Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Chamber of Commerce Is Going to Love Me

Dear Hearts and Gentle People,
It's another cloudy sunny rainy haily snowy spring day on Vashon. The entry before this one is all about the weather these days, if you want to keep reading. That's my column for this week's Loop, which comes out on Friday, April 25.
This piece is one I wrote for "Destination Vashon," the local annual summer tourist guide that is published by the Beachcomber, the island weekly. It will be an insert in a coming issue of the Beachcomber, and then will be available at island places of business and on the ferries for the next year or so.
Two people have pronounced the piece "lovely." It's all about what we love about the island - Leslie, the editor, asked me to avoid the negative, and I did, absolutely.
If you used to live here, it might make you a little homesick. If you live here now, you might say, "Yeah, but wottabout..." I left out the wottabouts. Tourists don't need to hear about wottabouts. We who live here will deal with the wottabouts, just like everyone does in their home town.
In the interest of brevity, I cut out a nod to Austin, Texas, where I believe the "Keep (insert your home town) Weird" bumperstickers started. My writing pal Susan down in Texas says it's ok, because Austin isn't as weird as it used to be.
By the way, you can read Susan's column this week at:
She writes as the mother of two grown sons, and I really related.
Also by the way, Susan and I are the founding mothers of the Fat, Sarcastic, Average Ladies' Guild. We were talking one day about how we wanted to be tall and skinny and elegant when we were young, but, "I turned out to be fat, average, and sarcastic," I mourned. Susan picked up the ball from there. We are now the Guild. No rules, no officers, no meetings. If you're a member, you just know.
OK, on to this lovely piece - blessings & all

What Makes Vashon Weird?

You may have seen the deceptively subtle little bumper sticker: “Keep Vashon Weird.” Why is this sentiment appropriate, and why do people smile when they see it?
First, Vashon’s an island. OK, it’s two islands, Vashon and Maury, connected by a thin portage. There is something romantic about a place you can’t get to unless you get on a boat, and the inconvenience of an island is what attracts, and repels, people. Residents allow one to three hours to get someplace on the mainland which we could get to in twenty minutes if we lived over there. We live with inconvenience because we feel so privileged to live here. Islanders have a deep sense of being a people apart.
Second, Vashon is an island populated by eccentrics, even now when the internet has made the island less isolated. The character of a community is the sum of the characters that live there, and Vashon has always had a high percentage of capital C Characters. Perhaps living surrounded by a moat is what attracts, or makes, unconventional personalities.
Third, Vashon is beautiful. At every turn you see a view of the water, evergreen forests and stands of alder and Madrona trees, and of mountains, including Mt. Rainier, when the clouds part to reveal it.
In spring, the roads are bordered with dogwoods and their elegant, waxen blooms, and wild cherry trees in blossom. As they fade, the riotous yellow of Scotch broom and the purple and white foxglove come out. Wild sweet peas and purple larkspur bloom as the summer progresses, and wild blackberries ripen in August. Yum.
Not to mention the rather spectacular gardens and landscapes which people have created and tend here. Other manifestations of the human hand: a pond in the shape of a deer; a bicycle embedded in a tree; the exotic murals at the Island Theater painted in the early 1950s by a 17-year-old artist named Jonathan Tabor, who changed his name to Jac and went on to work for Disney; murals on the sides of buildings; and a lighthouse with guided tours, for starters.
As you bike or walk or drive around you might see bald eagles soaring overhead, or blue herons standing at the water’s edge. While walking on the beach you might see a pod of orcas swimming up the Sound. Once in a blue moon you might spot a mink, a descendant of escapees from the mink farms that used to be here.
Deer are everywhere. On odd occasions a bear swims onto the island, but only on odd occasions, and the bear is usually scared to death and looking for a more bear-friendly atmosphere, and swims off the island again.
Finally, Vashon is a small town. People value the sense of community and connection we have with one another. When you become a member of any group on the island, you will experience the overlap of a small town. We tend to disagree about practically everything, but we get along, mostly, because when you live on an island, you will run into that person again.
Come and visit. We welcome you, but guard your heart – as you watch the full moon coming up over the Cascades, or watch the sun going down behind the Olympics, you might feel like you’ve come home, and you might want to be a capital C Character, and help keep Vashon weird. It could happen. Ask anyone who lives here.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Global Warming, Local Confusion

Dear Hearts -
Just came home from a friend's place, driving through sun, hail, and snow. All at the same time. The weather has gone from changing every ten minutes and every hundred yards to doing everything all at once. So I thought I'd get the latest Smart Aleck onto the blog now, while the weather topic is hot, cold, and everything in between. So here it is:

Global Warming, Local Confusion

As I write I’m listening to the weather forecast on the radio. The forecast is for snow. We’re coming into late April, and the weather forecast is for snow, and rain, and hail. With occasional sun breaks.
Now I’m as ready as the next bleeding heart liberal to believe that global warming is a fact, but the weather this spring has me confused.
Last week a friend driving home from Spokane was held up for an hour and a half on Interstate 90 while the state crews did avalanche control at Snoqualmie Pass.
Two days later we had an eighty-five degree day that gave all the trees and shrubs a burst of growth and bloom. Summer! We got out our shorts and tees.
Two days after that I drove into Seattle and landed in a hail storm-cum-cloudburst. Within a few minutes the gutters were running with several inches of water, and the water had large bubbles caused by rain and hail pelting it, and on the higher ground hail collected like snow. This kept up for ten minutes or so, at the end of which lightning flashed and thunder boomed, and then the rain slowed to a spit, and the sun broke through.
We’ve always said, “If you don’t like the weather, wait ten minutes,” but it has never been as true as it is this spring.
Over forty years ago when I was a freshman in college, I had to take Biology 101, a general education course. The teacher felt that the only real major anyone should have in college was chemistry, and that it was his job to wash out as many non-chemistry majors as he could. You could tell he had no patience with our unformed, unscientific minds. He taught us with the gloom and despair of a prophet destined to reveal truths that no one wanted to hear. He told us about the greenhouse effect and global warming. He told us that we ignored what we were doing to the environment at our peril. It sounded horrible and fantastical, like science fiction, back then.
He was right, and nobody listened. No wonder he was always in a bad mood.
When I moved to Los Angeles in 1969 and experienced smog, I began to see his point. I could look up in the sky and see what looked like solid earth floating above the LA basin. That was air pollution. If I drove with the windows down on a hot day, my eyes stung and burned. I found out that sensation was caused by sulfur compounds in the air combining with the tears in my eyes to make sulfuric acid. In my eyes.
There were daily air quality alerts. Sometimes children were not allowed to play outside because the air would poison them.
That was my first observation of humans pooping in the nest. LA has cleaned up the air quite a bit since, but I continue to be amazed at how short-sighted we are regarding the effects of our behavior and actions on the world we live in, and how little we apparently care about what we leave for our children and grand children, especially if there’s a buck to be made in the short run. Shortsighted. Pooping in our own nest.
There is so much we don’t and can’t know. Is this snowy, icy spring a result of global warming’s upsetting the earth’s equilibrium? Is it the fault of La NiƱa? Is it an isolated quirk of nature? Is it the last days, as many fundamentalist Christians would like to believe, despite the gospel’s assurance that no one will see it coming (Luke 12:40)? Have Pinky and the Brain finally taken over the world?
Heck, I don’t know. Hand me my jacket, will you? I have to go break the ice in the dog’s water dish. If this is global warming, I’m confused.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Buying Things Is Fun

Perhaps you recall that after 9/11, we were told that the best thing we could do to fight terrorism would be to go shopping. Keep that American economy perking away. That’ll show ‘em.
Now, seven long bloody years later, we are being told once again to go shopping. We (those of us who qualify) will be receiving checks from the government this spring. An “economic stimulus” it’s called. We are not to think overmuch about where this money is coming from, only that we are to use it to go out and buy something for ourselves.
I’m thinking I’ll use it to pay down my credit card debt, or some other bills. Which is what the gummint is telling us not to do. No, no, no, no, no! Don’t pay off what you owe! Buy something new! This is meant to be CPR for our moribund economy.
Let’s face it, kids, $600 these days is chump change, an amount of money that will evaporate faster than a water drop on the wood stove in January. Or April, the way our weather has been lately. I say this from the perspective of having a procedure done at a hospital recently and spending one night in said hospital. $600 would barely make them notice I’d put anything on my tab.
I’m not saying it won’t be nice to be handed $600, since it is coming. I’m not saying no. I’m just saying that putting the country deeper into debt while encouraging us to get deeper into personal debt sounds like a dim strategy.
I’ve read and heard for years that we are a consumer society, and that we are addicted to spending and overspending. We keep trying to buy happiness. You can’t buy happiness. You can, however, purchase a little temporary mood elevation. As my son says, “Buying things is fun, and then you get to keep the stuff!”
I’m not talking about consumerism as an outsider. I have yearned for and bought cars, computers, guitars, clothes, and one house; I have spent happy hours on the internet looking at fantasy houses and vehicles, among other things. So I’m not saying that buying things or wanting to buy things is bad.
I will say that I’m up to my neck in crap I bought, inherited, accepted, or found. I’ve acquired enough stuff in my life to have tipped to the evil side of consumerism – the point where happiness would have a better chance around here if I got rid of most of this stuff.
I keep thinking about the big picture here – the one where you can see the American dollar falling in value, and the balance of trade being wildly off-balance. I’m thinking about one more action by this strange administration which has done so much to bring this country to its knees and disgrace it in the eyes of the rest of the world, not to mention in the eyes of over half its own citizens. Now we’re all being handed a quarter to go to the candy store while the administration makes out with our big sister. The candy may be sweet in the mouth for a few seconds, but that won’t keep us from realizing how much has gone sour.
So enjoy that internet cell phone, or a few minutes’ peace of mind from paying down your credit balance, and get ready: we have work ahead of us as a nation, and it may involve things other than shopping.