Very Well Then

Contradicting myself, always contradicting myself

Archive for the ‘Blue Heron Land’ Category

The region where I live: Blue Heron Land, USA. Capitol City: Blue Heron Town

Portland Paint-By-Number Bike Lanes

Posted by verywellthen on July 12, 2010

On the streets of Blue Heron Town, I found a piece of paper with the diagram below.   These symbols (sort of a bicycle with corporal stripes)  are being laid down on streets all over my neighborhood — I believe soon coming to all of Portland.
I kind of thought diagram looked like a paint-by-number.   So I created a paint-by-number — somewhat inspired by World Cup colors (scroll way down).
If you feel so inclined, create your own paint-by-number and send it to me and I’ll try to post it.
HINT:  Make your browser real wide to view.  Surprisingly, it looks good on a smart phone.


Posted in Blue Heron Land | Leave a Comment »

When the Dogwoods Bloom…

Posted by verywellthen on April 25, 2010


There is that video (and photo) effect – where everything is in black and white, except for one thing, which becomes the center of all attention because it has color.   I think the first time I saw the effect was in the 80’s in an Elton John MTV video (Sad Songs Say So Much, perhaps?).

That’s how I see the world in late April in my neighborhood (Blue Heron Land — a.k.a. the Pacific Northwest of North America).

The only thing in color in my late-April world are the dogwoods.  Everything, at least to me, might as well be black and white.

Walk down any block in town, you’ll see one or two in glorious bloom and it’s the only thing that visually matters.  I’m sure there are other beautiful things happening – just a few weeks ago the cherry and plum blossoms had caught my fancy.  Perhaps they’re still around, but I only have eyes for dogwoods.

I’ve heard a seasonal interconnection attributed to the regional Native American tribes: “the salmon run when the dogwoods bloom.”

(Using the advanced anthropology tool of “Google”  — I’m not able to attribute the saying with any certainty.  But I’ll bet in the old days, local indigenous types without MTV and Elton John wouldn’t miss noticing the dogwoods nor fail to link the timing to their most important food supply.]

I’ve moved around enough in my life to know that every relocation is both a door to soul-invigorating experiences and a painful uprooting.   When my eyes first focused on the scene-stealing dogwoods a few weeks ago, I knew that the spring runs of salmon would be in the river.    The next time I crossed a bridge, I looked down and saw the fleet of local fishermen in the aluminum boats — confirming the connection of tree to fish.    Even if I was only re-making an simple connection, I smiled with pride and momentarily felt that I might be finding a sense of place.  With a new tendril of a root sprouting into this earth.

Posted in Blue Heron Land | Leave a Comment »

Running Under the Radar

Posted by verywellthen on October 26, 2009

Below is a piece I wrote just before I ran my only Marathon — four years ago this month.

Running Under the Radar

On Sunday, October 9th I am running the Portland Marathon.   It will be my first and only marathon.  All the training leaves plenty of time to contemplate deep questions, none more reoccurring than “why am I doing this?”   In the pain of a double-digit run last weekend, I dredged up a suppressed memory which offered some explanation.

I remembered back to second grade, when a kid named Jeffrey challenged me to a race across the playground.  Jeffrey was the cruelest kid in the class and I was the slowest.  Hence, the terms of the race were that I was to run it forward and Jeffrey was to run it backwards.

As I stared at Jeffrey’s cool tennis shoes and then at my geeky Buster Browns, I contemplated for the first time in my life what a no-win situation looked like.  If I won the race everyone would say – well, jeez, Jeffrey had to run it backwards.  And if Jeffrey won the race, well, even no-win situations have worse-case scenarios.

Technically, I finished “in front” of Jeffrey —  which wouldn’t have been so bad except, remember, that he was running backwards.   So being “in front” of Jeffrey meant that he was crossing the finish line stepping backwards and pointing his finger at me in ridicule.   As I suffered the jeers and taunts of my classmates, I accepted right then that fitness, for me, would never be about competition.

The childhood notion that “running is playing” ended that day.  Running – as well as jumping, catching, throwing and even playing itself – was no longer playing.  It all became something to be judged.  For graceless boys like myself, it became a school-day fear to be picked deep in the gym-class draft.   I continued to join team sports all the way through high school, which I don’t regret.  But I have no delusions that I was ever more than practice fodder.  My father should be granted sainthood for all the games he sat in the stands to watch me sit on the bench.

The desire to play or stay fit never went completely out, but I would only do it below the radar screen of others.  My fitness choices as an adult have only been things I can do alone.  The community of me ran, hiked and pedaled long, slow and lonely routes in solitude.

If I dared shared the road or trail with anyone, it was under spy-like rules of engagement.

Rule #1 – Never invite anyone more judgmental than my dog.

Rule #2 – Make those that extend invitations to me feel uncomfortable by insisting that they wouldn’t want to exercise with anyone as sluggish as me.

Rule #3 – Even if someone made it past rules 1 and 2, the deal was off if the other person looked athletic.

If I were Rudolph, I would have withdrawn myself from any reindeer games.  I know the bumper sticker says that no one can make me feel inferior without my consent, but, when it came to fitness, I had pre-signed consent forms stashed in my wallet.  My running garment of choice would be an invisibility cloak, in moisture-wicking polyester, of course.

There has been no one to push me in my adult conditioning, and that has been by design.  There has been no taunting classmates or hot-collared coaches, nor the expectations of a father’s voice.  Instead, my miles of spinning wheels and shuffling shoes have been accompanied with more self-exploration than Gandhi.

Not only have I not competed against others, I also don’t compete against myself.  I have vowed to treat all personal bests, personal worsts and personal in-betweens the same.   The bathroom scale and the stop-watch are just other forms of judgment I don’t need.

Maybe I’ve taken the concept of “personal fitness” a little bit too personal, but I don’t think I am alone in my self-consciousness about exercise.  The jogging paths are filled with lonely runners.  There is a whole niche of “women’s only” gyms, in part to get away from leering eyes, but also to deemphasize competitiveness and tap into the supportive spirit of sisterhood.   There are always video workouts if even personal support is too much scrutiny.

As I worked my way through a low blood-sugar crisis deep into last weekend’s run, I considered that there was a third possible outcome to that second-grade playground challenge long ago.  I could have chosen not to have run at all.  It wasn’t really an option, even a grade school nerd knew enough not to turn down a playground dare.  I am proud that I grew up into someone who has continued to choose to run, with the only condition on my conditioning being that there be no expectations by anyone, including myself.

Why then, a three-mile-at-a-time runner suddenly electing to run 26.2 miles, and not even at gunpoint?  Well, several months back my niece emailed to tell me she was registered for the Portland Marathon.  I decided to throw my hat into the ring too, and convinced my brother to do the same.  If there is any family competition going on, I’m not channeling it.  I just decided that my running résumé needed to include one run, and only one, at running’s signature distance.

And maybe I’m recovering from the trauma of childhood ridicule.  I’m starting the race with family, though we’ll each settle into our own pace.  I might even go so far as to say that I’m challenging myself in this race and have even thought about my finishing goal (though I’ll be damned if I’m going to tell anyone).

So if the crowds come out to taunt me, I’m only going to hear it as cheers.  If a runner passes me running backwards, I’ll only smile straight to his face.  It’s not going to be pretty, but I’m not too concerned with the beauty of it all.  Running is only playing, after all.

Posted in Blue Heron Land, The Heart on My Sleeve | Leave a Comment »

Eats, Shoots, Questions God

Posted by verywellthen on July 14, 2009


Website shows a photo of a post-it note that says: “To God You Will Answer”.   Photo from Flickr site of Frank Beaton

Website shows a photo of a post-it note that says: “To God You Will Answer”. Photo from Flickr site of Frank Beaton

I saw a post-it note with a religious message stuck to a bus-stop sign downtown.   For reasons explained below, it amused me.  So I did just a bit of research.  My research turned up a Flickr page containing a photo of what I saw (minus one small detail):  

[<—- That photo — Not the one I saw, but similar.]

A comment to that Flickr photo says that these post-it notes are all over downtown.  And even though they look hand-written, they are pre-printed.

What amused me about the post-it note I saw on the bus-stop sign was the use of a comma.  It read:

“To God, You Will Answer.”

At first I thought it was an interesting typo.  But after learning that there are pre-printed (non-comma’d) versions all over downtown, it dawned on me that the comma was added later (I love subtle pranksters).    The comma’s shift of meaning  is way better than “eats, shoots and leaves”.   I wish I had taken a photo.

Posted in Blue Heron Land | Leave a Comment »


Posted by verywellthen on January 17, 2009

Image by Mr. Fix It


Some time back I wrote this essay. Many references within are Blue-Heron-Land specific, but you should get the picture.

Since writing this, I have shopped for and bought a new mattress. I correctly guessed, just by being in the store, which chain featured the annoying jingle cited below. The sales people were car-salesman pushy, and their shell-game pricing made my skin crawl. To answer their jingle’s question: you lost me from hello.


“Why buy a mattress anywhere else?”

When that insipid ditty from a TV commercial popped into my brain last week in the middle of grocery shopping, my first reaction after annoyance was one of gleeful spite. Despite the effectiveness of the jingle writer to get the irritating tune stuck in my head, I couldn’t for the life of me tell you the name of the furniture store that paid good money for the ad campaign. But then I realized that without knowing the name of the furniture company, I might accidentally buy a mattress from them. I could inadvertently contribute to the greater banality of society.

Like any good contrarian, I try my best to vote with my dollars. No purchase is made without a very involved and contorted balancing of values — of both the conscience and pocketbook variety. I’m always on the look out for an organic, shade-grown, cruelty-free, quality-made widget from a local, family-owned, environmentally-sound, fair-labor company with no ties, historic or otherwise, to Nazis, apartheid, third-world baby-killing, or Bill Sizemore, all at one low price-point.

Into that convoluted calculus throw in my desire to punish over-reaching advertising. My instincts tend to view advertising suspiciously — corporate America trying to manipulate me into a consumption choice based on something less than meritocracy. So, when the spirit moves me, I swing my quixotic lance at products and services backed with gargantuan advertising budgets and I even carry delusions that my shopping choices subvert the dominant paradigm.

But I carry a deeper vigilance against advertising that annoys me, regardless of the deep pockets of its origin. When I drive near a video billboard I place my hand over the windshield to erase the eyesore from my landscape. Advertisers on those intrusive public TVs should be thankful that I refuse to look into the eyes of Big Brother, for if I knew who was footing the bill for those things they’d make the not-in-my-lifetime list. But, then again, casinos aren’t my cup of change anyway. (Obviously, I must have peeked.)
With conventional billboards I usually avert my eyes as if they were Medusa.

Murals pose a tougher call. I kind of like the Thomason cherubs at the downtown end of the Morrison Bridge and I miss waiving to the six-story Altoids devil-woman that used to watch over my commute down I-5. So I won’t reject mural advertising out of hand, but my personal opinion and spending habits are not subject to the First Amendment or Oregon’s Constitution and I reserve the right to discriminate based on content.

For content is the basis for much of my discrimination in the omnipresent ads. Radio, TV, pop-up browser windows, movie previews, urinal stalls. It’s an advertiser’s world and we just live in it. But their products start acquiring backlash points quickly. Insipid tunes, bad acting, manipulative statistics, intrusiveness, stupid writing, crashes to my browser — just remember, I’m taking notes.

When advertising misses its intended goal to get me to buy a product and instead produces in me a conscious backlash, I refer to it as adverse-tising. “They’ll rue the day they adverse-tized that commercial around me,” I’ll say. And when I stand before the grocery I’ll enter it into my mental consumer calculator. Now, if only I could remember which brand of beer has those obnoxious twins.

Though I’d like to think differently, advertisers are on to people like me. I’m just a factor in a calculus of their own. If the ad brings in more buyers than it turns away, it’s a success. Advertisers have always been wary of creating adverse reactions through their advertisements. That type of mentality led to TV shows where Gilligan and the Skipper had a more intimate sleeping arrangement than Mr. and Mrs. Howell. My reaction isn’t any sort of William Bennett American values crusade. Mostly, I just want ads to leave me alone, though I wouldn’t mind better copy.

When I was a teenager I read some statistic that a certain percentage of viewers will find any particular TV commercial offensive. That stat included a base percentage of viewers who find all commercials offensive. Back then I wondered how anyone could be so cynical. Now I wonder how I got to be like that. After a lifetime of advertising, is it any wonder?

Posted in Blue Heron Land, The Junk Pile | Leave a Comment »

You’re My Favorite Thing – XC Skiing

Posted by verywellthen on November 12, 2008

When it rains here in Blue Heron Valley, it can sap one’s soul.  The clouds diffuse the already weak winter light, the wetness makes you shiver.   My strategy to stay sane in all of this is to think, if it’s raining down here, it’s snowing up there.

Up There is the Cascade Range.  Within a 90 minute drive of my house are several skiing areas.  Most winter weekends will find me heading that way for my favorite of all outdoor activities — cross-country skiing.  

I’ve downhilled.  I’ve snow-shoed (is that the present perfect tense verb of shoe?).  I’ve skate-skiied.  I’ll take an xc tour any time.  Workout, range, efficiency of snow travel, it’s adventure, fun, invigorating.  It’s also a fading sport.  Snow shoes have given a no-learning-curve option to snow exploration and few take the time to learn the basic skills of xc.  It’s not all that tough, but it takes a few outings to figure out a balance to at least trudge along.  I’ve been doing it over a decade and am hardly graceful — especially if you throw in some downhill.  

I take beginners up to the mountain as often as I can.   I endure the slipping and falling and the simplest of paths, so that others might engage in the sport.   I’m finding fewer takers.  

My one constant, never complaining companion is the Dog Electric.  She’s been amazing all these years doing double digit miles in deep snow without the benefit of skis.  She’s getting old enough that the hip pain sidelines her for days after a deep snow or long day.  If it’s both a long day and a deep snow, there can sometimes be trouble getting her home, and painful-just-to-watch gloom of seeing her try to get around the house the next day.  But I don’t want to stop taking her.  The joyful motions in the wayback of the WAYBAC machine when we hit snow line and the unbounded joy of her first hitting the snowpath means she loves it.  

I learned long ago that things to do that make my dog happy, make me happy.

Posted in Blue Heron Land, You're My Favorite Thing | Leave a Comment »

Portland Tap Water in Autumn

Posted by verywellthen on November 8, 2008

my-favorite-liquid-scan-3-croppedJust as Daylight Redistribution Time (taking from the daylight-rich part of the day and giving to the poorly-lit hours) ended here in Blue Heron Land, the rains hit.  A double-dose of extra darkness for non-morning people.  Autumn had been phenomenal this year, and the leaves were almost New England worthy.  But that all ended with the rain.  

Soggy leaves began clogging the civic plumbing, which brought to mind this piece I wrote more than a decade ago, as a newbie to this town.   It was in response to a contest in the local alt-weekly.  The subject was “my favorite liquid”.  I tied for first place with a tribute to urine (true).   

The badly scanned thumbnail is the artwork that accompanied the piece in the alt-weekly.  It might have been the only piece of visual art I’ve ever inspired.  Thoughtful Girlfriend of the Time hunted down the artist (Dennis Hauth) and procured and framed the original for my birthday.  


Historical Note: Henry’s –  in the piece below — refers to Henry Weinhard’s, a mid-sized brewery that dispersed a Grape Nuts essence of malted barley over downtown until its long-standing urban brewery closed in 1999.  Full Sail Brewery now brews beer under the Weinhard brand.



My Favorite Liquid : Portland Tap Water in Autumn.

Copyright 1995


            Shortly after the autumn rains began in full force, I heard an announcement on the radio from the Portland Water Bureau reassuring customers that their drinking water was safe, even if it was slightly off-color.  The color from the autumn leaves choking the storm drains of the city had bled into the water supply.   Upon hearing this news I went straight to my kitchen sink and poured myself a glass of city tap water.    I held the glass up to the light, swirled it a little as if I was judging a fine wine.  Sure enough: a pale yellow, the color of old scotch tape. 

            Perhaps, I thought, this could be color from the corroded city pipes, but the tinge seemed more golden than rust — more the color one would imagine if you leached the pigment out of the entire bio-mass of the cities’ leaves and diluted it with all the rain of a Portland autumn.  I left my doubt behind, I knew I was staring at a magical liquid, a spiritual tea of Portland.


            The tea is born of the life-giving rains of the Northwest, vapor blown off the sea and condensed by the Cascades.  In this solution, the rain is the solvent and fundamental  to the solute.  From it springs the lushness of the forests and the spires of tree lined avenues.   As these trees withdraw in the chill of the diminishing daylight, the chlorophyll-life of the leaf retreats with all its greenness, exposing the true colors of dying: the pumpkin-orange of oaks, the speckled gold of  maples, the blush red of cottonwoods.  The winds of change rip the leaves from their branches and blow them about without peace. 

            In time they settle.  In the streets, turned to paste from the tread of Goodyears and Michelins.  In the parks, raked and stuffed into man-size plastic bags.  In the forests, falling so lightly that even if someone is around to hear, they do not make a sound.   And also in ravines where running water can extract their essence and in rain gutters where backed up water can stew their juices. 

            Brewed in the clogged storm drains of the streets of Portland,  drained to the water table, pumped into the waterworks of reservoirs and water towers:  it is a grand industrial brewing process, on a scale that dwarfs Bridgeport, even Henry’s, and perhaps approaches Anheuser Busch. 


            I walked outside with my glass of water, to the misty rain, pelting me like gamma rays.  I plucked a couple of tumbler-size leaves from an oak tree and garnished my water with them.   While the leaves cold-steeped,  I stood in the drizzle, in the damp mood the makes necessary two other formidable Northwest liquids, beer and coffee.   When the drink was ready I raised my glass to the trees and beyond to the clouds,  and toasted this quintessential liquid of Portland.   Skip the Evian and the water purifiers, I said to myself as I gulped down the water, just give me this fluid essence of pure autumn.

Posted in Blue Heron Land | Leave a Comment »

Reading and Drinking Alone in Public Places

Posted by verywellthen on September 23, 2008

It was Friday afternoon a week ago and the weather was only beginning to retreat from hot to a comfortable warm. I had my book. I had my dog. I wanted sun and I wanted a beer. I chose the brew pub not too far from home that had an outdoor patio full of picnic tables.

Being a beautiful warm Friday afternoon, everyone else had chosen this place too. But everyone else who had chosen it, had chosen it with friends. There were no open tables, nor any open “halves” of tables. But there was a slot in the middle of a table, right between two conversations. I asked politely left and right if the spot was open and got permission to settle in.

Going out alone to a social place can be difficult. I’m probably in the lower percentile of conversationalists, though I’d gladly have joined any one in the bar that afternoon. But conversations tend to be closed circles, invitation only. But I like being out – somewhere besides my empty house. I like seeing new places, drinking from the many fine taps of my town.

So to get myself out there, I have my defenses. First, is my dog. I am not alone, I have a friend. From the masses, she gets affection. I get some conversation. In college the start up conversation was: name, hometown, major. With a dog the start up conversation is: name (of dog), breed, how old? Seldom do the humans exchange names.

The second defense is the book. I just don’t have to stare off into space or try to wedge my way into a conversation that I’m not invited to. I have a task: to read. A task I enjoy. That day, I was three months (or half way) into Moby Dick. The open air was filled with noise. The clamor made reading difficult and Melville is (was, will always be) obtuse.

The couple to my left waved over a friend who had just showed up. The newcomer sat across from me, and it dawned on me that if more people were joining this couple, I had over-encroached upon their space. So I sought re-confirmation of whether I should be sitting there.

“If you can read Moby Dick in this bar, you can stay right there.”

Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name. But sometimes you don’t get that. So take a dog and a book and you can stay right there.

Posted in Blue Heron Land, The Heart on My Sleeve, You're My Favorite Thing | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »