Monday, April 2, 2012

Scenes from a Marriage

One thing I never wanted this blog to be about was my domestic life; another damn daddy blog.

For one thing, I don't really have the ability to extract pithy or enlightening tales from my family or my marriage; we're just not really all that entertaining, I'm afraid.

For stuff like that you need to go over to Sweet Juniper! or Une Envie de Sel or the Salsa family's blog. They have the gift for making their daily lives seem unique, lively, and interesting to the casual visitor.

As Salieri says in Amadeus, from the ordinary they make tales of timeless magic, while I from gods and heroes can craft only the ordinary.

For another, why the hell would you be interested in the boring doings of a North Portland guy of no particular distinction?

But the thing is, the vast expanse of my days is taken up with the commonplace; sleep, working, kids, wife, home...all the small change of an ordinary life of a middle-class family in this corner of the Pacific Northwest. I try and write about the big things; love, war, death, taxes, soccer. But the actual life I live often contains very little of those matters outside the walls of my own skull. My days as they pass by are actually quite different.

So, for a change, I thought I'd take you through a couple of those days.

Last week the kiddos were on Spring Break, the bizarre anachronism left over from...what? There's no real reason for a week off from school in mid-spring - what would my employers say if I suggested we shut down the firm for a week because...well, just because?

Yeah, you're damn right they would.

But Spring Break it was, and fortunately my spawn are too small to want to swim upstream to Seaside or Fort Lauterdale and attempt to find adventure between mojitos and partial nudity. Instead my bride and I decided to take the famdamily over the Hill to the desert.

The first stop - because long drives and small children are listed as one of the things filed in Dante's Fifth Circle of Hell right next to simony and unnatural relations with breakfast foods - was partway up the Gorge; Bonneville Fish Hatchery.

Now fish hatcheries in general are one of those ideas, like Paul Ryan's budget and privatizing prisons, that sounded better in the concept than in actuality. But this hatchery has one ginormous attraction, and I do mean ginormous - Herman the Sturgeon.This being Oregon, where we understand that there are only two real irreducible elements for Life, sunlight and coffee, Herman has his own barista.The day was already drizzling rain - more about which later - so we paid just a brief visit to the hatchery and Herman the star sturgeon. He was a big 'un, alright. Remind me to tell you about the time Herm got fishnapped.We loaded back into Bob the Subaru station wagon and bored further up the rainy Gorge. I wanted to take the fam on the pretty drive along the old highway, so we got off the interstate in the little town of Mosier......with a bathroom-coffee-and-brownie-stop at the wonderful little 10-Speed Coffee Shop before heading up into the high bench to the east......and the Nature Conservancy's small reserve just west of the Rowena Loops.This gentle plateau was washed over - probably many times - by the great Ice Age floods that ripped through the Gorge throughout the Pleistocene. Dick Waitt has estimated as many as 60 of these "Missoula Floods" crossed the Channeled Scablands of eastern Washington, and many of them must have flowed over the top of the bench at Rowena, stripping the soil off the old Miocene basalt surface.

The rock forms an impervious surface, so in the spring the plateau is strewn with small ponds known as "vernal pools".The cold hillsides were also beginning to show the first wildflowers of spring, a hopeful color of the warmth to come. I walked slowly, as men with failing joints will, as my family ran on ahead of me into the chill showers. If you look carefully you can see them, far in the middle distance.Soon enough I was alone with the textures and sounds of the plateau in spring; the wind off the river, the cold smell of the dark rock, the liquid song of the meadowlark and the bree-donk of the blackbird warning intruders away from his pond below.Reality intruded soon enough, though with my little outrunners returning; the Boy, sullen, because his mother had forbidden him to dance along the edge of the cliff, my Bride, flustered and furious because of her son's defiance, and Little Girl, getting whiny as she grew tired and wet from a tumble. Definitely time for a rest.

So I carried her back to Bob, and we headed East; stopping first at the Dalles and then turning south - through Madras and Bend - to our destination at the cabin in the pretty little state park in La Pine.Up to this point it had been a pleasant enough trip, if one that included more than a hap'orth of driving. But Thursday night the weather closed in.I've spent a fair bit of time over on the dry side of Oregon in twenty years, and I don't scruple to say that the rain that arrived that night and continued on into the following day was as heavy as I've ever seen east of the Cascades.

It piss-poured.

The Bride and I looked at each other with the grim understanding of what it would mean to lack outdoors entertainment for two under-tens in a rustic cabin with the nearest toilets 200 feet away in the pouring rain.So, for the first time in many, many years, I bailed on a camping trip.

We repacked the car and headed back west. Stopping, mind you, for some adventures along the way; first, at the small "Nature Center" in the freakishly bizarre artificial "community" of Sunriver.Sunriver is hard to explain if you've never been there. It's completely planned. There's nothing organic, spontaneous, unregulared or natural about it. Even the lodgepole pines seem to grow less crooked within its confines.

It's entirely appropriate, to my mind, that it is located on the site of the old Camp Abbot, the WW2 Corps of Engineers combat engineer training post; the thing is an engineering artifact, all right.

The odd thing is that it's very scenic, in its plasticine way. I just wouldn't want to live there; it's all waaaay too much the sort of place that appeals to a litigator from Bend or a real estate broker from Salem. I'd got berserk eventually and do something deranged - drag-race the golf carts out at the Tiger Woods Golfateria, reverse all the signs at the Sunriver Shopping Plaza - just to upset the nice, orderly, well-organized smugness of the place.We left Sunriver and drove north through Bend - I'm always glad to bypass the hectic business of that place because it reminds me of what a pleasant place Bend used to be - to Smith Rocks outside Terrebone.

Mojo loves this twisted hoodoo, and so she and the Boy galloped off in the lessening drizzle as little Miss and I sat in the docent's yurt and talked about arrowheads and wild lands and civilizations vanished long ago.Then the hikers returned, we all took a last look at the wet and chilly desert, and then returned home.So there we were, back in Portland instead of out exploring the wilds; what were we to do?

Well, I'll tell you.

First, after a slow sort of morning - and at home on weekends or holidays most mornings are slow; the Boy and the Bride are late, late risers, so Miss and I usually sit and chat or watch her beloved Little Ponies - I took the kiddos out for an indoorsy sort of adventure so Mojo could exercise, read, and sew.

We went to Guardian Games for Pokeman swag, got some lunch, and then played arcade games at our old standby for rainy days, the "Wunderland" arcade down on Belmont. That afternoon the Boy got to stay home and play his PS2 video game - a rare treat for him - while Mojo, Missy and I went to the kid yoga class at our Kenton library.This was a bit comic because young Miss is cultivating the whiny attitude of an older kid. She fussed and bitched about going to this thing from the moment we told her we were going until the moment we went into the little room at the back of the library.At which point she frolicked like a young lamb. Contrary child.

My bride then returned the favor; she took the kiddos so I could go to the Timbers match against Real Salt Lake.It was a chill, spitty night, and the Boys weren't really on form; after an ugly and pointless first half our young midfielder Darren Nagbe slotted home two lovely goals - the second really was a gorgeous thing, real highlight-show stuffto put the home side up 2-1 with no more than 20 minutes to play. We thought we would take the full three points at home.But we couldn't hold.

The visitors drew level a minute from time, and then a third goal deep in injury time sent them off winners and left the Timbers, and us supporters, gutted. It was a brutally ugly end to a tough match.I've said this before - soccer is a cruel, cruel game. We stood stunned in the rain, still singing, but with the special twist in the heart that comes from watching a win carelessly booted away.

And what made it harder is that we'd seen it before; in fact, we'd seen almost this exact scene before the previous season when the loathsome New York Red Bulls came back from a goal down to win in the dying minutes.That kind of match is the kind that mirrors all the other disappointments, large and small, in life itself; the broken heart, the broken bone, the broken promise. Every damn time life kicks you in the ass, from the trivial to the wrenching.

And, really, you only have two choices; to give up, to carp and whine, or to continue to hold up the emblems of your faith and sing, sing in your faith and in hopes of a brighter day to come.And, of course, the next day does come, and with it, small girls debating frilly dresses with their mommyor kiddos having cart-pulling fun at the bounteous Portland Nursery garden storebringing home their mom's green shoots; curry and basil, flavored with - what else - the rich dark elixir that warms up a rainy Portland day.And we had done all we needed, so we went home.

To spend the closing hours of Sunday reading, to play games together, to plan garden beds (my bride and I), to do laundry, to sweep the floors, to watch television, to cook dinner, and then to read bedtime stories, and tuck in to beds.

And that's the sort of thing that the main of my life consists of.

That's it.

Nothing grand, nothing dire, nothing great, or picturesque, or memorable. No deeds of note or acts worthy of record. Just the pattering of the passing days, family life played calmando, sometimes in a minor key, perhaps; sometimes strident, sometimes dull, at times very little, at times overmuch, but always a song that sings of my work, and my home, and my beloveds, and the place on Earth where they all come to rest.So when this place remains unchanged for a day or so...that's where I am - in that other world, singing that other song, passing the quiet days in unexceptional ways behind the white picket fence off of McKenna Avenue, where the streetlight casts it gibbous light on the sleek black night-street outside.

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