Monday, December 15, 2014

Wrapping Christmas presents in the dark

Ah, electricity. Invisible and unappreciated until it’s gone.
Like most of the west coast, we here in South Beach, Oregon got hammered last week by back-to-back storms. Rain came down in sheets while wind did its best to rattle everything loose. On Thursday, everyone was talking about the big storm that was coming. When I woke up to blue skies, I rushed out to finish my Christmas shopping and maybe take myself out to lunch before the storm hit. While I was in the checkout line at Fred Meyer’s in Newport, I saw people coming in huddled in wet coats and knew the storm was starting. Folks were talking about getting over the Yaquina Bridge before it was closed. Forget lunch. Time to get home.
Rain spattered the windshield harder and harder as I drove south. Wind gently nudged the car as I crossed the bridge. But it wasn’t bad. I still had power to warm up my leftover pizza, to read by while I ate it, and to finish my work at the computer.
The lights flickered. I closed my files, but Facebook grabbed my attention until suddenly, silently, the computer screen went dark. Oh. It was 2:12 p.m. Twilight outside, twilight inside. All the little green and red lights on my various equipment were out. The pellet stove, which runs by electricity, had stopped. The only sound was the rain on the skylights and wind thrashing the trees.
Okay. I had a plan. Power failures are not unusual around here. I have flashlights in every room, a large supply of candles, and two electric lanterns. I have wood for the wood stove in the den. I have cold food to eat, plenty to drink. One never knows how long the power will stay out around here. Once it lasted two days. An area farther south stayed dark for almost a week.
Since I couldn’t work at the computer, this was my opportunity to wrap my Christmas presents. So I did, with loud music playing from the battery-operated radio I keep handy for storms. The sound is tinny, but it’s company.
I wrapped and wrapped until it got so dark I couldn’t tell blue ribbons from green.  Now it was lighter outside than in. The rain had stopped and the wind had slowed, so I took Annie out for a short walk. Soon we heard the chatter of a radio from an emergency vehicle and came upon the source of the power failure. A giant tree on the next block had fallen into the power lines. Rain-suited crews from the electric company had cut up the tree and were now restringing the wires from the highway to the street that connects with mine. Big trucks. Bright lights. Noise. “Thank you for what you’re doing!” I called.
 “No problem,” a guy hollered back.
Satisfied that eventually the lights would come back on, we turned back home, running into our neighbor and her children coming to see what was going on. We’re all nosy.
I had thought I would work on my Christmas cards, but darkness in the woods is truly dark, not like back in suburbia where night is only slightly different from day. Instead, I talked to a friend on my cell phone, then settled in front of the wood stove to build a fire. Big logs, little logs, kindling, building from a spark to an orange finger of flame to a roaring fire.
I sat back and watched the fire, all other duties canceled due to darkness. I thought about the days before electric lights. Even with candles and lanterns, the light is limited and full of shadows. You cannot see to do anything intricate. If you spill or drop something, it’s difficult to see where it went. It’s hard to stay clean. And surely you go to bed much earlier because it’s so dark.
Electric lights have changed the way we live our lives. Natural light has become irrelevant. Many people work round the clock under artificial light. If we need more light, we just plug it on and turn it on.We forget how easily that light could disappear.
It’s not just light I was missing. I would not be able to heat my food. The food in the refrigerator would spoil if the power stayed out. My cell phone would lose its charge, the house would cool down, and I would not be able to watch my TV shows. But I could adapt.
Luckily, I didn’t have to. At 6:00, just as I was about to make a ham sandwich for dinner, the lights came on. “Yay! Thank you!” I shouted as I hurriedly threw a fish in the frying pan and a potato in the microwave before the electricity changed its mind.
Despite predictions of 90 mph gusts, it turned out to be a pretty average winter storm here. We just had a few trees and branches down. In Newport, the big sign outside Bank of America blew down. In Portland, a tree fell on a car, killing the people inside. California had flooding and mudslides. But here in South Beach, we just had a little electricity-appreciation lesson.
Lights. I like ‘em.

How is your weather? Any storm damage? Please share your stories in the comments.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Christmas: The Dog's Point of View

It's not great art, but I'm crazy busy like everyone else. Enjoy. :-)

Humbug Dog

It was three weeks before Christmas
and all through the casa
it rained Santas and angels
and presents. Que pasa?

It looked like a Christmas store
exploded all over
while asleep in the middle
lay snoring dear Rover,

not interested in blinking lights
or tinsel on the Christmas tree,
not charmed by stockings on the mantel shelf
or candy handed out with glee.

But if the cookie box should shake,
that sleeping dog would spring to her feet,
trampling snowmen and Santa Clauses
to gobble up her well-earned treat.

Until then, she will dose and dream
of walks on the beach and romps in the snow,
ears open as she sleeps and waits
for Santa to pack up his sleigh and go.

[Copyright Sue Fagalde Lick Dec. 9, 2014]

Monday, December 1, 2014

A little Oregon rain falls on California

I wake up in my childhood bedroom in San Jose, California to the sound of rain pattering on the roof and the fiberglass awnings over the windows. I look out to see it soaking the cracked sidewalks and pooling in the bald spots between the tufts of grass that used to be lawn. It is finally raining in San Jose. My hometown has been plagued by drought for the past three years. Even when rain is predicted, with tiny clouds scudding across the sky, it has rained every place except San Jose. Finally it is raining.

This part of California is a naturally arid area, with an average of 15 inches of rain and 301 days of sunshine a year, but in recent years, the lack of rain has caused the city to institute rationing, even hiring “water cops” to make sure people aren’t watering their lawns or washing their cars. The reservoirs are dry and the underground water sources tapped out. Signs along the farmland between my father’s house and where my brother lives near Yosemite ask people to pray for rain. “No rain, no grain,” they say.

Meanwhile, where I live in Oregon, we average about 70 inches of rain a year. This year has been a little lighter than still more than we need.

The Bay Area TV newscasters are going crazy, talking about this rain as if it were an impending hurricane. The weather maps show tiny specs of yellow, unlike the massive patches that cover most of the Oregon map. I roll my eyes as people bundle up and think about canceling things. My father says I should stay longer because it’s raining. I’m from western Oregon, where it rains so much mold and moss grow on everything that stands still. We panic at snow and ice, but if it isn’t frozen, it’s fine.

I pull up my hood and load my car in the rain. Dad waves goodbye from the door. On the road, the rain streaks the dust on my windshield. Tires make tracks on the pavement that look like snow and are almost as slippery from years of dirt being turned to mud. This area is not engineered for a lot of rain; there’s nothing to absorb it, and people don’t know what to do with it. The slick mud makes me nervous, but not as nervous as some drivers I see white-knuckling their steering wheels, staring straight ahead in terror as they drive 20 mph under the speed limit. I used to be one of those Californians who would panic at rain, but not anymore. It’s just water. Much needed, blessed water.

Most days of my Thanksgiving week in California, Dad and I sat in the patio, soaking in the sun and watching the blue jays and squirrels. This is crazy. It’s November, we said. Now at last it’s raining. In Oregon when it rained, I would wave my arms and shout “go south.” Maybe it finally worked.

Newcomers to the Oregon coast look out at our sideways rain and 60 mph wind and ask, “Does it do this very often?“ Or, “Is this as bad as it’s going to get?” We just laugh. We take pride in our ability to deal with rain and wind, but we do panic at ice and snow. I’m sure those who are used to feet of snow roll their eyes at us.

My father says soon after I left the sun was shining, but the rain came back in buckets the next day. Maybe all of us Oregonians traveling home for Thanksgiving brought the rain. If so, you’re welcome, California. Pull up your hoodies and enjoy it. I’m back home with Annie now, grateful for Thanksgiving and ready to buy a Christmas tree.

Rain fans might appreciate local writer Matt Love’s ode to rain, Of Walking in Rain, available from Nestucca Spit Press.

For some impressive pictures of the California drought, visit

Sunday, November 23, 2014

On the road to San Jose again

I spent yesterday traveling down the coast of Oregon to California for Thanksgiving. It's a two-day journey, which I made extra long stopping to take pictures and do some Christmas shopping. I will let my photos tell the story this week. (All photos copyright Sue Fagalde Lick 2014)

Devil's Churn at Cape Perpetua

Veterans' memorial north of North Bend

Coast view south of Pt. Orford

Gold Beach bridge from the north

Playground at park in Crescent City

The sun nears the horizon on the Redwood Highway north of Eureka, CA

Monday, November 17, 2014

I am the Weeping Keeper of Past Lives

It had been a beautiful Sunday, yet there I sat sobbing over old photos as the first "Sex and the City" movie played in the background. Certain parts of the movie always get to me--when Charlotte tells Carrie she's pregnant, when Miranda and Steve reunite on the Brooklyn Bridge, when Carrie and Big get back together--but it wasn't just that. It was all the lives piled up on the card table.

Somehow, having survived the deaths of my husband, his parents and his younger brother, I have become the keeper of the archives, boxes and boxes of photographs, slides, and memorabilia. The more I sell or give away, the more there seems to be. Like me, Fred's dad never went anywhere without a camera. I carefully compiled the first 20 years or so of our marriage into albums, but I have my own boxes of prints and slides, including the black and white pictures I processed in my darkroom-happy years. There are pictures from life with my first husband. It was a life with so many promises never fulfilled. There are my grandparents, my parents, aunts, uncles and cousins, so many of them gone. I miss them all, and I weep. There's the house we used to live in on Safari Drive. I weep.

There are the Lick photos, none of them properly stored, yet many surviving almost a century. It's not the family I grew up with. I never met Fred's grandparents. I never saw his mom and dad as young people or Fred and his brothers as little boys, yet here they are in countless photos. As Fred's Alzheimer's progressed and he forgot his history, I remembered it for him. Now that he's gone, I look at that cute little boy with glasses and weep. I look his parents and weep. I look at pictures of Fred's children, my stepchildren, as babies with their mom, and I weep. Some days I can't believe I ever was part of this family, and yet it's part of me. As I sort, I keep a few things for myself and I throw out the things that I don't think will interest anyone anymore, but I keep sending boxes of pictures to Fred's kids and his brother. It's all paper, somebody's click of the camera. Does anybody care? In the boxes from the storage locker, I also found love letters from Fred's dad to his mom, the telegraph he received when he got his job at Boeing, and the one sent to Fred's grandparents when he was born.These are precious, but who should have them? Surely not me.

There are other pictures that hurt because they emphasize the big chunk of Fred's life when he was married to someone else. Wedding. Christmas. Babies. Crew-cut clean-shaven pix of Fred graduating from college, posing with his wife and his parents. He looks so different without his beard, yet I know that mouth, those eyes. I was 13 years old that year. I didn't know Fred the way he looked then, and if I did, we could not have been lovers, but I still ache for him, for his smile, for his touch, his warmth.

Many of the pictures were taken on the countless cruises Fred's parents took. Alaska, Panama, the Bahamas, Hawaii. While I don't want to take a cruise, I miss traveling with my husband, and I wonder if I'll ever get to those places on my unwritten bucket list. Do I want to go alone?

I find a framed 8 x 10 photo of a big black dog. I never met that dog, which belonged to my late brother-in-law, but I love dogs and plan to put this one on my wall because it makes me smile. There are 78 rpm records by artists I never heard of, and I have all the camera gear, valuable in its time, now nearly worthless because it isn't digital. I don't know what to do with these.

What will happen to all those pictures we've been taking in recent years, storing on our hard drives and tiny memory cards? Will they last long enough for descendants three or four generations down to spend an afternoon studying them, thinking about the people and places they depict and weeping while the E channel airs "Sex and the City" yet again? I worry that all of our memories will disappear, just like the stories I stored on floppy disks. Do we just put them on Facebook and then forget them?

I ended my cryfest with a glass of Portuguese red wine a friend brought to Nye Beach Writers Saturday night. That's my heritage, and I could fill a room with those photos, too. I'll probably cry. Cheers.

What about you? Do you have boxes of ancient photos? What do you do with them when the older generation is gone? Please share your stories.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Tragedy on Newport's Yaquina Bridge

Something awful happened in my little town of Newport, Oregon a week ago today. A woman threw her six-year-old son off the Yaquina Bay Bridge. It’s 130 feet high, and the water is so cold no one can survive in it for more than few minutes. The mother, Jillian McCabe called 911 herself, telling the dispatcher, “I just threw my son off the bridge.”

That was about 6:30 p.m. Emergency crews searched all around. They closed the bridge to traffic. About 10:30, a man who lives about a mile up the bay, found the boy’s body. I know the man, one of the sweetest guys ever. He will never be the same, nor will the others who helped bring little London McCabe out of the water.

The mother is in jail with $1 million bail, facing murder charges. The whole community has been grieving as the story came out. London was severely autistic; he screamed all the time. Meanwhile his dad was disabled with multiple sclerosis. The mom had posted pleas online asking for financial help and had gotten some. There were reports that she was suffering from mental problems herself. But nobody thought this would happen. According to the latest news reports, she may not be well enough to stand trial. It’s all unbearably sad for her and the whole family.

A heartbroken community decorated the bridge with balloons, flowers and stuffed animals. Workers took the contributions off the bridge for safety reasons and created memorials at both sides of the road on the south end of the bridge, memorials to which people keep adding. There have been candlelight vigils, prayers and countless news reports. Teachers and mental health workers have been working to reassure worried children that they are safe, that this won’t happen to them. Public officials are talking about the need for early intervention to help troubled families. I don't know what could have stopped this from happening, but we all feel like somebody should have done something.

Those who have lived here a while recall the last time something similar happened, when Christian Longo murdered his family in 2001. Two of his children were found in the water near Alsea Bay, outside Waldport. The other child and his wife were located in the water of Yaquina Bay very near where London’s body turned up. Longo is on death row now, found guilty of murder.

When we drive across the bridge now, we slow our cars. We look at the water, think about what it would feel like to fall, wonder if London felt anything on the way down, if he was scared, if he felt the cold water, hoping he just felt like he was flying and it was the best time he ever had.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Making that calculator sing at the church bazaar

My fingers flew over the calculator keys as customers lined up at the cashiers’ table with shopping baskets full of Christmas ornaments, cookies, used books, ribbons, fabric, jewelry, bowls, candles, plants and more. Compared to my recent experience at last week’s garage sale, where I was dealing in such small numbers I didn’t need a calculator, this was high finance.

This was the annual holiday bazaar at Newport, Oregon's Sacred Heart Church, ironically scheduled on Nov. 1. On Halloween I was decorating a Christmas tree at the entrance to the hall, standing on a stepstool putting up lights and pine boughs and crawling on the floor trying to figure out how to plug in the lights, two trees, an animated Santa Claus and a boom box without blowing up the church. Meanwhile the tide of people bringing in cookies, pies, muffins and other baked goods never stopped. 

Other volunteers transformed the main hall into a wonderland of red, green and gold and turned classrooms into the Book Nook, Country Store, and Odds and Ends Room. Tables filled up with jewelry, holiday decorations, pictures, craft supplies, cookies and more, more, more.

This is our parish’s big fundraiser, and it is big. Volunteers spend months collecting and pricing merchandise and gathering donations for the raffle and silent auction. Two days before the bazaar, the religious pictures in the hall come down, replaced by quilts, paintings and signs urging people to buy more raffle tickets.

On Saturday, the kitchen area became a restaurant, where bazaar-goers noshed on soup, Chinese food, and pies, pies, pies (140!), served by parishioners turned waiters and waitresses. People started arriving before the doors opened at 9:00. By 10, the church parking lots were full, and cars lined the streets. It was loud, crowded and wonderful.

I was subbing for my friend Pat, who was sick. I had only planned to donate books and homemade loaves of pumpkin and banana bread, but I wound up staying to do a lot more. I don’t want to say thank you for getting sick—Pat, please get well ASAP—but I’m glad I got to do it.

I didn’t win the raffle, but I came home with two bags of treasures, along with a piece of apple pie and a warm heart.

Yesterday (Sunday), the bazaar reopened after the Masses, with all the leftovers on sale for half price. Whatever’s left will be donated to charity or saved for next year’s bazaar. When I return to church for choir practice on Tuesday night, the religious pictures will be back on the walls, and the tables back in their usual places, the warm feeling of family and friendship will remain.

I worked my way through college clerking at retail stores, selling sheet music, furniture, uniforms and housewares. Forty years later, the old skills still kick back in. If this writer gig doesn’t work out, I can always fall back into retail, at least once a year.