Memories Out of Season

Memories Out of Season



I was a very serious child. 
Everyone agreed. Yes, very serious.
Perhaps too serious.
Yes, probably too serious.
Born under the influence of Saturn
I was...well, saturnine and solemn
as if knowing from an early age
that life was serious business
and not to be taken lightly.
Two elementary school teachers noted
in my report cards:
Alan doesn't smile much. 
Like, though doing well
in Reading, Writing and Arithmetic,
I might fail Smiling?







First posted: February 16, 2020


I came to Lower Columbia Community Action Program in 1999 as the new Community Services Director. By then, I had been engaged in the AIDS epidemic for over 12 years and had lost more than thirty friends, colleagues and clients to AIDS. I needed a change.

Friends expressed their concern for me, joking that I was moving forty miles and fifty years north of Portland, into the American “heartland” of small towns and small minds. But I had already accepted that I’d be alone.

It didn’t come up until my second week, when I was meeting each of my eighty-plus staff individually. She came into my office, an older woman looking rather stern, I thought. We’d only just started, when she said abruptly, “I heard you worked with the AIDS people.”

The AIDS people. It was the way she said it, like the Sand people, or the Pod people.

“Yes. Yes, I have,” I said. “For a number of years.”

I braced myself to get an earful of what she thought of “those people.”

Her gaze dropped, her voice falling to a whisper. “My son has AIDS.”

I got up and closed the door, came back and sat down. “Would you like to talk about it?”

And as she told me about the family secret and the family shame and the family silence, and spoke of her own terrible isolation, I realized that I had come into the Heartland.




[First posted: October 6, 2013]


It’s the quiet you first notice. 
A pristine stillness, so quiet you can hear your own soul.
Which is kind of the whole point.

Here we find the sacred,
not really in nature
as in ourselves,
like a faint homing signal
bringing one back on course.
True, one can find the sacred in the city, as well—
Mother Teresa found it among the dying and dispossessed of Bombay—
but it’s generally more difficult for those of us who are not Mother Teresa.

Here amid the stillness
comes a quiet joy,
a contentment complete.
And a sublime relief, 
of the navigator regaining the lost signal
showing him the way home.



[Biographical note: During the years in southern California (1970-76), the Sierra Nevada were my sanctuary and my sanity, and I made as many trips into them as I could. Perhaps ironic: Attending seminary and serving a church, it was the mountains where I went seeking my own spiritual source and salvation. Yet I am far from the first to sense and seek the holy in the mountains, far from the teeming city. “I lift up mine eyes to the mountains,” proclaimed the Psalmist. “From whence comes my help? My help comes from the Lord (the Source), who made Heaven and Earth.”]


[First posted: June 9, 2019]


Girl cousins.

You can see it in their faces.

A not-yet conscious strength in their shared sisterhood.

For them, neither glass slippers nor glass ceilings.

Capable, confident, willing to kick some serious butt if necessary, they will create a different future.

Through them, and many girls like them, shall come a new chapter for humanity, unshackled and free of the past.

And in this freedom will men and boys find their own liberation.



[First published: October 6, 2018] 

To honor the mountain's dramatic eruption thirty-seven years ago
on May 18, 1980, Cowlitz County's local newspaper, The Daily News,
ran a quiz, testing its readers' knowledge of the event with thirty-seven questions.

The quiz appeared on page 4.
The answers were at the top of the page,
followed immediately below by the questions.

I got all thirty-seven right!




[First posted:May 18, 2017]


I fly the flag at half mast.
What does it say about my country that half of the voters chose
a loud, ignorant, crude bully, boor and con man for president?
(That was a rhetorical question. I don't want to know the answer.)

For me, this is worse than 9/11.
As terrible as that event was, it brought us together as a people.
It was George W. Bush's finest moment--
and let's face it, he didn't have that many.

No, to come close to the sense of grief and desolation I feel,
I would need to go all the way back to when
I was a high school freshman on November 22, 1963.

It's not that such a person as Donald J. Trump will be President of the United States
(that's bad), but that so many Americans would elect such a man.
I grieve for my nation.
I've lost faith in my fellow citizens.




[First posted: November 28, 2016]







 Eighteen years ago today my father went up to the lake for the last time.

We were told he died quickly. Heart attack. Nothing could be done...

How strange to live in a world without fathers.


Of course.  A new emptiness opening in my heart.

And yet, considering the alternatives, it was a good death,
especially for a man who took joy in the simple pleasures, who made no great demands on life, content to see what each day offered, who managed to have no Big Dramas, except World War II and me. (Father, forgive me.)

It seemed fitting he'd depart this life quietly, quickly,
doing what he loved,
and much loved.



 [First published: May 26, 2016]



Lazy afternoon,

sprawled on my bed,

book and window open,

reading to the rain's syncopated rhythms,




wandering through mind-drifts of memories

              ...the farm at Barwon Downs,

              ...hiking Mt. Takao in autumn,

              ...planting the chestnut with Dad,

while listening to the rain, reading.




 [First posted: October 25, 2015]







 Oddly perhaps, this woodland scene reminded me of living in Tokyo.

 Like most apartments in the 1980s, my "aparto" did not have a shower or bathtub, so each evening I'd go to the community bathhouse, called a "sento," where, like this tanager, I would bathe and emerge clean, if a bit ruffled, before my neighbors.

Once I overcame my Western discomfort at being naked in a foreign language--the discomfort lasting maybe all of ten minutes--I was able to relax and settle into the wet, steamy ambiance and nude neighborly camaraderie of the bathhouse.


One left one's shoes outside, along with dozens of other pairs at the entrance, entering the bathhouse, males through the door on the right, females through the door on the left. There was no worry about one's shoes being stolen. This was Japan. I left my apartment unlocked for the same reason. Why bother?


One stepped into a warm, immaculately clean locker room. Glass doors at the other end of the room opened onto the bathing area; rows of faucets ran along the walls where one washed, shampooed, and rinsed thoroughly before relaxing in one of several large baths. The baths were set at different temperatures, the mildest being slightly below scalding.


And here each night I observed Shakespeare's Seven Ages of Man: the ancient, withered little o-jisans (“honorable grandfathers”), the middle-aged husbands, the young men, the teenage boys just coming into their hair, down to the youngest boys, and infants, who fathers would sometimes bring with them, giving their wives a break.



Here, too, one encountered the happy tipsy giggly little Salarymen (office workers) stumbling back to their neighborhoods after an evening of eating, drinking and making merry with their male colleagues. Felicitously intoxicated, they’d shed their dark blue suits and careened around the slippery area, catching up with their neighbors on the day's news or sports or local gossip as they soaped and soaked together.


Invariably, some were eager to practice their night school English on me--"Ah, goot evenink, Mr. A'ran. How-are-you? I-am-fine. Shank you"--which frequently was the extent of our conversations. Still, it was more of a conversation than I could manage in their language. All were courteous and friendly, and, though a gaijin (foreigner,) I always felt welcomed as part of the neighborhood.


This custom of bathing with one's neighbors struck me as eminently civilized and sensible, and years later I would warmly recall and record these experiences in Tales of Tokyo. I built the sensual ambiance and camaraderie of the Japanese bathhouse into the community life of my utopian novel, The Island (still unpublished.)

 Anyway, that's what this bird bath scene reminded me of this morning...



 [First posted: August 4, 2015]






Grandnephew Zachary and grandniece Annabelle asked their mother Robyn, a math teacher, to give them math problems to solve. This is their idea of "fun."
I do not consider this natural.

Maybe there's a genetic link. My mother enjoyed math and gave my nephews and niece math problems to solve when they were children. If so, the math gene skipped a generation. Or, anyway, skipped me.

People have said, You need to think of math as another language.
(Yeah? So say "Good morning" in math.)

Maybe if I'd had Robyn for my teacher, I'd enjoy math, too.

I might even be fluent in it.


(Australian friends: That's "Maths" to you.)





[First posted: April 18, 2015]