Moments on the ships at Port Newark

Dazzling light, gusty winds, constant machine roar and sky of a ferocious blue: It’s early morning in Port Newark, New Jersey, winter of 1998. The port is a city of symmetrical, artificial planes, its metal face to the sea. Cranes are everywhere, robotic arms thrown back in the wind, waving to someone in the sky who never arrives.  With every glance, I see disorder, wear and dankness in schematic patterns.  It bears some resemblance to a sci-fi movie, with strange structures adapted for an alien world.  Yet, it is really like nowhere else but other ports.

Today, I’m visiting the big ocean-going ships with Reuben Tompkins, a Seamen’s Church Institute chaplain.  Originally from Jamaica, he is a tall black man in his thirties who grew up in Brooklyn.  I have never seen what SCI actually does.  I am an office worker far from the action.

We approach the first ship.  The gangway is a rope ladder covered with oil and grease, and we hoist ourselves aboard.  The crew is Russian.  So many sensitive, haunted faces are here! Several immediately accept our offer to drive them into the city.  The vessel has TV, VCR, and tapes.  We add books.  As I write notes on a legal pad, I suddenly notice fear on some crewmen’s faces.  Most are old enough to remember communism during the Soviet Union, I reflect.  Not enough time has elapsed since there were other watchers and listeners, writing notes on pads of paper.  I put my writing away. Continue reading “Moments on the ships at Port Newark”

The resuscitation gardens

I’m a Taurus. Astrologists say that we are earth people. Grounded. This may explain my joy of gardening. Earthworms, bugs, or buzzing bees do not bother me. The never-ending growth of weeds or the avalanche of autumn leaves do not bother me. I am not even bothered by my occasional pollen-induced sneeze or watery eyes (I have medication for that). What bothers me is not being able to spend time in the garden.

That has been my plight the last few years. But my dear friends, who are somewhat up in age, helped me to course-correct when they mentioned that they were looking for someone to take care of their gardens. I jumped at the opportunity, and I mean jumped. They explained there would be weeding, planting, pruning, deadheading, and watering. With each function, my spirit soared higher, evident by my widening grin. They added that there were four gardens on their property to tend.

What? Only four? I thought. Continue reading “The resuscitation gardens”

Appliance rehab

The following is an excerpt from a longer working piece called “Dreaming During the Pandemic”.


Dave and I met where two educational roads cross, at the juncture of vocational training and special education. He worked in the North Thurston School District and I was in the Olympia School District. We began attending conferences together and eventually got to work together when I joined his school district. We loved to play with ideas that began with the phrase, “What if…”

Perhaps our most ingenious collaboration began with the question, “What if we combined volunteer service with work experience training?” Prior to that, those were thought of as separate programs. Our effort to combine the programming became widely known in the community, and then later across the state of Washington. We received awards and offers to present at various professional gatherings. This dream is predicated on the work we did together for over 20 years. Continue reading “Appliance rehab”

There comes a time to lay it down

While walking the hound one recent morning, I noticed that the sun had yet to clear Short Mountain which was shrouded in a soft apricot-like glow. A heavy frost lay on the grass and roofs. It was a chilly, but clear November morning with promises of a warm afternoon that would offer time for some late gardening chores before real cold arrived. Waiting on the hound and beagles to finish their business, I thought of how, as I age, I identify more and more with the month of November.

Sitting at the table with a cup of coffee, I looked over the back acres watching the sun creep over Short Mountain heating the grass and roofs. Before long a mist rose out of the warming frost and birds began feeding at the feeders. The morning looked better from the warmth of the coffee at the breakfast table because it was still cold outside, but as I had observed earlier, the bright, clear sky promised. I resolved to make good on that promise, and I told Mary Ann that I hoped to dead-head the roses and other plants, mow the grass, and perhaps putter about in my shop. Continue reading “There comes a time to lay it down”

A road well traveled: Taking the road is better than just reading about it

At one time, when Oregon was just a square on a map to me, I thought of the state as a vast green forest dotted with small towns inhabited by hardy men in hunting plaids and plump women wearing aprons.  That was when I lived in southern California, a mythical place that might make one think after a while that the rest of the world is hopelessly outdated and overweight.  But that’s another story.

In 1983 I prepared to have my preconceptions verified when we visited Oregon for the first time.  It was December, and so at Shasta City we encountered snow.  Isn’t this exciting? I thought as I concentrated on keeping the car solidly in the slow lane.  When we came to the town mysteriously named Weed, it was with a mixture of trepidation and relief that we left the relative comfort and reliability of the Interstate for the unknown domain of a state highway that promised to deliver us to our southern Oregon destination.  Coming from Los Angeles, I’d almost forgotten such two-lane highways existed.  In southern California even city streets are often four-lane thoroughfares, or at least the constant hum of traffic gives that impression.  Visiting Oregon for the first time, I learned all over again why songwriters have so often extolled the virtues of country roads.  You really do feel as if you’re being taken home. Continue reading “A road well traveled: Taking the road is better than just reading about it”

Word of the day: Gallivantriloquism

gallivantriloquism\portmanteau of gallivant and ventriloquist\noun

  1. The habit or state of wandering from one virtual or imaginary place to another by means of mediated travel anecdotes or experiences of others, without actual contact with the geographies in question.*


I suppose being there is two times the fun. Or five times. Even ten. But when it comes to travel, nowadays cyberspace is bringing the mountains, the glaciers, the deserts, the tourist attractions, and detailed street views of the world’s largest metropolises to us. Very few places are untouched by it. Very few that can’t be seen and read about by typing a few terms in the Google search bar. The virtual tour of Iceland I recently made on my iMac to prepare for an actual trip there was so informative, the amount of information available to access so comprehensive, it was exhaustive. Scrolling through the sites, I couldn’t help recalling my first trips abroad with out-of-date guidebooks and handwritten recommendations from friends, and friends of friends, and then touching down onto an amazing land and getting around it just fine. Now Iceland is a small, sparsely populated landmass between Greenland and Norway. Continue reading “Word of the day: Gallivantriloquism”