Friday, July 18, 2008

Port Townsend

Every time I travel, I check out whether or not I’d like to live there. I’m currently at Fort Worden State Park in Port Townsend, Washington, and this is a great place to visit.

The fort sits on a bluff overlooking Puget Sound. Across the bay is snow-covered Mt. Baker. At the bottom of the bluff is a wide sandy beach, a long boardwalk and pier out into the Sound that houses a maritime museum. At the north end, a spit with a lighthouse, a working lighthouse. It is beautiful and romantic.

So far the mornings are gray and foggy. But as the sun climbs and burns off the haze, the days have become sun filled and almost warm. The wind seems to pound relentlessly, although others in my group have reported periods of no breezes. Afternoons are glorious, and offer free time to nap, paint – as I did yesterday – or go to the lectures that we have paid for, even if we prefer to play hooky.

Next to the dorm – former barracks – where Ann and I are staying, picnic tables line the top of the bluff, and it is there we writers gather each evening to chat, and drink, and have un-wholesome snacks, snacks the opposite of the high fiber and heavy-on-the-tofu meals the cafeteria serves.

The barracks is built on a hill, and to the north of us, sweet peas cover the walls of a higher bluff. The oldest building in Port Townsend sits there. It is oddly shaped, a brick house with a three story, crenelated tower. It was home to the first Episcopal priest in the city. He became the British consul in Port Townsend eventually.

Our classes with successful writers are, appropriately, in the old schoolhouse. Before becoming a school, it was the infirmary, and the room where we meet with Chris Albani each morning used to be the mental health section, the insane asylum where crazy soldiers killed themselves. Rumor suggests it’s haunted, but the only unusual occurrences I have noticed are the wind in the vertical blinds that makes a skittering sound and a large yellow bug, probably a moth, that fluttered through class today.

I have barely left the grounds of the fort. Ann, on the other hand, took a day-long whale watching cruise. She said she has never felt so seasick, although the water calmed on the way back, and she saw a pod of whales before she had to go below and lie down again. Yesterday she went to Sequim (pronounced Squim), where, as she passed an elderly woman on her way into a restaurant, the woman smacked Ann with her cane. The natives are friendly, but only up to a point.

That is not to say that she hasn’t had wonderful experiences also. She has done some exploring and shopping and reading and napping and relaxing and she has gone with me to readings by the authors at this writing conference. Last night’s readings by Rebecca Brown and Brian Evnason were terrific and tonight we will hear Chris Albani and Kathleen Alcalá.

Tomorrow morning my fifteen pages get work shopped (yes, dears, you can verb anything) at Chris Albani’s workshop, and in the afternoon Ann plans to take a tour of the Lighthouse while I am at a lecture by Brian Evanson.

Sunday we pile our stuff in the rental car and drive the two hours to Seattle to fly home. We’ll arrive late Sunday night, no doubt happy to sleep in our own bed with our familiar pillows and eat regular low-fiber tofu-less food.

But even though I don’t want to live here, I’ll miss Port Townsend. I love the water, the sound of the waves and the tide rising and falling twice a day. I love the weather, which is literally no-sweat – it gets up to about 70 every day and the nights are great for sleeping.

What I’ll miss most of all is the camaraderie of good and trusted friends, particularly Beth Thorpe and Jim Churchill-Dicks (check out his blog
Beyond Telling listed at the right), whose residencies at Goddard I overlapped, and Rebecca Brown and Chris Albani, both of whom are inspired, inspiring teachers and writers. And I’ll miss Brian Christian whom I met last year and whose poetry will appear in Best New Voices of 2008!, and David and Lowell and Ted Wheeler (whose work will appear in New American Voices of 2009!) and Kyle and “Jim number one” all of whom have wonderful minds and great writing talents. Our paths will cross in the future. I’ll make sure of that.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Fourth of July

I’m home from Vermont in time to rest up for the Fourth of July Independence Day celebration – and another gigantic spate of mattress sales. I just don’t understand how selling mattresses – or having any other kind of sale - has anything to do with patriotism, unless we consider capitalism gone wild a way to express our love for our country.

In any event the neighborhood has been pretty calm – knock on wood. Instead of the usual firecrackers all night for two weeks in advance of the Fourth, I haven’t heard anything. With luck, dogs all over the neighborhood are neither peeing on carpets in fright nor jumping on their masters in the middle of the night at the sound of random explosions.

My dogs don’t seem to be afraid of firecrackers or thunderstorms, and for that I am grateful. Brando barks at the vacuum cleaner occasionally, but I ignore him and he lies down by himself pretty soon. Stella doesn’t seem to notice either way unless I put the suction hose on her body, and then she makes herself scarce. With good reason.

I know people whose dogs go wild at the slightest rumble and try to crawl under the closet floor to protect themselves. I don’t understand why some dogs tremble and others don’t, but I suspect it has to do with their puppyhoods. We didn’t have either dog as a little puppy, although we got Stella when she was six months old. Brando came to us six months later at a year old. Both are rescue dogs, probably not full-blooded anything, and that may account for their temperaments.

The Dogs Next Door are apparent basket cases last night and this morning, perhaps in anticipation of coming thunder. They have done nothing but bark. Stella pretty much ignores them, and Brando is working on it, but neither of my dogs has even been outside when the neighbor dogs have heard us – even in the house – and gone wild. The lawn people are here this morning and that is driving the DNDs crazy. Go figure.

In any event, we are going to the grandkids’ parents’ for the Fourth. The grandsons' (David and Jonathan, terrific kids!) father is remarrying in August, and his fiancĂ©e has two kids, our two new grandchildren Greyson and Alexa, who are also absolute delights. Now we have four grandchildren to spoil.

And maybe that’s the patriotic theme of this blog today. We have such freedom. Freedom not only to say what we want, and blog what we want, and think what we want, especially if we think George Bush is a mendacious moron. Freedom of association and travel and even, I suppose, mattress sales, are freedoms we can thank our founding fathers for. And we thank also those who have fought for us over the past 232 years, especially son Derek, who went to Annapolis and then gave another six years to the Navy and his country, our country. We owe them deep gratitude.

Happy Fourth of July! Happy Independence Day!