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Smoke, Fire, and Brimstone

I always fall off the wagon when it comes to writing and summertime. I spend it OUTSIDE. However, at the moment – and for the past few days – I have been unable to be outside.

I am listening to Band of Heathens’ “Hurricane” as I begin this post. Ironically, our son and his family are weathering Hurricane Sally in the Florida panhandle.

At least he’s getting rain. We just came out of another long dry summer in the Pacific Northwest making it something like seven years of drought. That added to years of poor forest management, and an unprecedented early windstorm, and our forests went up in flames. Fast moving firestorm forest fire flames. Devastating fires in some areas of the state: Jackson County, Lincoln County, Marion County, and Clackamas County with entire communities wiped out. The Beachie Fire in Marion County and southern Clackamas County wiped out several small hamlets down the Santiam Canyon. Friends of mine lost their home outside of Otis, Oregon, in Lincoln County.

I would have stayed outside, playing in my garden, ignoring the siren call of my blog and the duty call of inside housework except for those fires. Smoke from the Beachie Fire and the Riverside Fire in Clackamas County shut down any outdoor activity for this asthmatic early last week, shortly after we raked up most of the oak leaves the winds blew into our yard. The sun and moon turned red. The air turned orange. The winds gusted into Wednesday evening, but on Thursday morning the world went silent around us. Silent as a snow day.

And dark as night.

Thursday, the 10th emergency services started to publish Evacuation Levels. The Arabian horse rescue I support decided preemptively to move all 28 horses out of their barn near Estacada (ess tah KAY dah). Originally, evac centers were set up in Molalla (MO la la), but by Friday morning, Molalla was under Level 2 evacuation warning and everything was moved here, to Oregon City, some 15 miles north (or so). Colton, Estacada, Molalla and much of the rural area around here is old logging country. Cowboy country. Horse country.

Interesting fact: when my daughter did 4-H, Clackamas County had more horses per person than anywhere else in the USA. Horses are like pet dogs and cats to those who love them and moving them to a safe place is a huge undertaking. Clackamas County Fairgrounds was at capacity before the end of the day. I heard there were even three camels lodged there with the llamas, alpacas, cattle, horses, goats, and more. Some friends opted to leave their cows in the pasture.

So that’s not exactly scary. Worrisome, maybe. Then the Evacuation Zones were redrawn and to our surprise, we were in a Level Two zone. In town. In the center of town.

Level One is “Be prepared for Level Two. Follow the news.”

Level Two is “Pack what you need to grab and set it by your door in case you go to Level Three.”

Level Three is “Pack that shit and GO.”

I still was not panicked, just – well, you know the saying? “This happens to other people.” And “This happens in California, not here.” I was feeling a little stunned.

Colton, Estacada, and Molalla were raised to Level Three. Entire communities with all their livestock. This also meant that the Evac Centers in Oregon City needed to be, well, moved again. Trailers full of toys (ATVs and such) as well as prized horses and livestock were once again migrating further north. Clackamas County Fairgrounds began the work of moving all the animals in their care to another facility. Oregon City is something of the hub between Molalla, Colton, and Clackamas County Fairgrounds. All that traffic had to flow through our small community to get north.

Many people who were just notified of their Level Two standing decided to also go rather than wait for a Level Three notice. Traffic ground to a halt on every artery through town. Even our little side street (which is a main street) got really busy as people tried to cut through town. We watched in awe.

Why didn’t we go?

The fires were still many miles south of us and while wildfire can travel fifteen miles in a few hours, there wasn’t enough wind pushing this one. My husband has fought forest fire. The air was unhealthy, but we weren’t in any imminent danger of a conflagration such as Paradise, California saw. We looked at maps while we fielded phone calls, texts, and IMs from concerned friends and family. We knew where we were and where it was most dangerous, and it simply didn’t seem prudent to pack up and leave. If we had to go, we could go after the arteries out of town unclogged.

Had we gone, we would have fled to Eastern Oregon and the sanctuary of my husband’s mother’s house, but her air quality wasn’t much better than ours.

So we stayed here, stuck inside, venturing outside long enough to wash out bird baths and refilling them with clean water. (cough cough, hack hack).

Meanwhile, rumors began to fly on Social Media. BLM was setting fires. (Doh! The BLM in this case is the Bureau of Land Management, Department of the Interior, not Black Lives Matter.) Arson was reportedly the main cause of the fires while law enforcement kept repeating they hadn’t had time to look into the cause of the fires (that’s usually done once a wildland fire is contained). Antifa, Proud Boys, anyone who could be blamed is being blamed.

The Riverside Fire is known to be human caused. I don’t know if that means it was caused by fireworks, a gender reveal party, arson, or – most likely – an untended illegal campfire. The woods have been closed to campfires for the summer, but that never seems to stop some people who think that if they are camping, they MUST have a campfire. S’mores, you know. I can’t tell you the number of times my husband and I have come across a smouldering abandoned campfire. People don’t realize those things don’t put themselves out. You must douse it heavily with water and stir the embers and ash in the fire ring until they are all soaked. Smokey the Bear has officially rolled over in his grave.

I do know that a lot of redneck cowboys with Trump sympathies picked up their polaskies, shovels, and pickaxes to dig unofficial fire lines around rural homes. In fact, we saw a very large rural county come together as people donated food, water, supplies, barn and pasture space, stock trailers, and more to help their neighbors. Businesses closed their doors to help evacuate and to donate their food and beer. The local Facebook community was alive with offers and requests and answers. Politics were tossed aside as were COVID-19 fears.

Saturday night at ten PM, we received the call: we are downgraded to level one. There’s still danger and level three hasn’t changed, but we could take a huge sigh of relief.

If only we could breathe.

(Thank you to EVERYONE who inquired, offered help, offered a place to stay.)

See this flag?

FLAG

This flag does NOT represent what you think it does. That meme you are passing around on Facebook in support of keeping the flag in the air to support your Southern heritage was not written by an American. It was written by a Russian or Chinese troll.

The red on this flag does not represent the blood of Americans who died to free us from Tyranny. The blue in this flag doesn’t represent the courage of a few armed citizens against a royal army. Those thirteen stars do not represent the original Thirteen colonies.

This flag represents 620,000 Americans killed on the battlefield, Black and White. It represents 620,000 boys, brothers, fathers, uncles, sons, and cousins on opposite sides of the battle line shooting to kill each other. It represents long nights in trenches just feet from the enemy, joking and sharing food, only to stand up in the morning to shoot each other in the face.

This flag represents the selfishness of 13 Confederate States who claimed it was their “State’s right” to continue to enslave people in order to keep their economy alive. This flag represents economy over human lives.  This flag was defeated on April 9, 1865.

DEFEATED. Let that ring in your ears for a while. DEFEATED.

It doesn’t represent your “southern heritage”. You can’t explain flying it as a “reminder of history” (I actually read that in a comment on Facebook).. We have history books for that, learn to read. (Sorry, couldn’t avoid the snark on that one).

Let’s talk a little about “Southern heritage”. A number of years I was blessed to meet a long time online friend and genealogist in Richmond, Virginia. There were three of us: two amateur photographers and my friend the historian. We all love cemeteries and Richmond just happens to have a wonderful old Confederate cemetery, the Hollywood Cemetery. It’s a fascinating place of history and monuments to the dead on the Confederate side, many of whom were related to the Yankee dead. There are rows of graves without names.

There is a shrine to Confederate President Jefferson Davis. It is also the resting place of two American presidents: James Monroe and John Tyler. My historian friend was there looking to assuage some of her angst about learning of her family’s role in the American Civil War. Her family fought opposite of mine, perhaps even one of her distant relatives fired the shot that took the life of my many greats Uncle John Wilcox on a battlefield.

We all three recognized the sorrow of this cemetery and the wrongs to society it represents. The racism. The 620,000 dead. The division of a nation newly born under the banner of freedom for all.

My own family – despite the side they fought on – has a history of racism. I have the books, the postcards, the photos, and the comments saved. One day, I will sit down with my Black grandchildren – and my white grandchildren – and talk about those things with them, answering their questions.

But I will never teach my children or my grandchildren or any generation after me that there is anything “honorable” about this flag.

See this flag?

flag This is the original Betsy Ross design. My ancestors gave their lives for this flag. Thirteen Original Colonies displayed in a Constellation. There was no other deep meaning when the flag was officially declared the banner of the American revolution. I’m not going to post links or references: you’re American, you have a computer and a search engine: Educate Thyself.

My family gave their blood for this flag. And even then, they began the cruel genocide of Native American peoples. One ancestor gained a land deed in the Black Hawk War. We participated in “Manifest Destiny”, the most Aryan race across the Plains to claim lands, slaughter bison, and subjugate a people.That’s history – I’m not responsible for those people of my past nor am I proud of them. Had they a banner, I would not proudly display it and declare my family’s participation in racial genocide.

The difference in the Betsy Ross flag and the (third design) of the Confederate flag is simple: one is a symbol of a people, Black and White, rising against the Tyranny of England*. The other represents the deaths of 620,000 American citizens doomed to die in a war about economy vs. human lives.

Do not tell me how much that Confederate flag means to you until you weigh every one of those 620,000 lives lost – and what for? The cost of cotton. THE COST OF COTTON.

*Yes, I get the irony. Manifest Destiny was a Crime. That’s another post for another time – or I will leave others to tell that story more eloquently.

*Edited to add: I simplified the reasons for the Civil War because after all is said and done, it still boils down to economics over human lives.

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That’s it. All I know.

Teach me, friends.

I am listening.

I see you.

I hear you.

This is not my story. It is my son’s story. I will try to respect his boundaries and tell his story from my perspective. I will leave out key details that are his to tell.

We homeschooled. I pulled the kids out of public school when “Goals 2000” was being implemented. I had an educational disagreement to the bill, the movement, and the theory. I read the entire bill. I was active on all the boards. I was vocal.

And I lost. Goals 2000 and “No Child Left behind” became law. Those laws have morphed into the current educational philosophy that I continue to disagree with. We are failing our children, but that is a rant for another time.

This is the story of how we got where we are. How we studied history. The movies, the races, the marginalized.

I think it was mostly accidental that we studied the Civil Rights Movement and watched movies about the 1960’s from the African American point of view. The church we attended was multiracial. The only time our kids were exposed to blatant racism was in the presence of certain relatives who also exposed the kids to all the swear words I unlearned in order to raise children.

The mother of some of my grandchildren came into our lives in 2008. She was from Bakersfield, California, a bi-racial beauty with a radiant smile. They produced three beautiful children during their brief period of marriage. When the marriage dissolved, our son became the custodian of those children. The father. Mom has secondary rights, visitation rights. Dad has the kids most of the year.

He has remarried. He has more children with his second wife. His second wife has taken on those three kids as her very own. His second wife is as white as my (our) heritage. The three kids from that first marriage range in skin color from light brown to very brown. They are African American children. Bi-racial children.

And we have these riots. We have murdered Black men and women. The year is 2020. It’s not 1968 or 1974. It is fucking 2020.

All Lives Matter. Blue Lives Matter. Got that. My family – and my daughter-in-law’s family – are law enforcement. Blue Lives Matter.

But Black Lives. My grandsons. They will be teenagers only too soon. They might have attitude. No more attitude than their father did when harassed by police in the City of Gresham as a white BMX rider. But they are NOT white. The actions of their father reflected in their behavior could lead to their deaths. My son was white and rebellious. The most he might have gotten was a ticket.

His children could be murdered.

The middle son, especially, is a reflection of his father at the same age. I’ve seen that rebellious chin turn up. But the difference is the color of their skin.

This Has To End. It should have ended before 1970. It should have ended before Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated. It should have ended when my family fought in the American Civil War on the side of the Union. It should have ended before the City of Tulsa eliminated half the population. It should have ended when Abraham Lincoln was assassinated by John Ford.

Red. Black. Yellow. Brown. White. We all bleed the same ABO blood.

Rainbow bleeds the same ABO.

#fuckracism

(I may not have edited this to suit the political climate)

Beauty

I have no more words.

My garden is all I have to offer.

Late peonies/ Jerusalem sage.

A new flower bed.

A blank vegetable garden space.

Color juxtaposed upon color.

A curious squirrel.

A bathing scrub jay.

Bird baths/Garden art.

All I have to offer.

We are in the midst of a pandemic and race riots, the latter of which remind me of growing up in the 1960’s and watching Los Angeles burn on the television. I am reminded of Angels. My Angels.

The Bible tells us that Angels can come to us disguised in Hebrews 13.2: Be not forgetful to entertain strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.

I have met some of those angels and like the angel in The Shack by William P. Young, they have taken surprising form.

1977 I am traveling north from Louisville, Kentucky on the midnight bus. My destination on this leg of my trip is Toronto, Canada. I have no real plan, just my back pack and my heart. I will go through the three C’s of Ohio in the dark: Cincinnati, Columbus, Cleveland. I am 20 and alone.

A man boards the bus in Cincinnati and sits a few rows ahead of me, in the aisle. He keeps looking back at me and I avoid eye contact. The hairs on the back of my neck are working overtime. Even the hairs on my arms re pricked up. We stop briefly in Columbus, but no one gets off, only more get on. A little African-American woman gets on and sits down behind me somewhere. She doesn’t meet my eyes. She’s just about her business.

In Cleveland, we need to change buses and take a late dinner break. Everyone has to off-board. I am nervous as the man has been checking me out more frequently and he stares hard at the Cleveland bus station. I dilly dally getting off.

A soft dry hand touches my arm. “I seen that man. You follow me straight to the women’s restaurant like you know me.” She leads me off the bus and through the crowded bus station. We say nothing to each other and the man stares on last time as we disappear into the restroom.

There, the woman does her thing and I wait. We leave together, never touching. She scans the bus stop and nods. “You safe now.”

I never got her name, never touched her except for that first brief moment. I never saw the man again. She changed my life and I know it, want desperately to tell her thank you. She is gone.

Many years later, my friend comes to stay with me while her father is dying in a Portland area nursing home. My friend is broken and I am trying to be her strength. I drive her often to the nursing home to visit her father, going in with her every time but often feeling at odds about the experience.

On this day, there is a wizened African American woman in a wheel chair near the door My friend passes her, but she reaches out to me as I step by.

“You Pentecostal.” It’s not a question. It is a statement. She’s read my spirit as I walked past and I cannot deny to her that I am a Christian who has been ‘baptized in the Holy Spirit with the gift of speaking in tongues’ – I am Pentecostal.

She takes my hand and says, “Follow me.” I follow.

We go to her room which is in the basement. She only has a small window to the outside and it is in a well. I can’t tell you what the room looked like or anything else, because the minute we were in that cell of a room, she lifted her hands heavenward and began to call on the Holy Spirit. She spoke in tongues unlike anyone I have heard before or since. She sang. She praised God. Loudly. the entire nursing home could hear her. She was unashamed. She was glowing. She was touching the hem of Jesus and I was but a weak witness to the glory of her prayer and praise.

I did join in. I raised my hands. I felt the glory of God pass through that pitiful room. I knew I was bonding with someone but I couldn’t begin to tell why.

When she stopped, she told me she was the mother of a well-known Pentecostal Black preacher in North Portland. She knew me for who I was in the Spirit as soon as she saw me. She told me I was a prayer warrior. She blessed me as I left her room.

I never saw her again. My friend’s father passed and I had no reason to visit the nursing home. I had small children.

I feel her all the time. I feel her right now. She has her hands on the back of my neck and is speaking in tongues I don’t understand.

My angels. We are the same. These women formed me. They protected me. Sheltered me. Gifted me. And they are not the only ones – they are merely the ones who spring to my mind first. The others are there.

 

I was a child when race riots rampaged through Los Angeles. I remember watching the riots on a black and white television with Walter Cronkite narrating. Little white girl, hiding under the sofa, watching the television, understanding more than the adults gave me credit for.

I never understood judging people by their skin color. My first best friend was Peggy Garfield, a Native American from the “Indian Village” within the city limits of Winnemucca. I wanted her to come to my 6th birthday party but between her and my mother, I was discouraged from even sending an invite. I wanted to spend the night with her or have her spend the night with me, but they both repeated words I didn’t understand. That Peggy – the same age as me – understood those words grieves me to this day. Indians and Whites don’t get along. They don’t mix. That’s why Indians live on Reservations or in segregated parts of town.

We camped with the Hortons, sort of. All the company of the Sage Stompers, a 4-Wheel Drive Club of the late 1960’s in Nevada, camped together. Except the Hortons. They camped off to the side. Mr. Horton was Black. Mrs. Horton was white. Their daughters were friends with all of us kids and we wanted the girls to spend the night with us in our tent.

My mom tried to explain to me why that couldn’t happen. Mr. Horton was Black.

My mother served on a jury in the late 1960’s. The police found seeds in a dresser drawer of a teenager my brother went to school with. Her father, Mr. W., was arrested and put on trial for drug possession. He was Black. The jury found him Not Guilty.

My mother told me later – much later – that it was a clear cut case of racism. She could not vote to have him sentenced under such conditions. Other jurors – all white – felt the same. Mr. W. was only one of a few Black citizens in a remote Nevada town.

I watched the Watts riots unfold on television.

I am not Black. I am not African American, Native American, or any race that is not pure Aryan. I am Nordic, Irish, Scottish, Welsh, British, German. I have no idea what it is to be a person of color.

But – I am the grandmother of children of color. I am the grandmother of boys who will grow up to be men of color. Boys who will have to walk, jog, and do business in the South. Boys whose skin color is clearly not as Aryan as mine. Boys with blue eyes and green eyes, with dimples, and wide smiles. Boys with fire in their hearts that comes from the seeds of their father’s fathers. Fire that comes from my side of the family. Irish and Scots. Boys whose skin is dark.

The murder of George Floyd sears a scar into this nation (and it was murder). Premeditated, cold-blooded murder caught on tape by a minority group that the perpetrator clearly didn’t think had the legal influence to put him in jail for the rest of his life for. Murder that his comrades clearly condoned. Murder that emphasized a knee to the flag during our National Anthem.

But those riots? That vandalism? The destruction of businesses, many of which are owned by African Americans? Those are Outsiders. White Supremacists trying to light the fire of division amongst us. Those are gang bangers with no allegiance to anyone but their own gang affiliation. Those are people not gifted with reason. They are not Martin Luther King Junior.

I am sick tonight, sick at heart. I am fearful for my grandsons and granddaughters, white and black. I am fearful for mixed-race relationships. I am fearful for white parents raising black children (my son is remarried and his second wife is as white as I am). I am fearful for the Blacks I knew growing up who had to deal with that shit in their lifetime and were hoping the next generation would have more sense.

I am angry at the outside inciters, most of whom are White Supremacists and some of whom are the easily persuaded members of a targeted ethnic group.

Did we learn nothing from the Second World War? Did we learn nothing from the Watts riots? Did we learn nothing from the American Civil war and the 620,000+/- soldiers who died over the issue of slavery?

Apparently not. And there I rest my case. I am sad. i m angry.

I refuse to participate in this game of skin color. And noone had better EVER touch my grandsons of color.

I will kill you. No riots necessary. I will kill you. That is not a threat to be taken lightly. You touch my babies and I am coming for you. You better fear me more than you fear law enforcement or any other entity, because I am one bad ass grandmother.

Yesterday was the Opening Day for the county we live in (Stage 1, whatever that means. Restaurants, pubs, and churches with limited seating – I think).

It was also the first warm and dry day following a week of rains: morel hunting time! Morels only come out in the Spring and can be elusive. We have never found a good spot to hunt on the west side of the Cascades, so foraging for these delicious and precious mushrooms is about a ninety minute drive over Mount Hood and the Cascades to Central Oregon. That’s as close as I will get to telling you where we look for them. Morel hunters know the best spots, the right terrains, and the approximate right time of year to look. They also don’t divulge their secrets.

It was a nice day for a drive. The snow that fell at Government Camp earlier in the week was nearly melted off in the bar pits. The lanes were clear and dry. We only saw three near-accidents (all three caused by impatient drivers with no concern for speed limits, passing lanes, double yellow lines, or other drivers).

Don saw a little buck in velvet.

The Forest Service had signs up warning campers and hikers that the forest is “CLOSED” but all gates were open and people had set up camps in their large motorhomes in the open, undesignated camp sites. We heard dirt bikes later in the day and came across three as we left the area (they have designated trails and keep to them). The forest was as open as it has ever been.

I was not really into the mood. My mind was elsewhere, on things I wanted to do at home. But there is something about being out in the forest or the wide open sagebrush spaces that calms the heart and clears the mind. The smells of duff, pine, and fresh air.

We walked. Don wandered. I kept him in my line of sight (most of the time). There was minimal bear sign, a lot of deer sign (or elk), and dozens of different fungus: toadstools, psilocybins, puff balls, and many, many more. Oh, and the wildflowers! Teeny, teensy, tiny wildflowers! I kept getting lost in the flora. Don kept finding morels.

My SmartPhone has the best macro lens. Large leaf sandwort. Moehringia macrophylla. (and a dirty fingernail for comparison)

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I think this is a small-flowered tonella. Tonella tenella. My pinkie finger for comparison.

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Small-flowered blue-eyed Mary. Collinsia parviflora.

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Calypso or Fairy Slipper.Calypso bulbosa. I didn’t have to look this one up. If it is up, the morels are up.

I had to stand and orient myself. Don was nowhere in sight. A widow-maker moaned (a widow-maker is a tree that has fallen, but its descent was stopped by the branches of another tree and so it hangs, leaning against the living tree, moaning when they rub together, and waiting to fall. Many a man has met his death under such a tree, hence the nickname.) Birds called unfamiliar tunes.

Ah, there was Don, about a hundred feet to my left. He saw me and came over to to tell me he’d found about six morels so far. I hadn’t seen a one.

He started away. A flash of brilliant red and yellow crossed my line of sight and a Western Tanager landed on the tree just ahead of me. I called out to Don to show him. There’s nothing quite like a Western Tanager in brilliant coloring and lack of fear around human beings. They are curious and friendly birds. This one dove in chase of a small dragonfly, narrowly missing my legs. It missed the fly as well and returned to a branch just over my head. Don shook his head, “Wow.”

The bird tried a second time and missed again. He stopped on a fence rail and looked at me before flying off.

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(Stock photo – not mine)

We wandered apart again. I got lost in the fungi. I lost Don at least two more times. The trees soughed in the light breeze. Dirt bikes roared somewhere nearby.

We finally headed back to the car. We ranged through the downfall and small sunlit meadows or low-growing wildflowers. Lupins pushed up their leaves, not ready yet to burst into blue flowers. Ravens passed overhead, croaking. Robins flitted.

I wore the wrong socks for my hiking boots and was beginning to regret it. Too thin and the boots slipped on my feet. I’ve had these boots for decades, my favorite pair of Vasque hiking boots purchased at an REI yard sale as “lightly used” not heavily used. They require thin liner socks and thick wool socks for maximum comfort. I was wearing thin wool socks.

I found two morels. Don found over a dozen in the same area.

morels-490239_960_720

Another stock photo (not mine) but we collected about twice this (Don did). All blonde morels. All fresh. The dark ones he found were old and crumbling.

We ended up with about 30 mushrooms, no bugs, and fresh. We always cut them off at the base and leave the stem in the ground to perpetuate the fungus. Never pull them out of the ground, taking the entire stem.

The drive back was faster than the drive out – no slow vehicles to plod behind, waiting for a passing lane or a chance to pass. We stopped at our newest favorite brewery, Bent Shovel Brewing.

They are an outdoor venue, lots of space to separate people and tables. Good beer. Good people.

 

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We sat in the sun and watched storm clouds gather over home.

Honey bees, bumblebees, carpenter bees, bee flies, hover flies, and a butterfly.

And did I mention all the colors?