FutuRetro

One of the things I so love about travel and touring is getting a much more powerful sense of history; standing in and on the places where events and lives long past have happened, whether grand or insignificant, utterly changes my understanding of those people and occurrences. My first trip overseas, that Grand Tour I was so privileged to take in college with my older sister, was an awakening I never expected. I hoped the trip would be a cure for my sophomore blues, and indeed it was, beyond anything I could have planned or dreamt before, but more than that I was startled by how connected I felt to history.

The drizzly and cold autumn day when we visited Canterbury Cathedral was atmospheric enough in its way, but I remember standing on stone steps worn into a soft bowl by the thousands of footsteps that had passed over them in the centuries of its existence, looking up into a palely gold ray from a lamp, seeing the motes of dust whirling in it, and feeling that time itself was floating down around me in delicate pieces, that the spirit of every person who had ever set foot on that same smooth hollow in the stone was present there with me in that very moment. It was almost as though I could hear their voices and see the scenes of the past play out in the faint gloom around me, all overlapping and yet perfectly present. I felt my own place in the whole of the human timeline in an entirely different way than I ever expected, tinier than ever, yet surprisingly more concrete and tangible.

This was reinforced later in the same journey many times, as we passed through or visited (not necessarily in this order) England, Italy, France, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland and stood in the very footprints of many a person, going down the winding passages and cobbled side-streets that had seen multitudes of significant moments long since fled. As this was the first time I visited Norway, the rooting ground of my ancestors from every branch of my family tree, it is no surprise in retrospect that many of those potent realizations came to me in that place—but as usual, hindsight is ever so much clearer than was my youthful wisdom in those days. It was moving, more meaningful than I can express, to get to know the relatives in Norway with whom my family had maintained contact: my maternal grandfather’s sisters and brother-in-law, nieces and nephew. These were days before cheap telephonic long distance, let alone email and internet communiqués, so we had only briefly even met most of these people when they visited America once in my younger years, yet they not only took us in as visitors, Tante Anna and Onkel Alf kept my sister and me with them for a full month and took us to see the family’s two longtime farms, the graves where many of our ancestors were sleeping underfoot. This was incredibly touching, a genealogical history lesson, but the more so because it was taught by the eldest of our remaining family there.

What moved me the most, in fact, was when on arriving in Oslo at our mother’s cousin’s home before we even came down south to be with his parents, we explored the great city a little on our own during the days, while he was at work and his wife and children off having their own day of adventures. It was all so humbling and so magical to feel for the first time that I understood a tiny bit more of my own family lineage and how our people fit into the larger world. We did visit many of the obligatory and famous tourist sites, knowing that there was no direct link to our ancestors, only cultural ones. So I was quite stunned when we visited the Viking Ship Museum and, standing before these ancient vessels, I was absolutely electrified with a sense of shared history coursing through my veins. My forebears were undoubtedly humble subsistence farmers, not the bold and violent and adventurous Viking strain we know through film and television, never mind through the great Sagas—but I felt for the first time something connecting me to those long-gone people all the same.
Photo: Enter the Time Machine

By now I have traveled a fair amount more. I have been on this planet more than twice as long, and I think I might even be a little bit wiser through my experiences in that life than I was back then. But I approach every narrow stone passageway, every weathered door, every window with its rippling antique panes presenting everything that’s beyond them like a warped post-impressionist fiction of itself, I expect to learn something not only about what is there in front of me and around me, but what is inside me. And I know that I will learn something, too, about how I fit into that larger, and ever so mysterious, world if I am wise and patient and alert enough to notice it. So much has gone by. So much remains ahead, yet unknown.

What is Essential

How the concept of “necessary” tools changes! I can hardly remember how I managed to survive a full day without my laptop, despite the fact that when I was young, personal computers were strictly the stuff of fantasy, and most computers were, in fact, whole rooms full of refrigerated, card-punching machinery. And no, whatever anyone may tell you, I am not a million years old.

Yet here I am, forgetting how to send letters via snail mail when I can email them; wondering how I can Get a Signal in some remote place so I can wirelessly post my daily blog missive off to readers from India to Ireland, from Kansas to Katmandu. All of this, I expect to happen in the blink of an eye—and mostly, it does.

Strange that things so recently thought utter luxuries become so quickly apparent necessities for survival. So quickly we think the newly acquired stuff can no longer be done without. How do we get so spoiled by our wealth that it seems as important as life itself?

It’s not that I lack appropriate appreciation for my many privileges. It’s not even that I don’t think I could keep living a happy and healthy and contented life if I had to give them all up suddenly, let alone that I’d think myself suffering upon losing my high-powered towns and tools for a short while. I will recover, and probably even rediscover some good things about myself and my world if I am smart enough to pay attention.

In the meantime, I am ever so happy to have a clothes washing machine and dryer, running water, a houseful of LED light, flush toilets, central heating, and yes, all of the little electronic goodies that make it possible for me to blog and email, not to mention talk to family and friends overseas, make artworks in space that are able to be brought into the real world as physical entities, and keep other parts of my life in a semblance of order. I do enjoy the privileges of my office!

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The original desktop.

Ashore

Islands can bring out the hermit in people, as it seems–and conversely, the social butterfly. Some who go to islands voluntarily either do so out of the desire to cut themselves off, at least partly, from social pressures and demands or come to embrace the opportunity that appears when they’ve become islanders. But involuntary islanders, the marooned (whether by shipwreck or by job transfer), can often feel contact-deprived. Suddenly people who had no particular desire for company on a regular basis feel socially abandoned and hungry; who knew?

Me, I have never lived on an island. Certainly never been set adrift and stuck on one against my will. And I happen to have pretty serious hermitage skills when I want to haven them: I’m a master at finding the quietest, remotest, emptiest corner of any place when I sincerely desire it. So I don’t generally have to wrestle through either of those dire, trying situations mentioned above. And also, I don’t really expect to run into such a situation any time soon.

That means I rather like my visits to islands, which visits are thus far entirely intentional (unless you count wrong turns onto bridges leading to them), and I like aloneness enough to seek it. Even on an island, if need be. Truthfully, though, I’m quite happy to visit islands any time I can, for holidaying purposes. Whidbey Island, Molokai, Ireland, Vancouver Island, Puerto Rico . . . I will be glad to return to these and visit many another any time I might have the chance. Let me wander inland and explore the beauties beyond the islands’ perimeters. Perch me on a rock by the shore and I will be happy, no, delighted to spend my time in good company or solitude, either one.photo

The Wearin’ o’ the Green

There is, of course, one overriding, excellent reason that Ireland should celebrate the remembrance of her patron saint with a vivid display of everything-green. Ireland is the Emerald Isle. I’m not Irish, but I suppose I can pretend to a certain level of affinity on the strength of two excellent reasons of my own, the first being that my Viking ancestors (if any of my Norse forebears were actually so intrepid and aggressive) had a pretty good chance of crossing paths somewhere along the line with their counterparts in the British Isles, Norwegians having gone on various exploratory and marauding forays in that direction. My patronymic (Wold), after all, sounds suspiciously more Anglo than Nordic to me, no matter how many in Norway do share the name.

The second and far kindlier tie I feel to Ireland is because I was born in the Emerald City (Seattle’s nickname) in the Evergreen State (Washington’s), surrounded by every known flavor of green and a few yet undiscovered, and I think it was anything but coincidental that on my one visit to Ireland thus far I felt remarkably at home even in the middle of the winter, when the chill and snow still couldn’t entirely subdue the exquisite greenness of the land. It may not have hurt this sense of connection that some of the locals on that trip asked me what part of Ireland I came from, given that my accent apparently wasn’t heard by them as being wildly different from some in the UK. In any event, as green and growing things resonate so deeply in my heart and soul, I can’t help but celebrate the beauty of Green while millions are wearing, spending, planting and drinking it, and otherwise rejoicing in the character seen as protector of the great green land of Eire on this most Irish of days.photoHere in this Emerald Land

Because there is no sapling in the earth

But that springs out when water wakes its seed

And sunlight calls it up in urgent need,

I think the rain and sun of equal worth–

Yet all the riches of a blooming world

No greater shine than that most humble weed

Whose leaf invites the passing deer to feed

Because its banners, sweetly green, unfurled–

No flower can surpass, exotic bloom

Outdo green’s living beauty or exceed

Its life-affirming sweetness when we heed

The subtler potency of its perfume–

And so I bow my head, ecstatic–sing

The joys of every green and living thing.photoMuch as I adore sunshine, I am willing, too, to be showered with the rain, for it slakes the thirsty earth and brings forth all of its green glories.

Ten Thousand Kinds of Green

 

photoIt takes very little time upon returning to the Pacific Northwest for me to be reminded of one of its central characteristics that became so imprinted on my heart and mindset through my many years of dwelling there as to be interchangeable with my entire concept of wholeness and well-being: the color green. The millions of colors that can be called Green, to be more precise. Having been born in the Emerald City of the Evergreen State, I can confirm that they have earned their titles both the hard way (rain–sometimes seemingly endless–rain–oh, and snowpack and glacier runoff in the spring) and entirely honestly. The city and the state are genuinely, deeply, exquisitely green.photoOther places may be green with envy. Yes, there are certainly other spectacularly green places on earth, some of which I have visited, among them to wit: Ireland, Allgäu, and the jungle that straddles the Panamanian border with Costa Rica (a tropical cloud forest) all rife with verdure and also with all of those forms of watery nourishment that bring about such burgeoning beauties in their respectively green-glorious regions. Each green place is unique in the character and flavor of its glowing, growing vegetation, and each gains its place in my heart as much through its variations of verdancy as by any other means.photoWhat it all comes down to is that these things grow on me as much as on the face of the earth, filling my senses and my emotional center in ways that few other things can. This recent return to my mossy, leafy, grassy, graceful green roots merely reminds me of what lies deep within me all of the time. The west coast is so rich in tints and hues and tones and shades and variations of green that I cannot imagine an existence without them and know that green will always be the color against which completeness and contentment and ecstasy are best measured.photophotophotophotophotophotophotoMourn the tiresome persistence of the rain at times, if you must, but once you have been drawn into the corridors of the green world you will likely find it irresistible, too. It bursts with the presence of renewal and strength, lures you with the dappled dream-world light that only a leafy and towering tunnel of trees can create, and makes the heart ache with that yearning form of delight best found in things that sing of secrets, promises and hope.

Foodie Tuesday: In Praise of Little Things

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A sea of green goodness growing . . .

It’s so often the littlest details that have the most unexpectedly impressive impact. We just don’t expect too much from small stuff. But where would we be without those tiny crystals of salt and jots of freshly ground spices? Without the tiny seeds that become minute sprouts and in turn, lush plants that give life to our favorite fruits and vegetables, and that feed the animals that grace our tables sacrificially?

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Red cabbage, well watered . . .

My tiny mite of a farm is bursting with promise. It won’t be all that long before I’m harvesting cut-and-come-again salad greens, herbs and baby carrots and beets. My patience is an equally miniscule thing, so I hover over their beds and fuss as though my attention would do anything other than attract more insects to come and flit around my head. Meanwhile, I can always raid the grocer’s stock of edible things to keep the table well decorated, no matter how plain or fancy my edible desires.

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Cauliflower, admittedly no less delicious if I have to snag it at the market than if it came from my own private patch of dirt . . .

Another highly welcome Little Thing is a raindrop. Lord knows we’ve dreamed of them with something verging on the unseemly in our drought of recent past. But like the seasoning of a dish, what is desirable in a little may be wildly inappropriate if given with too much exuberance. Today it’s looking a little iffy in that regard: we’ve been told in the last couple of weeks that thanks to the new year’s rains, most of Texas has already bypassed the borders of drought and headed right into surfeit territory. Outside is a pounding rain, accompanied by beautiful flashes of brilliance slicing up the sky and shouts of thunder pounding down right along with the cataracts of rain. Not thirty minutes away there are reports of a tornado and baseball-sized hail. There are expectations that this storm system will throw off a few more tornadoes and lots more wind and rain and hail before it’s done. Me, I’m keeping a good thought for all of the people, animals, houses, and cars being blasted by the wind and pelted with rocks of ice, and hoping against hope that none of that nonsense wanders over this way too. We have plenty of friends in the area whose roofs have been demolished or cars totaled by that sort of thing before.

My little item of great happiness at the moment is that not only am I cozily dry under a roof out of the lashings of rain, but our car is in the safest place it could possibly be to hide from the storm: on a mechanic’s lift at the place where we bought it. It was merely due for its periodic checkup (taking inspiration, perhaps, from my own recent annual visits to the doctor and radiologist and such), but couldn’t have been timed better in terms of dodging the fiercest part of the storm. I hope. Not to mention that the mechanic discovered that the two tires not replaced following our recent road-debris encounter are worn down to replacement status as well. If I’m going to drive around in this kind of flash-flood-inducing waterfall, I may as well have good tires. After all, it’s only money. Sigh.

Which brings me back ‘round to my original point (and I did have one). Life is just too short to be spent without savoring all of the minor triumphs, moments of good luck and serendipity, and all of the tiny treats that we can find or are handed to us. And by that, I mean of course that I will continue to eat snacks and desserts with a certain amount of regularity if not abandon, because they are seriously happiness-inducing items in my life. Who am I to refuse to attend when the last fridge stash of guacamole and the tuna salad from yesterday’s sandwich get all friendly and decide to get married and become a cracker spread? I would have missed a great party!

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Cheese and choccies--where could you go wrong?

On the 17th of March we had a friend visit for dinner. Since she’s of partially Irish descent, I thought it incumbent to include an item or two with at least a hint of Irish pedigree in the meal, though I didn’t quite go all-in, so I incorporated a few tasty tributes to the Emerald Isle. It was ‘specially easy to do at the end of the meal. I’d happened on an inspiring sounding cheese, so dessert was a little plate of cheese and chocolate. I served my little homemade chocolate-nut truffles with the loveliest Guinness-infused cheddar cheese that, at room temperature, tasted buttery, the tiniest bit sharp, and had that mellow veining of stout bringing another nice layer of complementary flavor to the collation. Needless to say, this combination goes down quite smoothly with a tot of good Irish whiskey (well, what doesn’t?) or of course would be appropriately paired with a crisp Guinness, if it’s on hand. We had it with a bit of bubbly because I’m certain that St. Patrick would approve of our saying a fond thank you to and well-wishing a certain great—-grandniece of his who has been a fine colleague and a good friend and is soon off on a new adventure in an altogether more Irish-rooted American city.

I leave you without a real new recipe today, I guess, but sometimes the moment presents itself when something that requires no new preparations at all but is just as delicious as can be is just the bite or sip to be enjoyed on the spot. There are times when the company is so grand, the bottle cracked open is so perfectly aged, and the slant of the sun so perfectly angled in the proper window that whatever we take to eat is a tiny taste of heaven. It’s like being visited by a butterfly that comes and takes its rest right at my feet and sits patiently to have its portrait taken before fluttering away, for no apparent reason other than to bring its own miniature glint of perfect beauty to the day.photo

. . . and just so you know, no tornadoes or monstrous hailstorms have ventured into our town today. Another nice little plus for the occasion!