Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Shopvacs and husky dogs

Snow storm? Site of a meteor strike and the meteor was made of cotton? Nay. Jacey's dog spurts fur. Shed is not the word for what her follicles do with hair. You can hear the hairs growing and they shoot out just when she's laying there. That right there is a pile of hair from about ten minutes of brushing.

I've made fourteen sleeping bags with fur collected from this beast. Tied flies with it. Knitted them into other dogs and waited for a lightning storm and brought them to life with jumper cables. Filled holes in my yard with the fur of the dog that dug the holes, so that's a symbiotic relationship kind of.

I've been spraying her dog with Nair when Jacey's not looking. So far no progress. But do make sure to wash your hands if you try this tactic. I rubbed my face out of consternation and now have only one eyebrow and some tiger stripes down one cheek where I don't have to shave anymore. So there's that.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Rustic barnwood reincarnated as platform for lemonade and potato salad

Chieftain column, May 26, 2011

I’ve been collecting old barnwood and lumber over the years here in Wallowa County. Working with boards that were nailed together ninety years ago gives you a real feel for history. Especially in your fingers and hands. Some of these splinters are never coming out. I’ve tried tweezers, needles, vise grips … some are so large they’re not technically splinters but chunks of wood. Something you might kindle a fire with. I made choker cables out of dental floss to pull them out but it was no good. Thought about trying to burn them out like old stumps, but I believe I’ve got no choice but to let these pieces of old red fir and pine and tamarack buried in my system stay where they are.

Arise, old boards . . . and function once again by facilitating meals outside.

So Wallowa County has literally become part of me. Little molecules of old tight-grained, rough-cut, true dimension lumber are right now sloughing off and running through my bloodstream. Probably some paint chips and antique dirt too. But hey, good with the bad.

First building I salvaged was an old pack station barn at the head of the lake next to Heidi’s store. I spent weeks up there pulling nails and sorting boards. Finding old graffiti scrawled or carved by long-ago wranglers.

Apparently Randy and Bev had issues.

The Matterhorn Swiss Village is right across the road from where the barn stood, so I spent a good deal of time thinking about how we call Wallowa County ‘Little Switzerland.’ And I decided we should get a tourism official from Switzerland over here to see what we’ve got going so they can start advertising Switzerland as ‘Big Wallowa County.’ I think it’s only fair.

Wood pegs that used to hold bridles and tack in that old barn now hold up towels next to my hot tub. The tub sits on a deck made from other pieces of that old building and I’d like to think the boards are happy with their new job, as opposed to going onto a burnpile.

I’ve been building picnic tables lately with other boards from that barn. You can try one out at Mutiny Brewing in Joseph.

Not pictured: potato salad and lemonade.

The legs holding you up used to be the pack station. The benches are from a house on Alder Slope and the table tops used to be walls inside a cute little log cabin at Wallowa Lake.

It's so cute.

Pulling all the nails and slivers can get tiresome. Some would say salvaging antique boards is more trouble than it’s worth. They’re probably right, except you drag the first brush of stain across these old things and it sets off the yellow, grey and other shades that have been baked and weathered in over the years and, you know, I just don’t get the same satisfaction with a shiny new board that doesn’t have horse hair caught in the cracks or a water stain that started during a rainstorm back when Eisenhower was in office. Patina, some people call it. Seems an awfully fancy term. Too fancy, I think. It’s just old. Experienced. Been around. And I like keeping things around.

I studied history back in college. And I think all those history papers I wrote are the same as building with barnwood. You sort through something that’s been there a long while, decide what you want to use, make sense of the rough spots and sand away the splinters, put some preservative on and send it back out in the world to get more use out of it. So a biography and a picnic table aren’t all that different. For my next project I might just make a table out of old biographies. Or Swiss history books with stories from Big Wallowa County.

I just built a tiny little table for my nieces out of old Wallowa County barnwood. The girls have about five years between the two of them and they’ll be sitting on boards made almost a hundred years ago. No telling how old the trees were when they went off to the mill. So this stuff is made from sunlight and rain well over a hundred years ago and it’ll sit outside again in sunlight and rain that hasn’t got here yet. For more trouble than it’s worth, it still seems worth it.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Dandelions summon hail

My dandelions are not ordinary. They saw me getting the mower in running order to mow them down and somehow managed to disconnect the coil wire. Fine. I'm used to their simple acts of sabotage. Last year they set a trip wire that triggered an incendiary bomb when I went to get the gas can to fuel the mower. That little prank cost me two eyebrows. So I've learned to sweep the undercarriage of the riding mower with a mirror on a pole like you see at border crossings.

Now, though, it appears they can conjure weather like some kind of mutant X-Men character.

I started mowing them down under a blue sky and I could see them whispering, then holding their leaves up to the sky and, sure enough, it starts sprinkling but I pushed on, not impressed by their little rain dance.

So they held their pistles or xylems and phloems or whatever up higher and summoned a hailstorm. A hailstorm, I say. Conjured right out of a blue sky.

Those white tracers are hail balls. And those little yellow flowers have magical powers.

So they've won this round and I'll have to rethink my landscaping approach. Maybe get some weed and feed, or an exorcist or I don't know what.

My yard, which will eventually be a hayfield if the dandelions get their way.

Still hailing.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Mother's Day coupons have caught up to me

Chieftain column, May 12, 2011

I just discovered I have plenty of work to keep me busy for the next year or so. It won’t pay anything, but in an economy like this you have to be grateful to be working at all. I learned of my new busy schedule when I called home for Mother’s Day. Told Mom I’d be coming to visit soon and would take her out to dinner. There’s a restaurant we’ve been meaning to try and couldn’t get reservations once, so the family drew up a homemade gift certificate for Mom as a promise to take her there. “We’re going to cash that thing in,” I told Mom. “Great,” she said. “Are you going to take out the garbage too?”

Here's Mom sporting her Easter dress. Or parachute, I'm not sure which.

Mom said she recently stumbled on her collection of gift certificates in a drawer, given to her over the years by myself and my sisters. Some elementary school teacher back in our childhoods came up with the bright idea of making coupon books to give to our mothers, good for cleaning our rooms or walking the dog, doing chores and favors and whatnot. Mom seemed to appreciate those little coupon books. Though she was probably just being nice. And unfortunately she never exercised her legal right to have us wash the dishes, rake the leaves or paint the house. So we kept giving her these books of promises over the years, and since she didn’t cash them in the promises just got more extravagant.

I now owe my mother a Porsche, a Caribbean vacation, fourteen hugs, $18,000 dollars worth of yardwork, adjusted for inflation … let’s see here … I promised to do my own laundry twice—check that off the list—but some of these aren’t so easy. On three occasions I guaranteed Mom a “happy day,” which my lawyer informed me will be entirely up to her as to whether I’ve supplied it or not, and we’d better cross our fingers that she’ll be reasonable.

Seconds after this photo was taken, Grandma Mary Ann
rescued Claire from that bear sneaking up behind them.

I really should have had an attorney look these things over before signing my name to such documents, but I was in elementary school at the time. My lawyer back then specialized in playground assault claims, not contract law.

I’m determined to satisfy every last one of these promises. Mom isn’t trying to play hardball or anything. She just thought it was cute to find a sheaf of hand-drawn legally binding documents signed in my looping cursive of a kid’s signature. But a deal’s a deal. If I can’t make good on agreements voluntarily entered into with my own mother, I don’t see how I can do business with the private sector in good conscience.

But it’s going to take some time. I was cranking those coupons out at a furious pace.
Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. I’m going to print a copy of this newspaper column and have it notarized, as a formal acknowledgement of intent to satisfy all previous commitments to weed the garden, bring in the firewood, not fight with my sisters, etc., etc.

And while I swore to put a stop to this business of piling up promises until I get clear of all the others I’ve made over the years, let’s go ahead and add one more hug to the pile. Why not. Redeemable upon my next visit. Nontransferable. Subject to change without prior notice and may increase to two hugs.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Smells like pancakes

My writer's shack turned into a recording studio while I was gringo-ing around down in Mexico.

Pancake Breakfast frontman Mike Midlo came out for some Wallowa time and made sweet sweet music.

Lay your peepers on pancakebreakfastmusic.com and do yourself some good by placing your ears amongst the Pancake Breakfast audience whensoever the opportunity arises. You'll know the opportunity has risen just right when the bubbles on top are popping and it's golden-brown halfway up the batter.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

¿Como se dice ‘root canal'?

Chieftain 'And Furthermore' column from April 29, 2011

Now you're speaking my language. Or spelling a second language I barely speak.

I threw my shoulder out trying to dress for springtime in Wallowa County. All those abrupt wardrobe changes. Started the day in a stocking cap, down jacket and insulated boots, then got streamlined to a t-shirt and shorts during the twenty minutes of sunshine. And back to foul weather gear for the driving snow flurries. What got me was the sudden spell where it was sunny to the left of me, snowing behind and a windstorm kicked up on the right … I hadn´t stretched out properly and – boop – my rotator cuff just couldn´t keep up with putting on a jacket and taking off a sweatshirt simultaneously. You won that round, Wallowa County weather. I know when I´m beat.

So it turns out Mexico is beautiful this time of year. And last-minute tickets to Mazatlan are really very reasonable. Wallowa County amigos Hilary Valentine, Edie Baffaro and Jake Kurtz have a house rented in Mazatlan and we haven´t seen one snowflake. Not a one.

Concern over sunburn v. hypothermia is just a plane ride away. Thanks, Alaska Airlines.

My spanish is just good enough that most people can understand I´m trying to speak spanish. Beyond that not much information is being transferred. The exchange rate is about eleven to one. I understand that one word, but those other eleven are something of a mystery. I´ve been told by plenty of english speakers back home that they don´t understand me either, so it´s bueno.

Another factor for Operation Mexico is that I´ve been putting off a root canal for a long while and was given the name of a specialist down here that comes highly recommended. I figured this might be the perfect time to get this root canal taken care of, since I can´t even explain in english why I´ve waited so long, or don´t floss as much as I should. So the language barrier is working in my favor on this one.

I was also given the name of a root canal specialist over in Lewiston who I´m sure is top-notch, but Lewiston seems like a foreign country anyway and as much as I like savoring the aroma of Potlatch, I went for the beach along the Pacific instead.

My plan to see the dentist is going perfectly, since I arrived during La Semana Santa, Holy Week, and every dentist is away on Easter vacation. The secretary for one dentist told me the doctor was up north, visiting some place called Lewiston. Crazy.

Jake Kurtz has an extensive knowledge of tacos in their various forms and I have learned a great deal by tagging along on his mission to sample a taco at every roadside stand in the greater Mazatlan metropolitan area. Al pastor, cabeza, lengua, carne asada … Jake is fluent in taco-ease and I’ve picked up a few terms here and there, like ‘mas papel higienico,’ for one.

Also met Bill from Pendleton during my rambles around Mazatlan. Bill Glenn. Lives in Portland now. He walked up while I was being lost near the cathedral in the old part of Mazatlan. Bill´s t-shirt announced in bold letters that he was a volunteer tourist aide.

That's Bill in the middle. That's me on the right in about twenty years.

He asked if I was lost. I said yes, but I was OK with that. Bill understood. He filled me in on some Mazatlan points of interest and we agreed I would show him around the Wallowas next time he came out for Chief Joseph Days.

So I had a t-shirt made up that explains I´m a volunteer ambassador for Wallowa County. Hope you guys don´t mind. I just about had a family convinced to come up and visit for springtime in the Wallowas, until we got to the part of what they should bring for clothing. I didn´t know the word for either ´longjohns´ or ´pretty much everything you have´and was flipping through the dictionario so fast that I aggravated that strained rotator cuff again.

See you in another week or so, Wallowa County. I´ll be wearing my souvenir sunburn and being happy about it.