Monday, July 4, 2016

Squirrels (2)

Someone (I suspect Merry Emlaw because the clipping refers to Oregon State) left me a news clipping about squirrels attacking tomatoes. The Master Gardener in the newspaper responds, in part, "I do know a number of people are submitting complaints about squirrel activity this year, and also that squirrels are opportunists. Those juicy [tomato] stems are one of their water sources."

Watching a squirrel build a leaf nest on the hillside is one thing, but if they start plotting against my Jaune Flamme up on Tomato Alley on the roof, they stop being cute little furry scurriers and become alien invaders. I see no signs of assaults at present -- just about everyone's plants seem to be doing fine. Not, perhaps, as fine as mine*, but not showing any rodent toothmarks about the main stems. There are no trees overhanging the roof, and, even if they coveted our tomato stems, I'm not sure a squirrel could clamber twelve floors up the side of the building to reach them. I certainly hope that is the case. Apparently only limited means of defense are available to gardeners whose tomato stems are less securely situated than ours. Squirrels can reach through chicken wire and "you can trap them," the OSU Master Gardener says, "but it is illegal to transport them elsewhere." I can fantasize about Bryan, the groundskeeper, sitting in wait on the roof with a pellet gun, but I suspect a lot of people, certainly including Bryan, would find that objectionable.

*Since I have no responsibility for the plant other than to converse with it now and again and to twist the ripe tomatoes off, and since I therefore cannot claim any personal credit for its flourishing, I feel I can brag about it without fear of giving offense. If I'm wrong about that, please let me know and accept my apologies in advance.

Monday, June 27, 2016


OK, so here I stand, at my window, midday, looking across at my hillside, now attractively bedecked with foliage (big-leaf maple, blackberries, English ivy, and an unnamed vine that covers about half the view), when what should I see but a squirrel. It's running horizontally from maples to vines just about across from my sixth floor window, a big leaf in its mouth, its bushy tail gesturing as squirrel tails tend to do, probably to help keep balance, but perhaps to express poetic thoughts to the universe.

Hmm, I think. Squirrel. It disappears into the vines. About a minute later, I see a squirrel, probably the same one running from vines to maples with nothing visible in its mouth. About a minute after that, I see a squirrel, by now almost certainly the same one, running maples to vines with another leaf in its mouth. This happens three or four times while I'm watching.

OK. When I think of squirrels, I think of acorns. I always assumed squirrels were acorn-eaters (and, of course, acorn buriers). But now that I think of it, they must eat something besides acorns or they would become very hungry about now, with no new acorns to harvest and all old acorns either sprouted into aspiring oaks, eaten by other acorn-eaters, or rotted in the ground.

I can think of two things the squirrel might have been doing: gathering a picnic or building a nest. Does anyone reading this blog have enough expertise to enlighten me as to what my squirrel was doing running maples-to-vines with big leaves and vines-to-maples without?

Friday, May 13, 2016


Gladys Owen, my daughter's new mother-in-law, is 96, a small, round woman. She has arthritis severe enough to make it almost impossible for her to walk without help. Tom, the oldest of her six children, a retired bricklayer, spends most of his time helping her with the normal tasks of everyday life. There is not even a whiff of self-pity about either of them, no sense from Tom that he is burdened with his mother's care, no sense from Gladys that she resents being dependent and in pain.

They are warm, hospitable people who made me feel welcome with cups of tea and gentle curiosity about who I am and what my life here is like. They speak with musical accents that are probably a stew of Shropshire and Wales, easily understandable to me and echoing a bit of Ireland through long-ago Celtic roots. I shudder to think what my flat American accent sounded like to them.

In Gladys' front room, there are two green recliners. Gladys sat in one, and I took the other. "That one you're in was mine," she told me, "and this one where I'm sitting was Bill's (her husband of 64 years). I got sad looking at his after he died, so I moved over here so I wouldn't have to look at it."

Gladys has had both knees replaced and recently had the second of two cataract surgeries. She's got six or seven books of popular fiction piled up beside her recliner awaiting the arrival of her new glasses.

Gladys' routine: after she wakes up and has breakfast, she takes her "tablets", 11 or 12 prescription pills, which "knock her out" for most of the rest of the morning, after which she stays up sitting in the green recliner until mid-evening visiting with Tom and others of her children who drop by, watching TV or looking out her window into the back yard. Just beyond the window is a young tree that grew from a "stick" she took from a flower arrangement and stuck into the ground. Neither she nor Tom knows what the tree is, but both are delighted that it grew from a random decorative "stick" into a substantial and healthy young tree.

In her younger years, Gladys was "in service", working as a cook in the home of a local aristocrat. (Yes, just like "Downton Abbey".) Then World War II came, and she went to work in a munitions factory mixing ingredients for explosives. "We were lucky," she told me. "When the Germans flew over to bomb us, they dropped their bombs a mile or so away."

A few years back, Tom realized that Gladys was becoming more and more confused. After some investigation, he realized that the medications left in the bottles didn't match the days they were supposed to cover. "I had let her count out her own pills because I wanted to leave her as much independence as I could," he said, "but I didn't realize how bad her eyesight was getting. 'Can you see the pills?' I asked her. 'Not real well, I just guess the best I can,' she said."

The last time I saw her, after Tom had driven me around north Wales so I could see the countryside, she gave me some parting gifts: three little scented soaps about the size of small eggs and three embroidered handkerchiefs. As Tom drove me to the airport the next day, he said he had seen some tears on her cheek because of my departure.

after-travel hangover

I got home Wednesday evening, slept well last night, have no unavoidable demands on my energies today or tomorrow. But I am definitely feeling the after-effects of the trip.

My brain keeps going into loops. For a while there, it was playing big band dance tunes from the 40s sung by smarmy, anonymous crooners.

In the Seattle airport, I had to ride the inter-terminal shuttle around its loop twice because, although I knew I wanted the C terminal, I kept "aiming" for the B terminal. And I kept confusing "being home (in my home country)" with "being home (in Portland)", thinking the Seattle airport was the Portland airport and trying to orient myself to the layout at PDX.

My IQ is definitely down today around 50 points, as thoughts meander in and out of focus like butterflies. I've started a checklist of tasks to be done, but I keep forgetting which one I'm supposed to be doing at any given moment. Establishing priority ordering is completely beyond me. I tried meditating, and I suppose any effort in that direction has its benefits, but my attention swooped in and out of dream sequences, probably due to sleep deprivation.

I'm writing this in hopes of exorcizing all this disorientation.

It isn't working.

OK, let's just write off Thursday and hope for improved clarity on Friday or Saturday. There are at least three blog posts about the time in England that I've got started in my head. Such as it is.

Monday, May 9, 2016

British humor

I just saw this in this morning's Daily Mail.

George Osborne, the current Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer (equivalent of Secretary of the Treasury): "We look forward to working with the next US President, whoever she may be."

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Saturday morning in downtown Oswestry

So here I sit in downtown Oswestry at a three-way intersection with cars on two arms and a pedestrian mall on the third, lots of folks doing their shopping. The bench looks toward a small, aged, dry fountain of worn stone. On the steps at the base of the fountain stands a middle-aged man with a not awfully loud portable microphone singing Christian songs in a high, clear, pleasant voice. No hat at his feet for contributions. No signs to warn sinners to repent. Just the music, much of which I recognize. Passers by greet him with occasional smiles and handshakes. Now he's singing "Oh! What a Beautiful Morning!" from "Oklahoma".

I would prefer to sit here listening, but it's started sprinkling and I don't want to tempt fate.

Friday, May 6, 2016


Last night I slept in the Stratford Inn in downtown Stratford-on-Avon in England. My son-in-law Elwyn says he thinks it was remodeled from an old hospital. "Old" means something different here, but I could see the lines of a Dickensian Victorian hospital behind the garrets along the roofline of the third story (second floor over here because they count the ground floor as zero). But it was a clean, light, airy place with smiling staff who responded "Not a problem!" or "Of course you can!" to every request. It had a big yard out front (patient exercise area maybe?) with tables and chairs under the big deciduous trees. Parking was a bit idiosyncratic, but parking in a town that was laid out long enough ago for Shakespeare to have been born there is going to be a challenge at the best of times. (Not that I was driving, of course, which is a topic for another blog entry.)

Tonight, I will be sleeping in the Wynnstay, a hotel in Oswestry, Shropshire, where El's 96-year-old mother lives. Meeting her is the main purpose of my trip, about which I'm sure there will be yet another post. The Wynnstay started out in the early 1700s as an inn for people traveling by horse and carriage. Historical material on my desk lists owners' names back to 1727. There is a building behind the main hotel that used to be the stables and has been remodeled into a spa and beauty suite for hotel guests. The Wynnstay is not as cheerful as the Stratford was. The receptionist who checked me in seemed tense, her carefully middle-upper class pronunciations feeling like she was desperate not to err. She was unable to be of much help when it turned out that my room overlooks the outdoor tables of the pub next door and will provide music and pub chatter for most of the evening. "We gave you our best single room," she kept saying, and "We're booked full for the weekend." My room is probably where the humblest of staff slept in 1750 -- tiny, airless when the windows are closed, and reachable only by a flight and a half of stairs up and then half a flight down (the Wynnstay is a "listed" building and cannot be altered to install an elevator.) My suspicion is that this really is the last room they had. 

I could move to another hotel, but I can't find one with available rooms, plus today is when I meet El's Mom and attend the dinner celebrating El and Anne's marriage. So I guess I will buy some earplugs and settle. And think about all those 18th century barmaids and stable boys with whom I'm sharing historical space.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

governance by breathtaking optimism

Now that I've been elected to the Terwilliger Plaza board of directors, it strikes me what an amazing idea it is for a facility like ours to be self-governed. Do you know what kinds of things boards of directors do? They hire the person who will be in charge of the place. They issue bonds. They purchase property and plan for the future. They are responsible for investing money held in the reserve fund totaling over $25 million. MILLION! All this is deeply important and sunk to the gunwales in legal complexity. And yet we, a community of aging bodies and minds, think we can find people among us with the wisdom and knowledge to plot out the best path through mazes set up to confound the wiliest of corporate intelligences.

And dang if we haven't done it. I make no claims for myself as a brand new board member, but look at us. We've been around running like this for over half a century. We're deeply financially stable and running a 95%+ occupancy rate. We're looking ahead to expansion of both residential and assisted living facilities. And all with us amateurs running the place.

A mid-twentieth-century writer said, roughly, "Democracy is the worst of all possible governing systems, except for all the others." (E.B. White, maybe?)

Thursday, March 10, 2016


The view out my window during the winter is grim.

In certain spiritual or poetic moods, I can find beauty in the tangle of last year's blackberry vines and crumbling grey-brown basalt, but generally, I look and all I see is the tangle, a reminder of mortality and entropy.

Which makes the blooming of the clematis vine such a delight. It's been in place since I moved in two years ago, but only this year does it look like somebody's planning a wedding down on the back driveway. A climbing vine, it seems ecstatic to have the wall of crumbling grey-brown basalt and the rockfall containment fencing to clamber up. Its highest bloom-bearing tendrils are at about the fifth floor level, so I have to stretch my neck a bit to see them from my desk chair, but they are well worth the effort (which is probably good for me anyway, since I tend to get kind of hunched over as I sit peering into my laptop screen.)

I will now go downstairs with my phone and attempt to photograph the clematis in all its glory. Oops.  No I won't, it's raining. But it won't be raining in a few minutes, so I'll do it then.

And meanwhile I will brag on Terwilliger Plaza because the groundskeeper maintains a web page listing and depicting what's currently blooming. Without Brian's page, I would have no way of knowing that this plant is clematis -- apple blossom clematis, to be specific. So nice to be able to address my plant friends by name.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

joining the Board

About ten days ago, I won an election to the Terwilliger Plaza Board of Directors.

Dear God, is that statement true? Yes, I think it must be, people keep stopping me in the hall to congratulate me or to tell me what they think the Board should be doing that it isn't. My actual term doesn't really start until March 24, when I will attend my first meeting as a Board member and may actually be able to take action, if only to vote "aye" on the motion to adjourn.

Meanwhile, it is amazing to suddenly be recognized by people I haven't met. (The Terwilliger resident who got me to come here seems able to remember not only the name but the personal history of every single person here. I would ask her for tips on how to do that, but I'm pretty sure it's one of those gifts granted to the few and envied by the many.) One person scolded me for being unserious about my new job because I cracked wise about it. But I think I get these few weeks before I have any actual responsibility to enjoy the giddy sense of incredulity at the content of my opening sentence.


Thursday, January 28, 2016

So there was this alpaca in the lobby ...

One of the pleasures of Terwilliger Plaza is that it is a place where unexpected things happen. I was walking back from my parking place in the north end of the Tower to my apartment in the south end of the Tower, expecting to pick up my mail en route, when I noticed an alpaca walking in front of me.

No, really, an alpaca, with thick red-brown fur and that long, camel-like neck and hooves, looking, as all alpacas do, as if he were peering down his nose at the world. Turns out he is a therapy animal and had been visiting the Terrace. The young woman leading him invited me to pet him, which I did, looking up into his eyes, brown with the rectangular pupils of a goat. He didn't feel as smooth as cloth woven from alpaca hair feels, but he was warm and woolly like a good blanket. His breathing involved a somewhat wheezy sound that could have been mistaken for a growl, but the young woman assured me he was not trying to warn me off. He had a very benign aura -- a little alien, because how often do you encounter random alpacas in the course of normal life, but none-the-less well-meaning.

I continued on to my mailbox and he and his handler continued on to the front desk, where they were probably going to check out so the records would be clear that no unknown long-necked woolly red-brown beasts were left wandering the halls. I hope whoever was the recipient of his visit found him reassuring. I know I did. And he inspired a rather smug inner grin because I live in a place where wandering alpacas are not beyond the realm of possibility.

Sunday, January 3, 2016


It's snowing. Apparently, it is due to snow all day. Since I am fortunate enough to live in a warm apartment, I can enjoy watching it. It's several degrees below freezing out, so not only is it snowing, it's staying snow after it hits the ground. This means my hillside is magnificently highlighted in bright white. This means I can look down on the driveway and see tracks showing how my courageous neighbors took their cars out of their outdoor parking places. This means the snowflakes trapped in the spider web outside my window stayed there until a passing whirl of wind tore it away.

Other passing whirls of wind hold back a few random flakes, as if they were tourists looking in at me on their way past. Snow makes the air visible: I can see where the main currents of wind are, where back eddies and even updrafts make curlicues against mostly-gently-to-the-left.