Thursday, April 29, 2010


When Catherine Dodd, my surrogate daughter, invited me to travel to Hetch Hetchy with her last weekend, I quickly accepted. Catherine, as Director of Health Services for the City and County of San Francisco, needed to meet with the staff stationed there to negotiate health needs.  A house would be provided for us, and after the needed meetings, we would be free to play tourist. 

In my 54 years in California I had never been there, although I had heard, over the years about the efforts of various environmentalists to have the O’Shaughnessy Dam torn down, and efforts to restore the glacial valley to its original pristine state.  Of course most San Franciscans sit on the opposite side of the fence, enjoying the twin bonanza of wonderful pure water and the economic boon of cheap hydroelectric power, a significant income source.

 I learned that John Muir himself had not wanted to keep the glacial valley in its original pristine condition; he thought the beauty should be shared by everyone, and imagined some kind of small tourist industry there. Coincidently, Catherine’s paternal grandmother. Linda Genevieve Gehringer Dodd, had protested the construction of the dam, sometime in the teens or twenties. Catherine owns a picture of her standing with John Muir at a demonstration. I guess Cath inherits her many political interests and talents.

Due to our abundant rainfall this spring, the foothills were aglow with many shades of green, more than I have ever seen, and the deep blue of the bush lupine practically stung our eyes.  It bordered every country road, often waist high.

Our not so little house, built in the twenties, was less than a block from the giant Moccasin hydroelectric plant and only a skip and a jump from a helicopter pad, used three times in our brief tenancy to evacuate medical emergency patients. 

Catherine sketched a little, but I failed, once again, to get out my paints. Still, I managed to beat Cath at scrabble.  I read and soaked in all the history surrounding us.  I learned it took twenty years to build the dam, in part because a railroad had to be built first to carry all the supplies and workers. 

 We toured nearby Coulterville Friday afternoon, including a terrific pioneer museum, and Saturday we trekked to Jamestown for a wonderful outdoor art fair, later taking many pictures of Chinese Camp and its falling down homes.

It is interesting how many ranchers in the area are switching to beef that is all grass fed.  They seemed very brown and very fat, though I still can't identify their family heritage.  We skipped lunch for the indulgence of home made ice cream, and came home happy, sated, but exhausted. 

My photography can't compete with the abundant stunning photos of Hetch Hetchy on Google., so I’ve included a photo of Catherine on the porch of a tea house!  What a wonderful weekend!


Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Bovines For Bonnie

A city girl myself, when my college roommate Shirley first invited me home for the weekend to her family’s dairy farm in East Stanwood, Washington, I was astonished. The Stillaguamish Valley swarmed with cows; brown and white, tan and ochre, even polka dotted. Awe struck, I didn’t know a Guernsey from a Brahma. I thought a Hereford was some variation of an automobile, spelled incorrectly. For that matter, I could not tell a cow from a bull. (That still gives me trouble unless, at dusk, I see large bags swaying back and forth, and a single file parade heading to the barn.) I certainly did not know that a cow had to calve to produce milk. Yikes, I had not even tasted non-pasteurized, non-homogenized milk.

A tour commenced of the gleaming barn, white inside and out, built in depression times with the vast sum of $500 saved by her frugal Norwegian parents. Its tongue and groove construction looked more like a lodge. It caught me off guard for it revealed hospital-like cleanliness, another shock to my urban preconceptions. The year was 1948. Though automatic milking machines were already in vogue, Arlene, the youngest daughter, adeptly demonstrated the skill of hand stripping, a twice daily chore. She showed careful respect to the “kickers” of course. Though I was invited to share the experience, I declined. I was impressed, however.

My enchantment multiplied when on another visit a calf was born and christened Bonnie Eloise in my honor. Never before or since has any sensate being been named after me!

Chronologically, my next big encounter with benevolent bovines was in the seventies. Three friends and I were canoeing down the Missouri River, paddles tracing the Lewis and Clark Trail from Great Falls, Montana. For what seemed like hundreds and hundreds of miles we saw no other human being. Yet both sides of the wide, swiftly flowing river were lined with cattle, usually standing hoof high in the currents. Like saddle brown monoliths. Silent guardians of the grasslands, they stared and stared and stared. I felt like our eyes locked. A stare down. I was mesmerized. We gazed fixedly into each other’s souls, or so it seemed. Occasionally we would float past a carcass, probably the victim of lightning, or a calf too curious, captured by the deep mud on the shores. I grieved in silence.

Not until decades later would I transfer my affections to the other side of the Atlantic. Each dawn, from the second story window of the French Rhone Alps farmhouse where we stayed, stoical giant white Charolais cattle would gaze upward at me, sometimes eight or ten in a cluster. I came to learn that une vache (a cow) had a special place in a French person’s heart; something about wine and cheese, do you think? I learned that Charolais originated in this part of France in the old provinces of Charolles and Nievre. Some weighed up to 2500 pounds. They seemed to be posing there just for me. I was smitten. They stood transfixed as I shot dozens of digital photos.

Once home, I tried, without success, to transfer my enrapturement to my water color paintings of French cows. I somehow missed the spiritual connection which eyeball to eyeball produced. I was unable to convey the majesty of the Charolais. Was I bewitched? After several failed attempts I threw in the towel (or should I say cow pies?). It was not meant to be.

I finally surrendered to whimsy; certainly not my original intent. How silly! When friends see my rendition they smile and fall in love with their own projection of the Charolais. At a recent art show of my work, the painting above was the most popular attraction. Moo-ve over, Picasso.


Thursday, April 15, 2010

Up, Up and Away

This week marks the 49th year anniversary of the first time man traveled in space, so the record goes. But I say nay. From pogo sticks to spaceships, men, women, and kids have risked that first leap into space, probably as long as gravity posed the challenge. Me too.

Growing up on Magnolia Bluff in rainy Seattle, in the shadow of the Cascades, with Mt. Rainier glowing to the right, and Mt. Baker to the left, one of my sweet childhood memories is donning my brown rubber galoshes and jumping SPLAT into mud puddles, the bigger splat the better. Flat-footed, and poorly coordinated, I swelled with rapture at that little lift. I never ran out of mud puddles, for the woods across the street yielded small rivulets leading eventually to Elliot Bay.

At age 12, I accepted my girlfriend’s taunting to leap off my front porch onto the front lawn. Four or five feet down. It was a rare sunny day, and to enhance the experience I turned on the lawn sprinkler. “You go first,” she dared. For a few seconds the sense of floating in air exhilarated me. Then I hit the soggy wet lawn, skidding three or four feet on my heels toward the edge of the steep rockery. The best part of that experience was the books and paper dolls neighbors brought for distractions as I lay in bed, casted to the right knee, for the rest of the summer.

Later I tried horseback riding, ice skating and skiing, accomplishing the basics. Predictably my myopic eyes, chubby torso, and timidity were not conducive to taking the next step, jumping in air.

As a sophomore at the University of Washington (1949) I took my first flying lesson in a small plane owned by the student flying club. Five minutes into the lesson my tummy said whoops! Even though the instructor insisted I hold the stick, he was mighty relieved to get me back to earth so he could mop up the cockpit. Enough of that!

In my thirties, in the hospital with what turned out to be typhoid, I was on morphine for a few days. I never wanted to come down! Yet it was more like floating, than like soaring.

Later in life I tried windsurfing in Hawaii, at which, lacking good arm strength, I was a giant flop. I experienced helicopters over San Francisco bay, hot air ballooning and dirigible flights. None of them quite filled the bill.

A few years ago Jeanne Squires, Jan Hagan and I were exploring the city of Lyon, France, an addendum to a wonderful trip through the Rhone Alps with French Escapade. Jac and Valerie were our incredible leaders. Thanks to Valerie’s to-die-for French cooking I was bulging at the seams. Hiking around I discovered an old carousel. I swooned. “This is just my ticket,” I realized. “It goes up, and it comes down, over and over, with safety and joy, and besides that, it is a thing of such beauty.”

When I got home, I completed the painting above from a photo Jan took. It hangs opposite my bed. It’s the first thing I see when I sit up in bed in the morning. It never fails to make me smile.

So I dedicate this blog to dear Jac and Valerie, who introduced me to the charms of France. They later came here and helped me hang my painting. Their presence in my life spans the ocean and makes my spirits soar.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Shoes To Slingshots

Friday, April 9, 2010. What fun to hear from so many of you who sent feedback on my first blog last week. Some said they tried to add a comment and couldn’t figure out how. Others said they wished to receive it but couldn’t figure out how. I’m still learning, but here are the directions:save my blog in your "Favorites" and you can check on it whenever you want. If you wish to add a comments, click on "Post a Comment" box, write your comment, and click on "post comment".

My goal is share something each Friday. I wrote this story for my creative writing group last week. Read on:
Last month when my family were visiting, my niece’s husband, Alvey, shared this true childhood memory:

Today when Alvey and the other Westling kids get together they talk a blue streak, laughing. cussing, and at times sharing snuff, and maybe a snort or two. It was not always so jovial in their growing up family of six hungry offspring, living on the edge of poverty in chilly Western Washington. Fifteen years separate the oldest from the youngest, but they remain devoted to one another, like young green peas in a pod. This memory takes place at the end of the forties. Living as they did in what was once just a garage, the boys bedded in two double bunks in one end of the kitchen, while the oldest girl always slept on the couch, with coats for blankets.

Dad Westling, as soon as he’d had a couple of beers (which was every night) became a miserable, ornery, monster, ranting at his wife and six kids. Mom Westling screamed back, but took his abuse, as did the children, for there was no way to avoid his rage. He mostly hallucinated in his dreams all night, but then, to his credit, would get up and pull his shift at the lumber mill the next morning. Stopping at a tavern on the way home was habitual. That’s where most of his wages went. The siblings grew up eating a heck of a lot of oatmeal and beans, beans and oatmeal: almost every kind of beans imaginable. Occasionally some bacon or squirrel would add a little protein. Amazingly this scenario and diet produced four healthy strong young men, and two sprightly daughters, each of whom eventually made a good living in the trades.

Now you can imagine the children had little in the way of amenities, including clothing. All summer they went barefoot, of course, owning no shoes. But miracle of miracles, each fall the mill deposited some money at the local Sears Roebuck in the form of script, thus allowing families to buy school clothes for their kids. Like a ritual, Dad Westling would drive the clan to the store the day before school started, all barefoot of course.

Then he would go in alone and buy six pair of socks, for customers were strictly forbidden to try on shoes without socks. Once they had pulled on the socks, he would hoist them to his arms and carry them in, one at a time, to the shoe department, where they would each get a pair of shoes, usually high tops boots. Then the boys would get two pair of pants, two shirts, and one jacket, the allotment for the year. Its not known what the girls got, but girls being less important, probably got less. The shoes were donned for school the next day.

Things went ok for two or three months, when the shoes would begin to be outgrown, or worn out. The soles would become loose; heels would fall off. Dad Westling blamed the kids, saying they had kicked too many stones, their complaints sometimes ending with a cuffing, but more often the woodshed. By January the soles would be worn through, and cardboard would be layered inside.

One can imagine the teasing from other students at school, as spring wore on, and the shoes were reduced to shreds. Finally, with relief, the last day of school arrived. Yippee! Debarking from the school bus off would come the leavings of the shoes. Thus emancipated the children would head for the shed, where with sharp knives, the leather shoe tongues became pockets for slingshots, nesting small stones or marbles. Maple branches growing nearby became the Y shaped crutch, and thin strips of red tire inner tube became the sling: a source of great summer entertainment for the whole gang, inventive indeed in making their own amusement.

Perhaps it’s no surprise how resourceful these kids grew to be! Sadly, in high school they were denied participation in P.E. Why? The rule was that to participate a student must have gym shoes and shorts, and that eliminated the Westlings, of course. Still, most of them completed high school, or if not, made a successful career with their ingenuity. One might say that growing up taught them the skill of compromise and accomplishment.

Regretfully no photos exist of Alvey’s high top boots nor of the slingshots, for that matter. So for amusement I’m adding a painting I did a few years ago of Lee’s favorite well-worn boots, also full of character and memories. I’m suspecting all old boots have yarns to tell, don’t you?

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Facing Your Fears

April 2, 2010. My first blog, dedicated to Lee, my beloved of 50 years, who would have been 85 today, had her heart an lungs kept pace with her spirit.

My goal is to share something new of my self each Friday:

a story, or photo or painting or personal challenge perhaps.

Lee often said that the way to push through fear was to make a game of it.  No doubt this began for her in childhood, when softball was the center of her universe. 

When I first expressed interest in the computer, about 25 years ago, she pushed me to save my pennies and go for it.  It was a Mac, of course, and I think the screen was 11 inches.  I counted out a lot of pennies.  It terrified me.  Now she knew nothing about computers, but she knew much about me.  So one night she presented me with a gift of a computer Scrabble game.  

“The way to push through your fears, Bonnie, is to make a game of it” she pressed.  And she was right.  After about a month of Scrabble, my fingers no longer trembled when I pressed the on switch.   

At that time of life I carried a little beige tote bag with the logo “chronic student”.  I still have it.  “That’s you, Bonnie,” everyone said, laughingly.  Lee continued to indulge my meanderings. 

Even in those days I loved taking transparent slides, but it would be two decades later before I started painting or writing.  Back then I had just changed careers for the umpteenth time, and was scattered in many directions, all fascinating.  Now I hope I can resurrect some of that curiosity and inspiration.

This blog is my effort to keep learning and finding purpose in life, as I move into my eighties.  Thanks to all who nudge, push, help and challenge me.  Especially these days Myrna, Sandy, Jan, Cheari, Cath, my creative writing group, and my wonderful painting critique group, Water Color Connection.    Enjoy, and while you’re at it, be playful!