I have an affidavit due tomorrow for class. SO, time for some pictures!
August 30, 2011 at 9:14 pm (Uncategorized)
While I was in Mumbai, and also in other parts of India, there was something fascinating about the crows that I can’t quite describe. Crows in the U.S. are quite appealing to me in their own right. They are very intelligent birds. They learn quickly, and they listen to you as you talk, though they may simply fly away after. They are canny birds.
Indian crows are different. Those I saw in Mumbai most frequently had an odd dirty gray ruff around their throats, a lighter colored feather that fluffed out and didn’t have the same obsidian shine as the other feathers. When the rains came, and feathers clumped, I could see these ruffs were once white and had only been smogged and grimed and dirtied on the outside edges. After a bit of research, evidently such white sections of plumage are common to several species of the Corvus genus of crow.
It was also the images of crows that stuck most particularly in my mind in ways that other birds did not. It was the crows who were brave enough to hop right up to me on the balcony of our office when I went to take pictures of the cityscape, hoping for a handout. The smaller birds had flown at my approach and the pigeons merely shifted uncomfortably, but the crows gazed deep into my eyes as I spoke to them and did not flinch. They merely cocked their heads expectantly, a conscientious audience.
It was the crows that were the most vigorous scavengers, raiding the gutters and the refuse piles, stealing the sandwiches of the unwary, pecking out the guts of rat remains. I don’t remember seeing more than one or two seagulls in the city by the sea, but there were literally thousands of crows. They posed for my photographs, sitting jauntily on the heads of statues or balancing easily on thin strips of wire. Did they know they were framing my early morning photos of the Taj? Undoubtedly. A crow is nothing if not vain. And yet, despite the attitude, they remain some of my favorite birds and I can’t help thinking of them as beautiful, whether common or not.
August 30, 2011 at 12:41 am (Uncategorized)
At long last, with my midday break from classes, I’m finally catching up a bit on my writing and recounting on my adventures this past summer. Therefore, after much photo editing, I’m starting off with a few brief reflections on Mumbai.
When I talk about Mumbai, I mean south Mumbai, the city proper.
In this area, where I lived and worked for the summer, planning is key. Streets are wide – tree lined boulevards are the norm. The buildings are elaborate, full of odd corners and design motifs ranging from European to Aztec. Even the grocery store is decorated like a Czarina’s birthday cake.
Of course, this is the area of the city designed to a certain look. It was laid out to be beautiful, to be bordered by elegant parks and small niches of green. The train station was designed to be beautiful. The central post office was meant to look like a sultan’s palace. And the buildings in the area remain elegant, even in disrepair. The tumbledown remains of former facades provide the facing and framing that make the concrete bulk of modern buildings so much more appealing to the eye.
In addition, south Mumbai remains the primary destination for tourists in the area. It is the site of the majority of museums in the city and a number of other famous landmarks.
But I enjoyed it most not for any of these reasons. It was the areas where Mumbai took on a kind of shabby chic life that I was most drawn. The odd corners where plants began to grow off of buildings, where birds rested on unusual perches, or where plant life began to take over for more substantial man-made structures drew me.
July 11, 2011 at 2:59 pm (Uncategorized)
Actually I spent a long time journalling this weekend and I have quite a bit to put down about India. However, I’m writing this instead due to my chair at work. It squeaks. Literally at the slightest shift from me and it lets out horrendous squeals, which is both embarrassing and disturbing to the work of others. I kept apologizing to those around me, which led to a conversation with Abhaya, which (naturally) got around to crocodiles. Which, of course, led to this:
One day Abhaya was taking a walk after work, not really paying attention to where she was going as the orange afterglow of the sun slowly faded. She came across a new friend. He had a big smile.
Fortunately for all involved, Abhaya had a sideline as an alchemist and was able to whip up a skin tonic that would set her new friend to rights in no time.
Of course, supple skin, while valued, is not a large part of the way we select long term friends. Alas.
Aaand that took way too long. I’m going back to using stick people for everything.
I really should be posting something about my job and current experiences thus far, but this is more fun.
So far, there are only a few minor mistakes I’ve made in my time here in India. The first is that I may or may not have been eating street food the entire time I’ve been working. Why? Because we usually eat in the office, and someone else orders from who knows where. Ok, they know where, and it’s someplace they’re comfortable with, but of course my immune/digestive system is not accustomed to it. But judging from my bosses’ reaction to what I’d been eating – frog eyes and “Seriously?!?” – maybe it’s something I should’ve been more careful about. And then there was that time he put his foot down about me eating bhelpuri. Evidently our ‘of council’ got typhoid and all his hair turned white from eating it someplace on the street, and he’s probably got more of an iron stomach than I have. So no more of that for me, even though it’s delicious. Of course I didn’t get smarmy about how I took the live typhoid vaccine so I’d be inoculated for the next five years, thanks very much – because why take a risk? I could get e coli instead.
I have been careful not to drink the water. I’ve been doing all the right things as far as brushing my teeth with the bottled stuff and not eating raw things unless they are fruits with a thick peel, like bananas. But then there’s the chutneys, which I didn’t really think much about until recently. I should probably have been more careful of those, since I’m not sure quite what is in them – or how much, if any, fresh stuff (especially herbs) they contain. Coriander is delicious, but it might be a bit of a risk. However, despite all this, I haven’t gotten myself sick yet, at least as far as digestion goes.
What I have done is had the worst allergy attack in quite some time merely due to the change in climates. For a single day, I went through a box and a half of tissues, which is bad, even for me. I took antihistamines up to the hilt, which didn’t really help much. And I didn’t epi pen myself, as I could breathe just fine – I was just sneezing up a storm. Thankfully, for that eventuality I came prepared – three boxes worth of tissues, family size, stuffed into separate ziplocks. And they ended up having plenty of tissues for sale here, in this very metropolitan city. Even have toilet paper!
Additionally, tonight, I may have gotten my co-worker drunk. I’ve been craving just a sit-down someplace with people to hang out, and I finally convinced at least a few people to go with me tonight. Of course, this meant me advocating for it for half the week, the girls in the office being excited in the office and seemingly willing to join me, another bunch saying they ‘don’t drink’ and me convincing them that my company and appreciation are worth a slightly pricy lime juice, and then half the cast dropping out last minute. But, there were two other girls still willing to go – after a suitable amount of time hanging around, waiting – and then some shopping on the way, because who doesn’t need more chapatas? – and then some serious confusion and walking around dazedly when we got separated.
But my one drinker and my one non drinker eventually crowded into the only available table at the back of a small restaurant/bar on the main strip. And it was lovely – cool, dimly lit, and only just a little loud. My drinking buddy decided she didn’t know what she wanted, and I was the resource as the oh-so-cultured foreigner. So. I suggested something with rum. She thought maybe she wanted to try tequila – a shot of it in fact. I counter suggested getting some food into her stomach first, and explained the concept of a shot. Eventually we decided on some strawberry soda concoction with tequila in it. Very fruit, very sweet, and possibly too much for her, even with a mound of noodles, a fact of which I was only aware when we stood to leave and she started traipsing off through the crowd, a mad cackle on her lips. Luckily, I was able to leave her in the care of my non drinking buddy as far as making sure she got on the right train.
As far as my usual habits, I haven’t fallen into anything obnoxious, I haven’t broken myself too badly, and I haven’t had any negative interactions with glass or fire. One evening in particular the snails were out in force and I may or may not have stepped on one and crushed it to death in the dark, but I continue to hope it was just a crunchy leaf or something. Oh yeah – I did explode my water heater. Turns out you aren’t supposed to leave this particular type turned on without the water running – the connecting fittings get to hot and can snap off. I think you can even rupture the tank eventually with the pressure that builds up, but thankfully I didn’t get that far. Thankfully it also popped off while both me and my landlord were home, so he was able to shut off the water almost instantly when I came banging on the door.
Lastly, I discovered today that honey in India has a high concentration of lead. Not sure how high, but you can bet I’m going to be checking out the symptoms of lead poisoning online and will be finding something else to go with my pb in the mornings.
India is strangely like China and strangely different, in a variety of ways. The smells are reminiscent, especially the rotting garbage street-smell. There are other smells as well that are the same – the smell of dust in the air, the dust of concrete and the chalky dust left from the cutting of stone like marble and granite, rather than the dust kicked up by dirt and dry soil. There’s the smell of fish markets and too ripe fruit. But there are differences as well. The architecture is not really taken over by the communist ideology of the flat box – but there still is quite a bit of faceless concrete in use. Fort itself is beautiful a and if it is mostly the work of the British, there are definite pure Indian influences as well. Hindu gods pop up frequently in façade motifs, and there are some markers of the Parsi influence as well. In fact, my boss is parsi, which I discovered through the mention of some of the distinctly Persian-looking sphinx statues around the area. I knew nothing really about the Parsis, but evidently they are Zoroastrian. I still know only a little, but the sphinx is really the angel of mercy. Which I will have to check out later when I have internet again. Scaffolding is the same bamboo ridiculous dangerousness I remember. The smell of chalky, heavy dust in the air is the same – at least until the monsoon starts. Then there’s the use of sugarcane – the same , and yet different, all chewed up into some kind of weird drink. I’m oddly fascinated by it but afraid of it too. Deepika has warned me off of the street stuff, especially during monsoon when evidently all water and cleanliness are in question, even at the nicer restaruants. So no street food for me. Also, everyone is so nice and helpful. It’s part of what I liked about Portland, too.
My first night here was basically not a real experience at all. I met a lovely couple on the plane, and their son, who was much less fussy than you would imagine on a 14 hour flight. The wife especially was very solicitous and curious and kind. I think they would have asked me to live with them (we discussed me looking for a place once I got to Mumbai) if they had not lived considerably outside the city. But they did look after me and made sure I got my luggage and had a way to get to my hotel. Also I met with another law student, a Frenchified one who goes to (Rice> Kings? Whatever that Montreal college is). He’s not here to do that work though – he’s setting up playgrounds out in the remote regions for impoverished kids. And travelling of course. But it was interesting to run into another law student, especially one from that background, Evidently they teach dual civil/common law systems at the same time. Too much for me I think.
The next day was basically one of panic for me to find a place to live, interspersed with enjoyment. I called quite a few brokers, which was difficult, since I had no way for them to reach me back other than calling the hotel and trying to get through. However, one of them heroed for me and set me up with a visit to a place within walking distance of my office. I couldn’t see it till the next day however, so I decided to stay an extra night at the hotel. Still, the broker, like everyone else, was very nice and considerate. He convinced my landlord that a two month stay would be acceptable to everyone involved (usually paying guest accommodations are not set up for less than 11 months here, at least in Mumbai) and got me in to see the place as soon as possible, since I was basically without a place to stay.
During the day I also managed to secure a phone for myself and did some clothes shopping. The phone was an adventure, but I think a good experience. I did it all on my own, after looking at various online advisories. Evidently it’s getting harder to get a phone here in some ways – the phone companies are required to verify your residence in order to keep the number activated. I think they are a little more lax with foreigners though, since they let me use the hotel for verification. Of course my number will not remain mine forever, once I stop re-upping my sim card with value (it’s a prepaid number) but that’s perfectly acceptable as I don’t know when I might be coming back to India so a continuous number is not necessary. Again, in this experience, everyone was very helpful. I think that was a bit of the foreigner advantage though, because they let me jump the queue to get my number, and get the cheapest phone available. They even sent me to a nokia dealer rather than giving me one of their more expensive phones once they knew I wanted the cheapest available. Go Vodaphone! (I must further comment here that they shut off my phone a week later, made me resubmit all my documents, and were highly unresponsive to my annoyance at having to come in a second time. Boo vodaphone.)
I also took myself to Fab India to get some culturally appropriate clothes. Fab India is an institution in India, somewhat about local trade, but mostly about cleverly marketing rural and traditional fabrics and styles in a more modern way to the public at large. Also, their bags are made out of recycled newspapers, which is pretty cool and works well. The plastic bag disaster that seems to be plaguing the U.S. isn’t really present here, but neither is the drive to bring your own bag. The companies are creative, rather than the customers perhaps. Or maybe I haven’t seen enough yet to judge. Plastic bottles, on the other hand… I’m not sure how much of a success my purchases were, but we’ll see how everything looks later on. I’ve only been courageous enough to wear one top so far, and it was a very plain blue one. Also, the pants really don’t fit my hips. So I’m an extra large in pants (if those even work) and a medium or large in tops. Usually I’m a medium unless it’s fitted across the chest. But I did get some lovely things – they are just a bit brighter than I am used to. So we’ll see how it goes.
Finally that evening I visited the restaurant recommended by the hotel staff as a good one close by, called Mahesh Lunch Home. Evidently, it’s all about fish and other sea life, and also a local institution. And spicy. In fact, Deepika’s mom later commented that she would never send a just-arrived foreigner there, even though it is very good. “And to think, I was worried about our lamb being too spicy for you!” Evidently the hotel staff judged me well though because I loved it. Even the waiters at the restaurant were worried about me though.
Are you sure this is what you want?
Yes, I’m sure.
DO you like spicy? Because this is very spicy.
Yes, I like spicy. Not just to be spicy, bugt spice for flavor.
Is like 75% spicy. Are you sure you want it?
It was spicy, I’ll admit. But it was also very good. And I had a beer to go with it to cut the spice if things got too intense. And I didn’t even cry, so it must have been within my tolerance (there was a bit of nose dripping, I’ll admit). And I left completely and overpoweringly full, something that was to continue in the coming days.
The next day was my day to spend with Deepika, but first I was off to check out the new potential living situation. Of course I showed up early, but very sweaty. Pre-monsoon weather is like the worst thunderstorm buildup you’ve ever experienced. Yes, it had rained lightly the night before, but that served to only increase the pressure. The experience is what I would imagine walking through pea soup feels like. Maybe not quite scald-your-tongue hot soup, but enough that just the feeling of the air against your skin is wrongly hot and thickly oppressive. It is a struggle to want to move, and every point of contact – clothes touching your skin, purse strap, belt – is sticky and bad. But the room I was looking at, thankfully, was cooler. It’s small, but good I think. There are no windows in the bedroom, just the bathroom, but the door is frosted glass so even with it closed some light comes through. All the cabinets and the wardrobe are new, or nearly new – the smell is of lovely fresh wood. There’s no place really to cook, which has been a bit of an issue (according to other people – I don’t really mind eating a restaurants for 2 months), but my landlord and landlady are perfectly open to me eating in the room – they just don’t want me coming in and out of their home all the time to use the kitchen, which I can understand. In fact, my landlord suggested I get an electric teakettle or something similar so I at least have something in my room. Also, the experience was one where I was able to offer some local Oregon jam to them as a gift for letting me stay – thanks to Louise ragging me about what stuff I was taking to give as gifts. So, jam. And I had that to use for Deepika’s family as well. Which was lovely.
For the rest of the day I spent time with Deepika’s family, which was lovely and ridiculous and fun. Ridiculous, because as all families with young children are, they were contantly tugged about by the hwhim of the youngest ones. I was near Churchgate when I first called Deepika to try and figure out how to get to Bandra, where she was put up with her mom and daughter. Of course, I called just as ‘something’ was afoot, and she couldn’t really talk. So I wandered around and found someplace to get tea while I waited. About the time my tea came of course she called back and said could I leave right then, because her sister was taking a car and I could possibly catch a ride with her. So I gulped down what I was intending to savor, and went out to meet Priya. After an interesting ride with her and her groggy daughter, we arrived to the family home and spent much time doing family things – entertaining the girls, making sure they were fed, trying to get them down for naps, etc. it was delightful and relaxing. And best of all, I didn’t have to do anything at all. I was fed lunch and dinner, they took me shopping and for coffee, and I did get to spend a bit of time with Deepika talk over old times and currnt adventures. I am supposed to have lunch at Priya’s home today as well. No one has called me, so I will text about 10 am, when people can be expected to be awake. All in all, it was a lovely experience and Pryia took me quite close to the hotel where I could find my way – constantly taking care of me, which I appreciate.
To top it all off, the weather finally broke that night. And I discovered my hotel has a tin roof in certain parts. At first I thought the hallway near the elevator was flooding with downfall. But when I went to investigate, there was no leakage – only the sound of the water coming down, and coming down hard. Along with natural thunder and lighting as well, of course. It was nice to get to watcha storm for awhile – things rarely happen that way in Portland, and the one summer storm we had while I was home just doesn’t seem like nearly enough.
Then, at last, it was moving day. I packed all my stuff up from the hotel after breakfast (and reading my emails – thanks family!) and headed out. I must admit, I was a little worried about finding a cabbie would listen to and understand my directions, but it all worked out. The most nerve-wracking point was when the front desk called a car, saying the cabs outside were not so good, and then one of the other staff took my luggage out for me and put it in one of those very same cabs 9after confirming the cabbie knew where he was going. Kinda). In that situation at least communication was at a minimum, but it all worked out. I got there, I got let in, the landlady was super-nice and gave me her cell phone number, saying I should call if I need anything at all. Unfortunately, the keys had been misplaced, so I was basically forced to trespass a little on their hospitality if I wanted to go in and out until the landlord returned. She gave em water as well, which was great (it’s still pretty hot here), and I spent some time acutrally unpacking 9at last!)
Around 3 I got to the office to meet with my boss, which was lovely. He’s fun and funny, used to live in Boston (went to BC), has done a million and one things, and I think will be great to work with/for. But it’s going to be intense. I work from 10 to about 9 every weekday and noon to 5 on Saturdays. Sundays we have off, and I’ll probably use that time to explore the city, which is nice. And the girls I’m working with (Somandy and Associates is basically him and a bunch of girls) seem really nice. No real going out, but I think they’ll be great for showing me the city and such. Especially with working so much I’m not sure how much I would want to go out anyway. But there is quite a lot exciting going on. I’m going to be in on everything they do, going to court, maybe going to Delhi to see the highest court (which I forget what it’s called). I’ll also be writing a research paper. Which I guess it’s up to me to potentially publish once I get back? It’s going to be about diplomatic immunity and its exceptions in India, but it’s a little unclear to me where he wants me to go with this. I mean, I get the topic – it’s just that a thesis might be hard to come by. Maybe it’ll just be an exploration sort of paper, I guess that’s possible. The point is to help me explore the legal system because it’s a topic that touches on a variety of types of law 9criminal, civil, Const.). Anyway, it’ll definitely be challenging and he seems really nice and helpful – and apologized for the emailing issues. Evidently he was getting ready to travel and a bunch of people were leaving he office for vacations so their stuff had to be organized as far as passing it along and tracking everything as well. I don’t see how he keeps track of things, but it seems to work. Also, the girls are wonderful, and fun. And mostly young, even though there is one older than me and one who’s 29. Not as young as the Chinese, but still young, and ridiculous, and sweet in a way that I think they will refresh in me and I hope I haven’t lost. So that’s also a good thing. Also, my boss loves food, so I think that he’ll be an excellent person to have as a reference for places to try out. But those are going to have to be on my own I think because the girls seem (so far, at least) to have minimal food adventurism. The boss man has already given me one reference though that he pretty much insisted I check out today (the 5th of June). So there’s that, if I have time with everything else. Also going to a Hindi film with the girls this afternoon, hopefully after I’ve had lunch with Deepika’s family again.
I noticed last night that lighting here is weird. I guess all the main intersections have streetlights, but the roads themselves may not. Buildings have few exterior glows, so seeing where you are can be a bit tricky. Usage of headlights is inconsistent. I hope I’ll be able to find my way home on Monday.
November 10, 2010 at 11:14 pm (Uncategorized)
Let’s lay this out for you. It’s the time of year when people start getting sick, when the stress of getting ready for finals prevents people from actually getting ready for finals. I was prepared – I had my Echinacea and Zinc, my Emergen-C, all the preventatives my medicine cabinet could hold. I had the cold and cough medicines if I actually got something. And when I started feeling a little iffy last Thursday, I did all the right things. I got plenty of sleep, I bulked up on vitamins, and I ate some soup. Friday I still felt pretty good all day, but my throat was a little sore that evening. So when I was out with people that night, I had a hot toddy – honey and lemon are good for the throat. And I kept getting plenty of sleep. I thought I was golden. Saturday continued to fool me into complacency – I still had the sore throat, so I got some lozenges and drank plenty of tea. I took naps throughout the day to keep me healthy. I even felt good enough that evening to go out for Moroccan food. But Sunday was a different story.
Sunday I had the worst sore throat I’ve ever had in my life – including strep, ear infections, the works. It wasn’t just burning, it was aching pokers of fire in my throat, down my inner ear canal, and into my lower jaw – all just on the right side. The swelling on that side was intense, making swallowing virtually impossible and breathing a pain. I tried everything – salt water gargle, hot water with honey and lemon, regular doses of broth and tea, throat lozenges, Chloraseptic spray – nothing really worked. I was desperate enough to call the after-hours hotline at the school’s Health Clinic.
So imagine me, in raging pain, on the phone trying to keep my tongue down and look at the back of my throat with a flashlight. Keep in mind that my symptoms are minimal, other than my throat swelling half-shut. I don’t have tons of drainage – a little, but not much more than is typical for me. I don’t have a fever, or even a headache. I don’t have a cough or any bronchial or lung stuff. I’m not losing my voice and can still talk regularly. And after the phone call with the hotline, I don’t have any white dots or splotches on the redness of my throat. I was told it might still be strep, even without a fever, and that I should check the next day. Of course, I’ve never heard of strep staying solely on one side of the mouth.
I went in the next day and the entire process was part one of why I love our health services system. First off, my primary care person there called me in the morning to check in – since the hotline had left her a note from the night before. Once I arrived for walk in hours, they took one look at my throat and gave me antibiotics. I had the option of waiting for a blood test to determine exactly what I had, but given the circumstances, my lack of other symptoms, and my ongoing self-treatment, the RN on duty felt it was tonsillitis for sure and that antibiotics were the best way to really nip in in the bud (provided, of course, that it was caused by bacteria). SO then we went through the no-penecillin, no-sulfa dance to see what I could actually take that they had in stock. All in all, a quick and satisfying experience.
With my newfound expectation of future health, and considering my continuing contagion status for the next 24 hours, I slept instead of going to my 2 classes that day. Everyone was happy, and Tuesday I woke with a smile on my face and a spring in my step. I went to all my classes, did all my reading, and even went to knitting group after class, all the while keeping my throat lubricated to keep the swelling down. Unfortunately, that and antibiotics weren’t enough. My throat flared up again so that I could barely breathe, I choked either on my own spittle or on my elephant tonsils whenever I tried to go to sleep, and I was so miserable I wanted to cry. Early the next morning, I was back at the school’s health center.
When I got there, I was having trouble breathing, I couldn’t really talk, and my throat and jaw were so swollen that I couldn’t get my mouth open enough for a throat culture swab. As a result, they stuffed me full of steroids to get the swelling down. This made me heppier than a monkey on a volcano. This particular medication can also make you crazy. My doc took one look at me, pronounced me just as sane as ever, and I looked at her funny. I’m not sure normal me is a good objective test for the potential onset of the crazies. Still, I wasn’t hearing voices or anything, so I figured I was safe.
Part two of why I love our health services is their thoroughness when the situation calls for it. After I was de-swelled enough to get that super-long Q-tip down my throat, they swabbed me twice and took a blood test. Of course, this involved me, a heating pad, a blood pressure cuff, and one of those upside-down flippy chairs – I have hidden veins and I get woozy with the testing. Although I was about to miss the same set of two classes I’d missed Monday, I decided it was more important to really get full treatment based on the results of my tests. So I dozed in the waiting area while the results from all the tests came back. The verdict: No mono, no strep, and it’s definitely a bacterium. The final lab result will be three days in coming to determine exactly what kind. Meanwhile, we’re switching me to another antibiotic that I can take but might be a little stronger.
I must also say that this was one of the busiest days of the season for the clinic, and I was just a walk-in. Still, they fit every step of the process in. I had lab techs and RNs pulling me aside to check on swelling or to make sure I was watered and fed or to take another test. I met with my doctor at least three times on various issues including medications, test results, and best methods for dealing with the situation going forward. When someone wasn’t sure how to read my symptoms, they pulled in others to consult. Everyone went out of their way to make sure I was taken care of, even though they were all doing five things at once.
Finally, there’s a few things I’ve learned from my experience. First, cold liquids are what you really need to bring down the swelling. So even if that tea feels so good on your throat, a little icy lemonade is way better for you. Second, no matter how prepared you are, sickness can always surprise you. Third and finally, if you still feel bad after seeing the doctor, go back even a couple days later. There’s always something more they can do to treat symptoms, even if it’s viral. And at that point, side effects really don’t seem all that bad. However many purple cheetahs it takes, I’d rather be able to breathe.
September 3, 2010 at 6:20 pm (Uncategorized)
There are some people who do not take photographs of their adventures because of the way it affects memory. Suddenly, the captured image becomes the sole and solitary focus of the stories we tell ourselves about our own pasts. Additionally, the mere act of taking a photograph can distance and withdraw the individual from the experience at hand. However, I am a writer. I know who I am through the telling and retelling of my own past, the shifting pattern of how I remember my own life. For that reason taking pictures of an event or occasion does not bother me. I know that I will re-evaluate the experience on my own terms, with my own story, rather than solely through the visual images I preserve. I may lose something by looking through a lens at times, but I gain something in momentary vividness and an attention to singular details of my surroundings.
My perception of hiking has been shaped by the woods and hills of my childhood. I can remember running, nearly cartwheeling down into steep-sided ravines, poking into shallow caves set along the edges of paths, and stretching fingertips into a variety of rivulets and waterfalls. While there were some steep climbs set throughout the hills, there was nothing like the hundreds and thousands of foot climbs I was to experience later in life. There are no mountains in Indiana, and the Sierra Nevadas were mere illusory backdrop to my time in California. Perhaps that is why the image of reaching some rarefied height retained its appeal. To ceaselessly climb upward and then turn around and ceaselessly climb downward, despite poetic views of the surrounding countryside, is not the experience I once thought it was. But going up and down around a mountain – what new discoveries could I make in just such a way? I set off to explore Mt. Hood, not through risking life and limb to reach the summit, but to be on a more friendly first-name basis with the mountain as a whole.
The first thing you have to understand about Mt. Hood is the sand. I don’t know if it’s a lack of rain, a lack of wind or an overabundance of it, the continual churn of erosion or the relatively easy breakdown of volcanic rock, but that entire mountain is covered in sand. Sand lines the rubble of the steepest ravines and washouts. Sand builds up to sustain alpine meadows of wildflowers and scrubby brush. Sand blows in your eyes and grits your teeth and softens and shifts beneath you as you sleep. It covers each face of the mountain and is only replaced by more loamy soil in certain pine groves that must have anchored eons of needle decay. It is not altogether a bad characteristic, but I did not come to the mountain expecting to walk on dunes.
There is remoteness and isolation, along with neighborliness and small world coincidences. Hours pass without other hikers coming along the trail, and yet cell phone reception never quite fades. There are bears; there are cougars – sometimes you see them instead of simple signs of their passing. People give you gifts – a banana, a favored shortcut, a cup of hot tea in the cool of dusk. You run into law school acquaintances and create new friends. I personally told the story of my Elliot crossing experience in colorful detail at least a dozen times. The wind shatters your personal silence while wrapping you in a cocoon of noise. You spend four days of reflection, and at the end know yourself perhaps not better than you did before, but in a more concrete, visceral way.
My first day, as all the days that followed, was extraordinary and wonderful and extremely challenging. The first slopes were easy – they were all downhill. The first river crossing was comparatively safe and secure, though I found my own route across the rocks that would support the reach of my legs and the unwieldy imbalance of my pack. The first uphill climb seemed to last forever and breath abandoned me. Food flavors gained in power and attraction. I became accustomed to the chemical taste of treated water. Sitting down was my new favorite activity. I walked until dark and then walked a bit further. Eventually, the safety of sleeping near the windy ridgetop I struggled not to fly from outweighed the safety of crossing ice fields in the dark. Of course, for others this balance was different – one hiker passed me as the sun was setting with several more miles in wind and ice to go before he was stopping for the night.
Breakfast on the second day was delayed until finding a relatively sheltered spot where the stove could be lit. I get hangry normally, and no breakfast after a long long day of hiking probably pushes me to the knife-edge of sanity. But once provided, breakfast became something more wonderful than otherwise possible. It became…heavenly. Then I was off to discover the first of two little stone huts, probably ranger shelters. The first one had weights attached, probably to keep the corrugated roof from blowing off. Someday, I will build myself such a shelter somewhere, rock by rock. I made it down into the dangerous Elliott washout quite easily, via a narrow track. However, the other side was just steep walls of rubble that could cascade back down to the bottom at any time, or give way in a rockslide on your head. My natural monkey skills were made for just such an occasion though, so I got up without much problems and without having to take my pack off. Also said monkey skills were called into question, so pride and stubbornness helped me scrabble upwards extra-fast. Of course, after all that there was a more dangerous river crossing just above a waterfall later that day. The only route across was via wobbly, spiny pine logs. I crawled. (monkeys like upright trees, not tress over rivers). Finally, to finish the day off, about a mile away from the intended campsite, it started pouring down cold rain and remained chilly the rest of the night. Fortunately there was enough mostly-dry wood around to allow for a campfire and added warmth.
Day three was the most unexceptional of the days. The day started off in alpine meadows full of flowers and ended in the deeper cool of tall pines. I passed a variety of named areas of the mountain, wound up and down and around for an extended period, and finally reached Ramona Falls for an early camp that night. Several slightly deadly washed out areas were crossed without slipups or falls. I figured my klutz was saving itself for the last day. I think this is the day I saw the green grasshopper with red legs, but I could be wrong – that could’ve been the last day. No photo, alas. Also, evidently Ramona falls is one of those places frequented by campers who may not be backpacking. At our particular site, this meant a larger group with a nice, roaring fire and s’mores to share. I learned a new game that I don’t know what it was called – ‘hat’ or ‘salad bowl’ or something else containerish. But it was nice to be around new people for awhile, and focus on my usual non-camping hobbies like ‘games’ and ‘eating’. This was also the day I ran into a former NALSA officer on the mountain, just out of the blue. How often does that happen?
Final day four, I met the nicest group of old people on a day hike. They offered me blister protection, but I figured by that point my raw wounds couldn’t really be helped. Ah well. Also, the hike was slightly extended by a trip up to Paradise Park, which is one of the key areas people visit on the mountain. It was lovely, covered in flowers, and high enough to be level with the clouds. The mountain at times pierced its way into view, and at other times was partially or wholly obscured. Someone saw a bear, but I, sadly, did not. I chose the return to the trail that was shortest, but it was also the steepest down and probably a little hard on the knees. There were also extended elevation changes, which is not fun when you’re already tired. And, of course, because mountains like me so much, right at the end of the trek it started to hail. But then the sky cleared, and though my legs were stiff for the next several days, they had gained something as well. I want to not lose that, as the semester begins. Something about movement and mild strain is lost to the muscle memory when it is my mind alone that is focused.
For a long time, though not quite for as long as I can remember, there has been a competition between my sister and my grandfather. He has no love of sweet tea – she fares best without tomatoes. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, he’s always sure to save a few ‘for Shelly’ from his backyard garden plot. She, in turn, always makes sure there’s sweet tea available when he comes to visit. Regardless, when it comes to tomatoes, they are who I think of first, both politely shoving on the other what will swiftly be refused.
I myself have always been a fan of tomatoes. Those globes of juicy ripeness always seem to glow, little suns packed with the energy and vitamins we need to grow. I can feel the soft skins of them yielding to my bite, exploding in juicy goodness, sending rivulets running down my chin like summer fruit is supposed to. Somehow, apples just don’t even compare, despite shine, despite crispness. There’s something about a tomato that flirts with temptation, which may be why Mr. John Gerard considered it ‘poisionous’ in his English Herbal, despite being eating in Italy and Spain. Those Papists, after all, were almost as bad as Eve when it came to oral fixation.
So with all this upside-down nonsense getting big, I decided to go to the experts. Just what does hanging this thing upside-down accomplish? What kind of tomatoes should I grow in such an inverted potter? Tell me about staking, because I know nothing.
As I soon found, the majority of ‘real’ tomato growers pish-posh the inverted idea. They say it has no benefits, or doesn’t provide enough soil for the plant to really root, or puts undue strain on the tomato stalk in order to support the fruit, or as one particularly irate plant vendor stated, “tomatoes weren’t made to be grown upside-down”. I suppose that’s strictly true. Elephants weren’t made to travel by roller-skate, and squirrels weren’t made to fly, but I’m not sure that means they can’t, or should be prevented from trying. I’m not sure I believe the hype about upside-down fruit being better for you in some way, but you must admit, the idea of fruit topsy-turvy is somehow appealing.
I decided I would try it. Two factors influenced my final decision. The first was the aforementioned plant lady. SHe was quick to tell me that growing a tomato plant in a pot required at least a 5 gallon bucket. And staking – these hardy little things need all the help they can get to keep from being top-heavy. Especially when planted in a giant, weighty, bucket of a planter. So, since I don’t have mountains of money to spend on mountains of dirt, I opted for the upside-down gallon jug variety. According to online instructions, this variety needs only what is necessary to top off a 2-liter bottle (or, in my case, gallon jug). The second factor was a friend’s various gardening projects. He was into making all kinds of things, tossing off ideas to turn his backyard into a wonderland. Since I have no backyard, I was jealous, but I at least have a great balcony. Hanging plants seemed like the perfect way to get DIY and still have delicious tomatoes by the end of the summer.
I have been very pleased by the results. There will be a picture update soon so that all of you lovely readers can appreciate those results as well. I ended up going with a small tomato variety, about cherry size, just in the weight on the stalk was an issue. Only one problem – once they turned color, I wasn’t sure they were really ripe. I guess I have no experience picking cherry tomatoes. On a big tomato, when they’re ready, they practically help themselves off the vine – a little twist and they’re in your hand. Not so with cherry-sized minis. Or not so for mine, anyway. After days of waiting, twisting gently, and gazing longingly at my delectable beauties, I finally called my grandparents to ask how I know when these things are really ripe.
“Well,” says my grandmother, “you know they won’t get as big as regular tomatoes”. Yes, I do know that much. “And they probably won’t get much bigger than a golf ball.” Yep. “So…I would just pick one and eat it. Then you’ll know if it’s ripe.” So why I have I been waiting days for this baby to give me a real sign, beyond color and soft pliancy to the touch, that they are ready for eating? The world may never know. But yes, all those that had changed color appropriately were quite edibly ripe. I give you, grandma’s mouth test for tomatoes! (It never fails.)
A few words of advice for anyone trying this themselves. First, if you can get clear gallon jugs, use them – it’s easier to water the plants appropriately when you can see how deeply the water is seeping and how quickly. I painted one of mine and not the other (cause I got lazy). The painted one may be prettier, but the one I can still see into is much more effective. I also ended up planting herbs on top instead of using the bottom of the jug with holes in it as a trickle-down system. This works better with plants that are really rooty – cilantro is excellent, thyme not so good.
July 2, 2010 at 12:32 pm (Uncategorized)
It’s been some time since I’ve written at all, let alone about my workplace. Part of that is my extreme, frantic, pace of life recently, what with going back to school and moving across the country. The other part is no longer working, and therefore not having a workplace to write about. My workplace is the universe?
In the past, however, I’ve been part of my share of workplace cranks and fun ridiculousness. There’s the covering an entire workstation in saran-wrap gag, or the hanging various objects from the ceiling surprise. But the most classic of all is the ‘your office doesn’t exist’ gaff, or the slightly-less-used ‘your office is something else’ bit.
My former workplace does these well, probably because there are frequent changes in the office layout and because we have a good working relationship with the management company. This time the theme is ‘the necessary’. See below:
This was an office of considerable size at one time, rather than a 3×3 space to sit and contemplate. I have no idea what a certain individual is going to do when he/she ‘returns to work’. I look forward to finding out though, through the grapevine, though no longer up-close and personal.