Tag Archives: College

Written in the Earth

A soldier of Custer's regiment uses his Springfield carbine as a club. Source of this painting is not known.

A soldier of Custer’s regiment uses his Springfield carbine as a club. Source of this painting is not known.

When you grow up in desert heat, at least when video games and television have yet to proliferate, one of the joys of childhood is playing with the garden hose. Personally, I enjoyed digging rivers and lakes into the earth of the wire enclosure where our chickens roamed. I remember the amazement of unearthing a living frog that had burrowed into the ground for hibernation, and that had narrowly avoided the blade of my shovel.

One of my maxims about the desert landscape around Saddle Mountain is that this earth is honest. When people pass through, the traces they make remain to be read by those who come after them. As I think back on the traces we’ve discovered on our farm alone, it amazes me that so much history is written in its sand and dust.

In the early 1960s my father hooked his tractor to a battered old machine he called the rototiller. He was in the process of rooting sagebrush out of a new field, and this machine would completely destroy the plants that grew there naturally. Continue reading

The Far Side of the City

That summer of 1981 I became familiar with urban poverty. By far, most of the families I encountered in Ardoyne relied on a government check, the Dole, to get by. How they managed to make the money stretch to pay their rent and what they called their rates (utilities) and taxes, I couldn’t imagine. Not to mention the money they spent on food, often at a chippie, which is what a fish and chip van was called. Sometimes they’d buy a curry from the truck that sat near the shops, but other times hunger drove them to serve their children “chip buddies.” This consisted of two slices of buttered white bread with French fried potatoes laid between them. Carbohydrate delight. Of course there always seemed enough money to pay for pints at the Shamrock and other social clubs.

I knew a woman from the college I’d attended in Spokane who had married a man from Belfast, and at one point that summer I contacted her for a friendly visit. She took me on a walking tour downtown and introduced me to her brother-in-law, who shared the opposite side of their huge semi-detached house on some private acreage to the south of the city. John was a bachelor, trained as a geologist, and comfortably situated after years of oil work in the Middle East. He was delighted to meet Sally’s college friends (I discovered that one of my dorm brothers had previously visited him), and he invited me to come to his house for dinner sometime when I wanted a break from the inner city.

My dinner with John was one of the most unusual events of that year, an evening of surprises. Continue reading

Studying Russian

Although the rock I sat on was in direct sunlight, a brisk upriver wind kept me cool. The papers on my lap rattled in the breeze and the pages of the black-bound reference book chattered, but I was gazing out across a tiny inlet where the river’s water formed an eddy. It was the color and texture of desert-baked glass, slipping smoothly past me, drawn by the rush of the current beyond the boulder point. Across the river a sheer cliff of basalt loomed over me, soaring upward to a rugged crest far above.

It was the summer of 1977. I was studying Russian.

I developed this habit of disappearing when I had a day off work. I would wait for the heat to build until it was well over ninety degrees. Then I would borrow my dad’s gold 1970 Ford Maverick (a color that was marketed as Freudian Gilt) and I would head out. I kept the window cranked down for the natural air conditioning–the only type the car afforded. Higher speed meant better relief from the heat, but I was drawn to the old Corfu Road where I had to slow down. The dust that filtered through the open window was another price I paid.

I don’t know what drew me to this place the first time I went there. I had driven the entire length of the Corfu Road, turned left at Beverly and headed south through Sentinel Gap. I remember stopping on side roads that led to the river bank, but there the river was impounded by Wanapum Dam. Farther on I tried again, where the reservoir behind Priest Rapids Dam kept the current in check. I was just exploring.

I purposely avoided anyplace with people. I had my books and papers on the seat beside me with a couple of bottles of soda and some sandwiches wrapped in waxed paper. I was working on the complexity of the adjectival endings Russian uses, and I knew Continue reading