Portland City and children’s books

Welcome to PDX. It was raining when I got here. The rain will present a new challenge, and plastic bags are going to become much, much more valuable …

My first impression of Portland is that it’s gorgeous. I landed in “Downtown” or “The Pearl”, or something, figuring I could initially take advantage of its offerings, such as libraries, Whole Foods, public buildings, parks and so forth. Even though I was surrounded by buildings both old and new, it smelled of wood stove smoke, which was supremely delightful as well as confounding. (I now know the smell is omnipresent, and much more so in the lovely areas East of the river.) The trees lining the streets already had Christmas lights, which I loved, as I love Christmas. (Even though I probably won’t make it home for this one.) The daylight was fading fast, and the approaching darkness highlighted the soft zig-zag patterns of colored lights on the undulating watery surfaces of all the roads and sidewalks. Folks walked about briskly, steamy air from their mouths, doing last-minute Sunday shopping, rushing onto packed buses and tram cars. Church bells rang, a distant train whistled. I walked around for quite a while, wandering into the fancy areas, watching the fancy people in their fancy restaurants, and listening to the muffled talking and clinking of dishes and cutlery. A steady drizzle continued, and the distance was obscured by fog and cut by lights from street lamps.

The following days have convinced me, as many people know, that there is much to explore and discover in this city. Although many people I’ve talked to prior to my arrival suggest there’s a certain falseness or pretentiousness to the younger crowd in the city, I haven’t specifically noticed that, although I can see where they’re coming from. Folks here seem to be genuinely excited about (and contribute to) the abundance of art, books, good food (food carts !), good beer (beer carts !), music, literature, independent shops, and so on. Personally, I am excited about all these things, genuinely. Believe me !  I am also excited about the fog, and the overcast days, and the industrial areas and forested areas waiting to be explored.

Post Script :
I am writing this in the “Quiet Room” of a small library in the Belmont neighbourhood (I think). One of the many things I’ve learned on this trip is that after utilising many libraries in small towns, I have not found many of them to be very quiet. Unless, of course, they are near-empty, which is sometimes the case. Anyway, this one is currently crowded, so it luckily has the Quiet Room. A librarian just informed me that the room will soon be used for reading stories to small children, and that I could stay if I wished. Needless to say, I definitely wish to stay. I’d rather hear a children’s book being read than listen to the talking and coughing and sniffling and ruffling of 30 people.

We started with an informative book about whales. The kids were very good listeners. They loved it. She then read a book about the beach. One kid raised his hand frantically: “Hey, hey, excuse me !  I was watching a movie, and, and, and there was a man who had sand. He was the Sandman.” One other kid knew exactly what he was talking about. “Oh, yeah, and he has a gun that shoots sand, right ?”  “Yeah !”, said the first kid. The librarian patiently waited, then said with a smile, “Okay, cool, but that has absolutely nothing to do with this story.” And so we continued the story about the beach.

I do love children’s books, and think they’re so important. Many of them contributed thoroughly to who I am, and what I love. In fact, the only new book I ever bought was a children’s book, as I thought it was so well illustrated and composed. It is called Wonder Bear and has no words. It is about two kids who plant two patches of watermelons. One grows over night, and the other does not grow at all. From the water melon plant emerges a massive polar bear, with a blue bowler hat. From this hat he pulls flowers, bubbles which turn into bubble lions and octopi, and other amazing things. They go swimming in the indigo night sky, and ride dolphins. It’s amazing. Other things happen, but I can’t remember it all. It can be seen here. Speaking of children’s books, I met a girl in Arcata, California, who was there to promote a Halloween book for which she illustrated. It’s called Halloween Ooga-Ooga Ooum and can be seen here. After meeting her, I later stumbled upon it while in the health food store, and found the illustrations to be very beautiful.

My personal favourite children’s book is (coincidentally) a Halloween book titled Tell Me Mr. Owl, and probably has most if not everything to do with why I love so much to wander and explore towns and cities at night. The illustrations in it are very mysterious, and as a child I recall being completely taken into the world of that Halloween night. I didn’t find much information about it online, as it’s from 1957 and has probably never been reprinted, but I did find this semi-functioning page, which has some photographs of the illustrations. 

Photographs of dark scenes during Halloween

I spent my Halloween walking around Arcata, CA, and photographing very dark scenes with my cell phone. Heading west brought me into a sort of warehouse area, which kind of faded into fields and a set of old railroad tracks. Among some of the interesting scenes I came across, I also saw so many amazing early-’80s Toyotas in spectacular condition. Like, my dream cars, constantly, everywhere. Apparently the West Coast (and New Mexico, I recall) is the place to get these cars. Anyway, these pictures are quite dark. So take them as you will.

In the desert with Tiny Music and perhaps spirits

From sometime in mid September …
I stayed with 2 members of the wonderful acoustic-junk/drone/folk/experimental group Tiny Music, who used to be based in Chicago. My cassette label, Notice Recordings, released a beautiful recording by them (which is still available … I think perhaps 10 copies). When they gave us the material, approximately 4 years ago, they were in the midst of moving to New Mexico, “to build a house in the desert”. Over the next few years, I followed, sporadically, their awesome blog and saw the construction of their environmentally-friendly house, now completely functioning on solar power. I never thought I’d have the opportunity to visit the house, and this experience was unexpected and memorable. Everyone should go read their blog and see their progress, and, if you can, support them financially. They have a Paypal donate button on their blog. They’re such amazing artists and warm and welcoming people !

Anyway, I waited for Amanda at a ranch entrance on Rt 554. (The “ranch” entrance is really just a gate which leads to a few houses scattered throughout that area of the desert.) She decided it would be best to meet me, since getting to the house from the main road involves driving through a network of dirt roads, dried up old arroyos, washes, and so on. As I followed her, 6 horses galloped in front of my car, their variegated shiny brown coats reflecting in the hot white sun of the desert. They were completely free range, and walked right up to their owner, standing, waiting, with horse-feed. It was endearing and amazing to witness.

Amanda and Daine’s house is a special place. They’ve put so much love and work into it. So far they’ve constructed a living room/kitchen, an attic (under construction), an adobe room (also under construction … I helped them for a day digging and sifting and mixing the adobe), and a cabin about 100 yards away in which I stayed. They’ve accumulated a variety of found items, antiques, beautiful junk and artwork. Every surface and corner provided a resting space for some piece of mysterious miscellany. Most of the functioning items used were gleaned or found from a variety of sources.

My non-phone iPhone stopped working while there, for whatever reason, so the only photographs I took was while it worked in my cabin. I have an affinity for the arrangement of beautiful and/or old things, so I was pleased with the opportunity to document the room.


Something else worth mentioning is the sounds I heard while sleeping in this cabin. All night long, I could hear the hoo-hooing of an owl, the yelping of coyotes, the scurrying of mice, the slow, glassy hum of crickets, and the faint wisping of wind through the small, dried shrubbery scattered about the property. The stillness of the place provided room for these sounds to occupy more of my mind. The vast array of the stars seen through my window were an endless reception to the small orchestra of noises :  emanating from the earth, swirling in their curly-cue soundy ways, up into the cosmos. In addition to these sounds, I also heard footsteps on the wooden porch. Indeed, both nights, around 3AM, I woke to the very clear sound of footsteps. I also heard a large thudding sound, like a pack of heavy books being dropped on the desert floor. This is a sound I’ve heard before, both in Colorado and in the dead of cold cold winter at my family home in Vermont. When I heard it in Vermont, I was alone, and it was very regular ;  about every 15 minutes or so. It was 5 degrees outside. It happened most of the night, and my fragmented sleep produced dreams of nighttime activities in the forest, with colored lights and fires, spotlights shining brightly through the trees, and vehicles driving over stone walls, through my house and on the fields. I suppose I should not wonder what the sound is, and just let it be. But anyway, back to the desert :  I just lay there, still as still can be, listening to these sounds. Each time, I eventually just went back to sleep. The next morning I spoke with Amanda about the sounds, and she assured me that no one would be walking around in the middle of the night, which isn’t something I suspected anyway. But she did tell me that most people who stay in the cabin hear footsteps outside at night …
I do believe in the presence of spirits, and the desert is certainly a place that spirits occupy.
Anyway, that’s that.

New Mexico photographs, 2

These pictures are from Pecos National Forest and the surrounding area. Sometime in mid-September. After a few days of the desert in New Mexico, it was refreshing to see the massive ponderosas and aspens in the higher elevations of the Santa Fe area. Pecos was especially beautiful, with low-lying fog and the smell of wood stove smoke. Sweater weather.

Lone Pine

4 October 2012, 7:30

Jenny’s Cafe, Independence, CA. Slept in the desert again, outside of Lone Pine. Down quite a ways, off Lone Pine Narrow Gauge Rd. Massive rotating antenna in the desert. Next to me, a dried, cracked patch of land where water once was—now compacted and dry polished to a sheen, reflecting the white setting sun over the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Quiet and empty save for the muffled, undulating conversations of some people in a weird triangular camper (like a mobile A-Frame) about 200 yards away. I don’t know; I’m bad with distances. Later in the night, the man (the others left) was talking/singing/mumbling loudly to himself at 10:51. As I went to bed around 8:00, I thought it was at least 4AM. Slept fairly well. Got cold finally around midnight. Not like New Mexico and Arizona climates; it seems that up in this territory (in-between two mountain ranges), it takes a while for the cold to set in. Woke up at 2, very cold. More socks, a wool blanket, a hat. Moon in the sky, bright as a spotlight. Truly silent, then. Up at 6:45, before the sun. Mountains soft, early illumination. Land still, soft, small movements. Color, less.

Lost all the light in fine towel mine is take not for the real action nothing of short no grass well time efer then hidden.