Memories Out of Season

Memories Out of Season

May 18, 2017

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 at the top,
followed immediately below by the questions.

I got all thirty-seven right!




I fly the flag at half mast. What does it say about my country that half of the voters chose a loud, ignorant, crude 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 all that many.

No, to come close to the sense of grief and desolation I am today feeling, I would need to go 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 have lost faith in my fellow citizens.








May 26, 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.


Of course. Suddenly my world was without a father--How strange was that? A new emptiness opening in my soul.

And yet, when 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 that he would depart this life quietly, quickly,
doing what he loved,
and much loved.




October 25, 2015

Lazy afternoon,

sprawled on my bed with book and window open,

listening to the syncopated rhythms of the rain,





wandering through mind-drifts of memories...

              of the farm at Barwon Downs,

              of hiking up Mt. Takao in autumn,

              of planting the chestnut with Dad,

while listening to the rain, reading.





August 4, 2015



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

 Like most apartments at that time (the 1980s) my "aparto" did not have a shower or bathtub, so each evening I would 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 naked neighborly camaraderie of the bathhouse.


You left your shoes outside, along with dozens of other pairs at the entrance, and entered the bathhouse, males through the door on the right, females through the door on the left. One needn't worry that one's shoes would be stolen. This was Japan. I left my apartment unlocked for the same reason. Why bother?


One stepped into a warm, immaculately clean locker room. Beyond the glass doors was the bathing area, rows of faucets 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.


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


Here, too, one found 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 careen 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.


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, 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 and accepted as part of the neighborhood.


In time, this custom of bathing with one's neighbors struck me as eminently civilized and sensible, and years later I would warmly recall these experiences in Tales of Tokyo, and build the sensual ambiance and camaraderie of the Japanese bathhouse into the community life of my utopian novel (yet to be published.)





July 30, 2015
















For the past four months I have been working with a fantastic team of volunteers to raise $200,000 by July 31 for the Emergency Support Shelter, to be matched by a very generous donor.

Two days left and we are within $1000 of our goal—which means $400,000 for our domestic violence shelter in Cowlitz County!

In a final push to reach the goal, I am calling on all my friends (both of you) to consider donating $10 or $20 to this good cause (Okay, $100 if you insist.)

Here is the link to donate:…


And if you need further convincing, read Executive Director Sherrie Tinoco’s article in The Daily News (“We witness the worst and the best in people…”):…/article_0e837e2a-dd85-522b-9c23-4cc64ae841…



PHOTO: So what does my flowering prairie crabapple in springtime have to do with the Emergency Support Shelter? Just a symbol of hope and new life for the women and children who take refuge at our shelter.

Thanks for your consideration!




May 26, 2015

[May 26, 1998]

I would like to ask him what it was like to die that day. Was he aware of it? Did he have any sense or intuition on that bright and beautiful May morning that This Was It? That his life had come to its end?

Or did it take him by surprise?
Or was one part of him taken by surprise, while another part of him knew, perhaps had always known, that it would be this day, this time, this place.


By the accounts we received, he went quickly. Just collapsed to the ground. Heart attack. Sudden. And he was gone.

The location was fitting. Up in the lake country he loved. He couldn't have chosen a more fitting place to die. (Did you choose it, Dad?)

There had been a landslide on the cliffs overlooking Lake Merwin, next to the family property, and he wanted to get up there to see it. He was excited that last morning, Mom remembered. He urged her to hurry and get dressed so they could leave. She wanted to put on her make-up.

"Oh, you don't need make-up. You look beautiful to me," he told her. "You've always looked beautiful to me."

It was unusual for him, that kind of compliment, and Mom remembered it. (Was that why you said it? Those words, they were your parting gift to her. They would sustain her for what lay ahead, she who never liked being alone.)

Years later I would use them in my Tokyo novel. The ghost husband says to the old woman in her dreams: "My little wife, you are beautiful to me. You have always been beautiful to me."

As deaths go, it was a good death, immediate and over. Nothing fancy. No struggle. No grasping for one more day, or one more breath. No need.

It was a death worthy of you, Dad. A man who died at peace because that's pretty much the way he lived. Nothing left unfinished or unspoken. You had said what needed to be said, what Mom needed to hear, and then you could leave.




April 18, 2015

 My 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 is a genetic link. My mother enjoyed math and gave my nephews and niece math problems to solve when they were young, and now my grandnephews and grandniece are enjoying them as well.

Clearly, with me the math gene skipped a generation. Or, anyway, skipped me.

People have suggested, You need to think of math as another language.
I tell them, Yeah? So say "Good morning" in math.

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

I might even be fluent in it.


(For my Australian friends, that's "Maths" to you.)




March 2, 2015


My niece Renee holding her niece Halley (and my grandniece).

As befitting her name, Halley came blazing in like a comet on February 23. Jen was in labor for...15 minutes?! (Like, let's hurry and get this over with already!)

With a mother who is a geologist and an aunt working in water quality and conservation, chances are good that Halley will be closely attuned to nature. I'm already looking into hiking boots for toddlers.

We as a family rejoice at her arrival, for each new birth is another hope for humanity.







January 27, 2015 

No words can soothe--only time can do that.
And memories that both remind and heal,
and the embrace of family and friends.

But mostly time, I think.