Nature writing with my students

By Neva Knott

Prompt: The image of an owl soaring through the night.

I love the darkness and the damp wonder of fall in the Pacific NW–it’s a time of secrets, not those we fear to tell but a time nature reveals her secrets in the details of changing color. Soft grays of dawn unfold to misty mornings that eventually dry and the crayon blue sky of October carries the day to the evening. In the evening, the day birds in the holly tree near my house stop, suddenly. The sky fades back to grey and the temperature drops as the dogs andI take our last walk before dark. Even down town, with the city’s lights ablaze, a fall night is deep and solid and black.

This is the time of deer and coyote and owls. To see an owl in the urban wilderness is a rare gift. I have known this secret only once, in another Pacific NW night. December, in Portland, and that owl found refuge from the snow storm on the branch outside my window. I found him there, feathers aflutter and neck swiveling, leaning toward my secrets as I considered his.

The Writing Hour: Downtown Nordstrom is my Breakfast at Tiffany’s

By Neva Knott

First, a little writing process/challenge overview. A few days ago, I started this category of The Writing Hour because I’d grumbled to a friend I wasn’t getting any writing done…and he reminded me, just do it for an hour a day. Knowing he was/is right, I took up the challenge. Diligently, the first two days, making blog posts, too. The third day I wrote in my notebook while waiting to meet a friend for lunch, then it all devolved… the only writing I’ve done the past few days is professional, or email. Writing, still, but not getting my practice down on paper, not telling the stories of my life. So I took a hard look at my distractions and use of time. Like everything I set aside, I’ve been not writing these past few days because I’m tired, therefore “don’t feel like it.” What a bad habit… during graduate school I wrote all the time when I was tired and didn’t feel like it, and found it to be much like what my swim coach always said–getting in the pool is the hardest part of the work-out.


Downtown Nordstrom is my Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I went there just now while waiting to meet Tom for lunch…for lunch at a place I ate almost daily when I worked at said Nordstrom, Aztec Taqueria on 10th, across from the parking garage.

Every time I ride up the store escalator I think of all the time I spent working there, at downtown Nordstrom… of how it was a job I loved. As I disembark the escalator and walk through my old department–Brass Plum–I think, the best summer of my life was spent working there and living my carefree life. I had a lifestyle life then. Some of you will know what I mean–a lifestyle life is what we now see blogged about by mostly millennials who have time to travel and write about it, time to do something other than start a career and settle down. During the era of my lifestyle life living, there was no internet, no cell phones to use for quick pics, no blogs.

My lifestyle life wasn’t much focused on travel. I’d done that extensively as a child, so any trip I took during that time was a roadtrip to see parts of the American landscape, or simply to run around the great wilderness of Oregon. Rather, my lifestyle life consisted of learning my creativity, hanging out in the music/art scene, and spending days off running with friends. I was fresh out of college, learning to write and developing my eye as a photographer.

As I sit writing this, I can’t think of any images to post… most of my photo work from that time was practice, and is likely to be found only in the deep recesses of my basement.

My lifestyle life felt whole, which is different than happy, and exists on a much grander scale. I had a steady and secure job that I enjoyed, and friendships amongst my coworkers. I had a college degree, finally, and new eyes on the world because of it. I had a fun, fast circle of friends that I’d made in my early twenties, and there was always something going on. I had a sweet little studio apartment. All of this sealed with hopeful optimism and direction that felt like purpose.

I’m riding down the Nordstrom escalator now, almost time for my lunch date. This place does always make me feel better, like Tiffany’s for Audrey Hepburn. In those days I felt a little like Holly Golightly, and a little like LulaMae…I was comfortable in my skin as a city girl with a plan and a career and a fancy-free life, and a little like I’d escaped something more constraining through the choices I’d made and was making for my future.

As I disembark the escalator, I ponder…what would my life have been like if I’d stayed there, career, full time?

I left Nordstrom when I started publishing Plazm magazine, and when I started to think that a less consumeristic life was a good thing. In that mix, it was also time to move myself toward my big goal of becoming a teacher, so I took my first bartending job, a little less serious, a little more flexible.

I still love fashion, though.

As I walk outside, up toward the taqueria, past Pederson’s Quick Mart–it’s been there this whole many decades… the ghosts begin to whisper. Jim. He worked at the record store around the corner on Taylor, I don’t remember its name. I’d walk up and visit him on my lunch hour, and we’d hang out at Virginia Cafe in the evenings. The following summer I went to LA to visit after he’d moved there, there also working in a record store. He died a bit after that, back in Portland, found dead on the Galleria bathroom floor–a downtown mall just a block away from Nordstrom–with a needle in his arm. I always feel cold when I imagine him lying there. He was such a sweet, sweet guy, always nice and caring; I don’t know what went wrong in his life, but today I say Hey Jim as I walk down the block.

The other ghosts are more friendships that became elusive as I moved my life forward. Tammy and Jan, the other two musketeers of Friday and Saturday nights, dancing, laughing, slopping souvlakia sauce on our cowboy boots at Taki’s at the end of the night. They were also members of the downtown work-a-day circuit. We all worked on that few-block radius hub and would circulate through each other’s days on breaks and meet for lunch, and we’d all wind up at VC at the end of the day.

There were other members of our crew–the other Jim, Andrew of course, Rodney, Alan, Barbara, and a cast of VC regulars whose names I’ve forgotten or possibly never knew. That summer, 1990, we had a good summer. Work, music, river trips, running around the city late night. We had a good summer, a good youth.

As I walk the final block to today’s lunch,   I see in my mind’s eye, the patterned brick of those downtown streets, and see the green curtains on the VC windows that only allowed passers-by to see the tops of patrons’ heads, I see the wood paneled booths, and the one round table by the brass rails of the bar where we’d all gather. I see the shimmer of the water at Sauvie’s Island, and the dark black of Satyricon, the punk club where we’d end up every night.

And I think, what’s a lifestyle life look like now?

For today, I am content to feel the comfort of my Tiffany’s, and to have lunch with a dear friend.

The Daily Writing Hour: Portland, not Portlandia

By Neva Knott

Two days ago, a friend reminded me to write for an hour a day…this is what I have to say today…

Last night, we hosted a band, The Screamin’ Geezers, at my bar. Two of the members fronted long-ago-known Portland punk bands, The Confidentials and Sado-Nation (early 1980s). These bands played the early punk clubs here, 13th Precinct and then Satyricon, and helped establish the city’s still-burgeoning music scene. So the bar was filled with 50-somethings, all familiar, all the grown-up version of what I jokingly told my bartender was my “misspent youth.” It wasn’t, though…those years opened my creativity and gave me voice.

Club Satyricon

(So yesterday in my post I mentioned being an English teacher, but in the last few years, post 2008 recession, I’ve worked off and on as a bartender. In 2015, I quit my job teaching college to be with and after the cancer diagnosis take care of my partner, Andrew. After his death, I returned to bartending, actually buying my own bar, Black Dog Lounge).

When I first moved to Portland in 1980, I was afraid of the smells and bustle of the city, of the street people and beggars and crime. The one corner on Third and Burnside where the hookers stood. When we’d go down town to Saturday Market or out to dinner, I’d cling to my boyfriend’s arm, afraid that I would be accosted. I don’t know why. It wasn’t as if I’d never been in a gritty city: Dehli, London, Bangkok, Saigon. But for some reason, Portland made me afraid.

In the early 80s, I moved in from the suburbs and I began to love the city. I learned the quadrants that make up its organizational pattern, and lived in one easy to know. I loved the old man bars and the funky drugstore and the old groceries. There were fewer coffee shops then, but there was one just down the hill from my Vista apartment on 23rd, and I learned to drink espresso there. I became adept at city life.

As I began to know the city, I began to meet people in the music scene, some of them the same people who played and danced at my bar last night. There’s talk often of Satyricon closing, of our city changing, of our youth disappearing into age, but what I find as the subtext of those mutterings is the voice and heartbeat of community, of creativity, the rhythm and strum of the meaning in life.

There was a time I hated Portland, sometime in the mid-to-late 90s. It was as if a switch flipped, and one day I just had to get out. I think my social circle had fallen apart. I think that was about the time when hipsters as we now call them flooded in. I know it was the period when all of a sudden traffic was bad, things were expensive, and people started to seem rude. Recently, I began to reconnect with friends from my early, naive, frightened-yet-inquisitive days there, long ago in the 1980s and into the mid-1990s, and began to love my city once again.

Sometimes I think of that Neil Young song, “Helpless.” The line about “all my changes were there,” resonates. All of my changes have been in Portland. I found my adulthood here, I continue to find myself here.








By Neva Knott

It’s sweaty. I’m pushed right up front against the stage, to the right of Andrew’s drum kit. I don’t care about the little groupies trying to get his attention. Caitlyn’s here, too, and we’ve been his best girls for 20 years, so our vibe is move over, cute little things. I’ve been standing in this same spot at Dead Moon shows since the band began in 1987, and have no intention of losing my place now.

It’s sweaty and suddenly, the whole crowd pushes at once and I am pinned. Out of nowhere, our old friend Lyndsey stands behind us, creating a barricade and keeping Caitlyn and me safe from flying elbows and body slams. Better to be up front than in the middle of the mosh. The push always happens right about now on a Dead Moon night. The first chord is struck, everyone at the bar slams a last drink, and the night begins.

Andrew’s sweaty, and his curly long black hair is hanging over his face. As he hits the drums, he glances through the strands and sees me and Caitlyn. He catches my eye. I smile and dance. He smiles and hits his drums.

As I watch him play, my mind drifts across memories of our long friendship…

…all the nights at Satyricon watching bands…the time we left the VC and almost ran hand in hand to get to the club in time to see his favorite band, The Rats…the time we went to The Fuse, one of Portland’s first live-in loft galleries, where we sat on the floor, Andrew cross-legged and me in his lap, with his arms around me, and watched performance art. I could see the dish rack in the next room and thought it was the coolest way to live I’d ever seen…the days we’d go from bar to bar, bumming cigarettes and listening to the stories of the old men who gave them to us…the time we went to the river and I swam in my emerald green bra that I thought would pass as a swim top and someone made fun of me and Andrew told him to shut up, telling him, your dick is the size of a pea right now…the time I shaved my head and the guy at 7-11 called me Sinead and Andrew told him to leave me alone, that I still had a pretty face…the hot, hot, blistering summer day we went to Sauvie Island to swim in the river and it was so hot the cow ran into the river, bleating and crazed. That was the day I met Andrew’s mom, and she told me I was a blessing for taking him and his girlfriend to the river…the early days, when we were all still 20 something and we’d go to Sauvie Island on Sundays, to swim off hang-overs and nap on the beach…the time we went to The Highwaymen: Johnny Cash, Wayon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and Kris Kristopherson, and we were two of the only people dressed in black, everyone else seemed to be wearing pink, and I tried to drink shot for shot with Andrew, until I ended up in the bathroom back at Satyricon, puking into a bucket while Andrew sent in Debbie and Ann Marie to check on me…jamming up to Crown Point in Ann Marie’s jeep with she and Rod to escape the city on a beautiful summer day, top down, Rolling Stones blaring…the time I got off early from a bartending shift and met up with him and we stayed out all night, playing pool and I neglected to call home to tell my boyfriend I was ok…he times we were lovers, off and on, throughout my college years.

He was the only person I wrote letters to while I was away at college and the first person I’d find as soon as I blew into town to escape Olympia and college life for awhile.

Andrew was my first friend in Portland.

I moved to Portland from Olympia in 1980, just a year after high school, with my high school sweetheart, Terry. Though I’d travelled extensively with my parents from the time I was six until about eighth grade, I was shy, and didn’t like new places. I tried to get to know our new neighbors, I tried to make friends at work, and of course, I tried to know Terry’s work-mates. But nothing stuck. Honestly, I didn’t like many of the people he brought home. So my social circle remained friends from high school, his sisters and my sister, who all lived in Olympia–but we visited often. Terry worked rotating shifts: two weeks of days, two weeks of swing, two weeks of graveyard, and I worked retail hours. I spent too much time by myself, watching 80s detective shows: Hart to Hart, Rockford Files, Magnum P.I., and Murder, She Wrote. I was lonely and scared and lost. I was also only 19.

I spent another three years trapped in my isolation. Our relationship ended just before my 22nd birthday. I moved out. The package of my freedom included a one-bedroom apartment, a couch, dining table and bed, a car, and my job as an assistant buyer for a local chain of jeans stores. And more empty minutes.

Jodi, a girl at work, befriended me. My loneliness matched hers, but she had different ideas than TV nights and girl talk. She introduced me to the scene. Portland in 1984 wasn’t the hipster, sustainable lifestyle, artisan mecca it is today. It was smaller, much smaller, and downtown was the core. Outer neighborhoods hadn’t been gentrified and the Pearl was just the warehouse district, where some of the guys I met lived in a space that was so large they had to skateboard to the bathroom. Most of us were too broke to have phones, but there were so few places to go that by word of mouth we all got to the right place for whatever was happening.

It was a Thursday night. Pick any Thursday in the winter of 1984, and it could have been that one. We went to the Virginia Cafe for buck night. The line was out the door as was standard, and it was cool to arrive a bit late, but not so late that you really had to stand in line. The bartender’s name was Fern, and the one-dollar drinks were strong. I’d not really been a cocktail drinker before, but you don’t go to buck night and drink beer.

While waiting to order, having finally made it through the door and down the gauntlet to the bar, I looked around, checking out the crowd: guys in tight black jeans and rumpled shirts, some with vintage brocade vests, some with old but ornate cowboy boots. Some with huge jangling belts, and many with dyed-black hair. Girls in short skirts and go-go boots, vintage dresses and coats, worn with black lace stockings with heels. My eye caught this one guy, making his way through the swarm of people and up to the drink line. He seemed to know everyone and smiled as he greeted each person. He had buoyancy to him. He was tall and thin, had black curly hair and he was cute and rich in persona. I looked at Jodi and said, “Who’s that?” His name was Andrew, and I wanted to know him like everyone else in the room knew him.

Buck night at VC was the Thursday night, Saturday night ritual, but the heart of the scene was Club Satyricon. Dark, dingy, loud, punk, Portland’s version of New York’s CBGB. In the early days, the vibe of Satyricon was more that of a corner bar, except we were all young and dressed in black, and the music was live, local, and loud. A decade later, Courtney Love of the band Hole and Kennedy, an MTV VJ, would claim they made the place famous, but if you ask most of us, they were a bit late to arrive, stuck-up pretentious poseurs.

I’d heard of Satyricon from a guy at work. He thought he was a little tougher than the rest of us, and tried to scare Jodi and me from going, telling us we’d get our asses kicked by punk girls. His admonishments had the opposite effect. I didn’t really know what punk was, but I was curious.

The front of the building, painted flat black, looked derelict. The long bar to the left, band posters everywhere, the big red horseshoe booth to the right. The stage was up front, a simple plywood carpeted platform. Every week or month or so, someone would paint the backdrop. It was an ever-changing street-style mural.

Jodi and I walked in and sat down on a couple of chairs up by the stage, in the darkness and waited–for what, we didn’t know. She was busy evaluating the tough chicks, girls dressed in shorter skirts than us and with more skin showing, wearing ripped stockings and big hair, bleached or dyed. I looked around, taking in every texture, gesture, sound. I felt naive and exhilarated.

We started hanging out at Satyricon, learned the cool bands–Billy Rancher and the Unreal Gods, Dan Reed Network, the Boy Wonders and later The Jackals, Napalm Beach–got on the good side of the bartender, Melissa, and flirted with the right guys. I’d see Andrew come and go, but didn’t yet have the nerve to put myself in his path.

Summer 1985. Jodi and I found ourselves at an after hours party. Somebody knew there was a vacant townhouse somewhere across town, and that the doors didn’t lock. The whole bunch of us bought six-packs of beer to go from the club and headed over to let ourselves in. Andrew was there. Jodi pointed his attention my way. I was sitting on a roll of carpet, and he sat down by my side. That night was our first as lovers. The next morning Andrew sat propped against pillows in my bed and showed me his match trip he liked to do to entertain his nephew.

Jodi and I parted ways soon after that party. I moved into a studio apartment in Northwest, the area of town populated by college students, artists, and 20-somethings at large. One of my first nights in that apartment, I went down to VC early on a Thursday, wanting just to be out, not wanting to slip back into my lonely evenings with Jessica Fletcher and Thomas Magnum, and wanting some food. I sat at the bar, by myself, something I would have never done just months before. Andrew, without my seeing him, slid onto the stool next to me, and in his casual way asked what I was doing that night. I told him nothing. He said, “Ruby and I are going down to the club–you want to come with us?” That was our first night as friends.

Andrew introduced me to his best friend, Ruby, and at Satyricon that night, the two of them introduced me to Heidi, Katherine and Alison. We girls danced while Andrew blended into the crowd of guys watching the band. In between sets we drank cheap beer and asked those get-to-know-you kinds of questions. As the night wound down, we bought to-go beer and headed to my apartment. I went in a car with Andrew and two of his friends. Ruby went in a car with the other girls. The driver of our car stopped for gas, and we lost Ruby, Heidi, Alison, and Katherine at the turn. So I hung out with Andrew and his friends late into the night.

Friday, I ran into Heidi at the grocery store–in the cracker aisle. As I turned the corner and saw her reaching toward the shelf, I hesitated, not knowing what to say, then walked up to her side and said, “Hi. I was worried when we lost you all last night–we stopped for gas.” Heidi said she was glad I told her and that she knew something must have happened, but that Ruby was mad and had kept saying, “That bitch took off with all the boys and all the beer.”

Music, as I knew it until I found punk in Portland, was the beautiful tonality and sound that circled out of my parents’ stereo, or was the loud hair band rock n’ roll that my high school friends and I watched strut across the stage of the Seattle Kingdome. Records were objects that people had, tokens of friendship I got at birthday parties. Singing was what my dad did to lull my sister and me to sleep when we were little girls. In Portland, music was more than entertainment or a pastime–it was, and is, the rhythm of the city’s heartbeat.

One Saturday shortly after our cracker aisle meet-up, Heidi invited me to the movie The Unheard Music by the band X. I went, thinking two things–what kind of music is “unheard,” and what kind of a band name is X? I sat in that theatre darkness and watched a woman with unkempt hair and blackened teeth blend her voice with that of a tall, thin man whose guitar seemed to emanate from his person. The songs they sang were songs they, Exene Cervenka and John Doe, wrote. Some were based on ideas, like “Real Child of Hell,” a song about the “true trouble…you never see coming,” and some were imagery-laden and raw in theme, “Imagine a silver cross on a coat of black leather, swinging side to side on the neck of a wolf.” The band’s music was poetry mingled with the slow strum of a guitar.

My life changed. I’d never heard anyone express deep thinking like John Doe’s idea about the real child of hell as a metaphor for hard trouble–I’d never experienced anyone thinking outside of school. Seeing X on screen was the day I saw music as art, and realized art was something people made. The band had formed to “play music that wasn’t bullshit.” Los Angeles, then, was what John Doe called “an open city,” one with no live music. The images in the movie were my introduction to social commentary. As the movie progressed, I learned that unheard music is music denied radio play, music not made for commercial gain. X and their brand of punk was an alternative to the Me generation of conspicuous consumerism foisted upon us in the 80s. That perspective stood in sharp contrast to the quaffed sounds of my teen years. I lost a bit of my naiveté that day; more importantly, I found my creative self in the beat of the unheard music.

A couple of years later, in 1987, I left Portland to attend The Evergreen State College. There, I studied social change, creative writing, and photography. My version of the ethos I saw in The Unheard Music developed. I left Evergreen in 1990, and co-founded Plazm magazine, an internationally known publication that featured work by emerging writers, artists, and graphic designers. In making that magazine, I made the media I wanted to see in the world, created for artists an alternative to commercial galleries and publications. Andrew and Dead Moon played a few fundraiser shows for us, always willing to support my endeavors.

Once, 1988 or so, I asked Andrew if he thought we could ever be together; he replied, “I’d love to be with you but I don’t want to drag you down into the shit I’m in right now.” Shortly after, he asked me to help him get clean so he could fly to Europe for the first Dead Moon show there. Not knowing why he asked me, I still don’t know, I did help him–he kicked in my college house bedroom, and I think we both hoped he’d never go back to that hell he’d been living in. If you know Andrew, though, you know he made his way back to that life of misery and it eventually took from him everything he held dear and ultimately kept us apart.

When I moved home from college in the summer of 1990, we spent pretty much all of our time together, when I wasn’t working and he wasn’t on tour. It was that summer that the band first played at Vera in Holland, their introduction to Europe. Andrew invited me to come on tour with them when they were to go back in the fall. I didn’t, because he showed up at happy hour the day after playing in Eugene, with a girl, and she was telling everyone she was his girlfriend. George, the owner of Satyricon, urged me to go anyway, telling me, “He really wants you to go–he doesn’t talk about girls like he talks about you. You should go, that other girl doesn’t matter.” But, I didn’t; I couldn’t go to Europe with someone else’s boyfriend. Andrew returned from that tour with Kersten on her way from Germany, supposedly to become his wife, the girl from Eugene lost in the shuffle.

That scenario shaped our relationship for years to come. We were always close, always gravitated toward each other in a crowd, valued the moments we spent away from the crowd, running around Portland for days on end, crashing on friends’ floors, making it home to my apartment sometimes, ending up at the river often. But there was always some other girl. I liked and became friends with the girls who became Andrew’s girlfriends, with whom he had actual relationships (and for their privacy I won’t mention names here). I’m still friends with them to this day, so much so that we helped each other in our grief. But I gave up on thinking Andrew and I’d ever be more than close friends.

George sold Satyricon in 2003 after a 20-year run. By then, we–the original denizens–called it “the living room.” The club had become famous as a musical seed-bed, with Portland bands like Dead Moon, Poison Idea, Napalm Beach, King Black Acid, and bands that went bigger, like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, the Foo Fighters, playing their early shows on that plywood stage. No matter the band, once they started to play, we all crushed up front, sweating, dancing, slipping in spilled beer, bumping into each other, loving life. Andrew, Ruby, Heidi, Alison, Katherine and I–and others we collected along the way–had made a pact of fun by which we lived out our twenties with the club as the epicenter of our world.

By walking through Satyricon’s doors, I found my way into the heart of the city I’d been so afraid to embrace. I found genuine and creative people there rather than mean punk chicks posturing to beat me up. None of us were the headline-making angry skinheads; in fact, we shunned them when they’d try to come onto our turf. Through the friendships I made at that dark, loud, and dingy punk club, I overcame my shyness. I owe my ability to gracefully slide in and out of social situations to that place and to Andrew. He taught me how to read people and how to hold my place in the world.

By the time the club closed, adult life had seeped in. Ruby was raising her son and daughters, Heidi and Alison had moved to California, I was teaching, and we’d lost track of Katherine. Andrew still lived the rock n’ roll life, a Portland legend, a famous punk drummer. He hadn’t had a “job” job since he bartended at Satyricon way back when, and I’d come by on a Monday or Tuesday for a burger and a bottle of beer after taking a night class at the community college.

Mid- to late 1990s. As I settled into my career, I went out less and less. Teaching made it hard to stay out late and get up early. But, whenever I made it to a show, no matter the band, I knew Andrew would walk through the door. A wall of people would glad-hand him on his way in and through the crowd. Always witty and energetic, he had the ability to make each person feel special. He would smile, make a joke for each one of them, then would slide onto the barstool by my side and squeeze my hand.

During the dark times in my life, when I was struggling with my career and family and relationships gone wrong and the betrayals of false friends and collective the shit of adult life, I’d think, “If I could just find Andrew and spend some time, it’d all be ok; I’d be ok.”

A few years ago, maybe a decade ago, probably longer ago, maybe it was that night we stayed out and played pool, I gave Andrew a ride home. He’d asked me to take him to an old room-mate’s on the way so he could pick up some bags of his stuff. In those days, his running free bachelor days, he called home the place with his “most bags of shit.” I helped him carry them, big black trash bags full of clothes and what-not. The knot in bag in my hand slipped loose. As I worked to re-tie it, something inside caught my eye; I’d written Andrew letters while I was away at college. I mailed them to Satyricon and he always got them. There they were, probably 10 years old, in that bag. All of them.

Late summer, 2014. Heidi came to Portland for a conference. After the meet-and-greet, she and I headed down to Dante’s, the city’s one plausible stand-in for Satyricon, to meet Ruby, her boyfriend Rod, and Andrew. Just as we stepped in the door and looked to the bar, I saw Ruby’s face. It lit up, framed now by grey curls, and she smiled. Two steps later, we three girls were all in each other’s arms, laughing, talking, hugging, mostly smiling. We made our way to the bar, still in a jumble. Andrew was there, waiting. I asked about Rod and Ruby pointed–he was out on the dance floor, watching the band. I watched him, sun-baked, braids as long as Willie Nelson’s, tall, ever-moving. He’d nod his head a bit, spin around, move to another spot, shuffle his feet. I joined him and we danced swing.

December, 2015. X played in Portland. Andrew and I went, the first time we’d been out together, just the two of us, for years. I was in the pre-Christmas funk, overwhelmed by all the commotion of the holidays, so I welcomed the step into that other world, the one of friendship and music. The Blasters opened the show. We stood up front and hung on every note played, every drumbeat, every lyric sung. In between songs, Andrew leaned in to give me his commentary on the history of the band or people in the crowd. There were no cute little things to push out of the way that night. Neither of us knew anyone in the audience and the show was hollow–people just stood and stared straight ahead at what they’d come to see. Andrew kept saying, “Don’t these people know they’re at a show? It’s The Blasters and X…” He was disgusted that the audience was at a punk show and were just standing around. For me, though, when X took the stage it was 1984 and 1992 and 2004 and a movie theatre and this club and Satyricon all at once. I was with Andrew and the rest of the world shrank away.

Shortly after that X show, Andrew called me one evening and told me he loved me, that he always had. Said he didn’t like how his life was going, that he regretted we’d never gotten together. He asked me, “Will you come stay with me at the rock n’ roll show in Seattle next weekend?” I did. Ruby came to Seattle too, and in the hotel room Andrew teased us, saying “Everyone must be mad at me…I have all the bitches and all the booze.” After that weekend, we stayed together through the cancer diagnosis and radiation and the sobriety rehab, until his he took his last breath this spring, March 8, 2016, my head on his chest, just the two of us in that hospital room, holding hands.


Sitting in a Church Basement, Learning to Plant Trees

Sitting in a church basement, surrounded by people in rubber boots and every variety of raincoat. Drinking coffee out of small church cups, eating donated baked goods. There is even something that looks like pink whipped cream Jello on the food table. Boy Scouts of America Troop 64 meets here, as I can tell from their 4’ by 4’ bulletin board on the wall. There is a rolling bookshelf of Bibles near the water fountain.
On tarps set out around the room are two displays. One has a leafy tree in a black plastic pot, its boughs bound by twine; two 2” by 2” stakes, a shovel, rake, and a post pounder; hard-hat. The other display holds all the same goods, except the tree is barren. These are the tools of this simple program.

It’s cold and drizzly outside. Fall is turning to winter soon. It’s tree-planting season and the Friends of Trees Crew Leader Training begins, here in this warm basement that is abuzz with the caffeinated chatter. This is a pretty multi-generational event, an uncommon characteristic to most Portland things. These are shiny people, all here in good cheer and with a simple purpose.

Friends of Trees here in Portland, Oregon operates in partnership with The Bureau of Environmental Services for the simple purpose of increasing the city’s canopy cover—the portion of the city covered in trees. Last planting season, 3700 volunteers planted about 4600 trees in 80 neighborhoods. Friends of Trees operates as a volunteer, organization. Residents purchase trees for a small fee, participate on a planting crew for a day, and weekend after weekend, the city becomes more lush and leafy.

A couple of hours are spent inside, learning the procedures to teach our volunteers. Then the neighborhood homeowners arrive, and everyone shares a potluck lunch together of warm soups, macaroni and cheese, cookies, and lemonade. Again, all donated. One of the tenets of the program is to build community while planting trees—by bringing neighbors together.

As the meal ends, people are divided into small work groups and tromp outside. Each crew has a set of houses in the neighborhood to visit. Trees have been delivered by the pre-planting day crews, and the holes for them have been dug. On my crew, I have someone from Environmental Services, a guy who just moved from Las Vegas and is studying horticulture, two young college students, four Hispanic teenagers from a high-school service club, and the homeowner of one of our planting sites. Three hours later, eight new trees are in the ground. Now dirt-covered and exuberant we laugh and chat our way back to the church, wash the tools and call it a day.

As I wash my hands and watch the dirty water swirl down the drain, I realize a few years’ worth of “I should…” have crumbled away, Today I joined an organization that plants trees to slow climate change, to improve air and water quality, to enhance horticultural diversity and watershed health. For inspiration, those who run the program have looked to the work of Nobel Peace Laureate Dr. Wangari Maathai, who started The Green Belt Movement in Kenya. These are her words, “When we plant trees, we plant the seeds of peace and seeds of hope. We also secure the future for our children.”

Sing your story

“…and we sail into the mystic…”

I’m sitting in the winery at Edgefield, listening to Raina Rose sing. I’m here with Kate, Kate’s parents, and Raina’s dad.

I am trying to define what I am sensing and observing. The generation of parents, now dressed in button-downs and Docker khakis, members of that special generation in American history–the one that tore down the walls of the Establishment, of the “big snowed American public” as Steve MacGarrett of Hawaii 5-0 called it, of racism, of rigid lock-step allegiance to the war machine. The generation that broke open contemporary art and creative culture. The generation of drug culture, the generation that taught us all that we are free to be you and me.

These three proud parents here tonight are of the generation who taught their children to sing, you know, to give voice to their experiences big and small.

As I sit here and sink into the sounds and the thoughts as they amplify in my mind, I realize that the singer in front of me and my yogi friend sitting next to me are gifts, beings given into a time when the “big snowed American public” needs a reminder of what should be at the heart of every day: peace in one’s heart, family, community, gathering. A song. This is the generation who still believes that we not only can, albeit we should, let our souls and spirits fly.

My generation seems to have forgotten all of this. Or, quite possibly, the true midlife crisis is something akin to finding oneself, on a random Wednesday night, sandwiched between cultural shamen older and younger than oneself and realizing that you, too, have a gypsy soul, that you once believed in the truths, that you once upon a time were not snow-blind. And then you realize you can still step outside the air-conditioned nightmare as Henry Miller called it. You realize that age and generations are all one, and you, too, are younger than the sun.