Saturday, May 30, 2009

Walks with Richard

Richard from #7 came over a few days after we moved here and asked us if we wanted to go on a walk with him. We were eating and tired right then so we said maybe another time. Richard sort of snorted, dismissed us with a drop of his hand, and stomped off toward Belfair State Park.

The next time Richard asked me I was in the middle of a chirpy pilates video. Eager not to disappoint I answered the door right away, asked him to wait a second while I ran upstairs and put on some pants and away we went. We talked over what he calls the “dismal science” (economics) as we slowly ambled down the road. Turns out that Richard, who is a fierce supporter of Milton Friedman and the Chicago School of salvation by free markets and invisible hands, blames the Chinese for selling off $700 billion of American treasury bonds in 2007 in a mad scramble to buy up oil companies and the like and dominate the world system. He thinks our currency will soon be worthless. Richard is a MIT physicist who worked most of his life at Boeing – the big employer around the Sound before Bill Gates invented Microsoft and after the big trees were all cut up and shipped out. He walks for his health and to see the birds, the shifting alluvial deltas at the end of Mission Creek, and the quiet ponds which reflect the big clouds. We talk of salmon, and floods, and boy scout sing-a-longs in the Olympics in the 1950s.

Since his retirement Richard has been receiving visions which have given him the answers to all the major problems which Einstein and Hawkings couldn’t solve: things to do with quantum mechanics, string theory and the like. He’s writing up these new theses and submitting them to refereed journals. So far, like most physics papers, none have been published. A surprise storm rained on us the last time we walked, and we got pretty wet. Richard gave me a high-five when we got back.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

For Aluminum

I agreed to write this post under the influence of 4th anniversary sentimentalities. “Will it be sappy?” Darren asked. “Of course!” I replied. Last weekend we sat around a campfire and watched the sap sizzle. We talked about how grumpy we’d been with each other since our (self-titled) aluminum anniversary. “That’s just because we only have a bachelor’s degree in marriage,” Darren said. “We’re just switching programs to start our master’s program now and it’s always a little rough transitioning to a new program.” As for me, I plan to take this thing on to the PhD level here in a few years. Imagine what life will be like when we can actually start practicing!

It’s strange to think back to the beginning – when the first thing I noticed was a pair of eyebrows across a crowded room. We fanned our feathers for a while in an attempt to impress one another with all we had read, seen and done. Then came the big first Valentine’s Day fight when all hope was lost and I fled back to my NY friends - declaration of singlehood in hand. That is until the next day when Darren won me back with a few simple lines over e-mail. That’s what keeps this show on the road. I get hoppin’ mad and swear up and down that I’ll never give him the time of day again and then he gives me a look or a light touch on the shoulder and I’m a bowl of mush.

“The nice thing about the rest of our lives is that we have a whole lifetime of weekends ahead of us,” Darren commented on our drive out to camp in the Cascades. I agreed and wiped what looked like a grasshopper leg off his glasses as we hiked up the trail dodging steaming mounds of unhealthy looking bear dung. An hour later he tenderly reached over and plucked “leftover cricket butt” off my cheek. You have to admire the kind of guy who would stick around a girl with cricket hindquarters mashed up on her face – or at least the kind of guy who would make that sort of thing up.

In the end we let the campfire go out on its own with admonishments from Smokey Bear ringing in our consciences. It was dark and the night was cold and I thought I heard bear noises behind me. What followed was a very long Blair-Witch-Project-esque night in which I shot up with every creepy night noise, clapped my hands and commanded those bears to “Get out of here!” in my sternest Grizzly Man voice (but that didn’t work out so well for him then did it?). But it was Darren who would venture out to retrieve a torch from our smoldering fire and state once and for all that there was nothing beastly in sight. And then he woke up in the morning and cooked me breakfast too.

Darren recently graduated with his master’s degree from Columbia University with a 4.0 GPA (actually it was higher than that but he won’t tell me how high). I have a feeling that he’s going to score even higher when we wrap this program up. How’s that for sappy?

Monday, May 18, 2009

In a Borrowed World

“We haven’t seen any wild animals other than each other all day,” Jennifer said midway through our 10 mile walk along the glacial blue Hoh river. The night before we had spied on a herd of elk browsing the fine green offerings of 140 inches of rain, but today we saw only the traces of men and bears and ambiguous paws. A temperate rain forest like this one is a glorious junkyard of plants draped over plants feeding on each other and the air. It is rain and melting glaciers on higher ground which fill the air with background winds and secret little rushes like a distant toilets always flushing. Every shade of green and brown is present but difficult to take account of because this world is so wild and unexpected.

It made Jennifer do strange things: like try to stand on her hands and climb on top of gigantic rotting stumps. She skipped starting with her left foot and at one point volunteered to crawl on her belly through the empty space in the roots of a big cypress as though she was a nurse tree. She sat in a sacred oak grove and leaned her head back to look at the moss upside down with her chin in the air and she said she loves to do this. She argued with me about the name of the director of a French film we saw about nymphs who lived in a forest like this one (The Romance of Astrea and Celadon by Eric Rohmer). When I ran ahead a bit and waited for her on some giant fallen trees stacked like toys she said the woods seemed creepier when I wasn’t there, every sound a cougar or a bear.

If we were animals we would never leave this place we decided. At night in our tent we read out our nightly poem by Gary Snyder in the fading light and wondered how a flimsy construction of nylon made in a factory in China and sold to us for less than 20 dollars could make us feel at home in such a wild place. Next time we hike into the Olympics we won’t bring the tent we decided. Jennifer put the tent away while I made breakfast in the bright sunlight.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

On a Strange Land

It seems we wake up earlier every morning. Too absentminded to close the blinds the sun streams in electrifying the pines which from our floor level mattress and the luxury of 400 thread count linen seem to dominate the world of our window. Up now, there is smoke on the water burning a blue heron into a black silhouette. This landscape, this air, this sea, is permanently strange to me (at least for these two months). There is no left over sentiment or latent memory of the sea from my childhood in Ohio. This is all new to me. Every day I note the tides, I remark on the deep salt breeze. Jennifer thinks she sees whales out there.

Out in the forest under the pines I run after the tracks of deer. I’m thinking hard about the Seattle Marathon in November so today is my nine mile run for the week. My sister Sheri is 16 this week which leads to ruminating on the importance of mobility when trying to learn the rules of modernity as a 16 year-old Mennonite. I think of my mom’s declaration that I was not mature enough to drive, and how this was echoed in whispers by worried preacher’s wives and weepy widows throughout the concerned community. It turns out, the state revoked my license for a year, the preacher’s wives gave up, and the widows kept praying. I doubt Sheri will need to go through this as it appears she reads Melville and quotes Proust for fun: both good ideas more important than testing the practice of modern Mennonites.

After seven miles of chasing deer, crashing through the brush like a white man, dodging puddles and streams like a rabid dog, I hear the motocrossers who own this State Forest every weekend roaring my way: suited star troopers on their Japanese motorcycles. I dive into a bed of giant ferns away from the snarls. A bear! The lead driver yells through his helmet. Where? Right here! They drive a little closer, I wave, smile weakly. Yeah right. A bear. I’m a disappointment. I run on foot over foot now, ignoring the little flashes of pains here and there. Out on the road a dog barks: here comes another, down by the Sound back in the big cedars I startle a couple of sea ducks and the sound of it and flash of green makes my heart leap in my chest again.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Last Week

Last week we drove down to Portland to visit my Aunt Mary and listen to Uncle Lee spin out tales of computer geeks and old Kalona cronies. Denying any hint of privation, they showed us the luscious Columbia River Gorge: waterfalls over chiseled layers of basalt and fluorescent moss like an Islamic palace in Granada that I saw in an art history book only better and more wild. We ate at a cottage at the bottom of Multnomah Falls, watching the green rain, and telling stories of Mennonite roots (pronounced “ruts”).

Last week I remembered my Aunt Mary is quiet and thoughtful. She works at an alcohol and drug rehab clinic for lost souls and she cries every time she watches Susan Boyle sing her song for cynical Britons. Lee and Mary are trying to stay young with a basement full of exercise equipment. They study at learning German, watch honest movies starring crazy old Jack Nicholson (“he follows the beat of a different drum” according to Uncle Lee) and talking about the country legends they have seen and outlived. We ate perfectly made wild blackberry pie twice and there was still enough left for a paper plate ride home with us. I’m glad we gave Lee a chance to eat desert and get generous with the A&W root beer.

Last week I heard a Russian Literature professor from Louisiana State talk about Dadaism on Seattle public radio: how it outlasted Stalin and thrives in times of woe. He said Dadaists always have a party “at least in their minds.” They are less concerned with politics and final outcomes then with jiving and dancing around things and problems and making new poems and new places. As Gary Snyder the poet has said regarding his Beats: “it’s about character, it’s about style.” I thought about this and how my Uncle Lee drives a city bus while jiving with strangers and eating sandwiches of jam and peanut butter ground in a self-serve grinder; how his bohemian friend follows the creed “Keep Portland Weird” by barking like a dog in public to people he knows; as we drove home on Interstate 5 listening to Dan Reeder make a mess of it and trying to sing along.