Thursday, January 31, 2008

Thank goodness we're not lemmings

About 63 inches of snow has hit us here since the beginning of the year.
See why people are leaping off their roofs?
Even the well-coifed governor today left the relatively balmy "West Side" (everthing west of the Cascades) to visit snow-clogged Spokane.
We're in a state of emergency, she said at a news conference.
That's how tens of thousands of parents -- whose kids have been home from school all week -- must feel.
Still, I think my temporarily tongue-tied husband summed it up best when he said: "This is the most show I've ever snoveled."

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

What it is

Golden handcuffs. That's how some folks think of their jobs.
But lately I'm reminded of just how much more a job can be.
It's a ready-made family --no matter how dysfunctional. It's inside jokes. Shared history. And daily structure.
Perhaps most importantly, it's one's contribution to the world, not to mention identity and raison d'etre.
Monday, I'll punch in at a new job. And I'll gain all those intangible perks.
The paycheck's gravy.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Illinois River School of Carvers

Feeble and soft spoken, elderly Charlie Perdew was usually taking bed rest during our visits in the early 60's.
He looked a fright. Unruly, long gray locks like Einstein. A yellowed, ankle-length dressing gown like Scrooge.
His surroundings made it all the worse.
Perdew's house was a fire trap. A half-century's worth of newspapers and magazines were stacked floor to ceiling, only a narrow walking path between them.
Cats ruled every cranny.
The Perdews didn't seem to notice the acrid stench of deteriorating paper and cat piss that permeated the place.
Still, we visited. We chatted. And delivered groceries and mom's handmade divinity--Charlie's favorite sweet.
I'd later learn the deceased eccentric is now considered a master carver in the Illinois River School, a small cadre of early decoy and duck call creators whose works are coveted folk art.
Charlie generously carved several signature pieces for my parents.
Today, they remind me of my childhood. And it seems like a dream.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Crash course

TV broadcasters have dubbed it the "Storm of the Decade." It's shuttered colleges, businesses and even Spokane City Hall.
What to do? Go sledding.
I picked up the 'sport' when sleds were just wooden slats, red metal runners and a steering yokes-- that always turned in the most dangerous direction.
That meant my childhood runs down Harney Hill could have ended in the icy Illinois River (there but for the grace of God).
I remembered that today as I hijacked a neighbor kid's new- fangled, foam slider for a zip down a snow-padded hill.
For five joyous seconds, I was 10 again. Laughing uncontrollably. Veering off course.
Life is so much more fun when you're not afraid to look stupid.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

When Hell freezes over

That's me, headed to the mailbox.
Ha, ha, ha.
But seriously, my inner snow bunny is up to her armpits in white stuff. And it's wearing me down.
Six inches of snow here. An inch of freezing rain there. And now the whammie: A weekend-long 'snow event' now 17 hours old -- and no signs of letting up.
Thanks to La Nina, there's more come. All week long.
If I had a nickel for every snowflake, I'd be sipping mojitas in Key West.
But granny's adage breaks the reverie: "Spit in one hand and wish in the other... and see what you get the most of!"
Guess I'd better get back to shoveling.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

New twist on Judgement Day

A law in the Jewish faith says on Judge-
ment Day, you'll be held accountable for all the "permissible" pleasures of which you failed to avail yourself.
A comforting thought.
In preparation, I vow this year to float amongst the brilliant fish and corals of a warm- water reef.
Talk about a flow experience.
The amazing creatures, wild colors and often humorous behaviors lead me to believe God dabbled in LSD -- long before Timothy O'Leary.
Photos, left to right:
Marc M. Ellis,

Friday, January 25, 2008

Don't get whacked

Catholic girl's boarding school taught me many things:

  • When vacuuming the principal's office, use the beater bars to leave the same orderly pattern in the carpet--or you can just do it over
  • Underwear must be folded and stored neatly in a tiny dresser drawer--or you'll be called to your room to rectify the matter
  • Going sans bathrobe and slippers always results in the chapel window washing detail--to be completed Saturday while good girls are free to go downtown
  • Nuns can't tell Ex-Lax has been baked into the aromatic, warm brownies you made for them
  • Discipline separates the winners from the slackers
  • Winning is a helluva lot more fun!


Thursday, January 24, 2008

Hands of time

I SWEAR my mother's hands have been grafted onto my body. They're capable hands, just freckled with "liver spots."
And they're showing their age.
But these were the hands that whipped up extraordinary birthday cakes for me in the 60's--the kind Barbie poked out of--the cake a frilly, iced hoopskirt.
They're the same hands that created a two-headed- woman costume she shared with her short, stout girlfriend, Margaret. So big was their get up, the backseat of the car had to be removed to ferry them to a bowling alley's Halloween bash.
And yes, they're the hands that mischievously poured garlic juice into dad's Brute aftershave when there were suspicions he was seeing another woman.
So I'm beginning to accept my fate. Yeah, I'm growing into these hands.
But don't think for a minute I'm going to start sporting sweatshirts embroidered with cute little animals and hearts!
Miss you, Mom. :-)

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Clothes make the man

That early South Pole explorer Ernest Shackleton saved himself and his 27 -man crew is a testament to human perserverance.
The 1907 expedition was stranded for 22 months in Antartica after their ship broke apart in thick ice. They all survived, thanks to Shackleton. He gutsily shoved off in a life boat for a far-away island-- the home of whalers who would rescue the team.
At the turn-of-the century, even well-appointed adventurers had only ordinary wool shirts, felt jackets and leather boots. And their clothing eventually got wet and froze.
Insulated gloves, a down-filled parka, Thinsulate-lined boots and optically-superior Oakley sunglasses cover me in winter.
Bet those guys would have killed for my gear.
Ernest: If you get another life, go for the GORE-TEX endorsement.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Help! They need somebody

I think I saved a life today. The life of a furry, dark brown field mouse, which technically is a meadow vole. Despite temps of 18 degrees, the critters were tunneling through the snow on a sweeping alfalfa field near here.
Wiley, my dog, sniffed one out and was using her snout to toss into the air. I hope I intervened in time. I called her to my side. The mouse raced away. Whew. That was a close one.
On a little larger scale, yesterday I donated a pint of blood. It's a common type, B+, and there's rarely a shortage. Yet, a recent news story reminded me it can still be of use as plasma, sometimes used to treat burn victims.
Just think: Scientists have successfully cloned pigs and sheep. But they still haven't found a substitute for the sticky, red life pulsating through our veins.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Bird calls

Finally. I've filled a bird feeder with black oil sunflower seeds and set it out for fliers-by. I hope they spot it.

Don't see anywhere near the numbers of backyard birds as I did at my country house in Southern Illinois.
I miss the energetic little things. Flitting around. Testing the pecking order.

But developments like the one we're in tend to be woefully short on tall trees. Sure, there are saplings along the curbs. But they don't provide cover or roosting spots.

Today begin's my vigil. I'm going to try to lure some life to the tundra that is our backyard.
Photo: Backyard Bird Centre

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Head in the clouds

Four inches of fresh snow coated the pines (and everthing else) today. And after watching a big bird land atop a powdery pine, I think I finally may have figured out why male bald eagles have white heads: To blend into the snow-steeped landscapes, especially trees.
From tree-top perches, their dark bodies are indistinguishable from the shadows while their white feather headresses look just like poufs of snow.
Just a theory.
Photos, left to right:;

Saturday, January 19, 2008

The neighbors

Thanks to forensic evidence (O.K., scat), I now know two more species that frequent or live on the nearest hill.
The black-tailed deer, a smaller sub-species of Rocky Mountain mule deer, are so named for the black fur that runs the length of their tails.
I suspect mostly females are feeding there at present. Fully grown, they weigh about 120 pounds and can clear eight-foot jumps.
Meanwhile, numerous burrows are home to hibernating yellow-bellied marmots, a type of large ground squirrel.

Social creatures, they live in colonies that may cover up to 6 acres of rocky outcroppings. Locals call them rock chucks.
But they're also known as whistle pigs. When they sense predators in the area, they warn one another with short, shrill chirps.
And to think, for the longest time, I could have sworn I was hearing bird calls.
Photos, left to right:; virtual dirt time

Friday, January 18, 2008

Blue spruce

The Eskimo people, I've read, have 100 different names for snow.

Now I know why.

Here, it may fall as tiny, white pellets. Or giant wet flakes. And of course there's fine dry powder that's great for skiing.

Most surprising to me, though, is ice fog.

Yep. Fog freezes, dusting everything in crystal frost. Like this colorized take on icy pine needles.

That leaves about 96 varieties of white stuff still to come.

Photo: Paula Davenport, cell phone

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Hear that lonesome whistle...

Hum that old Johnny Cash song as you read along:

All together, 60 trains roll through here every day and every night. Their whistles slice the cold night air.

I hear them sometimes when I'm half asleep. Far away. Then fading into the distance. I burrow deeper into the covers, grateful for a toasty bed and a good night's sleep.


Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Sun break

For the second day in a row, the sun has brightened skies and spirits here in Spokane.
Even with temps well below freezing, the outdoors beckoned.
Wiley, my rescue dog, and I trekked up a little ridge surrounded by new houses in our subdivision.
Saw plenty of evidence that deer, marmots and birds are finding food and cover here.
A tennis court, groomed and irrigated lawnand playground equipment will soon appear at the base of this little hill.
I prefer it "au naturel."
With luck -- even after improvements -- nobody will venture up on frigid days like this -- and Wiley and I can keep it all to ourselves.

Photos: Paula Davenport

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Moose rescue

Sometimes, people really go out of their way to help a guy.
See more photos of this daring moose rescue in N. Idaho at:

Monday, January 14, 2008

Hardly Margaritaville

Unless you're on the slopes, bundling up to brave winter weather must be something only older folks do.

In Eastern Washington--where it snows a lot -- a handful of carefree teens and coeds won't concede to winter.

"Oh no," they seem to be saying.

"It's not that cold. See? I'm still wearing flip-flops," their unfettered feet seem to say, shushing through malls and restaurants.

Makes me smile. And for a almost seems like Spring.

The lookout

Portion of Spirit Lake, Idaho's town mural