Early a couple mornings ago I lay awake listening to the key turn noisily downstairs in the infuriatingly fussy front door (like picking the lock to your own place) as the boys’ mother slipped out of the house in foggy predawn darkness above the valley and her crunchy footsteps in the gravel were replaced by a metaphorical light bulb in my head flickering to life and with a mixture of relief and incredulity it dawned on me a wedge was finally available to begin writing again on WordPress. You see, the prior evening a real light bulb exploded in the dining room and that’s what’s called turning a lemon into an a-ha! moment and I know the device is corny but I’ve gotta go with it as this particularly long, fallow period in the archive has tormented me so.
At any rate, the ceilings in the downstairs of the old house are ten feet high and as the fixture in question was inside of a large, inverted pendant, a little monkey business with the space-time continuum will reveal shrapnel from the bulb spinning light-speed around the bowl at supersonic orbit before topping the rim whereupon inertially depleted the whole mess ejects airborne far less hazardously (it got everywhere, though). So it was I crawled about all fours underneath the dining table in search of glittering, jigsawed shards and this enterprise was dramatically complexified by our lack of recent housekeeping owing to a case of pinkeye, big brother’s school camping trip up to Orcas Island last week (hang the sleeping bag out and fight the October moldies) and a long weekend on the coast. Crumbs representing every food group, ossified and petrified over a period of several years into more convenient vacuumable crystalline form, reflected sparkles of light from my headlamp which similarly resembled….. razor-sharp glass. Sigh. Anyone knows vacuuming glass is an ill-advised shortcut of last resort so waddling with elbows and knees on the floor like an arthritic Corgi, periodically splaying about in despair like some kind of human lint brush, can you imagine the futility? I’m not some kind of stoic. Adam was supposed to be brushing his teeth and putting on pajamas instead of standing in the doorway a comfortable distance, supervising me here and there to old cracker crumbs and sesame seeds. He pointed out several pieces of large glass but got fed up and walked over in exasperation, “nooooooo, right heeeeerrre!”. He’s such a good boy, haha! Mutually therapeutic chuckling and guffawing reminisces followed about Lucy the Pug and how she used to keep the floor so darn clean but we had to keep a lid on it. God knows how Oliver Fern slept through the explosion and we weren’t about to disturb his beauty rest.
In other happenings, this week it was legendary Jimmy Hendrix’s aunt’s turn-of-the-century house around the corner getting new siding and today the abatement fellows began removing the old asbestos and the process seemed dubiously suspect if I’m to tell the truth, another toxic calling card of the Great Rapacious Emerald City Real Estate Gold Rush I thought was supposed to be petering out. Yesterday, Adam reported he missed all of social studies because of earthquake drills and this morning Oliver Fern had his first routine eye exam- a jet fighter pilot career is still on the table (he has been practicing in X-Plane and you’d be surprised). In the photography department, I’ve got a firmware update to do on the Fuji. A goal of mine is to fall in with a photography club this winter because shooting at night seems to arouse more suspicion than it used to and the boys just can’t stay up that late (and it’s not as though they can stand off to the side reading a book in the dark).
postscript: I wrote this last Friday. Wow. I’m certainly picking up where I left off with hard-to-read, florid stream of consciousness. Still, it’s good to be back at the old Model Seven spraying fountains of messy gold sparks into the air as it were!
The boys were the most dapper chaps along the Strait of Juan de Fuca after a visit to the little hat shop in Port Townsend which is a Victorianish town that sticks out into Puget Sound on the end of the Quimper (rhymes with whimper) Peninsula which has a Beaver Valley which is home to an RV graveyard which is indubitably the place to be if in search of mossy doo-hickeys for your Winnebago. Adam contributed half his own, hard-earned substantial savings toward the stylish number which would have looked at home in a London hattery but still it was tricky not flinching when later in the weekend he came dashing to the house proudly sporting a trio of gunkified gull feathers tucked jauntily atop his noggin now dusted with the gray silt transported (swirling in eddies past yawning, frustrated bears and through Goblin Gates) from snowy prominences which loom over the Strait.
Adam and Oliver enjoy being grown-up, all by their ownsomes, on beachcombing forays to the Elwha and they’ve been adopted by the loose clan of a half-dozen harbor seals which have a tendency to show up for early brunch. One evening for a particularly low tide the boys went down to the Elwha as usual to check for eagles or something, I went in the other direction. Having a tendency to not keep my hand out of the cookie jar, I rounded smooth, buff-colored sandstone in and out of lonely, dank coves for close-enough-to-touch views of Striped Peak and the distant boat launch whereabouts Adam and I have explored the small creek flowing into Freshwater Bay from the woods. Dusk caught up with me, I took too long (the cookie jar was empty) and having over-exuberantly walked seven miles earlier in the day in search of snowy Shangri-La I found myself hobbling back to the house over slippery cobbles at first, then even more slippery mounds of kelp and finally cowboying over driftwood logs resting at right angles with the forest, before the beach smoothed to soothingly firm, dark sand for my cement barrels which resembled human legs when I looked down at them (one of those harbor seals could’ve brought me down with a well-timed expert whip of a flipper).
Here was one of the driftwood houses inside of which the boys have conducted various imaginations the past several months. Always I’m reminding them, just like felsenmeer these things aren’t built to code and can teach awfully painful lessons so be safe and not sorry! Friends and acquaintances visiting from other places always exclaim astonished at the remarkable array of wood detritus on our saltwater beaches, both ocean and Sound. It took years before I fully comprehended the critical niche driftwood (the deadly, enormous Leviathans which boggle the imagination but also the trillions of tiny mouse walking sticks) occupies in the Pacific Northwest natural ecosystem.
Finally, I arrived at the house in the dark that evening of the long walk and as Oliver Fern makes much ado about the old cemetery across the lane, I tried my goonie best for a good old-fashioned scare through the living room picture window. Perhaps it was the clatter of dominoes across the dining table but the boys smiled only a little surprised, their faces ruddy from the flickering flames in the corner stove.
Browsing the oft-impossibly narrow warrens and dens of antique shops filled with fragile, glassy esotera, with five year old boys in tow, is not a pastime for the faint of heart. Timid pattycaking doesn’t get it done: A resolute parental disposition bordering on downright meanness is required yet the classic tools of cajolery and bribery will serve useful or lo and behold wretched Garbage Pail Kids cards should reveal themselves, count your lucky stars and let your arm be carefully but slowly twisted. One blustery afternoon on the way home from school (after paying down the mortgage on our library card) dear Oliver Fern and I visited the antique shop which is next door to the small Italian restaurant that makes the best lasagna in the city (strata of delicate handmade pasta bringing to mind the buttery softness of chocolate consumed in the shade of a warm July afternoon) and found this tidbit tray from the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition of 1909 here displayed as it was for several weeks with the rare dirty old magic horseshoe against the mirror of the sidetable where I work but relegated since to that infamous junk drawer which contains scrabble tiles, Lego blocks, expired seed packets, coins of unknown international origin and certain other antiquities of objectionable taste. The proprietor of the shop told the funniest story for Oliver Fern, about his grandfather who was suffering from dementia at the time and I know you’re thinking dementia could not be funny at all but trust me this nugget was and could’ve been funnier still had I not been distracted by poor Oliver Fern concentrating so hard to comprehend the grown-up nonsense I thought he might collapse with catatonia onto the rickety table before us, causing a very fragile-appearing globe containing marbles galore to go a-smithereen-shattering. Antique marbles surely must cost an outrageous fortune and we cautiously shimmied to safety out the door.
On the subject of antiques and whatnot, earlier this winter I finished Betty MacDonald’s landmark The Egg and I along with Paula Becker’s Searching for Betty MacDonald (incidentally, Becker is the co-author of an informative work on the A.Y.P Exposition) and last month while enjoying coffee and a chat with one of Seattle’s preeminent dark horse historians who lurks amid towering library stacks, whirring copying machines and the taller-still conifers of the north end, I was invited for a short tour about the grounds of the old sanatorium where Betty MacDonald was treated for a spell of tuberculosis. Believe me on this, the day thereafter a convincing brochure from the nursing home tucked in the very shadow of old Firland Sanatorium arrived in the mailbox attention to my mother-in-law who has lived with us both in spirit and junk mail as her continuing myriad correspondences travel to us instead of the afterlife as would be more appropriate yet indeed that cruel irony I feel closer to her than when she was alive and part of me is honored to receive the odd letters from her old acquaintances, mailers for excitingly revolutionary hearing aids and infuriatingly numerous ghost subscriptions to such fine magazine publications as Farm Country Cutesy Stories and Nauseating Nostalgia (my pleading-best efforts at cancellations astonishingly rebuffed at each turn). If colorful marketing materials are to be taken at face value, the relief of assisted living under the tall trees thereabouts the old sanatorium is boundless except during the occasional two hundred year windstorms which have the potential to bring enormous firs crashing down through the rooftops although the various infirm and memory-impaired will barely notice as they monitor the steady drip of updates down their RSS feeding tubes which are checked at least twice each half hour.
We missed the boat quite literally but not metaphorically having thereafter shifted to silver linings: Not only a nice consolation prize, but ending up first for the next sailing aboard the Tacoma felt like an omen of sorts getting the year started off on the right foot. The boys and I speculated as to whether or not our emergency brake would hold fast in the unlikely event the ferryboat captain were to faint from the mid-afternoon munchies but a mootish point because front-row seat on the bow notwithstanding we don’t usually sit in the car on the ferry unless it’s one of those groggy, late nights on the way home. Still humming his defiantly cheery personal anthem of late (circa 2007 Jack White meets Johnny Cash), Oliver Fern split off with his mother to satisfy a hankering for a juicy hot dog (discernment is in the taste buds of the beholder when it comes to ferry food) from the galley while Adam and I did as many laps as possible on the sun deck but my feet started hurting when we were even with the West Point Lighthouse (it seems to stick out all the way to Bainbridge Island) and the brilliant afternoon sunshine shimmered painfully from downtown skyscrapers to Elliott Bay to my eyes so I said see-ya-later-alleygator and went down to the car deck. Speaking of which, we almost had to drive away from Colman Dock without Adam: He came running (and gasping for breath) to announce he’d managed ten laps.
As you could imagine, the boys’ favorite part of the weekend was sledding except for the time Oliver Fern got caterwhomped by some big kids after flying out of his inner tube on icy snow. The path to Hurricane Hill was tempting but overly festive for my liking so while the boys zipped and whooshed downhill 257 times, I headed in the opposite direction, timidly offering right-of-way to skiers, snowboarders and other shredders until establishing due course above the terminus of the bunny lift and trending toward Mount Angeles on crusty snow via familiar, lonely ridges until laughter and delight of children and adults alike faded to snowy silence and peachy afternoon glow across distant salt water. Time stood still before I realized quite a bit of it had actually passed and although the boys and their mother are used to me being gone too long, I was a tad nervous about the backcountry ranger on the opposite end of the long ridge from me (he was approximately the size of this uppercase letter B). Engaged in lonesome retreat though he was, it became clearer my own progress was being monitored and having already in provisional self-defense pegged him for the nannyish sort, I noticed he was having trouble with purchase up a steep slope in his fancy cleated snowshoes and upon closer inspection with some relief ascertained he was the stout but teddy bearish sort but that only made me nervouser the nearer we drew together because I could’ve sworn he was going to trip over his own snowshoes at any moment and the pistol in his holster was going to shoot me by accident because he absentmindedly forgot the safety having oiled it up on his dining room table in Sequim while listening to the radio so after exchanging big guy pleasantries (the nicest fellow, as I suspected) about the transcendental beauties of wintertime and such stuff, I sped up and created some distance between us. On the other hand, later back at the ranch he delivered a rousing reproach to a band of ne’er-do-well Johnny-come-lately-frolickers (nope, the wintertime curfew was closing in and everyone needed to head home to their fireplaces so the snowplows could be readied for the next morning).
Adam and I went for a nighttime walk from the beach house to the mouth of the Elwha. It was threatening to rain but very low, scudding clouds swirled clockwise like an aperture to behold the moon, larger than life. It was a sublime scene, we felt like characters in a snow globe and commenced to lose feeling in our hands as we knelt down to splash the icy water of the river where it mixes with the sea and after a perusal of interesting debris on the gravelly finger of the river’s west bank (here today, twenty feet over there tomorrow) that reaches into the Strait, the moon was cloaked once again and dusk descended very suddenly and we easily imagined the shapes of scattered driftwood here and there to be otters and seals. We revisited the river a handful of times the next couple of days, no moons but a couple of eagles and five curious seals on New Year’s morning. The beach house sat low across the road from a Native cemetery as well as a troublesome slide area high above. One night when I had trouble falling asleep I couldn’t stop imagining a tsunami carrying the boys terrifyingly adrift in the middle of the night while we cried for each other and I startled awake and it was Adam wanting to take a morning stroll to the Elwha for seeing if we could find interesting things washed up during the night such as colorful bobbers or sticks shaped like Han Solo’s blaster and I was starkly reminded nature is neither ruthless nor benevolent.