confluence of the snoqualmie and tolt rivers on a hazy summer evening

It’s hard to believe this frame is from barely a month and a half ago. It was a Sunday night, we’d taken the boys for a long walk in Snoqualmie Valley, between Seattle and the first real uplift of the Cascade Mountains. This is a view south toward a more ancient range of mountains than the Cascades, there’s a five hundred foot suspension bridge that crosses the river here and that’s what I was standing on when I took this picture. I bet the autumn colors are sure pretty up there, now! In the distance, those are some rafters getting ready to float downstream, they probably had to stop and open some more beer (or go pee really bad). River rafting and alcohol, I can’t think of a worse combination but it’s an incredibly popular pastime all over America. We walked in the woods for a few miles and the boys really wanted to swim in the river. It was wide, placid with barely a current but I declined because I didn’t know the river well, downstream. They sure were sore at me at first because they watched some girls swimming maybe a tenth of a mile down the river. I know it was September, you can practically walk across that time of year but you never know exactly where some holes might be and those girls found one near the opposite bank.

Tonight is the final U.S. presidential debate. We won’t bother watching this time because one bad train wreck is enough but I’ll be anxious for commentary later in the evening, to see how Vice President Joe Biden, does. We know Trump will be a total clown but Biden can still bring over some of the last-minute undecided voters (which perhaps most importantly includes those who could ultimately decide not to vote at all). Frankly, I hate it that Biden’s in the same room with a sputum-spewing Trump, I don’t care if there are five layers of plexiglass and high pressure sprinkler heads gushing hand sanitizer straight down. I’m filling out my absentee ballot, tonight. There’s a dropbox for ballots just a little over a mile away, down the road at the Garfield Community Center. Weeks ago, I convinced my mom that when the time came, she and my dad should just fill out their mail ballots and send them in. There’s no way I want them going to the township hall to do it in person, right now. My sister’s dryer broke so she has been going into town to dry clothes at the laundromat and no one there wears masks, even the old duffers just sit around taking naps or watching tv without a care in the world. When you wear a mask there, you’re a pariah. Two of my sisters work in Muskegon, the same hardscrabble town along the shore of Lake Michigan that Donald Trump visited last week for a rally where the public got all fired up chanting lock her up. I’ve lived away most of my adult life but I’m still kinda proud to be a native Michigander. But it’s times like that where I take off my Detroit Tigers baseball cap, I can’t believe people can be so willfully ignorant and hateful.

Aescula flava

This particular Aescula, native to the Ohio Valley and Appalachian Mountains, is next to the plant nurseries in the arboretum, the boys and I stood under this one, last week. The colors were like a beacon through the dark and gloomy afternoon. Horse chestnuts are one of the most popular things the squirrels like to bury in our yard, along with peanuts and acorns. Chestnuts and acorns I understand, but peanuts? Is there a peanut plant someplace in the neighborhood I don’t know about? Several times a year I dig out chestnut seedlings that have sprouted unnoticed to a surprisingly good height. One of these days I’ll just let one keep growing and see how it does.

This morning I was listening to The Brian Lehrer Show while I did the dishes. He was interviewing filmmaker and activist Michael Moore and they were talking about the current situation in Michigan with regard to the election run-up and the state’s importance as a “swing state”.  To be honest, it started to make me feel a little more pessimistic on the inside about how things are going to turn out on November 3rd. A long time ago I read Moore’s Stupid White Men but to be honest a lot of things he has done the past twenty years are just peripherally familiar to me. Now I’m thinking of watching one of his documentaries with Adam. At any rate, I really enjoyed listening to Moore with Lehrer so I subscribed to Moore’s podcast. I know I’m not supposed to talk about politics and religion, it’s not polite.

Once a week I do all of our grocery shopping and errand-running and that was today, the boys’ mother works from home Wednesdays so they won’t slack off from school (it’s mostly independent study) or horseplay, while I’m gone. Our refrigerator has been replenished with broccoli. Adam is crazy about broccoli, I steam some every other night for dinner. When I was thirteen, you would’ve had to tie me down with rope and jam the broccoli down my throat with forceps, to get me to eat it. Once my mom made me eat canned spinach and it was so disgusting I vomited immediately, she was not pleased but it might’ve been her fault because she was always making us eat things like mushy canned lima beans that were a cause for extreme revulsion and led to frequent hiding food under the table. She did the best she could with our limited resources. We may have had a big garden each summer but everything we grew in it was like a symbol of imprisonment because I was reminded of all my chores out there (like picking scary-looking tomato worms off the plants, with clothespins) or tedious canning I was going to eventually have to help with, when I would’ve much rather been playing baseball.

I suspect one of the main reasons Adam loves broccoli so much is that he’s determined to get taller. He’s overtaken his mother and now he’s getting surprisingly close to me. I’m a couple of inches over six feet and he’s not far away. I stopped growing during my freshman year of high school. Genetically, I probably should’ve been a few inches taller but during my teenage years half my meals were cornflakes and peanut butter sandwiches on white bread that I microwaved into liquid goo, in order to enhance the flavor. My lack of vegetables and fruit was counterbalanced by humongous bowls of vanilla ice cream topped with pancake syrup.

park bench for the classicists

This park bench could be anywhere but this one is special because it’s in the arboretum in the valley below our house. When the days get much shorter in November and December (dark comes painfully early by continental standards, this far north) the boys and I will have to economize our time during the week after school and go for more of our walks, down here. We have a rough, steep shortcut through the woods behind the Seattle Japanese Garden that gets us down there in a jiffy. At the dirty Dump No Material Whatever sign (there’s a microwave oven and some beer cans piled up nearby right now) we drop down to the service lane that’s a pleasant path in its own right, with Zen views through chain link fencing, into the Japanese Garden where visitors attain peace and serenity without the faintest clue the ground they’re standing upon was once a smelly dump. When Adam was little, I took him to the Japanese Garden all the time. We were on a first-name basis with Mary in the booth but she’s been gone for a long time. Once, the gardeners let us in on a snowy day when the garden was officially closed. We rarely visit, the garden is a lot busier than it used to be.

I’ve started reading Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage after Adam tackled it before me. Before that, I finished the first two books in Trenton Lee Stewart’s The Mysterious Benedict Society, a great children’s series with some funny, cool villains. Oliver Fern and I read those concurrently so he’d have someone to talk with, about them. Now we’ve moved on to The Great Brain series by John Fitzgerald (illustrated by Mercer Meyer who stalwart though he may be is personally responsible for the insufferable Little Critter children’s books which thankfully we long ago left in the rearview mirror).

notes about Sempervivum tectorum

Over the years whenever my mom would come to visit Seattle she’d eventually delight to meddling into little sorts of things in the garden I’d neglected over time like dividing or cutting plants back. She and I live in completely different hardiness zones so a walk just around the yard let alone the neighborhood is like a stroll through Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, for her. Over time I learned to deflect her backhanded compliments about the ability to grow anything with ease (a low IQ is no impediment) in our far more forgiving clime and increasingly I embraced her philosophy of growing the garden from the inside. Still, she could get a little out of hand with the doggone hens and chicks, transplanting’em in all sorts of wacky places I’d discover later to my bemusement. I might’ve written about this tendency of her’s before in jest but the truth is that I’ve never minded the rogue gardening for it became one of my favorite rituals of having her around.  She’s so creative and sees things in ways that I never imagined. Hardy and quite drought tolerant, hens and chicks are nice to have in the garden although it’s a tad embarrassing three quarters of the way through summer when everything else is scorched and they’re the only thing looking halfway decent or when one has flowered to an impossible height like a comical dinosaur phallus. Saturday morning I was trying to capture a scene through the rust garden that wasn’t so apocalyptic as Rats Ride Bikes. I liked that frame but I didn’t mean for it to seem so……bleak. The only thing I’d like to change here is the little chick dangling down (and in the edge of the frame). That’s just what they do, though. The poor thing was getting smothered and obviously needed a breather. It’s probably a parenting lesson for me, I think. I took this after school one day last week when the boys and I were getting ready to leave the house for a long walk in the arboretum.

Speaking of long walks, we went for a long one late Saturday afternoon. It was one of the gloomiest days we’ve had in awhile, it seemed. One of the neighbors had even turned on her Seasonal affective disorder lamp, I can always tell. I hope she’ll be all right this winter, it seems rather early to be getting down in the dumps because of the weather. For our walk, the goal was to walk north down the hill all the way to the Ship Canal, cross the Montlake Bridge and walk just a little more, to visit a brand new park the city just opened. It was a little over two and a half miles from the house to the Ship Canal, alone. We shortcut through the rugged hillsides of Interlaken Park then bisected Montlake with the help of a towering stairway which deposited us on a street chock-a-block with beautiful bungalows featuring jagged clinker brick, many of them belonging to tenured UW professors although sadly I doubt if academics can afford houses in there, anymore. After crossing bustling Montlake Bridge we turned west, pleasantly meandering along the edge of the Ship Canal past dozens of university-related buildings and facilities devoted to the oceanographic sciences, before arriving at the park.

Fritz Hedges Waterway Park is quite nice, with a sprawling gravel shoreline featuring spacious views of the University and Ship Canal bridges. It will be popular in the summertime with tourists in kayaks who need a break from the blisters on their thumbs, I’m quite certain. I’m looking forward to taking pictures from there, someday. It was awfully gloomy and dark so I didn’t bother taking a single frame, we were just an hour from sunset. The boys and their mother felt a little bamboozled by such a far journey so close to dark, we hightailed it home lest we get caught after dark in the woeful anarchist city. The only downside of the park is that it has been claimed as a water closet by the Canadians. There were gigantic mushy turd-mines everywhere one stepped. You have to give them credit, those geese know a good park when they see one.

It started raining on the way back to the house but not too bad. We could barely see, making our way steeply uphill through the woods in Interlaken. Outside of the park, everyone’s kitchen or dining room lights were on. I forgot how wonderful it is to watch people in their homes and Saturday night every place was like a warm, cozy lightbox. The feeling reminded me of author John Steinbeck who admitted to being an unapologetic voyeur that way.