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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Angela Lansbury

I thought I was philosophical last night; it turns out I was in critical mode. My son was watching DVDs of Murder, She Wrote episodes. I was watching Angela Lansbury act, or watching how she portrayed Jessica Fletcher, reflecting on her performance as compared to her performance as a 17-year-old in Gaslight, which I finally saw this past week, of a smart-mouthed, upstart maid.

Angela Lansbury is my favorite actress. She started out her career as more assured than I could imagine someone that young could possibly be. She was great. She was supposed to be self-assured, to contrast with the psychic disintegration of Ingrid Bergman’s character. Lansbury’s character was supposed to intimidate Bergman’s, and she was completely convincing. Of course this is also due to Bergman’s genius. Lansbury is also supposed to suggest, very subtly and delicately, the maid’s loose morals, and she walks a very fine line in doing so. It is an astonishingly powerful performance.

Another amazing performance is in a movie I don’t really like but am very glad I saw, The Manchurian Candidate. Don’t read this if you don’t want to read a spoiler for this movie. Angela Lansbury is completely amazing in this movie. She establishes herself as a normal mother through at least the first half of the movie, but in concert with the rest of the movie, she slowly lets you see that there is something not quite right underneath, that she has something sinister at her core, and when the complete revelation comes, it is powerfully shocking. She is so totally evil that you can’t believe this is Angela—our beloved Angela!—the enemy agent responsible for directing her brainwashed son to be a murderer. You realize with horror she has programmed him to murder his fiancĂ©e and prospective father-in-law, and that she is slowly readying him to assassinate political figures for her and her organization’s power over the American people.

It always amazes me that she never seemed to get starring roles in any “A” movies, but now it doesn’t matter. Her performances are available to us on video or DVD and we can enjoy her spoiled princess in Danny Kaye’s hysterical The Court Jester, the pitiful Sybil Vane in The Picture of Dorian Gray, and in Samson and Delilah, she plays Delilah’s sister, the first love of Samson, whom she betrays and is accidentally killed by. My next favorites are the movies of the 1970s, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, in which she takes a correspondence course in witchcraft and saves England from a Nazi invasion; Death on the Nile, in which she plays the drunken romance novelist who first realizes who the culprit is and gets killed just as she’s about to tell Poirot; and The Mirror Crack’d, in which she plays Miss Marple with just about the characterization she would give a few years later to Jessica Fletcher. I loved her in the film of Rosamond Pilcher's The Shell Seekers, and in Mrs. 'Arris Goes to Paris, based on a book I liked as a young girl.

I got to see Angela Lansbury when she performed with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in their Christmas concert of 2001. She was everything you expect: charming, gracious, completely professional, extremely talented, and although she was then 76 years old, she took care to ensure that her voice was just right on every number. (I had gone to see Frank Sinatra on his 75th birthday tour, and he was terrible most of the time—drunk, forgetting lyrics, letting his voice crack, rasping—it was painful to watch.)

Kudos to a terrific performer. Angela Lansbury should have gotten that Emmy all twelve times.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Gout?!

My big toes are hurting. My husband suggested I have gout.

GOUT?!

I thought that was an 18th-century disease of fat old rich men who drank too much liquor. I don’t drink liquor. I am definitely not a man. I am not rich, and neither is the food I eat. I am not old. Middle-aged, okay, but of course I think people used to age much more rapidly than in this century. Okay, I might be fat, but I walk my dog two miles five or six days a week. So no way.

I looked it up on several medical websites. It seems it can attack anyone with problems that lead to too much uric acid building up in the bloodstream, and conditions could leave little crystal deposits in joints, especially the metatarsals. Hm.

I decided to go with my favorite remedy from my quasi-hippie days of the early 1970s: a juice fast. Way back one summer when my friends and I used to spend weekends camping around in the Santa Cruz mountains and eating nothing but “natural” foods and both males and females in our group had long hair and wore hiking boots for 48 hours until time to go back to work on Mondays, we used to do these juice fasts now and then as a way to “purify” our bodies and free up our spirits from all the poisons created by eating meat and dairy products and especially processed food.

It makes me laugh now to think of all our inconsistencies. We bought Welch’s grape juice because it was somehow purer than any other kind of juice. We drank it for 24 hours and then had soup made of nothing but fresh vegetables from the alternative markets in Santa Cruz. I’m not sure how pure our bodies became, but we had great talks about philosophy until the early hours of the morning and then had lots of energy to go hiking again.

Anyway, I decided to drink water all day today and not eat. I have to report that my toes feel a lot better, but is that because of the water, or is it because I have been sitting with my feet up on the soft hassock half the day? Is a water fast as good as a Welch’s grape juice fast? If I wax philosophical in conversation tonight, we’ll know for sure.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Wooster and House

How does Hugh Laurie do it? I have been watching old Jeeves and Wooster videos on DVD and laughing at the inane personality bursting from Hugh Laurie’s depiction of Bertie Wooster. Two weeks ago I started watching him in House, where he plays a character so diametrically opposite Bertie in every way that it’s difficult to imagine that the actor is the same person. Of course he is not the same person at all. He is twenty years older, with twenty years of more experience, twenty years of more understanding of the human condition.

It’s a question almost as inane as Bertie Wooster’s personality. Duh. It’s what actors do. They portray characters who are not themselves. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking there is some correspondence between actors and characters, especially if we’ve been watching too much Harry Potter or too much Twilight or some other series in which the same actors carry the same characters for year after year after year.

It’s hard to watch characters come to life on the screen, watch them over and over until you know their every expression, and at the same time keep the disconnect between the characters and the actors in mind when you see the actors in person, and those same expressions are flitting across their faces.

From actors I make the leap to friends and family. I can study their faces until I know every expression, but I still cannot know them fully. I cannot even understand my own family members, even though I have spent a lot of time trying to get relatives to tell me their life stories with more or less success. People do love to talk about themselves, and I’m one who loves to listen to their stories over and over.

I spent one whole summer listening to my grandpa tell me stories of his life while I took extensive notes because he wanted me to write his biography. Something was missing and I wrote no more than a couple of pages without being able to get a start. It took another fifteen years and his death to allow me to collect the information about him that filled in the hole that gaped for me when I tried to write before. I still did not know what truly happened, and there was a lot I left out, but I did write a decent seventy or so pages that helped people somewhat get an idea of what he did and the way he thought.

Back to actors, you always read in interviews that they hate being pigeon-holed or type-cast in one kind of role, and Hugh Laurie’s divergent creations are a great lesson in not judging people, as well as another proof that nobody can ever truly know anybody else. We cannot even know ourselves perfectly; only God can do that. But we can listen and learn as much as possible—we can mourn over the tragedies and laugh at the comedies.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Dying Branches and Family Trees

I can’t help myself—I have to write about this family I’ve been researching, even though I wrote about them just yesterday. They deserve a memorial, because this branch might be dying out. Here’s the story.

John and Barbara grew up a few streets apart in a suburb of Manchester, England. They were the same age and both sets of parents worked in the cloth manufacturing industry at the very dawn of the industrial age. Probably the parents had started as cottage weavers, but with the invention of steam power and things being mechanized as fast as inventors could figure out a way to do it, they moved into town and began to specialize. John and Barbara had a little schooling and by their mid-teens were working alongside their parents.

Money was probably pretty scarce for the families. John and Barbara were not able to marry until they were 23 years old, and within a few months they spent their hard-earned money to buy emigrants’ passage to New York. Their eldest son was born a few months after they had arrived and had gotten work in a cotton and woolen mill near Philadelphia. Barbara was busy with babies every two years for ten years, and John got work in various mills, moving the family within Pennsylvania, to Massachusetts, back to Pennsylvania, to Maryland, and finally to New Jersey. The boy born in Massachusetts had died when he was about ten months old, so they had four children. The Civil War came along, and John served as a First Lieutenant in the New Jersey 1st Cavalry Volunteers, Company D. Before the war was over, the last daughter was born, six years after her next older brother.

John decided they must try the West, and he made his way across the country with a wagon train, ending up in Oregon. There he founded a woolen mill in Brownsville, and Barbara and the five children, and several friends who wanted to work in the mill, prepared to join him there. They sailed from New Jersey to Panama, crossed the Isthmus on mule back, and sailed up to Coos Bay, stopping at San Francisco on the way. Sadly, Barbara contracted malaria in Panama and died a few weeks after getting the children safely to their father in Brownsville, Oregon. She was only 38. John lost heart and left the mill. He moved the children to that little town on the Columbia River where eventually his three remaining sons would be buried. He became the town’s photographer. He lived only nine more years, dying when he was only 48.

His eldest son, William, never married. He is the one I talked about yesterday, who worked as a laborer until his death when he was 67.

The next son, Benjamin, had that very odd marriage to Felicia who left him after 31 years and married someone else (I found the second husband after writing about them). Ben and Felicia had two sons, Ralph and Paul. Paul died at the age of four. Ben died at the age of 75. His son Ralph died at the age of 58, leaving two sons. Ralph’s sons, Don and John, died at the ages of 50 and 54, respectively. Wow. Did these men have short-lived genes or what? I don’t know whether Don and John had children. I think at least one of them did, because in the hazy part of my memory when we used to visit Ralph’s widow once a year (our yearly trip across the Golden Gate Bridge!), I think I remember meeting her two grandchildren once, children about my age or a little older.

The next sibling was Sarah, who married Clark and had two daughters and then a son. The second daughter, Beatrice, died at the age of five. The eldest daughter, Claudia, became a music teacher and never married or had children. The son, Clint, was epileptic and cared for his widowed mother until she died at the age of 74. Clint died soon after their mother, when he was 45. He had not married nor had children. Claudia died when she was 79.

After Sarah came Joseph. He’s the one who married for the first time when he was 56, to a woman who was about 50, and they didn’t have children together. He died when he was 81 years old.

Finally there was Laura. She married Ferdinand, and they had two daughters, Beatrice and Ruth. The elder married when she was in her mid-thirties; the younger never married. Beatrice had one son and died when she was 49. Laura died ten years later, when she was nearly 83. Ruth was a nurse and lived to be 83. Beatrice’s son had six children. I’m one of them.

If Ben’s grandsons, Don and Ralph, had children, then they and we are the last of this family. There are probably only eight of us in my generation, and from six of us there are only four more in the next generation. A shrinking branch!

In summary, John and Barbara had six children, seven grandchildren, three great-grandchildren, eight great-great grandchildren, and four great-great-great grandchildren. The trend doesn’t seem to be toward growth in the family tree. Where are all the branches? This tree seems to be growing like a bumpy shrub or something. Maybe the next generation will have only two in it, full circle back to John and Barbara’s generation. And then the tree will disappear. Is that sad?

Naaaaah.

Speaking of dying trees, or not, you should see two of my trees in the front yard. A couple years ago, our next door neighbors left and the man who owned the house came and sprayed the weeds from time to time that summer. He used this powerful herbicide that is supposed to keep anything from growing for years. The wind blows all the time here, and that stuff blew over the little fence and through the west half of the Macintosh apple tree. It hit the new little honey locust tree that our daughter and granddaughter gave my husband for his birthday. By the end of the summer, the two trees looked pretty darned sick. A year ago in the spring, the honey locust looked dead, and the apple tree was having a very hard time of it. It put out sick-looking little leaves that withered but somehow didn’t quite die until winter. We cut off the honey locust and trained up one of the suckers out of the roots to make a new tree. It's skinny, but it's doing well. This spring only half the apple tree leafed out, and those leaves look sick. A local expert told my neighbor to tell us to cut out all the dead stuff and not give up hope. This week we cut out all the dead stuff, and now we have a half a Macintosh apple tree. It looks terrible! We’re hoping to train some suckers to become branches out the west side of the tree. I decided I’d better put fertilizer on it every week—talk to it encouragingly every morning after my walk—you know, whatever I can think of to give it every chance to recover.

Like we did with the apple tree and the honey locust when it looked like they were dead, when your family is severely stressed, you sometimes do something radical and you always pray. If your family is dying out, it might not matter at all. The thing is, families are eternal and so it doesn’t matter whether a tree branch here or there stops growing: you have a responsibility to do everything you can to keep your section healthy while it’s here and then pray that it will reach its full potential in the hereafter.

I’m pretty sure that John and Barbara are proud of the lot of us.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Debunking Family History

One day in Oregon, we drove to a small town on the Columbia River. We rolled in, checked in at our motel, and my sister-in-law and I went out to a cemetery where I had information that my grandma’s three beloved uncles were buried.

I had heard stories of these uncles. They helped raise their baby sister, my great-grandmother. One uncle was supposed to be an operator of a riverboat on the Columbia River. The navigation at the mouth of the Columbia where it flows into the Pacific Ocean is supposed to be very tricky, very dangerous. I had formed romantic ideas of his very dangerous occupation. I don’t remember hearing much about the occupations of the other uncles, but they were all supposed to be extraordinary people.

However, in the spirit of the appraisers on Antiques Roadshow who delight in telling people how wrong their ideas are about their inherited wealth, I found the truth about these uncles and their occupations, and a little bit more.

The uncle who was supposed to have been the lifelong bachelor steamboat operator turns out to have started his working life as a carder in a woolen mill when he was a very young man, and from then on he is described as nothing more romantic than a laborer, or a farm laborer. Uh oh, this is sounding downright dull.

The second of the uncles started out promising: as an 18-year-old he was a fireman on a steamboat on the Columbia River. This sounds like our man. Ten years later he is described as an engineer, but what kind is left to the imagination. Maybe a train engineer? A steamboat engineer? Thereafter he was a fruit tree farmer on the old Columbia River highway near Astoria. He married and had two children, one of whom died young.

Then, twenty to thirty years later, something weird happened, and I wonder if anyone will ever know what it was. In 1900, a census taker came around the farm on June 8th, and he wrote down Benjamin as the head of the household, Felicia as his wife, and their son Ralph, age 19, a teacher. It all looked perfectly normal. But the next week, on June 16th, a census taker inside the city limits enumerated the same family at a different location, with some strange differences. Ben was just “B” and the boxes for his parentage and place of origin are filled with one large word across the page: “unknown.” His occupation is listed as “auctioneer” and it says he’s unemployed for five months. It says he owns the home, but it’s mortgaged. The information for Felicia is more complete, but neither of their birth year boxes contains accurate information. Their son Ralph is listed here as being “at school” and unemployed for four months. I wonder if this all means that the parents had bought Ralph a house in town. If there were no more strange census returns, that’s what I would conclude.

However, ten years later things get a lot stranger. On April 26th, the census taker came around to the farm and wrote down Benjamin and Felicia and all the correct information about them. They had been married 31 years. The third person living with them is Ben’s older brother, William, working as a farm laborer. Now Ben owns the farm outright, with no mortgage on it. Things look pretty prosperous.

The next week, on May 2nd, in Santa Clara County, California, another census taker found Felicia as the head of a household consisting of herself and her son, Ralph, who is a professor at the high school. Felicia is employed as the house mother of the “clubhouse.” What does this mean? Has she figured out how to clone herself? Did she move to California and get a job within six days? What happened to her and Ben?

The next year, she is found on a passenger list for the ship Asia disembarking at San Francisco, having come from Hong Kong, China, and planning to return to Portland, Oregon. Did she and Ben decide she should have lots more freedom of movement? Or was the truth that their marriage broke up after Ralph was grown and established?

The final blow comes on 15 January 1919, when she is reported to have married in Clatsop County, Oregon, groom unknown. I haven’t found a record of hers and Ben’s divorce. He didn’t die until 1927. Did she commit bigamy? Hm. It is quite interesting to come across the skeletons in the closet that the older members of our family never told us.

In January 1920, the census taker finds Ben living in a large rented house in Astoria, where he is the head of the household and says he is single, with 17 people renting rooms from him in a sort of boarding house called “Astoria Land Home.” His older brother William had died three years before.

Their younger brother, Joseph, remains something of an enigma. He escapes being enumerated on the census until he has retired, so nothing is known of his occupation. He did not marry until he was 56 years old, and his wife had been married before and was around 50 years old when they married. They owned a home in Portland in 1920 and were still there in1930. Joseph died in the Santa Clara Valley of California before 1940. His wife died in Portland two years later.

The graves I found were in Joseph’s name. He must have bought the lots when the eldest brother, William, died in 1916. William had no other family. Then Ben died in 1927, apparently still estranged from his son and ex-wife, because he is buried next to his older brother. When Joe died twelve years later, his wife buried him there beside his two brothers, and whoever was left after that buried her there too, in that little town on the Columbia River, several hours’ drive from where they lived most of their lives.

It is not the story I thought I was going to find. It’s a lot more human, and it has a lot of sadness in it.

Monday, June 21, 2010

No Stone

We’ve been cemetery hunting. I decided one rainy afternoon when we held a mini family reunion at a restaurant in Portland that afterwards we would program “Jane” our GPS to take us to the cemetery where my Grammy’s baby boy was buried, the uncle who lived only a couple of weeks. I was curious to see his grave, since when I was a child hanging around my older relatives, they never spoke of Earl and nobody I knew ever had visited his grave.

We found the cemetery easily. It is one of those that some kind genealogically-minded soul has catalogued and put online, so I had a map of all the graves and the correct coordinates for the one I sought.

It should have been easy: count four rows from Holgate and then five plots in from the edge. But old graves tend to shift or something, and there were several spaces with no stones or signs that they had been used, and they weren’t reflected on the map. It was raining (of course, this is Oregon after all), and I was wearing sandals, and my feet were getting muddy. I couldn’t find any trace of the grave for the baby.

Perhaps my grandparents, just 21 and 23 years old and with a toddler daughter, were too poor to afford a gravestone at the time their baby died. Perhaps as the years passed, and the jobs were scarce, and they moved a lot, and there were more and more children to provide for, it was less and less a priority to mark the place.

A few years ago when I was working and we could spend money on pretty much anything we wanted to, I would have immediately ordered a modest little stone to mark this place. But the economy has tanked, and although they say it’s recovering, I haven’t. I am not working and we are on a very tight budget, and the place will have to remain unmarked. I can’t see my aunts and uncles wanting to buy a marker for the brother they never knew when their parents didn’t mark the place or even visit it.

At least it is recorded on the Internet for those who seek him:
R.I.P. Earl Lester Read, born and died in January 1914.

Monday, June 14, 2010

No Mo' At Mo's

They’ve gone and messed with Mo’s chowder. I think.

After having bowls of chowder at different places this week, I say that Mo’s is scoring at the bottom of the chowder sweepstakes. How sad is that? Mo’s used to be the go-to place for clam chowder in the Northwest. No longer. It didn’t even taste all that good.

For one thing, they put way too much bacon in it. It tasted like bacon, not clams. For another, they seem to use little or no cream. I love cream and should never have it, so I usually know when I’m getting the contraband stuff. The chowder at the Flying Dutchman had cream in it. Definitely! Mo’s I don’t think so.

There were little or no vegetables in Mo’s chowder. Now, Mo’s never had much of a vegetable presence, but a little green onion or a little celery goes a long way in chowder. Nope. Again, the other contenders had some fresh stuff while Mo’s was lacking. Salt is another thing I’m not supposed to eat, but salt-free chowder is bland. The chowder at Mo’s was not salted enough, if at all.

Why did the chowder at Mo’s make me burp all night? The others never did that. I want to eat my chowder and be done with it, not taste it for hours afterward, especially if I did not enjoy it all that much at the time, thank you. Cook it right so that it does not haunt the diners who eat it.

The very best clam chowder has to have these things to be right, in my book: plenty of clams, milk and just enough cream to taste, potatoes, bits of yellow or white onion and green onion, a little celery, some herbs, maybe a secret ingredient or two.

Some people like a tiny bit of shredded carrot, primarily for color. A dash of paprika does the same job. I think Mo’s spices on the top include paprika. Mo’s always puts in a pat of butter after the chowder is in your bowl. It’s exactly the right touch when the rest of the chowder is right too.

Was I having an off day and Mo’s just got unluckily in the way that day? It surely is popular, with lines out the door even when the restaurant on the same street with the same view and the same general menu is nearly empty.

I guess you’ll have to see for yourself. Me, I’m going back to that place where I know I tasted the cream. Nothing like contraband for dinner!

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Fish Are Biting

Why is commercialism and materialism so very dominant in our culture today? Everything seems to be commercialized; everything seems to shout that acquiring material possessions is the be-all and end-all of our existence. This is very apparent when one is touring. Tourists are expected to buy lots and lots of junk, somehow to distill all their experiences into pieces of kitsch or clothing with place names.

Cannery Row in Monterey is one such place. I had no thoughts about what it might be like before going there. I suppose I had been there as a young child, but I have no memory of it. I know it was where the sardine canning companies were located until the collapse of the industry due to overfishing, and somehow I expected something of that history to have been preserved and made museum-like in freezing a time and space that no longer exist. However, if there are any vestiges of that past left, they are hidden in the shadows of the tourist shops, restaurants, upscale clothing stores, kayaking offers, and other commercial enterprises designed to lure the tourists in to spend money. In a way, I suppose, the area is what it always was: the commercialism of the sardine industry that led to nearly making the fish extinct is the same commercialism of the tourist industry, although I doubt they could ever “overfish” the people willing to come and be pleasantly entertained.

The bait is too good.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Spanish Missions in California

All school kids in California spend part of fourth grade learning about the Spanish missions founded by Father Junipero Serra in the 1770s. I learned about them way back in the dark ages when dresses were mandatory for girls and if you were caught wearing shorts under your dress so that you could hang upside-down on the monkey bars at recess, you got sent home. That’s why my friends and I spent most recesses exercising our imaginary horses around and around the fields, galloping, cantering, trotting, changing leads, and all the other horsey things we could find in books, or that some of us gleaned from the rare, high privilege of riding an actual horse. But I digress, as usual.

Now, for those who have known nothing about Father Serra since that last lesson in the fourth grade eons ago, you might be as pleasantly surprised as I was to find out that the Pope beatified him in 1988—isn’t that great? Our own California saint-in-the-making. I had visited a number of the missions he founded, because my parents loved to take us places lots of weekends and for short vacations several times a year. Mission San Juan Bautista was my favorite, not because Alfred Hitchcock set part of Vertigo there although that is now one of the reasons—when I was young and we went there, they had a life-sized model horse in the stables, and I got to get up on on it! Was I thrilled! The only thing that could have made it better would have been if I had been allowed to wear pants, but back then, girls had to wear dresses everywhere except in their own back yards or at the beach it seemed. Mission San Carlos Borromeo (at Carmel) is a new experience for me. Father Serra is buried here. The church is lovely and peaceful; it ranks the status of a minor basilica because of the burial here. I walk out into the gardens, and there are a couple prickly pear cacti with trunks three feet thick, they are so old! There is a cypress tree and a cedar that must have been here when Father Serra was here. They are venerable trees.

Then I turn the corner and see what takes me back to childhood and my youthful feelings of repugnance when I learned the fuller story of Father Serra. Even though political correctness and the awareness of the rights of native Americans was not yet fashionable, I had long been siding with the Indians, as we called them, in every cowboy movie I’d seen up to the age of nine. Those feelings were reinforced profoundly when I learned what Father Serra and his cronies had done to the native Californians. There are thousands of them buried around the mission grounds, but only a few of the graves are marked. It filled me with sadness that these peaceful people had to suffer brutal subjugation at the hands of the Spanish padres. Back when I was a child and learned about the one culture being lost as the other took over, I wished somehow there could have been cooperative coexistence.

I wish it could be so still—that we could appreciate each other. That we could peacefully coexist on this earth while we enrich each other with different ways of doing things, not fighting over which is better.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Trees and Prayers

June 5th.
I was thinking about prayer stories as we were looking at Joshua trees on the desert today. It is a sad thing to me that many people today have never had the depth of understanding that the pioneers crossing those same deserts had, so that when they saw the trees that perpetually hold up their arms, they naturally named them “Joshua Trees.” If people today know about Joshua at all, they think of the battle of Jericho and maybe can hum the song. There is a richness to having the background to fill in the story about Joshua praying with his arms uplifted, and the profound effect it had on the children of Israel.

June 6th.
From that subject I naturally turn to trees in general. I like trees. I especially like trees in California.


We had a fan palm in our yard as I was growing up. It looked like this one. It was a baby when we first planted it, only a couple of feet high. We always seemed to have to pose in front of it for Easter pictures when we were wearing our best clothes, or graduations, or other occasions like that. When we moved, it was a number of feet high. Nothing says “You’re in California” like palm trees, huh? Well, we happened to drive down the street where the house is that I am talking about, and here is the fan palm, very tall and all grown up. I cannot express how strange it was to see this tree, alien and towering. It doesn’t help that the house looks entirely different. The garage has been turned into a room. The big old walnut trees are all gone. The pyracanthus bushes are gone. Only the roof is the same.

The other trees I love about California are the oaks. There are a lot of species of oaks native to California, but my favorite is the valley oak. I love the look of valley oaks dotting golden hillsides. They make me think of Spanish haciendas of the earlier history of California, and I picture romantic scenes of vaqueros on horseback with their saddles decked out in silver dashing about the landscape.


The groves of eucalyptus trees smell to me like my youth. The time they were introduced to California is up for debate, one story being they were brought from Australia by Sir Joseph Banks, a royal botanist with the Cook expedition of 1770, and another story saying it was gold miners of 1849 through the 1850s who brought them. They are now known to cause ecological damage in a number of ways, and it would be better, say the scientists who know about these things, if the eucalyptus groves could be replaced by the native oaks. But I still love that aroma.

But by far the best trees in California to me are the giant redwoods. We are going to see them in a few days. They are the oldest and tallest trees on earth; they are the most majestic of trees in the world. They grow only in the narrow strip of land along about 400 miles of Pacific coastline in northern California and Oregon.

Now that we have seen these trees (obviously I wrote this blog over a period of several days!), I have to explain this photograph. I lay down on the needles at its base and took the picture straight up. The needles are one of the softest beds I think I have ever lain on. I could have easily taken a nap there with that giant standing guard at my head.

There is something cathedral-like, something divine in a grove of trees. It cannot have been an accident that Joseph Smith was in a grove of trees when he saw the Father and the Son. Trees are inspiring to me.



Friday, June 4, 2010

People and Pigs

I was reading Jane Austen’s letters and came across this statement at the end of the 2 Dec 1798 letter: “My father is glad to hear so good an account of Edward’s pigs, and desires he may be told, as encouragement to his taste for them, that Lord Bolton is particularly curious in his pigs, has had pigstyes of a most elegant construction built for them, and visits them every morning as soon as he rises.”

It reminded me strongly of the P.G. Wodehouse stories about Clarence Threepwood, the Earl of Emsworth, and his prize pig, the Empress of Blandings, and the rivalry he has with his neighbor over whose pig is the best. I wonder if Jane Austen’s neighbor had that kind of relationship with his pigs, and whether P.G. Wodehouse ever read her letters when her grand-nephew first published this particular one, and whether it inspired him to create the silly Earl and his prize pig.

I don’t have time to write more about this just now, but I hope to add something to it later on. I just couldn’t resist sharing it immediately. Doesn't it cheer you up to find people behaving like that? It does me!