early, I paint pictures or write in the mornings, Jerry fixes things, does chores, starts a fire, chops wood. And at present we have the little bedroom project. Jerry is in the process of installing a window. Then lunch, nap, feed dogs, a little more project work or housekeeping and then we walk up a hill in the woods behind our house to a trail, mostly unused now, that is for mining equipment. The woods are beautiful white birch and some spruce. Just now the leaves are brilliant yellow and constantly tumbling down, making the forest floor golden too.

The woods in back of our house

This has been a bad year for berries (cranberries, blueberries, salmonberries, thimbleberries and rose hips) so the bears are hungry and have been hanging around houses and the dump. We take bear spray with us when we walk, but so far we have seen no bears. Then I cook and we eat dinner. We watch a couple of lectures from The Teaching Company before bed. More of that later.

We have to travel to Fairbanks for food and supplies as there isn’t much in the way of stores in Manley. The drive is about 3 1/2 hours. About half the distance is on a gravel road, slow going. Generally we stay overnight in Fairbanks. Once or twice we have tried to do it in one day, but 7 hours of driving plus trying to shop for 3 weeks or a month exhausts us and it takes days to recover. This time we will make an extra trip for a new well pump. The old one is wearing out and Jerry will install the new one.

In Fairbanks we stay at a small, old fashioned motel called The Golden North, on a sort of hidden back street. The owner is a lady almost as old as Jerry and me and she knows many people in Manley.  She and Jerry exchange news and remenicences Across the road from the motel there is a bar called The Lonely Lady which has “show-girls”. There is a sign up this year that says “New Girl”. There was a fanciful structure down the street, a jumble of fake half-timbered towers, gables and extensions painted a violent green with brown timbers and woodwork. Jerry said it was called the Swiss Chalet and he used to take girlfriends there for dinner. It has not been open since I have known it, and this time we were sad to see that it has disappeared entirely, being replaced by a bank and Walgreens. Fairbanks once had a kind of tacky charm, but now it is becoming a city of MacDonalds and big box stores. Charm is gone.

In Fairbanks we got groceries for a month, propane to run the hot water heater and cooking stove and heating fuel for the oil burning stove, also lumber, a window and door for our bedroom project. Jerry needed a new axe. Home Depot had no axes. Besides they had no fire lighters. A clerk looked them up on the computer which said there were 0 in stock and called them “seasonal”. Jerry went to Lowes to look for an axe and I had a chance to go to Pier 1 imports to look for a rug and paper lanterns for the bare light bulbs in our new bedroom. There were no axes at Lowes, but I found what I wanted at Pier 1. The pump we will get next trip.

On the way back to Manley we stopped to change drivers. Jerry said, “What’s that leaking from the truck bed?” He leaned over and stuck his fingers in the dripping fluid. “Diesel!” he said. There was no way to get at the diesel barrel — it was under the lumber, door,window and a new mattress. We had 60 miles to go and we drove home trying not to think about the $150 of heating oil that was dripping along the road. When we got home and unloaded the truck Jerry said we had only lost about 5 gallons of fuel. Funny what can make you happy. I don’t use the driers in the Washeteria. I go home with tubs of wet wash and hang it on the clothesline in the sun. I like to see it flap in the wind as the yellow leaves flutter down on the orange and maroon fireweed that covers the yard. It gives me peace.

It makes me happy to be here in Manley. I am completely quiet and rested. I have nothing pressing to do, not much housework, no garden to tend, no doctors appointments, no social obligations, especially since I was ostracized by the Manley women because I wrote about them in my blog. I am thinking of reposting some of those old blog entries. When I am here I don’t think much about the law suit, don’t worry much about my children. My husband, my 4th husband, is my first competent husband. I don’t have to worry about things needing repair, things to be built, stoves and fuel being attended to. He can fix or build anything, so this isolated place holds no terrors for me. We are both in reasonably good health, so the lack of nearby medical help is not yet a problem.

We have thought about selling this house. We say to each other, “We’re old, we won’t be able to do this for many more years.” But just now there is no demand for property in Manley. The place has potential for the future. There is not a great deal of private property in Manley. Most of the land is owned by the Native Village Council.  There is a road going through to Tanana and it is an extension of the road that goes by our house. This road will eventually be the Road to Nome — the other side of Alaska. And we have a well, a septic system, electricity and a phone line. Our house is on high ground, so will never be troubled by high water on the slough as many of the houses in Manley are. I am thinking that perhaps I could leave this, and another lot we own here that has a wonderful view, to a couple of my great grandchildren. I love this place. I like to think of it staying with my descendents.

Will my great grandchildren walk in these woods?

Posted in Alaska, Day to day | 10 Comments

Out to Dinner

Mostly I go out to dinner so I won’t have to cook and wash up. It’s nice to be waited on for a change. I care about the food, of course; I don’t like it to be terrible. With age one’s sense of taste changes and the ability to distinguish subtleties in flavor diminishes. One needs much smaller portions. Jerry and I usually share a main course, and we seldom eat dessert — although Jerry sometimes likes to have ice cream.

Here on the island we have 3 and a half eateries. There is the Willows which is a pleasant old house with a big veranda overlooking the bay and islands. When I first came to the island it was closed, having failed as an inn and restaurant sometime before I got here. It opened up again after Riley and Judy bought it. They had an organic chicken farm, Nettles Farm, just up the hill from the Willows, and they combined the attraction of fresh grown organic food and the lovely view. The prices were on the high side for a small island, but okay for a treat. The chicken was tough, the other food only sometimes good. After an early embarrassment — they were closed by police one night in the middle of service because they were serving wine without a license– the business limped along, aided by some island investors. Locally caught prawns cooked on the deck by Riley were a summer attraction.

Then Riley got some “consultants” to help. A wunderkind chef was hired and the “consultants” got the Willows reviewed in the New York Times as “one of the 10 best places in the world to fly into for dinner”. The fact that there is no air strip on the island apparently didn’t matter. You can come on your float plane, I guess. Business picked up, but not enough to save Riley (Judy had already bowed out). Now it’s owned by a few people (wunderkind among them) and financed by some wealthy island investors. Most people on the island (myself and Jerry included) can’t afford to go there. Dinner with wine is said to set one back around $600 for 2. I have had dinner described to me as many courses of tiny servings, each brought to the table by a “chef” (all the cooks at the Willows call themselves chefs) who explains (poetically) the ingredients and how they are prepared. One of my informants said he was told a lot more than he wanted to know about the youth and tenderness of the lamb he was about to enjoy eating (it “had never tasted its mother’s milk,” etc). The Willows “chefs” can be seen prowling about the island woods, meadows and beaches “foraging” for interesting snippets of edible plants and tasty seaweed. They buy lamb and other meats from island farmers (there are a few here, generally hobby farms). The menu is fixed, and the food is elegantly presented on rocks and planks.

Recently Facebook has been full of excited entries about a magnificent yacht (a helicopter on its upper deck), owned by a Russian Billionaire banker, that anchored at Lummi. The billionaire, his wife and 2 companions came ashore on a small boat for dinner at the Willows. The Islander, our island grocery, almost ran out of beer as locals bought six packs to sit on the beach and ogle rich Russians on their way to eat.

A couple from Iowa who were guests in my vacation rental went to the Willows as their vacation splurge. They did the whole $600 thing which includes a lot of wine. Just before the main item was presented (lamb) Kendra began to feel ill, the effects of a lot of rich food and excess wine, and she and Ed had to leave in a hurry. The numerous Willows staff who hovered and described the food seemed confused and annoyed by having their routine interrupted by what they felt was an inappropriate response to their performance. Kendra told me later that she had written to the actual executive chef, one of the owners, to complain of the way she was treated. She forwarded the letter of apology that she got. I thought it was a bit haughty. It advised her, if she needed anything in the future, to correspond with the “sales manager.”

There is an adjunct to the Willows, called the Taproot, which is in a daylight basement section of the old house. It has gone through a number if iterations all of them essentially sandwiches and fast food. The service has been terrible when I have been there or taken friends. However, it was reasonably priced. Now it boasts sandwiches with organic ingredients on fresh home baked bread. You have to get your own sandwich out of a refrigerator, and wait, sometimes a long time, for beverages. A friend says:”I’m not going there for a wet, cold sandwich I have to get myself.”

The Beach Store Cafe, the island’s only other restaurant, is what’s there if I don’t want to cook dinner.

The Beach Store Cafe taken from the Ferry

It has had pizza, hamburgers, nachos, fish and chips and the like. Jerry and I share a pizza (10 inch was plenty for us), have a couple of glasses of wine and a salad. If we don’t drink too much wine we can get out for about $35-$45. The Beach Store Cafe is now owned and operated by the Willows. They need an alternative eatery for their guests who come to stay for a couple of days. Most people can’t manage a 20 + course $600 meal every night. So now the menu at the Beach Store Cafe pretends to be “local” “organic” and “gourmet”, though the big Food Services of America truck comes across on the ferry regularly. Perish the thought that it could be going to the Willows. You can still get pizza (not quite as good as it used to be), fish and chips and hamburgers. The rest of the menu consists of trendy descriptions of generally unappealing food.

The Beach Store new interior

After Kendra and Ed’s unfortunate experience at the Willows I suggested that they venture to the mainland and go to my favorite restaurant, The Oyster Bar on Chuckanut Drive. It has been operating successfully for many years. An older man who often waits on us told us he has worked there for 30 years. The building sits on a cliff on the side of a sheer hillside overlooking Puget Sound and islands to the west. The view is stunning. Kendra and Ed loved it. They said that the service was unusually attentive and pleasant. So when Jerry and I celebrated our 8th wedding anniversary on August 9 we went there.

At the Oyster Bar on our 8th anniversary

The drive down Chuckanut is beautiful but scary with its sharp bends and long drops to the rocks of the shore. I love the views of the islands and the towering firs of the forest. Almost a month has passed since then, so I can’t remember what I ate, but it was good. There’s champagne sorbet between courses and a delicate little cheese souffle comes with dinner. We shared a dessert — tiny but nice.

After dessert at the Oyster Bar

Now we are in Alaska at our dear little house in Manley Hot Springs. We came as far as Haines AK on the ferry. In summer the boat is the Columbia. It has a dining room with views out the back of the boat. It’s a pleasant place to sit, but the food is really terrible. The portions are skimpy, so sharing doesn’t work. The alternative is fast food in the snack bar where you can’t get wine. After 2 dinners of almost inedible food in the dining room we got snack bar stuff and carried it into the bar (that’s allowed so long as you bus your own dishes) so we could have some wine with our fish and chips.

From Haines to Fairbanks you drive through Canada. We stopped in Haines Junction for the night and had dinner at the main local eatery. It is owned and run by a couple of Chinese men and it features “Chinese and American” (not Canadian) food. Jerry and I chose from the evening specials because they were relatively cheap. The Chinese cooks were barely able to tear themselves away from watching the US Open Tennis tournament on TV to prepare our dinners. Our waitress, a cheerful Canadian woman, told us that they bet on the matches. I had BBQ duck (?). I suspected it had been around for a while. Jerry had pork chops. They were wafer thin and cooked until hard. He had trouble chewing them.

When we got to Fairbanks we were again faced with the prospect of eating out in a place where there are no good restaurants. We went to the Pump House. This is Fairbanks’ high end restaurant. It’s on the Chena river in an old mining pump house. We parked our GMC pickup among the other pickups of various vintages. There are pretty gardens outside with giant Alaskan cabbages and artichokes among the flowers.

Pump House garden

As you enter there’s a glass case containing a huge stuffed grizzly bear.

Pump House bear

The walls are decorated with lots of old photos of the gold rush and old mining tools. The restaurant is near the University so there are often academic types eating there. I like the ambiance. The waiter was polite and tried to be helpful, but the food was pretty bad. Jerry and I shared grilled halibut recommended by the waiter. It was overcooked and dry.

More and more people are eating out these days. I regularly read the dining section in the New York Times and the food sounds so good — both the recipes and the descriptions of New York restaurant food. Is my problem my old taste buds, or is most restaurant food bad? Is it really so good in New York?

I have been thinking about the Manley Road House. It is an authentic old Alaska road house, one of the few left in almost it’s original condition. It dates from the early 20th Century.

The Manley Road House

A few years ago Jerry and I were walking in “downtown” Manley and we passed three well dressed people accompanied by a well groomed toy poodle. They were going to the Road House for lunch! I suppose they came on their private plane. There is an airstrip here, now updated to the tune of $14 million. That was before Bob Lee, its owner, died.

Road House interior

Now the Road House is owned and run by his widow. She is a youngish woman, not high energy, and known for her difficulty interacting with the public. So the Road House doesn’t serve the public any more, just visiting work crews, from the airport or the under construction road to Tanana which runs by our house.

Old piano in the Road House

I think of what a young person with some money and imagination could do with this: a real old road house in wild interior Alaska, a tiny town where bears and moose roam free, where locals go out to tend their trap lines or prospect for gold or fish the Tanana River for salmon and grayling, where there are undeveloped hot springs and where there is a good airport that private jets could easily fly in. Suppose the Road House had great food, specializing on local game. Suppose it had good service. Suppose it had well appointed luxury rooms and cabins and a well kept camp ground. Think of the possibilities!

Sometime, after Jerry and I are long gone, perhaps. Or perhaps the old house will just fall into disrepair and crumble away. I wonder which will happen.

Road House decor. What will become of it?

Posted in Alaska, Day to day, Island life | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

I’ve been painting again.

Music from a saw

I am hopeless at multitasking. When I paint I don’t blog, and I seem to need to paint all the time. And silly Facebook takes up computer time.

The young man above, playing a saw, I took a photo of in San Francisco a couple of years ago. The sounds coming from the saw were heavenly and he was beautiful. Nobody was paying the slightest attention.

South Island Diptych

The diptych was done from about 3 photos and some imagination. The photos were all taken in the South Island New Zealand. Jerry and I had a long tour last fall (spring in New Zealand) with my dear cousin Jocelyn and her Irish husband, Albert.

Serenade in Zhou Zhaung

The Chinese musician in this painting serenaded my daughter, her husband and me in a little restaurant in the Chinese “Venice”. The streets of Zhou Zhaung are canals. The restaurant was built out over the river. The food was peculiar, but the view was great.

Emu seen in Florida

The emu was on a farm in Florida. I took a picture of it at the rehearsal dinner for the wedding of my grandson which was held at the farm. I thought the background was not interesting, so I found a short video of an emu in Australia in an environment a bit like the one in the painting. The photo of the emu that I took had its feet obscured by grass and I wanted to paint feet on it. I had no idea what emu feet look like, but I thought I might try to Google “emu feet”. The web is wonderful. I immediately got images of emu feet in all positions.

Peacock in Santo Domingo

The peacock was in Santo Domingo where I went a couple of years ago to visit my granddaughter who was there working in the Peace Corps.

Turkey in Florida grass

The turkey was on the same farm as the emu. I needed help with its feet (too much grass) so I googled “turkey feet” and was rewarded with lots of pictures and recipes too. (There were no recipes for emu feet.)

Queenstown Buskers

The buskers in Queenstown, New Zealand were energetic and appeared to be having a good time. The onlooker was unimpressed.

Salome, Arizona

Jerry and I had to go to Salome, Arizona to take care of some property that belonged to his late brother. I call this painting my “I hate Arizona” painting. It seemed like a benighted, desolate place where you can get nasty diseases (Jerry’s brother got Valley Fever there) and where everyone has a gun. But the painting turned out to be one that quite a few people like.

Planning an Expedition in Dominican Republic

My granddaughter’s work in the Peace Corps was in a small village about 2 hours by bus from Santo Domingo. She was working with youth groups and teaching adolescents about AIDS prevention. She worked with some of the kids in the painting above. I thought they were nice kids and they looked happy and healthy.

These paintings were all completed in the last six months. They are hanging now in the Artisan Wine Gallery which is a short walk from my house. They all have prices on them, but I can’t help hoping they don’t sell. I have some of my older paintings displayed at the Willows, our local super high end restaurant and inn. I hope those don’t sell either, but the paintings are beginning to accumulate and take up too much space. It’s a dilemma.


Posted in Art | 5 Comments

Caterpillars and population

For the past 3 weeks caterpillars have carpeted the outdoors, and when they can they sneak inside. Most of them are about 2 inches long, orange and black segmentally striped and covered with fuzzy tan fur. They move remarkably fast.

covered with caterpillars

It has changed the world we live in to have wiggly, crawly things where ever we step. It is  surreal–almost apocalyptic.  They are everywhere: all around the door, all over the walk, all over the road, chomping on my roses and my pear tree. They are western tent caterpillars and they like alders. Our house is surrounded by alder woods. A couple of years ago they were mostly on the north end of the island, and while Polly and Karl lay dying the caterpillars devastated their orchard. This year they have defoliated all the tall alders around our house, far back into the woods. My flowers are getting a lot more sun than usual.

This is how our trees look now, full of tents, leaves eaten away

I had renters in my guest apartment over the Memorial Day weekend — a single father and his two boys. I apologized for the caterpillars. Don’t worry, he said politely, the boys think they’re cute. Children seem to like them. My neighbor was out with his grandson biking past the yard as I was picking caterpillars off the vegetables I grow along the fence in half barrels. I said, Hi Sylvan, to the 4 year old. We have a pet caterpillar, he said. I laughed. We have an army of millions of them.

My vegetable garden

Every morning just after breakfast I go out with the broom and sweep up bags of them from around the door and the patio. We can’t use the patio anyhow, because a few minutes after I sweep there are caterpillars traveling purposefully in all directions. They drop on us as we sip our cocktails. So we stay inside. Jerry and I check each other for caterpillars when we have been outside. I spend hours every day picking them off the plants I grow. Now they are beginning to pupate, curling up the leaves and sticking them together with white cottony threads.

The house is covered with cocoons

I think about the ancient silk trade while I work picking them off in places I can get at them. I wonder why only silk worms make a fiber that is useful to humans. Why can’t we use the sticky white threads of the western tent caterpillar?

At first I couldn’t bring myself to touch the crawling caterpillars, but I got used to it and now I scoop them off the flower pots, walls and path by the handfuls, trying not to notice their soft, furry wriggling. I don’t want to squish them because yucky brown stuff gets on my hands if they are damaged. Rachel, the tall, beautiful young woman who pulls weeds for me sometimes (what a worker she is!) says, They make you resent them because you can’t help hurting them. But I have become angry with them. I want to kill them all.

The multitude of caterpillars is a striking example of the profligacy of life. There are live caterpillars crawling over squashed ones all over the road. My neighbors say they don’t walk on Granger Way these days because it’s so unpleasant to step on the crawling things. Millions are produced; so it doesn’t matter that only hundreds ever make it to reproduce. The biological strategy of the species is: blanket the world–some are sure to survive.

Apparently caterpillar numbers cycle and this is the worst they have been in 20 years. I have lived here that long and have never seen anything like this. Supposedly they don’t kill mature plants and trees, even though there are few leaves left on the trees in the woods. The eggs are laid in glistening packets around twigs of the trees. They hatch in the spring and the larvae (caterpillars) form tents packed with dense masses of them. At first they stay in the tents in the daytime and feed at night, coming back to their tents at dawn. They undergo 3 molts, each time getting bigger and after the last molt they leave the tent and set out on their life’s journey.

Birds are everywhere, but these caterpillars must really taste bad because no bird seems to feed on them. There is a kind of wasp that lays its eggs on them, and those unlucky caterpillars will never become the ugly brown moths which are the adult stage. If the wasps have laid their eggs on a caterpillar there is a distinct white spot on its head. When the moths emerge from their cocoons they have no mouth parts, and so they can’t feed. They mate, lay eggs for next years caterpillar infestation and then they die.

Every day now there are fewer crawling ones and more making cocoons all over the house and my plants. Jerry has bought a new pressure washer to clean them off the house, but it’s a monumental task. They are so sticky that he worries about getting water under the siding if he blasts them hard enough to loosen them.

Besides the multitude of caterpillars there is a sudden increase in the population of band tailed pigeons. They were not here, at least not such numbers, until this year. They coo mournfully and monotonously all day. The sound annoys a lot of islanders, some of whom want to shoot them. It has been suggested that they could become part of the trendy foraged food menu at the Willows. I just wish the pigeons would eat the caterpillars, but pigeons only seem to fancy black sunflower seed in island bird feeders.

Doves at the feeder

Is there a lesson to be learned from these population fluctuations? According to the journal Science the human population growth rate peaked in the early 1960’s, but it is still growing and will probably plateau at 9 billion in the middle of this century. The article goes on to discuss ways to feed this enormous number of people. The magazine The Economist, on the other hand, discussed “shrinking populations” and what governments are trying to do to get people to have more children. The Japanese in particular are not taking sufficient interest in procreation and the population is shrinking. Korea and China also have low fertility rates.

Are we going to have human population peaks and crashes like the caterpillars? What would the world be like if suddenly some lethal virus swept around the world and halved the population as the black death did in the 14th century?

Well, as Jerry and I say to each other when various disasters are predicted for the future, We won’t be around to see it.

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What I was doing when I wasn’t blogging

Elk in Yukon

My last blog post of 2013 was in August. In September my British daughter and a friend traveled with Jerry and me to Alaska. BD and friend stayed with us for a few days and then went on adventures of their own. We stayed in Alaska until the middle of October, came home for a couple of weeks and then flew to New Zealand for a 3 week trip in the South Island with my cousins Jocelyn and Albert.

I took a picture of the elk in the above painting on a frosty morning in Yukon. I took the portrait of Albert to New Zealand and gave it to Joc and Albert. It was done from a picture I had taken almost 10 years ago. The penguins I saw in Milford Sound, New Zealand.



Portrait of Albert

Penguins at Milford Sound

Jerry and I got back from New Zealand on December 7 and we were off again in 10 days to England for Christmas with BD and family.  The portraits of my grandduaghters Catherine and Liz I gave to their father for Christmas.

Portrait of Catherine

Portrait of Liz

This landscape, from a picture I took on the way home from Alaska, I gave my grandson Tom as a Christmas present.

The Cassiar Highway in autumn

South Island landscape

The South Island landscape I gave to Liz for Christmas.

Pig family

My granddaughter Katy came for a visit while I was doing this large painting of pigs from a picture I took in New Zealand. Katy went with me to a painting workshop I often go to at Lorna Libert’s studio. She tried her hand at painting too.

Katy and me at Lorna's workshop

Jerry and I had to go to Arizona in connection with the dispute over Bert’s will. I visited my sister Fran in San Diego on the same trip. These two young women I saw on the beach in La Jolla where Jerry and I stayed.

La Jolla beach

The painting below is from a picture I took of an affluent young Chinese woman having her picture taken by a friend at the museum in Shanghai. I visited my daughter, Clare, there a couple of years ago.

Chinese girl having picture taken at museum

The Keas were stealing food at an eatery at Arthur’s Pass in South Island, New Zealand.

Kea at Arthur's Pass

I took a photo of this balloon seller when I visited Katy in the Dominican Republic.

Selling balloons in Santo Domingo

The chicken was photographed on the same visit. It is one of my favorite paintings.

Jungle chicken in the Dominican Republic

The landscape is from our trip with Jocelyn and Albert.

In the South Island, New Zealand

I thought Arizona was an awful place — at least the part we visited where Bert used to spend his winters and where he caught valley fever. But as an art teacher I once had liked to say, “Art is everywhere.”

My hate picture of Arizona

Clare and Jason are back from China living in San Francisco. They brought these cats from China at great expense. They are very decorative.

Clare and Jason's cate imported from China

I specially like to paint birds. The pelicans I saw in La Jolla, the geese were from our canal trip with British Daughter a couple of years ago, and the Paradise Duck is from our trip to the South Island, New Zealand.

Pelicans in La Jolla

Geese on the Oxford Canal

Paradise Duck

My current resolve is to keep painting and keep blogging. I hope I can do both, but I also, now that it is summer, must keep up my garden and I have taken up bread baking, and of course, there’s always knitting projects. Where does the time go?


Posted in Art, Travel | 15 Comments

Being an Old Woman

I traveled to Florida 2 weeks ago for the wedding of my very young grandson, Nick. There I was the only really old person among an extended and fractured family. I was away from home for 4 days. I worry about leaving Jerry alone, so I called him every morning and evening. He was fine every time.

I flew out of Seattle on Thursday. At the departure gate I was joined by my Lawyer Daughter (the child of my second husband who came to me at the age of 3). She looked slim and lovely but utterly sad and depressed. She is struggling with midlife problems. Her youngest child is almost grown, in high school, thinking about where she will go to college. Lawyer daughter’s nest will soon be empty. While we were waiting to board the plane there was a call from Lawyer Daughter’s office. Her half-sister, whom she hadn’t heard from in years, had called. Lawyer Daughter spoke to her sister and discovered that her birth mother, who Lawyer Daughter only knew slightly, had been out of contact for a month. Lawyer Daughter’s sister wanted help getting the authorities to check on her welfare.

During the flight Lawyer Daughter and I talked about the past and her tenuous connection with her birth mother and 2 half sisters. And we spoke of the things that were making her unhappy in the present. After the wedding she is staying on with old friends in Florida  and I hope she will have some fun, cheer up, and gain a little weight.

The fight was long, tedious and uncomfortable. We had dinner in the Dallas-Fort Worth airport and arrived in Tampa after midnight. Lawyer Daughter discovered that her lap-top computer had been stolen from her checked baggage.

The next day we drove to Gainsville for the wedding. The rehearsal dinner was that night, a BBQ at a resort farm in Williston, Florida. For me that was the best part of the wedding.

Two Hawk Hammock, Williston, Florida

There was no need to dress up and there were various exotic animals to take pictures of for future possible paintings. Emus, parrots, turkeys, ponies, horses and donkeys.

Lawyer Daughter with parrot

Jason is cautious of close contact with turkey

I also took pictures of family and wedding participants.

Granddaughter Katy and turkey

The excellent dinner was planned and cooked by my daughter Clare (mother of the groom) with her husband Jason’s help in the barbequing.

Ellana's 2 grandmothers chat at the rehearsal dinner

Since I tire easily these days Lawyer Daughter drove me back to the place she and I were staying as soon as we finished dinner (around 9 PM). Then she went back to the party. I was asleep when she come back to our little house at the Magnolia Plantation Bed and Breakfast.

My two daughters at the rehearsal dinner

Naturally the next morning I awoke long before Lawyer Daughter. I had breakfast on the outside kitchen veranda at the B &B and listened to the husband of the proprietor talk about his environmental engineering business. He and his wife are trying to sell the bed and breakfast establishment but not having much success. I took Lawyer Daughter a breakfast on a tray and she got up in time to go for a brisk walk with me in a nearby small park. Lawyer Daughter had learned by this time that her birth mother had died in her house. She had been dead for some time before she was found. It was difficult news.

Next we went to my granddaughter Katy’s apartment where her mother, Clare ( Lawyer Daughter’s older sister) and Jason were staying. There was a rehash of the previous night’s party, its successes and it’s problems. Minor family frictions. Next we went to my granddaughter Sarah’s house where we all admired the baby, Ellana. Lawyer Daughter went off to have her hair done along with the bride and bridesmaids at another B & B, and after a while we all joined that group, so that the large room was crowded with wedding participants, hairdressers, photographers, relatives and the bride and groom’s 2 year old daughter, Kinley. The bride, Amanda, looked beautiful. Her hair was done, the veil attached,

Attaching the veil

and then her elegant wedding gown had to be put on over head without destroying the hair and veil. It took about 5 people to do it.

Getting the dress on

By this time it was about 2 hours before the 6 o’clock ceremony and my two daughters, son-in-law and I went to my cottage B&B to dress. The groom arrived with flowers for his mother and me and a rose for Jason’s jacket.

Nick, the groom is pinning my corsage

Pictures were taken of the groom and the bride entering different gates of the pretty walled garden around our cottage. Elaborate precautions were taken so that the groom not see the bride with whom he has been living for 3 years. But it’s bad luck on your wedding day. Customs left over from a long gone era.

Amanda in The Secret Garden

Finally there was the ceremony. It was held outside at the Thomas Center in Gainsville, a restored Mediterranean revival-style hotel that is used by the city for arts, entertainment and rented for events and weddings. Folding chairs were set up below a balcony where the wedding party stood and vows exchanged. Luckily the weather was good, though for me it was uncomfortably warm.

The married couple

There were a number of weddings that day and we weren’t quite sure which group was ours for the reception, but we eventually found the right one. There was a lot of standing around which tired me out. I drank the punch (sangria) which was supposed to be alcoholic but didn’t have much effect. I talked briefly with the groom’s father, Joe, (ex son-in-law) who had come for the wedding from Japan where he is living.

Dinner was late and I again had to be taken back to my b&B before the party was over. It was fun to watch the dancing, especially to see the bride and groom dancing with their little girl, who joined them on the dance floor. A few years ago I danced at weddings, but I was too tired at this one. I went to sleep quickly, but was awakened sometime in the middle of the night by the arrival of my two daughters and Jason. I stayed in bed, but I could hear a lot of loud talking in the living room. Apparently there had been a problem with the caterers and the left over food.

The day after the wedding I took all family out to dinner, except Lawyer Daughter who had left for her beach vacation. That was easy and fun and the food was good and not expensive. My 2 little great granddaughters love each other and played nicely, standing up sometimes at the table but not shouting too loud.

Sarah, Ellana, Kinley, and Amanda at dinner

Goodby to Amanda and Kinley

That night I slept at granddaughter Katy’s apartment in her comfortable bed. She slept on the sofa. Next day, Monday, she and I drove to Tampa to visit my step-brother, Jim (the son on my step-father) and his wife, Elsye. They are my age, and I had known Jim since we were both in our 20’s. Elsye and I had spent much time together helping my mother out when she needed to change living arrangements in her very old age. I had not seen them since my mother died, 8 years ago. As I walked up Elsye’s garden path to greet her she smiled a little ruefully and said what was in both of our minds, “Well, Anne, we’re beginning to look our age.”

It was a relief to be there. I was on my way home, and with old friends my own age, in Elsye’s immaculate comfortable house. At my grandchildren’s houses I had the pleasure of seeing prints and paintings I had done on their walls. In Jim and Elsye’s living room there was a pastel still life I had forgotten about that I did about 30 years ago. In the room where I slept there was a painting I did of geese from about the same period.

We had drinks on the porch and watched the birds at the feeder in the back garden. I enjoyed displaying my lovely Katy who really likes old people. She listened with genuine interest to a lot of talk about the past, old family jokes and old family woes. Katy is about to go to nursing school. She will do well.

Katy drove me to the Tampa Airport the next day. The trip home was tedious and tiring. I ran from the arrival gate in Seattle to the bus which did not help my arthritis. But I caught the bus. Jerry and I were delighted to be together and we ate a pleasant dinner at Anthony’s on the way home to the island.

Yes, it was worth it. It wasn’t all pleasure, but I got to see many loved ones and friends from the past. I got really tired, and though it has been two weeks now since I left, I am still feeling the effects of travel. Air travel is particularly unpleasant.

I wonder about the merits of elaborate weddings. They are expensive, and quite stressful for a lot of those involved, including the bride, who in the case wanted it very much. I hope she had a wonderful time. There is no doubt that she loves my grandson and their baby girl with all her heart.

Perhaps the best part will be having the pictures to look at afterward.

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A ramble through history of a personal kind

First, a brief apology. I have been absent from this blog since last August, a long time. But, as you see, I am not dead, just dilatory. There has been much travel, New Zealand, England, Alaska; difficulties of the family type and the endless law suit. And some health issues, mostly minor. Sorry to all who have missed me, and an especial apology to Dick Jones who wrote me a kind email that I failed to answer. Sorry, Dick and thanks for caring. I mean to do better in the future.

Now, here’s my post, A ramble through history of a personal kind.

These days when Jerry and I hear about the disasters sure to come from climate change,overpopulation, corporate greed and political upheavals we shrug and say, well, we won’t be here to see it happen. Of course, we both care about the future of the earth and our species, but what can we do? Our time here now is short. I take the hopeful view that humans will get smarter and avert the disasters. I can’t look into the future. I won’t know. Perhaps the reason I study history and look back over life is because it seems to lengthen time.

My head has been in the past for months. The present is difficult, and winter is a time for reflection so I have been thinking about history. I love the 19th century. I am 82 years old and, though I call myself 20thcentury Woman, sometimes the 19th century seems less strange to me, more like my own century. By the end of the 19th century my grandmothers, whom I knew well and admired, were young married women.

Jerry and I watch Teaching Company lectures on history — from ancient to modern and all the in betweens. I think about how history is studied. How do we know about the past? How do we know the “truth” about the past? Is there a “truth” of the past. The past is gone and perhaps the truth has gone with it. As I write here each word becomes part of the past. Probably I will come back to this sentence and change it; the old sentence will disappear. As minutes pass I will forget my exact thoughts when I wrote the sentence. The new sentence will be changed to reflect a new past which is related to the old past. Petrarch published his correspondence, but throughout his life he edited his letters. He was editing the past.

Like many elderly people I often wake up at 3 in the morning and have difficulty getting back to sleep. During those hours I took up memorizing presidents of the US in order. That meant mostly the 19th century, since there were only 2 presidents in the 18th century and I already know almost all the 20th and 21st century presidents. I read David McCullough’s book on John Adams (loved it), so I was able to quite quickly go from Washington to John Quincy Adams. If I had been alive in those years I would certainly have been a Federalist or later a Whig.  I read What Hath God Wrought which covers the years 1815 to 1848. When I came to Andrew Jackson I hated him. Then I read a biography of James K Polk (hated him too). I read a bunch of books on the Civil War. That made me acquainted, to some extent, with James Buchanan, and of course Abraham Lincoln — the greatest man of the century — perhaps the millenium. I would have been a Republican if I had lived then.

The years between Polk and Lincoln, those years leading up to the Civil War, seemed lost in the mists of time. I knew almost nothing about William Henry Harrison (he was only president for 3 months) not much about John Tyler, Zachery Taylor and Millard Fillmore, less about Franklin Pierce. Now I am reading Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era. I am beginning learn something of that period. A biography of Ulyses Grant and one of John Hay, who was private secretary to Lincoln and later secretary of state to William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt brought me up to the turn of the 20th Century. Now I am reading “A Bully Pulpit” which pushes me into the 20th century, covering Teddy Roosevelt and William Howard Taft.

As I read and think my judgements on the past are of course the product of my own politics combined with whatever biases are found in the books I read. There is always a selection of materials by the author and the slant of his or her political leanings. How much of what is written is “truth”?  Even the the plain facts can vary from book to book. History is peopled mostly by the rich and great. Evidence of the poor and small is scanty, so there is unavoidable bias in one’s perception.

While I was reading real history I reread War and Peace. I had read it in my youth, but as some people do, especially women, I skipped all the battle parts. This time I read it on my Kindle and I read every word. I found the battle parts gripping. I thought about our war of 1812 in the context of what was happening in Russia and Europe at the same time. I was absolutely glued to the book and read it every minute I could. Now I am reading Anna Karenina. I don’t like it. It seems to me to be a morality tale. Somehow I liked Tolstoy’s story on the earlier time, before his own time, better than his judgemental perspective derived from his contemporary morals.

My personal history has been on my mind too. This led me to think about how I see my past life. If you look back on recent stretches of adult life the present colors past memories. You remember how it was then, but the memory is inevitably altered, like Petrarch’s letters, by subsequent events.

Jerry and I spent Christmas with my British family. I had been going there for Christmas since my grandchildren were babies, but had missed going in recent years because of changes in their lives and mine. My daughter now lives on a narrow boat moored within walking distance of her ex-husband’s house. They are friendly and see each other often. My grandchildren are now adults. The older ones with jobs and careers, the youngest in her third year at university and talking of a PhD in philosophy. We did the Christmas festivities in my ex son-in-law’s comfortable house. We trimmed the tree with the same old ornaments. We did the usual frantic last minute shopping in Oxford. We all hung stockings (around the tree since there is no fireplace there).  We made a mess wrapping presents and then had our usual Christmas eve supper of lovely cold cuts bread and salad. The next day we had excellent roast beef and Yorkshire pudding for dinner. So many changes, even though we all eagerly hung on to bits of the old life.

The day after (boxing day) my daughter took her two daughters to Oxford to exchange many presents and Jerry and I went for a walk in the park with son-in-law, grandson and dogs . It was a sunny day, after days of rain. The park was green and pretty, the leafless trees silhouetted against the sky. Lots of ducks frolicked in the flooded lawns. For the moment that was the present, if there really is a present between the immediate past and the on rushing future.

At home after Christmas on the island I began the new year by getting rid of some old stuff, and I tackled my desk. There were piles of papers. I had a library box labeled “Letters”. In it I found letters that my cousin had sent to me when she sorted my aunt’s papers after she died. I had glanced at the letters when they came a couple of years ago, but had not read them.

The letters were from my parents to my aunt, Clare, my father’s sister who lived in Andover, Massachusetts.  I was 3 at the time. My parents were separating and they asked my aunt to look after me “for a month or two.”

This letter was from my father to my aunt. It had some childish scribbling on in and a note at the top in my mother’s hand writing. The note said, “Dear Clare. I am afraid Anne has decorated this letter. It is an attempt to write to you she tells me.”

Here’s the letter my father wrote: It was undated, but must have been written in late 1935.

Dearest Clare, I have some bad news to spill and a favor to ask of you. Briefly, Marion and I have separated, Marion is physically and psychologically in a bad condition, and if you can do it without inconvenience, I would like you to take care of Anne for a month or two, till Marion has had a rest. The separation has been inevitable for the past two or three years. The epidode which you witnessed last year was nothing more than a temporary symptom, of no importance in itself. Nothing more happened in that connection after we returned from your place. But nevertheless we drifted apart more and more emotionally, until finally we both decided to separate. Now I am staying with some friends in Virginia, about 45 minutes by car from Washington. At this moment I happen to be in the apartment (now Marion’s apartment)) to talk over the problems with Marion. We are still good friends, but what has happened to us is sufficiently recent to make the contact involve some emotional tension. I wish I could talk to you and go over details with you, just to be able to communicate with someone who has understanding and imagination.

I myself am in some state of mental chaos, but have sufficient nervous and physical strength to deal with the problem. Marion is very run downand needs a complete rest. The people with whom I am staying could not conveniently (for themselves or for Anne either) have Anne.

Marion and I calculate that it would cost you about $50 a month to have Anne at your place, since you would need to hire a maid to help looking after her. Don’t think that you need to take Anne to help a member of the family in dire need, since some other way can be found if it is not convenient for you. But if you could do it, it would be a very material help.

For several months I have not written to our parents. I couldn’t bring myself to write about this when it was still uncertain, hoping it might be settled satisfactorily after all and I would not have needed to make them unhappy by writing about it, but on the other hand feeling it would be too insincere to write without mentioning what was in my mind most of the time. Well the day after tomorrow (Sunday) or tomorrow if I have time I will have to write and tell them about it. I am seriously worried about the effect which the probable war [World War 2] will have on them. Love, Ribby [my father’s nick name because he was so skinny].

My grandparents lived in Italy at the time, and war was on everyone’s mind there.

My mother was gone for a year and I stayed with my aunt during that year. I have cameo memories of the trip there on the train. I loved the train. I believe my father took me. I was happy with my aunt. The house was huge — 3 stories, 10 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, front grand staircase and back stairs for servants, though there was only a cook (Mary Stanton, an Irish spinster). It was pure 19th century, hardly touched by the 20th century, though there was a telephone. No refrigerator. The ice-man came with giant tongs and a big hunk of ice which he hove into the ice-box. This castle of decaying elegance was financed by my aunt’s husband’s parents who came to stay in the summers. My aunt and uncle had not much income as he was a teacher at Phillips Academy.

I have lots of clear memories of that year, but since I spent much of the rest of my childhood there, sometimes I am not sure that I haven’t inserted later states of the household into those memories. For example, I now can’t remember whether Mary Stanton was there then. I know she was there a few years later when I stayed again while my parents actually got divorced. I know that when I was 3 and 4 years old I slept in a small room on the 3rd floor off the “playroom” where there was a closet full of old fashioned toys — I remember a domino set and a metal erector set. My aunt often changed people’s rooms around, and I never slept in that room in later years. One day my aunt painted a child’s tabel and chair for me in the playroom. It was orange.  I can see the bright orange table on the faded oriental rug as the pale yellow winter sun shone through the window.  At bedtime my Uncle read me stories — my favorites were: “The Story of Ping”, “The Wise Old Ardvark” and “Junket is Nice”.  At night I could hear the train whistle in the distance, past the apple orchard and woods in back of the house. It was benign and mysterious.

For me this was not a time of trouble. My memories are all about me: my escapades and pleasures, my mistakes and few (very mild) punishments. As I read my father’s letter and another from my mother explaining my childish routines to my aunt, I suddenly got a different slant on that whole time. I was no longer the center of those events, but rather a problem for the troubled people around me to solve as they tried to find sense and order in their lives. For the first time I had a new view of the adult world of that time, something I couldn’t comprehend as a 3 year old child. What must it have been like for my aunt, almost a girl in her early 20’s, no children of her own as yet, newly married and living  in a new place — she was born and grew up in Europe — to suddenly have the full time care of a child not her own. How was it for my mother to leave her only child with someone else for a year. She was a loving and attentive mother. She must have been utterly miserable. And my father, who needed a wife, withdrew into a world of theory and utopian dreams. And worried about the impending war.

Already my own memories of those years, like Petrarch’s letters, are revising themselves.

Posted in Memoir | 15 Comments

Island industry

There’s so much I can’t blog about. There’s the endless legal dispute over Jerry’s brother’s will. I am prohibited by our lawyers from writing about it. Suddenly my children’s problems absorb my attention. I can’t write about the personal lives of my children. There is the inevitable and inexorable physical deterioration of aging that I would rather not think about or write about. And then there’s trivia. Car problems, things like that, not worthy of the blog.

A piece of trivia that just about rates blog mention: we bought a new riding lawn mower. Jerry bought it from Amazon — you can get anything from Amazon — they promised free delivery. We figured that wasn’t going to happen on the island, and it didn’t. After a couple of weeks there was a message on our phone to call a number regarding arrangements to pick up “an order”. I assumed it was the lawn mower, I called and reached someone who had no idea what “the order” was. He transferred me to another person, said to be in “customer service.” After speaking at cross purposes for a few minutes, I asked her where she was located. Answer: Portland, Oregon.  She gave me the phone number of the Bellingham office which I reached the next day. That turned out to be in Auburn, some miles south of Seattle (Bellingham is 100 miles north). I discovered that the lawn mower was in an unmanned depot in Bellingham, but we arranged to meet a trucker there who borrowed a fork lift and put it on our truck. Back on the island Jerry put forks on his backhoe and got the mower on the ground. The next day someone from the trucking company called to ask if I had received my motorcycle.

We are thinking about an addition to our house that Jerry says is already too big. It isn’t really big. It’s only about 1600 sq ft. I would like to add about 200 sq ft sitting area that would get southern sun. But it isn’t happening, so there’s nothing to say about it.

We have been lumberjacking. Two big trees had to come down; they were too close to the house and these days the winds can be high. I was fond of those trees. There’s tragedy in a fallen giant of a tree.

Jerry cutting branches from giant fir

But now that they are down more light comes into the house and I will become accustomed to their absence. Perhaps I’ll plant something smaller and ornamental in their place.  Mike Moye downed the trees using his truck with a bucket lift to hoist him up high in the tree. From there he can tie a rope to direct the tree’s fall.

The fir was thick and tall; One end of the rope was attached high in the tree, the other to Mike’s truck, a good way past Jerry’s shop. While Mike was hitching the rope to the truck his wife, Joan, called. She said the telephone man was on the island and his lift had run out of fuel; he was stuck in the air working on a telephone pole. He wanted Mike to come and get him down. Mike said he had the tree all hooked up and would drop it before he went for the telephone man. The great tree came thundering down as Joan and I exchanged news on the elevation of the telephone man. Just as the fir was felled somehow the telephone man extricated himself from his bucket and was again on the ground. “Good,” said Mike, “so I can go home.”

He came back the next day with his big chain saw to cut the thick trunk of the fir into rounds short enough to fit under the splitter. The other tree, an alder, was not too big for Jerry’s chainsaw to cut into rounds. We worked on the big fir rounds. They were so heavy that it was difficult for Jerry to move them from where they lay to the splitter, so I helped, and between the two of us 81 year olds we rolled, prised, lifted and then split. I stacked them in the truck. When it was full Jerry drove it up to the woodshed and together we have filled the woodshed with just a few of the the fir trunk segments. What to do with the rest of this giant? We made a stack near where the tree was felled. Jerry put the scrap from the crate of the new lawn mower on top of the stack, and then a tarp to keep it dry in the winter rain. We have a lifetime supply of firewood.

I helped drag away some of the upper branches that are not useful to burn in the fireplace. Charlie Nielson came over with his excavator and pushed the rest of the debris back into the woods to return to nature. The deer come sniffing around because they love the tender top leaves.

Deer follow Mike around looking for the tender top leaves

The big fir, as it came down, knocked over a couple of alders in the woods beside Jerry’s shop. One good sized alder’s splintered trunk was driven between a wheel and the body of Jerry’s ancient backhoe. We spent a morning messing around prying it out. In the end the only damage was that some of the hydraulic hoses needed to be replaced.

In Bellingham we went to Industrial Supplies to get new hydraulic hoses made for the backhoe. I sat in the pickup and worked a crossword while Jerry went in to arrange for new hoses. He came out looking satisfied, a little private smile on his face. As he started up the pickup he said, “I like that place. Lots of interesting stuff there.”

Posted in Day to day, Island life | 22 Comments