Friday, April 28, 2017

More than just a garden

This time of year reminds me of visits from my grandmothers when I was growing up. Especially when I work in my garden. My flower beds are full of little reminders.

My mom’s mom loved day lilies. She had them in plentiful bunches all over her yard in Maryland. I remember them clearly, with their bright yellow and orange and maroon flowers. I spent many hours playing among them with my cousins.

My grandmother loved visiting us. On one of her visits we took her to Myrtlewood Mystique Gallery off Main Street. She found the store fascinating and thought Myrtlewood, native to Oregon, was a beautiful wood when polished and presented in the form of art.

On that particular visit, she bought a Myrtlewood seedling and brought it to our beach property. She was excited to plant it and hoped it would grow. Sadly it did not, probably because it’s native to Southern Oregon, but it was worth a try. Soon the place we had cleared for it was taken back by salal, the leafy shrub found as a prominent groundcover in nearly all areas of the coast.

Years later, after her passing, we had a chance to plant again in her memory. My mom dug up some of her day lilies and carried them home on the plane. Uprooted and transplanted to a new life, like many of us humans do, they began their life on the Oregon coast.

Those lilies have since established themselves at my mom’s and multiplied like lilies do, packed in bountiful bunches, just as I remember them in my grandmother’s yard. I have since dug up a section of those lilies from my mom’s garden and planted them in my garden. In the past few weeks I have watched them spring to life, once again, keeping my grandmother’s memory alive.

My dad’s mom also loved coming to Oregon. When she would visit us we would take her to Marys Peak. She was not an outdoorsy-type. In fact, in all her 90 years she never got a driver license. Listening to the radio, doing crossword puzzles, and watching soap operas was her idea of a good time. But she did love her peonies.

The house in which she was born and raised was her home for 80 years, until her Alzheimer’s became too advanced to live alone. In the backyard she had lined the fence with peonies. Come summertime her yard was in full bloom, rows and rows of peonies decades matured. I can still smell their sweetness.

When my dad brought some of her ashes to Oregon we sprinkled a handful into an oversized ceramic pot. Mixed into the soil, gently and with love, we planted a peony. Each year it grows back from the depths of the soil and memories of my grandmother’s peonies return. I want to remember what she ultimately forgot; that they were her favorite flower.

Now, as I tend to her peony, which I have affectionately named “Grandma,” I think of her, her yard, and our trips to Marys Peak. I recall the times we sat together at the picnic table at the top of the peak. She would be so proud of herself for “hiking” to the top. The gravel road that led us there had enough of an incline that she felt like she was on a true adventure. She would look over the valley in awe, amazed by the lush, green trees. “They don’t make trees like that in Delaware,” she would say.

As I have worked the soil these past few weeks, I’ve come to realize that my garden beds are full of love. Not just the love I give them, but the love they represent. I’ve never before thought of my garden as a place reminiscent of time spent with loved ones. But, as I come across plants that spark memory of moments passed, I realize my garden is more than just a garden; it’s where my memories will sprout back for years to come.

For me, this realization is a reminder that life goes on in beautiful forms if you take the time to see it. Looking at my garden, I can now smile at the little reminders. I think about the saying “home is where the heart is,” and, for me, my garden is also where my heart is.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Corvallis: Local organization seeks scholarship recipients

There’s much to consider when making decisions about college; where to go, what to study, how to pay for it. With local options for a community college or a university, Benton and Linn County students can at least get help with one of these decisions. The Zonta Club of Corvallis is seeking awardees for their annual scholarship giveaway.

Zonta International, devoted to empowering women and improving their lives through service and advocacy, was founded in 1919. Zonta is now in 67 countries and works closely with the United Nations to influence laws impacting women worldwide. The Corvallis Club holds an auction each year to raise money for the club’s scholarship fund.

The most recent event, held in November 2016, featured a silent and oral auction for the benefit of the Zonta Service Foundation. With 250 community members in attendance, the event raised $34,000 for Linn-Benton Community College and Oregon State University students.

One of 2016’s recipients, Vanessa Reid, an OSU interior design and sustainability student, spoke at the event about the impact the scholarship had on her and her family.

“Her comments on going to college full-time while raising four children inspired many that night to donate to the scholarship fund,” said Debrah Rarick, Zonta scholarship chair.

Reid was one of 13 local students last year to receive a Zonta scholarship for $3,000. This year, Zonta is seeking at least another 10 recipients. Their mission to support students who will in turn support their community is one of the club’s primary focuses, says Sally Widenmann, dean of instruction at LBCC and member of Zonta scholarship committee.

“Although Zonta is an international organization that focuses on the empowerment of women, it starts local and spreads nationally,” said Widenmann. “So when you compare that to the vision of LBCC it aligns perfectly for both entities making them quite similar in that way.”

Scholarships are not exclusive to females, however, the recipients must be entering a career in which women are the minority, or for those that plan to dedicate their careers to helping women and/or children.

Scholarships available give no preference to which of the two schools one attends and can be used for tuition, fees, books, and supplies. Specific scholarships include those for women in business, women in the Armed Forces, and women in S.T.E.M. Preferences include merit, financial need, older-than-average students, and student-parents.

The Starns Scholarship is one of particular interest in which Zonta hopes to find a recipient this year. Designated for a single parent, Rarick said they have not had any applicants for the past few years.

“We’d love to give it to a worthy recipient,” she said.

Deadlines, depending on the scholarship, are April 5 and 29. Each scholarship has varying criteria that can be found on their website,

Siletz: Wild terrane and waterfalls

I used to tell my friends in California about the place I grew up. That it was a town, which during my youth, had a population of 3,000. That it used to have a drive-thru coffee stand with a pick-up window elevated to the height of a large truck that I couldn’t reach from the driver’s seat of my Eclipse. I told them that our biggest event each year was the Frolic and Rodeo. That my elementary school had two classrooms and a student body of 40.

I often wonder how those friends pictured the place I grew up. To them, I think they thought I was from the Wild West. And now that I’m back, I wonder if in some ways I am.

This month I experienced the Siletz River for the first time. Previous to the experience my only exposure to Siletz was attending a few powwows growing up. Although it had been over two decades since I was last there, I recognized the road to the tribal center as we passed it on the way to launch the boat. It brought back memory of the dancing and singing, the energy and excitement, the feathers and beadwork.

At the powwows, I was always amazed at the presentation of outfits and the use of bones, sticks, and grass in ways I had never seen them before. They were a beautiful experience I had enjoyed very much, and until that moment, I had forgotten. The impact a place has on a time continues to astonish me as I rediscover the patchwork of my past.

On the tail end of a particularly rainy week, the waters of the Siletz were high for our float. Foliage that would normally line the water’s edge held strong in the current, the tips of budding bushes and reeds reached from the depths to the surface for light.

On our journey the river moved with a powerful grace. The tranquility of the area made me feel present and free from distractions of the city. A needed break on a beautiful day.

Surrounded by lush landscape and under a clear blue sky, everything seemed bigger in such a wild place. Color spots bore hints of orange, yellow and red, and at times, I felt like we were in a painting.

It didn’t take long before the first of many waterfalls appeared on the slopes of the bank. They seemed to come from nowhere and then suddenly gushed to life, their roar loud enough to fade away all but their song. Some were tall, some were wide, but all cascaded down terraced rock shelves carved to perfection by their vitality.

Most trees were covered in moss that clung to their branches like something from a storybook. Some were pale green and others nearly neon. Some were long like the beard of Gandalf. Some had thickness like that of a chia pet’s fur. I couldn’t help but wonder what the area looked like when the native peoples were the only ones to have wandered it.

As we floated further from the roads that brought us there, I became more aware of the sounds of nature. The distinct call of the pileated woodpecker rang out over the water, loud and commanding, as to be expected from the largest woodpecker in North America. Waterfowl floated along with us creating slight ripples that tapped the sides of the boat. A pair of common mergansers fished nearby, dipping their heads in and out of the water searching for their next meal.

For miles the riparian was scattered with century-old trees standing regal and proud, probably older than the Confederated Tribes of the Siletz but certainly not as old as their history with the land. As we passed under a tree that had begun its bow towards the water, I realized in the years to come it will make its final descent switching its role from habitat for creatures out of the water to habitat for creatures within the water.

The sun at high-noon shone through leafless trees, their branches framing the sunspot like a photo on a wall. Something like a spiritual moment, I thought of how native tribes have celebrated the sun for centuries because of this very reason. Its reach touches everything and has certainly kissed this stretch of the Siletz, I thought.

Having spent so many years away, I had forgotten the beauty this place beholds. While in bigger cities I appreciated the artistry of cityscapes, nothing compares to landscapes in their raw form. Left to its own devices, nature is the most beautiful artist of all. I feel so lucky to have found my way back to this masterpiece.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Memory lane through Philomath's wine country

Most my memories of Philomath are before the age of 17 when I moved to California after graduation. That was the deal I made with my parents: finish school and I could start my life’s adventure wherever I wanted. Fast-forward 17 years and I’m back, with many memories of the Golden State, and a fresh pair of eyes as I rediscover my hometown.

I grew up in a place between Kings Valley and Wren, technically Philomath, but we often called it “no man’s land.” It was rural enough that a trip to town took 30 minutes, so I spent many hours entertaining myself in the woods and pastures that surrounded us. In my absence, that place has become a local destination in the world of wine, and its pastures have been replaced with rows of grapes. A mini Sonoma, Cardwell Hill Road is now a household name.

Recently I went for a day trip to my former playground. As we pulled up to Lumos' tasting room it felt familiar. In its past life the property belonged to my childhood friend’s grandfather. As we sat on the new deck built off the old barn, I thought of my friend Jonah. We used to play in the fields below. I still have our “first day of school” photos, us side-by-side at the bus stop with our little lunch boxes and big smiles.

As we headed to Cardwell Hill Cellars on the road that is now paved, I didn’t hear the slaps of gravel against the car that I remembered growing up. We passed the spot in the road where I had a bike accident that resulted in my first stitches. I had gotten gravel lodged in my forehead when I flew over my handlebars and caught the ground with my face. I thought about how that was my first act of bravery; the day I sat still as the doctor removed the pieces.

We came upon Coyote Hill Road, the road leading to my childhood home. It now has a fancy bus stop at the bottom with solar panels on the roof, an upgrade to the umbrella I used to stand under. I recalled when the families living on that road came together to give it its name. I was too young for my vote to count, but I do remember the debates, ultimately giving namesake to the coyotes that roamed the hills. Growing up I remember seeing them slip in and out of the tree line and can still hear the cracked voices of the pups learning to howl each summer.

From the road I looked up to the place I used to call home. The house is now hidden by the trees but I could see the barn. I thought about my handprint in its foundation. I saw the gate to the garden my dad built with a “Z” pattern for my mom’s maiden name. Most of the trees that border the property were planted by us; some were our Christmas trees, some were the seedlings I brought home on Earth Day. Now those trees tower above the ground, all grown up, just like me. The saying, “Someone is sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago” crossed my mind and never felt so relevant.

When we got to our next stop, the Cardwell Hill Cellars property looked nothing like it used to. The wild, grassy fields that llamas once grazed are long gone. The deck off the tasting room has a view of our former property. The oldest vines in the vineyard were planted along the border of ours in the last years we lived there. I recalled the day we were at the county fair and heard of a fire on Cardwell Hill. We rushed home and found the flames spreading up the hill to our property and to Cardwell Cellar’s now vintage vines. I remember us fighting the fire with hoses and buckets before the fire department arrived. I realized I had helped protect the plants that would define the future of Cardwell Hill, possibly sipping on their fruits as I recollected.

My trip down memory lane left me thinking about how each of us leaves our mark on the world and how the world leaves it mark on us. Like the handprint in the foundation of the barn, or the “Z” pattern on the gate of the garden, sometimes our marks carry over into someone’s else’s memories, past and present colliding. Some marks last longer than others, but the best ones are those that stay with us a lifetime.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Philomath High students march with a message for administration

The town of Philomath saw a lot of action the morning of Wednesday, Feb. 22. In response to perceived injustices towards their classmates and teachers, concerned high school students organized a peaceful march so their voices could be heard. 

At 9:20 a.m. students met at the front doors of their school with a message for administrators. Student body president Chris McMorran began the day's event standing before the crowd with a handheld megaphone. "We understand your concerns haven't been heard this year," he said. March organizer Steven Graves then took to the megaphone: "We're going to start our march by going to the District Office for a couple of minutes, or however long we decide to be there." 

An energetic crowd embarked on their march as they held their homemade signs and began to chant "enough is enough!” Since last summer tension has been high stemming from the discovery of hazing-gone-wrong at a pre-season football camp. Since investigations began into the staff and administration, players have been formally charged, the coach was dismissed, and staff have been placed on administrative leave. The students have been left with more questions than answers, they say, and the forced leave of two staffers last week prompted them to take action.

Some signs had messages for superintendent Melissa Goff, some showed support for expelled quarterback Kenan Conner, others had messages of hope such as "Peace 2 PHS,” many showed support for Doreen Hamilton and Jan Kilgore, both on administrative leave since Feb. 17.

As the group of over 100 took to the sidewalks, parents and supporters standing by joined the students on their journey to the District Office. Drivers passing by honked their horns at the crowd that included babies in strollers, toddlers in rain coats, and even some family dogs. The sounds of their march could be heard for blocks as they cheered "We are Warriors!" 

Their presence at the District Office got no reaction from those inside as the students joined together to yell "it's not fair!” in front of the office. They each had their reasons for the statement; some said it for Doreen and Jan, some said it for Kenan, some said it referring to the overall situation that resulted in the cancellation of the varsity football season.

After circling the grounds of the elementary school marchers headed to the primary school and middle school. One protester yelled, “We want everyone to know that we are serious!” The students responded in unison, “Let’s get fired up!” as they continued down Applegate.

After a 50-minute loop of all five school properties, local television and newspaper reporters stood ready as the students returned to the high school.

Steven Graves held the megaphone as peers surrounded the rock in front of the school spray-painted with the message “Jan + Doreen.” Graves took to the megaphone: “If you have been positively impacted by Doreen and Jan since being in this high school give them a little scream.” In front of the cheering crowd he continued, “If you think the administration is treating people unfairly give them a little scream.” The official reason for their leave has yet to be disclosed, but many students believe the reason is related to their opinions of how the hazing investigation has unraveled.

There was one more stop to make. “Let’s all go to Kenan’s house!” Graves urged on the megaphone. The crowd burst into cheer and began their walk again.

After a few blocks to College Street, students clustered on the lawn of their expelled schoolmate. Although Kenan was not home they got him on the phone, put his call on speakerphone, and held it up to the megaphone. “Thank you guys,” he told his peers. “I love you, see you soon, I love all the support.”