2017 Oregon Book Awards


George and Jennifer outside the Gerding Theater.

It wasn’t the Oscars and it wasn’t the Grammys. But it was my first time attending an awards event and it was pretty cool.

On Monday night, I joined my friend Jennifer Brennock at the 2017 Oregon Book Awards, held at the Gerding Theater in Northwest Portland.

No red carpet in sight. But in the lobby there was a pop-up book sale going on staffed by the folks from Broadway Books, my neighborhood book store. Also, there were plenty of animated conversations going on among book nerds of all ages, young adults to retirees.

For those of us who love words, it was a night to celebrate seasoned pros, first-time authors and everyone in between who strives to inform and inspire us readers with works of fiction, non-fiction and poetry. If you’ve ever written seriously — whether for work or as a hobby — you know the feeling of facing a blank screen and wondering when or how the first words will materialize.

If you’re patient, they will come. Eventually.

Knowing a little something about what that’s like, I felt nothing but admiration for these accomplished writers who faced the blank screen and won the stare-down. These are the diligent, creative folks whose characters, plots, scenes and dialogues — imagined or real — come to life on the page, often after years of research. Such work is impressive and every one of the Oregon Book Award finalists deserved the whistles, whoops and hollers they received.


Before the event, I met Jennifer at a coffee-and-wine bar a short walk from the Gerding. We met several years ago when I attended a writing workshop she was leading on Orcas Island. I was impressed by the way she led the class and since then I have been dazzled by her writing.

Read Jennifer’s contribution (“Baby Shower”) to my Voices of August guest blog project.

She’s taught English at the community college level and I’m now teaching communications classes at two universities, so we have that connection, too. Jennifer’s students are blessed to have someone whose writing prompts challenge them to think and feel deeply and whose own intelligence and passion explode off the page.

The awards program, sponsored by Literary Arts, itself was entertaining — probably more so than you’d think given the absence of live music, video clips or other such stuff that you see at the Academy Awards.


The Portland nonprofit Literary Arts sponsors the Oregon Book Awards.

A California author, Lysley Tenorio, was a charming master of ceremonies, filling the same role as Jimmy Kimmel, Ellen DeGeneres and others have done at the Oscars.

Anis Mojgani, a spoken word artist based in Portland, performed a poem. Téa Johnson, a Grant High School senior, reprised her winning entry in the citywide high school poetry slam competition known as Verselandia.

Read a profile of Téa Johnson in Grant Magazine.

Finalists were announced in eight categories, and the judge for each one read an excerpt from the winner’s book before calling that person to the stage.

Turns out that I had met — ever so briefly — the winner in the first category. Kate Berube took home the award for Children’s Literature for her book “Hannah and Sugar.” Last summer, I took part in a fundraising trivia contest sponsored by a nonprofit that provides books to low-income children. Kate, an author and illustrator, was at that same fundraiser and donated a portion of profits from her sales that night to the same cause.

Even better, Jennifer knew the woman who won the Creative Nonfiction award. That would be Walidah Imarisha, who is currently a lecturer at Stanford but also has taught at Portland State and Oregon State universities. Walidah was honored for “Angels Without Dirty Wings,” a book about life behind prison walls that weaves together the stories of three people — her incarcerated brother and his fellow inmate and herself..


Reunited: Jennifer Brennock and Walidah Imarisha

Jennifer and Walidah have known each other since graduate school. In the lobby afterwards, the two embraced and Walidah autographed the book I bought on the spot. Gotta make room for it on my always crowded bookshelf.


Two quick anecdotes that illustrate what a small world we live in:

Walidah’s companion that evening was a young man who had participated years ago in a summer journalism program for minority high school students that brought him to The Oregonian, my former employer  John Joo, then a student at Beaverton High School, remembered me from the program — probably one of those times when I popped into a room of teenagers wolfing down pizza and soda during a visit to the newsroom and said a few words. What a great memory.

Before leaving, I introduced myself to Cindy Williams Gutiérrez, the only Latina/o among the Oregon Book Award winners. Cindy is a poet who’s worked with Milagro Theater, the bilingual theater group where my wife and I saw a recent production. Her new book, “Words That Burn,” dramatizes the World War II experiences of three men, including Lawson Inada, a Japanese American internee who later taught at Southern Oregon College, where Jennifer met him as an undergraduate student.

Cindy chatted warmly, jotted her email address on a card, and invited me to get in touch. I think I’ll do just that.

All in all, a fun evening spent in the company of someone who loves words as much as I do. Who needs the red carpet anyway?

2016: What a year


Dawn on Orcas Island brings a magnificent view of Mount Baker.

Three weeks from today, the nation will inaugurate a new president — not the one I wanted, not the one everyone expected, but the bloviating mess known as Donald J. Trump.

I shudder to think what the next four years will be like under this man who continues to defy every social and political convention while trampling on the bounds of common decency. Especially so after the model of dignity, grace and intelligence that we’ve seen exhibited by Barack Obama and his equally impressive wife, Michelle, a power in her own right.

It’s still beyond belief that a man so ignorant (and proud of it), so misogynistic (and proud of it), so narcissistic (and proud of it) has been elected to the nation’s highest office. Yet there’s no disputing that Trump’s election was the story of the year in 2016.

But I’m not going to dwell on him. I’ve got my own agenda today — and that’s taking a look back at the year that was. For all the sadness we felt seeing so many entertainers and other public figures pass from the scene — David Bowie, Prince, Maurice White, Elie Wiesel, Garry Shandling, George Michael, Carrie Fisher, et al — there was a lot of other stuff going on in the Rede household.

After all, this is the year I traveled a new path, away from the newsroom where I had worked for the past 30 years. This was the year I caught a glimpse of what retirement might be like, only to settle into a new work routine in the fall.

Here’s a quick take:


First grandchild: We welcomed a charming little girl into our lives in late July. Little Emalyn May Rede, the daughter of our youngest son, Jordan, and his wife, Jamie, has been nothing but a source of pride and joy.

Lori and I were privileged to be the first ones to see and hold Emalyn, other than her parents, when she was just hours old. In the months since, she’s already transformed from helpless infant to smiling, healthy baby, seemingly delighted to be part of the action.

A new job (actually, two): Just as my severance from The Oregonian/OregonLive was running out in mid-September, along came two opportunities to return to the workforce.

Portland State University hired me to teach in the Department of Communications. I got started with a Media Ethics class that set me on a course I’ve always wanted to explore — that of a classroom teacher.

At the same time, I landed a part-time job as communications coordinator with the nonprofit Portland Workforce Alliance, an organization that partners with local employers and schools to expand career and technical education opportunities for metro-area high school students.

In January, I will add a third leg to this stool as an adjunct instructor at Washington State University Vancouver. I loved being a journalist, but I also feel fortunate to have these new employment opportunities.

The big noventa: My dad turned 90 years old in March, so all three of us kids and our extended families gathered in a San Diego suburb to celebrate nine decades of good living.

My dad and stepmom drove in from New Mexico. Lori and I flew in from Portland. My younger sister Cathy flew down from Alaska. My older sister Rosemary, with help from her daughter and son-in-law, hosted the party near Oceanside.

whole damn family

Thanks to a selfie stick, four generations of Redes gather around Dad (in black hat) in honor of his 90th birthday.

Catarino Allala Rede is the only sibling left from a family of seven brothers and two sisters. It was great to see my dad basking in the love and admiration of his children, grandchildren and great-children. For a man who did manual labor all his life and whose formal education stopped at the eighth grade before he went back later in life to get a G.E.D., he’s done pretty damn well.

A baseball road trip: In May, I made a whirlwind trip that allowed me to see four Major League Baseball games in three cities in five days. I flew into Pittsburgh, then drove to Cleveland and on to Cincinnati.

In all, I covered about 400 miles from western Pennsylvania to Ohio, traveling the length of the Buckeye State through gently rolling landscapes. With Lori’s blessing, I stayed in three airbnb rentals and took the opportunity to see new sights, experience unfamiliar places, and visit with new and old friends in Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.

Cool concerts: There were only three this year involving pop artists, but each was satisfying in its own right.

Got to see Jackson Browne at Edgefield in August and he was outstanding. A month earlier, I saw the Dixie Chicks at a Clark County amphitheater just north of Portland and they were exceptional. Their July concert came at a time when I was feeling down, given a spasm of fatal shootings of both civilians and cops in three states.

In November, I saw Liz Longley, a favorite singer-songwriter, for the second time in 18 months, this time in the intimate space of the Alberta Rose Theater.

Excellent books: All that free time I had in the first few months of the year enabled me to dive into the world of literature. Although I slowed down considerably after going back to work, I still managed to plow through 15 books.

They ran the gamut — everything from a young reader books about a transgender youth (“George” by Alex Gino) and a deaf baseball player (“The William Hoy Story” by Nancy Churnin) to a gritty collection of stories about the Motor City (“Detroit” by Charlie LeDuff) to a rape survivor’s memoir (“Lucky” by Alice Sebold) to a sweeping novel about race, culture and class in Nigeria and the United States (“Americanah” by Chimananda Ngozi Adichie.

There was lots more by the likes of John Updike, Steig Larsson, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Lauren Groff, Celeste Ng, Anne Hillerman and Robert Goodlick. You’ll find a synopsis of each one here: Books & Literature.

PIFF: Early in the year, I joined the ranks of volunteers at the 39th annual Portland International Film Festival. In exchange for helping to greet patrons, take tickets, etc., I got to see six movies for free at three theaters during the month of February.

It was a lot of fun and I’d like to do it again, but not this year. Too much going on with my three part-time jobs to even consider it.

Urban hikes: Another luxury during the first half of the year was exploring my own city with the help of a great guidebook, “Portland Hill Walks” by Laura O. Foster.

I made a routine of selecting a route that took me into mostly unfamiliar neighborhoods, where I learned a lot about the city’s history, geography and demographics. Hard to say which were my favorites, but I do recall the pleasant surprise of discovering Marshall Park in Southwest Portland and getting thoroughly soaked when I hiked through the jewel that is Washington Park.

Island getaways: We made it up to our cabin on Orcas Island three times. Each time is like opening a valve and releasing the stress that comes with living in a city of 632,000 people and an urban area of 2.4 million. Compare that to maybe 2,000 folks total on Orcas.

We’re blessed to have a place where we can hike and kayak, read, play board games, feed the birds and watch old movies — all in a beautiful place that offers Solitude with a capital S.

This year, we enjoyed a parade and community potluck on the Fourth of July weekend and hosted our longtime friends, Bob and Deborah Ehlers. We did our best to make their three-night stay a memorable one, with excursions to Doe Bay, Eagle Lake and Mount Constitution.

Pets: We lost our beloved Otto in July, shortly after our final trip to the island and just a week before Emalyn was born. He was a Jack Russell Terrier, 11 years old, blessed with a sweet disposition, and loved by all who knew him. Otto was especially close to Lori and had earned the status of “The Fourth Child.” Fittingly, he died of an an enlarged heart.

Before Otto died, he schooled little Charlotte, our Terrier-Pug-Chihuahua mix, in the ways of the world. She misses him, for sure, but she has blossomed as the sole focus of our canine attention. Charlotte and I survived a run-in with two pit bulls at a dog park, but she’s healed completely and is becoming more social with other dogs and humans.

Mabel, now the senior pet, continues to rule the roost in her own bedroom, a sweet brown tabby who refuses to come downstairs and interact with Charlotte.

Voices of August: No recap would be complete without mention of my annual guest blog project and post-publication meetup. For six years now, I’ve opened up the blog to a different writer each day during the month of August. It’s a wonderful thing to see — a diverse group of friends, relatives and co-workers from all over the country (and even abroad) each taking a turn writing about an issue or an experience that never fails to entertain, inform or resonate with an online audience.

This year’s VOA gathering was held at a Northeast Portland brewpub not far from our home and drew folks from three states, including my compadre, Al Rodriguez, and his lovely wife (and first-time VOA contributor), Elizabeth Lee.


hillary-buttonLike the other 65 million-plus Americans who voted for Hillary Clinton, I wish we were inaugurating the nation’s first female president. Instead, I’m left to hope that in 2017 we can endure the worst of what a Trump presidency can bring and begin building a coalition that returns the White House to someone we can put our trust in.

Happy New Year, everyone.

VOA 6.0 meetup


Another year of stellar writing by a diverse group of guest bloggers, ages 12 to 70. (Photograph by Taylor Smith)



If Voices of August were a child, she would be in kindergarten by now.

VOA, as this annual guest blog project is called, debuted on August 1, 2011, at a time when I was working at The Oregonian as a web editor focusing on community engagement. I had taught a couple of introductory communications classes (weekend mini-courses) at Portland State University that prompted me to start a personal blog and led to the subsequent birth of this project.

Fast forward to October 2016 and consider how things have changed or come full circle..

I’m no longer at The Oregonian, having accepted a buyout offer at the end of 2015.

I’m back at Portland State, this time teaching a full-fledged, upper-division class that meets twice a week.

Meanwhile, Voices of August just notched its sixth year. A week ago Saturday, about a dozen of us bloggers, along with spouses and other supporters, came together at a Northeast Portland brewpub to celebrate a remarkable collaboration: a month-long feast of writing, reading and reacting. (Yes, this is one place where you actually can read the comments and not have to take a shower afterwards.)

Click on images to view captions:

Each day, I post a guest blog that’s been written by a friend, neighbor, relative or former co-worker on a subject of their choice. Many of us are professional writers but most are not. And that’s the beauty of this thing. The variety of topics and writing styles flows from the fact that people write from the heart as much as their head, from their personal experiences and professional perspectives.

Since VOA began, about 70 people have participated as guest bloggers. Among them: teachers, professors, musicians, lawyers and documentary filmmakers. Contributions, totaling nearly 200, have come from several states and even a smattering of foreign countries: Vietnam, France, Slovenia, Poland and Texas. (Kidding. Just kidding.)

Looking back at my initial entry on 8/1/11, I launched VOA with three reasons in mind.

  1. I expected it would be fun. Boy, has it.
  2. I thought it could be a teaching tool. Indeed, I’ve learned much about online communication that I’ve applied to my work and social media.
  3. I knew it would bring more diversity to the site. Duh. When you invite people of different ages, races and ethnicities, people who represent different generations, bring varied life experiences and a constellation of passions, well, you wind up with something pretty special.

VOA is like opening a new gift every day. You never know if you’ll read something light or heavy, funny or sad, something universal or deeply personal — but you know it’ll engage you. This year, people wrote about their mothers and their cats, about politics and immigration, about love and loss, about pregnancy and a years-ago fishing trip gone bad.

Call me biased, but I think this year’s batch was the best ever. (I know, I know. I said that last year too.)

At month’s end, bloggers and regular readers cast votes for three favorite pieces — whatever resonated with them for whatever reason — and five were judged the most popular. In no particular order, they are:

“The memory keeper” by Gosia Wozniacka, writing from Poland.

“Rhubarb summer” by Jennifer Brennock, writing from Orcas Island, Washington.

“Night on the Kahawai” by Tim Akimoff, writing from Salem, Oregon.

“American internship in the shadow of Yellowstone” by Aki Mori, of the Portland area, and “My visit to Heart Mountain” by his 12-year-old daughter, Midori Mori. Both reflected on their family’s summer visit to two historical sites in Idaho and Wyoming where Japanese Americans were interned during World War II.

A tip of the cap also goes to first-time VOA bloggers Anne Saker, Elizabeth Lee, Sue Wilcox, John Killen, Michelle Love, Maisha Maurant and Gosia Wozniacka.

Final word: Last weekend’s gathering at McMenamin’s on Broadway meant renewing friendships and making new ones between sips and bites and much goodwill. It was great seeing friends from Washington, Oregon and California.

For me, though, the best takeaway from VOA 6.0 was the thank-you note I received from Midori the day after our gathering. In it, she said she had always imagined that the only way to innovate for future generations was as a top government official such as senator or president.

“But the fact that I was given much positive acclaim in my essay moved me to a new perspective I have never once perceived,” Midori wrote. “It was the fact that such a small action, as to writing a blog entry, had moved and altered many people and their way of thinking. I, only being 12, have much to discover in this universe. However, I am grateful to know that my writing was just the beginning.”

If you missed Midori’s piece or want to re-read it or any of the others published this year, visit the VOA 6.0 index page.

Voices of August 2016: Your faves?

vote in color

And…it’s a wrap.

We’ve just completed Year Six of the guest blog project known as Voices of August.

As the creator and curator of this online literary event, I readily acknowledge that this exercise is an annual highlight for me. What an honor it is to reach out across the city, across the country — even across the ocean — to solicit guest essays from friends, neighbors, relatives and past co-workers.

That so many people from all walks of life are willing to make time in their busy lives for Rough and Rede II warms my heart — and I hope you, as readers, have come across one or more that have really stuck with you.

This year’s guest blog posts were every bit as entertaining, informative and eye-opening as years past.

And now comes the reader participation part. It’s time to vote for your favorites. Just three. Your deadline: Saturday, Sept. 10.

Here are the rules:

  • Who can vote. As with previous years, anyone who has written a guest blog (this year or previously) or who is simply a regular reader of VOA can vote for three favorite pieces.You decide if you’ve read enough of this month’s contributions to cast a ballot.
  • Criteria. There are none other than your own. What grabbed your attention? What resonated with you? What made you laugh or cry? What challenged your assumptions? What made you see things differently?
  • How to vote. Take some time to review the month’s posts here at the VOA 6.0 index page and then send the titles of your three favorites to me at ghfunq@msn.com. (Please do NOT list your favorites on Facebook.)
  • Deadline: Saturday, Sept. 10.

As you revisit this year’s contributions, please take the opportunity to leave a comment on one or more posts. Be generous with your feedback, both on Facebook and especially on the posts themselves. Writers love feedback.

Let the voting begin!

Image: rgbstock.com

Night on the Kahawai

TA shrimp

For three non-native white guys, going out in pursuit of Hawaiian freshwater shrimp meant intruding on the protective nature of the Big Island’s north shore communities.

A short story by Tim Akimoff

We drove the 53 miles from Kona to Hawi in silence with no air conditioning, and it was at 95 degrees out on the lava flats. It was exhausting to do anything but drive or stare out at the Martian landscape.

It was all highway noise. Guys don’t talk just for the sake of talking.

The old GMC truck we were riding in was rusted out on the bottom, so that you could see road running beneath the threadbare floor mats.

The north side of the island was cooler than then sun-baked Kona coast. The clouds were rolling down from the volcano like liquid nitrogen boiling over a beaker.

We stopped for gas at Kawaihae and grabbed two packages of rotting squid for bait, some new Gamakatsu fish hooks and a new rubber for Sam’s spear.

The big local at the station asked where we were going, and Jay, the smartass of the group said, “Know any good spots around here, brah?”

The big guy just smiled at the joke and rolled up a couple bills in change and handed them to Jay.

We had heard about this place at a party a few months before, when a local girl started talking about her ex-boyfriend’s favorite place to catch opaekala’ole, these tasty little freshwater shrimp native to the pristine Hawaiian streams on the north shore.

She made the spot sound like the garden of the gods, at least for fishermen looking for that magical place with a wide channel where you could find the hundred-pound Uluas that seemed to favor that side of the island.

At the base of the stream was a little half-moon beach covered in small boulders with a steep shoreline that seemed to fall into a roiling, ever-present shore break. The ocean rolled heavily toward the shore, but things calmed down the further out you went, because of a deep channel that ran straight out to sea.

The magic, she told us, is that you can swim your bait out through the channel, and there is no second reef.

Uluas, silvermouth trevally, are big fish that like to run when they are hooked. They’re like little marlin, all muscle and razor-sharp fins. They’ll run you up, under or over a reef to cut your line, so a deep channel with no second reef was like Xanadu to serious shore casters like us.

TA trevally

A giant trevally, also known as an ulua in Hawaii.

Haoles never fare well in surf movies, when they invade the locals’ secret surfing spot. Imagine the response when you combine the secrecy and passion of fishing with the protective nature of the north shore communities in Hawaii.

We agreed that there would be no fights over access rights. We respected the land and the people, but we lusted after those big fish.

What we didn’t know was where we could access the stream on public land. Everything was fenced off on that grassy part of the island, and the stream crossed the road through a series of pipes that ran under the roadway.

We arrived in the evening, just before the sun set to the west of us, which seemed to put the shadows of the big volcano over the top of us and sucked all the warmth out of the air.

We grabbed our spears and our 14-foot Ugy Stick shore casters and nets and put tabis, rubber socks on our feet with felt bottoms, on our feet.

Well-laden with gear, we opted to take a side trail for the two miles down to the small beach and leave our shore casters there before hiking back up to join the prawn harvest.

We never saw another soul on our way down to the beach, but we stopped to eat some guavas from a tree that were as yet unmolested by birds.

Daylight lasted us the entire journey down, and we stepped onto the rocky beach with just enough light left to set our rods up in their holders , where we left them up and baited until our prawn hunting journey downstream finished.

Jay and I worked our way back up the trail using headlights when we couldn’t see well and turning them off when the moon provided enough light for us to see our way.

At the top of the stream, Sam informed us that he’d already ran into one local guy in another beat-up truck who said this is all private and that we should stop in and ask permission. But he wouldn’t say which ranch.

“I say we just go for it,” Sam said. “Ask forgiveness later.”

Jay and I worried about that idea, based on the fact that while total haoles, we had spent most of our adolescent years in the islands, and we had come up with survival mechanisms that included not pissing the locals off whenever possible.

It was dark now with the moon setting over the volcano, which would give us good sight for finding prawns by using our headlamps.

Sam wanted at least five pounds of prawns, part of which he planned to sell to some tourists in Kona Town.

TA prawns

Capturing Tahitian prawns, an invasive species introduced to the Hawaiian Islands in 1956.

The fence proved more difficult than we imagined, snagging everything, including our nets and spear rubbers.

It was tight, new wire, obviously designed to keep us out rather than cattle in.

We saw the first no trespassing sign as we approached the place where the stream came out of the tubes that ran under the road.

It was pretty clear.

Trespassers would be shot on sight.

With a little sign of a rifle for emphasis.

Sam didn’t care, but Jay and I knew this could end badly.

Jay found the first group of opaekala’ole a few feet downstream and started spearing them as fast as he could.

He had a half pound in the first quarter-mile of stream.

I had a more difficult time seeing the little eyes that glowed like burnished copper in the water, having always struggled a bit with my eyesight, but I had speared another half pound after the first half-mile of stream.

Sam was moving furiously, probably just stabbing at anything that moved, but he had managed to find his bag full of big prawns, probably a full pound by the time we took a break from the cool water to go find the guava tree up on the trail.

Jay and Sam turned off their head lamps before the small pathway that led from the stream to the side trail gave way to open fields.

Unfortunately, I did not.

I emerged onto the side trail a few yards above the guava bush just a bit later than Jay and Sam, and I swiveled my head around to get my bearings.

That’s when they saw me, two paniolos in the bed of a truck being driven by a big local guy.

They were screaming at us to stop, which we did in spite of Sam’s advice that we go back to the stream.

“Come on, guys, we don’t want to fuck with these yahoos,” Sam said, ducking back into the brush below the guava bush.

Jay instinctively did the same.

I did the old deer-in-the-headlights look and stayed where I was as the truck bore down on me.

The two local guys in the back were certainly carrying rifles slung across their backs as they held on to the roll bars across the top of the truck, which was careening across the grass.

It was at this point that I decided to shut off my headlamp.

By the time I headed back into the bushes myself, the truck’s headlights had framed my position, which made my sudden dive back into the bushes awkward.

The men stopped and jumped down from the truck, and they were yelling at us, no, screaming at us to come out.

My heart was thumping so hard, it felt like a jack hammer as I hugged the ground and closed my eyes.

Sam and Jay were already back to the stream, hiding under one of the embankments together.

But the locals found me first and rather easily too. I wore black clothing,  but I was so close to the field they had driven in on, that my legs were visible just inside the first row of vegetation.

“Bettah come out now,” a surprisingly calm voice said to me. “I no wanna shoot you if I no have to, brah.”

I risked looking up and into the eyes of a smallish local guy in a black tank top with a rifle hanging over his shoulder.

He had his hand outstretched toward me.

“Come out, it’s okay, I only gonna shoot you if you run,” he said, and there was a smile in his eyes that belied his threats.

I rolled over and extricated myself from the bush and sat down on the grass on the other side of the trail.

The gun stayed over his shoulder, and I could hear the other two guys walking along the trail calling out for anyone else.

“How many people you got with you?” he asked.

I didn’t say anything, just sat looking at the ground all guilty like.

“Brah, my name is Kimo, what’s your name?”

“Tim,” I said.

“You from Kona side?”

“Yeah,” I said.

“What, you guys thought you come down and do some fishing, eh?”

“Yeah, and maybe find some opaekala’ole too,” I said.

“Shit, man, I love opaekala’ole from da stream, too. I like fry ’em up in da butter and garlic with some soy sauce. I serve ’em on da eggs too.”

We sat quietly for a few minutes trying to figure out the bearings of the others.

“You know you can no trespass out hea, brah,” he said after a few minutes of listening.

“I know,” I said. “We didn’t think we’d get permission, but we really wanted to experience this place.”

“Dat’s da problem wi choo haoles, brah,” he said. “You feel privileged to do whatever you want to do on someone else’s land. For sure, you maybe no get da permission to fish here, but you no let dat stop you.”

“If I go walk around on the lawn of one of those big Kona houses, ho, brah, da cops gonna come tackle me so fast,” he said.

After a few minutes, one of the other guys from the truck was leading Jay up the trail towards the spot where I was sitting.

“You all right?” Jay asked me.

“I’m fine, man. Sorry about that.”

“No worries, mate,” Jay said. “Didn’t want to leave you here by yourself.”

“How many more out there?” Kimo asked Jay, but Jay shrugged his shoulders.”

Jay’s captor, a taller local guy with a thick mustache and long hair tucked into an Island Pride hat, shoved Jay to the ground about 10 feet away from me.


Atyoida bisulcata, also known as ‘Opae Kala’ole, is a Hawaiian freshwater shrimp.

“Look, guys, make dis easy on yourselves, we jus tryna make sure you no damage nothing wit your trespassing. If no cooperate, we gonna call da cops.”

Jay didn’t say anything, so I didn’t say anything.

“How many opaekala’ole you guys find, before we catch you?

“I don’t know, man, I got like a pound maybe,” I said.

“You gotta stick dem in some water, brah or dey gonna die and no taste so good den,” Kimo said.

“For why you talk this haole?” Jay’s captor said.

“For real, Manni, dey jus fishing,” Kimo said.

Jay’s captor took the butt of his rifle and struck Jay in the back, which caused him to fall forward and get up slowly.

“How many you guys in her?” he asked.

Jay is a serious guy. He’s big, he’s tough, but he’s got a huge heart, and he’s really soft spoken.

“We’re three of us, just doing some fishing, mate,” Jay said, through gritted teeth.

“Where da udder guy den?” Manni asked.

“Man, I don’t know. I came back here to see if my mate was okay,” Jay said.

“Ho, where you from, brah, widat accent and all?” Kimo asked.

“I’m from New Zealand,” Jay said.

“Kimo, I think Jay is hurt bad,” I said.

“For real?” Kimo said.

“Yeah, he’s wincing every time he talks, man. Can you help him?”

Jay asked if he could stand up, which took some of the pressure off his lungs, and he took a big, ragged breath.

“I think he broke my rib,” Jay said.

“Should be glad I no break your skull for trespassing on dis land,” Manni said.

“I’m really sorry about that,” Jay said. “I knew better, and I should have kept my mates out of trouble.”

“For sure,” Kimo said. “You can breathe bettah now, brah?”

“Yeah, it’s sore but I can take a full breath,” Jay said.

A gunshot suddenly rang out from somewhere downstream.

Jay looked horrified, and Kimo and Manni both got up quickly and walked down the trail a ways.

Kimo hollered out into the darkness, “Hey, Keolani, no shoot deze guys, eh.”

I thought he was trying to be funny to deescalate the situation, but Jay was worried.

“Oh, no, mate, don’t shoot Sam, we didn’t mean any harm. We know we made a bad decision,” Jay said.

“I no think Keolani shot him,” Kimo said. “Unless your buddy got da gun, eh.”

Jay and I knew Sam didn’t have a gun.

There was a second gunshot, and this time Kimo went running down the trail.

“Manni, stay hea, I wanna find out what he shooting at,” Kimo said.

Jay had a wild look in his eyes that I couldn’t tell if it was fear or panic.

I moved down the trail to be closer to Jay, because Manni had his back to us looking down the trail towards the sound of the gunshot.

“You okay, bro?” I asked.

“I’ll be fine if I can stand up. Hurts like hell when I sit down,” Jay said,

Every kind of fear ran through my head as we waited for news.

Did they shoot Sam? If so, would they shoot us? I would have rather been stuck with Kimo than Manni who seemed to have a short temper.

I wondered who their third guy was. Was he nice like Kimo or short-tempered like Manni?

Jay was wounded and couldn’t run, so that pretty much screwed any chance we had of making a run for it up the trail to the truck.

And our cell phones didn’t work at all out here in the shadow of the volcano.

“Mate, I’m scared,” Jay said.

And it sounded strange coming from a big guy who descended from some of New Zealand’s fiercest warriors.

But there was something about being in the wrong. We knew it. And there was nothing to do but face the music.

Kimo came running up the trail whooping and hollering, which was really confusing for us.

Manni pulled his gun off his shoulder again and turned around to face us.

He was as confused as we were.

“You two get down on da ground,” he said.

“Please, Manni, Jay can’t breathe when he sits,” I said.

But it was too late, he started advancing on us with the rifle pointed at Jay’s belly.

Kimo’s gibberish suddenly became clear.

“Ho, Keolani shot da pig, brah,” he said, with a huge smile on his face, “Was dat big one he trackin last week. Dis crazy haole sees da pig and tells Keolani he’ll go around and flush it out. Keolani gets da nice shot in da clearing. One shot for bring it down, one shot for make sure no slice him up wit da tusk.”

The pig story completely threw us off our guard. Manni just looked at Kimo and re-slung his rifle and started walking down the trail.

“No, Manni, Keolani want you bring da truck down to da cleaning for hoist da pig up, eh?”

Manni turned around and got in the truck and fired it up and pointed the headlights down the hill. We waited for Kimo to get to us and catch his breath.

The next two hours were surreal. We were covered in dirt and pig blood from hoisting this huge boar on to the truck, where this guy Keolani butchered it right in front of us.

TA stream

A Hawaiian freshwater stream on the north shore of the Big Island.

Then Manni and Kimo and I continued down the stream spearing as many opaekala’ole as we could before we reached the mouth of the stream. When we got there, Kimo damned off a small pool where we put the shrimp. Then he grabbed the nasty squid bait and opened the bail on my Penn Reel and took off into the waves of the shore break.

I could barely see him swimming out into the bay in the dim starlight, but Manni had a one million candlepower flashlight he used as a beacon for Kimo.

It took 20 minutes to swim it out of the small bay into the open ocean, but I could see the line was taut as Kimo crawled back onto the beach.

“Watch dat line closely, brah, some big fish in dis place,” he said.

The bell atop my pole started ringing within a few minutes, and Manni and Kimo coached me through setting the hook, which I did just as they instructed.

I wrapped one leg directly around the rod with my hands holding the rod about two feet apart to give myself some leverage.

Whatever was on the line wasn’t big, but it was way out there.

It was a long, steady pull.

I kept the rod tip up high and reeled until my arms felt like they were going to fall off.

When our quarry was about 15 feet from shore, Manni and Kimo took our spears and waded out into the shore break holding on to the line.

It got really rough for a few minutes in the boisterous shore break, but then my prey came sliding onto the beach as if it was hand-delivered by the gods.

It was a huge puhi uha, otherwise known as a conger eel. It was gray with large stripes, and it writhed around on the beach. I fully intended to try and extricate the hook and let the creature go, but Manni and Kimo had other ideas.

They both stabbed it with our spears at the same time, causing the eel to straighten out to its full length of about four feet.

“Why are you guys killing it?” I asked, in as light a tone as I could muster.

“For real, dis puhi uha, is da kine, brah,” Manni said. “Grill it on da skin, best ting you evah taste.”

They tossed the still squirming eel into the prawn pond, and Kimo rebaited the hook and swam the bait out one more time.

“No get da ulua tonight,” he said when he returned and caught his breath on the beach. “When see da eels, no catch da ulua.”

But the next fish to take the stinking squid was a nice seven- or eight-pound papio, which fought admirably all the way onto the shore break, where Kimo stabbed it in the head with a spear.

“Ho, brah, now we make da feast,” he said, smiling.

Keolani, Jay and Sam had butchered the pig and taken it to the ranch and Sam and Keolani returned to the beach just as we were reeling in for the last time. They brought cold beer and some dried fish, and we sat around drinking and eating for another hour, recounting all of the evening’s adventures.

TA emu

A traditional Hawaiian imu, a type of pit oven used to cook pig.

I couldn’t believe that three hours earlier, I thought these guys were going to shoot us for trespassing.

We offered all the opaekala’ole to Manni, Kimo and Keolani, but they told us to bring it up to dinner at the ranch.

We hiked back out to the truck with sacks full of prawns, a four-foot conger eel and a nice papio.

When we arrived, Jay was sitting on a bench near the house with a large bandage around his mid-section with a pretty local girl attending to him.

“Well, this couldn’t have gone any more differently,” he said with a big smile stretched across his face.

We dropped the night’s bounty on the kitchen table, where three ladies started taking out the prawns and dropping them into a basin full of cold water. One lady picked up the eel and grabbed a filet knife and split that thing faster than I’d ever seen a fish filleted before.

In one corner, the largest rice maker I’d ever seen sat steaming away, infusing the house with the intoxicating scent of jasmine rice.

I walked back outside, where Kimo, Manni and Keolani were hanging up the pig in the barn. Kimo grabbed my arm and dragged me out the back of the barn to show me a spot where the ground looked recently dug up and reburied.

“We cook da whole pig in da ground,” he said. “You evah had da real pig in da imu?”

“Yeah,” I replied. “I went to the luau at the Royal Hawaiian a couple years ago.”

“Dis not real,” Kimo said, indignantly. “That’s for da tourists.”

If they were hanging the pig that Keolani shot tonight, I wondered where they got the pig that was cooking in the ground oven known in Hawaii as an imu.

But I followed Kimo back through the barn.

There was more beer, and then we were introduced to the ranch owner.

This guy was as haole as we were, at least by appearance. He spoke pidgin, and his wife was definitely local.

“You guys no trespass on deze lands,” he said, with no trace of a smile. “Otherwise I’m going to have to start shooting you guys instead of da pigs for my imu.”

We apologized collectively and individually to the ranch owner who was introduced to us just as John.

He looked us each in the eyes and then shook our hands. He was big and seemed gracious enough.

And then he broke into the biggest grin and shotgunned a beer. “Let’s eat dis food,” he said to everyone.

It was now 11 at night, and we sat out beneath the stars watching cars arrive down the long lane that led from the road to the ranch.

People brought all kinds of food and added it to the growing table of food with the rice cooker on it.

Six men, including Manni, Kimo and Keolani unearthed the pig, which had been cooking all afternoon, revealing a steaming pile of bones with succulent meat falling off them.

I saw a bowl of prawns, now bright red and steaming fresh from the boil. My papio was cooked whole with the head on and served with some kind of seaweed. And the eel was now cut up into six-inch pieces, which were grilled on both the skin and meat sides after marinating in soy sauce.

And there were crabs and slipper lobsters, more prawns served in some kind of curried liquid. There was purple poi, which I could just make out from the faint light coming from the house.

I have never seen a feast like this in my life, and to be sitting here, when we probably should be sitting in a jail cell was completely mind blowing to me.

Tim Akimoff Kona

Tim Akimoff on the Kona Coast, 2012.

I’ve met hospitable people all around the world, but sometimes I’m still surprised at how a situation can go from dire to dining together in the space of one evening.

“You guys want to come back and fish on my property, no problem,” John said after he had pushed his plate away finally. “Just come down to da ranch and ask first, so my guys no mistake you guys for da pig and shoot you.”

We promised to always ask permission, and the feast went until well after 3 o’clock in the morning, after which we fell asleep on the couches on John’s lanai.

I woke up to the smell of jasmine rice cooking, and the little kids were up and running around.

We ate prawns and eggs and rice with some Spam, and Manni had the biggest smile on his face.

“I told you is good, brah,” he said. “Best food you evah tasted.”

All photo illustrations: Tim Akimoff


Tim Akimoff says: ” ‘Night on the Kahawai’ ” is a short story that I started writing almost 20 years ago when my wife and I were living on the Big Island of Hawaii. She worked long hours at Kona Coffee Co., while I spent a lot of time fishing for our meals. I still look back at my 20-year-old self and think about the lessons I learned about entitlement, how we treat others and overcoming cultural differences from this experience. Some mistakes have a way of shaping our lives for the better. This is one of those mistakes.”

Editor’s note: I met Tim in 2005 when I recruited him to The Oregonian for a reporting internship. I was astounded by the breadth of his travels and cultural experiences — he had been to about 50 countries by then. I continue to be impressed by his journalistic growth as he has moved from Alaska to Montana to Chicago and back to Oregon, where he is now social media outreach coordinator for the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife. And, by the way, he is a terrific writer and storyteller.

A haven for political junkies

EH gary johnson

Conversations about Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson appear regularly in the author’s online political group, as do debates about health care, GMOs, minorities, countries with bombs and guns.

By Elizabeth Hovde

Like most people who use social media, I started seeing a lot of Facebook posts about politics early this year. At times, they even outweighed posts about cute kids and cats. I knew I would need to take drastic measures.

Not only was I becoming tempted to respond to these posts, I found myself wanting to share news items or opinions I found insightful. This was trouble. I’m usually a political minority among my friends — and in the Northwest. I’ve written an opinion column for a newspaper for 20 years. I usually talk about those columns with zero of my closest friends. That’s best for all of us, and I have readers who indulge me with political discussion.

To continue to preserve my friendships and keep from becoming what I’ve always tried to avoid — the friend or family member you don’t want to bring up politics around — I knew what needed to be done. I joined an online group of political junkies who talk politics all  the time with reckless abandon.

No cute kid pictures or links to pigs walking cats. (Really. See for yourself. I saw this posted at least five times:)

Only pigs walking Trump would have had more staying power in my newsfeed that week.)

Most people in this politically interested circle weren’t friends when they arrived. They might have known one or two other contributors in a past or current life somehow, but they were not well connected, live in different parts of the country or world and wear different political stripes. Best of all, their political discussion was about more than just Hillary, Trump and Bernie. Ahhhh.

At first, I only watched the banter and barbs. I liked what I saw. Most of these people were my people!

I thought they only existed in editorial board meetings or in pre-2010 legislatures. They were the type of people you could debate with for hours and then meet for a beer, without a side of grudge or drama.  They weren’t afraid or sorry to say what they thought. They didn’t shut up when someone told them they should. They took insults, shrugged and came back for more. There isn’t a lot of dwelling, and posts in this group really only have a daily, or hourly, shelf-life. There is always a new issue or candidate to haggle over within the hour.

I’m pleased with the timing of this group in my life. With less column space available to me and newspapers “changing,” I’m having to decide again what to be when I grow up.

It’s much harder this time around than when I was 20. I’m now a 40-something single mom who needs a reliable, living-wage job to keep my kids in their beds at night. (I used to have one of those. That was cool.) And column writing has spoiled me. I love researching and writing about politics and social issues. I’m passionate about furthering discussion and building bridges with others. I’m addicted to learning new things and often learn most from my political opposition.

I met this Facebook group of political nerds (I call them that with admiration) at a good time. They’ve helped show me there can be interesting political debate and discussion for me when my column writing has to end.

DE Hovde

Elizabeth Hovde: political junkie and nachos connoisseur.

The desire to keep doing something I love for work has led me to believe I should be a florist, a recreational therapist or a chef — three professions for which I have absolutely no qualifications. My resume is full of entries about my experience in an industry that is changing in ways that make it unrecognizable to many writers. I’m writing a book and thinking about blogs, but they don’t promise an income I can work with.

Trying to find the next right fit, I have written press releases, grants and website copy. I have taken on emergency substitute teaching in local, public schools. I’ve brainstormed a house-cleaning business I could start when my kids go back to school so I can continue to accommodate the hours in which they need an adult. If I did that, I could at least listen to OPB, play loud music and think of good points to make in my all-political, all-the-time Facebook group when I get home.

I can only offer so many emoticon reactions to pigs walking cats, after all.

Photograph: Katie Frates, The Daily Caller


Elizabeth Hovde writes for The Oregonian and takes other random contract gigs. She’s a mom of two boys. Currently, one likes her and one doesn’t. She believes nachos should be eaten at least weekly.

Editor’s note:  I got to know Elizabeth when I edited her columns as the Sunday Opinion Editor at The Oregonian. Though our politics differ, that doesn’t lessen the friendship that has grown from our professional relationship. Few people I know are as genuine as her.

Tomorrow: Tim Akimoff, Night on the Kahawai


The Lady and the Lotus

LJ lotus

In Asia, the delicate, beautiful lotus is a sacred symbol of transcendence.

By Lakshmi Jagannathan

The flat round leaves, anchored with bulbous stems, float gently in the water like giant saucers. A black-and-white bird steps on a leaf delicately with one leg, walks on water and gently skitters on to another leaf.  Scattered throughout the floating barge of green are ethereal blooms of water lily radiant in the morning light – pale yellow, pink or with a peach colored hue. In Asia, the lotus is a sacred symbol of transcendence – of purity rising from the muddy waters.

I am in a cottage on stilts on Lake Inle in Myanmar. The lotus-filled water stretches out for miles to hills in the distance.  It could easily be the time of the King Anawrahta, who founded a kingdom by developing an irrigation system in a dry land and turning it into the rice granary of the region. In a way, this trip is also a quest for roots. A great uncle lived in Rangoon in the early part of the 20th century. At that time, Burma was a province of British India. An aggressive Burmese king had prompted the conquest, not to mention the need for teak and rubies.

LJ lake inle

A cottage on Inle Lake in Myanmar evokes a feeling of serenity, a world away from urban stresses.

I hear the gentle splish-splash of a boatman who stands on a stick and uses his leg to row the boat. It’s far away from a world of mass shootings and barbaric terrorist attacks. No traffic gridlock, no phone calls or appointments. It is life reduced to the bare elements, water, sunshine, air and lotus. Except for one thing – the 4G here is better than in the U.S. For years the country was undeveloped because of military rule, but now, since there was no slow evolution of technology here, cutting edge mobile connectivity is instantly available. So I post my lotus picture on Instagram – not so much for validation, but in a feeble attempt to freeze the present moment.

I love that the women seem empowered, somehow, in their fitted blouses and stylishly draped longyi skirts. No hiding hair with scarves or hunching behind veils to cover their breasts.  Whether it’s a village woman cleaning fish on the banks of the lake or a smart businesswoman in the capital, they seem confident and are treated with respect. The only restrictions are in pagodas. For some reason, the management is obsessed with “spaghetti straps” and there are warning signs everywhere not to wear them. Or shorts. And women are not allowed in the inner sanctum.

Lotus cloth is a big industry in Lake Inle and designers from Europe pay big money for this cloth more expensive than silk. I can see why as a woman at a weaving house extracts lotus fiber from a stem – the process is very labor intensive. And the end result is cool like cotton – not smooth and fine, but a great alternative if you have ethical concerns about silk.

LJ pagoda

A couple worshipping at the Shwedegon Pagoda sport their longyis, traditional Burmese attire.

The night sky feels primeval as a full moon shines over the lake. This phase of the moon is considered holy, and there is chanting all night in the monastery across the water.

Coincidentally, the next day is also a major national holiday – Martyr’s Day – the day the “Father of the Nation,” General Aung San, was assassinated by a political rival. When we get back to Yangon we discover that admission is free at the Bogyoke Aung San museum (his former home) because of the holiday.

From the crowds that throng the house, it is obvious how much the brilliant statesman is still venerated. There are pictures of him with world leaders.  I read a letter he has written to the British government announcing Burma’s choice for independence. A picture of him playing joyfully with his young kids shows so much hope and promise, that it’s sad to see the following one –  of his wife weeping over him on his last day. The sadness seems to permeate the house even now.

At the doorway, you have to take your shoes off and carry them (this is something you have to do a lot in Burma – in temples and, apparently, sometimes even in offices). The furnishings are stark and simple – a teak bed with a mosquito-net stand, a coat rack and a glass cabinet displaying the leaders uniform. A wedding picture graces the wall.

LJ General Aung San

A wedding portrait of Burmese General Aung San, “the father of the nation” and his wife.

Another bedroom contains Aung San Suu Kyi’s crib. As it is with Burmese names, her name actually consists of her father’s first name, her mother’s (Kyi) and a grandmother’s – Suu. I can relate to this because in South India – we don’t have last names either. It’s hard for me to understand the sacrifices Suu Kyi was willing to make. She refused to leave the country to see her dying husband because she knew the military regime would never allow her back. But her prioritizing country over family can be explained by her spiritual beliefs – the Buddhist concept of embracing suffering as a meditation practice.  It might also explain the patience and gentle demeanor of the people that we encounter everywhere, despite the poverty and the hardship they must have endured.

Even though Suu Kyi’s party won a historic election in 2015, rules concocted by the military did not allow her to become the President.  Instead, she is the “State Counselor” and also has to share power with the military which retains 25% of the seats in parliament. She is poised to implement agricultural and infrastructural reforms so Myanmar can join the global economy, but the path could be difficult since democracy is so new. Another serious issue is the persecution of religious minorities and armed ethnic tension.  I learn that for an American NGO based in Yangon, conflict management education is an important task.

LJ. weaver

Lakshmi Jagannathan with a woman who is a weaver and also teaches the skill to guests.

On the last day of our stay there is a heavy downpour – it’s peak monsoon season. We are in a fancy new pizza place, that serves microgreens, but when it’s time to leave, the compound is flooded. “No problem” says the manager. A taxi is hailed and people place benches on the water so we can step across and sit in the car seat. Burmese hospitality at its best.

Ever since Aung San Suu Kyi came into office, expectations are very high for her, but the challenges are many.  I hope the peace they have now lasts and the country continues on its path of reform and accomplishes its goal of a brighter future for its people.


Lakshmi Jagannathan is a writer, startup cheerleader, reiki healer/counselor and tree-hugger. “Lately,” she says, “I have found that if I call myself a writer I get asked too many questions by immigration officials in different ports, so now my official occupation on application forms is ‘counselor.’ It works — the junta left me alone in Myanmar.” Follow her @BeavertonWriter. Read her Living La Vida Pura blog on WordPress and her Veggie Travel posts on Facebook.

Editor’s note: I met Lakshmi in the fall of 2007, when she was one of a dozen people selected for The Oregonian’s Community Writers program. Then and now, I’ve admired her intelligence and writing ability, her multicultural sensitivity and love of the natural world. Through her VOA posts, I feel as if I’ve traveled to multiple Asian and African countries.

Tomorrow: Elizabeth Hovde, A haven for political junkies

I’m desperate

moon over the sea

By Taylor Smith

I’m desperate.

I’m desperate because
it feels like every day
I hear news of
hatred and
violence and

and I take it personally,

because I’m human

and in my humanness I feel
the intensity
of the pain and suffering
of my brothers and sisters in this world,

because we will all face heartache,

and it can break

Gihembe 2

I’m desperate for

I’m desperate for
someone to step out and say,
“This isn’t how it was supposed to be.”

I’m desperate for
people to see
we’ve gone too far —
gone too far away from
who we are,
who we were created to be,
what we were born to do –
serve others, love others, love God.

I’m desperate for
a taste of civility.

I’m desperate for
people to be people of their promises.

I’m desperate to see
communities bound together in commitment to one another
and to the community that is
this world.

I’m desperate for people
to take off their crowns
and trade them for ashes,
to get off their pedestals
and get on their knees,
to take their dictionaries and degrees
and cast them aside
to hear real people
with real stories.

Gihembe 1

I’m desperate for
families and strangers to gather around the table,
even if it gets awkward.

I’m desperate to see time stop,
for an hour,
or even just a few minutes,
for bread to be broken,
for plates to be passed,
for grace to be shared,
for hands to be held.

I’m desperate for
so we can be reminded that
we were not given this opportunity of life so it could be easy for us,
but for it to be real,
and messy,
and vulnerable.

I’m desperate for
leaders to kneel on a foundation of
dignity and respect.

I’m desperate
for fathers to guide with wisdom and conviction,
for mothers to lead with strength in their hearts and in their voices,
for siblings to wrap their arms around each other and say,
“We may be different, but I’m going to love you, always.”

I’m desperate for
us to give it all away
to love just one person well.

I’m desperate for
genuine and meaningful conversations.

I’m desperate for
heart-level truth and friends who hold one another accountable.

I’m desperate for
so that when we’re hurting, when there’s a problem,
we can rise to the occasion
and meet chaos with compassion.

I’m desperate for

I’m wholly desperate for
Holy Forgiveness.

I’m desperate for these things because
the only way I can make it through a single day on this earth is the security of knowing that
I’m wrapped in
and Love.

I’m desperate for
an identity check.

Taylor Boneza 2016

Taylor Smith gets in touch with her inner child, with preschool children in Boneza, a rural village in western Rwanda.

I’m desperate for
people to put down their magazines and television remotes and cell phones,
desperate for people to erase their titles, their resumes, their bucket lists,
desperate for people to see who they were when they were born into this world
– fragile, tender, beautiful JOY –
a baby born with no ideas of murder, or discrimination, or fear,
but a baby who smiled when her face first pressed against her mother’s warm skin,
a baby who snuggled into folds of safety and protection,
a baby who only wanted to be loved, for that is
the only way to live,
to survive,
to grow.

It may sound like I’m desperate for a lot of things –
a lot of big, complicated things.

But truth be told,
I don’t believe it’s that complicated,
if we only took the time to look at where we come from,
how we came here,
why we are here.

In the end,
I’m desperate to believe in the goodness that is at the core of each one of us,
simply because
we’re human

— and I’m unwilling to compromise this belief,
no matter what happens.

Moon over the sea photograph: Armin Grewe, Pictures from the Isle of Islay, Scotland.

<a href=”http://www.islay.org.uk/” title=”Islay Pictures – Pictures from the Isle of Islay, Scotland”>Islay Pictures Photoblog</a>

Taylor Smith is a tree huggin’, deep-conversation lovin’ Oregonian with a passion for listening to people’s stories. Taylor works (but it’s really her passion!) as the community and development manager for These Numbers Have Faces, a Portland-based nonprofit focused on rising up the next generation of leaders in East Africa. 


Editor’s note: I met Taylor when she was a reporter and I was the opinion editor at the Hillsboro Argus, a suburban newspaper/website owned by the Oregonian Media Group. I’ve always admired her zest for life and compassion for people. She originally wrote this piece on the eve of the Umpqua Community College shooting in Roseburg, Oregon, on October 1, 2015.

Tomorrow: Lakshmi Jagannathan, The lady and the lotus

Rhubarb summer


In a summer of loss and love, rhubarb plays a symbolic role.

By Jennifer Brennock

I lost my job today. I mean, I have five jobs, most of them meaningless and labor-oriented, but this was the one that made me feel like something. It floated me when the tide was low and kept a roof over my kid’s head no matter what. It woke me predawn for a red eye ferry for six years. I walked into it and said “Good morning, class” with a genuine smile every session without fail. It tested my brain’s capacity and asked me to be better because what they learned was important. Yeah, that one.

I’m a little freaked out. In response, I’m harvesting rhubarb. I should be trimming the mean girl tomatoes, but all I care about is the emo rhubarb.

My child is already in bed this summer evening, so I’m being liberal with the wine bottle. From my view, no structure nor person can be seen, only pasture, birch, and evergreen—a Cascadian ideal. I am solo under an expanse of easy sky, but clouds lurk atop the treeline. The moon wants to be seen and the swallows dive for insects inches above my head. I can hear their wings back and forth in a spasm of feeding. There is a Brett Dennen song on the radio. Not my favorite, but he insists “It’s the life you made.”

The rhubarb is a mistake I made. I planted this blushing, awkward teen in the center of the very best bed in the garden. Inside the deer fence. Deer don’t eat rhubarb. I could have planted it anywhere else, making room for sensible broccoli, more delicate lettuce, and cheerful, knobby Brussels sprout. Instead, I am protecting something that no longer needs it. Even so, there is primordial, fantastical growth on these dogs. It’s like science fiction out here.

The music floats over the berm to the narrowing valley and pasture below. I wonder how far this sound travels at night. I turn it up.

“Who do you think you are?”

Tonight, I feel the full power of middle age. I select a stalk, grip it at the base, and twist. The decisive choice makes the most satisfying staccato of fiber breaking under force. Rhubarb harvest is imbued with more “fuck you” than any other fruit picking. With a middle finger, I tell life to do its worst. I’ve already been here. There’s nothing you can do to me that I will not survive. This is just another day. There have been worse. Days when I could not get out of fetal. The days I hiccuped from crying too much. The days I fell farther. The days I fed myself with nonfood that I will never confess to. Still, every time I got up with Invictus, not because I believed I deserved to live, and certainly not because I believed I deserved to be happy. I got up because someone smaller needed me.

JB jennifer

Jennifer Brennock: badass writer, artist, mother on Orcas Island. (Photograph by Melanie Masson)

Tonight, I remove the yellowed, limp, snail-trodden leaves at the base. They were the front line months ago before the plant knew it would survive new earth. The clouds are approaching slowly, as if I don’t have eyes in the back of my head. My nose fills with the fresh and bitter fruit, an olfactory stab. The wine buzz and unyielding song makes this night a syrupy date.

Rhubarb is obnoxious. Who does it think it is with those gargantuan leaves of poison? We know what you’re up to; you’re not impressing anyone, rhubarb. You are not the umbrellas you think you are.

This rhubarb summer, I am in love after rejecting him over and over for years. I managed to fabricate reasons. His desire to provide my soul with daily tenderness and my life with strong shoulders was, you know, over the top. I had to save myself; I believed these were separate things.

“Don’t be afraid of the hands you play.”

I give sun space to the stalks that need the light by pulling out the four-foot charmers. The new ones—curly, insecure entering the world, virginal—are wearing the wrong green. If a stalk is thick but short, I pardon it, ask it to grow taller with girth and confidence. Confidence begets confidence they tell me. Hot pink root tips peek through, small flames, genital-like, solidly in place and keeping steadfast to center.

I’m in love with a man who drives without shoes on and brushes his teeth in the shower and once said the words “I concur” while we were fucking. His heart has been broken in the worst way it can be, and he is still willing to go all in. You know the guy who taught you to ski? Remember how he leaned down to your cold-rosy five year-old face on the verge of tears and asked with perfect enthusiasm and a smile, “We gonna have fun today?” Remember how just then you forgot you were scared to death and how you let go of your mother’s hand without thinking and took his? That’s him. He enters sleep just like a tree falls, calls climbing Rainier “going for a walk,” and is not afraid of carrying heavy things. I am a heavy thing.

“Who do you think you are?”

rhubarb JB

“I’m in a love with a man who drives without shoes on and brushes his teeth in the shower…”

I’m the chick who writes about being alone while being a parent. These are the stories I tell. I write about falling down. I write about sex, and I write about pain. To separate things, juxtaposed, rarely intersecting, but close enough that the possibility is there. That’s my schtick. I make weird art by destroying 1950s gynecology textbooks and sticking their diagrams next to poems describing fellatio. To remind you—haunt you—that love and body are not one, and they are not to be trusted together. It’s all going to hell once you’re happy and spooning. But what happens when the sex is actually leagues away from any pain, and he loves you enough to correct you when you call it fucking? He’s not leaving tonight, and not tomorrow either, and if he’s right, I may die at his side. What happens? Will I still have words? Will I still have night gardens and disturbing poems and breaking rhubarb at the neck? Will I still come out to see the moon at 2 A.M. alone?

All good stories must be universal, and, dear reader, for you to trust me, you have to get something out of the read. So here it is: you deserve it. We all do. Each of us deserves to be loved and supported regardless of our failures and voids, past and present. You’ve said things you regret. You’ve neglected someone who was counting on you. You failed her. You couldn’t deny wanting someone else. You did not forgive him in time. No matter how hard you try, you are not enough for her. You made him into someone he didn’t like. Okay. That happened. Still, there isn’t some huge karmic punishment coming for you because of it. When the song points at you and says, “Who do you think you are? This is the life you made,” you can just say, um, yeah? So? My head is unbowed. So you planted the rhubarb in the wrong spot. You gave attention to the wrong thing. You made bad choices. You still deserve to be loved, supported, adored, and saved. You do.

The rhubarb is crowding the artichokes. I shouldn’t’ve planted those there either. The trees are blowing now and the birds have become bats. The bird-murdered strawberries won’t be moved tonight, but these fruit-stalks look like an armload of ugly miracles. I’ll make cardamom sugar for the jam this time, I think. Best go inside now. The rain is coming, and I gotta find a job before summer’s end.


Jennifer Brennock lives on Orcas Island in a cabin nicknamed “Slaughterhouse” for some reason that she’s not asking too many questions about. This is an excerpt from Real, a memoir-in-progress about adoption and single motherhood with conversations with the Velveteen Rabbit. Contact her for organic rhubarb $2/lb.

Editor’s note: I met Jennifer seven years ago when she was leading a creative writing workshop at the Orcas Island Public Library. She is a dazzling writer — fierce, fearless and unfailingly honest — and someone I’m proud to call my friend.

Tomorrow: Taylor Smith, I’m desperate

VOA 6.0 index page

GW field

(Photograph by Gosia Wozniacka)

An archive of who wrote what during this month of guest blog posts for 2016 Voices of August:

Aug. 1:  Anne Saker | Summer of change

Aug. 2: Alana Cox | All in for the Olympics

Aug. 3: John Knapp | On with the show

Aug. 4: Angie Chuang | Why some immigrants (heart) Trump

Aug. 5: Elizabeth Lee | This thing called retirement

Aug. 6: Gosia Wozniacka | The memory keeper

Aug. 7: Michael Granberry | America: Still ‘the beautiful’?

Aug. 8: Lillian Mongeau | Mile 17

Aug. 9: Michelle Love | Proof of service

Aug. 10: George Rede | Susie Reimer & the Humdinger

Aug. 11: Rachel Lippolis | U.S. lags on maternity leave

Aug. 12: Sue Wilcox | Last words

Aug. 13: Aki Mori | American internship in the shadow of Yellowstone

Aug. 13: Midori Mori | My visit to Heart Mountain

Aug. 14: Gil Rubio | Fate and destiny

Aug. 15: Lynn St. Georges | Impermanence

Aug. 16: John Killen | The downsizing dilemma

Aug. 17: Tammy Ellingson | Finger printed

Aug. 18: Michael Arrieta-Walden | Ripples of fear haunt kids

Aug. 19: Maisha Maurant | No room to breathe

Aug. 20: Patricia Conover | My movie star mother

Aug. 21: Parfait Bassale | The hidden script

Aug. 22: Jason Cox | The great white hope

Aug. 23: Nike Bentley | Sweet Claire

Aug. 24: Andrea Cano | A special neighborhood: Sesame Street

Aug. 25: Monique Gonzales | Pregnancy in my 40s

Aug. 26: Bob Ehlers | Back road cycling: Senses come alive

Aug. 27: Jennifer Brennock | Rhubarb summer

Aug. 28: Taylor Smith | I’m desperate

Aug. 29: Lakshmi Jagannathan | The lady and the lotus

Aug. 30: Elizabeth Hovde |  A haven for political junkies

Aug. 31: Tim Akimoff | Night on the Kahawai