Reub's journey

19 October 2016

Complex world

Detail from 6th grade painting. My student, natch.
Today I read an article about how hard it is to be a seventh grade teacher. Specifically, how do you teach 12 year olds to make rational arguments in mock political debates conducted at school, in the current political climate? The kids interviewed in this article sounded so smart and reasonable. But sadly the first two debates could not even make the cut for what is permissible to be shown in a classroom and schools have to use the old Romney-Obama debates as examples.

I am skipping tonight's debate, even though it may be the best. At least I hope it is better than the others.

Instead I'm looking at photos of former middle-school student art work. Among other things, I used to teach calligraphy to 8th graders, and was always amazed by what they chose to quote in their projects. Is this a Green Day quote? I think so. Written in a tenuous beginner's hand it's a beautiful one for this rainy Oregon October.

It is a complex world facing our kids, but there is hope for them. When you look at what they can do, and what they have already said or produced, all is not lost.

 Despite the opposing forces out there, we will survive. And maybe, just maybe, things will improve. Let's fervently hope so.

10 October 2016

Curling towards the sun

John noticed it first.

 It was all by itself, so close to the path it was surprising that one of us (John, me, Ed and Reub) hadn't trampled it: Parosola plicatilis.

A perfectly formed, nearly transparent little mushroom containing a tablespoon or so of last night's rainwater.

Its life span is maybe 18 hours, tops.

After a few hours it begins to curl towards the sun.

Then briefly it turns in on itself like a flower closing for the night.

But it isn't just the night; it's the end.

The sun shines brightly.

By dusk few will notice this small thing, or know what a perfectly beautiful life it lived. Perhaps it is enough that just you and I have witnessed it.

25 September 2016

Austro Hungarian dogs

Dogs. Wherever I am they tend to pop up front and center.

They appear in odd places, and sometimes they're open to interpretation, like in this gargoyle from St. Stephen's cathedral in Vienna. Pretty sure that's a dog.

This is a dog park in Vienna. Dogs are like four leaf clovers; when you seek them out they disappear.

At the door of the dog park there was this sign, and I thought "Wow, the city put up a sign like that?" until I realized that a protester had cleverly pasted the right-sized sticker onto a poster reminding people to pick up after their pets.

Aren't these cool? Details on a piece of 400 year-old furniture in Hohenzollern castle above Salzburg.

Real-life dogs at a sidewalk cafe in Austria: three whippets and a beagle.

The Hungarians are proud of the number of breeds they have developed, but the only vizsla I saw was on this t-shirt (if it hadn't been labelled I wouldn't have recognized it because the vizslas I know don't look like that.)

An inexplicable piece of art in a Budapest subway station. It has shiny places on it where passers-by have stroked the dog's nose and ears, or shaken the man's hand.

I don't know who this fellow is, but he has a beautiful sight-hound and a nice hawk.

Budapest bloodhounds, pausing for a drink from the fountain they're standing on.

Did he ever imagine himself clad in a bright red shirt, being photographed trying to control six terriers in front of a bunch of garbage bags at the foot of a Franz Liszt bust? It was an impressive thing to watch.

18 September 2016

All kinds of signs

My camera and I arrived separately for a recent trip to Austria (thanks Lufthansa), so there are a few hundred less photos than there might normally be for a trip like that.  Still, it's fun to look through the pics.

 I love the signs above cafes and other businesses in Europe's historic districts. So classy.

Even McDonalds looks amazing.

I try to avoid American fast food while visiting other countries, but we almost made an exception for this one in Budapest. This was the first McD's east of the Iron Curtain during the Cold War and for awhile it was a symbol of protest against Communism. I like it for its stylized iron-curtainy lions.

Could cannabis in any way be construed as an energy drink? At first I thought Subway was selling it.

Umm, what was I saying about classiness? Not sure whether this cringe-worthy hot dog advertisement in Salzburg, Austria, was designed to attract or repel American tourists but I was simultaneously laughing and grossed-out.

 Political statements abound on posters and decals. This one says "Every human has a right to human rights." Obviously tensions have been running high with the influx of war refugees. Austria has taken on a large share of refugees in the past year, most of them being deported from neighboring Hungary.

 Graffiti is a form of protest: #refugeeswelcome

 "Why would you tell little kids to go back to a war?" Well, Hungary, why indeed?

Beware of storms and always keep your dogs on leashes
Now THAT is sound advice.

15 August 2016

First lines in August

How do you choose a book? Perhaps a friend recommends it, or you've read a review. Maybe it's a series that you're reading one by one, or an author you've liked before. I know somebody who refuses to read books in which bad/sad things happen, another who is the opposite and is suspicious of all books with happy endings.  

Me, I read all kinds of stuff but I am a fan of book covers and first lines. I like all of these covers.

 Here are the beginning lines, all of them inviting me into the book:

"This is me when I was 10 years old." (Persepolis, a well-known graphic novel by Marjane Satrapi)

"No one had seen her naked until her death." (The Birth of Venus, historical fiction by trash-writer-I-cannot-put-down Sarah Durant. The opening scene to this book, following that first line, is cinematic.)

"Come along, Bill; we'll have to get there, or we won't hear the first of it." (Bill Brown's Radio, a kids' book from 1929 by Wayne Whipple. An irresistible book from my father-in-law's attic.)

"Ancient mythologies have much to do with modern literature." (Bullfinch's Age of Fable, copyright 1898, the precursor to Edith Hamilton's Mythology. Is his first line still true? I think so.)

"You wouldn't think a boy of six would be excited to get an alarm clock for Christmas."  (This Is Not A Confession, a recent and excellent collection of memoir-essays and "speculative nonfiction" by David Olimpio.)

I have many beloved first lines, but every summer when it turns to August, there is one that stands out. Really, not just the first sentence but the whole first paragraph of Tuck Everlasting, by Natalie Babbit:

The first week of August hangs at the very top of summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning

The weeks that come before are only a climb from balmy spring, and those that follow a drop to the chill of autumn, but the first week of August is motionless and hot.

It is curiously silent, too, with blank white dawns and glaring noons, and sunsets smeared with too  much color.

Often at night there is lightening, but it quivers all alone. There is no thunder, no relieving rain.

These are strange and breathless days, when people are led to do things they are sure to be sorry for after.

A beautiful, eerie book for young adults, Tuck Everlasting concerns the threat and curse of immortal life. A story for the ending weeks of summer, I first read it when my kids were 12 or 13, drawn in by it's beginning lines. Every year, right about now it is worth a visit.

26 July 2016


There is so much awful spectacle in the wider world right now that I dread looking at the news in the morning. The tiny drama of nearby life is a different matter though.

The littlest things are riveting. Like this handful of dead grass that I imagine is a fallen nest near the front door three days ago.

I walk over to pick it up.

But just when I reach down, a small bird scrambles out.

Chit, chit, chit...this little bird, an Oregon junco, energetically scolds me. There is, after all, no neglected and fallen nest, but a home built on the ground and inhabited, thank you very much. Back off.

For the next 24 hours I try unsuccessfully to catch a glimpse of what is inside that nest, but it is always covered by its funny bird-made grass tarp.

And then yesterday, mama left the nest slightly uncovered. Three perfect little speckled eggs.
  All the bad headlines in the world can't destroy my delight.

But quickly I am gripped with fear.
What were they thinking anyway? Are these inexperienced bird parents? Situated on top of shallow green ground cover, this is not the well-disguised nest described in the bird book. It screams NEST NEST NEST to any hungry predator. There is a growing brood of crow babies down the street and I fear that they will soon feast upon junco eggs. My junco eggs. So John puts up a screen, sort of, to allay my fears. He says it is inspired by architect Frank Gehry, and I suppose it is.

This afternoon there is news. And again it is the very best kind of news: three tiny babies. They are little more than naked beating hearts lying in a bed of soft grass and moss. They are the most vulnerable thing I have ever seen. Will they survive? I don't know. But they are now 12 hours old, and in this world that is a victory all by itself.