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To the Extremes

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I’ve spent nearly my entire life living in two places. The first half on the great plains of Western Kansas, and the second half in the rain soaked forests of the Pacific Northwest.

Two extremes. For someone like me who has always seen themselves as existing in the middle, these two opposing environments seem ironic. One so wide open and big, contrasting with another that forces you to withdraw into your home and your mind during the long months of dark, rainy days. Certainly, at this point in my life these differences must have had an permanent effect on who I’ve become, postal codes forever stamped onto my character. Here’s my view of those extremes.

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My childhood home is located on a gentle rise on the flat landscape of western Kansas. It’s a borderland where the prairie grasses thin out and the high desert begins. Prickly pear cactus, devil’s claws and echanacea grow wild there, as do the spiky yukka plants with seed pods that rattle like snakes in September.

A great big, blue sky curves around you in every direction, touching the very same ground you stand upon. There’s something magical about that. Standing above the horizon gives you the feeling of being a giant and an ant at the same time.

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If it’s a windy day two of the most fundamental laws of physics are your constant companionsspeed and force. When you’re in Kansas you lean into the wind, hear its rhythm, smell its strong scents, and watch as it defies gravity to carry leaves away from trees horizontally, rather than vertically. The wind is amazing in Kansas, and when there’s a break in its velocity you notice it.

But there’s some benefits to that wind. Feeling that power blasting you in the face is energizing. It’s invigorating, it’s life affirming. And you know you can count on it, just as you can count on the sun burning up the ground beneath your feet.

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Twenty years ago, on my first solo excursion out of Kansas, I met a traveler who’d seen the world. As she and I became acquainted she sized me up, saying, “You don’t seem like you belong in Kansas. You seem like you belong in Portland.” I’m not sure how that played into my decision to move to the Rose City but I ended up meeting my husband in Phoenix and together we moved back to his home state of Oregon.

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It was at the end of October when we got to the Pacific Northwest and it was like moving from day into night. A persistent night that lasted until April. I remember the striking feeling I had the first day the sun shone after months of cloudy skies. I was walking across a parking lot and I noticed my shadow following me, something I hadn’t seen in over a hundred days. It was like a visit from an long lost friend.

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All that rain creates a lush, verdant landscape that resembles piles of fluffy green cotton. Mountains surround the city of Portland, and every so often a volcano’s peak will jut up far enough to pierce the clouds.

The mountain ranges of Oregon tell a fabulous story of moving tectonics plates wrinkling up the landscape and causing volcanic eruptions that still threaten to change the topography millions of years after the first eruption.

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Two rivers cut through the city, formed by cataclysmic flooding from an ancient melting glacier. The rushing water dug a trench on its journey to the Pacific Ocean, filling up the Columbia River and carving out a spectacular gorge when it came to the porous volcanic rock of the Cascade Range.

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All this moisture provides an ample amount of fog that can take a familiar landscape and turn it into a mysterious land of intrigue and secrets. Things as great as mountains blur until they are simply graduating shades of grey, and well-traveled roads twist and turn into oblivion. It’s a silent, secluded world that encourages inward reflection and room for your imagination to flourish.

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I’ve lived in the Pacific Northwest for almost twenty years and, like many of my fellow Portlanders, I can tire of the seemingly endless days of darkness, but I still love this region. It’s beautiful in a way that is easily understood by the casual observer. The emerald valleys, steely-grey rivers, golden sunsets and abundance of rainbows make up the color palette of fantasies. And quiet moments spent in the shadows of clouds are a gift of time travel, taking me far into my imagination to reflect, to learn, and to create from this land’s endless inspiration.

But the part of me that grew up in Kansas continues to flourish inside my soul. The aliveness of a land where there is rarely ever stillness stirs up energy inside everything connected with it. It’s a beauty that is felt, as much as it is viewed. Visitors may miss the grandeur of this endless land if they spend their time passing through it inside a car. It’s a living, breathing, thriving beauty that’s fighting to survive against intense elements, and to truly know it you must experience it, not just look at it. 

I guess for me the combination of these places helps put balance in my extremes and keeps me centered in the middle where I feel most at home.

Recipe for Moving Forward

Expectation

Define what you want in clear, concise words. Educate, plan, and prepare for the opportunities that will come your way. Work to build your experience and reputation.

Abundance

 Give thanks for the abundance that is given to you. Give back with the gifts you have and what they have given you.

Enrichment

Continue to educate yourself and grow in knowledge. Strength will lie in your ability to adapt to new paradigms with intelligence, speed, and grace.

A Picnic in Helvetia

Helvetia Last Saturday was about as perfect a day in the Pacific Northwest as you can get. My family took advantage of it by stopping by The Meating Place, a local butcher shop and cafe, to pick up sandwiches before driving out into the country to our new favorite picnic spot in the gorgeous Helvetia countryside. DSC00923 We spread our blanket under a large maple tree standing next to the road and shared our lunch while we watched a herd of cows doing the same thing in a nearby field. DSC00912

Down in the lower lands a tractor was turning dirt in a field and it’s long dark track revealed the fertility of the Helvetia farmland.

DSC00917Across the road is the Helvetia Community Church, a quaint house of worship that is reminiscent of the churches found in the Swedish and Germanic villages from which Helvetia’s European settlers immigrated. Of course, they weren’t the first people to claim this region as their own. The Atfalati band of the Kalapuya Indians settled in this region 10,000 years ago and today are a celebrated part of Helvetia’s history, with their presence being honored each year at the Helvetia Cultural Fest.

The famous Helvetia Tavern is a family favorite and as we drive back home my husband can’t help but roll down the windows to see if he can catch a whiff of the burgers he so passionately loves. Hot off the grill, these tasty burgers Helvetia_Tavern_(Washington_County,_Oregon_scenic_images)_(washDA0029)are juicy goodness between a sesame seed bun. Their fresh cut fries and onion rings are so delicious we never can decide on one or the other so we opt for a “half and half” order. Recently, a back yard patio has been added and from there you can watch the setting sun gild the entire landscape in its warm light.

All along the road you’ll find signs leading to privately owned farms that offer an abundance of fresh-from-the-field produce, meat, and wool products. Throughout the spring and DSC03240summer you’ll be able to harvest your own fruits and vegetables at many of the U-Pick farms. During the fall and winter months bring your children out to the pumpkin patches and christmas tree farms and let them experience a bit of farm life, too. Helvetia is facing the familiar threat of urban expansion. As the influence of the Hillsboro tech companies continues to creep north, the residents of Helvetia have organized to fight for their border rights. Save Helvetia protects rural Helvetia by advocating for rural reserves, challenging unnecessary urban growth boundary expansions, advising governmental bodies about interchange improvements and new road construction, and clarifying soil fill practices. DSC02933 Helvetia, Oregon can easily boast one of the most beautiful rural settings in the state, and maybe even in the United States. It’s productive farms are a reminder of what enticed the settlers to leave their homes and travel thousands of miles to stake their claim to the American dream. I’m glad I’ve done it because I believe I just may have found paradise on Earth.

What My Husband Wants To Know

I just asked my husband what he would like me to write about and this is what he said, “I want to know why women don’t like the Three Stooges.”

Three StoogesReally? Of all the thoughts that go through my mind THIS is the question that keeps him up at night? Well, ok, here goes. This is why I don’t like the Three Stooges.

First of all, I want to clarify that I don’t hate them. Not in a loathing kind of way. They’re funny for about the first five minutes but how many times can you see eye poking and ear pulling before it just looks mean?

Here’s another reason, personality-wise I don’t really like them. They are annoying people. Can you imagine having to wait in line with them? Those accents and the mumbling they do while insulting each other. And, of course, they are completely accurate in their insulting assessments. I bet they smell, too. All that hair grease dripping down their faces and sweating inside their wool suits. I know it was the style back then, but most stylish people don’t work up a sweat by throwing themselves into tables full of food. Just sayin’.

I just read this to my husband and he told me that it is insulting on multiple levels. Thanks. I’ll take that as a compliment.

What I think is insulting is the way the other people are portrayed in the movies. I mean, seriously, how would these guys ever get any women, especially good looking ones. And the rich people. Surely, they couldn’t have been that stereotypical in those days. Please, tell me that just because you were rich it didn’t mean you had to talk like you had a bunch of marbles in your mouth.

So, after about five minutes the humor is gone for me and I’m back talking to my three year old. Who, I might add, knows that you don’t put hot irons down someone’s pants and can actually figure out how to use a tape measure pretty easily.

Good Morning

Morning on the Farm1I’m a lucky girl. I’ve witnessed the sun rising over the sand dunes of Arabia, across winding roads in India, above the Indonesian jungle and along the undulating horizon of the Atlantic Ocean, along with many other wonderful places, but the most beautiful sunrise I’ve ever seen just happened to occur in a valley only a short drive from where I spent my childhood.

Green rolling hills gracefully turning into black, fertile fields, fog, wispy like cotton candy, weaving its way along creek beds and a layer of sparkling dew spread out across the world that could even turn my rusted out bull dozer into a jewel encrusted chariot. What a sight!

I was working on a construction crew that summer, saving money to go on another trip. For most of the July day it would be a hot, dusty job, but early in the morning, when the smell of diesel competed with the fresh scent night leaves behind, the sunrise would turn my ordinary day into a mystical land of beauty and promise.

In the distance a rooster called out to the morning, repeating his message until the first ray crested the horizon. A couple of rabbits hopped lazily up beside me, rubbing their eyes and sniffing the air. They sat back on their haunches to wait for the show, just like me. My thermos of hot coffee warmed my hand and the smell reminded me of my place in this world. I was one of the many puzzle pieces in this beautiful picture. This world depended on me to do my part, just as I depended on it.

A Natural Work of Art

I just returned from a trip back to Western Kansas where I grew up. After several rainstorms the landscape has turned a vibrant blue-green, which contrasts beautifully with the white limestone rock that tells of its history as an ancient seabed. The creek was alive with turtles and fish while I was there, and deer and rabbits bounded gracefully along, racing me as I turned my car down the country roads.

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My favorite activity when I’m in Kansas is getting up early to watch the sunrise. With a cup of coffee and my camera in hand, I drive out to my family’s farm, find the perfect spot and park. Prairie grass, wet with dew, bathes my feet and the scent of wild sage fills the air. The birds awaken and I hear the distinctive songs of meadowlarks, kildeer, mourning doves and red-winged blackbirds. Nearby rabbits pause as if hypnotized into a state of absolute trust–they’re here to witness the same show I’ve come to see and together we watch the horizon as the first colors of the day appear in the night sky.

A streak of red rises just behind the black silhouettes of trees. Then orange, so brilliant it could be mistaken for a brush fire.

Flourescent CloudsSoon clouds pick up the colors and sweep the sky with a pink that I’m sure can’t be reproduced on canvas. Brushstrokes race across the sky, becoming lighter and sharper as the sun crests the Earth’s eastern edge.

Over the next few minutes the sky turns from dark night to a clear blue that is deep and rich with vaporous, wet clouds.

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The dawn is near and with each color splash I’m granted an intimate glimpse at nature’s palate.

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As blocks of color reveal themselves to me I am reminded of the artist, Mark Rothko, an artist who is often identified as an Abstract Expressionist, although he himself rejected this label. He is considered one of the most famous postwar artists and his signature style, referred to as “multiform”, consists of only two or three large color blocks painted onto large canvases with the intention to induce an experience in the viewer through the feelings brought forth naturally from his choice of color combination. He would instruct people to stand as close as eighteen inches from his work so as to envelope themselves in the intimate moment of viewing the artwork. In his later years Rothko stressed that to truly experience his art was akin to a spiritual experience.

I experienced the same feeling watching the great dome above me turn night into day, and as much as the artist wants to imitate life, in my opinion, it still remains outside his grasp.

Here are a few of Rothko’s paintings.

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Kill Me Now

Seasonal AllergiesSomebody please tell me what the hell I did to Spring to make it want to kill me. With every breath I take I inhale poisons that my body used to be able to process with ease, but now my eyesight blurs with tears, my throat burns until it’s raw, and my head’s so full of snot that I can’t string a sentence together without punctuating it with a sneeze so wet and so loud people reach for the umbrellas, expecting rain clouds to open up. Furthermore, I can’t get enough energy together to pack my bags and move to Anartica, where I’m sure I’ll finally find relief.

It used to not be like this. Up until a few short years ago I might have experienced a day or two of symptoms that were strong enough to make me uncomfortable, but now this unknown cloud of toxic pollen is like watered down sarin gas. I get crushing, dibiliating, unrelenting symptoms that wear me out as much as they destroy any sense of normal body functioning.

But they’ll go away–in the heat of the summer. Too late to enjoy the lovely scent of lilacs growing in the yard, or the popping sound of pinecones opening on the tree in my backyard. Spring used to be my favorite season, and in my heart it’ll always stay my favorite, but I’m sick and tired of feeling sick and tired.

I think I’m going to buy a boat and sail out to the center of the Pacific each Spring. Maybe that’ll keep me sane.

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