Burning Bright


We had our first big snow in a while here last week. Supposedly, Seattle was ready for this one. The newscasters filled hours with coverage of the city’s new state of preparedness, telling us how much salt, sand and plowing we could expect to see.

We didn’t see much of anything in our neighborhood, except ice and snow and happy kids whizzing down the frozen streets while their watchful parents stood guard at the intersections. For a couple of days it was sweet. Then the novelty wore off, the slush turned that kind of sloppy gray that suggests everything that’s wrong with life, and the regular rain resumed its usual routine.

It’s nice to have a break from the norm every once in a while. A change allows that little wisp if hope to catch a breeze and lift off into the blue skies of illusion. Maybe this year the economy will turn around and soar. Maybe this coming year the opposing political parties will lay down their rusty barbs and sheath their swords and try to work on the problems of the country and the planet instead of spending all their energy on insulting one another. And maybe this will be the year that Americans care as much about taking care of the real problems we face as a nation as they do about who’s winning American Idol.

Right. This is why I stick with fiction, where illusions and delusions make every impossible idea seem possible.

I know I’m naïve. But I’d like to believe things can get better. Even when all the evidence suggests otherwise.

Last week the headlines on the internet brought us the dismaying news that the planet is down to its last three thousand wild tigers. Those of us who only see them in zoos may be the only ones who really care about this issue. And you could say that the world will get along just fine without tigers, just like we get along without dinosaurs. But the loss of tigers would hit harder than loss of dodos. Tigers symbolize the power, mystery, and terror of the wild world. Now they’re being hunted to extinction by poachers seeking the supposed sexual enhancement qualities to be found in their organs. Sigh. Why can’t these people be satisfied with Viagra like the rest of the world?

I guess the men who are hoping to become better lovers by putting some tiger in their junk have their own illusions. It just seems criminal that the rest of us have to pay for them.

Well, I guess Thanksgiving must be over. Back to another season in Rantsalot. It would take more than a foot or two of snow to whitewash the world’s problems at this point. But that won’t stop me from hoping that we can dig our way out.

Here Comes the Night

All the best cats appreciate literature.
All the coolest cats appreciate literature.

Draw the shades. Light the fire. Dig into that pile of books you’ve been saving for this: The Long Dark Tunnel of the Northwest Night.

In November the whiplash-inducing sudden end of Daylight Saving Time sends many of us inside to seek bright cheer through various means. Some turn to social networks. Others to cable TV. Still others, creatures of the night year-round, embrace the darkness, I suppose.

For me, the saving grace of the season isn’t the twinkling lights festooned on trees and houses, or the comforting abundance of nature’s harvest, but the freedom to burrow into the piles of books I’ve stored against this time.

Squirrels can keep the nuts. I sustain myself with books.

Seattle is a booklover’s haven. Even in these testing economic times, the plucky independent bookstores in this town continue to provide a forum for ideas, community and progressive action that is as cheering as a cup of ale, or cocoa if you prefer, beside a crackling fire.

Others may prefer the thrills to be found in skiing, or snowboarding, or the dizzying swirl of ice skating. But not for me. These old bones will settle with a good book in a cozy chair until the planet tilts back to the light.

Court Date

A coach's work is never done.
A coach’s work is never done.

See ball. Chase ball. Hit ball, catch ball,  throw, kick, lunge for, jump for, dive for ball.

Dogs aren’t the only species whose eyes light up at the sight of a ball. We humans feel the pull, the ‘catch me if you can’ spell of the bouncing, flying ball. And though not everyone feels inspired to play a ball sport, or join a team to do so, for those of us who do, the rewards go far beyond the obvious pay-offs in fitness and friendships.

I came to sports late in life, although I dabbled in basketball and field hockey during high school. This was long before Title Nine cleared the path for women’s sports, and decades before soccer mania took root in America’s suburbs. I never took any sport seriously until I was over forty. That’s when I fell for Wilson and Penn. I’ve been chasing those bad boys ever since.

This past weekend my  love affair with tennis took me farther than ever before, when my USTA Women’s League 3.5 team from the Pacific Northwest Section traveled to Tucson, AZ, to compete in the National tournament. Teams from sixteen sections of the country, representing all fifty states and the Caribbean, gathered for three days of match play under the hot Arizona sun.

It was an amazing, exhilarating, exhausting experience. I had imagined  before we went that there might be a few hours here and there during the tournament to see a little bit of Tucson, maybe buy a few souvenirs. Silly me.

Between the practice matches, real matches, team meetings, dinners, lunches and vital social gatherings there was hardly time to squeeze in a little precious sleep. I felt as if I were trying to keep up on one of those moving walkways at the airport while bouncing tennis balls and juggling water bottles. And  as anyone who’s traveled with a large group knows, the logistics of coordinating movements can be testing. The fluid nature of time and the peculiarities of the human temperament reveal hidden truths.

In many ways a good team is like a car. Different players bring different strengths. You need a strong engine, good wheels, fiery sparkplugs, smooth linkage, a reliable clutch. But a car, no matter how well put together, needs someone with a clear head at the wheel to stay on the road. Our team was lucky. Our coach, Jason Chapman, is younger than many of us on the team, but in tennis years he’s  older and wiser. He’s been to Nationals eleven times before, once as a player before he started coaching.

It takes a rare sort of person to bring out the best in a dozen women with widely varying skill sets, personalities and ages. It helps to have a deep well of patience, a good sense of humor, and an inner compass locked on the goal.  Jason has all these attributes, and more.

He asked us to trust him, and we did. Under his guidance, we worked hard for eight months and got to the Big Race. We made it to the Final Four and nearly to the finish line before we were edged out in the final by a scrappy team from Arkansas.

Does it lessen the sting to know that two of that team’s best players were young women who came from the Pacific Northwest? Not really.

We came to win. We nearly did. And as far as I’m concerned, my team is second to none.


octoberblestSome say it’s the beer. Others praise the pumpkins, the rainbow foliage, the costumed craziness. Of late, zombies seem to be in vogue.

But October has other charms, less flashy, perhaps, but equally satisfying.

An afternoon beside the lake, the whisper of leaves in the breeze, the distant slap of oars as the crew teams skim back and forth,  the sparkle of slanting sunlight on the still water, the whir of rollerblades and the murmur of dog walkers on the path – heaven may be far from this. But this is close enough for now.

Boat Beautiful

Rockin' the Boat
Rockin' the Boat

I’ve never been much of a sailor. A tendency to get queasy when the footing becomes unsteady has marked me as a landlubber most of my life. But in spite of this, I’ve always been drawn to the romance of boats. That whole John Masefield thing about “a tall ship and a star to steer her by” really sank in somewhere along the line.

In Seattle the tall ships and seas beckon in every direction. The newest place to get up close and personal with boat life is Seattle’s South Lake Union Park, located right next to the Center For Wooden Boats, where all manner of delightful crafts are on display.

Mighty Tug
Mighty Tug

There’s a lot to like at the new park. It opens up vistas previously out of bounds. More significantly, it represents an amazing turnaround of a marvelous site which for decades was contaminated with toxic waste from previous industrial uses. Now it’s a showpiece, with wonderful educational touches tucked into an artfully planned 12-acre site that includes a number of delightful artistic focal points, including a playful water-jet lined walkway, a wide basin for sailing toy boats, and “Blanche,” an unusual floating sound sculpture by San Francisco artists Peter and Sue Richards. img_42243

“Blanche”  was constructed using an actual Blanchard Junior Knockabout boat, donated and restored by the Center for Wooden Boats. The installation is particularly appropriate as a tribute to the Blanchard Boat Company, which operated on the shore of Lake Union from 1900 to 1963. The sculpture is designed to give visitors the feeling of being in a boat, without ever leaving the shore.

Close your eyes. Hear it? That’s the sound of one wave slapping.

Give Peas A Chance

Good Day, Sunshine
Good Day, Sunshine

With autumn nearly upon us, I find myself growing a bit wistful for the Summer That Wasn’t.

Some people, especially those back East who suffered through months of sweltering heat, might find it hard to relate to the longing for warm summer nights. But this year in Seattle the summer “heat” consisted of a couple of days when the temperatures flirted with the gay 90s, then slunk back into the cool 60s where they feel more at ease.

Flowers all over town thrived. Vegetables, not so much. But, even so, the intrepid Seattle gardeners found ways to coax wondrous results from city gardens. The proof can be found in Seattle’s thriving P-Patches, the community garden program administered by the City of Seattle Department of Neighborhoods.

Since its beginning in 1973 on two and a half acres at the Picardo Farm in Wedgwood, the program has grown to include 73 P-Patches all over town, 23 acres in all, planted and maintained by roughly 4,000 passionate gardeners. And more gardens are added each year.

Peace grows in garden rows.
Peace grows in garden rows.

Each is unique. Some are as beautifully laid out as formal gardens, others so densely crammed with vegetables and flowers that the walkways between the beds are hard to see. Every one is a treasure.

Yesterday, with thunderstorms forecast and a brisk breeze blowing, we set out to visit the Picardo Farm plot, to revel in its late summer glory before the rains smashed things too much. It was glorious. Cherry tomatoes, ruby red chard, towering beans, swelling pumpkins, dancing cosmos, dazzling dahlias, countless berries and squash and beets. Oh my.

By the grace of gardens I am fed, body and soul. Mine is the church of blue sky. Rain is the sacrament that keeps us all alive. Thanks be to God, or whoever is holding down the fort while he’s out minding other universes.

The Yearning Curve

Ripeness is all, the fellow said.

Tried Green Tomatoes
Tried Green Tomatoes

If that’s true, I got nothin’. Plenty o’.

This is the fifth summer I’ve been gardening in Seattle, and you might think I would have made the adjustment by now. You’d be wrong. The problem is, I’m still thinking in Virginia summer terms. As in: July means hot. August means “oh my freaking god thank you for air conditioning.”

Here in Seattle, of course, many residents eschew air conditioning altogether. The temperatures so rarely rise into the 80s, and the humidity, like the rain, vanishes after July fourth. Vegetables which thrive on heat tend to sulk in Seattle. I know the feeling.

In a Virginia summer there are things you can grow without even trying. Zucchini the size of kayaks. Peppers aplenty. And tomatoes. Aaah, tomatoes.

Every winter when the seed catalogues arrive I try to restrain myself. Remember last year? I say to myself. Remember those two scrawny tomato plants you started under lights in February? Remember the pathetic crop of puny rock hard tomato-shaped things that resulted? Yes, I reply, but this year will be different.

Suffice it to say, it never is. At least, not in a good way. This year we seem to be bypassing the summer season entirely. We had two or three days of 90 degree peaks, but my tomato plants weren’t fooled. They waited it out, and sure enough, the heat swept off to the East Coast, where people understand it.

So here it is, nearly the end of August, and my tomatoes are the size  and color of green olives. At this point, personally, I’d prefer the olives.

At the start of the season here in June, a gardening friend of mine gave me a fine big healthy tomato plant she’d nurtured in her garden shed. Ironically, it was an heirloom variety, a “Green Zebra,” and supposedly it would have eventually produced tasty, edible, green tomatoes. I’ll never know. The night temperatures are already getting down into the 50s. The days are rapidly getting shorter. There will be no ripe tomatoes, either green or red, from my garden.

Will I ever learn? Doubtful. It’s human nature to strive for that which is unobtainable, be it world peace, a publishing contract, or a ripe tomato. All things considered, I think my chances are best with the tomato quest.

Walking and Gawking


Among the pleasures on our frequent walks around Seattle are discoveries of unexpected art, some designed and installed by humans, some the work of Nature, some the transitory miracles of a unique moment.

My attempts to capture the sense of wonder that these sightings inspire are doomed from the start. Two dimensions are almost always trumped by three, or four, and at times it seems to me that there are far more than that. But that’s probably just the flashbacks talking.

Anyway. In this season when the city is besieged by pirates, Vikings, and tourists, the urge to get out and explore tempts us off the beaten paths. Most recently that led us over to Alki and the Whale Tail Playground, where the undersea theme is played out in three dimensions. I was drawn to the life-size cast-bronze octopus, which anchors one edge of the “Swimming Stars” entry plaza designed by Seattle artist Lezlie Jane. The children clambering over the nearby whale tail slide and the replica lighthouse may be unaware of the thoughtful elements at work in the colored and stamped concrete design studded with yellow mirrored stars in Jane’s tribute to Cetus, “The Great Whale Constellation,” but surely the sparkle of creative fire must catch in some young minds while playing there.

Come up and see me sometime.
Come up and see me sometime.

At Lincoln Park, a short distance south of Alki, we came upon an example of Nature’s artful sense of humor in a striking Madrona tree. Classic mythology tells of dryads, tree nymphs whose life depends on the trees to which they are connected. Admittedly, the first thought that went through my mind at the sight of this tree was that it called out for a caption contest. But bawdy subtext aside, it’s a work of art. And if you have the time to listen, it will speak to you.

Lurching Toward Freedom

All right, so the U.S. is out of the World Cup again, and Andy Roddick went down swinging before the semifinal at Wimbledon, and the Mariners, well, they’re still trying. But we still have one thing to celebrate, right?

That’s right, the freedom to dress up as a zombie and lurch through the streets with thousands of like-minded undead neighbors all united in the common drive to wrest the world record back from the Brits. And what record would that be, you ask? Why, the record number of zombies gathered in one place at one time, of course.

The proudly independent Fremont neighborhood in Seattle held the record last year with a tally of 3,894, but later they were usurped by the British, who mustered 4,026 zombies to claim the title. Organizers of this year’s Zombie Walk, slated for tomorrow, July 3, in Fremont, are hoping to smash the record with a massive turnout of gruesome participants.

It’s more than just the fun of creeping people out with homemade gory effects. There’s also a blood drive (hah), a food drive to benefit Solid Ground, a zombie concert and a screening of a classic zombie film.

The fact that zombie walks have become a regular feature of the modern cultural landscape worldwide, with annual events taking place from Brisbane to Pittsburgh in an atmosphere of friendly, albeit twisted, competition, says something about our species. I’m not sure what. But for some reason I find it cheering.

It’s not that I’m a huge fan of the genre, or that I’ve succumbed to the anti-charm of zombie chic, but rather I like that it’s a game without rules that anyone can play. It takes a lot of coordination, dedication and effort to master most games. But anyone can be a zombie. You just have to stumble along, aimlessly, moaning a bit from time to time. Perhaps this explains the popularity of the idea. There’s a little zombie in all of us.