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Thursday, May 29, 2003

Bringing Home the Baby

I’ve been buying up baseball gear these days. I have been scouring yard sales and thrift stores for used mitts, balls, and bats. I have vague plans of traveling to Cuba—a baseball obsessed island. My plan is to take a big duffel bag of used baseball gear with me and give it away as I travel. I have a fantasy that they will name a ballpark after me in appreciation of my goodwill. Leftbanker Stadium! That has a nice ring to it. Perhaps one of the kids receiving a glove will go on to play in Las Grandes Ligas.

I have been trying to find another good, used glove for myself. The mitt I now use I’ve had for a couple years. I was driving down the street one day and I saw it lying in the middle of the road. I didn’t even have to get out of my car to retrieve it. It’s not a bad glove but I just felt that since the kids are all grown and out of the house I was in a good financial position to treat myself to a new mitt.

I would prefer to get a used glove to spare myself the hassle of breaking in a new one. It was just like that with my kids. I adopted them after they had already spent most of their lives attending military school so I was spared all of the messy parent stuff. Now it’s just “Yes, sir” and “no, sir.”

After unsuccessfully looking for a used glove I broke down and bought a brand spanking new one. I spent more time in the sporting goods store looking at mitts than I did at the adoption agency. Gloves last a long time so you have to be careful picking one out.

My new MacGregor mitt is more beautiful than any new born. It is also about as useless as a baby and twice as much work. I think the last time I had to break in a new glove I was carrying a Bonanza lunch box to school (Little Joe was so cool and now that I think about it I think Hoss was probably gay).

I lathered up my new mitt with oil. It soaked it up like a sponge. I gave it another thorough basting with oil, put a ball in the pocket, wrapped it in a plastic bag, and stuck it under my mattress. If techniques for breaking in a new mitt have changed since I was in the fourth grade someone please let me know. Anybody want to play catch?

UPDATE The MacGregor glove didn't really work out and will go to the Cuban Allstars. I bought a Mizuno glove that cost a fortune. I hope I'm happy with the Mizuno.

Thursday, May 22, 2003

From the Ministry of Propaganda

Over the course of the last four and a half years I have truly come to love my adopted home here in Washington. I don’t think a single day goes by without my reflecting on the natural beauty of the landscape or how lucky I am to be living in such a great city. I’m sure that I will someday leave Seattle to live in another corner of the globe so I just want it said that I appreciated every moment I spent here.

Over the course of the past two weeks I have woken up on the ground on the rim of a desert canyon, had a picnic on the grassy bank of a mountain river, ridden on a ferry across the Puget Sound, ridden my mountain bike along an abandoned mountain railroad, but most of my time has been spent walking and biking around the streets of Seattle.

I just finished reading David Guterson’s follow-up novel to Snow Falling on Cedars called East of the Mountains. It was a simple yet compelling premise for a novel. I loved his meticulous descriptions of the road east out of Seattle through the mountains. His protagonist, a dying elderly physician, had scaled many of the peaks in these mountains, some I have climbed myself and others I hope to in the future. He writes about places that I have been and even diners where I have stopped for a meal. I am in the process of learning more about the flora and fauna of my new home so that I can write about these places that I love. I want to write with as much authority as Guterson, a lifelong Washington resident.

I know this officially makes me a geek but I have taken up the age-old pastime of bird watching. I broke down and bought a great pair of Nikon binoculars and an Audubon Society field guide to birds of the western states. I can now tell you that the crazy flock of birds we saw flying around the cliffs of Frenchman Coulee were white throated swifts. I think that as a writer I just like to have a name for things. I would rather refer to a tree as a grand fir or a paper birch rather than just calling it a tree.

If you read this page with any regularity you know that I get out of doors quite often. I have seen a lot of this state but I feel that I haven’t yet scratched the surface. I want to map out my summer in order to make the most of the time I have left here, however long that may be. Below is my “To Do” list for Washington.

1) Climb Liberty Bell (elevation 7,720) in the North Cascades
2) Visit the Washington coast (again)
3) Hike a section of the Pacific Crest Trail
4) Visit Olympic National Park
5) Ride up Mount Rainier on my bike again (from the gate to Paradise, 18 miles)
6) Do a lot of camping everywhere.
7) See a cougar in the wild (not likely, I know)
8) Watch the Mariners in the World Series (Why not?)

Thursday, May 08, 2003

Eclesiastes 1,9

Eclesiastes 1,9
Por Jorge Luis Borges

Si me paso la mano por la frente,
Si acaricio los lomos de los libros,
Si reconozco el libro de las noches,
Si hago tirar la terca cerradura,
Si me demoro en el umbral incierto,
Si cambio de postura mientras duermo,
Ocurre algo anterior. No hay un semblante,
No hay un ínfimo gesto involuntario,
que no haya acontecido incalculables
veces en el camino señalado
de mis horas, mis días y mis años.
No puedo ejecutar un acto nuevo;
Lo saben harto bien los silenciosos
Espejos que me acechan desde el alba.
Cada noche, la misma pesadilla
cada noche, el rigor de un laberinto.
Tejo y torno a tejer la misma fábula,
Digo lo que otros me dijeron,
Memorias de memorias de memorias,
Son mi agua y mi pan. No espero nada
Siento las mismas cosas en la misma
Hora de día o de la abstracta noche,
Repito un repetido endecasílabo,
Soy la fatiga de un espejo inmóvil
O el polvo de un museo.
Solo tú me das vida. Oh tú mi Egipto,
Con tu infinita variedad.

I thought I'd put up my favorite poem by Borges simply because I don't feel like writing anything else today. This is one of the few bits of literature that I can recite by memory. It is kind of sad how we have sort of abandoned memory in our system of education. I always was amazed by my professors who could run off verse after verse of Shakespeare or Homer. Now we all know the fucking theme song to The Brady Bunch. Sic Transit Gloria Mundi. If you have a good poem I'd love to read it.

Wednesday, May 07, 2003

So Close You Can Almost Smell It

It’s that time of year when I take every chance I can get to leave town to explore other parts of the state. It was mostly sunny when I woke up and it seemed like a good day to ride bikes on to the ferry and spend the day across the Puget Sound on Bainbridge Island.

The Washington State Ferry service is the largest in the country and most of it leaves right out of the port of Seattle. The pier is maybe a mile downhill from my apartment. I checked the schedule online and coasted down to the terminal. Bikes load with the cars on the below decks. The roundtrip fare to Bainbridge is $5.40 with a $1 surcharge for a bike. You can lock your bike in the below deck and go upstairs to the lounge and the upper deck. It’s a bout a 35 minute sail to Bainbridge. The view of Seattle from the water is worth the price of the trip.

The terminal at Bainbridge is at Winslow in Eagle Harbor. I guess a former east coaster would say that Bainbridge is the Nantucket of Washington. It’s not all that touristy; it’s more of a Seattle bedroom community than a resort. Winslow isn’t that much to look at. I think they did a great disservice to the town when they decided to have angle-in parking along the main street instead of parallel parking. The parked cars act as a barrier between the street and the shops along the street. They would have been better off to sacrifice a few parking spaces in order to make the town more pedestrian friendly.

What makes Bainbridge a good destination for biking is that once you leave the dock you are out in the countryside. Two lane roads wind up and down hills and past tidal pools and beaches. Traffic is sparse and the few cars you encounter are used to sharing the road with bicycles.

We rode around the eastern side of the island and stopped at Murden Cove. The tide was way out exposing a huge tidal flat that was being ravaged by gulls, herons, cormorants, and blackbirds. The tide pools were filled with mussels, clams, and crabs. Seattle was right across the sound but it seemed hundreds of miles away. I can see the water from my apartment but I can never smell the ocean like you can at Murden Cove. It was so quiet you could almost here a bald eagle fly directly overhead. As I walked along the beach this recipe kept popping into my head:

ZUPPA DI COZZE

2 garlic gloves
1/3 onion (diced)
1 16 oz can Italian tomatoes
½ cup white wine
¾ pound Penne Cove Mussels (washed thoroughly)
1 Lemon
French bread

Sautée the garlic and onions in a bit of olive oil. Add the tomatoes and simmer for about five minutes. Add the wine and bring up to a simmer. Add the mussels and cover. Cook until the mussels open (just a couple minutes). I like to serve this dish (not really a soup but merely a vehicle for eating mussels) with the bread cut up and in the bowls. Squeeze fresh lemon over dish.

The ferries run every hour so come back home whenever you want. I just like the idea that I can get this far away from Seattle without getting in my car. My next trip on the Puget Sound will be up to Victoria, British Columbia but that will have to wait until it gets a little warmer.

Back in Seattle you quickly remember that there isn’t much to do on a Monday night. I have to recommend the movie Bend It Like Beckham even though it was a little like watching a two hour TV sitcom. It is super-sweet and gives a good insight into life in a Sikh Indian family living in the London suburbs. I think what I like most about these sorts of independent movies is that I don’t recognize a single person in the cast. I just can’t do the Hollywood movies anymore. Period. If it has a star in it I won’t go see it. I may get around to watching the Hollywood tripe on DVD (I rarely watch all of the movie) but I won’t go see it at the theater.

After the movie I almost hyperventilated when I found the door locked to the Than Brothers Vietnamese restaurant in the U district. I could only start breathing again when I found another Vietnamese joint right across the street that serves a pretty good bowl of Pho—my latest favorite dish. Pho is really nothing more than glorified top Ramen. You would think that anyone who was poor and went to college could never eat another bowl of noodle soup but I guess time has healed my wounds inflicted by too many nights eating top Ramen at six packages for a dollar.

Sunday, May 04, 2003

Somewhere Near Vantage, Washington

One of the great things about living in Seattle is that if you don’t like the weather you can get in your car and change it. Drive up for winter and drive east into the desert for summer. It was overcast and dreary when we left Seattle yesterday morning at about 8 o’clock. I was looking forward to seeing the sun. A grande drip coffee from Starbucks lasted until we had driven over Snoqualmie Pass on I-90. Before we had made it to Cle Elum I was looking through my pockets for my sunglasses.

We were headed for a climbing area known as Frenchman Coulee near Vantage, Washington. This entire area is inside the North Columbia Basin Wildlife Area, a huge expanse of canyons. If you didn’t know you were in Washington you would guess you were at the Grand Canyon or somewhere in Mexico. It is all sagebrush desert, spires and rim walls of basalt, and a lot of sky.

I was too distracted by the scenery to pay much attention to how long it takes to get out here. I’d guess it’s about two and a half hours to the small town of Vantage on the banks of the Columbia River. When you pass Vantage and cross over the river take exit 143 to Silicia Road. Go north for about a half mile and turn left on Vantage Road. You will almost immediately see a series of basalt pillars on the left, a popular climbing area known as The Feathers. There is parking and camping on both sides of these columns.

Since it was a weekend it was fairly crowded with maybe ten pairs of climbers and at least as many dogs running around. We warmed up on the sunny side of the Feathers on a route called Don Coyote (5.8) then cut through the gap for a couple of more challenging routes in the shade.

In Seattle—even in the summer—it’s rare that the sun feels really warm. Out here in the desert, in early May, I had to lather on SFP 36 sunscreen. I also had to roll up the sleeves of my t-shirt and pant legs. WE sat out in the sun by the car and had a bite to eat and I actually felt hot—a strange sensation for a Seattleite.

We went a bit south and did a climb after lunch. It was in the shade and the wind had picked up a couple of knots. I had to put a sweater on for this route. It wasn’t very difficult but it was fun and it was the highest climb of the day. We also had this wall to ourselves. I didn’t lead any climbs but I felt pretty good about my performance.

We hiked around and checked out a few other climbing areas. I want to go back and camp over on a weekday when the place is empty. All of the climbing routes are fun and the scenery is downright spectacular. We also got to listen to the Mariners kick the crap out of the White Socks on the drive home.

Things I left behind and shouldn’t have: Baseball and glove for in-between climbs.

New thing I brought that was cool: My new collapsible camp chair from R.E.I. to sit on while changing shoes.