Tag Archives: northwest

Who’s the Moss?

Flat top, afro, or crew cut?
When I think of Portland, I think of moss. It’s only natural, given you can’t turn your head without seeing some sort of Bryophyta gently, gently creeping. I have loved moss ever since I was old enough to walk barefooted along the rolling green carpet from cabin to lake every Wisconsin summer of my childhood. When I find moss in arid Montana it feels like a gift. I linger near those patches. I brush my cheek against them. But here in the Pacific Northwest, moss is quintessential. 
A calm, but powerful presence. A patchwork quilt. The great green stillness.
Keeping warm with a moss skin coat
 I was walking around town the other day, thinking about moss… noticing the different species, petting them with open palms. People seem to have different attitudes about the moss in their lawns. I passed a woman who was lovingly brushing off the moss on her yard rocks in the manner of a hairstylist fluffing up a bouffant after a trim. The gesture was sweet, affectionate even. Just a block later I saw a man scraping and scrubbing and scouring his concrete steps, tearing moss away. I felt like yelling Good luck with that, Sisyphus! Because there is one thing you can be sure of in a place as rainy as here: in the end, the moss always wins. Given time, like a shadow over a field, it will take down rock, tree, sidewalk, railing, fence, shingle, porch swing, even a car. It is not uncommon to see an old rusted truck, too long stationary, blanketed in green.
It’s like the moss so loves the world it wants to hold everything in its verdant embrace. A big ol’ group hug. Or it’s on a mission to take over the world through soft, calculated suffocation…
Mini-Michael Landon’s Highway to Heaven
Bryophytes are non-vascular plants, which means they have no internal water-bearing systems, no vessels, no veins. They need a damp environment to survive and liquid water to reproduce. Their small and simple leaves sip mist and lick sunlight. Their roots serve more as anchor than vacuum—they don’t absorb nutrients or water through their roots, and thus are never parasitic to the trees they so thoroughly decorate. According to known fossil records, moss first crept on the geologic scene some 320 million years ago. Which means it ain’t no spring chicken. Most botanists believe modern moss evolved from aquatic ancestors (like the rest of us), and I like to imagine a fuzzy little moss blob crawling out of a murky pond, inching along the ground like velvet-gloved Thing, and checking out the local rocks for a room with a view. Yeah, yeah, I know that’s not how it works… but regardless, moss has been making gravestones, rooftops, downed logs, stumps, sidewalk cracks, sloth backs, and that car on bricks in your backyard beautiful ever since. 
Hulk + Chia =Magic Moss Love
Incidentally, moss also provided the inspiration behind the lesser-known, misunderstood but nevertheless badass He-Man character–Moss Man. 
This dude had the power to manipulate plant matter, cause tidal waves of moss and leaves, and make the flowers bloom to impress all the ladies. Not that he got many ladies. Maybe because he was a moss-covered recluse, and that kind of thing really only works for Megalonychidae and Bradypodidae guys. Naturally he was the quiet, pastoral type. He was sensitive. He probably knew how to brood. When He-Man offered him a coveted seat at the Masters of the Universe table, Moss Man what like, no thanks, Hoss, I’d rather keep it real and chill in my forest, talking to these trees. 
There is a lesson in there somewhere.
Matel honored this man by dousing his action figure with a “pine-like” scent. 
And how many people can say that? 
He did it all for the moss.

How We Wrestle Is Who We Are

Recently I have had the great fortune of connecting with two of my favorite writers, Robert Michael Pyle and Brian Doyle, for lunch, conversation, and inspiration.

Last week Bob blew into Laurelwood Brewery on a pouring-rain-day, took off his oiled hat and handed me a fresh cottonwood twig, heavy with sticky red buds. New cottonwoods present one of my favorite smells on Earth. If I could bottle it I’d soak my hair in that scent every night. I’ve been smelling them down by the rivers here for the last couple of weeks, and they always remind me of living in Missoula and walking over the Clark Fork bridges on spring nights, on the way home from writing workshops. I first met Bob when he was a visiting writing professor for the University of Montana’s Environmental Studies Program. It was one of my favorite classes. Ever. Bob looks like Santa meets Jerry Garcia. He is an astute naturalist, a world-famous lepidopderist, a fellow lover of otters, a fine writer and teacher, and a kind mentor and friend. He has this infectious zest for life. He also used to wear a utility kilt, dance to Van Morrison, routinely stay up until 3 am, and enjoy drinking pints and eating fine English cheeses. And he wrote a book about Bigfoot. I visited him  and his dear wife Thea at their Gray’s River, Washington home a few years ago, and we’ve kept in touch ever since. I recommend any of his many books. Besides the cottonwood, Bob also gave me a copy of High Desert Journal containing his sweet little poem:

The Girl With The Cockleburs In Her Hair 

We were talking about how children don’t
get out any more. She showed me
her daughter on her telephone:
big pout, and four big burs
caught up in her hair.
That girl, I said, is
going to be
~ ~ ~

And yesterday I finally met the delightful Mr. Doyle after years of corresponding, trading jokes, and occasionally poking fun at one another. Brian is the editor of Portland Magazine and author of many a fine book and essay. He seems to encounter everything with admirable wit, good humor, reverence, and wonder, and there is a palpable brightness and shiny-eyedness about him. The kind of thing you hope will rub off on you just a little. We talked about books and the hearts of whales and hummingbirds and watching kids watch giant sturgeon and soccer and police blotters and Hemmingway and writing and how-to-find-a-job and religion and Mt. Hood. Our lunch breathed some new excitement and energy and inspiration into me.
For this I am very grateful.

It got me thinking about writing. And about thinking. . . about how our questions define us, about why searching, why longing, why wondering, matters. Why it is worth the heartache. It got me thinking about how if we don’t stand in our own way, we just may be dazzled by what kind of creatures we are so patently and brilliantly and utterly and wholly and holy capable of becoming…We are capable of anything. And that is really freaking exciting. . .

It also reminded me of one of my favorite little essays, which I shall now share with you.
Brian is a master of the short form essay, and this one is truly worth the read:

How We Wrestle Is Who We Are
By Brian Doyle

from the January/February 2005 issue of Orion magazine

MY SON LIAM was born ten years ago. He looked like a cucumber on steroids. He was fat and bald and round as a cucumber on steroids. He looked healthy as a horse. He wasn’t. He was missing a chamber in his heart. You need four rooms in your heart for smooth conduct through this vale of fears and tears, and he only had three, so pretty soon doctors cut him open and iced down his heart and shut it down for an hour while they made repairs, and then when he was about eighteen months old he had another surgery, during which they did more tinkering, and all this slicing and dicing worked, and now he’s ten, and the other day as he and I were having a burping contest he suddenly said, “Explain to me my heart stuff,” which I tried to do, in my usual Boring Dad way, and soon enough he wandered off, I think to beat up his brother, but I sat there remembering.

I remember pacing hospital and house and hills, and thinking that his operations would either work or not and he would either live or die. There was a certain clarity there; I used to crawl into that clarity at night to sleep. But nothing else was clear. I used to think, in those sleepless days and nights, what if they don’t fix him all the way and he’s a cripple all his life, a pale thin kid in a wheelchair who has Crises? What if his brain gets bent? What if he ends up alive but without his mind at all? What then? Who would he be? Would he always be what he might have been? Would I love him still? What if I couldn’t love him? What if he was so damaged that I prayed for him to die? Would those prayers be good or evil?

I don’t have anything sweet or wise to say about those thoughts. I can’t report that God gave me strength to face my fears, or that my wife’s love saved me, or anything cool and poetic like that. I just tell you that I had those thoughts, and they haunt me still. I can’t even push them across the page here and have them sit between you and me unattached to either of us, for they are bound to me always, like the dark fibers of my heart. For our hearts are not pure; our hearts are filled with need and greed as much as with love and grace; and we wrestle with our hearts all the time. The wrestling is who we are. How we wrestle is who we are. What we want to be is never what we are. Not yet. Maybe that’s why we have these relentless engines in our chests, driving us forward toward what we might be.

Eventually my son will need a new heart, a transplant when he’s thirty or forty or so, though Liam said airily the other day that he’s decided to grow a new one from the old one, which I wouldn’t bet against him doing eventually, him being a really remarkable kid. But that made me think: if we could grow new hearts out of old ones, what might we be then? What might we be if we rise and evolve, if we come further down from the brooding trees and out onto the smiling plain, if we unclench the fist and drop the dagger, if we emerge blinking from the fort and the stockade and the prison, if we smash away the steel from around our hearts, if we peel the scales from our eyes, if we do what we say we will do, if we act as if our words really matter, if our words become muscled mercy, if we grow a fifth chamber in our hearts and a seventh and a ninth, and become as if new creatures arisen from our shucked skins, the creatures we are so patently and brilliantly and utterly and wholly and holy capable of becoming…
What then?

Here Comes the Sun

Another perfectly sunny weekend in Portland.
One wonders if the even the rainclouds like weekends off.

So, Beacon Rock State Park. Tremendous spot to spend an afternoon with friends.
Home of osprey, turkey vulture, flicker, and cormorant. Heady with the sweet smell of sticky cottonwood buds. Named for that big, bad 848-foot slab of  volcanic rock on the banks of the Columbia. Apparently this gargantuan andesite plug is one of the largest free standing monoliths in the northern hemisphere. In our own backyard! When the intrepid William and Meriwether hit this point in their western journey, they measured the river tides and marked the rock as the eastern extent of tidal influence on the river, indicating their trip was nearly complete. I’m guessing there was a solid round of high-fives, or at least firm back-slapping, and a general smoke ’em if you got ’em attitude, assuming they were likely long out of whiskey, but yet undaunted.
In 1915 a dude named Henry Biddle bought the rock for a whopping one dollar, which must have been a pretty damn good deal by anyone’s standards. Now there are all sorts of crazy metal railings, monkey bars, and switchbacks snaking up to the sweet view from the top.

Ensign GiGi practices nuzzling tactics on Captain Willehag

Down at the riverbank, out on a fishing dock we saw a sea lion. A sea lion! Not, as we prematurely speculated, a small whale. Or an antlerless elk. Or the King of all Beavers. Or a wayward capybara. Or Nessie’s cousin. Sea lions come in from the coast and hang out around the Bonneville Dam, gorging on migrating steelhead and salmon. In doing so they piss off a lot of people. Washington State now regulates (as in monitors, relocates, or eliminates) these big pinnipeds. Its what we call an unfortunate situation. On a side note, sea lions have been trained by the U.S. Navy for secret underwater military ops. And they aren’t the only animals.

Sittin on the dock of the bay

But, enough about big rocks and animal spies. This day was mostly just about laying in the sun, running in the green grass, getting sunburned, getting happy about it, and propelling various sporting apparatuses to and fro.

I hadn’t kicked a soccer ball around for ages. While my heart was totally in it, my legs took a bit of a beating. Lack of appropriate footwear combined with a series of skewed connections between leg and ball (as power knee pops kept drifting into thigh-crushing catapults), has left me with a skull-sized bone bruise and the feeling of being acutely pummeled by a sack of air-filled leather. But it was absolutely worth it. Actually, it was pretty delicious.

And all the lions of sea and field smile up at the shining sun

How to Have a Good Time

Highlights, observations, stats, and the collective activities roster from an epic two day, eight person, gloriously beachy weekend getaway in little ol’ Pacific City, Oregon.

The word version:
Most incredible fiery-ball-into-the-ocean-sunset you’ve ever seen. Frisbee. Sandy ups. Earth Day. Beach house rental. Salmon dinner. Creepy dolphin swings. Milk-drinking sharks. Firewood. Shooting stars. High fives. The saddest buoy you’ve ever heard, Poseidon blowing over an empty bottle. Late night. Bunk beds and floor space. Early morning. Cold water. Perfect waves, gently rolling, glassy and lava-like. Good light. Wetsuit surfing. Dudes who look like seals. Crab claws that look like sharp-toothed jawbones. Cold hands. Hot shower. Rock hounding. Binoculars. Haystack rock. Tide pools. Starfish. Anemones, blue bowls of soft, sticky tongues. Mussels. Whiny barnacles, spitting secrets. Dragon toes, I swear it. No rain. Coffee. Eggs. Sun! Bare feet! Shorts. Pale skin. Sand. Splash. Oh my God, sun! Skimboarding. Walking. Running. The riding of bikes. The riding of handlebars on bikes. The climbing of dunes. Sun. Attempted mussel harvesting. Failed mussel harvesting. Sun. Breeze. Kite flying, its like walking an airborne dog. Creative kite boarding. Bare belly to the sun. Seagulls. Sand dollars. Dead cormorant. Reading. The observation of basketball. The observation of an epic Blazers comeback. Napping. Miami Vice. Spaghetti. Kindling. Wood stove. Fire.The aggressive consumption of untold quantities of beer. Cards. Poker. Real classy chips, the kind that make a solid thump when they fall. Did you put enough in? House wins. Fail. Full refunds granted. Take that dollar and buy yourself something nice, kid. Late night. Minimal but happy sleep. Sunday morning paper. Orange juice. Rain. Scandinavian apple pastry delights with unpronounceable names. New friends. Sleepy drive. Perfect spring weekend.

The picture version:

Stay gold, Pony Boy
But my party will be truly safron
Point Break
Hey! Stack Rock
Baby Sarlaccs?
Low Tide

Asteroidea: as in minor planets, as in five-armed wonders


Check out these guns

Come here often?
Riding on handlebars in spring is pure whimsy-fun-pleasure

Seriously, give us a puppy in a basket and clear bell

The optimist pleasantly ponders how high her kite will fly

Riding it

Even the dead still find ways to be beautiful

Go on and dance yourself clean