Barriers

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The barriers that keep underrepresented students from succeeding in school and moving toward college are real. We use the term “underrepresented” in education as a way of accounting for the many groups of students who go on to college in fewer numbers. In science, underrepresented specifically means students of color, girls and students from low socioeconomic backgrounds. As a student, I was underrepresented and have used my voice tirelessly to speak for this group. The barriers are real and I am thankful to be in a position to work toward removing them.

Barriers that continue to keep our underrepresented students from pursuing college are many. Money, of course, is a main one, but there are so many hidden barriers that people often don’t consider. Maintaining the drive and focus against the stacked odds and not having access to institutional knowledge (knowing how to maneuver through the logistics to get from high school to college) are other barriers that disenfranchise our underrepresented students.

I started high school as a new student from out of state. I lived with my aunt and uncle and their family because my parents were incapable of caring for my siblings and I. My parents were busy focusing on either their own addictions and/or recovery. My younger ten-year old brother was also at an aunt and uncle’s place in Montana while my older eighteen-year old brother had already dropped out of high school before his sophomore year was complete and had been living on his own since.

My high school was the seventh school I had attended. Because of the constant moving from state to state, between divorced parents and family members, my educational experience was very fragmented. Those who had the benefit of remaining in one system have never had to put together the pieces in the way that I did. Even though I remained in one school for my high school experience, my foundation was still shaky. I will say that although there were barriers to me succeeding in college, I still had a lot going for me. I was smart, I had a loving home during high school and I very much wanted a life different than that I was most familiar; a life of addiction and dysfunction. I had enough good elements in my life to plod through and make college a viable option, but there are many kids who do not. I think, “there but by the grace of God,” and this motivates me.

We lived in Florence, Oregon, a struggling mill town on the coast that suffered extreme economic hardships during the years I lived there. My uncle worked at the mill and lost his job when the mill shut down during my junior year of high school. Rather than leave the town immediately to find work elsewhere, someone, for the first time in my life, put my well being first and decided to stay in the town until I finished high school. My uncle took any odd job he could find, including spending entire days in the thick coastal forests foraging for Chanterelle mushrooms to sell to buyers who represented the high-end restaurants and markets from the cities. The pay off was small and the work incredibly hard but he put in a backbreaking work daily to provide for his struggling family. We relied, as much as we could on being self sufficient- gardening, canning and hunting/fishing, but I do recall receiving free processed cheese product and other staples from some source. The funny thing was, because we had a home and always had three meals a day, this level of poverty was still eons richer than I had been at other times in my life.

We all contributed as much as we could. I always had an after school job that paid for all of my personal provisions including all of my clothes, school expenses, personal expenses (make up, tampons, hair cuts, long distance phone calls to my mom or brothers…), sport expenses, prom/homecoming, summer program expenses, after school college classes, car insurance, gas, and trying to save whatever was left over for college. I made my own prom dress (and wedding dress) and learned to be the skilled thrift shopper that I am this day. Understanding the sacrifice that my family was making for me, I tried to not be an additional expense. I was a cheerleader my sophomore year of high school, but quit because the cost associated with the camps and uniforms was prohibitively high. We had to make choices. I worked at slew of places, sometimes working at two jobs at a time and in between jobs, babysat regularly. Most days after school and practice, I worked. Needing to work throughout high school, to contribute to the family is another hardship unique to our underrepresented students. It is hard and tiring and maintaining focus is difficult. I can see how it is easy to give up.

So what kept me focused? First of all, I recognized I didn’t have a lot of options. I had no family to fall back on, no safety net. From an early time, I knew I was it. School was my sanctuary (besides a handful of teachers who nearly broke my spirit). I knew that an education would move me through this place that I was stuck. That’s not to say that school was always a picnic, I struggled. I struggled with the gaps in my schooling, I struggled with being the new girl nearly every school year, and I struggled with keeping a distance between my life at school and my life at home. The drugs and alcohol that were a part of life at home and the lack of parental influence affected me. I recognize that I had two viable options to move through this place, I could escape through the hard work or I could escape through a life of drugs and alcohol. My path zigzagged back and forth through these two options.

Things that kept me focused in school were the classes and teachers that kept me interested. I took every choir class and every science class my high school offered. My favorite class, and probably the one that made me decide to be a scientist, was a Med Tech class I took my sophomore year with Ms. Bailey. I recall we spent a large amount of time analyzing our own urine and blood (back in the days before body fluids was an issue). Learning how to get past the embarrassment of bringing a cup of your own pee to class every day, as a sophomore in high school, is a feat. We boiled the urine to separate the liquids from the solids and for days endured the smell of urea in the air as you rounded the science wing hallway. We applied all of the same tests the lab does when you pee in a cup for your doctor. It was a lesson in humility, humanity and humor. It was also incredibly fascinating. The stuff I was learning was about me and it was applicable to life.

Buzzwords in education today swirl around our head: flipped classrooms, blended learning, voice and choice, small communities…. all good ideas, but nothing works if the students aren’t interested in the first place. We have to start with something that connects with the students. Usually it’s a teacher who knows how to deliver. In science, I believe it’s about getting up and doing science. Students connect with what they are doing. Students love lab experiences. In my classroom, lab is about putting on good music and mingling with purpose. Students roam the classroom connecting with each other, connecting with the lab ware and piecing together an understanding. Students need to be up, moving, talking, and getting into the thick of it. As a science teacher I balk when someone describes how using more technology in my classroom will increase student performance. Anything that moves my students out of the lab and puts them in front of a screen is in the wrong direction. That’s not to say that technology doesn’t have a place in my classroom, but I will choose lab time over screen time any day. In science, all educational buzzwords pale to doing science. Connecting students to a positive lab experience is beneficial to all of our students. No student is at a disadvantage in doing science, all students are equal. Connecting to students’ curiosity keeps them focused and coming back for more.

Besides doing science in science classes, I think there is much that a school can do to promote student interest and equity. As I stated above, I took all of the choir and science classes that our school offered, if they had more I would have taken them. We need to promote student choice and voice across our curriculum. Allowing students to access ANY course they want, as long as it falls within their requirements for graduation is a must. Sometimes a course might be a reach, due to a student’s prior experience. Taking an honors chemistry course coming from a regularly-laned biology course for example, might be a reach for some students, but the idea that they have the right to try, is crucial to student choice and voice. Safety nets should be put in place so that students can move in and out of lanes easily. Mixed level classes (regular/honors) promote student choice and equity. With choice comes responsibility. Students should know that there is a commitment and responsibility on their part if they choose to “jump” lanes. Students have to own this commitment and schools need to hold students accountable for their choices. Student’s responsibilities include seeking out assistance if they are struggling (this does not mean getting a tutor, this means seeking out the teacher for help), keeping up with the additional work associated with making a lane change and being self reflective enough to know if the lane change is working or not. Letting students take the courses that they want, breadth and depth, is an important way to promote student interest and equity. We should not be putting up barriers to student choice and voice, we should empower them with responsible decision making.

Lastly, if we are striving for equity for all of our students, it is imperative that all students have access to institutional knowledge to help with the jump from high school to college. We call students who are the first in their family to go to college, first generation students. I am a first generation student. My mother actually dropped out of high school because she was pregnant and she and my dad married before her graduation date. I was fortunate to move through a system that many fewer institutional barriers when I first entered college in 1985. Today’s system is much thicker institutional knowledge and bureaucracy. Negotiating the financial requirements of FAFSA, independent scholarship sources, the common application and the minimum requirements challenges even the experienced. Knowing how these pieces fit together requires explanation and guidance. Our schools need to make sure that all of our students have access to this institutional knowledge. Many schools offer guidance or advisory programs that walk students through this information but they must understand that some students will not have the support system at home with which to have guiding conversations and make important decisions. The guidance needs to come from the school. On this point, we will never reach equity, because the institutional knowledge provided from a parent who has been to college will always be greater than what a student can get from school, but at least schools can strive to close this gap.

I am privileged to be able to work do the work that benefits underrepresented students like myself. Breaking barriers or at least making them less is my classroom and in my school is my goal. I want science to be flooded with the voices of underrepresented women, students of color and students from low socioeconomic status. Science needs these voices because their silence only widens the gap and contributes to their disenfranchisement. Science needs these voices to speak to why our recent water debacle occurred in Flint MI and not Palo Alto CA and to speak to how the recent defunding of the EPA will result in a wider gap and the silencing of more voices. Science needs these voices.

Posted in High School- Florence, OR, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Poison Idea

I’ve been thinking about this blog for a while; what’s missing. Of course it is has to be my years going to shows and watching my favorite band, Poison Idea. Music and going to shows has been one of my saving graces. It was a huge part of my life and continually gave me hope and joy. I have always been a lover of music and subscribe to the philosophy that, “there are only two types of music: good and bad,” and although I find good music in all genres, have always gravitated toward metal and punk. I am a child of the 80s after all. As I write and draw from my teenage memories, I am aware of my unique perspective because I teach teens. I live in their world and draw from their energy every day. It is a very empowering position of which I am privileged to be a part and I hope I am able to contribute to their journey a little, “lead from the heart, lead with passion and with a love for what is right.” At this age, life perspective is limited but energy and passion are so unbounded. I remember being this teen surrounded by others with great energy and passion, which usually came through in the form of musical, social and political expression.

With this story, I will strive to share the deep-pit-in-stomach-joyous-ache one gets from a crowd jolting and swaying in mass sweaty unison and hope to describe movement of the heart, pumping oxygen rich blood in time to a driving beat that fills the limbs with life and hope. Fist pumping limbs. I hope to capture the culture of the scene: the energy, passion and urbanity. For these stories are grounded in the happiest of memories, as they are a stories of reconnection, of going to shows and watching my brother on stage.

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I first saw Jerry play in late 1979, downtown Portland at the Earth Tavern. He was playing bass for Smegma, opening for the Dead Kennedy’s. For the less familiar, Smegma’s music has been described as, “spirited joyous noise by young people who have yet to experience the frustrations of serious musical study.” They hosted both a matinee [for us youth] and a later show that evening. Mom took me. I love this. I love saying that my mom took me to see the Dead Kennedy’s at age 12 [thank you Mom]. The experience was pretty fucking amazing.

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The Earth Tavern was a small venue. Bare wooden walls, blankets hung to absorb the waves of sound energy. There was a good-sized crowd; kids really, 15 to early 20s, but all older than me. Before the show I remember Jello riding a small-wheeled dolly around the room, like we used to in PE class. Up and down bare concrete streams created by people stepping back and parting the waters. I remember my 16-year old brother looking so grown up and cool on stage. He was strapping, you might say menacing, around 6 feet and thick. He was built like a linebacker but instead of a jersey he regularly sported a studded black leather jacket. At this time he had been out on his own for over a year, squatting and occasionally taken in by caring parents of his band friends. I hug my 16-year old son today and think, “holy lord… this kid out on the streets…?” The thought is both terrifying and brings a sadness to this mother’s heart. Breaking free from the shit and grabbing the reins himself must have felt very good to Jerry, and he was doing well. He knew how to land and was enjoying his time in bands and such. Kudos kid!

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The Dead Kennedy’s was one of the first hardcore bands that I heard that introduced a politically motivated expression that was angry, aggressive and in-your-face demanding. The intent of the list is to express my gratitude for an inside perspective to an interesting, active, artistic and unique form of expression- my appreciation different than the hardcore kids on the scene, as I was usually a visitor. This was exciting shit to see. During these musically formative years I would get the pleasure of seeing Jerry play with and/or open for DKs, the Wipers, Bad Brains, Black Flag, 7-Seconds, COC, Circle Jerks, Necros, NOFX, TSOL, DOA, and Minutemen to name a few. I did see the Bee Gees too. Take a look at any American Hardcore list.

In order to understand the complete picture, it is important to set the stage. I was a teen during Reagan-Bush era. Because of the constant amount of moving that we did in my youth, I began my teens in Rockwood/Portland, OR, moved to Houston, TX for a stint and then landed on the Oregon coast in Florence for my high school years. My college years were spent in Salem, Eugene and in the greater Portland area. The world was going through strange stuff that I didn’t quite understand but could feel the sentiment. The Eastern Bloc was experiencing an uprising in Nationalism, which supported the end of the Cold War and placed the US firmly in our capitalist power position. The threat of a nuclear confrontation was a constant concern as Reagan tangled with leaders of the Soviet Union and the Middle East. Around the world coups rose and governments fell, adding to an omnipresent sense of unease. The socio-political teeth of the punk rock scene began to bare in certain responses directed at our world leaders, the inequitable distribution of power and resources, and the rising levels of police brutality. Socio-political speech is the salient characteristic of punk rock and it was heard in the lyrics of almost every hardcore album released. The Kennedys’ We’ve Got Bigger Problems Now and Nazi Punks Fuck Off were on heavy rotation during the early 80s. Jello Biafra was campy, theatrical, smart and political. It’s not that I was politically active by any means, I was a teen and too self absorbed, but the feeling of unrest and change was omnipresent and at least I was listening. My day job was an athlete, a choir geek and a student but it was in my nature to gravitate toward the party and music. By fifteen I was a veteran drinker and liked getting high on what ever you had to offer. I would say it was a fair balance.

The hardcore punk scene during 1982 and 1983 was thriving. Hardcore punk rock grew from political-social action, violence and in most sub-genres, a penchant for alcohol and drugs. It was how the youth, more densely represented in the cities, reacted to what was happening in the world. The perspective I bring is one of a young kid, a tiny 5’2” girl standing on the periphery of the action (and on occasion in the middle) watching. I do not have deep knowledge of many of the bands but instead bring a viewpoint as someone who was familiar with the scene.

The Pacific Northwest was an interesting place in the 80s. First of all, you have to understand what Portland was like before the huge shift in culture and demographics. Portland, for the most part was poor, working class and white. We had pockets of diversity, but most areas were pretty segregated. The wealthy lived in a certain area, up on the hill, while downtown housed a growing number of homeless kids. It was a wet concrete industrial town that would ocassionally sparkle clean and green from all of the rain. Portland has always been an incredibly beautiful city. A large surge in homelessness, especially homeless youth, came about during the 80s. White Nationalists abruptly rose to power in the PNW and the neo Nazis were always causing havoc on the scene. The political turmoil and disenfranchised bleakness of the city created a perfect breeding ground for hate recruiters. But the scene also responded. Poison Idea growled, “Listen Nazi, never again!” and in following years Anti Racist Action clubs sprung up in the various schools (one of which I was privileged to be the advisor for in Santa Barbara later in the 90s). Going to a show was always charged. Always waiting for something to happen, either in celebration (someone riding their motor bike through the living room and over the couch at the E13 house in Eugene) or a fight breaking out between the Nazis and the punks at a show (long list). Social structure and norms were perpetually challenged and little punk girls baulked at traditional gender roles and found a safe place to plant roots and flourish. The Portland and Eugene punk rock music scenes were a great place to get an education and shape an eager mind seeking purpose and perspective.

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I was most attracted to what the scene had to offer me, a strong athletic female who liked to get high. Punk rock girls are different than other girls. There was no cover of needing to behave and conform but instead the culture gave all latitude to misbehave, and perhaps encouraged it. And so we did, with alcohol, sex, drugs and fucking punk rock music. That is not to say that these were always the best choices for us, but I am writing a success and survival story here so it has a fairly good ending. The description reminds me of my friend, Virginia. She was also new to the school, was two years older than me and liked to see shows. She always drove some awesome car, either a Dodge Dart or a Karmen Ghia (both of which I helped paint), liked music, liked cute boys and liked to drink and party. She was a good fit for me; a natural beauty, about 5’8” with a gorgeous voluptuous body and a great sense of humor. We always had our ears to the ground for shows coming to either Eugene or Portland and would try our best to make it happen.

One of the first shows Virginia and I saw together was the Dead Kennedy’s and Poison Idea at La Bamba’s in downtown Portland in 1983. I’ve written about being crushed against the stage by the masses during the DKs and, after being forced on the stage to save myself by learning to stage dive into the sweaty swarm. Before the show, Virginia and I met up with Jerry and drank. I hadn’t seen him for over a year and the reunion was sweet and highly anticipated. We had written and called as often as we could but it had been a big transition year for both of us. He still sent me mixed tapes regularly which was my cherished connection to both him and the music he perpetually played throughout the house in our youth. In the same manner I try to highlight the great achievements of female scientists in my classroom, Jerry was always certain to send me female artists that I would be sure to listen to over and over again. His latest mixed tape included the Avengers, Vice Squad and X-Ray Specs as well as the Damned, Killing Joke, the Exploited. We got a bite to eat downtown before the show, caught up and got to hang out. We shared our adventures since last seeing each other and tried to connect where we thought Jason had landed. We decided that Jason was still living with Dad in Dallas, TX.

The venue was small with only a handful of young kids roaming around when we first arrived. Virginia and I stood on the periphery, visitors in this place and all. A small group of punk girls, seeing that we had arrived with Jerry, surveyed us up and down and began to talk shit on the sidelines, trying to assess their competition, I suppose. Virginia and I ignored them. A young kid wearing a jacket covered in metal spikes stood a few feet from us, talking to another group of punk girls. He looked dangerous, nearly 6 feet tall, clad in leather and spiked mohawk that stood a foot above his head. Virginia was quick to point out the shiny braces on his teeth saying something to the effect of, “aw, he’s adorable,” and quickly dispelled any misconceptions of threat.

As soon as the band started to check their sound, the room quickly became packed with hot anxious bodies, ready to move. Virginia and I moved close to the front of the stage and tried to avoid the massive pit of sweaty punks at our backs. It reminded me of Devil’s Churn on the Oregon coast, where the waves converge at a focal point and smash into the surrounding rocks with their collective energy, convincing the bystanders to take a step back; I didn’t want to get swept away. The mood was celebratory, the crowd chanting and moving like a perfect hydraulic system where one area of the mass would impose a force and the entire crowd would move in response. The air was static with the free electrons shed from metal strings being strummed in a frantic pace. Kids collided, jumped on stage and sang with Jerry before making skillfully chaotic dives back in to the sea. The music was loud and driving. Tom Pig, who was always very sweet and kind to me, was a big boy but not remarkable and Jerry was young and athletic looking. Young Chris Tense and Dean Johnson drove the frenzied pace with a tight rhythm. This was an awesome band and this was a good place to be. The evening was restorative and soul quenching. Virginia and I stayed with Jerry before heading back to the Oregon coast the next morning.

The first Poison Idea show that I took my husband to was when they opened for COC, Corrosion of Conformity at Pine Street in ’87. COC, of 1987, was a heavy sludge hardcore band that had honestly earned a loyal following. They were fast, angry, political and talented. Think Black Sabbath meets Suicidal Tendencies after a bong hit. The crowd pushed forward as Poison Idea made their way on the stage and I kept Tim close to my back using his 6’5” frame to shield me from the offense. After a few seconds of Jerry’s opening banter, Chris Tense laid down a thick bass line and Slayer Hippy joined with a heavy rolling beat to one of my favorite PI songs, Marked for Life (our band covered this when we played Al’s bar in LA). Immediately, I knew that relying on the security of Tim’s lanky frame was not a solid decision and I needed to get out of the middle of the pit quickly. The floor was packed with punks and Nazis, which usually ended in a crazy fight, and tonight it was steaming hot with a near full moon. I yelled to my then boyfriend, “I think we should get out of here.”

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“No, it’s perfect right here,” he responded, like a child not recognizing the imminent danger as he grabs a lollipop from the stranger’s hand.

In my dream of death,” Jerry growled, “you were there, perfect crime.” One could nearly taste the testosterone in the air as the mass of bodies began to circulate like a frenzy of shark and I was knew what was about to happen. “Take my final breath, noose pulled tight a perfect fit.

“No, I gotta get out of here,” I yell to my oblivious giant pumping his fist in the air.

Swallow me up in your mistrust, there’s a monster in my mirror” I turn and bolt for the side leaving Tim standing in the middle of the large circling mass. “Dragging me through hell and misery, I smash the mirror and set me freeeeeeeeee….” and the house came down. This was the most feral pit I had ever experienced (next to Gilman St). The crowd was drunk with youthful abandon and hard liquor and their electricity flowed easily through the mass. I caught a glimpse of Tim in the center of it all, the tall guy getting spun around like stuffed animal in a washing machine. I had to laugh and thought to myself, ‘he’ll figure it out.’

I stayed on the perimeter in my safe zone and took the whole scene in. The place was packed near if not beyond capacity. Jerry stared out into the chaos as if admiring his masterpiece and a huge smile came to his face- fists pumping, bodies whirling in a large circle and beers flying through the air. As always, I searched for the fire escape, imagining the finale when Jerry would blow fire over the heads of the crowd. I caught Tim’s eye and saw that he had gained his footing. He was no longer fighting the current but rather moving in anarchic unison with the mass and was obviously enjoying the dance.

These stories are deep in my heart and plentiful, filled with loved ones, Jerry, Jason, Mary, Tim, Virginia and Mike. It is so hard to explain how such chaotic (bordering on violent) scenes could contribute to my balance and well being, but it is true and I know all who experienced the same will understand completely. I cherish these memories and thank those who contributed and continue to contribute to them. Much love. Kelli K.

Posted in High School- Florence, OR, Memoir, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

50

I wanted to take a moment to write to my younger sisters and brothers. I am enjoying a significant birthday this year. I wanted to share whatever small amount of wisdom I can muster.

50 is good, a little creakier, but good. My insight keen, my sight, less so. 50 is strong. My body is strong, as is my spirit. I feel deeply and it’s soul quenching; the Aquarian is alive. I understand more, piecing together my place in this world- this foreign, lovely place. A sojourner making connections, like a painting I’ve been working on for a long time, and it’s beginning to show it’s form.

These are things I know:

  • Love. Deeply.
  • Be authentic
  • Be thankful.
  • Be good.
  • Be honest- primarily to myself, the rest will follow.
  • Be open.
  • Be humble.
  • That I am a teacher, a role model. My kids look up to me. My students look up to me. I have a responsibility to be kind and strong.
  • That I have a responsibility. To let you know what’s coming next. To tell you that life is good but shitty things happen sometimes. To let you know that you are strong enough to move through it and it gets better.
  • Everyone has hills. I like to imagine that everyone has a certain number of hills and each I pass one I’ve checked off one on my list and is fading in my rear view mirror. Do what it takes to get over the hill. Once you do, recognize your growth and understanding.
  • Be a bitch.
  • Forgive yourself for being a bitch and ask others for forgiveness.
  • Do not be afraid. Fear is death.

Things I think:

  • No one else is going to do it.
  • I want to be on the right side of history.
  • Be focused but enjoy the journey.
  • I am tough. I am soft.
  • I am a good friend.
  • Women lead with strength, compassion and love.
  • We have purpose. Our connections are not haphazard or serendipitous. I am a piece of a puzzle where my curves and sharp edges fit just right. Just right. Love and cherish the piece that you bring to the whole- don’t be afraid if it is different, celebrate it.

Things I wish

  • We begin to recognize our own power. We begin to recognize our collective power.
  • We organize and fight the fucking patriarchy.
  • Someone would invent a good tasting fat free cheese.

Much love to you today.

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Kelli K.

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Whittaker Creek

My daughter has reminded me, every day for the past week, that we must go back to school shopping. As the excitement of the new year begins to sprout in her mind, I close my eyes hard and reach for a deep summer memory, one that will sustain me throughout the school year and remind me of all of the reasons that we work so hard. The ritual is not difficult as summer, for a teacher (and a student), is sacred. The list of memories is not short but one stands out. It comes to me like a puppy upon entering a room. Whittaker Creek.

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Whittaker Creek was our favorite summer respite during the years I lived with Dad and Mel in Eugene. In 1976, it was a hidden gem, tucked away on an old mountain road as one made their way from the summer heat of Eugene to the cool air of the coast. No marker announced the entrance, the unpublished route was locked in the brains of locals. Overgrown blackberry bushes lined the dirt road, some arching nearly over the entire span of the gravel, and added to the sense that certainly, one must have taken a wrong turn. The small path veered off the main road for nearly a mile before even a hint of Eden. Quick photons reflected off of the surface of the water like little mirrors hidden in the bushes. A flash here, a slightly longer interval there and then the scene would unfold.

A strong scent of Oregon green and sunshine rushed through the open windows of the muscle car and Bowie reinforced an understanding that life without a soundtrack is lacking. For a moment I considered that I was the “Rebel” he was singing about, but knew instinctively that it was Mel. Silver and turquoise rings lined her fingers that dangled over the steering wheel and a large matching bracelet decorated her forearm. In her dark sunglasses she reclined in the seat, extended her left arm straight ahead and held the stick shift with her right, just in case she decided to take a corner with a bit of flair. Long red hair flipped and swirled with the little gusts of the mountain breeze and carried the scent of Love’s Earthy Musk to all of us in the back seat. Summer was here.

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The small dirt road opened up to a larger parking area that nestled close to a swimming hole. At the edge, water rushed over large boulders and the molecules momentarily lost hold of their tight hydrogen bonds and sprayed into the air. The sun hit the mist of water and it split into its spectral lines, which resulted in hazy rainbow that hovered over the boulders. At the bottom of the boulders lay a deep green pool of clear water. The swimming hole was large, about half the size of a basketball court. The area was surrounded by large trees that threw shade in patches across the pool and let in streams of the hot summer sun elsewhere. Mel parked and the four kids poured out of the car.

Immediately I became drunk with visual stimuli. I was soaked in every imaginable hue of green and the visible light that bounced back to my eyes came with huge amplitude as if the colors were set on high volume. In the shallow areas the rocks were clearly visible, and the water appeared nearly yellow green where the sun bounced off the pebbles and small rocks. As the water deepened, so did its complexion, moving from a light yellow green to a deep green malachite, yet its clarity remained high. This is the payback for which Oregonians are willing to suffer through nine months of rain. Emerald beauty beyond comprehension.

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This is not Whittaker Creek but it looks a lot like the swimming hole.

A large rope hung from one of the trees nearly twenty feet above the middle of the swimming hole and a small pathway led from the water’s edge to a rock ledge above. Jerry was quick to dive into the deep green and race to the rope. Mel, Jason, Jere and I made our way down the short path to the creek side, carefully laid out our blankets on the sandy beach and quickly dismissed all excess clothing. Again, we had earned this sun, this stream of vitamin D, and we were certain to take full advantage of it. Mel pulled out the large bottle of Johnson’s Baby Oil, and after liberally dousing all of her bared skin, handed the bottle to me. The idea of someone using sunblock to minimize the effects of this limited commodity was ludicrous, even as a 9 year old, I knew that. The goal for today was to attain a light pink hue, similar to one of my favorite lipstick shades, brown sugar. Like searing a steak, the pink would absorb a deep tan for the rest of the summer. I lay back on the blanket and cooked.

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Jason and Jere plopped down in the shallow sandy area of the creek and I heard Jerry yell as he swung over the water. A huge nuclear plumb of water ascended to the skies when he hit the surface and I saw the orange red crawfish bolt for shelter under the closest rock. Silly little crustaceans, before the sun set, we would find the lot and bring them home in a bucket for a nice crawfish bake complete with corn on the cob, cornbread and coleslaw. The day was just beginning.

Posted in 3rd Grade- Eugene, OR, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

An Encounter With Winter

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Clouds descending o’er the hills

A blanket, cold and white

The bite of winter gives me chills

I must be home tonight

 

The woods have shed their autumn reds,

And every tree is bare;

For summer’s cloak has long since fled

And ice has made its lair

 

The wind has grown from just a breeze

And makes the branches shiver

What vagabond could nature please

In its wonderful, wintry figure?

 

The sable horse I ride upon

Turns his head in nervous awe

His muzzle tight and shoulders drawn,

He sees some things that I do not

 

But as I watch the woods with care

The light of day takes leave from me;

Though snow be fresh and wind be fair

With cold of night I don’t agree

 

The blotted sky, now frozen black

Takes a toll upon my sight

Of all the earthly things I lack,

My will to see has taken flight!

 

Stumbling through the forest dark,

My horse and I are all but lost

The fairies must have made their mark,

For now the world is solid frost

 

What fool was I to tread this path!

With heat’s decline and daylight gone

I’m at the forest’s icy wrath

And hope to make it out by dawn

 

But as I ride in anguished thought,

A northern wind comes rushing in

Ten feet short it swiftly stops

And with it brings a ghastly din

 

The flakes once drifting through the air

Take a shape not of this world

Her skin is white, as is her hair

Atop her head, a crown of pearls

 

“Fool,” said she, “No mortal man

Can walk these woods and leave alive.

A touch of Lady Winter’s hand;

From solid ice thou shalt derive.”

 

Leaping promptly to the ground,

I bow my head in humble fear.

“Only a mortal man homebound

Would walk your woods this time of year.

 

But if your grace would set me free,

No man shall take this path again

Everyone will leave you be

And what was now will just be then.”

 

Her gaze is frostbite on my cheek

And makes my heart be stilled

Says she: “To let you wander, worn and weak

Would go against my will.

 

For what seems like eternity,

I’ve stayed in shadows deep

The chains of immortality

Have kept me from my sleep

 

Why should a traveler so bold

Be allowed to pass?

To venture forth into my cold

And never feel my wrath?”

 

Her fury, flurry, grew in strength

With every word she spoke

Until her mighty force, at length,

Became a world of smoke

 

I cried, “My lady! What have I done

To deserve a fate as this?

Though the bounds of oblivion has done thee wrong

So much your frozen heart hath missed!

 

Have not you seen the light of day?

Or felt midsummer’s warmth?

Would you have heard the donkey’s bray

Were you not all but storm?

 

But lo! the things I leave behind

Are for others to cherish;

Though Lady Winter leaves me blind,

With her I gladly perish.”

 

The world came to a sudden stop

As did my pending death;

The Lady’s eyes were grey and shot

Her voice was just a breath

 

Said she: “No mortal man has ever

Walked these woods and left alive

But more than that, no man has severed

My frozen heart so locked with ice.”

 

Soon the blizzard melted away

And returned to the folds of her cloak

“From the path never stray,” I heard her say,

The last she ever spoke.

 

She then took leave, a crystal flake

Upon a gentle breeze

The day had just begun to break;

It filled the woods with ease

 

I found my horse just down the walk

And mounted him with care

He led me from the forest dark

And into open air

 

The snow had melted from the hills,

A blanket, dew-dropped May

The sight of rooftops makes me thrilled,

I must be home today.

(From my uber talented middle child)

 

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Smoke on the Water

Scanning the channels, the signal pauses on an old metal station: Iron Man- Black Sabbath. My husband secures the scan and asks, “I wonder if he’s really talking about Iron Man,” and fades into his secret comic book world.

I answer, as old married couples do, not addressing his question, “This is one of the first songs I learned to play on guitar.” I lay my head back on the headrest of the car seat and try to reconstruct the image. Long winter, Montana, 1976.

“I hate this song,” I say, and then contrarily add, “but I like it.”

Tim answers, “This has got to be early 70’s, but I think the comic came out first.”

In 1976, Jerry got his first electric guitar and a small practice amp. I remember reading a story once about a kid who never went anywhere without his basketball and ended up playing in the NBA. It reminded me of Jerry after he got his guitar. He played it all the time. He would hunker down in his small bedroom of our tiny Montana home all winter, like a hibernating bear, and play his guitar incessantly. On occasion, I would sit at the end of the bed, wrapped in thick wool blankets to keep out the chill of our drafty house and listen for hours as he rotated through his vinyl collection and played along. Reading the liner notes in the same manner I used to read the cereal box as I devoured my bowl of Captain Crunch, I would sit at the end of Jerry’s bed and relish the sensory input. The starkness of the snow illuminated against the dark winter sky appeared in the bedroom window like static on a TV and added to a sense that nothing was happening anywhere else in the world at that moment.

Jerry handed me the guitar and told me to pluck the string while he held down the note at each fret. I plucked along as we negotiated a clunky, version of Smoke on the Water. In a few minutes I was able to play it myself. Jerry put on Deep Purple and I played along as he had earlier. I must have repeated the song twenty times, carefully placing the diamond tipped stylus on the thin shiny black line and then quickly getting my fingers in position on the fret to play. For a microsecond the small lamp on the side table became a spotlight on a smoky stage and my audience of one morphed into a huge crowd. Jerry laughed and I heard the crowd roar. Next up, Black Sabbath.

Unknown

Tim mentions something about getting the Pepper Potts character all wrong as the song comes to its finale. I open my eyes and we pull into the driveway.

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Life in a Tee-Pee

We moved a lot when I was a kid. Conflict resolution typically came in the form of leaving town. Most years we started a new school, some years we’d stay for two. Sometimes we’d come home from school and the other parent would be waiting there, car revving, waiting for us to jump in and go. Other times the tell tale signs of the filled, black-plastic garbage bags, sitting at the front door, would announce our next adventure. The informality that embodied every move instilled a strange dichotomy within; a heightened appreciation for the spontaneous coupled with a deep desire for stability.

About every six months or so, Mom’s live-in boyfriend Bob, would revisit the idea of moving us all to a tee-pee on a parcel of land in a National Forest. The idea, as he understood it, was that there was a historical Blackfoot treaty that gave tribe members the right to one-square acre of land, on a National Forest, as long as it was homesteaded. It sounded like the remnants of a drunken conversation he had had at a bar with his Blackfeet buddies. Had we not been so well versed in picking up and moving on a dime, I might have ignored the fantasy but instead, the idea rightfully scared me. Moving us out of civilization, cult fashion. I knew that Jerry would be gone, going wherever he needed to escape the option, but recognized that Jason and I would most likely be a part of this dangerous plan. I’ll have to give her credit, it was an adventure to which Mom actually gave pause, no plastic garbage bags waiting for us as we walked in the door. However, Mom started dropping hints, daydreaming out loud, “wouldn’t you love to have a bit more space to run around, maybe get a horse?”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Bob envisioned moving us to a plot and living the life of his ancestors. Bob on a horse, right… Sitting at our Formica topped kitchen table, a bottle of Coke in hand, Bob would dream out loud. As if the chemical catalyst for the reaction in his head required the nicotine molecule, he would deeply inhale his Marlboro and exhale his plan, laying out the specifics on a yellow lined notebook pad. Wiping his greasy black comb over from his eyes, he’d plot out the square acre and fill in the details. A parcel bisected by a stream, a tee-pee at the heart. To the west, a small fenced corral for horses and a lush meadow to the south, delineated by the flowers drawn. We could fish every day, we could plant a garden, gather and dry herbs and medicinal plants. Trees would have to be removed, the wood to used throughout the winter. The idea itself was intriguing, like someone offering you a handful of candy.

images

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Although I Didn’t Quite Understand It, I Liked It

The posters on his wall fascinated me. These were so different from the Leif Garrett poster on the back of my bedroom door. I would sneak into his bedroom when he wasn’t home, and sit and stare; creating a story that explained the scene. Sorting through his stack of records I would find the accompanying album that would help paint the whole picture. Bloody letters dripping over the face of one of the most terrifying figures I had ever seen with “Slash” and “Germs” splayed across the poster. Maybe it was a commentary that this guy should cover the many exposed cuts on his body before they became infected. I searched for a “Slash” or “Germs” album and found a small 7”. Yeah, I knew this song, it was played on a regular rotation that easily permeated the sheet rock.

Andrew Krivine posters II I sat on Jerry’s bed and stared at the poster with the paired music. I could make out a fraction of the lyrics, which sounded drunken and slurred. It occurred to me that the music didn’t quite fit the image in the poster. Here was this angry, bloodied ruffian creating what sounded like a differently structured, harder version of old rock and roll. Was that Chuck Barry with a hint of surf? The Trashmen? I didn’t have the repertoire to place it but parts of it sounded so familiar while the timing and structure was so different from Saturday Night Fever that dominated the radio. Although I didn’t quite understand it, I liked it. I liked the energy and I liked that it was different. I remember thinking, “I’ll never hear this on the radio,” and from my 6th grade perspective not recognizing the value in that.

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With Intensity and Purpose

Scan 164

Artwork by my youngest angel

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Watch Them

“Watch them,” she said. And so I did, kneeling down to get a closer look. As intently as I studied the Daddy Long Legs earlier in the day, moving from the shade into the bright sunlight diagonally splayed across the gray sidewalk, pausing only for a microsecond when the warmth touched it’s long spindly legs, I watched with intensity and purpose.

Three sets of long black eyelashes and one set of blond, four kids lay sleeping on the couch and love seat positioned around my vantage point on the floor. I sat and watched, stared, afraid to fail in my duties. Slow rhythmic breaths that only slightly moved their chests were the only indication that they were alive. I watched, trusting that the breaths would continue and I would not fail.

“Watch them,” she said, and so I did. Rotating my gaze from one to the next, I made my rounds watching for the slight motion of the breath to confirm that all was ok. No time to be afraid that I was in an unfamiliar place and it was well past midnight. I knew I couldn’t afford the luxury of allowing the unfamiliar noises to take on a life of their own, where I could hide under my covers and wait until the dawn. It’s a strange awareness that comes with knowing you’re it and there is no one else for whom you can depend. Like the first aid course that you’re sure you’ve forgotten and how it rushes back to you during an emergency, it’s an inner strength that’s always there. Knowing that we’re stronger than we think we are is key. It was my job to watch them and so I did, four babies, all under the age of five. My little brother, Jason was one of them, and although he was fast asleep like the others, it comforted me that he was here, close. He was a beautiful kid, one of the ones with the long black eyelashes. He looked so peaceful, asleep on the loveseat of this unfamiliar apartment.

J,J, K copy

Mom and her friends had started the night, drinking in the apartment and decided to head to the bars when the booze ran out. There wasn’t much of a conversation regarding me watching the younger kids, I was just instructed to “watch them.” I had plenty of experience watching Jason as I practically raised him, but had never been left with anyone else’s kids. It was surprising that the other four had fallen asleep with the music and rambunctious laughter, but I suppose we were all kind of used to it. Mom kissed me goodbye and said that they would be home soon.

At first the excitement of the responsibility kept me alert but soon I found that “watching” was much harder than I had anticipated. I remember having to get up and walk around to try and keep my focus. Every short trip to the bathroom or to get a drink of water was followed by a keen inspection of each child, making sure that the breath still moved each small chest. To stay awake I played a game and counted a set number of breaths for each child before moving to the next. My eyes were heavy but I was determined to do this job well and forced myself to stay awake until the mothers came stumbling in around 2:00 am.

I was so proud that I had stayed awake and watched the babies as I had been instructed, but the feeling was lost on the mothers who stumbled in. Mom gathered Jason in her arms to head back to our own apartment, one building down. The mothers each gave me $1 for my services and I closed the evening with some candy money. I thought of the Marathon Bar that I would buy the next day and how I could get enough for Jason and Jerry to have their own. What an easy gig, I thought. I offered to carry Jason as Mom was having difficulty walking and he wrapped his legs and arms around my body tight as I hoisted him onto my front. I was thankful to be heading home after a long night as I had school the next day- first grade.

 Marathon

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