Autumn memories

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A good way to start a weekend visit? With a hot drink at happy hour. From left, Lin, George, Lori and Terry.

Seems it wasn’t that long ago that summer turned to fall. Mornings got cooler. Trees went from leafy to naked. And another academic term began at Portland State.

And now what?

Halloween, Thanksgiving and the World Series all have come and gone. Today kicks off the last week of classes at PSU. And the winter equinox is less than a month away.

Before another day slips by, it’s time to pause and reflect on a few highlights of recent weeks.

Catholic school girls: Early in the month, two of Lori’s closest friends came up from San Francisco to spend a three-day weekend with us. Terry (Long) Mullaney is Lori’s BFF.  They grew up across the street from each other in the City by the Bay, and Terry still lives in her childhood home with her husband Mike.

Lori and Terry attended Catholic schools from first grade through 12th, and it was at the all-girls Mercy High School that they met Linda Dillon and became fast friends. After graduation, the trio took different paths to college and the world of work, but have stayed in close contact through the decades.

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We tried to make the most of their time here, showing them a couple of neighborhoods to get a feel for Northeast Portland. We also rode the Portland Streetcar to and from the South Waterfront district for lunch and a trip on the tram to Oregon Health & Science University. We popped in at Powell’s Books, went to dinner at Aviary and had some great home-cooked meals as well.

It’s always fun to get the female perspective from hanging out with three longtime friends.

Rip City: November means the start of the NBA season and, in Portland, there’s no better ticket in town than the Blazers. Lori and I got to see only one game together last year, so I’m making amends this season, hoping to attend at least three more with her.

We saw the Blazers take down the Phoenix Suns on Oct. 28, the first Saturday of the season. After seeing them lose all six games I attended last year, it was good to see the team get off to a winning start this season.

Happy hour: Teaching has gone well this fall at PSU, and I’ve added a new responsibility as internship coordinator for the Department of Communication. But I’ve also enjoyed being part of the crew at my other job at the nonprofit Portland Workforce Alliance.

Our executive director is out on temporary medical leave, so the other four of us have been working extra hard to keep things going in his absence. We bring together local high school students, leading employers and community volunteers, helping to facilitate career days, classroom speakers, mock interviews, essay writing workshops and other activities that help teens prepare for college and career.

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The Dream Team at Portland Workforce Alliance includes, clockwise from left, Susan Nielsen, myself, Sherri Nee and Kristen Kohashi.

Last week, my co-workers and I got together after work during a happy hour that was therapeutic for all of us. Our schedules often don’t mesh, so it was nice to finally get some down time together. I’m very fortunate to work with such smart, likable people.

Giving thanks: Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday simply because it is the most meaningful in terms of appreciating your loved ones and the least driven by commercial hype.

This year, Nathan was the only one of our kids available to join us. His girlfriend, now fiancee, Sara hung out with her parents. Simone and Kyndall were on vacation in a place with a tropical climate. And, of course, Jordan, Jamie and baby Emalyn were 2,000 miles away in Missouri.

We had a relaxing evening with our oldest child, and an obscenely delicious meal built around a roasted turkey prepared by Lori.

The next day, we invited Chris, a new friend from the neighborhood, and her dog Oliver to join us for leftovers. Chris is a warm and generous soul. Ollie, her trusty Jack Russell Terrier, is Charlotte’s best friend. The two romp together and walk together, and on this night wound up relaxing next to each other on Charlotte’s bed in front of the fireplace.

Four-star movie: This post began with Catholic school girls and it’s ending with another Catholic school girl. Lori and I saw a Sunday matinee showing of “Lady Bird,” one of those independent films with an engaging coming-of-age story and a quirky but lovable lead character.

Saoirse Ronan, who turned in an Oscar-nominated performance in “Brooklyn,” stars as Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, a restless 17-year-old who can’t wait to be done with her senior year of high school and move to New York for college. Lady Bird (a name she gave herself) is bored with her hometown of Sacramento, California, and oh-so-done with the rules and restrictions at her all-girls Catholic school. She’s also got a rocky relationship with her hard-working disciplinarian mom, played wonderfully by Laurie Metcalf.

The problem for Lady Bird is that her grades are mediocre and she’s just gotten suspended for mouthing off at school. Plus, she’s trying to navigate friendships and loyalties, romance and sex, and figure out who she is herself as someone who’s grown up poor and aspires to something more, whatever and wherever that may be.

It’s a refreshing film that lets you see the world through the eyes of a smart and still-evolving teenage girl. As writer and director, Greta Gerwig has come up with an entertaining story, believable characters and authentic dialogue. As the film’s namesake, Saoirse Ronan is sweet and funny, vulnerable and unsettled. I won’t be surprised if she, Metcalf, Gerwig and the film itself are nominated for Oscars next year.

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Leaf pick-up day finally arrived last week, just as several piles in our neighborhood swelled to the size of a mid-sized car.

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The perfect guest

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Friends for a half-century: George and Al at the Moda Center after a Blazers win.

What do you say about a house guest who makes his bed, prepares dinner, washes the dishes. and walks your dog?

If you’re me, you say, “It’s just what I expected coming from Al.”

Al Rodriguez is my best friend, mi compadre. Has been since freshman year of high school. We met as grade school kids when our dads took us to a San Francisco Giants baseball game at Candlestick Park. (Actually, it might have been when we were in junior high — there’s some dispute about that. But there’s no disputing the friendship that’s stretched out across five decades.)

We ran track and cross country together in high school. Talked about girls and relationships over countless cups of coffee and late-night meals in suburban Fremont. Became roommates during our junior year at San Jose State after he transferred there from the private college he’d been attending in South Dakota.

Two years later, he was the best man at our wedding. All three of us were just 22.

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Sept. 6, 1975: Lori and George with matron of honor Linda Hansen, best man Al Rodriguez and groom Michael Granberry.

In the years following graduation, Lori and I headed north to Oregon, where we’ve planted our roots and raised our family. Al remained in California, working in the public and nonprofit sectors, and for nearly 20 years has made his home in Santa Barbara, where he lives with his wife, Elizabeth. They are extraordinarily close to their only child, Nicole.

We sometimes went years between visits. We’d often rendezvous in Los Angeles when I was attending a job fair on behalf of my former employer. But lately we’ve been able to see each other at least once a year, and that’s been due in no small part to his willingness to come up to Portland for the annual Voices of August meetup.

***

That was the reason for his most recent stay. He arrived on a Friday, left on a Wednesday. In between, the three of us got to catch up in depth. And I got to spend some Bro Time with him on consecutive nights before he left for the airport.

Sunday: After Saturday’s small-but-stellar meetup of VOA contributors, we chilled the following day. Took an extended walk in our neighborhood, enjoying the fall colors and giving our excitable dog, Charlotte, some time to walk off a little energy. Came home and turned the kitchen over to Al, who prepared two trays of chicken enchiladas.

Monday: While Lori and I worked in the morning, Al hopped on a TriMet bus to a public swimming pool in North Portland. Took him to lunch downtown so he (er, we) could indulge in the food carts. Picked one that was selling Middle Eastern food — Kafta House! scrumptious! — and chatted with the Syrian owners for a bit.

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In the evening, Al and I enjoyed a Pop-Up Magazine presentation at Revolution Hall. I’d attended one the year before so I knew what to expect: an evening of live entertainment featuring writers, animation, video, music, dancing and a karaoke piece that had the whole auditorium singing along to the Journey classic “Don’t Stop Believin’.”

Tuesday:  Again, we had to work in the morning. This time Al borrowed my bike and rode south along the Eastside Esplanade and the Willamette Greenway down to the Sellwood Bridge. All three of us took an afternoon walk in the Alberta Arts District, from the Tiny Houses Hotel to Bernie’s Southern Kitchen and back. Stopped for a happy hour beverage and toasted our friendship.

After a multiethnic dinner of Al’s leftover enchiladas and Lori’s luscious lasagna, Al and I went to the Trail Blazers’ home opener against New Orleans. Traffic was really heavy, which caused us to miss the ear-splitting introductions and other hoopla. But we found our seats a couple minutes in and enjoyed the outcome: a Portland win.

Wednesday: We said our goodbyes in the morning and left Al to enjoy breakfast on his own, followed by an Uber ride to the airport.

Friendships can be hard to maintain in this era of texting and increasingly rare phone calls. In this case, I’m grateful for the enduring bond that took root in the mid-’60s, long before Al and I met our wives.

Simply put, Al (or Al Rod, as he was known in high school) is a rock. Someone I can talk to candidly — and listen to attentively — because we know each other so well. He calls me out when I deserve it. He needles me because he can. And he makes me feel valued because he listens carefully and responds thoughtfully and constructively.

Proud to have known this man for as long as I have and to call him my best friend. Mi compadre.

Heck, even Charlotte likes him.

VOA 7.0 meetup

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VOA peeps gathered Oct. 20 at McMenamin’s Broadway Pub. Front row, from left: Gosia Wozniacka, Elizabeth Gomez, Jennifer Brennock, Lynn St. Georges, Lori Rede, Lakshmi Jagannathan. Back row, from left: George Rede, John Killen, Bob Ehlers, Al Rodriguez, Keith Cantrell. Not pictured: Eric Wilcox.

There were fewer of us at this year’s Voices of August meetup  but that hardly took away from the good energy in the room.

A week ago today, 13 of us came together at a Northeast Portland brewpub to celebrate another year of great writing and great camaraderie centered around my annual guest blog project: 31 writers on 31 topics presented in 31 days.

In its seventh year, VOA has eclipsed anything I might have imagined when I first extended invitations to friends, family and work colleagues to choose a subject and write an original essay. Each piece reflects something of the writer’s interests and values. Each piece has something to inform, entertain, inspire or remind us of people, pets, ideas and events that are important.

Sometimes those essays are about taking new adventures or dealing with personal loss. Sometimes they are about facing our fears or celebrating an accomplishment. Sometimes they are about where we are in the stages of life and dealing with those challenges.

No matter what, they resonate widely. (More on that below.)

As good as those essays are, it’s the conversation sparked by these blog posts that is truly remarkable. Unlike the shouting and name-calling we see in too many reader comment sections, what you see within the VOA community is mutual respect and cause for reflection. From those online connections has emerged an annual opportunity to meet face-to-face with each other, renewing old friendships or making new ones.

Those good vibes were on full display last Saturday, with participants coming from as far as Northern and Southern California (thank you, Lakshmi Jagannathan, Raghu Raghavan and Al Rodriguez). Closer to home, we welcomed a VOA rookie to the party: Cynthia Gomez, a Portland State colleague of mine who’s just begun a masters program in Creative Writing.

I would have loved a larger turnout, of course. But several factors — out-of-town travel, family birthdays, health issues and more — conspired to chip away at attendance. Still, I marvel that we had contributions this year from a record nine states: Oregon, Washington, California, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Texas and New York. What’s more, those writers ranged in age from 60-plus to 18 to 13. Amazing variety.

***

Each year, I invite followers of VOA — regular readers plus writers, past and present — to vote for their three favorite pieces. It’s torture, I know, to select just three from the wonderful array of submissions. But here’s the deal: There are no criteria other than to choose what resonated with you, whether it was the quality of the writing or the subject of the piece. Either way, it’s good.

The top vote-getters win a gift card to a bookstore. This year, weirdly enough, not a single one of this year’s favorites was at the meetup. So, here’s a hearty online round of applause for those whose essays struck us as extra special:

John Knapp: “The Odometer” — On the eve of turning 63, John reflects on the matter-of-fact approach he’s taking toward life after learning his heart disease has advanced despite his best efforts:

“I was never going to get out of here alive, and I don’t want to spend the rest of my life pining for that hot dog I wanted, but never ate because I was afraid it might raise my cholesterol. Life is short.”

Midori Mori: “What it means to have Pride” — A precocious 13-year-old living in Portland’s liberal bubble sets out on a path of self-acceptance as transgender but finds it doesn’t come easily.

“It seems mostly everyone around me can accept who I am and the only person who can’t is me. I don’t care if I have to shout out to the world that I am transgender, but for now saying that about myself still makes me uncomfortable. Some part of me is more in shock of my own label than denial.”

Aki Mori: “My beautiful child, Midori” — A father writes candidly about his struggle to embrace his daughter’s new gender identity.

“I am coming along, and Midori gives me plenty of space with her happy-go-lucky personality. With the passing of time I am beginning to treat Midori more and more like my son, even subconsciously in many cases.”

Mary Pimentel: “Monster”— What’s it like to grow up without a mom who fell into drug abuse as a teenager? An 18-year-old college freshman draws us into her world, revealing the pain and emptiness she felt as a child but also her own capacity to understand and forgive.

“I live my life with pride and appreciation knowing I share so many qualities with such a beautiful human being yet with sorrow knowing that something evil took away the chance of having a mom to braid my hair and wipe the tears from my first heartbreak. I love her immensely still, and no matter the negative, I am living.”

And, as an exclamation point on VOA 7.0, I’m giving an Editor’s Award to Nike Bentley, who’s been part of this project since Year One. She’s a former student of mine, now married and mother of two feisty girls, and she sets a high bar when it comes to reader engagement. Every comment she leaves at the end of a post is thoughtful and often just as eloquent as the essay itself.

Catch up with anything you missed: VOA 7.0 index page

The staggering genius of Stieg Larsson

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Rooney Mara starred as Lisbeth Salander in the American film adaptation of “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo,” released in 2011. (Merrick Morton / Associated Press)

I just finished the last of the three novels in Stieg Larsson’s trilogy of crime thriller novels — and it only took me three years to do it!

It’s true.

I read the first novel in the fall of 2014, when Lori and I were vacationing on Orcas Island. I bought “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” at a used bookstore in Eastsound and was blown away. Larsson delivered a masterful narrative that was chilling and creepy, and built it around two intriguing characters — an investigative journalist named Mikael Blomkvist and a reclusive genius hacker named Lisbeth Salander, the heavily tattooed girl referenced in the title.

It took me 18 months to get to the next one, “The Girl Who Played with Fire.” Same characters as in the first book, picking up right where they left off after the murders of two journalists at Blomkvist’s crusading magazine and the fingerprints on the murder weapon belonging to none other than Salander.

It took me another 18 months to get around to the third and final novel, “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.” Fittingly, I read it during our most recent vacation to Orcas. With a week of free time to burn in mid-September, I vowed to plow through the 563 pages.

“Plow” is hardly what happened. More like “got sucked into and couldn’t put it down.” Just like the first two, Larsson pulled me in fast and deep.

girl who kicked the hornets nestAs with the preceding installment, the third novel resumed where the second broke off, this time with Salander lying in critical condition in a hospital, with a bullet wound to her head, and fighting for her life. If and when she recovers, she’ll be put on trial for the murders of three men she killed in self-defense.

But the authorities don’t know the true circumstances of those deaths and prosecutors are busy preparing a case against her that looks airtight. It’s up to Blomkvist, who is going through personal turmoil and is under surveillance by some bad guys, to help prove Salander’s innocence. To do that, he needs to penetrate the dark world of Swedish intelligence agencies and unravel the connections between the trio of murders involving Salander and other killings that occur along the way.

This is high praise, but let me say each and every book is superb. They average just under 600 pages each. Taken together, they are extraordinary.

***

Who is Stieg Larsson?

I’d call him a genius.

Larsson was an investigative journalist in Sweden who died of a heart attack in 2004. He was only 50 years old and had just delivered the manuscripts for all three novels, intending that they published as a series.

Imagine that. Creating compelling characters, intriguing story lines, dozens of plot twists and harrowing cliffhangers. Stitching everything together in a total of 1,783 pages and doing it all at an incredibly high level of writing.

It’s a staggering accomplishment.

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The prodigiously talented Stieg Larsson. (Photo credit: The Australian)

As of March 2015, the Larsson novels had sold 80 million copies worldwide and 25 million in the U.S. alone since 2005, according to TIME magazine.

Larsson’s journalistic background shows in the muscular sentences, precise wording and descriptive detail found in each novel. The newsroom scenes at Millennium magazine, where Blomqvist works, were totally on the mark. His knowledge of police investigations, courtroom procedures and computer technology was impressive. And he possessed a vivid imagination that drove the intricate master plot.

In addition to being a first-rate journalist and novelist, Larsson was considered a leading expert on antidemocratic, right-wing extremist and Nazi organizations.

The world lost a great writer when Larsson died. You’d think the series would have ended with his passing 13 years ago, but no. Interestingly, Lisbeth Salander lives on in two more novels — one published in 2015 and the other released just last month —  both written by David Lagercrantz, a Swedish journalist recruited by Larsson’s publisher.

I did a double take when I saw the newest one displayed at a grocery store. Absorbed as I was in the original trilogy, I hadn’t realized that the series continued with “The Girl in the Spider’s Web” (2015) and “The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye.” (2017).

I’m not sure how I feel about that. It was so satisfying to read the original series, even if it did take three years. I can’t imagine the next two novels being as good, but I could be wrong.

All I know is that each of the Larsson novels was incredibly satisfying despite sometimes gory content. The late author has given us an unforgetable anti-heroine in Lisbeth Salander, a pixie-sized woman with a photographic memory, a fierce will to live, and an indelible dragon tattoo.

Cannon Beach

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When sand gets on your snout, it’s the sign of a good time. Little Charlotte.

Can it be just a few days ago that Lori and I were walking on the beach in sunny weather suitable for shorts and sandals?

With all the rain forecast today and tomorrow, and coming on top of yesterday’s downpour, it hardly seems true. But it was — and a nice respite it was for two days and two nights in Cannon Beach.

In the early years of our marriage, we used to visit Cannon Beach more than any other community on the Oregon Coast. Now, I’m hard-pressed to remember the last time we were here, given that we’ve been drawn to Manzanita, Rockaway Beach and Pacific City as our favorite getcaways.

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Quiet, unpaved streets made for relaxing walks during our short stay.

Over the decades, Cannon Beach has transformed from charming little town to a mini-Lake Oswego, with boutique shops and a burgeoning restaurant scene catering to visitors from Portland and far beyond. The local grocery store, Mariner Market, and Bruce’s Candy Kitchen, everyone’s go-to for salt water taffy, are still there. But they’ve been joined by a whole lot of bistros, brewpubs, coffee shops and retailers, and the city several years ago added public parking lots to accommodate tourist vehicles that wouldn’t possibly find space along Hemlock Street, the town’s main artery.

So, while the city has retained some of its charm, it’s also embraced commercial development on a scale that other coastal towns haven’t.

***

A few odds ‘n’ ends from our 48 hours in Cannon Beach:

ferris buellerDown time. We stayed in a friend’s one-bedroom cottage about a quarter-mile south of the main shopping area, just right for the two of us and our dog Charlotte. Aside from walks on the quiet neighborhood streets and on the beach, we spent time reading, knitting (well, one of us did), and indulging in some old movies on cable TV, and watching some of the Oregon-WSU football game.

“Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” remains as funny as when it was released in 1986. (Yikes! 31 years ago??) The movie’s motto — “One man’s struggle to take it easy” — fit in perfectly with our low-key weekend.

Shopping. We dropped in on our friend, Lisa, who co-owns Vintage Viaje, a shop specializing in vintage items and imported goods. Lots of cool collectibles, used clothing and handmade goods. We each found something to buy.

We also went to the nearby Jupiter’s Books, a funky old spot specializing in rare and used books. Great to see an independent bookstore off the beaten path that marches to its own beat. Again, we found something for each of us.

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Eating well. We opted for simple meals we prepared ourselves. Scallops for dinner, grilled cod and smoked sardines for lunch (Lori’s influence right there). Our one meal out? Cannon Beach Hardware & Public House, also known as Screw and Brew.

Imagine yourself at a corner table with rows of screwdrivers, drill bits and other items on the walls behind you as you dive into a basket of fish-and-chips or a tossed salad with grilled halibut, washed down with a draft beer or glass of wine.

Our waiter, a friendly fellow named Mason, told us that dual-purpose businesses under the same roof are actually pretty common in Ireland. A brewpub and a hardware store? A brewpub and a grocery store? A brewpub and bookstore? You’ll find all those and more combinations in Ireland, he told us. Works for me.

The beach. One thing I love about Oregon is that every mile of beach is publicly owned. That’s 363 miles, stretching from the mouth of the Columbia River to the California state border. And there’s no more iconic landmark than Haystack Rock, rising 235 feet in the ocean surf.

I’ve run into plenty of native Oregonians who love walking on the beach into the face of a pelting rain — and I get that. But there’s also something magical about strolling along the water’s edge when the sun is shining on your shoulders. It’s even more fun when your urban dog gets to run off-leash in the wide-open spaces. Charlotte had a great time and so did we, just watching her.

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Looks like Charlotte lost an ear, but it’s just blown back by the wind.

We were overdue for a quick getaway like this one. Hope to do it again soon, maybe after the first of the year.

Postscript: After this published, I noticed this was Blog Post No. 600 on Rough and Rede II. Not too shabby. (GR)

Guns and music

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Coldplay’s Oct. 2 concert at the Moda Center began with a minute of silence for shooting victims in Las Vegas and residents of Puerto Rico devastated by Hurricane Maria.

I like to think I have varied musical tastes. My playlists include from blues, R&B and classic rock to indie artists and even a dash of country.

Thanks to coincidental scheduling in the past month, I found myself at three concerts featuring big-time artists: Lady Antebellum, Janet Jackson and Coldplay.

That’s quite a variety. And as you’d expect, the fan base for each artist was distinctly different from the others, reflected in cowboy boots, glittery tops or vintage T-shirts, depending on the headliner.

In each case, I went to the show focused on nothing more than enjoying the music. It never occurred to me I might not come home.

Then came Las Vegas.

The idea of an outdoor concert becoming a killing field was something I could have never imagined. Now, thanks to a demented killer armed to the teeth with high-powered rifles, we have something else to think about.

  • One, the massacre on The Strip reminds us that evil knows no limits. How is it that we are born with brains that create beautiful art, scientific knowledge and feel-good music? And yet those brains are also capable of inflicting hurt and death?
  • Two, easy access to guns, coupled with technology that makes them ever more lethal, leaves us increasingly vulnerable to the unhinged.

Our newest deadliest mass shooting in the United States resulted in 58 lives snuffed out, and those of more than 500 injured and irrevocably altered. Simply for going to attend a music festival.

In the national debate reignited by the latest carnage, the killings have been framed in terms of “gun violence” or “mass murder.”

One view supports the idea that the federal government has a legitimate role to play in enacting reasonable restrictions on the types of weapons and ammunition one can acquire and stockpile. The other view rejects that role, instead arguing that human nature alone is to blame for these repeated massacres.

In other words, guns don’t kill people, people do.

I agree that you can’t legislate human behavior – that’s true in a number of areas of life. But I refuse to accept that as a reason to continue permitting the slaughter of innocents, whether it is dozens at a time or one, two or three people at a time.

Yes, I’ve heard the arguments that Timothy McVeigh killed far more using explosives and that people can turn knives or cars into deadly weapons. But it’s the sheer volume of gun deaths that should cause us to look for ways to minimize the toll.

We already know that guns are lethal. Allowing the sale of bump stocks, legal accessories that allow shooters to simulate automatic fire from their rifles, is unconscionable. Why make it easier for anyone to go on a rampage? Why not take whatever actions we can to stem the flow of handguns and rifles and bullets into the hands of our fellow Americans?

I’m not talking about confiscating guns, least of all from law-abiding citizens who use them for hunting. I am talking about banning military-style semiautomatic assault weapons .

In a country of more than 300 million Americans, we already have more guns than people. Isn’t that enough?

I could go on and talk about how and why guns are so deeply embedded in our culture. I could lament the Second Amendment rulings and passage of federal and state laws — in particular, those of the stand-your-ground variety that almost seem to encourage people to use their weapons. I could wring my hands at the unwillingness of our elected leaders to face up to reality.

But, frankly, I don’t have the energy to address anything more about this issue in any depth. At least not in this piece.

Countless words have been written and spoken. Countless videos and photographs have documented the carnage. You’ve seen and heard as many points of view from politicians and everyday citizens as I have. You’ve probably seen Jimmy Kimmel and other last-night comedians call out our do-nothing Congress.

I’m saddened by this bloody stain on America. As a nation, we should be ashamed.

My concert-going ways took root in the San Francisco Bay Area. As a young college student, I saw the Allman Brothers, Led Zeppelin, Santana and so many more at places like the Fillmore West, Winterland and the Cow Palace.

Back then, the major concern was finding a parking place near the venue. Secondarily, it was which fast-food restaurant to hit up for a post-concert snack.

Now the worry for parents isn’t what time is my child coming home but will my child come?

We’re better than that, aren’t we?

 

Memories of Minidoka, Heart Mountain

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Worst selfie ever? Possibly. Gathered together on Sept. 24 at Twentysix Cafe, from left: Midori, Ayumi, Aki and Katie Mori, John and Nancy Stephenson; and Alice Suter.

Earlier this year, Oregon joined the nation in marking the 75th anniversary of the executive order, signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, that led to the forced incarceration of 120,000 Americans of Japanese descent during World War II.

Here in Portland, Japanese Americans and their allies gathered on the waterfront on Feb. 19 for a Day of Remembrance to honor those who were imprisoned, including 4,000 from Oregon, and to condemn the wartime hysteria that led to the disruption of so many lives of innocent people at internment camps across the United States.

Recently, I was privileged to be part of a multi-generational conversation with friends that brought together a camp internee, the daughter of a camp architect, and a family of four that visited camps in two western states.

Nancy (Komatsubara) Stephenson was 3 years old when she and several family members were sent from their home in Alaska to Camp Minidoka in south-central Idaho. A retired schoolteacher now living in Northeast Portland, she is married to John Stephenson, who was 4 years old when his dad, a Navy sailor, was killed during the 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor.

Alice (Hardesty) Suter was 5 years old when her parents took her and her brother on a summer  vacation to Cody, Wyoming. Decades later, she would learn that her dad was one of the architects who designed and supervised construction of barracks at the Heart Mountain internment camp just outside Cody in northwestern Wyoming. Alice, a retired audiologist and freelance writer, is my neighbor, just two doors away on our quiet NE Portland street..

Aki Mori and his young family were headed to Yellowstone last year when he noticed a highway exit sign for Minidoka. He and his wife Katie and their two daughters wound up visiting both Minidoka and Heart Mountain, on opposite sides of the famed national park. Aki is a high school vice principal and lives in Beaverton.

Alone among the group, I have no connection to the camps. But through a series of coincidences this year and last, I learned a lot about the camps through each and every one of the aforementioned friends and neighbors.

It dawned on me that everyone might enjoy meeting each other and sharing their experiences. And so it was that we gathered a week ago at a favorite coffee shop in my neighborhood.

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John, Nancy and Alice all came with stories to tell.

***

In July 2016, Aki and Midori, then 12, both wrote movingly about their experiences visiting the two camps in Idaho and Wyoming. I published their essays on my blog during the annual Voices of August guest blog project.

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In November 2016, my wife Lori and I were among a group of six, including Nancy and John, who went to see a play about the life of Gordon Hirabayashi, a Seattle college student who challenged the wartime curfew targeting Japanese Americans. Afterward, Nancy lent me “Surviving Minidoka,” a beautifully written and illustrated book examining the legacy of Japanese American incarceration, and I wrote a glowing review just before the year ended.

 

Then, early this year, I learned that Alice was working on a magazine article about Heart Mountain that told of the warm welcome she received at a 2016 pilgrimage to the camp’s WW II Interpretive Center, an annual event that encourages visitors to learn more about the so-called “relocation center.”

In the process, I discovered that Alice had also written an article on the Hirabayashi play for Oregon ArtsWatch, about a month before Nancy, John and I had seen it. In researching the piece, Alice had interviewed the playwright, Jeanne Sakata, whose father and grandfather and other relatives were sent to an Arizona camp.

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Ryun Yu was marvelous as Gordon Hirabayashi in the Portland Center Stage production of “Hold These Truths.”

As for myself, I knew broad outlines but few details of this dark chapter in our nation’s history. I knew, for instance, that Portland had served as a processing center for West Coast internees. But I was ashamed to learn that the campus of San Jose State University, my alma mater, also served the same purpose.

I also learned that some internees were sent to Lordsburg, New Mexico, a godforsaken place on the Arizona-N.M. border that I had passed through many times while driving east from Tucson to visit my father and stepmother. Turns out that Nancy’s father was initially sent to Lordsburg as a suspected spy and only later transferred to Minidoka to join his wife and three daughters.

***

Sunday’s conversation, in a sunlit room in a covered patio, could not have gone better.

Everything unfolded organically. People introduced themselves to each other and, with no prompting from me, soon began talking earnestly about their varied experiences. As each person shared a memory or an observation, everyone else listened. No interruptions. No testy exchanges. Just a respectful carving out of space for each person to have their say.

Alice grew up in the Chicago suburbs. She said she didn’t know about her father’s role in designing internee housing until she was in her mid-30s. They never discussed the subject.

Because of her father’s work, Alice said she was nervous about how she would be received by camp survivors and their families at the Heart Mountain pilgrimage. She was pleasantly surprised by how warm and welcoming people were, adding that she is still in contact with friends she made there.

Nancy grew up in Petersburg, a small fishing village near Juneau. When her father was arrested, authorities rounded up Nancy’s mom and her siblings and put them in the local jail because they had nowhere else for them. Imagine spending the night in jail when you’re 3 years old.

Nancy brought along a camp yearbook for us to see, but said she doesn’t have vivid memories of Minidoka. Flipping through the pages of photos and activities, my heart broke a little at the thought of immigrant and U.S.-born adults alike trying to convey a sense of normalcy during their captivity.

Midori asked Nancy if she was angry all these years later.

No, she replied.

“What I am really sad about is that I never talked to my parents at length about what happened,” Nancy said. ” I remember things like playing but not about guards with rifles at the gates or things like that. We were just little kids. We were too young to remember. I don’t feel real anger, just sorrow.”

Aki is from the Midwest. I met him several years ago when he submitted an op-ed piece to The Oregonian’s Sunday Opinion section. I noticed in his bio that he had taught in the same school district in Union City, the working-class suburb where I grew up across the bay from San Francisco.

His wife Katie has a Union City connection, too. When she and her mother and sister immigrated from Taiwan, Katie was a 9th grade ESL student at James Logan High School, the same school that I would have attended had we had not moved to adjoining Fremont. Katie adapted quickly, went on to get a degree in biochemistry and worked for a tech company before becoming a stay-at-home mom.

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The Mori family: From left, Midori, Aki, Ayumi and Katie.

 

Their children exhibited poise, manners and distinctly different personalities during our meet-up.

Midori, 13, is in the 8th grade. The more outgoing of the pair, Midori loves judo, plays the piano, and recently wrote about transitioning from female to male. (“What it means to have Pride.”)

Ayumi, 10, is in the 5th grade. She plays the violin, loves figure skating and, like her sibling, is a precocious writer.

Both said they appreciated the opportunity to learn about life in the internment camps with their parents. Midori, in particular, is interested broadly in World War II.

“I learned about (the camps) through my dad,” Midori said. “The least I can do is respect those who came before us.”

***.

We broke off after 90 minutes, feeling as though we’d just scratched the surface and vowing to meet again. What a wonderful way it was to spend part of an afternoon with such gracious people all around the table, ages 10 to 80-ish.

 

Nancy wrote to thank me for bringing everyone together.

“I know John agrees with me in saying that it was a very enjoyable and heartwarming experience to talk with everyone. It was a privilege to meet such kind, thoughtful and intelligent young people as Midori and Ayumi. They have such a bright future ahead of them.”

Indeed.

 

Enchanting Eagle Lake

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Morning silence enhances the feeling of tranquility on Eagle Lake.

Some things just never get old. In the dozen years we’ve been vacationing on Orcas Island, we’ve never failed to visit Eagle Lake, a picturesque body of water that inspires feelings of tranquility.

Walking around the perimeter on the Lake Trail not only encourages you to slow down, it requires it on the eastern shore. You’ve got to watch your steps on the narrow path that takes you to the water’s edge. Tree roots poke up here and there as the trail twists and turns beneath towering Douglas firs that provide shade and silence.

Lori and I took two walks at the lake during last week’s stay at our cabin a mile away. The outings were perfect bookends to our visit, giving us a chance to soak up sunshine and fresh air when we weren’t relaxing indoors.

Charlotte came along and gave us a mild workout. When this city dog gets into the outdoors, she’s overcome by all the animal scents (deer, otter, squirrels, waterfowl) and goes into Iditarod mode. Imagine a 15-pound terrier mix straining on her harness as if she were leading a pack of huskies through the Alaskan tundra.

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Charlotte the Explorer checks out some new turf.

We’ve walked this trail countless times (I’ve run around it too) and I always feel better after having done so. There’s a timeless beauty to these placid waters that makes even an amateur photographer look good.

We’ve seen bald eagles (hence, the name of the lake), osprey, Canada geese, turkey vultures, red-tailed hawks, mallards and other ducks on or above the water. On a solo run a few years ago, I witnessed a great horned owl in flight. Magnificent.

Eagle Lake holds a special place in our family. Aside from the Lake Trail, we’ve taken canoes out onto the water, played Scrabble at a dockside table, enjoyed potlucks with other residents and, most memorably, held a pre-nuptials dinner here to celebrate Simone and Kyndall’s wedding three years ago.

Some things just never get old.

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Hand-crafted signs mark the way.

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The trail provides views like this.

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Mid-morning sun glints off the water’s surface.

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Even tree branches make room for views like this one.

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Is there a better place to relax than a couple chairs in the shade?

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A sturdy shelter provides a gathering place for potlucks and barbecues.

Goodbye, summer. Hello, fall.

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George and Lori take a break during a hike at Coho Preserve on Orcas Island.

We’ve been coming up to our Orcas Island cabin for 12 years running. Until now, I don’t think we’d ever been here during the change of seasons.

Well, now we can check that box.

Friday, September 22nd, was the fall equinox and it marked the end of a weeklong stay at our place above Eagle Lake. On this trip, our third this year, it was just Lori and me and our little whiskered rascal, Charlotte.

This summer was brutal, with way too many 100-degree days and then the devastating wildfires that torched the Columbia River Gorge and ruined the air quality for several days. I don’t think I’ve ever been more ready to greet autumn.

(Click on images to view captions.)

This was a quiet week, even by our usual standards. Thanks to a still-sore ankle I developed during a routine run around Mountain Lake on our last visit in June, we didn’t try to do too much that would further strain my Achilles tendon.

We confined ourselves to a couple of walks on the Lake Trail around Eagle Lake, took several short walks up the hill above our house, and made time for one lovely hike at a new spot — Coho Preserve, just above Buck Bay.

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Eagle Lake: beautiful from any angle.

The San Juan County Land Bank negotiated the donation of 24 acres of private woodland that it’s turned into an easily accessed trail with a loop that takes you on shaded switchback trails past Cascade Creek and a series of mini-waterfalls. It’s really gorgeous. And although the trail might be a tad steep for some, my ankle didn’t bark at all during the ascent or descent.

We went into Eastsound just once for lunch, groceries and light shopping. The village has about 2,000 residents and it’s the island hub for commercial activities of all kinds. Lori made a dietary concession and we ate burgers at the Lower Tavern, one of my favorite spots on the island.

For once, we didn’t go to any bookstores. Fittingly, however, I finished a book that I had purchased here at least one summer, maybe two, earlier. It was “The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest,” the last in the crime trilogy by the late Swedish author Stieg Larsson. Lori, meanwhile, read two collections of short stories — one by Portland author Kate Carroll de Gutes, the other by the acclaimed Irish writer Colum McCann.

We went out to dinner just once. We joined our friends, Carl and Juliana, at Rosario Resort for appetizers and wine. It was a fun evening catching up with each other while noshing on everything from lettuce wraps to cheese-and-charcuterie to salt-and-pepper sand shrimp.

Most of the time was spent here at the cabin. And, believe me, there’s nothing to complain about when you’re relaxing in a dozen different ways: Reading. Watching movies. Playing Scrabble. Building a woodstove fire to warm the house. Filling the bird feeders and watching the various species — juncos, towhees, sparrows, grosbeaks — come and dine.

We cooked our own meals — duck eggs for breakfast; fresh clams and oysters for dinner. We watched barge traffic on the water far below us, with Bellingham in the far distance. Mostly, we enjoyed the silence — the utter silence — that envelops this place. Nothing compares to pausing on a walk in the woods and hearing … absolutely nothing. Not even a bird.

Monday brings a return to work for both of us. Lori picks up where she left off with her personal training clients and group fitness class. I start a new Media Literacy class at Portland State after five weeks away from the classroom.

I know I’ve said many, many times but spending seven days here has been good for the heart, the soul and our relationship. Now if only we could stay for another week.

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The view at dawn from our cabin.

New space, new author

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Kate Carroll de Gutes welcomes the crowd to her Sept. 14 book launch at the Fremont Theater.

Last Thursday was one of those nights that captures the essence of what it’s like to live in this city: a melding of books, bites, music and friends, all done without leaving our zip code.

Our friend Molly Holsapple invited Lori and me to join her and others at a book launch featuring local author Kate Carroll de Gutes at the Fremont Theater. And, oh, could we meet beforehand for drinks and a light dinner at the Italian restaurant across the street?

Well, sure.

I hadn’t heard of de Gutes and I didn’t even realize the Fremont Theater existed. Unbeknownst to me, it opened as part of a new building that went up about two years ago at the corner of Northeast Fremont Street and 24th Avenue, about a mile from our home,

Going to this free event would be a good way to get acquainted with both author and venue. Turns out both were eye-openers.

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Kate Carroll de Gutes reads from “The Authenticity Experiment.”

Kate Carroll de Gutes is a Portland writer who was promoting a new book, “The Authenticity Experiment,” a collection of essays that began as a 30-day blogging challenge to be more honest about her life. Her first collection of essays, “Objects In Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear,” had won an Oregon Book Award in creative nonfiction and a Literary Lambda Award for memoir/biography.

On Thursday, de Gutes was finishing a three-city tour of Bend, Seattle and Portland with a book reading that felt like we were in someone’s living room.

The Fremont Theater seats about 120 people in an intimate space with a small stage at one end and a bar at the other. The building has a 22-foot-tall ceiling and two levels. Little did I know this place has been hosting live music, theater and other events for some time.

In fact, the evening began with a short set performed by local folk musicians Steve Einhorn and Kate Power, a married couple who are also former owners of Artichoke Music in Southeast Portland. The duo set a warm, welcoming tone with four songs featuring vocals, acoustic guitars and Steve’s ukelele.

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Kate Power and Steve Einhorn performed four songs as a warm-up for the book reading.

de Gutes was charming and relaxed, with a large number of friends in the audience. Hip from head to toe, came out in a bow tie and polka dot shirt, Levi’s and a pair of black Converse. Her essays were beautifully written — concise, compelling, humorous, sad and, above all, authentic — in tackling topics of death, friendship, family and grief. Within a single year, she said, her mother, best friend and editor-mentor all died. Blogging was a way to cope.

“I kept writing because it kept me sane,” she said.

We bought the new book and Kate signed it. Lori’s already read it and pronounced it a winner. I’m still pounding through a 500-pages-plus novel but plan to dive into Kate’s book next.

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Kate Carroll de Gutes signs her new book for a new fan, Lori.

Thanks all around …

— To Molly for introducing us to a new author here in our city.

— To Broadway Books, our neighborhood independent bookstore, for supporting writers like this one and promoting literacy in our city.

— To Kate Carroll de Gutes, for doing what nonfiction writers do best — reveal something of themselves in order to address common themes that bring us together as human beings.