a giant pacific octopus (just squirted ink in your tea and pooped on your crumpet)

For teatime on Sunday we met north of the Ship Canal at the Crown Hill cottage of a dear friend who makes the most beautiful watercolors, she’s quite insecure about them yet not overly modest so if something catches your eye it’s a knife ridge. Sitting in the living room with a view out the picture window past a billowy willow up to Greenwood, we sipped with our eyes open the better for advance scouting the tray of muffinish breads, the delicious kind with seeds and berries that get stuck in your teeth so you end up savoring them for hours like a flavory electric toothpick until finally much later you just about go bananas in the mad dash for floss. One of us is a bus driver for Metro and always gets around to sharing one or two remarkable tales of collisions between ambulances at four way stops, we were on the edge of our seats and I was feeling a little more grown-up than usual in my v-neck sweater while I may have hogged too many of the things on my side of the tray, that’s why you’re probably better off serving freezer-burned crumpets when the big lug comes over. We were getting sore from sitting so long, you could tell because one of us stretched across the sofa like a geriatric pet and it spread like yawns or maybe it was the heavy woebegone family matters which must always be gotten over, we lightened the mood a little with a tour of the charming rented house and everyone gasped at the tiny bedroom with the stunning nautical mural on two walls featuring a two masted whaler, octopus, fishes and other stuff but I found myself astonished when everyone voted the mural down, they uh-huhed and oh-boyed at the lifelike diorama (someone suggested it was time for the whole thing to be painted over which I thought was the most terrible thing anyone had said about the ocean all afternoon).  While generally-speaking I do believe life-size bedroom murals can be risky propositions, I found this vivid, pulsing seascape utterly charming, the stuff of childhood dreams and just maybe little Greta or Gunnar who grew up in that bedroom now works for NOAA doing important research or maybe they’re a Little Debbie-addicted chain-smoking, salty liveaboard at Shilshole.  Moments later a miscalculation was made on my part, nobody seemed terribly impressed as I reminisced about a few days ago when the boys and I found a severed, sand-breaded octopus tentacle on the beach, this was deflating to me but once again with my childish notions and bad timing. While the conversation floated to transitional ephemera I drifted happily to the Peninsula: Turning over the sucker-covered tentacle with my foot, bemused at the grotesquely solid, rubbery heft, deftly balancing it on the end of my foot like a crude ball, chucking the fleshy mass toward the boys (and grandma) who shrieked with terror. The next morning that shoe smelled really bad. Coming to moments later, it was all I could do to not beg for the tiny, exquisitely-inked octopus on the browned art card which I’d nosily discovered pinched between papers in the napkin holder on the side table in the kitchen (the cottage is just one big room, really). I’ll admit to admiring it for longer than I should’ve in the hopes it would be mine, wasn’t that selfish of me to think my friend should give her hard work to me? Everyone started down the treacherous steps to the day-lighted basement to inspect the humongous backyard (there was even a treehouse in the front yard), I shuffled the tiny illustration back into the deck of charming doodles like a coupon for toothpaste. On the other hand, my dear reader, you just take all these words and keep’em. That’s right, all eight hundred and ninety eight are for you! Scramble them up for something else when you’re done, I won’t be the least bit offended. They make super-good compost, even.

Teatime really was wonderful as I have an abiding love for these friends as they have always been the smart, particularly virtuous kind busy making the world a better place.  Plans we’d made for a walk to nearby Carkeek Park disintegrated with storm clouds, I’d been looking forward to showing everybody where the boys found a broken bike in the dark woods back in February (they managed to ride it hairy scary) but it’s probably better we stayed at the cottage because it had to be wet as hell in the park (it rained a lot on Saturday). Really isn’t it kinda cool we found a chunk of octopus (don’t get me wrong, I’d obviously rather see an entire living one)? Maybe the damned thing got whacked by a freighter propeller and right now it’s sulking on the bottom of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. I know it’s not as though we found the Loch Ness monster, people savor these things like butter-soaked crumpets in some places, but the boys were delirious at the discovery. Me, too. The Giant Pacific Octopus is truly one of the fascinating, arrestingly magical species of the Sound and if only we could have transported the hunk of tentacle back home for closer study but alas we were swiftly disabused of the notion by adults in the room, er, on the beach.

tone deafness

The low, blue-green profile of Tiger Mountain which barely forms that ho-hum pyramid in the foothills visible from porches in our neighborhood was the destination, three or four Sundays before last.  Oliver Fern has been antsy to ride his bicycle which indeed is a little red number begging to be taken out all the time and there’s no better place than some up-and-down hills on the near back forty where mountain bikers rule while staid plodders in our party utilized unflashy feet to wheelie-walk (or rockhop) over roots while breathlessly discussing weighty topics ranging from politics, literature or how to get the boys to stop turning their dirty clothes inside-out. Driving to the backside of the recreation area cum working state forestland which encompasses more than ten thousand quilted acres of trees and raccoons we found to our surprise (the boys’ delight) a lot of snow leftover from February. The path we commenced to take started inside of a dark hollow of Doug firs where the snow was surprisingly firm and the thought did occur to us prudence might be the better part of valor but the boys would have none of it and thankfully the route found plenty of southern exposure and we were even down to shirtsleeves at times. A number of areas on the trail blanketed by snow might have allowed us to catch up with the boys where it was necessary for them to dismount and plod along after they had spun in place like overeager hamsters, however, by and large they rode away from us for most of the morning and we decided the snow provided the advantage of discouraging any hungry cougars lurking about as cats this close to the city clearly must not like walking in the stuff because it makes their paws cold.

Warm sunshine baked the dusty parts of trail to a pleasant earthy potpourri and where we passed through snow there was that delightfully shivery freshness like glacier breezes. For lunchtime, the boys’ mother surprised them with cookies. Adam won the bullseye rock throwing contest aiming for the tall, spindly young trees perched on the steep slope below us which gave way to bare mountainside and a thorny old service road. We gazed out at the long forever ridge of Rattlesnake Mountain and the tippy-top of Mt. Si peeking over yonder from Ranger’s Prairie (you barely recognize ol’ Si minus those bottom few thousand feet of ramparts). Several years ago found me walking Rattlesnake’s eleven miles end-to-end in that exceedingly rare January when not a patch of snow was to be found on high, it may not have been the most exciting journey because it’s basically a tree farm up there but it’s kinda neat to connect the dots (Grandma and Adam picked me up at the other end). More than a month ago I suppose it has been, the Department of Natural Resources took the unusual step of saving us from ourselves and closed the Rattlesnake Mountain path due to deep snows.

Last year on Tiger Mountain, when the boys and I were taking a late-winter walk along a quiet, snowy path, somehow we found ourselves on a gated logging road and though the snow grew deeper we pushed on, until our exploration terminated atop an airy knoll in the middle of a clearcut which overlooked a quarry on one side and the other direction was snaggletooth distant views of trees and more trees. The views weren’t all that inspiring because it’s only Tiger Mountain (the unfamiliarity so close to home is the fun thing) but the main reason I remember that day is the genesis was revealed for the start of a thought-provoking essay which had been welling up inside of me and so many agonizing attempts were made at writing it that finally the idea fractured and gushed nonsense, a total ecological disaster and once again I came to that miserable (bad for me but good for you) conclusion I don’t possess the intellectual heft or savor to convey moral seriousness on just about anything and so I decided it was time to make peace with my breezy musings, those scenic tableaus of familial tranquility as it were.

July 2018 - USA Today 1010-2

Breezy musing or not brings me to this scene which anyone who has driven the winding highway along the Olympic Peninsula may recognize because I bet the metaphor has surely struck a lot of souls before their wandering eyeballs widened at the logging truck about to ram them off the road and I revisit the notion, turning it over in my head, every time we wind our way around Discovery Bay past that greasy spoon and maybe it’s the armchair social scientist in me or that navigation through my own cultural dissonance and endless worries about when the shoe will drop. This incongruous, dirty little news rack is like some kind of harbinger, out in the middle of way out there, a place where you would like to imagine life is so much different than anywhere else. Millions of dehydrated tourists pass by here in the summertime. Before smartphones came along, supposing just maybe this particular rack was intended for homesick Type As from Middle America or the other coast, a reminder of the outside world to tide them over during family vacations? This awful rag, perfectly at home on the filthy floor of the airport restroom stall where millions more travelers mindlessly piddle while waiting for their connecting flights, must be the People magazine or strip mall of news dailies and perhaps it’s symbolic apropos to the inexorable putrification of Anywheresville America: Mass markets for everything from food, fashion, sports to gun violence.  Back in January, the irony was more than a little depressing when Gannett found itself on the receiving end of a potential hostile takeover bid. The fish just get bigger.

At the Tiger Mountain trailhead that Sunday was a destitute couple from Minnesota, the Land of 10,000 Lakes, changing out of their bedclothes in the front seat of their red Chevy van. The sweetest-seeming young woman smiled at me from the driver’s side and I nodded knowingly back, the boys were tussling about who would be the first to ride off into the sunshine.  Part of her face was covered in scabby sores, a couple teeth were revealed to be eaten-away nubbins and as we set upon walking through the woods I couldn’t help selfishly wondering if our windows were gonna be intact later because I’m a pragmatist some of the time but mainly I couldn’t get the thought outta my head how it’s by the grace of God it wasn’t me sitting in the passenger seat, if not at Tiger Mountain then in a rest area someplace on the interstate, filling up on watered-down coffee because I’m an addict deep down, I can just feel it in my bones and I ran away from home a long time ago like maybe she did and it’s not hard remembering that terrifying feeling of escaping gravity only to find oneself locked in geostationary orbit.  Being necessarily obtuse here, I’m not sure where any of this is going because we’re just sort of nodding about this together, you know more than I about how the world works although you’ll talk until you’re blue in the face about not having answers. I find myself regularly locked in a chronic struggle against levity, having not quite figured out how to wordsmith my way around this pleasant cul-de-sac every time something heartbreakingly wicked in the world unfurls like a scarlet banner.  With apologies to Gertrude Stein’s ghost, I’ve worried more than once about where exactly the there is, in here and although I like telling myself there’s nothing higher than to write for writing’s sake, lo the complicity of silence and so this: What I really wish I could do but I can’t because I’m not good enough is write the serious stuff every once in awhile when it was really needed, reassure you with the voice of logic, reason or goodness during times of darkness, like some kind of Plato, Emerson, Woolf, or Martin Luther King Jr..  I wish I could be the light, that way. I’m not even the mite of a mote. Reading this must have felt like brick-laying or the sun beating down with the sails hardly fluttering but please believe me that there’s in fact a there, in here. I think.

why did the mouse cross the road?

Now finally the boys had earned their stripes and rope burn on those beloved meadows whereupon one can climb above the trees to catch a breath and gaze over the stunning blue expanse of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and so as a special treat we introduced them to soft-serve skiing in the Cascades on a sunny Sunday in the mountains above Seattle where currently there’s enough snow for the North and South Poles which was of particular consolation to poor sneezy Adam with-glasses-falling-to-the-end-of-his-nose who enjoyed the respite from upstart powdery pollen down on the springy Whulge.  The pass across the Cascade Mountains here is unusually low elevation and such as it is characterized by a relatively mild maritime climate and being that carbon levels have passed the dreaded oh shit tipping point, by the time the boys are my age it’s quite possible rangy polar bears will be terrorizing those exceedingly well-dressed hikers who flock here in the summertime to blab on their cell phones and sad to say there probably won’t be any skiing left to speak of and the chairlifts will be trucked to the scrapyard where they fully belong if you ask me and the hillside will stop getting brushed out and slowly grow back up (the scenery is still pretty purty if you block out the clanking, vibrating equipment and buzzing interstate highway and concentrate on the majestic view north to triangle and blob-shaped mountains).

Up until now, as I was earlier alluding to, the boys have been schussing, swooshing or whatever vernacular you wanna invoke, exclusively in the northern range of the Olympics where it’s quieter so the carnival atmosphere on the citified mountainside yesterday was an eye-opener initially but as they carry the more personable personhood gene from their mother, the two of them seamlessly embraced the humanity with smiles on their faces while I preferred to stick myself upside down in a snowbank for lower-priced, family-friendlier entertainment. Seventeen runs they did down the intermediate hills with names like Dodge Ridge and Big Bill, maybe Bill is the guy who cut all the trees down? Adam, my oldest, is the careful technician who carves meticulous, controlled turns just the way he plays piano (unless he’s goofing around with the metronome) and while doing all this beautiful slowing-down mastery he’s looking around a lot, floating across the mountain meanwhile watching Oliver is not soothing to the nerves as he is the no-nonsense commuter who prefers the bullet train with nary a look up from his newspaper, thank you very much.

March 2019 - Obstruction Point Road 448-2

The last time they went skiing at the less fancy place where tough guys throw their skis in the back of pickups next to toolboxes, sawdusted oil rags and wear dirty gardening gloves for the rope tow, I waved see ya later to the boys and disappeared into the woods for hours by my lonesome and had a splendid time shooting and that’s where the image of this mile-high hemlock comes from. No clanking chairlifts here and what’s more frequent gale force wintertime winds mean lotta those other people blow away.  The color exposure was arguably better owing to the striking contrast between green of the lichen and deep blue sky and that’s probably what caught my initial fancy but the form spoke something about the way to go as the breeze gently lifted that lichen at the end of the short snag, an alien pincer (though I was the stranger) pointing the way and it was the right way or maybe it was getting rid of me, I dunno.

On the way home last night the boys were famished from too much fun so we stopped in a little foothills town which rests startlingly at the base of the most towering mountain you ever saw that thrusts skyward from the valley floor like a geyser of rock and green and at the corner by the popular restaurant featured in a popular television program of yore I commenced a lawful right hand turn in my automobile and as I performed this maneuver the tiniest mouse nervously skittered in the crosswalk, over to the curb. Luckily for her the town is ADA-compliant and she safely completed the journey around Rodent Cape Horn. I’m not a big mouse guy but the boys anthropomorphize the heck out of everything and so she was more than a furry speck to me and besides a few years ago, horrors because a chipmunk loitering in the road got pancaked.  At any rate, the little mouse crossed the street to safety and the boys devoured cheeseburgers and French fries from Scott’s Dairy Freeze. Since it was a school night and the evening was getting on we had to zoom back down to Puget Sound City for bedtime.  The boys hungrily gobbled their food in the car with their wind-burned faces stuck in their chapter books and they got greasy fries all over the floor. You know what? A long time ago, a band of mice overwintered in the car and those little things made themselves at home, chewed up a bunch of wires for their personal entertainment, causing all sorts of problems with blinking lights and serious messages on the dashboard saying stuff like pull over buddy you got major issues!

postscript: Wrote 99.99% of this on Monday. Felt rather conflicted about the bourgeoisie soundingness of the ski-thing but thought about grizzled Frank in Port Angeles, mom and dad on Medicaid, my duct-taped boots and probable arteriosclerosis from all the government cheese and Price Saver Cornflakes when I was the boys’ age and decided to hell with unhelpful class consciousness.

that’s incredible, sort of

Wild-haired Oliver Fern devoured nine slices of cinnamon toast this morning, before school. It could be a growth spurt and since we’re talking about that rare six year old trucks-and-airplanes boy with dirty fingernails who loves broccoli like chocolate chip cookies I shrugged my shoulders and patted schmoodles of extra butter on ’em. Ordinarily, I might’ve protested such a bodaciously bready breakfast but he hasn’t seen his mother all week so I’ve been bending over backward with unusual pliability and sweetness (he even got to wear dirty underwear to school). I’ll start making eggs for the boys every single morning a thousand different ways.

Last week Wednesday, Adam had six stubborn baby teeth removed, after school. Well, not exactly right after school. For starters, he rode the bus home and walked those final steep blocks up our hill sans coat in the freezing cold for the umpteenth time notwithstanding my persistent pleading about pneumonia, him philosophizing in return with a victorious air on the proliferation of adult ninnies driving around the city in convertibles tops down, oft seen sunny wintertime Seattle afternoons. Then he had a humongous snack to hedge against that evening’s crazy mouth numbness, he eats bagels like mini-pretzels, piles ’em high with Himalayas of condiments. No wonder he was starving, he barely ever eats lunch because school doesn’t give kids enough time to eat plus the latter spend most of it engaged in chatter.  He walked back down into the shadowy valley for piano, crunching little piles of leftover snow on the way, gleefully making the horrible sound which you may or may not agree is slightly less worse than fingernails-on-a-chalkboard and it was after that we headed up the street for the tooth stuff. Later in the evening, per his usual household responsibilities, he dutifully insisted upon setting out to the curb, not only our garbage and recycling for pickup the following morning, but that of elderly Wilbur across the street. No doubt the dollar signs were cha-ching-ringing because that’s six teeth for the tooth fairy along with his allowance and I was glad he seems to be inheriting his mother’s indefatigable work ethic because none of the rest of us wanted any part in the transfer of Wilbur’s sanitation as the half-empty barrel lately has bore an uncanny olfactory resemblance to that of rotted Cream of Lutefisk hence suspicions some shivering rat possibly crawled through the hole in the bottom during the last snow day and drifted pleasantly off to sleep forever.

Adam and I gingerly trudged (my arches doth continually protest mightily having walked many deep-snowy miles last weekend in ridiculous duct-taped rubber boots in the search for icicle pictures the meantime my young lad skied a million feet out of the clouds in competition with little brother for coldest nose) our way down to the school bus this morning and observed a profusion of crocuses and I couldn’t help thinking to myself it’s more or less pretty green year-round in Seattle but right now there’s a little extra green, tuftkins all over pushing through dead, brown foliage. For goodness sake, there are still tiny blobs of snow leftover from earlier this month. February is growing smaller in the sideview mirror however objects are closer than they appear and what’s more, after six or seven bluebird days we woke to solemn gray this morning so my arthritic fingers are crossed to be on the safe side. It was a pretty fun month for the boys, they missed lots of school for snow followed by a ridiculous weeklong mid-winter break. It’s not that I’ve got a case of spring fever because I love these snow days that let me be with the boys extra it’s sorta the opposite my legs are buckling time was fast forwarded just so (although let’s be real, you can take only so much “quality time” with your children before the law of diminishing returns kicks in).  Really, I would like March to telescope a bit and not roll away so quickly…..

postscript: I wrote this yesterday. It snowed in Seattle this morning but the sun is shining. And the boys went to school.