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LETTERS FROM WAKE ROBIN FARM

Fire on the Wind, Again

When I was young and we were just starting out the grand adventure of renovating Wake Robin Farm, I was constantly hurrying to finish projects.  I operated on a foolish notion of fixing things up "once and for all."  Life would start, I thought, when things were nice. Ha!

 

Now I know better.  It's the journey, not the destination, as they say. In recent years I've been reading a lot of Pema Chodron and the principles of Buddhism.  It all makes a lot of sense to me, relaxing into the inevitability of change, approaching each day in a spirit of curiosity rather than with a fixed To-Do list in hand, the day's score dropping to the extent it veers out of my control.

 

I love the idea of restoration, so when we built the little cabin I wrote about in Accidental Addict, I used salvaged porch posts from Aurora Mill Architectural Salvage. They look great, but sitting out there on that western facing ridge, the weather quickly takes a toll. Some weird fungus was even growing out of one of them.

 

Well, we've been trying to make lemonade during the pandemic, taking care of various  maintenance projects, so a few weeks back we went out to the cabin armed with tools and supplies and I got to work.  One post was just falling apart, with deep cracks.  A startled spider crawled out the top when I started scraping.  I used a lot of wood putty before even priming it.

 

"You know," I said to my husband,  "this thing is in such bad shape, I'm really just doing a stalling action."

 

But then I remembered: everything's a stalling action. Everything's growing, dying, building up, falling apart. So what? My assignment for the day was to be doing this job in pleasant weather with a beautiful view every time I looked up.  Nothing to gripe about. Moments to enjoy.

 

The trip to put the final green paint on the post was last Monday, September 7th, the day the historically unprecedented winds were predicted to blow into the Willamette Valley.  On the way home, my husband said maybe it would turn out like so many other weather predictions…not the big deal they were saying.  We got into a silly spat about how best to direct our energies the next day.  Should we go back to the forest property for more work the very next day?  It was one of those inane conversations which included a lot of lines such as "Well, I thought you said you wanted to blah blah blah," and "No, that's not what I said and don't we have the right to change our minds etc. etc." We were soon laughing it off, conscious of the ridiculousness of this debate, knowing we were just  needing  to blow off some  steam thanks to the stresses of the pandemic.

 

At 5:25 our daughter Mary texted from Portland:  You guys getting this smoke down there???? Super smoky and windy. Visibiltiy super low too.  Happened pretty quick.

 

Just about an hour later the smoke started pouring in here too, and that's the last we've seen of the blue sky.  Good thing we didn't spend any more time arguing about what to do the next day!  The universe had delivered our assignment, loud and clear: Stay in the house. So my husband's been canning his amazing produce and I've been working on my forthcoming novel, Family Trees.

 

We are now on our fifth day of living under a cloud of the very worst air on planet earth.  It's totally claustrophobic and reconfirms  for us how good we've had it during the pandemic up until now: even if we can't  be around other people, Herb and I could always go out to the garden or forests where we're happiest anyway. Now we're seeing first hand what apartment dwellers who have declined to be hoodwinked into complacentcy by the President have been experiencing for months.

 

Fresh air is a big deal to me.  I've never smoked a puff of anything in my life.  I'm thinking I probably wasn't the nicest daughter-in-law when we visited my husband's parents in LA. I couldn't get over standing on the beach and not being guaranteed a westerly blast of fresh, cool air.  I was appalled. Worse, for house guest manners, I probably said so. But I'm a fourth-generation Oregonian!  Land of the rose and sunshine, land of the summer breeze….

 

As I write, our pollution index in Corvallis is at 450, well into the hazardous zone.  I really can't stand this. It's making me crazy, thinking about all the people evacuating for their lives ahead of the flames, as well as the millions of people with their own personal stories of what they're trying to deal with in the choking smoke and the fear of Covid.  Children who can't go to school.  Old people who can't understand why they don't have visitors.  People of color faced with the choice of working in hazardous conditions or going without money for food. All of us cursed with the malevolent power and control of that sociopath, Donald J. Trump. 

 

The news reports and stories of the fires remind me so much of all the research I did for my book about the Tillamook Burn of 1933, Fire on the Wind. Both historic fires, the old and the current, were fanned by dry east winds. Those winds have stopped now and there's currently not a breath of breeze. I keep staring out the windows for movement in the leaves. We're just waiting--longing--for the winds to shift and come again from the West with blessed moisture. I keep thinking of a scrap of a medieval poem I used in Fire on the Wind:

 

O Western Wind, when wilt thou blow?

That the small rain down can fall

Christ! That my love were in my arms

And I in my bed again.

 

Yeah.  That.

Hang in there, everybody.

And be sure to vote Democratic.

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Buddhism and Craftsmen Corbels

When I gave birth to our twins 32 years ago, my postpartum mental state involved a sudden obsession with acquiring a beach house.  My thinking went like this: If I were going to be spending the foreseeable future nursing two babies at the same time while gazing out the window, could I at least be gazing out a different window?  My husband greeted this brilliant idea with the insistence that this was the world's worst timing.

 

I agreed.  I couldn't argue.  But, weirdly, I kept right on scouring the ads. 

 

Well, it's said that you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink.  Fortunately, I have a pretty good record of getting this horse to drink if I can just lead him to the right water, so when we ended up at the little house in Neskowin and my husband stood on the deck and took in the amazing ocean view, he drank.

 

Nice that I didn't get my way in wanting a 1920s fixer cottage, though.  So many babies, so little time for projects.  The newly built house, in no need of maintenance for years, suited us much better.

 

In recent years, though, I've been slowly transforming it into the cottage I wanted all along, first with cottage-style windows and then a papering of the white sheetrock bedroom walls with lovely  Arts & Craft style reproduction wallpapers from Bradbury & Bradbury. This past winter I delighted in figuring out how to turn the exterior into a proper bungalow.  Shingles…check.  Wide board fascias and window trims…check.  And then….corbels!  Yes, corbels  would be just the thing. I painted these massive wooden braces on sawhorses in our gravel driveway at the farm and we hauled them to the beach for our contractor to install.

 

Let's call this amazing guy Steve. (You don't think I'm going to hand out his actual contact info, do you?  Maybe when I'm all done with him, ha ha!)  He shows up when he says he will, does fine work, and has a sense of how things ought to look, an eye for design.  And I love how he always says I have good ideas.

 

His one flaw turns out to be a tendency to forget whether I said to do a certain thing one way or the other. If he remembers I wrote it down, he's not sure where to find that note or email.  Couple this with a gambler's willingness to just go for it, and we had several incidents where things went wrong. Still, I  have never dealt with a guy more eager to cheerfully correct his errors.  Usually these guys are surly about it, right?  Not Steve! Wrong siding in this one band?  No problem!  The right stuff will go up tomorrow.

 

Well, I knew the corbels could be problematic.  They had an upside and a downside, but the difference was subtle.  Communicating these things from a distance wasn't always easy.   To make it clear to Steve which end was up, I emailed him about it.  I put blue tape marked "Top" on the corbels when I left them at the beach.  I emailed him the picture of the corbel, right side up, from the catalogue.  I repeatedly said, almost unnecessarily, I thought, "Be sure to put them right side up!"

 

When he texted that the corbels had been successfully installed, I couldn't wait to check them out.  Imagine my          shock. You guessed it: he'd bolted them on upside down.  And no, they couldn't simply be turned around; he'd had to shave them in places and make cut-outs in others.  When I told him, he was horrified.  "I really screwed up!"  He insisted he'd cover the cost of new ones because he wanted to get it right.  He said he feared every time I looked at them I'd be bothered and mad that he'd blown it and it wasn't how I wanted it.

 

Well, maybe not.  I've been reading a lot of Pema Chodron lately, discovering  some of the Buddhist ways of looking at things.  The idea of not forever insisting on total control really spoke to me, because I've always struggled with a certain crippling perfectionism.  I am working on learning to let certain things go.  Relax my grip. Because--duh--life's short.

 

I studied the corbels.  It seemed so unfair that after all my efforts to head off this very problem, I did not get to have them the way I wanted.  The RIGHT way.  On the other hand, they didn't look bad.  I mean, they were good solid corbels and they had the effect I'd been after. If they'd really screamed WRONG, Steve never would have chanced doing them this way.  He does have a good eye.

 

I decided that every time I look at the corbels, I will not think that I did not get my way.  I will not be the woman cracking the whip of perfection at everyone.  I'll be the one who said, "Good enough! What's next?"  What should make me think I'm in charge of the universe, anyway?

 

 

And why not stay on Steve's good side?  I have a lot more projects for him.  Maybe next time I'll just stand right there as he's making some crucial decision!

 

           

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