Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Camera Doesn't Lie (or Lay Unused for Long)

Since moving to Washington three years ago today, I've become a near constant photographer, capturing landscapes and sights that were new and unfamiliar to me. Reaching for my camera—along with my binoculars in the last few months now that we have a 180 degree water view from our living room—has become a spiritual discipline for me. It's a way of paying attention to what's around me.

Later, once my photos are downloaded from digital camera to my laptop, I not only edit, but I use my photos to aid Google searches so I can identify landmarks, ships, and species of birds that have crossed my path. Cropping photos, especially of birds—eagles, mostly—allows me to zoom in and see features that were impossible with the naked eye, providing the gift of discovery even after the event or sighting.

Bald eagles in Kingston, WA

I've never taken a photography class, and my photos are far from professional, even with my liberal use of the "adjust" features in iPhoto—definition, contrast, and saturation being my favorites–but I'm enjoying experimenting with composition and subjects, glad that I'm not "wasting film." (My parents didn't appreciate the rolls I took of our dogs and extreme flower closeups with our Kodak Instamatic in the early 1970s that all came out indistinguishable and blurry.)

My cat Theo, helping decorate this year's Christmas tree

I winnowed down thousands of photos from 2014 to 90 of my favorites to share. In case you're wondering, my (very photogenic) family does not appear in any of the pictures, intentionally. In fact, there are very few people featured in the photos; I was less interested in sharing the personalities of humans, than I am in sharing the particularities and peculiarities of the neighborhoods I inhabit.  

St John's River from the Cummer Museum garden, Jacksonville Florida
The slideshow takes a few minutes, so pour a cup of tea, sit back, relax, and enjoy. I hope my photos will inspire your own creativity.

Happy Holidays!

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Monday, November 24, 2014

Blackfish Friday

The endangered Southern Resident killer whales have been venturing south into Puget Sound the last several days. I was working with my husband at our project house, an hour away from home the sunny Saturday day they spent hours just off the coast of Blake Island, which I can see from my living room window. Glad to be doing my part (vacuuming) for our home renovation livelihood, happy for those who were witnessing the majestic whales, but sad I wasn't among them.

Today, thanks to the folks who post sightings on the Orca Network, I tracked the progress of a pod (extended family) of fifteen or so whales first sighted near Tacoma this morning that spent hours in local waters wowing area residents who took to parks and lookouts to spot them.

It was already late afternoon, 3:45 p.m. and raining, when I grabbed my brand new binoculars (oops, Dad, I pre-spent my Christmas cash!) and hopped in the car for a ten minute drive to the Southworth ferry terminal to wait as they would emerge from the north end of  the Colvos Passage that runs between the west side of Vashon Island and the southmost end of the Kitsap Peninsula, an infrequent, but not unheard of route.

After watching from the dock until my hat was soaked, I joined a handful of other folks inside the ferry building, all of them like me, with binoculars,cameras, and the Orca Network Facebook page loaded onto smart phones. We stood, nose to windowpanes, all eyes on the slate water as the minutes passed  and daylight waned.

The whales had been taking their time all day, which is a good sign, it meant they were finding salmon--which comprises nearly all of their diet, and which, sadly, due to dams that block their runs and overfishing, is at 10% of historic levels. The whales came into the Sound a few weeks ago, the entire length and back in one day, never stopping their swimming, as they looked unsuccessfully for food.

There were 98 Southern Residents when they were declared endangered. Today there are 78. Ten have died since 2010. There are very few whales having babies. None were born in 2013. The one born this year died after only 17 days. The whales are most likely starving, but today they found fish. Today they meandered.

Photo taken in the morning from Point Defiance by Birds The Word. For more photos visit Facebook.

Today I rejoiced when, against black water, and deep gray sky, their sleek dark fins sliced through the water mid-passage in the last minutes of visibility. Unable to see past the reflections in the window, I had repositioned myself outside in the rain again as word of their progress came. Though they were too far away to hear, I felt my pulse quicken and I gasped in amazement each time a whale surfaced, as though I were being given glimpse after glimpse of the beloved divine.

I have learned a tremendous amount about these whales in the past two years. The book Death at SeaWorld, and the movie Blackfish which is available on Netflix, have been instrumental in my education, and I have littered this post and one last year with facts so that you, too, may know how these creatures hover on the verge of extinction.

There was an excellent and sobering article in a recent issue of The Skagit Review.

Although they may spark our thinking, I don't think facts convert us. It is the heart that turns within us and changes us. It is the spirit of the other that touches our own spirits, that bridges division and weaves recognition until we feel and know that we are one. Though I cannot recognize individuals by sight as many devotees can, these whales have captured my heart.

I did not love them years ago when I watched them perform tricks in a concrete tank, accompanied by rock music, flashing lights, and stilted trainer dialogue at SeaWorld Orlando. I considered them nothing more than trained chimpanzees or dogs, there only to entertain me. Truth be told, I wanted Shamu to do more flips.

But, two years ago, riding the ferry from Bainbridge Island to Seattle, and rushing on deck to witness as they swim around us, to hear the potent primal whoosh of their breath, I understood that I had moved to their home, that they belonged only where they chose to live, and I began to repent.

I pray it is not too late for them, or for us to save them. It may be arrogant to think that we can save them; but it is our arrogance that has doomed them.

To say I am awed and humbled by their power, their beauty, their devotion, their perseverance is not enough. There is something about these whales and their consciousness--surrounding a ferry carrying tribal artifacts last year, for example--that resonates within me, that has become my passion, and that calls me to action on their behalf.

So what is a middle-aged writer who knows nothing about marine biology or environmental science, and who, with her husband, has invested everything in their home renovation business to do?  Write a book of poetry and donate 10% of her royalties to the Orca Network. My book, Burnt Offerings, came out in January, and my sales have been small, less than 100 copies. I don't have a budget for promotion, and unfortunately didn't receive reviews from blogs or other sites to drive sales.

That said, Burnt Offerings has received half-a-dozen excellent reviews on Amazon, and I have been able to donate $48 to the Orca Network. I want to give more, but my finances what they are, I need to sell books to do that. So, from now until December 31, I'll donate $1 from each copy of Burnt Offerings sold through my website to the Orca Network (which is two to five times more than my usual royalty donation).

I hope you'll consider buying a book or two as Christmas gifts. All books will be autographed and inscribed, and will include a photo card of my previously unpublished poem, "Lament for Blackfish." Click here to order. Please help me spread the word.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Story Behind My Veil

“There’s no sense in spending eight hours a day doing something you’re not passionate about.”

Those words of wisdom came from Cat, the twentyish cosmetologist who cut my hair yesterday. She’s newly licensed, working her way through a six-month training with the Gene Juarez Salon.

I’ve spent a lot of time on Facebook lately, giving things away, and my hair fell to the floor by Cat’s feet because of it.

In my old life, I was a settled homeowner and pastor, the walls of my home office plastered with Christian symbols, especially cross plaques; my neck adorned with one of two dozen cross necklaces—many gifts from parishioners and family—outward proclamations of my inner convictions.

In my Washington life, I don’t display much, not knowing how many months until we move again and I’m spackling nail holes, touching up walls, packing knick-knacks. Other than my wedding ring, I rarely wear jewelry; it’s a hazard in remodeling, a nuisance when gardening.

So when I unpacked the Christian symbols that’d been boxed for nearly three years, I knew they belonged to my past, not my future. I wanted to give them away, but not to the Goodwill to be sorted, tagged, sold to strangers.

Wall plaque group shot for Facebook

Necklaces round 1, group shot for Facebook
Last winter I gave away furniture and clothing my grandmother made, the brass day bed my husband’s mother gave us, and many other major or sentimental items through the Buy Nothing community that flourished on Bainbridge Island. I chose the recipients, knew their names, and a little something about them.

While the Buy Nothing project has spread around the country and world, in my new locale, the component of community building and creative sharing is absent; it’s simply about unloading or asking for stuff, full of abbreviations: ISO (in search of) and INO (in need of), as if relationships are irrelevant.

I decided to turn to virtual community: Facebook—most of my friends are Christian, many clergy—to find homes for the plaques and necklaces. I kept a few necklaces: my first cross, the one my children bought me for my 40th birthday, the glass one I made myself, and one plaque my husband bought in Argentina.

This kind of giving is more time consuming than the drop-off donation. I photograph the items, transfer them to my computer, upload to Facebook with a short description. I respond to comments, ask for addresses, package the items with short notes, make a trip to the post office.
Giveaway items round 2 group shot for Facebook

Before I began my giveaway, I was listening to 29 Gifts: How a Month of Giving can Change Your Life. Cami Walker began her project in the midst multiple sclerosis. Sick and broke, she embarked on a discipline of daily giving that changed her attitude and her health.

I thought about adopting her daily discipline, but unlike Walker, who lives in Los Angeles and is, I think an extrovert, there are days I never leave the house, and don’t encounter anyone other than my husband.

Giving usually engenders receiving—that was the Walker’s experience with her project, and mine with the Buy Nothing Project. I received two items being given away: Chanel #5 perfume I gifted to my mother-in-law, and a television. I made one (fulfilled) request: to borrow snowshoes for a trip with my family and dear friend visiting from Florida last December.

On the day I began my Facebook giveaway I stood in the bathroom photographing each necklace against my blue sweater, noticing my scruffy hair. I should do something about it I thought.

Necklace modeling with scruffy hair

Scruffy hair

There are local Facebook pages where people ask for recommendations for everything from car repair to Thai food. I got a referral to a dentist that way in June.  I recalled several asks about hair stylists, and thought I’d scroll through, make some calls, get prices, and then decide between a trim or a new style.

Before I did, a post showed up in my newsfeed from a page I don’t recall visiting after I liked it. A newly licensed cosmetologist needed two people willing to get a Veil cut. The salon was in the regional mall, and the cost only $5. I sent a message and Cat booked me for the following week.

I had the same stylist for 25 years in the Santa Cruz Mountains. She was with me in all my phases: spiral perm, bob, color. She could cut and carry on constant conversation. She didn’t need to concentrate.

Cat did. Yesterday she sketched my cut on paper using a ruler to draw angles for my Veil cut, and consulted before, during and after, with an experienced stylist. Most noticeably, as she held strands of my hair away from my head to cut, I could feel her hands tremble, the vibration making its way to my scalp.

Oddly, I was thankful. My hair had her complete attention. Each snip was considered and purposeful, not routine and automatic.

When I jumped at the $5 haircut, I knew I was receiving a gift. I didn’t realize until Cat held my hair in her nervous hands that I was offering a gift—90 minutes of my time, the opportunity for her to learn and experiment, to be offered affirmation by her instructor who said, “you did a great job,” and by me who said, “I love it.”

The Veil from the back

My snowshoeing Florida friend is an interfaith director on a college campus. Every day she’s shaping and being shaped by the students around her, companioning them as they discover their voices and passions. I might suggest to her, and others, that the mentoring process isn’t complete until you walk away with a bouncy new hairdo.

The Veil from the front

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Rainbow Connection

Our "Welcome to Manchester" rainbow

The first sight that greeted my husband and I when we pulled up alongside our rental house early this May was a rainbow. We’d loaded my minivan and our moving van in the pouring rain with the help of two friends. The rain pelted so hard on the freeway I couldn’t see the car in front of me with my windshield wipers on high. But the weather cleared as we entered Port Orchard and crested Mile Hill Road, and as we parked outside our new home, the expansive water view was crowned with a rainbow.

I’m with Kermit (the Frog): I love rainbows and songs about rainbows. I remember singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” in elementary school choir and sitting in my bedroom with the sheet music, practicing over and over until I could sing the verses by heart.

Then, there was “The Rainbow Connection,” sung by Kermit in The Muppet Movie, which was released just weeks after I graduated from high school. “Rainbow Connection” became a favorite of mine when Kenny Loggins recorded it on his lullaby album Return to Pooh Corner in 1994. My children were three and six at the time, and we listened to that album most every night for years as we wound down for sleep.

In the midst of my life as a wife and mother some of the words spoke quietly to me:

Have you been half asleep
and have you heard voices?
I’ve heard them calling my name…

I’ve heard it too many times to ignore it
it’s something that I’m supposed to be

Over time that voice grew more insistent, and like Kermit, I couldn’t ignore it. It was time to leave the swamp for Hollywood; I mean it was time to follow what felt like God calling me (in a wordless way) to write and also into ministry.

In my ministry, I came across the music of Dan Damon, a United Methodist pastor, music minister at one of our Conference’s largest churches. One of my favorites, “I will set my bow in the clouds” begins with this stanza:

I will set my bow in the clouds
as I sign of my love for you;
as a sign of my promise
to all the earth,
Visible where gray sky meets blue.

Much as a thrill to rainbows and songs about them, I hadn’t seen many of them in my life. Maybe as I kid I was always inside on rainy days, entertaining myself with Kiddle dolls and books, not interested in looking at the windows, of scanning the sky for its stories.

Even in the rainforest of the Santa Cruz Mountains where I lived twenty-five years, and where there was plenty of rain, I didn’t see rainbows. Maybe the storms were too intense for there to be breaks in the clouds, maybe we were too hemmed in by hills and valleys, maybe there were too many trees, so that when I looked out, all I saw was branches.
First rainbow sighting in Washington on the Long Beach Peninsula

I saw a rainbow or two in our two years on Bainbridge Island as my husband and I leaned closer to the voices that had called us out of California to discover what our new life in Washington would bring.

My writer’s studio was the first early dream, and when a traditional job didn’t come for my husband, a new vocation formed as we listened to those small voices: If you could do anything, what would it be?

We moved, sold our house, and are using the proceeds to fund our project house. We have no salary, no income, no investments other than in ourselves. My younger self would’ve been racked with fear and worry, and truthfully, my younger self never would’ve taken the risk. She didn’t know how to trust.

This time thirty-four years ago I met Kevin in a Rhetoric class and broke up with my fiancĂ© to date him. I was that certain we had a future. And here we are, married thirty-two years, having lived through better and worse, sickness and health, richer, and poorer. (We wrote our own vows, but I appreciate the acknowledgment in traditional vows that married life isn’t all kittens, flowers, and rainbows--just mostly.)

Right now we’re on the side of risk that can look like free fall if you don’t know what it feels like to fly. So we fly, navigating the unknown, certain only in our faith in each other and the leading of those small voices that call us to something we are supposed to be.

Lately, it seems all I have to do is look up from pruning the hedges, or lift my gaze from the magazine on the dining room table, or out my office window, and there are rainbows in the sunbreaks. Full rainbows and double rainbows, some brilliantly hued, others muted.
Full rainbow seen from our yard while pruning trees

Double rainbow from our deck

Another double rainbow, second is faint & coming out from behind tree on right.

Today's full rainbow, spotted from my office window.

Sunday shortly after I’d spotted the fin of an endangered killer whale in the distance a bald eagle flew through a rainbow. All that incredibleness without leaving the house!

A Bald Eagle flew through the rainbow on the left. The one on the right appeared shortly afterward.

Quick moving clouds, open space, water—clearly I’ve moved to an environment ripe with the meteorological conditions rainbows enjoy. But I prefer the prescientific and Biblical explanation of the prisms gracing my view.

Rainbow over Seattle.

Signs, symbols, promises. My life is rich with them.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Ship Happens

I never considered myself a rubber necker, slowing down to ogle cars stalled alongside freeways, but I've always been a curious neighbor, speculating about the activities of those around me. Now that we live in view of shipping lanes and a Navy fuel dock, I find myself grabbing my camera and binoculars to get a better look at the ship traffic outside my window.

Thanks to the marine traffic website, I can pull up the name and type of the commercial and naval ships I see, find out their previous ports and their next. But of course, there's more I want to know. And what I've found out, I'm sharing here. Why? Well, why not? I took some great photos, and have amassed a storehouse of trivia.

Here's some of it:

On weekends, pleasure boaters set sail for Blake Island or the southern boot of Bainbridge Island, and then sail back to Seattle. There were also a number of cruise ships heading to Alaska from Seattle this summer, which is a great way to see Southeast Alaska, most of it only accessible by boat or plane.

Sailboats nearing the southern boot of Bainbridge Island. 
The Bainbridge Island ferry heading past cruise ships docked in Seattle.

Several times this summer and into September huge container ships have anchored in the water between Manchester and Blake Island, a half-mile or so dead east of our house, and barges have pulled alongside them, unloading and loading cargo in the dark of night, lights ablaze, the beep-beep of forklifts moving in reverse audible from our bedroom.

Container ship anchored near our house one afternoon.

At sunrise the next morning the ship had been unloaded, and had also spun with the tide.

I've watched an otherwise empty ship pour dirt from its hold onto a waiting barge, wondering if it's ballast, though my Internet research has revealed that ballast is usually water—and its discharge is the most common and difficult to control reason invasive species are introduced into new marine environments. I speculate the dirt is a way to keep foreign water critters out of Puget Sound, but I have no way of knowing if that's true.

Notice the barge filled with dirt near the stern, and a tug near the bow

If the dirt's not ballast, there's a market for Chinese soil somewhere in North America. I haven't been able to figure it out.

Most days dozens of industrial sized ships ply the east side of the Sound, bringing with them cheap toys, clothes, and trinkets that line the shelves of The Dollar Tree, WalMart, and Target. The ships, headed to and from port in Seattle and Tacoma, are often stacked with colorful containers, the contents of which—my research has revealed—are not usually weighed both directly before and after loading at the docks, so that when cargo is lost at sea, and it often is in rough weather, it is impossible to know the specific items and value of what has gone overboard. Additionally, containers that are insulated do not fully sink, and float just under water, becoming a hazard to other ships.

Container ship as seen from the Bremerton Ferry approaching Seattle.
We were very close, and slowed down and changed course to avoid a collision.

Currently there are no standardized regulations for international shipping, and it appears, that our ocean floors are littered with our manufactured debris, just like our freeways, riverbanks, and outer space.

Despite that, it's hard not to marvel at the sheer size and scope of our industry; the way we have circumnavigated our globe, connecting humanity to one other, if not through faith and goodwill, then through commerce.


In July, the day before my birthday, I saw a submarine—it wasn't listed on the marine traffic website—but it was unmistakable, and using my telescope, I could even see an American flag flying from the bridge (my husband wondered if they'd pop the hatch to bring the flag in before submerging).

To the west of us, inside the Hood Canal, there's a Naval nuclear submarine station, and closer by, in Bremerton, a naval shipyard. It seems that the submarine came from the shipyard, through the Sinclair Inlet from Bremerton through the Strait of Port Orchard and Rich Passage into the Sound near the Naval dock before it headed North past Seattle for points unknown.

Submarine in the Sound.

I have seen a Navy operations vessel and two different heavy lift naval vessels at the fuel dock. With a large flat expanse between the bow and stern, the lift vessels are able to partially submerge and lift smaller vessels up out of the water at sea. One, the John Glenn, was docked here nearly a month before it set sail. It's now stationed along the Columbia River east of Portland.

From our perch a half-mile away, the ships at 389 meters (a standard length it seems for tankers) seem big, especially when a Washington State Ferry (that holds 144 cars plus passengers) travels nearby to add perspective.

Navy operations vessel.

Heavy lift vessel at dock. Smoke stacks on the bow.
Black tower is the stern. Ferry traveling in the background.

Being on the water, though, even at a distance, the ships tower like behemoths, dwarfing kayakers and pleasure boaters alike.

My dear friends kayaking to nearby Blake Island with the John Glenn in the background.

The U.S.S. Constellation, or "Connie" as she's known to locals, is an aircraft carrier built in 1961 (the year I was born) that served in the Viet Nam war, and had been languishing, mothballed (like the ones in the Strait of Carquinez off I-680 for my California readers) at the Naval shipyard in Bremerton, until she was sold for scrap metal.

The recycler is getting a penny a pound to transport her to Brownsville, Texas, where she will be dismantled. In August she began her journey, slowly maneuvered by tugs from the inlet through the strait. Retired navy men and curious onlookers, lined the road to watch her progress, and she spent more than an hour in full view of our deck, where we had wine and cheese to mark the historic occasion.

The Constellation exiting the Strait of Port Orchard and Rich Passage into the Sound.
Three tugs engaged in the maneuver. Washington State Ferry to the rear.

Our happy hour view of the massive aircraft carrier.

Too wide to fit through the Panama Canal, and unable to sail under her own power since she's been decommissioned, Connie is being pulled to her destination, around the southern tip of South America and into Texas by the tug Corbin Foss. The vessels left Bremerton on August 8, and are currently sheltering in Argentina, after repairs to correct listing to port. They're now waiting for weather to clear before the journey around Cape Horn resumes.

Tugs turning Connie 180 degrees.
The Corbin Foss is pulling Connie to her destination. 

The U.S.S. Constellation led by the Corbin Foss into her new life as recycled scrap metal.

The tugs are amazing to watch. I saw a trio of them spin a heavy lift vessel 180 degrees mid-channel, then push it to the Navy fuel dock: patient, powerful, skillful, precise. It took over an hour to dock. They remind me—on days when I feel small and doubt that my contributions have any impact on the world—that commitment to purpose makes positive change possible, even when it seems imperceptible in the moment.

And the tugs are everywhere, day and night, often working two to three against the side of ship. And so I leave you with them: agents of change, harbingers of hope.

Tugs maneuvering a heavy lift vessel to the Navy fuel dock