Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Morning Words for 10/08/14

   10/08/14:  A night’s sleep taken in two doses, with an break in the middle, an island of intentional consciousness to rise and wander out to the back yard at 3am, the highway hum no quieter than in mid day, to watch as the full blood moon becomes overtaken by the Earth’s shadow, subdued red light sliding across it’s face until the whole spherical rock blocked in dark red with a halo around it’s outer edges. 
   Somewhere in the second dose of rest a dream.   A finely dressed man in white with white bolo hat has come to talk with Nathan.  The man is a social worker advocate for activists.  I point out where Nathan is and the man looks up behind where we stand.  Up on a window washer’s scaffolding with two or three others, I think two, suspended fifty feet above the earth by wires from a crane, hanging there in active protest against something, an air-sit-in. Nathan’s voice comes down all friendly and welcoming.  The man in white looks on, knowing that this will be another one of many climbing jobs, a part of his work he has become resigned to.  The other two in the scaffolding rearrange squares of wood to make a platform in the floor-less scaffolding where they could stretch out to sleep as it is night time after all.  
   The morning sky was filled with fire islands in a Crater Lake blue sky.  It was a sight to behold as I stood with naked feet on the cold concrete walkway between the door and the sidewalk, hoping to catch a final glimpse of the partial full moon before it dipped west into Japanese skies.  But she was already gone and so that was that.  Instead I settled for the amazement as the first fiery rays of dawn lit the sky ablaze.  I tried to draw the colors in, so vivid if you tried to paint them they would be written off as unreal.   A photograph would be suspected of tampering.  But underneath the dramatic tapestry there was no doubt that it was the real dawn sky, trying to compete with the full moon eclipse that had preceded it. 

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Dream Along The River

Written beside the Deschutes River in May

     In a dream I am not at home on North Montana Avenue but instead in the Deschutes River Canyon, under the shade of cottonwood trees.  The sky can’t decide what sort of day it is going to be and so it is constantly changing clothes.   A new shirt here, different pants there.

...Fields of lavender lupines and bouquets of wild sun flowers

...I watched a magpie flying low over new crops then rise up to perch on the branch of a pine that was standing alone

...the swallows dance above the river as if they were angelic trapeze artists hanging from spider web ropes tied to the clouds

...the canyon walls resonate excitement as every living being knows the smell of steelhead pheromones sweet like bees wax means that the river veins have brought a banquet of Life back for the Earth to feast on.

...In the background the day whispers in the leaves in and out of the river’s dull ovation

...Alone is a dear friend I haven’t seen in years and it feels uncomfortable and a little sad how we’ve nearly become strangers we’ve lost each other’s dialect and struggle to learn it again

...Mourning Dove, your song never gets old!  Play it again, the lyrics remind me of loved ones who have left

...I wish I could paint the honeycomb air and match the shades of green new sages and the shoreline trees and the redwing blackbird scattered sparse solos so much soul

...In this dream I can feel every emotion all at once, like a bright white light.  In a prism I separate the colors in order to put them all back in their place in the box, all reds together, all yellows together, etc.

...The sky asks which we like better, the grey sweater or the shirt.  I say ‘the red and blue plaid’ and the sky just laughs and laughs so hard tears come with huge gasps for air.  I guess the red and blue plaid was the obvious answer to choose...

...Just to extend the joke, both the sweater and the shirt are torn in two and the two halves are sewn together and now me and the sky are matching, both half in and half out.   More laughter.

...This is the direction to sit and watch the clouds roll in from the West.  This morning the sky was grey felt, wet in places, universal.  This afternoon they are soft clouds of medium size in unique shapes, the sort you can watch for hours from a blanket in the grass, imagining pictographs of unlimited possibilities.  They are like floats in a sky parade.  A dancing elephant has just come over the cliffs.

...the sky finally dons an old raggedy grey sweater from a punk house free box now, and again now, big gaping holes where threads have given way, the blue and golden t shirt show through at times brilliant.

...waking life comes knocking but I don’t have the time right now and so it tries to yell through the window.  I watch lips move for a moment but I can’t hear a thing with the river babble and the leaf mutter.  I allow myself to be hypnotized by their chanting, Waving sage bows at me they take me back to my private dream.

...The sun whispers quietly as the wind runs its fingers through my hair.

...I scan the ledges of the rock walls hoping I will see a wild sheep high on the edge just a step away from the Eternal.  I imagine that it would appear to me like an apostle, bearing gifts of a sacred knowledge reserved only for those who wait with time and patience.

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Friday, May 2, 2014


     Its another Friday morning I sit at the little kitchen table eating a make-shift breakfast of sliced apple with almond butter, yogurt, boiled potatoes and carrot with week-old chicken, sipping espresso from a 41 year old Danish mug.  This is usually when I drive out to an acupuncture appointment, a measure of self preservation I partake in weekly to keep tensions and thyroid condition symptoms at bay.  I don’t feel like it today.  I’m thinking that maybe I’ll try to go on Sunday instead. 

     Today I will retrieve my Olympia typewriter, my UZI letter machine that requires a outdoor shooting range or sound-deadened chamber to use within 20 yards of anyone whose emotional state I care about.  National Poetry Month has concluded but I am still saturated in it’s glow, right in the middle and still making progress as time allows, in the 750 page biography of Brautigan.  Why is he my literary hero?  His simplicity of imagery and language I find extremely accessible and layered, allowing me to peel away at as I add candles to the cake.  My father asked if I might want a few Brautigan titles for my upcoming birthday but scanning my library I see that I may already have all his published works that are not relegated to very rare and highly collectable status.  And I don’t want to fetishize the writer with such pursuit of these artifacts.  I just want to crawl into his writing, to wear it for a while, to see what elements work and learn what I might about the craft of writing. 

     Next weekend Eli and I have scheduled a weekend getaway - just for myself.  Before we began living together in the fall of 2007 I made these retreats to the wilderness often.  I would do some writing and a lot of observing.  I discovered I had natural rituals like instinctive patterns each day that were unique to being in nature unaccompanied.  I would rise and go for a walk before thinking about coffee or food.  If camped in a valley, that walk would take me to the ridge line or at least a ways up, to take in the greater view.  Then I would return back to camp, shit in a bathroom or cat hole before making coffee and cooking some breakfast. 

     On my adventures I would discover remote corners of National Forest, remote campgrounds reserved for those of us requiring a wider expanse of range to feel free.  I was in constant pursuit of a new sanctuary, more remote, quieter than the last.  This morning I find myself doing the familiar research, sparked by an idea, the fuel my imagination.  THe kindling and ultimate firewood provided by online maps, following tiny grey forest road lines through the mottled green to some camp whose frequency of use is described as ‘light’. 

     This time I will be bringing tools of my current stage of a creative life; a bicycle, the Olympia, and a camera.  Actually I will likely bring two cameras, maybe three.  One, a Mamiya RB67 from the 1970’s is suitable for use with a tripod, allowing for longer exposures and small apertures.  THe next will be a Mamiya C330, also from the 1970’s, purchased in the Philippines by an Army captain whose daughter eventually sold the camera to me.  That machine is better suited for travel, no tripod required.  The leaf shutter and lack of mirror reflex allows for slower shutter speeds while handheld.  The square negatives give a different context to the images, mostly adding more foreground to the context of the composition.  The third should it be included, will be a Canon 35mm camera, the ultimate in portable image capturing.  This will likely be loaded with color slide film.

     As the Brautigan biography carefully illustrates his young years traveling up the Mackenzie river to angle for trout in the small tributary creeks, this is where my imagination is draws me.  I have never explored the Mackenzie River area but it leads to a part of the Cascades that has magic energy similar to parts of remote New Mexico.  Spirits of ancestors who inhabited the area before Christianity still linger and watch over these places.  I can feel their presence and heed their urging to be a careful steward during my visit.  I spend a lot of quiet time allowing them to speak to me in whispers others can not hear.  This is a ‘tuned in’ feeling I long for and usually find on these sojourns.  It takes having enough time to allow for the cacophony of modern life to subside.   This is where I can express my essence, the core of my being without the influence of criticism or other social pressures.  The pressure releases and my sensory perception expands.  My soul expands and I am allowed to be who I was meant to be, not having to try and fit into somebody else’s form. 

     Why this should be a vacation and not a life is absurd.  But I, like many, can not find the way to reverse these roles.  I blame part fear and part lack of imagination that binds me to my toil.  Perhaps I could use the aid of a psychoanalyst and a cartographer or an anal cartoonist or a cartoon anus.  For the latter I need only to read the works of one time Schenectady area resident Kurt Vonnegut who incorporated his illustrated version of a cat’s asshole in some of his literary works.  And so I come full circle, knowing that my summer reading list will incorporate Vonnegut’s Slauterhouse Five and perhaps some other works that can hopefully make sense of a modern American life out of step. 

     This is what compels me to read, a continual search for answers and if answers will not be not found, at least I may find ointment for the open questions exposed to infection, an opiate for the sting.

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Sunday, March 16, 2014

Springy Weekend

   Some of our friends and family may still wonder what it is that draws people away from the East Coast to live so far away, on the other side of the continent.
   Yesterday Eli and I ventured out to Powell Butte, an old volcano bump in the Southeast corner of Portland.  I had never been there before so we were exploring new territory.  Powell Butte appears to be the remnants of farm land with a nut orchard in the middle.  There's a large series of trails the loop around and intersect each other, covering open grassland and densely forested areas.  Currently there is some major construction happening at the main parking area which appears to be a significant development of parking lot, bathrooms and who knows what else.
   The park is home to coyotes and black tail mule deer, one of which we spotted towards the end of our walk.  The sun was mostly out and I carried my jacket for the entire visit and was still uncomfortably warm.  In the forested section we spotted the first trilliums we've seen so far this year.  That means winter is gone, we're into spring.  Also seen were many stellar jays, a soaring red tailed hawk, American kestrel hovering above a field in search of rodent, a yet unidentified woodpecker, and a rufus sided towhee perched in a blossoming cherry tree. 
   When we returned home I rolled the lawn mower out of the garage for the first mow of 2014.  After much priming and pleading I got it cranked up was able to cut the weeds down to a nearly consistent height.  Our lawn currently consists of about 80% intended grass, a sub layer of moss and also a good amount of some weed/flower thing that spreads quite successfully popping up here and there.  I also spotted the first dandelions.
   Today Eli and I spent the majority of the day weeding our garden beds, pulling each tiny brassaca plant out before it could broadcast it's tiny seeds across the yard.  that was a lot of work for about 6 square yards of garden.  Somewhere during the weed campaign I had to take a break to photograph the plum tree full of beautiful blossoms.  You'll have to wait to see the results.  Eli has staked the brass bed head into one of the beds and is planting sugar snaps as I write. 
   It is true we do miss our friends and being by the ocean, driving a few hours to visit family.  But being in Oregon has its benefits.  Good luck with all that snow...

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Winter Drags It's Beaten Body Away

   Time tumbles along while we flutter about with our busy and important tasks from day to day.  In October 2013 there was a visit to Upstate  New York which included a rustic wedding in a campground in Maryland that involved two grooms one being my dear cousin Michael.  It had been years, I suppose it was my cousin Mark's wedding, since my Eichler side of the family had been gathered together, or at least when I've been there as well.   We followed my cousin's wedding with a three night stay in Fly Creek, NY, courtesy of a generous Quaker descendant of Emily Dickinson.  Ms. Dickinson relinquished to us her property for three nights so the family could congregate.
   Fly Creek is a stone's throw from Cooperstown and the farm in Edmeston where my ancestors had toiled until misfortune saw it slip away from the family.  My mother had spent a lot of her formative years with her Grandma on that farm.  She drove Eli and I there one evening for a tour of the old farm (from the road) and the house in town where Grandma Rood and her husband moved after he was no longer able to tend to the farm.  That house in town is what I recall from being a child, the smell of antiquity, her giant gray furry cat Chester, the cabinet filled with a collection of China trinkets and salt/pepper shaker sets.  At the farm, a mailbox by the road still has the Rood family name on it, my Grandmother's sister in law still living there.  I returned the following morning at dawn with my Mamiya C330 to take a few photographs.  It was not the best strategy as the farm sits in a valley and was not going to be sufficiently illuminated until afternoon.  As it were my photographs are back-lit and don't really represent the farm very well.  I did manage to get a few satisfying images of the sun illuminating trees on Wilkinson Hill Road behind the farm. 
   That brief visit was in celebration of a birthday for my Mother who would appreciate not being reminded of the number of years she has accumulated.  Along with Eli and my mother and step father were my sister Caitlin, step brother Andrew and his lady friend Catherine as well as our nephew Miles.  I hadn't seen Miles in a few years and had missed his transition from teenager to adulthood.  This may have marked the first time that the age gap had come into play.  I was aware that Miles was now 21 and may have better things to do than be cooped up in a crossroads town with his old Grandparents, aunts and uncles.  He managed to stick it out alright.   It was great to see everyone and spend a few days together. 
   In January there was also a visit to Maine amidst one of the more bitterly cold and snow sodden winters they have endured in some years.  Of course when Eli and I arrived, the weather had suddenly turned and most of our days there temperatures were in the 40's to 50's and the great snow mountains along the roads and in parking lots were quickly retreating, giving off a dense fog that hung heavy in the woods.   It wasn't until I was on the bus returning to the airport to fly back to the Pacific Northwest that snow again began to fall heavily.
   Our time in Maine was split between seeing our friends and visiting with my father and step mother with whom we stayed with most nights in Ogunquit.  The house was built by my father's parents when I was just a little boy.  I had spent many vacations there, playing on the beaches, lounging on the deck drinking soda, playing with toy cars on the stair landing. 
   The house overlooks the Ogunquit tidal river and despite the encroaching expansion of the hotel below, still has a beautiful view of the Ogunquit beach and village below.  It is a special place to spend some time in any season and a place I can visit and feel the connection between the person I am today, and the small boy with light brown hair I was so many years ago.
   My folks were generous with sharing us with everyone else and even rented a car for us to be able to roam around New England to try to fit visits in with everyone.  We were able to see a lot of great people, although the visits were brief. 
   February's theme was hernia repair surgery which happened on the 6th and followed by a week of convalescing around the house.  The surgery was in the morning on a Thursday.  Eli drove my van and we arrived just before 7am.  The morning was filled with hours of waiting in a room for the anesthesiologist who was running late.  When I awoke I was in a daze.  People were talking about snow.  I had to wait another few hours in the recovery room plugged into a saline drip.  Eventually the nurse offered to walk down the hall with me and upon accomplishing this I was granted my freedom.  I dressed and was wheel chaired down to the exit where Eli was waiting with the van.  The snow was whipping around and traffic was snarled throughout the city.  Eli drove us carefully back to the neighborhood on the surface streets.  We made a stop to the drug store for my narcotics prescription and then to the comforts of home.  I was so glad to be back in our bed, with our blankets pulled up high.
   The following four days were spent in a drug induced haze which was like being covered in a soft blanket and walking about like a ghost only partially participating in the environment I was in.   I would try to read but didn't have the concentration for it.  I spent time looking up cameras I wish I could have and looking at photography web sites.  Once I was off the narcotics and the haze lifted I began a writing project reflecting on my friend Damon and my move to California in 1989.  It's still a work in progress at this point.  It may eventually show up here although it will be substantial enough that a blog post might not be the appropriate outlet for it.
   That project was brought on by Damon's birthday in January and my consequential effort to complete a mix cassette tape I had been working on for him since the previous spring. 
   I began thinking about that time in our lives and what it felt like, what the Bay Area was like back then too.  Our lives had at one time been tightly woven when we had come of age and formed our opinions of the world together.
  I used Google Earth to find locations and names of places that were prominent landmarks during our time in Oakland.  I looked up some history to see the timing of historical events and how they overlapped and how those overlaps affected outcomes.  It was truly an interesting time to be in Oakland, California.  I have often thought maybe I had made the wrong decision to leave when I did in 1992.  But I needed to change things that were going on around me.  I had been welcomed into another creative tribe in Arcata, California.  They were all in college and busy being educated and creative.
   So there's a glimpse, a sample, a window.  Today it's a traditional winter grey outside and I'm pondering a visit to the darkroom for the afternoon.  My surgery has been healing nicely and I'm nearly back to my self.   I am mounting a campaign for things to happen, changes, evolutions through cross pollination in 2014.  I will say no more until the cocoon breaks.  Thanks for reading. 

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Wheels Of Fury; My Life In Vans

   When we were planning on moving to Portland, Eli and I both considered selling our cars on the East Coast and starting fresh in the Northwest.  The West Coast is the land of forgotten cars of yesteryear, well made troopers that never succumbed to rot as they were never exposed to salted roads.  Well I'd grown comfortable in my 2002 Chevy Astro MEDIUM sized van (rather than a minivan), with it's soothing white exterior and power everything inside.  Sure it was small and the fuel economy wasn't so great.  It wasn't so bad either.
    In the weeks prior to our move as we researched our transport options and reserved our moving truck and trailer, we learned that the Astro’s weight exceeded the maximum load for the flat bed auto trailer.  Paired with the conclusion that nobody was calling about Eli’s truck, the compact American pickup with two wheel drive, in January in Maine, we had to consider selling my van.   A no rust all wheel drive van was much more likely to pique a buyer’s interest.
   So it was, I sold the Astro to the first people who came to look at it, for a price that made my heart sink.  The buyer agreed to allow us to use it for one final week, a tour de force that began in Lowell, on New Year’s Eve, to perform raucous noise one last time with friends.  We drove a loop out to Schenectady to see our families.  Then up through Vermont to see some good friends.    Then back through New Hampshire, where I signed the van over to the new owner and left it there.
   The Astro had been my 6th van.  My first was a 1969 Ford Club Wagon in faded baby blue.  My friend and band mate Doug and I found that one on Craigslist while searching for a van to transport our band down the coast to California to play some shows.  We bought it from the son of the original owners.  He  had grown up traveling on family vacations in it.  We were about to show the van the rock and roll lifestyle.  We called it ‘Ole Blue’.
   The Club Wagon had manual steering and no power brakes, it was as simple as a van could be.  We threw a couch in the back and loaded our band's equipment behind it and toured clear across the country that way.  We'd pull Ole Blue up to venues where the headlining band had parked their rented new model van and scoff at the pampered tour they were on.  We couldn't be prouder.  There is no reason why a 30 year old van should have been able to accomplish what we asked of it.  But it always got us to where we were going.  Occasionally a few days late.
   On our return from the East Cast something happened that made an audible noise somewhere in Illinois.   By the time we had gotten within 30 miles of the Mississippi River, the rear wheel was making horrendous noise and smoking.  We pulled over.  Doug called for roadside assistance and a half an hour later a large man in a tow truck came to our aid.  Our driver went by the name Hoss.  I did not make that up.  We packed into his truck, myself in the front seat.  Searching through Hoss’ CD collection we found ourselves on common ground discussing the demise of the band Metallica after their original bass player Cliff Burton died while on tour.  Hoss drove us to Quincy, Illinois on the Mississippi River.  He worked for a small service station that was closed until Monday, 48 hours away.  That began our weekend adventure in Quincy.   That’s a story for another time.
   We made it back home to Portland but eventually trusty Ole Blue was losing power and making some strange noises.  It seemed as if the cylinders didn’t hold good compression any longer although the van still worked.  We ended up selling it to future roadie Matt Limo for $50.
   Our second band van was a 1986 Ford Clubwagon that Limo nicknamed 'Brown Town'.  You can imagine that unappetizing two tone pairing of blah brown that floated around in the 1980's.  It was a slug of a van and moved like a fishing trawler on the highway.  We did a solid coast to coast tour in Brown Town and it wasn't so bad until we were crossing Wyoming and had some bad vapor lock issues with the engine stuttering as we rolled along at 70mph.  We got to spend a few days in Sharidan, WY waiting to pass the weekend that time.  Monday morning we called a repair shop and described what the problem was.  The mechanic instructed Doug to go to a store and purchase the spring clamp type of clothes line clips.  On Monday morning we drove our bag of clothes line clips to the service shop and the mechanic looked under the hood.  He said there wasn’t much he could improve but we should try placing one of the clothes pins on the fuel line just before the carburetor.   It seemed crazy and we assumed we were being messed with.  But the clothes pins were far cheaper than a repair bill. So we tried it.  I have to say that I have never had problems with vapor lock in a vehicle since.  After that detour we made it the rest of the way back to Oregon in Brown Town without another problem.  I think Doug sold that van soon after that trip was behind us.
   My next van was another 1969 Ford, this one a white E350 one ton.  I bought it from the niece of the original owner.  Her uncle been a scuba diver and had driven all over the continent in the van to explore under water worlds.  He had outfitted the van with a bed, table, even a toilet in the back corner.  All his handy work was constructed out of painted plywood and press board with a salvage collection of mismatched hardware.  I pulled it all out which took a solid weekend. 
I wanted the space.    One of my favorite details was a Tourista 1974 sticker in the rear window from a long ago visit to Mexico.  I named that van Great White.  The van had potential but it needed some work.  A few months of driving it had reduced the steering to a vague concept. I got good at spinning the steering wheel with one hand, letting it turn two full rotations before catching up to the linkage to make the turn at which point I would grab hold of the steering wheel again and make the turn.  Lending that van to the uninitiated was out of the question.
   I learned a lot of mechanical diagnosis and repair on that van.  In the first year I replaced the alternator, master cylinder, water pump, spark plugs and wires as well as the regular oil changes with quality synthetic oil.
   It had not occurred to me to invest in new tires though.  Me and my band mates had a terrifying experience in Great White once when returning on I 5 northbound from a West Coast tour.  Coming around a turn on Interstate 5 in Southern Oregon, one of the retread tires came apart.   The van instantly went into fish-tailing out of control.  Seconds later the other rear tire came apart.  By luck there was an up hill off ramp was right there when we needed it.  I managed to get the van under control and up the off ramp.   The couch in the back holding three of us travelers came right up against the front seats, pushed by over 1,000 lbs. of music gear behind it.   I quickly learned about quality tires and factory seats that bolt to the ground.
   Then a year later something I could have never imagined happened.  The day prior to Thanksgiving 2006 I drove the van to work.  I parked 3 blocks away in the neighborhood behind the bike shop.  At 8pm I clocked out and walked up the hill to where I had parked.  Only there was no van there.  This was not something I could comprehend right away.  It seemed impossible that the van would have moved against my will while I worked just 3 blocks away.  I walked around the corner, around the block, thinking maybe I had forgotten where I had parked at the beginning of the day.  But it was really gone.  
   A few days later I received a call from the police that my van had been found.  They reported that it was drivable and sitting in a tow lot about 15 miles away from my apartment.  I rode my bike out to the lot on 82nd Avenue in Clackamas.   When I arrived I found my van, the Mighty Great White.   The rear bumper was folded outward in half at a 90 degree angle, sticking out like a comical appendage pointing behind the van at nothing.  The driver side fender had been crushed into the wheel well and the tire was flat.  Obviously the van was not drivable.  My belongings that had been inside were gone, save for a few cassette tapes.  The thieves also left some cheap Chinese tools, a pocket knife, car jack, some screw drivers. 
   In the tow lot office I was told I owed $75 storage and $100 for towing.  I couldn’t believe after all that had happened, after the police officer lying to me over the phone about the condition the van was found in, that I would have to then pay a bill and facilitate the removal of this no longer useful vehicle.  I suggested to the office that I could simply walk away and they could keep the van.  I was told I would still have to pay and a collections agency would hunt me down for payment for each day as long as the van sat on the lot.  So I was out a van and $175.  I called Triple A and waited for a wrecker to bring me and what was left of my van back to my apartment.  The flat bed brought us home and put my van down on the street outside my apartment.  I looked in the phone book and found a auto salvage that would pick up the van and give me $40 cash for it.  And that was the end of it.  I watched as my beloved Great White van departed for the car graveyard on the back of a flatbed.
   Around that time I had plans to transition out of bicycle repair into the craft of tile setting.  My friend set me up with a good tile setter ready to apprentice somebody.  I had spoken with him once or twice on the phone.  Our arrangement was that after Christmas he'd be ready to have me start and by that time I would need a truck.  So I borrowed some money and began the search for the next van.
    I was partial to those pre-1974 Fords.  But I couldn't find any in the area that interested me.   And with a deadline looming for needing such a vehicle it seemed time to branch out and try something different.  That's how I came to find Jonas.  Jonas was a 1992 Dodge B300 Maxi Van with a 360 V8 engine.  The Maxi Van had an additional 3' of cargo space that stuck out behind the rear wheel wells and tinted "privacy" windows all around.  A friend drove me to take a look at the van on Christmas eve.  There were no seats inside, just a low sleeping platform that was supported 12 inches above the floor, a few bolted in tool cabinets and a small safe the previous owner had installed.  The cargo space was endless.   I had never looked closely at these immense vans let alone driven one.  But it drove smooth, with a surprising command of tight corners.   I parted with my cash and drove home in a new van.
   A few weeks after buying Jonas I went to the task of pulling out the platform and tool boxes.  That's when I finally investigated the small safe.  It was unlocked and the door had been swinging open and slamming shut as I drove those first few weeks.  But I had never taken a close look at the safe until that day.   Inside I found a case of 9mm rounds, adding to the mystery of the life the van had lived with the previous owner.
   Jonas was a great van who ran like a tank despite one low compression cylinder.  The van was used for one band excursion down to California.  The van would outlast the band this time, which fell apart soon after that trip.
   Then it came time to depart from the beloved snow capped mountains and vast rivers of the Northwest.  I outfitted Jonas with 10 ply tires and packed all my belongings into the back and drove from Portland to Southern Maine, a trip that I dragged out for about 9 days.  That makes it sound as if it were smooth sailing the entire trip which is not quite true.  I had a shop do a pre-trip check up and everything was supposed to be in fine working order.  Only 20 miles later, when all my belongings had been packed in the back, the morning I was going to leave my old life behind, I turned the key in the ignition and the 'check engine' light came on.  What could I do?  I was ready to go!  Months of loosely laid plans were coming to fruition.  Momentum had already been established.  And so I drove onto the freeway and crossed my fingers.   It wasn’t long before I noticed that something didn’t seem right, as if the van wanted to stall as we made our way.  The check engine light seemed so bright, unavoidably staring me down from the dashboard as I drove.
   On the second day the van was having problems holding a charge and stalled out a few times on the road.  I was driving east through Oregon passing small, lonely outposts.  At one remote exit I managed to find an auto parts store.  The clerk was willing to help me verify that I needed to replace my battery.  I put the new battery in and got back on the road.  The countryside was beautiful through the rolling farmland of northeast Oregon.  I tried to ignore the still beaming ‘Check Engine’ light and enjoy my adventure.
   That evening when it was almost dark the van was limping through the town of Clarkston  on highway 12.  Over the bridge into Lewiston, Idaho, the van died.  I had enough momentum to make it across the bridge and over to a traffic island.  From there, I called triple A.  I was towed to a repair shop up on the hill above the Snake River.   It was there in that lot I slept stretched out in the back of the van, in an 18" strip I had intentionally left open for sleeping.
    The following morning I awoke and there were already mechanics bustling about getting their days started.   I tried to pretty myself up as best as I could under the circumstances and hopped out of the van.  I was told one of the mechanics could take a look at my van in a few hours.  So I left the keys and ventured out on my bicycle to find breakfast.   It took most of the day for them to get to the van and diagnose what the problem was.   I spent the time rolling around town on my bike, seeing the sites of a small two story river port town.
   When I returned the mechanic that diagnosed the problem told me that the main computer board had fried.  It could no longer regulate voltage between the alternator and the battery.  The $400 part would have to get on a truck in Spokane and wouldn't make it to Lewiston until the following Monday morning.  That meant spending the next day, Sunday, rolling around town some more, killing time.
   Monday came and so did the new computer board.  One of the mechanics plugged it in and I was back on the road by 10am; no more ‘Check Engine’ light.  The disappointment of having to spend $400 of my moving budget quickly gave way to my relief to be driving East again, with the most anticipated part of the trip -Idaho and Montana - right in front of me.  That was the most trouble I really had with that van.  Other than that it trucked the rest of the way across the country without a hitch.  I calculated my fuel economy and found I was regularly getting 15 miles to the gallon even with the cargo space piled to the brim with all my prized possessions.
   Jonas remained my transportation once we got to Maine.   We made it through the winter with 280 lbs. of sand tubes in the back over the rear axle.  The sand resolved the problem of all that empty space over the drive wheels causing the rear end to slip around on icy roads.  I now refer to the use of sand bags for extra traction as New England four wheel drive. 
   The following spring I was going to have to register the van in Maine which is a different proposition than it is in Oregon.  With a cracked windshield and missing tailpipe,  I was going to have to invest some money into Jonas to keep it on the road.  Around that time my father offered to give me my grandfather's 1992 Chrysler New Yorker Mark V, a real luxury Grandpa mobile.  I decided to sell Jonas to a friend for $500.  He had the tailpipe and the windshield fixed and he's still using that van now 5 years later.
   The Chrysler New Yorker was a true pleasure to drive.  In all my years captaining vans, I had forgotten what a full size American made car could feel like.  The car wasn’t gigantic like a Cadillac, but it floated down the road like one.   It had a good factory stereo cassette deck with a balance and fader joystick control, leather interior,  power seats, and factory spoked hub caps with a special key required to remove them.
   My father had named that car White Cloud, following a tradition he had begun of naming his cars after famous or fictitious Native Americans.  Eli and I had some great adventures driving that car around the Northeast.
   The fun lasted a year before the rust had taken it's final toll on it.  I had patched some body rot with sheet metal pop riveted to the fenders.   But it wasn't long until another suspension spring was going to give out and other costly problems were manifesting.  And so I began my search for the next van.  The year I spent driving White Cloud had spoiled me for comfortable interiors and better fuel economy.   I knew I wanted another van, but didn’t want to sacrifice my new penchant for luxury.  I decided to look into the Chevy Astro mid size van. 
   I researched years and options on the Chevy Astro until I decided on the details that were important to me.  Then the hunt was on.  I regularly went on Craigslist searching as far away as Connecticut for the right one.  Eventually one did turn up south of Boston on the way to Cape Cod.  It was a white all wheel drive 2002 model with less than 70,000 miles on it.  I traded in the Chrysler for a few hundred dollars, forked over thousands more, and drove the Astro home a few weeks later.  It was sweet.  I had never owned such a low mileage, young vehicle before. When early snows had most cars on the street sliding willy nilly across the roads, the Astro would just power through without any concern for road conditions.  I never worried about being on the road in that van. 
   As it turned out, when Eli and I decided to move to the Pacific Northwest, the Chevy Astro had to go. In hindsight I wish I had left it behind and flown back for it, taking it West on another adventure.  But it didn't happen that way.  Upon arriving in Portland, Oregon, we both relied on Eli's truck for the first 3 months if a vehicle was required.  Otherwise I revisited doing everything on a bicycle, which is another great way of life.  But after 3 months of saving up I began the familiar search for the next van, number 7.
   Instead of trying to buy another Astro I reverted to searching for another full size van.  The pre-74 Econoline was on the list of prospects. But in the end I settled on another 1992 Dodge van.  And eventually we were driving north to Olympia to buy 'The Creeper'.  The nickname was conceived by the votech students the van's owner would drive around to job sites and projects around Olympia.  The carpets, door trim and headliner had all been removed, exposing the naked inner truth of the van's anatomy; an iron box on wheels.  There were windows all around, tinted with the adhesive tint film, peeling at the corners.  The van's mascot was a hula bobble lady on the dashboard.  At high speeds, the vibration from the engine would send the ukulele playing hula girl into a violent pogo frenzy.  The Creeper was alright to drive for a while.  We did take it on a few far away adventures.  But it wasn't long before I felt as if I wasn't going to bond with this van as I had with previous vans.  We got along alright, but there was no spark.  And so I returned to Craigslist, mostly for entertainment.  But also to see if there might be a van more suited to my liking out there.
   Not long before this new search began, I found an ad for another 1992 Dodge.  This was a short wheel base B150 1/2 ton.  It's interior was burgundy plush with power locks and mirrors.  It held the stereo I coveted, what I had grown to love in the New Yorker, the factory cassette deck with joy stick balance/pan control.  There were so many similarities that I decided that this was the van version of my grandfather's New Yorker Mark V.  It was the van that I was meant to drive.  I met the seller at a cafe across the Columbia in Washington.  We negotiated a price that was more reasonable considering a cracked windshield and brakes needing service.  Again I handed over a large stack of bills and drove home in a new van.  The Creeper I left in the parking lot to return for later.
    Keeping with my father’s tradition of naming automobiles after various hues of water vapor, this new van, with it's half silver, half purple paint, could go by no other name than ‘Purple Haze’.
   Now we’re another year down the road.  The Purple Haze has taken us down some treacherous byways.  These days the stereo has an internal problem with the amplifier being sensitive to heat.  It will broadcast sound from cassette or radio for a few minutes before the engine's heat makes it's way to the dash board and then the radio goes silent.  During the recent cold snap I enjoyed the radio as it had been in the early days, the comforting meandering dialog of talk radio or analog cassette music coming through the speakers.  But now it's warmer and when I drive, the radio is silent.  Instead I focus on the less appealing sounds of a bearing running dry, spinning towards imminent seizure, at the center of one of the pulleys that the serpentine belt winds around at 1,000 rounds per minute.  Or the low drone of the transmission while maintaining highway speeds.  It's a good van. It's comfortable and easy to drive.  But I have gotten it stuck on a few occasions, something I'd never really experienced before.  Despite the new tires I invested in, the Purple Haze seems to have less traction than vans I had previously owned.  Once on a forest road far away from the pavement, on a steep grade where forward downward progress was thwarted by the vast number of downed trees, I spent a desperate hour trying everything I could think of to get the van turned around and headed back to the main forest road.  It was at panicked moments during that hour, that my thoughts turned back to the Astro, with it's all wheel drive, that could seemingly get out of any bind.  For a person whose curiosity often overpowers their reason, there is there is much praise and hallelujahs to be said for four wheel traction.   

Saturday, June 29, 2013

June, 2013

   A lot has happened since my last post which I think was September 2012 by the photos below.  Instead of getting into the abbreviated version of the past 9 months I choose to get right into the present and in doing so I will keep the chatter brief.  In January I had my Canon AL1 repaired through Blue Moon Camera shop in St. Johns.  When I went to pick up the camera I purchased a roll of color film.  Within two hours I went back and dropped the roll off to be developed.  Since then I have upgraded cameras and exposed more film.  I've taken two classes at Newspace center for photography to remember the processing steps and learn some refinement I hadn't picked up in high school.  Below are a few 8 x 10 prints I've made in the past few months.  More recently I've been printing more on 11 x 14 paper.
  I am still practicing and working up to better results.  Returning to photography feels like the mode of expression that fits my life right now.  It accompanies me on adventures and even becomes a motivating force to rushed packing of the van and getting on the freeway with no clear destination.  Unlike drawing or painting I am further along regarding my satisfaction with some of the images I've created thus far.  The mechanical aspect of the medium appeals to me as well.  The machine of the camera and the enlarger are elegant designs.  I find photography to be similar to riding a bicycle; the user can choose to make it as simple or as complex as they wish.