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LETTERS FROM WAKE ROBIN FARM

9/11 Anniversary

Everyone remembers where they were on 9/11.  It was a beautiful September day here at Wake Robin Farm, just as it is today. The twins, Mary and William, were 15, getting ready for what was supposed to be a routine day at Corvallis High. The odd part? It was. When they came home, they reported that nobody talked at all about planes flying into the two towers of the World Trade Center. No teacher said a word.

 

Personally, we were preoccupied by the fact that my mother was on a trip in France and our oldest son Miles, 22, was in Beijing, spending a term there to study Chinese.  We heard from him immediately by e-mail with this prescient prediction:

 

I'm very worried about the aftermath of this. The Muslim community is probably going to get it….And when they figure out who's responsible, I pity that particular country's citizens, because I'm afraid we might really let them have it.

 

Well, he was right, and many horrible things have happened in these twenty years.  But many good things too. Miles himself was just about to meet his future wife that Fall, and twenty years  later to the day, he sends pictures of himself with his two sons, our darling grandsons, building an amazing sand fort on the beach at Neskowin. Life can still be good.

 

Coverage of the anniversary invariably talks about us losing our innocence that fateful day, and things never being the same afterwards.  Of course we've already been hearing plenty about things never being the same after the Pandemic. Um, people? Things will never be the same in the future no matter what happens. Life is nothing but change. You can't step into the same river twice. 

 

As for losing our innocence, isn't that what they said when President Kennedy was shot?  No, wait, I guess we lost it all over again in 1968 when  Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kenny were assassinated in the space of a couple of months. What about Watergate? The Iran hostage crisis? The Pandemic and, most recently, the January  6th insurrection at the Capitol?

 

The truth is, we've never been innocent. What people mean when they say that, I think, is more like, "Wow! Sure didn't see that coming! What a shock!"  Well, who knows what shocking thing we're not seeing coming next? In the meantime, instead of languishing in nostalgia for a lovely past that never was, our best bet is to make today the best it can be and try for better tomorrows.

 

Our current challenge is simply to outlive and endure the sadly stubborn and uneducated people who refuse to get vaccinated and wear masks in the face of Covid-19. I'm feeling grateful that our Oregon county, Benton, is like an island of sanity in the pandemic, and, locally, we are all clinging to this goal of being able to keep our precious children in school.

 

 

It's beautiful and peaceful  here today at Wake Robin Farm, and I'm going to enjoy it. I feel like more of a Buddhist than a Christian these days, but I've always liked this Biblical line: Today is the day which the day the Lord hath made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it! 

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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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