Looking for a sense of wonder in b.c.

Savannah Morning News

Aug. 28, 2016

You know it’s a successful family reunion when someone named Felix dares to interrupt that magical cocktail hour, which in Vancouver is sure to include gravlax (or lox for the rest of us), black bean pesto (my cousin Maggie’s original recipe), maybe a martini or two and feeble attempts at badminton (for the younger set), to make an announcement. Hear, hear!

We were gathering on the Sunshine Coast, a rather cheesy name for an unpretentious (but not inexpensive) and spectacular part of the world three time zones away from Savannah (plus three legs on an airplane and rides on the SkyTrain, the 257 bus in Vancouver, and the BC Ferry from Horseshoe Bay) in what the cousins and organizers (the next generation) were affectionately calling a week of Coastal Chaos.

They are active people, these British Columbians. They go mushrooming, paddle-boarding, hiking, mountaineering and kayaking, which is where I saw my first game of kayak polo, also known as canoe polo. Although I saw a sign noting the local curling club I did not see any curling. Wrong season.

Every morning at 7:30 I followed my host and friend in a short walk down to a community dock for a swim in the Howe Sound. A film crew was just breaking down a set – complete with an American flag – for an upcoming Hallmark film. The location was intended to resemble the Maine shoreline.

How was the water? someone asked.  Bracing, I say. Maybe some 10 degrees colder than Savannah’s Aquatic Center on Sallie Mood Drive, which could never be called warm.  Don’t even mention the ocean temperatures. One thing’s for sure: there may be sea lions, (I did hear them), there may be seals, they may feature mountain goats on postal stamps. But there will not be any jellyfish in the Sound.

The water may stay cool but the days can be hot. On a walk into Gibsons, the nearest town, I saw a sign that read, “During peak summer months, between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m., asphalt can be hot enough to cause a second degree burn on your pet’s paws within 35 seconds.”

Quite considerate, I thought. They also have a nice name for older people paying to ride on their public transport system. They call it a “concession ticket.”

While I heard complaints about the hot weather – “By mid-June it had gotten up to 89,” someone complained – I refrained from saying anything. I did perk up at the stories of cougars and bears, especially after a bear wandered into – and quickly out of – the fringe of our picnic area. Don’t worry, said my host, ever the considerate Canadian. “You can still open your bedroom window. I always put the garbage cans on the other side of the house.”

That prompted a story from someone who lives in Aspen. After she kept hearing what sounded like bears she sat up one night to keep watch. That’s when she saw a bear walk down her driveway and stop and sniff at her closed garage doors. But when he saw the doors weren’t closed completely she watched him get on his back and try to bench-press the doors open. When the doors wouldn’t budge he sauntered away.

Reunion or no reunion, one of the intrepid relatives was going ahead with his trail-blazing 38-mile run, by himself, down an old logging trail from Port Mellon to Squamish. No big deal. Thirteen hours later, sometime during the family’s heavenly halibut dinner course, he sauntered in looking no worse for the wear.  This is the same person who met his Australian wife, Kirsten, during a jog in Darfur where they both worked in a refugee camp as NGOs, non-governmental workers.

A few days later his father Richard would say he’s Skookum, as in “Vance is a Skookum guy. Vance is strong.” Skookum is one of those Pacific Northwest words, maybe something from the First Nation people. That’s what Canadians call their Native Americans.

Vance arrived in time to hear Felix’ announcement, which seemed to elicit lots of cheers and plenty of tears. But since he was speaking in Spanish most of of what Felix said went over my head. Since he and Kayla, my Chilean cousin (once, twice, maybe three times removed but someone I’m going to claim as family anyway) already have a passel of children between them I didn’t think this was about another child. Then I saw him acting out getting down on his knees before Richard, Kayla’s father. Then I saw Kayla flash her hand with a ring. Then I knew. They were getting married, in Chile, sometime between cherry-picking season and the time they had to get their horses ready for polo.

All very mysterious, joyful and happy to be around. As it’s written on the Gibsons’ Art Center: “Always be on the lookout for the presence of wonder.” E.B. White wrote that.










Fall changes are more than seasonal

Savannah Morning News

Aug. 16 2016

Is it just this time of year – school begins, summer ebbs, weddings abound, neighbors return, sunflowers droop, cancer strikes, comfrey (and parsley) disappear, cats (and dogs) pass on – or do milestones of life and death and change pop up all the time and we just don’t recognize them? This is a transition month, for sure. It’s as palpable as the relentless katydids, so loud, so determined.

You look taller, I say (lamely) to a 16-year-old I haven’t seen all summer. (Really? This is all I could think to say to this talented, fully realized, interesting human being who still lets me hug her? I don’t know who is more embarrassed: her, her mother or me. Awkward. I yank my dog in the middle of a squat and beat a hasty retreat.)

To a friend who sends me a photo of his twin sons, now towering their father, I think, wait a minute: didn’t you used to be tall? Are you – like me – shrinking?. Instead, because my friend and I are texting, because we are reducing everything to just a few characters, I write, “What did you do with the other boys, the boys I knew?” I only meant it, too.

Last month I went to a birthday party for someone turning 97. Her family is waiting until she turns 100 before decorating the cake with a phalanx of candles.  She’s sharp as a tack. And then there’s Sandy West of Ossabaw Island fame, 103-and-a-half, remarking over dinner at her assisted living dining room: “I do believe there are a dearth of men here.” True dat. (I figure it’s okay to add the “and-a-half” when a person is under five or over 100.)

At an engagement party – joyous, optimistic, merry –  a young man, who looks to be 12, hands me his business card. He’s an attorney with a well-known downtown firm. He puts his hand out for my card. I don’t have a card, I say. Lame.

Twice this week someone in my neighborhood tells me they are taking their teenage children out for driving lessons. How can that be when, once again, they are only 12. I’m happy for them. I think. But I can’t help but remember how scared I was when my parents handed over the keys to the family’s white full-sized Ford Fairlane with passenger side doors so heavy you had to stretch across the front seat to roll down the window before taking a spin around the neighborhood. I was shocked the parentals were trusting me – such an inexperienced driver –  with navigating the narrow suburban streets, to say nothing of pulling in and out of what seemed to be a very narrow opening in the garage. Driving equals independence, autonomy, freedom and music, all very important states of being. I remember it well.

But wait. More cars? More traffic? That’s insanity. But don’t listen to me, I would say to these nascent drivers if by some chance they could be reading my mind. I just returned from a 2,500-mile road trip to South Haven, Mi.,  and back, one that took me through a gridlocked Chicago that looked more like New York than the city I used to live in (and this is a city with good public transportation), and along a truck-heavy, testosterone-laden interstate of text-crazy people, the law be damned, past a once and occasionally still beautiful American landscape given over to road repair, orange cones, backhoes gauging the land  to make room for yet more concrete for still more traffic and more bland, lookalike fast food joints.

Except for that restaurant in Kentucky. Saul Good. It’s a joke, right? I asked the maître d’. We figured the name stands for “It’s all good.” Pretty clever. That was news to him but he liked our theory. Nothing about the name on the restaurant’s website either. Well, that’s what happens on the road. You look for humor. You look for differences. You listen to books you can’t seem to get around to reading in print. Gee, I only have 23 hours left on Leo Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina.” Might be time for another road trip.

And when you return home it’s to a wilting beautyberry tree, disappearing basil (a bad year for basil but a great one for watermelon), the end of the figs, a four-year-old starting pre-kindergarten and two more people getting driver’s licenses. Tell me fall is right around the corner. Please. Then again, what’s the rush?