Saturday, October 14, 2017

Oregon Beach





“On the beach”
Curt in front, Mountain dune behind
            PACIFIC CITY, OREGON One of several peculiar things Curt and Rhonda noticed about me from the get go was the fact that I didn’t own a hoodie. I tried to explain that since I had no intention of ever robbing a person, pawn shop or Popeye’s I didn’t see the need to conceal my features in the heat of the day.
            Well, today I find myself at dusk sitting on the balcony of a beach house on the Oregon coast, and I’m hoodied up. I’m feeling good, and I’m imagining that I look good. Cool, even. You want some of me? Anybody?
            Just a second. Hear that? It’s geese, flying in the appropriate “V" formation, almost within rock throwing distance. They’re making the ol’ goose honk noise and appear to be headed north up the coast, which, as smarter geese know, is the wrong direction. It’s pleasantly cold at this latitude, but every flap northward has got to bring a chill.
            Curt, Rhonda and Kay are somewhere the other side of the tree-strewn dune. They drove to the beach, because they were hauling lawn chairs and didn’t care to wrestle them over the dune. Yesterday, I climbed one of the higher dunes. It was actually a mountain. I only did it because Curt asked if I wanted to climb the thing with him or stay with the women and watch as he climbed. Those may not have been his exact words but he was challenging me, all right.
During our ascent, we had to stop to catch our breath four times, but eventually we got there. Me, with my bum knee, and Curt with his cowboy boots, (How does anyone climb with boots?) we took in the sights and sounds of the beach for a moment before I asked Curt about his plan for us getting down. He said, “We run.” He assured me that it wouldn’t be all that tiring, because we’d likely fall halfway down and roll the rest of the way. “Ready?”
“What?” We exchanged the Butch and Sundance glance, and then we were off. Curt’s plan was ingenious. -- We would run.  I’m here to tell you, unless you’re a gecko, it’s impossible to walk down a steep incline. After a stumble or two, I noticed that Curt was raising his knees unnaturally high.. I immediately copied his stride and my stumbling ceased. Only God and Curt know why he chose not to suggest that.
At the bottom of a steep dune, you will find an abrupt leveling off. It was at this point that I came this close to making a triple somersault. Fortunately, I managed an awkward bone-rattling recovery, whereupon I joined Curt in the “Rocky Arm-raise.” The girls were absolutely gaga… over one of the shells Kay found during our descent. Wives? They don’t care. – “Yes, dear, you were spectacular. Can we move along now?”
Kay was always hot on the trail for shells, stones and tiny sticks to use in her fairy garden. By the time we finished our beach walk, the 14 pockets on my commando pants were stuffed, causing my pants to develop a massive downward tug. Having lost my butt in a skiing accident, there was nothing on which my pants could rest. I had to stuff rocks in my pockets with one hand while holding onto my pants with the other. It’s impossible to maintain the look of an impressive figure while trying to keep your pants up. I have learned so much on this trip.
One thing that likely saved my life was Kay’s decision not to collect any live creatures. Had I been pocketing critters with claws, sharp spines and poison slime the doctors would've spent days on my autopsy. -- "I had no idea the tiny poison sack of a red-demon squid-urchin could compress something with that much intensity. The pain must've been incredible."      
Kay has great respect for beach critters. Apparently, much more than she has for her husband. She impressed Rhonda and Curt with her knowledge of crawly critters, and shell inhabitants. I’d heard it all before, so continued walking along clinging to my pants.
Just a second. I hear the sliding door. — “Well, hello darling. I didn’t expect y’all back so soon. Yes, I’d love to see your bag full of shells, rocks and driftwood, and your photo of the gigantic starfish. Does that mean we’re having tacos tonight? Oh, you left the starfish clinging to a slightly submerged outcropping. A wise move. Let me finish here and I’ll examine what all you collected in your bucket. -- A bucket to put things in? How wise.
That woman is way past the fairy garden stage. She’s headed in the direction of a gorilla garden. Considering the region, she might come closer to assembling a formidable Sasquatch lair. Regardless, it’s time for me to sign off.
Right now I need to inspect Kay’s beach collection. I assure you, I’ll appear more interested than she was at my dune descent. I surprised myself. For a few seconds  I thought I’d end up strapped to the skid of a helicopter with a slip-knot, and flown to Portland General. Yep, that was an awkward dismount. – Next time.
end
Mark can be contacted at hayter.mark@gmail.com. An archive of Hayter’s articles can be found at  http://markhayterscolumn.blogspot.com

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Grapes




“The grapes are coming. Hops are
Inspecting Hops
here”

            GRANDVIEW, WA – Sue’s daughter, Rhonda, kept assuring us that the time would come when we would smell the grapes. I don’t remember smelling the cherries when they ripened or the apples and peaches. I guess they were overpowered by the outdoorsy fragrance permeating from the goats in the back of the house, and the dairy farm across the road from us.
            However,  the air tonight has been captured by the grapes. My niece said that when we started having warm days with       really cold nights, the grapes would enter their final stage of ripening. In three weeks, harvesting will begin, and Kay and I plan to be there to witness it.
            Three weeks ago, Curt (Rhonda’s husband) took us to watch hops being harvested. The experience changed me. I find myself more open to weird stuff. My nephew-in-law told me that there are three methods for harvesting hops. I think the third one involves goats and machetes.
            We recently witnessed two techniques. The first involved a meticulous process involving a tractor clipping the vines at the base, and a huge strange-looking vehicle following behind to cut the rope holding the tops of the 16 foot vines and passing them along to two workers standing in the back of a flatbed truck. Then it was off to the factory where the vines were hooked and drawn through a tall, narrow entrance.
            In some cases, what happens on the other side of the vine entrance is a secret. There are apparently different ways to enhance the taste and aroma of hops. Both require a massive amount of enhancing. The taste of the flowery fruit is bitter as all get out, and the smell is off-putting. Yet, smart people know how to ferment them so they will taste nutty, peachy, smokey, frosty, flaky... Whatever adjective goes best with taste. (And by the way, “Off-putting” is this week’s favorite word.)
           The second harvesting method involved a single behemoth of a machine that cliped, pulled, de-flowered and then shreded the vines, throwing the chopped up stuff back to the soil. It then belched out the hops parts into a truck. Hops looks like a small flowery cone.  
            Apple picking came next. One of the apple orchards behind our house has been picked. No machines involved here. It took pickers, step ladders, canvas bags and wooden crates. By the way, the term “picker” has taken on a new meaning for me. I don’t care if its peaches, cherries, apples, plums or an angel’s kiss in spring, it takes a talented person to pick fruit and vegetables.
            I don’t have space to go into detail here, but, as mentioned in a previous article, I’ve never possessed the stamina and dexterity to be a picker of produce. It’s just hard to believe how fast these men and women can pick, while in the same movement culling the bad stuff. They get paid by the box, and they can pick for hours without missing a step. Watching these experts work will give you a sense of humility each time you visit the produce section of the grocery store. 
            Speaking of cows, did you know that the dairy farmer across the street sold his house, feed lot, tractors, trucks, barns, cows and milking station? The whole lot, stock and milk can.  The family that bought his place didn’t want his cows. For whatever reason they preferred Jerseys over Holsteins. The Holsteins were shipped off one night, and the Jerseys showed up a couple of nights later. The cows get milked three times a day, so they’ve gotta move ‘em at night… and move ‘em fast,
            I’ve come to prefer the Jerseys, because they seem to smell less worse. Possibly because the new owner keeps them  in a stockyard on the far side of the farm. Closer to Bill’s Berry Farm, located next door to the dairy. Bill’s Berry raises peaches, plums, pumpkins, apples, grapes, corn and berries of all denominations.
They also make a mean donut. Apple cider has been the featured donut for the last couple of weeks. Bill and Julie make cake donuts that are as soft as your typical glazed donut, and they taste like the fruit of the week. I’ve had blueberry, apple cider and peach. My girth now appears somewhat larger than when I arrived here.
            A weekend or two back, Bill’s BF had its special fall festival. There was bbq, music, fruit picking, and apple slinging. Contestants would put an apple in a bucket strapped to two huge elastic bands; back up several steps and then let go. The target was one of several huge signs out in a field. I think the prize was a bag of donuts. The time I was there, no one came close to scoring a hit. I’m pretty sure I could’ve done it, but I don’t like standing in lines. Apparently, bad apple slingers have patience galore.
            At some point after the grape harvest, Bill’s Berry Farm is going to have another festival that will include a corn maze. I’ve talked Kay into entering the maze with me. I’m told that each year they have people who need rescuing from that thing. Not me. I’ve always been good with corn.
            At the moment I’m feeling good with grapes. Soon as I can, I’ll let you know about the harvesting process. Curt’s sister said that I could help with her vineyard. She’s handpicking it. This experience will join my on-going list of embarrassing moments. My latest involved me trying to keep the goats out of the garage. – Maybe next time.
end
Mark can be contacted at hayter.mark@gmail.com. An archive of Hayter’s articles can be found at  http://markhayterscolumn.blogspot.com.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Tony



“Tony”

            DALLAS -- What can I say about Tony Cross? Fortunately, I wasn’t asked to say anything. His brother, friends, and a church of Christ preacher did a much better job than I could in describing the life and times of Kay’s 33 year-old nephew.
            One young lady described Tony as loud, loving and fun. He was definitely all of those, but the “loud” part stood out more for me. When Tony was a kid, you had to watch him. Watch him close. Had I been his first grade teacher, I would’ve demanded home schooling for the lad.
When ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder) was invented, the condition immediately attached itself to Tony, which explained why he was the bane of some instructors and the target of many bullies. Tony had no awareness of his trouble making. He just finished his assignments quickly and then started visiting with the rest of the class.
I must say, I didn’t exactly light-up at the thought of Tony’s presence during his early years. He was big into computers, which meant I didn’t understand half of what he said. He enjoyed computer games so much that after getting a degree in, uh, computer stuff, he got a job working for a company that created computer games.
When he tried to explain about a project he was working on, I’d zone out after the second sentence. One technical thing I did enjoy hearing about was how he would use something called “motion capture” in creating the illusion of animated characters convincingly running, walking, stumbling, smiling, crying, laughing…  I believe he could’ve used more basic terminology in explaining the technique to me, but I still managed to catch on to some of what he said,
Fortunately, Tony was into football, pretty much favoring the same teams I did. He also kept up with politics and current events, which allowed me to involve myself into some of our conversations. Tony was one of few people I could disagree with about politics without either of us getting ticked off at the other. He didn’t have a mean bone in his body. They were mostly funny bones.
            As previously mentioned, I learned most about Tony from those who spoke at his Memorial Service. In some of the Power Point photos that were displayed, Tony was dressed up like a Viking. I had no idea he was into Viking reenactment events. I didn’t even know there was such a thing.  
            One of his friends recalled how he and Tony were once driving somewhere in Dallas. As the usual Tony was in mid-conversation. Suddenly, he pulled the car over to the curb and told his friend he’d be back in a minute. Then he jumped out and ran over to help a family that was struggling to get a couch up to the second floor of an apartment. The big lug not only liked people, he took time to notice them.
            Just about everyone who spoke said that Tony was the life of every party. It was said that he would “Tony up” any gathering. He had a quick mind that generally went ahead of his talking. He was curious, engaging and adventurous. He had one of those jeeps that can practically climb a cliff. Many of the photos displayed during the service gave evidence to practically everything that was said about Tony.
            I most appreciated the comments Tony’s brother, Steven, made about their childhood days. Reminded me of when Dennis and I were kids. Steven’s stories were for the most part humorous, and still made me shed nearly as many tears as Steven did in the telling.
            After the service, Kay’s family had a cramped gathering in the hotel room of one of the cousins. The complications getting to the airport in Seattle, the flight to Dallas, the car rental problems, difficulty reaching the church building where the service was held, and the emotions stirred during the service made me question my mental fitness for the gathering. Unlike Tony, I’ve seldom been considered the life of any party.
            I rode with Jill back to the hotel room. Jill had met Tony two Christmases past, and was flabbergasted at how much he reminded her of her son, Ethan. She and Tony just seemed to click. She insisted on driving up from LaPorte to join Kay and me in Dallas. It was so good to have her there.
            Tomorrow, we’ll all go our separate ways. Kay and I plan to drive back with Jill to LaPorte, stopping off in Conroe to check on the construction of our new home. We’ll stay the night with Jill, and then fly back to Washington. We’ll take advantage of more time with our family and friends in the Northwest.
             The past two weeks have been a disturbing time from all involved. One day we were worried about forest fires, and then we get the call from Kay’s brother, Mike, about Tony being one of the victims of the mass shooting in Plano. Tony was with friends in preparation for the Dallas Cowboys’ game, when the ex-husband of one Tony’s friends walked in and murdered his ex-wife, and seven others, one of whom was Kay’s nephew, Tony.
            During the Memorial Service there was little mention of the horror of that day. All of the right words were said. No one attempted to find meaning in the happening. They couldn’t if they tried. The only thought that gives me a sense comfort comes from a passage found in Psalm 31. – “As for me, I trust in you, O Lord. I say, ‘You are my God.’ My times are in your hands.” – Yes, heaven has been Tonied up.
end

Mark can be contacted at hayter.mark@gmail.com. An archive of Hayter’s articles can be found at  http://markhayterscolumn.blogspot.com.

Oregon on fire




“Fire on the Mountains”

            SANDY, OREGON  --  Up until five hours ago, I didn’t know Oregon had a Sandy. Not only do they have one, but Kay and I are staying at the town’s Best Western located behind a McDonalds and Taco Bell.
            We generally don’t stay in a hotel/motel without first making reservations. We were forced to barge into this Best Western unannounced, because we never anticipated needing to stay overnight in a town with a little girl’s name.
It’s perfectly okay to name your child after a city, but cities should never be named after a child – Tommy, Ronnie, Jill, Sandy… How on earth is a high school supposed to come up with a mascot with names like that? – The Fighting Tommy Trains! The Clawing Sandy Crabs!
Try to forget all of that. This story is not about Sandy. It’s about Crater Lake. Tonight, we had reservations at a Lodge in Crescent, OR… home of the Fighting Crescent Wrenches. Crescent is a town near Crater Lake. Kay had booked us a room for two nights, with an option for a third.
We were headed for Crater Lake at the urging of Jim Jackson. Jim is a friend at church. When he heard we were going to be staying in the Northwest for a few months, he told us to visit Crater Lake. Didn’t ask us. Told us. – “You’ve gotta go! Don’t come home until you’ve seen it! Most beautiful place ever!”
Due to Jim’s constant carrying-on, Kay and I incorporated a trip to Crater Lake after our visit with my sister, Susan, and her husband Col. Don in Tacoma. The average citizen of Tacoma owns two cars and drives each at the same time. I’ve been trapped on the Southwest Freeway out of Houston, and I’ve sat in traffic on I-10 at the end of the day on a Friday. Yet, none of that compares to Tacoma at practically any time of the day. Every highway in and around Tacoma is too often in rush-hour mode. Same with Seattle.  
Kay and I had a great visit with Sue and The Col, but after our short stay, everything went all Targaryon us. I calculated that we could travel the 340 miles to Crater Lake in six hours. Turns out, after six hours we were still stuck in Portland. Let it be known that our slow go had nothing to do with the fact that Kay was navigating. Little to do with that.
My wife is a jewel. I love her dearly. Yet, she has two flaws. She will not argue, which makes it absolutely impossible for me to vent. The second thing is that, while navigating, she’s good at telling me what road I missed… but only if I ask. – “What? Uh, oh. You missed the exit a mile back.”
In truth, while navigation was a major problem, it didn’t have a lot to do with my lovely navigator. The major problem Monday was the fact that everything was burning. The first fire encounter had to do with a truck-fire in the middle lane of I-5.  If you’re going to catch fire on the freeway, you need to combust on one of the far lanes. That way the police might allow cars to pass on the opposite far lane. That makes a bad situation almost tolerable. In this case, the police closed both sides of the freeway.
After an hour of inching down the road, we arrived at a point where the freeway was blocked, and the four lanes of traffic had to funnel down to one lane feeder. The problem with the “detour” was that there was no indication of where to go next. The feeder was bumper to bumper, as were all side streets.
The roads going south were blocked because of forest fires. The haze of smoke had been a menace during most of our stay in Washington. Washington, Montana, Utah, Oregon, and California are on fire. Not the entire states, you understand. It just seems that way. The Northwest is experiencing a drought. Seattle hasn’t had rain for at least three months. It’s the worst drought in Seattle’s history of droughts. (Seattle has received rain since the publication of this article.)
After six hours on the road, we pulled into West Linn, a small town a couple of miles southeast of Portland. It was here that we entered Shari’s CafĂ© and Pies. We brought our map, phone, and independent GPS device inside the place so we could plot our next move.
While inside the restaurant, I tackled a smart-looking man and begged his help in mapping a route to Crater Lake. He squeezed into the booth next to me, because Kay’s purse was preventing him from snuggling with her. The man turned out to be a meteorologist for the state. He immediately pulled up a satellite view of Crater Lake on his cell, and showed us the fires on three sides of the park. He told us that the entrance to the park might still be accessible, but the lake would be hiding beneath a cloud of smoke.  
He then informed us that it could conceivably rain tomorrow, which might kill the fires, thus making everything right as rain. Instead of slapping him, I chose to shoo him out of the booth. Fortunately, at least one Oregonian meteorologist has a good sense of humor.
 Having no hope for rain in the foreseeable future, we plotted a route back home, and managed to drive 24 miles to Sandy in a little under two hours. Hopefully we’ll go farther than that tomorrow. Not to worry, there’s a Taco Bell just across the parking lot.
end
You can contact Mark at hayter.mark@gmail.com. You can locate  articles you may have missed by visiting Mark’s Wayback Machine at  http://markhayterscolumn.blogspot.com.