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Dear world! My livejournal days are completed. Don't bother coming here anymore.
It's better at blogger!

Please read my (New Look! Same Great Content!) blog. We're going to southeast Asia on bicycle. I would be most honored if you'd come along.

I write to you paddling about in a sea of chicken soup and herbal tea, in a boat of the softest (yet still not soft enough) tissues. I’ve been inflicted by a particularly voracious rhinovirus for the past three years of the last two weeks. I would not be surprised if this were actually a physical manifestation of the sadness upon leaving my mountain, my Indian man, my bicycling lifestyle, my Pacific Northwest friends, and my soils….

See: I graduated and finished my western Washington life and now I’ve been at home with the family.

But the good news is that I have discovered a new occupation. Which is called Neti-Pottying, which has been the greatest comfort in this time of illness. I shall spare you the unnecessary details, and just say that I find it fulfilling and relieving in that relishingly-revolting way, where horrifying yourself with yourself is fabulous.

Since I’m no longer formatting the margins of my thesis or dancing to Bollywood, this is what I’ve been up to recently:

~Playing the church organ at my Original Home Church Sunday morning. Even though I was so stuffed I felt like a stick-figure with a watermelon for a head, I still love playing that organ. A small fairly obedient instrument, it has the comfort of riding your childhood pony after show-horses. I nearly committed what would have been the second-most egregious mistake of my organist career though: Forgotten A Hymn.  As it was, I had failed to notice that Hymn #892 actually was listed in the bulletin until part-way through the service when practicing it was out of the question. At least I hadn’t learned this in a flapping panic of page-turning, ringing loud in the expectant silence of the congregation (“something’s supposed to happen here! And its ME!”).  I gave it a little silent sight-reading though and all was well.

~Doing yoga. Part of this was the Kripalu yoga retreat, where all the estrogen on my Mom’s side of the family gathers and eats kale and does Happy Baby pose and talks about feelings and soaks in the hot-tub. And part of it has been in our family living room, Mum and I with our mats spread before the fire-place—an inadvertent hot yoga. One time my Dad strode in and plunked himself by the fire to warm up. Head in hand, he watched us.  “DAD, do you mind!?” I protested—yoga is not generally a spectator sport. “I’m comparing angles,” he announced and squinted to and fro between Mum and me.

~Applying for jobs. Making muffins. Visiting with long lost dear ones like Acrobat Avi and Buddy Holly. Being educated on approved Big Whisk vs. Small Whisk storage locations in the kitchen.

~Laughing with and about my family.  “About what?” you might ask.

About wat?  WAT?

“WAT !?” –yell that across the house and Toto, we’re not in the Pacific Northwest anymore.  This is Rochesterian for “I didn’t hear that” or, “I didn’t hear the first half and am declaring this during the second half” or, “I’m across the house and am too self-involved to approach for better acoustics.”

“Wat?”  This was my dad because I was laughing—he’d just stamped into the living room with our mail box (minus its stand) under his arm, still rather snowy.  “Go get the mail,” he instructed me as I sat on the couch. So I did. He’d brought it in because it’d been hanging like a loose tooth from its stand; “I think the snow plow guy didn’t know how wide his deal was,” my Dad explained, in that pre-I’m-about-to-fix-something self-satisfaction.

The other morning it was my turn to say “WAT?” (yes it’s contagious). Looking down our hall briefly, I glimpsed a man—distinctly lacking pants—treading purposefully into my bedroom. “Dad! Why?” He was buttoning his plaid shirt. He explained, “well, I get bored when buttoning the buttons, so I like to have something to do.”  And apparently launching off to look out my bedroom window is just the antidote.

~Preparing for my bicycle trip to Thailand/Cambodia/Vietnam. I am excited—though having no idea what to anticipate—to be moving around in the sunshine, eating glorious food and beautiful fruit. And I am also a little petrified—but this is good, and this is the time in my life to be doing this—because of foreign languages and tropical diseases. But those are not insurmountable with a little savvyness.

The details: I will be blogging, doing my best to find inexpensive sticky little internet café’s along the way. I hope everyone comes with me. I am going with a friend, a world-traveler who has done this before. We expect our route to be roughly 1,500 miles, with about 40-mile days. Our starting point: Bangkok Thailand, our ending point: Hanoi Vietnam. But you know, if something goes awry, or if I suddenly find myself employed back in the states, then I can whisk myself out with a wad of airline money.

I think this will be an extraordinary and very important experience for me, and now is absolutely the right time for this. I leave the states January 22nd.


Once upon a time, I drove across the country to study soil in a place surrounded by golden fields of wheat and later ensconced near the great city of Seattle.  Then this weekend I graduated.  That moment where it comes upon you that you have finished what you set out to begin. During the time of this graduate work the days were long and the years short.  And now I’m done with it.

The past week I spent in Pullman and Moscow, allegedly for the graduation ceremony but in truth that was a guise to play organ for my old beloved Idaho church, to visit old friends, and to cozy up in familiar haunts.   

Playing church on Sunday was warming, to be in that rich red interior, surrounded by eager singers, to be given such a resounding welcome.  But it was a little heart-breaking in a way, to say “hello” to all the beloved people only to spin around twice and say “goodbye.”  They said, “its so good to have you back!” and they asked, “so you’ll be here next Sunday too?”

But they may not want me back if I continue to miss the organ swell box pedal.  This swell box pedal opens the box surrounding the pipes and thus increases their volume.  The neighbor of this obliging pedal is what I call The Gas Pedal, and that one opens up all the stops as you press it.  This pedal is not benign.

I am playing a particularly light and chirpy little hymn and think it might be nice to open the swell box a bit.  Go, foot: reach!  But suddenly the prancy little flutes become hoarse blaring horns.  “Jesus loves me this IKNOWFORTHEBIBLETELLSMESO.” Thankfully this lasted only for one measure of surprise before I dove back for that pedal and closed it again.

But about graduation itself….The ceremony at WSU was actually held in the arctic.  Right: WSU was a debilitating 7 degrees F that day, causing all of us walking to the (thankfully indoor) stadium to shrink to the size of fists in the cold and wind.  We couldn’t help but cringe and the main script for the day was centered around, “its-so-cold!”  Cold like that makes you addled and sluggish.

But I, unlike many of the beautifully polished graduating girls, was not wearing high heals and stockings.  I had on leather lace-up boots and my psychedelic every-color-on-them Jackson Pollack pants.  But I was with my soils buddy who wore her cowboy boots, so we had a good laugh at the others.

All of us capped and gowned ones processed in, receiving a second each of face-time on the mega-screens displayed about the stadium.  There were 400 some graduates total (including undergrads).  Then we sat while a string of important people wearing Hogwarts regalia gave forgettable speeches about Future and Greatness.  Then we lined up and handed our name card to the announcer and were given a red diploma and shook the hand of the president and then sat again.  The novelty of it was the mega-screen showing every graduate’s face—in magnified brightness—as they received their diploma.  Some were guileless, some hammed it up with smirks, some gave cloying smiles, some beamed unfettered and proud.

Defensive Driving

A couple nights ago I poked a selection randomly into my iTunes and out played a certain energetic country rock song—of a decidedly plebeian nature involving the shaking of asses—which I’d indulged in while driving through Montana, back when I was traversing this entire nation with Buddy Holly on my way to graduate school.  Montana was the only appropriate place for that music, in my opinion.  Hearing that song again brought me a swirl of Connection Through Time.  Because hearing it I was back in Montana, with the great forefront of unknown graduate school ahead of me.  And now I have passed my graduate thesis oral exam.  The power of a song is tremendous, before I’d heard it just now I had almost forgotten that there was once a beginning to this thing I am now ending.

I was listening to it because I was kitchen-dancing while making snacks for my thesis defense committee, an unspoken expectation of the student: to provide some munchies for while they grill you.  Since I am studying no-till soil and weeds and cover crop mulch, I made 3.5% Soil Organic Matter Poaceae Weed Seedbank Muffins Topped With Cover Crop Residue Mulch.
Translation.  The soil organic matter came from the squash (such water holding capacity! Such tender moistness!), the weed seedbank was compromised of toasted millet (in the Poaceae family, the “true grass” family, a clan containing some problematic weeds), and the cover crop residue mulch was oats.

I made also peanut butter coated popcorn and garam-masala popcorn.  "Once they eat this they will just pass you," said Mr. India approvingly.
Although I did receive an email from Mr. Weed Ecology Co-Advisor the evening after the exam, stating that he wanted to properly tell me what a fine job I did, that it would be a “global loss” if I didn’t continue in agricultural research work, and that he was still attempting to pry a piece of popcorn from his teeth.

The examination itself went off with only 2 puns: Professor Cover Crops indicating my graph of light penetration over time (which nobody liked), “maybe this new factor will shed some light on this…” and Mr. Weed Ecology, “let’s just get through the weeds in this section.”

They asked me questions about Carbon to Nitrogen ratio in rye and barley, how I might re-design my greenhouse experiment, how weed seeds respond to different qualities of light, about how the different row-spacings for planting cover crop mulch might influence the mulch layout.

Then I was sent from the room for a few minutes, “we’ll be talking about you the whole time” joked Dr. Smart Weed-Ass.  But then I was fetched back, and hand-shaking and congratulations were distributed, and then we all piled off to eat tacos.  It took me until washing my hands in the little Spanish-full restroom—where I was finally fully alone—for the realization of what had just happened to properly surge through me.  I leaned my head into the mirror and laughter and tears canceled each other out, so that I just vibrated for a bit, before going out to join the three agriculture nerds at my table. 

Speaking of monumental things, I drove my car to church on Sunday.  This was such a rare occasion that, upon recounting this fact, my church ladies cried in shrill voices, “whatever for?”, “you have a CAR?”, “are you ok honey?”  I was driving—not bicycling—because I was trying to get over my 2nd cold in 3 weeks, and was being militant about rest.

I am not very good at resting.

But driving meant that my church people had more reason to laugh with me (otherwise it’s the hair or the bicycle or the socks), “where are you parked then!” asked Mr. Plaid Hugs…and I gestured to the front lot.  “Ah we’re fine,” he said, “we’re in the back lot.”

I notice on the rare instances when I do drive, that I am prone to going a bit too fast, with the music a bit too loud, with occasional song bursts or dance breaks or ceiling-thwapping.  These are all things you cannot do on a bicycle, and in a car they are an energizing novelty.  Just the not moving my legs I don’t like so much.

With more lugging space than a pannier, I stocked up at the little “liquidator” store—what I lovingly call “my cheap store.”  They had organic kale for 50 cents a bunch (the same in a Seattle grocery would be something like $3.50 at least) and I giddily made myself a 4-bunch bouquet.  Passerby Lady: “you’re quite happy about that kale, aren’t ya.”  She must have seen my little hop dance.  Kale Chips Ahoy!

Regarding this cold (which I rejoice has waved goodbye): I had been keeping the air entering my nasal passages militantly moist. My humidifier was a good companion.  Although the contents of my room were indicative of its use: my photos a little more curly, a mushroom suddenly tall in one of my spider plant pots, and the squat little yellow squash used as a door-prop deflated and powdered itself blue.  My once hard little throat lozenges had become now like toffees.

But this is November.  Everyone in Seattle is destined to get sick.  And with November also comes weighty grayness and darkness, with occasional spots of bright light days.  But those days!  With still air, the blue glowing behind charismatic clouds, the colored leaves….My defense was on one of these clean golden days.  I see these days and wish to be 12 years old again, with nothing more to do than a few pages of algebra workbook and reading about the Chang dynasty, and then flitting off into the yard to move leaves around.
What also was exciting? I was wooed by a crop and soil consultancy company to apply for a job. Its one thing to hunt for position openings yourself, but to have a possible oppurtunity handed to you is very nice indeed.

How did this happen?  It started Saturday night in downtown when two be-suited men stopped and asked me did I perchance know where the Hilton was?  I wasn’t staying there myself, but I had noticed it on the map so I gave them directions.  The next morning the coincidence gods laughed among themselves and I happened to be in line behind these two gentlemen for coffee (how this happened in a conference of 4000…).  They recognized me (oh hair!) and I commented they must have found their accomodations because they looked well rested.  So we chatted for a while, the classic “whatareyoustudying whenareyougraduating whereareyoufrom” and they bought my coffee and told me their company was rapidly growing and looking for people with my skill sets and interests in the northwest area.  Moral of the story: always provide directions if possible.

It was vastly exciting to be at this conference: sitting in on talks about cover cropping, recognizing names of scientists I’ve cited in my work (“Swanton et. al., 2011” there he is!), just taking in the throng of like-minded people.  Although most of them were plaid-shirted (the agronomists from Texas/Nebraska etc) or suit-and-tied (the Monsanto and Syngenta people) men; there was never a line for the women’s room.

Sitting in a presentation of farming systems research done at Rodale (where I’d cared for 800 research tomato plants once upon a time), I laughed in glee to myself at a picture of soil sampling buckets.  Because there, projected on that glowing screen, I recognized my very own work boots.  Unable to contain myself, I leaned to my neighbor, some scientist stranger in (guess what!) plaid: “those are MY BOOTS” I whispered.  “That’s good to know” he said, the slightest rolling of eyeballs, “your parents must be very proud of you.”  ha.  (“what planet is she from?”)

For a few hours I helped staff the WSU recruitment booth with the company of my acadamic advisor, Professor Cover Crops.  We were set up among the booths of our nation’s other top-notch agriculture-research land-grant schools, smiling at prospectives as they padded by and answering questions.  This was monumental for me because it was closing my graduate school experience loop.  Back in 2010 I’d been at this same conference, but from a very different universe: I was looking for graduate schools.  I’d met this older professor at a poster of cover crops then, and after an enthusiastic conversation about cover cropping, he’d advised me to “check out the WSU recruitment booth over yonder.”

Yonder.  That was what enchanted me, and now I am finishing as his student (he continues to use words like yonder: “bodacious” and “conflagration” in his presentations, which I adore) and here we were staffing that very booth.  We ate Florida tangerines, disregarding their anti-social sticky and seedyness, (the only local food we could find) and beet chips and talked about bike lanes and compared notes on our brown pants (“my wife died these brown for me after I encountered an anonymous pant-leg stain on my ride in one morning” he said).  It has been remarkable working with him, both thanks to his skills as a scientist and that we are sometimes two peas in a pod.
(written from 23D on American Airlines to SEA)

I’m in the nursery section of this plane, apparently, so I shall type away here to distract myself from the squall across the aisle.   See, I’m flying back to Seattle after my Florida conference.  In addition to this crops/soils/agronomy conference, there was also a Sleep Apnea Researchers conference going on in the same hotel.  I’m amused by the extraordinarily different things that us humans study, but I’m just glad none of those attendees were neighboring my hotel room.  Or maybe the hotel had sufficiently sound-proof walls.

I was staying at a very lavish (palm trees stood regally inside) Marriot hotel right on the river front and I shared a room with Down-to-Earth Caitlin, another grad student from WSU.  Neither of us were accustomed to the grand carpeting or Figi bottled water (“untouched by human hands” read the bottles, displayed for us in our room: $4 charged to you if you open it. I drank from the tap.) and we shared plenty of laughs over our pompously luxurious accommodations.  “You can order Marriot bedding” laughed DtE Caitlin, thumbing through the catalog featured next to the flimsy plastic “one-cup” coffee maker, “but I think I want one of these coffee makers. Monogrammed.”

“Aromatherapy!” she calls out later from the bathroom, drawing my attention to the collection of wee shampoo, conditioner, and body wash bottles.  “Aromatherapy is now everywhere” she rolled her eyes.  “Like cupcakes” I responded, “Aromatherapy Cupcakes!” and suddenly we had a business plan.  Specialty cupcakes (strawberry-chocolate or lavender) are displayed in unduly attractive windows in every Seattle neighborhood now (for approximately $4.75) and we envisioned a cupcake bar with aromatherapy icings.  “Definitely Ylang-Ylang” she decided, “and sandalwood.”  “Have your cake and smell it too!” I declared.

Other fun with fellow grad students—when we weren’t shmoozing with professors or congregating at poster sessions—included going up a down and down an up.  (huh?) Meaning escalators.  Going up a down is markedly less daunting than going down an up.  You’re standing there at the top of this waterfall, basically, watching these silvery steps disappear underneath you.  Its like timing when to leap into double-dutch jump rope; you think you’re going to go but then you don’t and so you have to psych yourself up all over again.  Once launched, you fly your feet pattering at top velocity but all this speed does little to advance your location.  But eventually, after great expenditure, you’ve fought the upward flowing wave, arriving at the last steps and leap to stationary ground all breathless. This is especially hilarious when you've got three soils grad students all on one escalator.

As I wrote before, I presented a poster on my no-till organic cover cropping research, which meant standing next to it for 2 hours, in a cavernous room pulsating with thousands of soil scientists and agronomists and their posters.  Two intense hours disappeared quickly—I was either talking or nodding engagingly—as I had a constantly present blob of onlookers and questioners.  I actually won 3rd prize (out of 16) in the graduate student poster competition for my division (“organic management systems”) which made me happy.

(Part I of II, to be continued)

A Florida hostel adventure

Today I am in Florida.  Which is a marked change from Washington, just about diagonal across this country.  I’d been suffering from a dry and disconsolate cough in Washington, an affliction that made me irritable and anti-social at night, requiring sleep-inducing cough syrup and a humidifier.

But stepping out into the palm-tree’d outdoors from the airport was like being in a humidifier.  And so my cough has lessened, to my great relief and pleasure.

The sole reason of my traveling to Florida is to present a poster (my master’s research: ta da!).  So there I was, paddling through the airport, clambering on buses, sidling through plane hallways, all with a massive tree-trunk of a poster tube.  Amazingly I managed not to become separated from it through all my transitions, though we nearly parted company on one of the planes and also in the hostel.  It also gave me a startling inclination to gently knock the first-class plane passengers in the head with it, as I shuffled through them, all in their spacious reclining seats and complimentary wine.

Last night, as I’d arrived 1 day before the conference and wasn’t yet on WSU’s tab for hotel, I found a funky wee hostel with cheap beds at which to stay.  The place was hidden down some back streets, which I’d forged my way to from the bus, feeling actually quite tentative in the dark, in this emptier part of town.  But I strode on, my poster tube like a weapon over my shoulder, and arrived with no issue.

The place was like a flea market in a shanty town.  All these little adjoining spaces: common areas, bed-rooms, little balconies, a tiny hot tub, all covered or partly covered with tin roofs and burgeoning with endless regalia.  A pink flamingo, a guitar, random street signs, notes from past guests, mardi gras beads.  It felt like stepping into a big messy family and I was introduced to all the other guests.

They announced they were going out, and would I like to join them.  Even though I hadn’t quite planted myself properly, I agreed—why not!  And the oddest collection of people headed out into the Tampa nightlife scene.  We were a nerdy musicologist, two earnest lads from Germany, a chain smoking artist from England, and a soil scientist.  It’s quite wonderful, really, how all these people who don’t know each other, who grew up on different continents, and who only will know each other for one night, can have such a good time.

I, for one, was reveling in not coughing so much, reveling in the infectious energy of a night out—the streets swarming with eager beautiful people—all of this under palm trees and chains of lights, warm enough to be Just Out, without needing to lug coats and scarves and umbrellas like in Seattle.  I was lavender of hair and light of spirit and it was great to be out.

“We have to make a picture here too!” was a frequent cry of Mr. Germany, and we’d all gather round some pizza delivery sign or pose with random costumed people on the street.  All this while Mr. Musicology and I delved into delectably detailed music nerd conversations.

Miss Smoking Artist asked me unannounced at one point, all straight-forward friendly and curious, “are you successful at what you do?”  It can be so refreshing being around complete strangers, especially foreigners sometimes, because you end up with statements like these, that I’ve never been asked by an American before.   Maybe the sort of thing you’d have to answer in an application essay or something, after much thought and hair-pulling.  It can be so hard to step out of our lives and see it as more than the collection of details onto which we usually latch.

But without much ado, I launched into it.  “Well….I’m a graduate student.  And I’m about to graduate.  And I play the pipe organ.  And people love it.  So yeah, I would think I am successful.”  I was grinning broadly and laughing.  I realized I had just given the elevator speech of My Life.


I woke up this morning to chattering rain and lakes on street corners and no inclination at all to wait wetly for wet buses to traverse my wet way to the convention center and my WSU-supported hotel.

But I had inadvertently acquired a temporary German boyfriend, I think, according to the other hostel guests (“he’s been following you around like a puppy” noted Mr. Goatee).  So Mr. Germany, who was traveling here with a rental Buick, suggested we go for coffee (“the Flat White is so gute!” he was saying, “it is two pieces espresso!”) and so we traversed the rutted back-Tampa streets in this rig, sipped our high-octanes, laughed over all the pictures he’d made, and then he ferried me to the convention center itself.

How lucky am I.


Hops and yoga balls

I want to WRITE.  This is rather involuntary and misplaced, actually, as I haven’t had any Adventures or Remarkable Anecdotes.  But I shall drum away at my computer, regardless.  I think this was induced by my biking and pianoing earlier, now that I’ve been pushed off into the not-stats brain hemisphere.

…….I have a jar of dry-hopped local-brew IPA by my side.  On my bike ride home from the church I’d noticed an interesting vine clawing its way about the roadside and recognized it as hops.  (oh for being a plant person)  Yes hops!  I don’t know from whence they escaped, but I took a few captive.  They look like little yellow-green porcupines, their leafy fur all jutting from their bodies.  I dropped them for a swim in my beer, and squeezed them against the side like teabags; now they were all drowned rats but this gave my beverage a delicious floral mystery.

……..As far as lifey newsy items go: I am giving a 40-minute seminar on my master’s research this Monday, flying to Florida in early November for a soil science conference, presenting a workshop on weeds and cover cropping at the state’s organic grower’s conference, defending my thesis in mid-November, padding out for the Graduation Ceremonies on December 7th, giving a piano-organ exit recital at my church 2 days before I head east, and then Going Home For Christmas.

…….Not only am I the one with the violently bright “happy light” at my desk at the office, I now am also the one with the blue yoga ball.  Which incidentally, as of press time, matches my hair.  This, of course, has welcomed in comments.  “A happy light AND a yoga ball” noted Mr. Lab Next Door rather dolefully, “there is no way you can possibly be sad now.”

(see: this is why I love to write.  I just used the word “dolefully”, which I hadn’t premeditated, and which felt quite gratifying.  Now: if only I could use the word “cloyingly” which I woke up with the intention to use today.  So far not so good…)

And Mr. Techie downstairs asked in that particular now-I-get-to-make-conversation-with-you way, “So how’s that ball workin’ out for you then?”  But the best was when my advisor came into my office holding a marked-up chapter of my thesis, “I have some ideas to bounce off you.”  “Good,” I said, bobbing up and down on my ball, “I’ve been bouncing too.”

……Sunday evening I had the most delightful dinner with Mr. and Mrs. Pultneyville and their grandchild’s family.  They come out yearly to visit said family, and this time I happen to be living in the area and so got scooped up as well.

They are obviously enchanted with their granddaughter.  She is at that age of big eyes, awed silence, and occasional unhappy squirming.  I even held her...all in a pink sweater and squishy and she stared, overwhelmed, at my hair and they got our picture.  "I have a picture of you as a little child, too" said Mrs. Pultneyville.  She was my Sunday school teacher back when I wore white tights with little shoes and carried my beanie baby everywhere and rarely ventured to speak.  She told me of when we’d played a tiny duet together for the church service; it was me clanging out the melody of “Jesus Loves Me” written in child-accessible big notes, with her mitigating this in the harmony.   That was likely my first experience as a church musician (even though my feet couldn’t reach bench to floor) and now here I am, having been paid official church organist for Lutheran, Methodist, Reformed, and Episcopalian churches in PA, NY, and WA.

Time is amazing like this.

We sat around a big table at what happened to be my favorite restaurant in town, and passed around artichoke hearts and dove into hefty delicious sandwiches.  It was so comforting, so “back to basics”, to eat all intentionally like this, with a briefly adopted family.

For all the exciting things I've experienced here out west, and the tribulations, and the new people, and the challenges, there is nothing as beautifully and deeply reassuring as reuniting with old people "from my original place" who knew me before I knew myself.


A study in rain and pedaling

I keep thinking I’m not going to do this again, but here is another Bicycling Entry.

I had intentions of joining the Cascade Bicycle Club in their last group ride of the season around the Kitsap peninsula.  Like saying goodbye to an old friend—those days of ambitious long bike rides seeing new places, which get me out of my normal thoughts—I think this might be the last solid ride of the season.   A deluge of rain and buffeting winds, however, castrated me a bit and I ended up doing only part of the route.  Probably because—my eyes bigger than my wheels—I’d started from Bainbridge Island, which meant I also did half the infamous “Chilly Hilly” route to get there anyway.

But why do I bike 40 miles in the rain?  Why do I do this?  Why do humans do anything compromising or miserable or challenging?  Simple stubbornness?  Stubbornly attached to being stubborn?  To experience that surreal transcendence of climbing a hill, wet, sprayed by cars, miserable, but knowing that in a few hours you will dry off and eat chocolate and drink tea and then you will so thoroughly know you have EARNED it?  Or because we relish seeing ourselves overcome discomfort?  Because our lives are spent in front of screens typing things in the passive voice and we crave some physical drama as gritty as it is?  

So this morning I put on my hapless thrift-store rain gear (it worked LAST year) and pounded out into the pounding.  Though wet, it was refreshing to be in new places—islands and peninsulas—all gothic with the gray water and stoic evergreen trees.   My rain impregnated sleeves plastered themselves to my arms from the wind, water dribbled into my socks, my wet pants barked like dogs as they whipped in the winds.  I crossed Agate Passage between island and peninsula on a high steel bridge—the view was wildly romantic in a Bronte sort of way—by foot.  Yes, I got off and walked.  Something I “never” do.  Because the wind was pitching me north.

I did see about 9 other bicycles on the road today.  I called out to them, variously as appropriate, “lovely weather hey?!” or “hello other crazy people!”

I warmed up in wee peninsula towns: coffee and then pizza.  I danced a wee dance of glee to find the coffee shop had a “woodstove”, fakey yet wonderful, and I spread all my sodden belongings and sodden self in an arc around it.  I enjoyed the local newspaper there, especially this bit which made me laugh out loud:

        "Calling all bakers for the annual Holiday Fruitcake competition. Does your fruitcake have what it takes to           take the cake?"

There is nothing self-conscious there.  I live for finding contrasts like this.  Seattle city versus its unabashed environs.  The differences of riding in the kisses of sun and riding in the slap of rain.

You know you have it bad when you’re riding along and you lean your head up towards the sky, and with earnest gratitude observe out loud, “oh! It is almost not raining right now!”  And then later a mole-sized bit of blue sky did appear for a moment and it was like a descent of gods from heaven.


Today I was a model.

Today I was a model.
Which--as you might guess--I have never done before.
It all happened because I went to a party at the Seattle Art Museum wearing a fairly fabulous dress, and was photographed by a Mr. Lens there, and he noted "I got a good one of you" and handed me his card so I could have it sent to me.  Then he asked if I would be interested in a photo shoot (he liked my height and angles), and did I prefer woods or water?
Why not?  I agreed for a few reasons (after checking out his webpages and deciding he was benign), because I've never modeled for anyone before--something new, because for the bigger half of my life I have felt unfortunate and awkward being photographed and now I celebrate getting over this, and because I was simply curious.

So I put on a red dress, tall boots, and a black scarf, unceremoniously stuffed all this into rain pants and rain coat, and biked through the unrelenting wet to meet him.  Mr. Lens was smallish and darkish, with unfettered hair barely convinced into a ponytail.  He talked about his time as a lawyer and then his breakdown and then his entrance into art and finding expressive space and freedom there.  He was abrupt and observant and said I had an "awesome" back and forgot where he set things and showed me images off the back of his camera--"this one's so rad."  "Half the island likes me and the other half thinks I'm a jerk," he said, "but everything thinks I'm a good photographer."  He'd gotten a recent gig with Land Rover, who actually shipped him a car so he could photograph it in action making its way through stony forest paths.  The company was pleased.
But the objective of me wasn't to sell anything, or to have any objective at all, besides to do art.  He called it "fashion", meaning random and pointless and compelling.

Mrs. Wife and Mrs. Friend warmed me up with cardamom tea first at their house, and since they were professors and academics, we easily launched into a conversation about writing and "baby saving" (deleting bits form your manuscripts but, still attached, dumping them in a "saving" document).  At one point into this Mr. Lens observed, "I am the 4th smartest person in the room right now."
Then out into the rain and the woods.  Not even the thick evergreens mitigated much wetness.  "But I don't like perfection anyway" Mr. Lens noted.
You know when you go to a modern art museum?  You see these pieces with random objects and you think "whaaaaat?" but you still find them highly compelling and holding of your attention.  You look at shapes and angles and while they may not be pleasing per se, they are right in a way, and draw you in.  But surreal too; not ordinary, and you leave feeling a little sideways or detached from reality or something.
Now imagine being PART of this.  I was feeling all of this, but more intensely, because I was IN it.  This was not about me smiling as genuinely as possible or about looking sexy side-long at the camera or about getting the angle of a leg just right.

This was about being part of the woods, or juxtaposed to it, about working with the lines of the trees to create a composition, something interesting.  He wanted me neutral face, to lie on a log holding an antique toy horse on my belly, to tip my head back against a trunk, to hang from a bent tree and then fall from it.  Look at my left finger; on the count of three slowly open your eyes; tip your head back--no too far; put your left hand on your right bicep; put your right hand on your left knee.  It was not unlike playing Twister.  In the woods.  In the rain.  It was all a little surreal.  But fun too.
clickclickclickclick. So many photos.  He said if he got one good photo from a shoot he was happy; three he was thrilled.  I think we had about 5-6 and he was pleased.  "This is a bit like writing my thesis" I announced and he laughed.  I explained: I write sentences and sentences, delete them, change a little thing, write them again.  You figure out 41 ways that don't work, and then blessedly you find something that DOES work--and you can't always explain why but you still know--and its like this with photography too.  And there were lots of photos and occasionally something really interesting or right would happen.  I still find inexplicable what "right" is, but maybe I'd just come out of an expression, or he'd capture a fleeting breath of relief, or an eyebrow edging just so.

Looking at some of those images later--where he had me reaching up over a log, staring intensely down the camera, my eye make-up fierce from the rain--was creepy in a way I've never experienced creepy before.  Because they were slightly disturbing without any definite reason why, like the cover of some band's acoustic goth CD, or a foreign indie film horror flick.  And also that was me in there.
I enjoyed posing though and working with him and participating in some random artist's random art.  In the woods in the rain.  Just about as quintessential an experience of the pacific northwest's odd weather and people as one can have.