Friday’s Poem: My Father’s Shoes

I cleaned grassy streaks and smudges

from my tennis shoes, scrubbing,

exacting each swipe around toes,

knowing tomorrow they will just go lousy

with evidence of spring again–

when I recalled you setting up the shoe shine kit

to clean your chestnut-colored wingtips

or trusty black Florsheims.

I wondered what all got cleaned off as the

edgy aroma of shoe polish all waxy in round tins,

filled the air with its magic and your industry.

Maybe a rim of dust from an auditorium clung on,

or dabs of dirt from an outdoor concert venue.

It’s mountain mud that gets caked on my soles,

detritus snatched from serpentine paths,

odds and ends decaying at riverfront.

But your important wooden box held

one foot then another atop a foot-shaped platform

as you slathered on polish, rubbed it smooth

then deepened its color with stubby brush

and then took the buffing cloth,

seesawed over supple leather in

a rhythmic shuffle of hands,

toes given special attention.

Each shoe was held to the light with

your deft-fingered hands stuffed inside.

Oh, they gleamed clean and fit as fancy footwear.

It was a mission completed; you smiled at me,

saying have to put your best foot forward

and chuckling, but it was a motto you lived.

Maybe you polished your shoes each week

because the kid you were owned a good pair for church

another for school; best to care for things scarce and in demand.

Best to look like whoever you are meant to become: you,

a musician, conductor, teacher, administrator,

a man your parents were proud of without saying so,

the whole person your wife always knew you were.

It’s true you wore other shoes to the garage

and yard, on the tall ladder where you perched

above grass as I steadied it near the bottom,

Mom hollering be careful, Lawrence!

as if you were a neophyte.

Every couple years you scraped and painted

our house so it was freshly dressed

in optimistic yellow, bouyant turqouise.

I think you wore deck shoes (you liked to sail) or

scuffed Rockports beneath loose coveralls.

This was all long before you no longer painted

and your hearing faded and a quadruple bypass,

before your eyes widened in fear then shone

like separate bodies of light as you

rounded the corner to God

and I stood by your bed fixed by your stare,

saying, it’s alright to let go–go Home, you are loved.

But before then it was lots of things,

yes, it’s a shoe shine kit I recall today,

your shoes all restored. You went to work

in suit or tux to shape and lift each note,

steady on the podium, swaying like a man dancing,

ushering forth music from orchestra, symphony, band.

How those shoes glowed, how they slid, tapped;

how much beauty and good they brought forward,

feet happy to carry the man, my father.

But, too, I think as I slip on my sneakers

for another woodsy walk in peace–

even the old ones worn on high rungs,

your toehold sure in the simmering summer sun–

even those quite did the job.

Monday’s Meander: High Desert Museum

A major observation that one makes about high desert– besides hopscotch carpets of sagebrush and such pungent scents– is the sharp dryness of things. All seems to crackle underfoot; air is stripped of moisture for the most part. In a short time, my skin and hair feel the effects—skin parchment-like, hair becoming flyaway. Brittleness reigns. Yet, there is something attractive about this landscape. It’s aridity and semi- monochromatic austerity lend a spareness best seen in open range, but also is notable where the western juniper, ponderosa pine, larch grow. But as small things are discovered, another world is revealed.

The High Desert Museum is a good place to experience this. Opened in 1982, it exits to encourage people to consider the history of this high desert area–part of the Columbia Plateau– and how people have interacted with it.

We hurried through indoor exhibits– we’d visited before and had limited time. The outdoor exhibits have been improved and I had to be outdoors–it was a lovely day.

Follow in my footsteps as we head outdoors during a slideshow, below. You’ll note there is evidence of a riparian part of high desert–so crucial to this land– with small creeks. (There’s an exhibit with deeper water for two river otters, not an uncommon critter in Oregon.) But everywhere are reminders of high fire danger–it was well posted–and I thought how those trees and shrubs could be immediate fire timber and kindling. Evidence of fire as we crossed the Cascade Range came to mind, as well as wildfires near our home once.

You’ll note, at the end of the slideshow, a replica of a sheepherder’s wagon in the 1880s; it is reminsicent of wagons in which pioneers crossed the continent to settle the West. Or, rather, resettle, since Native Americans lived and worked here for so very long….

The draw for us this visit was the Miller Family Ranch and Sawmill. Though a fictional family, the reconstructed settlement is typical of a ranch for white homesteaders who claimed and worked land in Central Oregon in the1880s. The climate is not very hospitable; life was difficult. We moved between a barn, cabin, corral, bunkhouse, root cellar, and sawmill. There would have been cattle tended and horses on open range; we noted chickens and a chicken house. During summer months there are reenactments of the lives lived in such a homestead then.

For current residents of this part of Oregon, ranching is still a primary part of the culture and economy.

By this time, indigenous land had already been explored and occupied by people such as trappers, missionaries, and surveyors. Native people were forced to sign treaties or removed– or dealt with violently. Native rights retained did allow descendants to still hunt, gather and fish in areas they used to inhabit so freely. Visiting the ranch reconsturction brought up conflicting issues and feelings, with much to consider, as usual, when I revisit American history. (Every country has its painful history but it doesn’t help much to think on that, either–especially these days.)

It was a good day well used and we were ready for a meal and a restful evening. For next week’s blog I’ll take you to Smith Rock, one of the more impressive sights I’ve seen in Central Oregon. The land opens up as you drive from Bend, and mountain vistas are clear on a sunny day. Then jagged and often reddish rocks and pinnacles of the State Park are revealed. A very small teaser is below.

Friday’s Poem: Time Undone

Time with its ancient cycles quits for no one.

I rest in homage by the river, sense the current turning.

I feel like a bouquet in wild grasses; living’s left me sweet-sour.

If only it was so easy–a woman in love with water and woods.

But I am pressed between have done and must do,

that wall clock grinning like a gatekeeper,

a metronome imposing rigid order in my life.

Nature’s messengers whisper about

the limits of a ready-made world where

I am running all day from plans to tasks

to desire to regret to one more distant goal.

How did time excavate my life, chew it up,

redesign and cast it to four winds?

I can’t quite catch it as it flies, despite my attention.

I must resume a position within the surround

of time–slipping back in, shouldering my way,

into the line dance of human life.

Wanting still to leap up, beyond constraint.

Every morning my skin blushes with tendrils of light;

night brings a spell of dreams or a wrestling,

and still I am primed for dawn.

There is not enough of time though it

tosses and pins me down these days.

I want to fight back; I am not weak.

But good progress slows, stumbles,

falls in the heat of the fight.

And yet–there is always a yet,

a supernatural response to puzzling things–

despite the lost or misused seconds, this:

walking the labyrinth of lessons,

finding a slipstream or traversing

the wild terrain of aging as it challenges.

Changes. Empowers and releases me.

Time steps aside and opens my eyes.

How much of everything is lived beyond me,

how do others transmute ache into love?

I lay my ego down, lift face and heart

to wind whistling in the trees,

quieted by a willing surrender again.

Monday’s Meander: Bend, Central Oregon Gem

We left quaint Sisters and moved further into high desert country, east of the beautiful Cascade Range. We arrived at Bend in late afternoon, happy with our views from the hotel on the Deschutes River, alongside which Bend, population of about 100,000, sprang up. It was one of the few crossing points along the river and was established as a logging town in early 1900s. Later it became a gateway for many year- around outdoor sports. The weather, typical of this elevation of 3623 ft. and semi-arid climate, tends towards cool nights and sunshine-filled days. Winter brings some snow; summer averages 65 degrees F. It was perfect when we were there, in the upper 50s to upper 60s.

Part of a view from our room.

It is easy to see why the population has increased the past 20 years and why a main business is tourism. Also, folks with some money can retire well here–we’d thought of it, but it got pricier. We got to know this area better 15 years ago when my son and his then-wife moved their family to La Pine, a smaller more rural town 30 minutes away. I liked the climate and different nature offerings. The clarity and freshness of air is, for one, pretty phenomenal; junipers, lodgepole pine, and sagebrush lend a pungent fragrance. And the mountains offer a view that never tire me. Mt. Bachelor is a favorite for skiing and more but there are several snow-capped peaks. Black Butte (noted last week, not well seen here) is another interesting peak. (I’d like to spend time at Black Butte Ranch.)

Below, views as evening fell around the Hilton Garden Inn in the Old Mill District. The stacks you see rising into the lovely sky are attached to a building that was originally the power station for the mill at this site. (It is now an REI outdoor store.) They nudged my eyes upward even in day, but then back to open sky and mountains.

The next day we walked along the winding and excellent waterfront path, noting birds and scenery. There is a somewhat upscale shopping district here, so I also browsed and purchased a few things. Marc found a local coffee shop that sold the Sisters Coffee brand and said it was great.

It was a good day out and about the area as well as meeting our 20 y.o. granddaughter, enjoying a a fish and chips lunch at her work place, basking in hot sunshine at a table outside. (It always feels hotter when the sun is out in high desert…) Avery has lived there with her mother and our 15 y.o. grandson for many years, and it’s a pleasure to visit with them whenever we can, in Bend or here.

I should note that the Hilton Garden Inn served a very good breakfast. Later we’d hoped to eat outdoors at an Italian restaurant by the water–but when night arrived it was quite cold for us. High desert temperatures change a great deal at night and again in the day. We got a few microwaveable items and “roughed it” in our cozy room, a fire going in the fireplace. But that’s skipping ahead!

A few of the day’s views below.

Above, in a shot from the hotel balcony: I watched marathon runners crossing a bridge and rushing down the paths. Mt. Bachelor is in the distance. You might note the two colors of the many bridge flags are in support of war-ravaged Ukraine. The wind at this spot is, incidentally, very strong at times.

We soon were off to explore the High Desert Museum for the afternoon. It has excellent informative indoor exhibits but we looked forward to seeing new developments outdoors. We last visited perhaps 10 years ago, during which time we saw rescued (from those who had caught and caged them) wolves up close. I also spotted a cougar paw print on a hike and have to admit I was not at ease tha rest of that trail…they are so sly.

It was an educational, pleasant meander there. A quick peek into a scene from museum grounds, below–I’ll post many more shots next Monday, so see you then!

Friday’s Poem: Our Tulip Times

It’s April so the flowers are talking to me
about a perfection of love, a medley of laughter.

They say that what feels empty is in fact brimming so
I walk under overripe clouds split by soft tearing;
radiance gilds each open and closed countenance.

Tulips swing and bob in breezes; daffodils have arrived and left.
Rows are tidy and proud, painterly with tonal harmony;
earthy scents arise, a potency of secrets and purity.
Country days explode from under winter’s heavy cape of rain;
every flower trumpets extreme beauty and I shield my eyes.

And then open my arms, breathe light in, let go grief.

Amid this paradise I imagine the vastness here for me,
though blooms gaze on those, too, who little care.
I bend to a cherry cup of tulip, taste its dew, recall a spring
we three strolled other acres ablaze, our words silky as threads
embroidering stories, each stitch freeing, tightening our family bond.

Even silences were resonant; we knew what we knew, it felt enough.

The tulips were a signal of more, better to come.

Who could know that such a wealth of happiness
cannot be demanded or hoarded, only known in moments with wings?
We had planned more visits, farther travels, easy
outpourings of words. A greater variety of flowers.
But if time has unraveled leaving two of us behind,
our sister heart will not wither. Though human-tender

it beats inside a whole and holy life as we stumble on,

or turn and depart; it braves it all, it will not stop.