Archive for the ‘Summer in Oysterville’ Category

Early Morning Identity Confusion?

Wednesday, August 9th, 2017

The Bird Woman in “Mary Poppins”

Jane Darwell was eighty-four years young when Walt Disney personally tapped her for the role of the Bird Woman in his 1964 production of “Mary Poppins.”  Although she appeared in more than 100 major motion pictures films in her lifetime, critics say she is best-remembered for that particular role and for her portrayal of the matriarch and leader of the Joad family in the film adaptation of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath for which she received the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.

Brave Goldfinch

These early mornings, its Darwell’s Bird Woman character I’m feeling very close to – not in the magical world of Mary Poppins but in my own marvelous world of Oysterville.  As happenstance would have it, I’ve been the one who has been feeding the birds in our nearby neighbors’ backyard each early morning for the last few weeks.  I walk across the churchyard, through a gap in the fences and into Carol and Tucker’s place, carrying my little tub of wild birdseed and, sometimes, a package of thistle seed – if the finch feeders need replenishing.

At first, the birds didn’t appear while I was within their sight, though I could hear a bit of flutter and flurry in the alder trees bordering the property to the southwest.  I knew they were watching and waiting for me to disappear so that they could have at the bounty I was distributing.  Gradually, though, they have become bolder.

The very bravest and first to show up while I was still at my scattering duties were the goldfinches.  One, two, three… as many as seven perched on the three feeders and on nearby tree branches.  They would only let me approach so far, though – not quite close enough for a good photo.  Not with my bare bones cell phone camera, anyway.

Hungry Jays

Next on the braveness scale were the jays.  For all their saucy talk, I’d have thought they would be the first.  But isn’t that often the way with the braggarts and blusterers of the world?  Finally, here came the juncos – lots of them.  Maybe they feel there is safety in numbers.  They seem to like the tops of the picnic tables best.  Perhaps they feel those tabletops offer a more direct flight back up to leafy safety.

The mourning doves are there, too, invisible but full of noise and whuffle.  They fly quickly from tree to tree, obviously watching, but apparently waiting to appear until I am well out of sight.  And, yesterday, a little gray squirrel joined the fun.  His eyes never left me as he picked up seeds and stuffed them in his cheeks – all quick decisive movements and with an attitude that said, “I’m outta here the minute you make a move in my direction.”

I’ll bet the Jane Darwell didn’t have half as much fun feeding the pigeons on the steps of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London as I do feeding the birds and other little critters within sight of the Oysterville Church.  Still… I feel a kinship.  Old ladies playing yet another of life’s enchanting roles!

…and another ‘rule’ bites the dust!

Tuesday, August 1st, 2017

Yes or No?

What with the real news, the fake news, the old news and the new news – it’s hard to keep up.  Case in point:  As the sun became more reliable this summer and we found time to be out in it more often, we replenished our sunblock.  Wrong!  Wrong! Wrong!  As it turns out, dutifully slathering ourselves in this protective lotion causes more skin cancers than it prevents!  Who knew?

According to an article in, California scientist Dr. Elizabeth Plourde has provided proof that malignant melanoma and all other skin cancers increased significantly with ubiquitous sunscreen use over a 30-year period. She emphasizes that many sunscreens contain chemicals that are known carcinogens and endocrine-disrupting chemicals. And, lest we are not comfortable with that bit of news, an extensive Swedish study found that women who avoid sunbathing during the summer are twice as likely to die as those who sunbathe every day.  (Which does beg the question — do the others not die?  Well… maybe something was lost in the translation.)

Sydney – 1940, Before Sunscreens

Suddenly, I find myself feeling guilt-free concerning all those years before sunscreens and sunblocks – the years when we smeared cocoa butter all over ourselves and laid by the pool in the California sunshine, tanning and staying on the lookout for cute boys who might make eye contact.  Not that I fully believe the ‘studies,’ You don’t get to my venerable age without learning that, given enough time, the research will reverse itself.  As in, remember Saccharine?  And Red Dye No. 1?

But…wait!  It seems that every time I turn around, I find various sunscreens and sun-blocks being advertised and touted.  I even heard a friendly public service reminder about summer slathering on our public radio stations.  You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to wonder how strong the ‘sunscreen lobby’ is and why we are still being encouraged to “apply liberally and often.”  Must be some powerful companies.  Oh, yeah… Johnson and Johnson is one.  ‘Nuff said.

And, once again, I’m back to the advice given me from my earliest years:  Moderation in All Things.  Mothers (at least in my generation) were always right!

A Matter of False Pride?

Sunday, July 16th, 2017

Host and Hostess Steve Romero and Martie Kilmer

My great-grandfather might have called it “vainglory” – I’m not sure.  It wasn’t exactly false pride that I felt yesterday.  Not the kind that “cometh before a fall.”  At least I hope not.  But I did undeservedly bask in all the complimentary comments I heard about Oysterville (in general) and about Steve and Martie’s garden (in particular) yesterday.  Fabulous all the way around!

It was the Music in the Gardens Tour and, as it turned out, we couldn’t go.  Nyel had been scheduled for yet another hospital stay beginning Friday and we had forewarned our tour guests from Seaside and Florida that they would be on their own.  Then, suddenly, the hospital cancelled Nyel’s appointment – bad blood numbers; maybe next week.  So, we were here, after all!  But Nyel couldn’t manage the treks through the gardens so… we stayed home.  Well, he did.  And I mostly did.

The Winterlings

I went north with our guests as far as the Captain Stream house here in the village – clutching my cell phone after instructing Nyel to call me if he needed me.  And then I spent a glorious hour admiring what people told me later was one of the best gardens on the tour.  I’m pretty sure they were telling the truth and I puffed right up as if I had something to do with it!  Of course, nothing could be farther from the truth.  But I was so pleased that my up-the-street neighbors were on the tour that a feeling of proprietorship totally enveloped me.

And my false pride didn’t stop there.  As I entered the garden, there were The Winterlings playing their distinctive ‘indie folk’ music, and one of my favorites of their songs, at that.  They had played here at a House Concert in March and it felt like ‘old home week’ to see them again.  Plus, of course, Steve and Martie were their usual elegant and welcoming selves.  They have been such a fine addition to Oysterville and I felt almost like they were my very own “show-and-tell” offering.  I surely hope I don’t get smat (past tense of smite; look it up) for thinking that!

Steve and Martie’s Croquet Court (Photo by Mark Scarborough)

So, with all of these benevolent and prideful thoughts, it was extra icing on the cake to see so many friends from all over the Peninsula (and beyond) in the hour or so I was there!  Did I have time between hugs and greetings to see the garden?  Yes… sort of.  And I think chances are good that I’ll see it again before too long.  When Nyel is feeling better, I want him to get a glimpse, too.  And, after all, ‘at the end of the village’ in Oysterville is only three blocks away!

The Doctoring Season

Monday, July 10th, 2017

H.A. Espy House and Barn, c. 1920

Another gray dawn here in Oysterville.  “It sure doesn’t seem like July,” I said. “In fact, it doesn’t even seem like summer yet.”

“Nope.  It’s not.  It’s the doctoring season,” was the somewhat grumpy response.

I agree.  We’ve had more doctor’s appointments these last four weeks than you can rattle a pill bottle at.  Three this week.  Beginning today.  All in Portland.  Two of them up-and-backs.  One a hospital overnighter and maybe longer.

This week, Nyel is in the spotlight – heart issues, mostly. I’ve done my share of out-of-town visits this season, as well.  But, praise be, mostly fairly mundane items – the dermatologist, the dentist, the ophthalmologist.  Check-ups and prescription adjustments – the patch, patch, patch of old age.  And always the accompanying mantra, “It beats the alternative.”

Steep Learning Curve

On the plus side is our shiny new Forester which sounds as though it should be dark green but, in reality, is Venetian Red Pearl according to Subaru.  I say it’s cranberry in color and pretty saucy, too.  We are still figuring out all the bells and whistles, safety-wise – which buttons to push for which kind of cruise control, adaptive or regular and what the warning ding-ding-dings are signifying when we don’t think we did anything.

Heading Out Once Again

Plus, we are trying to decide if we want to get the optional satellite radio station for an extra hundred and eighty bucks a year.  We have a few more free-trial months, but I’m inclining to ‘no.’  Their only folk station is online which doesn’t do us any good in the car.  That’s a deal-breaker for me in spite of the Willie Nelson channel that Nyel favors.  It’s amazing to me that of their 150 channels featuring every kind of music I ever heard of (and some I haven’t), there’s nothing devoted entirely to folk.  No channel that features Pete Seeger; or Peter, Paul and Mary; or Woody Guthrie or Joni Mitchel or Joan Baez or John Denver.  What the heck?

Oysterville Gothic 2017

So, along with a thermos of coffee (decaf – we’re old) we’re packing up our own personal top forty favorites – Fred Carter, Judy Eron, Cate Gable, Larry Murante, Randal Bays, Carolyn Cruso, RCMQ, Aaron English, The Willapa Hills, and, and, and…  We’re all set for the rest of the Doctoring Season – God willin’ and the creek don’t rise!

A Whole Lotta Music Goin’ On!

Saturday, September 3rd, 2016
Extras at the Church

Extras at the Church

It was music from noon to night in our neck of the woods yesterday – first at the church and then at the erstwhile parsonage.  Mrs. Crouch was probably tapping her ghostly toes and singing right along with us.  Well… lip-synching at the church along with the Blind Pilot band and, later, full-out harmonizing with the revelers at Kuzzin Kris’s Goodbye Party across the street.

Israel-the-Preacher Man

Israel-the-Preacher Man

By noon or a few minutes after, the main room at the church was pretty much full.  The all-call for ‘extras’ for a music video taping had generated the desired response and we, “the congregation” were in our places right on time.  Then, like almost every theatrical rehearsal or movie filming or even still photography shoot that I’ve ever been to, there was a lot of waiting.  We filled out release forms, watched the wrinkles get steamed out of the band uniforms (costumes) and waited patiently – right down to the little kids, which was impressive.`

Finally, the ‘preacher’ arrived!  Playing that role was lead singer Israel Nebeker, and his rushed entry into the church was part of the script.  There were half a dozen or more takes.  “Action” called the director/cameraman and Israel would burst through the door and rush up the aisle toward the dais, all the while being filmed by the fast-stepping backward-moving director and his hand-held camera.  Meanwhile, the band fake-played to a sound-track from their recently released third album, “And Then Like Lions.”

Nyel and Sydney and Blind Pilot

Nyel and Sydney and Blind Pilot

When it was our turn, we focused on the band, as instructed. while the camera panned the room from several different perspectives.  Finally, while the director/cameraman and Israel went outside to film his ‘late arrival’ to the church, the band posed with anyone who wanted to have their picture taken ‘for posterity.’

Anna and Anwyn

Anna and Anwyn

We were home by three, just in time to put the finishing touches on our preparations for the Goodbye to Kris Party.  No waiting this time.  People began arriving before the appointed hour (five o’clock) and stayed well into the evening.  Cate and Starla and Glenn brought music and instruments and, without benefit of rehearsing or extra ‘takes,’ sat down and played while we partiers sang along –  “Jamaica Farewell,” “Tom Dooley,” “Sloop John B.” “Michael Row the Boat Ashore, and more.  All with the most amazing harmonies.

Starla, Cate, Glenn

Starla, Cate, Glenn

And then, by special request, Kris sang a bit of an aria from “Carmen,” Cousins Anna and baby Anwyn arrived, everyone ate and drank and talked and… sang some more!  I don’t know about Kuzzin Kris, but I think it was a Perfect Party!  All except the ‘goodbye’ part!

What’s the dress code?

Tuesday, August 30th, 2016
1912 - Dress Code for Children's Portrait: White

1912 – Dress Code for Espy Children’s Portrait: White

There was a time that we knew (more-or-less) what to wear to the usual events and activities of our lives.  We had ‘school clothes’ and ‘dress shoes’ and ‘cocktail outfits.’  Our choices were dictated by time and place.  An afternoon garden party required a choice different from an evening dinner dance.

Nowadays, not so much.  In fact, when I ask Nyel what he’s going to wear for this or that occasion, his invariable answer is “Levis.”  Somehow, over the years, that has become the standard fashion choice — for both of us.  There are still degrees of appropriateness, though.  A ‘Montana Tuxedo’ (Levis with a sport coat, shirt and tie), for instance, is certainly more dressy than ‘Northwest Chic’ (Levis with maybe a shirt  or jacket from REI or another outdoorsy outfitter.)  For me, maybe a change of earrings.

2006 - Mom at 95.  Dress code always: a hat!

2006 – Mom at 95. Dress Code always: a hat!

So, yesterday when a blog reader questioned me about the appropriate dress code for extras at Friday’s Blind Pilot taping at the church, I had to say I was clueless.  I passed on the question to the woman who is making the arrangements and she said, Thank you for asking.  There is not a specific dress code — please just wear what you would wear to a service or on a casual day.  Which, for Nyel is Levis.  For me… probably one step up, as in black, rather than denim.

As I remember, all of this vagueness and uncertainty about what to wear began about the time I moved here from California — back in the days when Twiggy and miniskirts and fashions from London’s Carnaby Street were still the rage, at least in the Bay Area.  I found that the Northwest seemed to have a fashion sense all its own — based on comfort, people said, and the incessant rain, I thought.  Even after forty years (which included Seattle’s most famous fashion contribution — early 90s grunge) I still haven’t figured out what to wear, when.

Daily Dress Code Oysterville Gothic

Sydney and Nyel: Daily Dress Code, “Oysterville Gothic”

Sadly, my wardrobe reflects my uncertainties about choice: bleak.  My response these days pretty much mirrors Nyel’s when it comes to dress code questions.  But I do take some umbrage with the ‘comfort’ argument.  If feelings count, I think I’d be more comfortable if I really, truly knew that one thing and not another was more appropriate.  This ‘anything goes’ attititude is kinda hard.

Bonnie, Clyde and the Road Warriors

Wednesday, August 24th, 2016
Note the Attribution: "Made by Gin and Mom, not Silass"

 “Made by Gin and Mom, not Silas”

Lots of activity in town yesterday – vacationing cousins at the Red House spilling out into the church, the bay, the chicken coop and who knows where else.  Five kids all under nine years old can cover a lot of territory.  In fact, they couldn’t even keep track of each other very well and we had several quick visits asking the burning question, “Have you seen…?”

In addition, about lunch time, up drove a shiny 1929 Oldsmobile Viking and out climbed our friends Malcolm and Ardell McPhail along with Malcolm’s cousins from Missouri.  “We’re showing them the sights,” said Ardell.  “We’ve had the car for three years but we’ve never driven it this far before.”

The McPhails, alias Bonnie and Clyde

The McPhails, alias Bonnie and Clyde

With that, she reached into the back seat, extracted two toy machine guns and the well-respected, cranberry-growing McPhails took a Bonnie-and-Clyde pose right there across from the Oysterville Church!  I had the fleeting thought that this probably wasn’t quite politically correct or maybe not even legal these days but, it’s a church, not a bank… and so I took a picture for posterity.

The car belonged last to Dick Sheldon and I’m not clear whether he was the one who put in the V-8 engine and automatic transmission and changed out the steering wheel.  I’m not up on my spiffy car knowledge so I’m not sure how you would classify this one – classic or rod?  I just call it “impressive.”  Especially the ooga-ooga horn that Malcolm tooted for us as they departed.

Sixth Generation Red House Cousins

Sixth Generation Red House Cousins

Late in the afternoon when we walked up to the Red House for a visit with the cousins and with neighbors Jim and Anne Kepner, we found that the kids were all present and accounted for and still full of sixth generation energy and antics.  We of the older generations got caught up on the years’ happenings and even did a bit of speculating about Oysterville’s future.

“One thing for sure,” agreed Lexie and Abby, “there’ll be Espys here for generations to come!”  I’m pretty certain they’re right about that!

Long Island’s Surprising Cedar Grove

Sunday, August 21st, 2016
Long Island Arrival

Long Island Arrival

Had I ever been to Long Island before?  Yes, many times.  On any of those occasions, had I visited the Cedar Grove?  No, not ever.  Yesterday was a first – for me and for many of the other 99 people who went on the excursion arranged by the Friends of the Willapa Bay Refuge.

On the Trail

On the Trail

They had planned everything down to the proverbial gnat’s eyebrow.  Each of us was duly check in, hand-stamped, and helped onto the barge that would carry us to Smoky Hollow, the point of debarkation.  Once there, four group leaders made themselves available to guide us to the Grove and talk about its various aspects– its history, its birds, its flora, its fauna.  Or you could make the mile-and-a-half loop by yourself.  (Nyel and I went with Bob Duke’s history group.)  And to top off the arrangements, the day was picture perfect – clear skies, sunshine, a light westerly breeze.  It wasn’t until the return trip that the fog began to roll in, just enough to remind us that we had never journeyed far from home.

In the Cedar Grove

In the Cedar Grove

It will not be popular for me to say that I was underwhelmed by the Cedar Grove, itself.  It was one of those excursions that I’m glad I experienced but was left feeling out of sync with most everyone else.  Saying so is probably another of those “The Emperor’s New Clothes” sorts of revelations.  Or maybe my expectations were way out of whack.

Muir Woods

Muir Woods

During my junior high/high school years I lived in San Rafael, California, just a stone’s throw from Muir Woods – one of the few locations of old-growth coastal redwoods that have never been logged.  We often had picnics there or just went for an afternoon’s respite from the heat of a summer day.  There, you are literally surrounded by giants that are 200-plus feet tall and range in age from 800 to 1,000 years old.  Somehow, I expected that the Cedar Grove on Long Island would be similar.

Evidence of Logging

Evidence of Logging

In actuality, I found the evidence of early logging (springboard notches in some of the largest tree stumps) to be the most fascinating part of our adventure.  Our speculations about how this area looked before the loggers arrived (when it really was a Cedar Grove) and how they managed not only to fell the trees but to get them out of this densely wooded forest was well worth being there.  But it was not what I had expected.  Not at all.

Perhaps the name “Cedar Grove” is misleading to my literal mind.  Even though the evidence clearly indicates that it was a cedar forest once upon a time, being there yesterday definitely didn’t feel like ‘being among the giants.’  The old growth cedars were scattered among younger conifers, such as Sitka spruce and western hemlock; the ancient cedars seemed few and far between.   But I guess calling it a “Cedar Grove Remnant” doesn’t have much of a ring to it.

The Mountain Man vs Mermaid Discussion

Friday, August 19th, 2016
Two Hours until High Tide

Two Hours until High Tide, November 2006

As the years goes by, I find that Nyel and I have the-sea-level versus the-mountains discussion more and more frequently.  As in, where would you rather live?  Or have a second home?  Or go on vacation?

No matter how you look at it, it’s a purely academic discussion.  We already live on a fragile, mile-wide strip of land separating bay from ocean.   It’s about as “sea level” as it gets.  And, as far as is known, we don’t have any plans to move.  “But if we did…” the conversation begins and the lines are re-drawn.  Again.

Neither of us seems to have very good arguments to support our position.  Nyel’s always boils down to a log-cabin-in-the-woods-overlooking-the-valley-below sort of fantasy while I can merely say that I only feel really comfortable by the sea.

“How about by a lake?” he counters.  So far, I’ve not been successful in explaining that it’s not just the proximity of water that is necessary.  I need to be by the ocean or the bay.  It’s doubtless an altitude thing.

View of Snake River, Summer 2016

View of Snake River, Summer 2016

There’s probably a logical explanation.  Maybe it’s as simple as where each of us grew up – Nyel in the Bear Lake Valley of Idaho, elevation 5,981 feet; me in San Rafael, California and Oysterville with elevations of 43 and 10 feet respectively.  Or maybe it’s that he’s a Leo (mountain lions and all that) and I’m a watery Pisces.

Part of it, certainly, is that I’m not comfortable with heights.  I don’t need to drive up (or down) those curvy mountain roads or hike those scary trails leading to gorgeous, scenic overlooks.  In fact, one of the most unbearable things I ever did was sit through an IMAX movie that had something to do with the mountains – Yosemite, I think.  (I’m not sure of that part.  My eyes were closed most of the time.)

Nor is Nyel at one with water.  He doesn’t sail or swim or dive or snorkel – although he can do all of the above.  Those are not his activities of preference.  Truth, to tell, they aren’t high on my list, either.  I guess it’s just your basic mountain man versus mermaid self-image thing. Which, as Tevye and Golda sing in “Fiddler on the Roof” It doesn’t change a thing but even so, After 25 years it’s nice to know

Seeing Eye Owls and Other Old Age Aides

Tuesday, August 16th, 2016
On the Look-Out

On the Look-Out

The aging process is a continual adventure, often arduous, almost always tiring, and sometimes just plain hazardous.  Compensations are many, though, not the least of which is a well-honed sense of humor.

Yesterday, for instance, as we drove out of town and stopped at the stop sign at the ‘Y’ neither of us could turn our heads far enough to the right to check for on-coming traffic.  For some time, bone spurs have effectively frozen Nyel’s neck in the straight-ahead position and I had a mysterious one-day-only-I-hope crick in my neck.  In our defense, though, I must point out that looking both ways at that stop sign requires more than a 90° turn of the head.

So, I strained against my seatbelt, turning my whole self to see that all was clear and on we went.  “What are we going to do when we can’t even turn our old bodies?” I asked.

At the Oysterville Church

At the Oysterville Church

“Get seeing eye owls,” Nyel said calmly.  Great idea, I thought.  Service owls!  And with all the remarkable things going on in the world, no doubt there are owlets-in-training as we speak.

Later in the day, a young man arrived to wash the windows inside and outside of the church.  As I watched him clamber up and down those tall ladders and balance on narrow window sills, I thought of all the other day-to-day chores we now need help to accomplish.  Cleaning out the gutters, taking down the swallows’ nests and, with our eleven-foot ceilings, even changing light bulbs – none are challenges to be taken lightly.

“No problem is so great that it can’t be solved by just throwing money at it,” someone once told me.  True.  But just about as realistic for most of us as getting that seeing eye owl.  “When pigs fly,” say I!