May 4th–I was just lifting a pile of soiled pine shavings when two barn swallows swoop into the stall. The birds lively chatter says, “we’re back—it’s been a year—the old nest spot above the sliding door is still there—everything’s the same—.”
“Well, actually my friends—it’s not, one of the donkeys is missing, there’s a little goat, there’s two stalls now instead of one big open room. But the divider will give your babies lots more perching room than the horse feeder provided.”
The shavings plop into the bucket; the swallows shoot outside, and Moses the Cheerful trots away and enters the paddock. He plunges toward the remaining spring grass that Ziggy the donkey has missed.
The swallows zoom back and circle around me again, “We checked out the tack room, and one of the three doors is boarded up—the old nests are gone from the hanging lights—we’ll build new ones—the flies, the flies, we’ll look for the flies—” Chatty- chat- chat and they fly out the stall door once again.
From now until October the barn swallows will find many ways to enter the barn. And, I can’t help but smile- these are parents or young who were here breeding last year. Despite all the odds against them, they’ve returned to build their mud nests, and hatch and feed their babies. A sure sign summer is on its way.
Midnight in the nostrils
wildfire smoke tendrils,
but it’s April before
the leafed-out maple.
She throws the blanket back
while three dogs remain
stepping down the dream hall
the orange cat-- a ball--
spot glows but not awake.
She stands on the gravel
alert wild animal
the sequined night it bites
no smoke all bright.
The kitchen door is next
she stands on the deck
she sees toward the town –
the river where
the canyon airs
where smoke does hang
then creeps up fears
—should we have left—
have we prepared...?
Through the patio door
she stands on the bricks
a dying creature rips
not through the Spring night
delight moon and stars
hang full in comely site.
Relief—where is the smoke?
she returns inside
gathers her gown to
smother her dreams that
memories had found.
Note: September 2020 ferocious and devastating wildfires spread across the communities along the I-5 corridor in Oregon. Many people lost their homes, and hundreds of people and animals were evacuated to safer areas. Eastern Oregon was covered by air quality (above 400 level –the top tier for toxicity) for over seven days – ash rained from the sky –the heavens were orange each day, and people could not safely go outside without a respirator. It was impossible to forget.
Last Tuesday night our local hospital treated volunteers to a movie night out. But instead of meeting in a movie theater, we met in a parking lot to celebrate National Volunteer Week. The Director of Volunteer Services, her assistant, and members of the hospital executive board met each car as it entered the vacant lot. We received a red and white blanket and a popcorn bucket filled with malted milk balls, Sugar Babies, Junior Mints, and cheesy popcorn. Yummy-fun!
Roughly 60 of the 100 hospital volunteers came to see the funny, charming movie called Sandlot.It’s about a group of baseball loving kids in 1962 who undergo a series of adventures as they face their fears and fantasies. We tuned our car radios into 89.1 and everyone looked through their car windshields toward a huge white skin draped across an enormous grain silo. This is how we do drive in movies in the West!
Volunteers are important to hospitals, and you’ll find volunteers in many departments to help the hospital run smoothly. Volunteers act as couriers, they staff the hospital gift shop, they wheel people from the ER or surgery rooms to awaiting cars, they share musical talents, help with administrative tasks, they assist with children’s educational programs, they accompany licensed pet therapy dogs to visit patients and staff, and they help with the hospital foundation’s fund raising events. Hospital volunteers are custodians of good cheer for patients, their families, and for the staff.
And, volunteering for the hospital— makes us feel pretty good too.
“The Ghost of Anna Bilinska 1886” is an ekphrasis poem. Ekphrasis is a type of poetry that responds to a work of art.
The Ghost of Anna Bilinska 1886
Shadows shroud her dark eyes and
highlights enliven her hair.
Yet, those pale lips are departed
like the pale father’s heart.
Cheeks flowering with consumption
repose her in the night--
as her veil--
her long black veil...
resting on white light.
Gathered soft-bow, feathered muff,
to razor perfection.
A precision that denies
that madness resides
in deep mourning.
Anna hides the colors lurking within black
her skeleton flashes just beneath the skin.
Her resting hands,
sensitive and strong,
a painter within.
And when she rises and leaves the room, her headdress sweeps behind
like a black horse’s mane.
Her long black veil wakes her passing--
the gauze stretches, and billows, and coils,
ribboning through the streets of Paris
into a thin tail
a year hence,
becomes a tiny black string,
fading into eternity.
Note: Anna Bilinska’s portrait was painted by her friend Emmeline Deane in 1886 shortly after Anna had lost her father. Anna was also an artist, a landscape painter who worked throughout France. Though gifted Anna experienced a series of personal losses –losing her father first then her beloved fiancé. She died young at the age of 35, and her works are not widely known.
The rarest wildflower in these woods…
A pale drooping maiden
Just outside my cabin door
Her frail form
Spring once more.
Though her voice is quiet
Her pleading look does say
Oh’ spring come
Winter pass away.
Her sighs the hope for the weary
Come without delay.
Though her bloom is fragrant
The winds blew fierce and gay
Oh, spring come
Come without delay.
Moments after this song was sung, the little donkey came to visit the
woodland meadow, and
Its hoof fell upon the yellow bell
And so, no song
could the slender maiden
Listen to the text and below the short piece is a slideshow showing the process of tree to boards.
The insects come now,
or never leave.
And all the sap in the world can’t save our old ones.
In summer, hundreds of summers ago,
we threw butterscotch-
that warm pudding fragrance
emanating from our bark
into the woods, but now
we don’t seem so wondrous or plump-full of butterscotch
when we are standing dead.
The line that kept us from falling
has shifted to less water, less winter
renewing fires, and too many crawlers, borers, chewers
and all this sap
cannot drown them out.
We the tallest, the greatest circumference
of this valley, we are
Our butterscotch fades.
Our green needles have thinned to brown.
Our bark pulls away.
round death craters
have reached our core
untangling us from this valley’s web
and carbon releases, but slowly...
We will fall, as a duck falls.
Felled by the cutter of down.
Not by the pellet but by the saw.
And as we fall, she holds her breath.
Watching the tipping,
descending to three o’clock-- six o’clock--
Thud! --ground absorbs the long pole,
branches trembling upon impact
a thousand vibrating wings
She breathes again, when the fall is
The men move in and begin de-branching,
and drag the log pole, readying it for the sawmill.
We become Ponderosa pine boards.
Shelves in the greenhouse--
shelves in the bathroom--
flooring in the outhouse--
frames for oil paintings--
wood for the farm table.
Today we celebrate the life of one of our local music heroes, Andre Lamoreaux–88. We all knew Andre in our own way whether as a family member, friend, a fellow musician, or one of the many people throughout the Columbia River Gorge whose lives were lifted by Andre’s voice.
This is a song of mourning and a song of celebration for a voice that has left us—for a song that will live on in memory inside each of our hearts. Andre helped me sing. He told me— “make it your own- sing like you mean it – that’s what makes a singer.” He meant adding heart-emotion, color and interpretation to the lyrics instead of just singing every song the same way.
In 2014, Bruce and I went to our first jam and country western dance at the Cherry Park Grange – after Virgil, the grange host, warmly greeted us and showed us to our seats to be part of the band –Andre was the second person who spoke to us.
He was a little old man wearing a black cowboy hat. He said, “You’ve not been here before, are you new in town, what do you play?”
“Bruce plays the fiddle, and I sing,” I said.
When he heard that word “sing” Andre got a sparkle in his eye.
Bruce told me later “Wow, that Andre he’s the real thing. Did you see the way he stood up to microphone—in complete command, and belted out “Walking the Dog” as he beat on that four-string guitar?” Indeed, people in the crowd were smiling, and dancing, and singing along. For a few minutes everyone in the room had tuned in for Andre’s show.
As time passed, I started singing the country western songs from the 1960s by artists like Patsy Cline, Ernest Tubb, Hank Williams and my favorite Kitty Wells. Bruce and I started showing up to help play for the Sunday dances at area grange halls and senior centers. I also sang every song Andre thought I should sing. He’d come up and say, “I’ve got a new song for you.” And it was always a perfect choice, right for my voice and for me. I’d learn one of those songs, and sing it, and he’d come up to me afterwards and say, “I really like how you did that—how you put your heart into it.” He didn’t always say this—only when he felt I’d lived up to that ideal of making a song your own—making the song a part of you. That advice transformed my singing of classic country music.
As many of you know Andre never used a word sheet; He continually amazed us by knowing all the words to hundreds of songs in his head. And, if something slipped, he’d make it up- on the fly. We all smile when we recall how he’d take a Hank Williams or a Willie Nelson and give it that special Andre twist.
His voice reached the crowd—strong, distinct, resonate—even into his 80s. Even though his voice wasn’t the voice of a thirty-year-old, he knew how to make it work—to make the best sound out of what he did have. He gave me complete confidence that it’s possible to sing and play music well into your eighth decade.
In recent years- he ended all of his sets with “This Little Light of Mine.” And when we were playing with him, and his good friend K. C., and sometimes Joe, we all belted out the chorus in raucous harmonies, and the crowd would be yelling with us. It was terrific to play with Andre!
Andre sought out places to play music where his voice could make a difference in peoples lives. He volunteered to play in the memory units, and the old songs cut through the confusion and connected with people. We went with Andre and saw residents who had sat silent for days actually start singing a song along with us that they remembered from childhood. I can remember similar spontaneous group sings happening at the Veterans’ home when we played there with Andre. Andre brought his music to everyone—he didn’t forget those who were ill or those who were separated from ordinary walks of life.
This past year has been a rough year on our music community—we’ve lost so many fine musicians and voices –Buck, Phyllis, Bud, Joe, Bobby, Gordon, Andre…. It’s hard to say goodbye- hard to see them go. Music provided the social thread for everyone to dress up wearing rhinestones and fancy cowboy hats, and brightly embroidered shirts –to dance, tell stories, joke, hug, enjoy homemade desserts- and just spend time together. Playing music brought meaning to the musicians’ lives, and to all those who listened, and it brought us all together every week. The pandemic came and wiped that all away and separated everyone.
Those of us who are left will carry on, and hopefully we’ll have more dances and other times for sharing musical friendship, but we won’t forget those like Andre we have lost this year. These warm giving hearts and their strings, drums, and voices just can’t be replaced—even if we create a new song going forward. We love you Andre—it’s hard to say goodbye. Wherever you are- we hope you’re playing music and laughing and telling your stories once again. Maybe Bud and Phyllis, Buck, Gordon, Joe, and Bobby are there too.
A graveside ceremony is planned for late March in Washington. Once restrictions have been lifted and Senior Centers reopen, a public gathering –hopefully summer of 2021—will be scheduled to celebrate Andre and his musician friends who have lost their lives during this pandemic year.
Mother’s Gift of the Sequined Heart
Shall the sequins that cover your heart all lie in one direction--
the same direction
smooth and tight
of a rainbow trout--ruby and true--
If you are caught, brought in and dipped up,
and held to be admired. Photographed even--
and by whom...
don’t squirm too much.
Some of those scales may shift, slide down, or turn over.
And after many years, and
all that handling
transform, by necessity perhaps,
to burnished gold.
Now thin ruby petals
and old, old gold.
But, really is any true heart all one texture and
just one color
when life is over?