Words to Stand on: Trust, Work & Footprints

•May 7, 2013 • Leave a Comment

From an ode to a passing of a cat back to posting images from a photo series in progess:

The last photos  I shared from the Words to Stand on series brought up our connection to animals and the ocean and to fighting hunger. These images, all taken in California, are more about human behavior and self-actualization.

121210 WSO letters_hm. JPG

I met Brenda in Rialto, California. She came from Las Vegas to a memorial service for Spencer’s sister. Then I met a few of Spencer’s old friends and asked them to give me a couple words too.

130209 WSO Brenda-Trust-784 bw

130209 WSO Brenda-Trust-770 - V2bw

130209 WSO MCarthy footprints 667BW

130112 WSO Annie 984 +bw



Julie knew what she was going to do. She took me outside
with a quote from “For the Children,” a Gary Snyder poem.

…To climb these coming crests
one word to you, to
you and your children:

stay together
learn the flowers
go light


130117 Baja Mini camping 371sbw

We spend a lot of our days working. It is means money, time, identity. Maybe it is a calling or brings joy to others.  Perhaps it just pays the bills. Years ago I read an interview with Matthew Fox, who wrote the “Reinvention of Work.” It made me think about how fortunate it can be to find a balance and some harmony between what you do for work and what you like to do. And all the luckier to be able to go beyond our navals and checkbooks to attempt to make a dent on making the world a more just tolerant and balanced place.

When Julian, an eager vendor drove his van full of blankets, dresses and jewelry up to our campsite on Playa Requeson in Baja, I had a proposition for him. This was his second visit. I asked Julian if he’d take part in my experiment.  After all, we bought a blanket from him the day before and didn’t have much more room in the Mini Cooper for more stuff.  Julian quickly decided what to put on the board, “Mi Gusta Mi Trabajo:” 

130218 WSO Julian Trabajo-503BW adj sm

I think he came back the next day too, but as much as we we’re tempted to support Julian and this local business,  we didn’t budge.


No paws on the stairs

•May 5, 2013 • 9 Comments

Yesterday we lost a good friend.

I keep expecting to hear creaking wood and the soft thunking sound of paws on the stairs.

up and down in the morning

up and down in the morning

He’s part of the house and he knows it.  Fourteen or fifteen years ago he wandered in with some neighbor kids. Not long after that, Burgess, veterinarian, friend and minister for the day of our marriage, told us to chop the balls off the cat as fast as we could. Spencer explained it wasn’t our cat.  Apparently that wasn’t the case.

He’ d be on the bed by now, if he chose to. It might be a by the foot morning, or a more interactive start to the day, with  some rubbing and purring that turned to a cat’s head resting on the laptop computer in competion with writing or reading.



Cats. Dogs. Pets. We’ve been talking to people about their animals the last couple weeks. Particularly  about the decision when to pull the plug.

The cat is just a  part of the daily landscape. We have our rituals. We’ve adopted shared habits and accepted each other’s, as much as humans and pets can.

But when you have to pick the day….

Victoria, veterinarian and wife of Burgess, agrees she learns a lot about people and couples when it comes to dealing with their animals.

It comes out; something does in the way we deal with the creatures that live with us.

After all, the pet is a witness, all be it a silent one. He’s been there though ups and downs, the nasty stormy days and sunny mood lifting ones, changes and losses, and rough times with two-legged smartphone carrying humans, 24-7.

The cat represented continuity.  Sure it can be hard to find house sitters traveling as much as we do, but he was always there when we returned from Bolivia, New Zealand or the fishing grounds,

Some friends said just do it, end the suffering. Several people quoted Victoria’s use of a bell curve when thinking about when to put a beloved pet down—when the decision makes sense in relationship to the quality of the animal’s life. It is a like a “gift,” she says, making this choice for the pet.

Others talked about how much agony the end of their pet’s lives caused them. One friend admitted in a condolence call, that was also about moving gravel around in our yards, that the end made her not want to get another pet.

I visited some friends with a cat in kidney failure. We sat and talked by a small kennel, while the cat sat inside, thinking or not about what we’ll never know. For two weeks the cat hasn’t eaten, but she comes out, attempts to drink some water, purrs and plays with shadows on the wall. She seems not well, but quite alive.

Pet euthanasia brings out how we relate to loss, death, change, relationships and making decisions.

I think I have deep trouble letting go.

On  rainy day, I paused by a ladder, after a walk in the rain & the cat hopped on my shoulder....

On rainy day, I paused by a ladder, after a walk in the rain & the cat hopped on my shoulder….

Bukowski, the name we used for him, rejecting Captain Crook, the name, he had on the street and when he lived with the neighbors who lost interest in him (they got a bird), had a nasty tumor. It kept growing, but he kept purring and eating. He continued to sit by me as I clicked away on the computer and he did lap time while Spencer and I watched yet another episode of one series or another on Netflix. Bukowski’s street name, by the way came from the crooked tail he was born with, but also such a part of his life and ours we saw no need to talk about it.

We treated him to morsels of special foods, venison, chicken and local fish.  He couldn’t chew his crunchies anymore.  He didn’t seem to mind the special treatment or the extra lap time, as we grew hyper aware that our years together were winding down.

Spencer was ready days before I was to give the cat a rest.  I clung on longer.  When I got the guts to call it, Burgess came over. House call. I reminded and asked him how many people get married by the same person who puts down their cat?  He liked that, “the spectrum of life.”

1. 120705  Sitka Bukowski tulips+_3870S

Maps, Stories, Hijinks

•May 3, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Before heading to Cambodia in a week or so I wanted to share a work in progress.

Last year I started collaborating with Elise Pepple, a clever partner in hijinks, on a series of live storytelling events. Then Elise started talking about maps (which I love) and not just telling stories, but as she says, “making them.” When I try talk about making vs. telling sometimes it comes across as a tad too abstract and obscure, but read on.

Ellen and Elise

Ellen and Elise (photo by James Poulson)

The Other AK is an experiment in narrative tourism. It is a place-based audio map that aims to highlight local culture of Alaska. A lot of times maps show historical landmarks. Our mapping project includes stories that are universal and local. They might be from a newcomer or an old timer. The stories could be about taking a risk, going through a transformation, falling in love, experiencing racism, or struggling through a hard time.

Here is the map a local artist, Erin Matthes created for us. It is a series of paintings.



This is one of stories, from Peter from our live storytelling event, “In Sitka.”

peter0408 s

Cathy, shared a story of what it’s like to be a black woman in a mostly white, partially Alaska Native small town, and get her hair done

One of the things we did as part of thinking about the community was to consider not only what is here, but what isn’t. I collected wishes from locals for things they wished they could do here in Sitka, AK

Then Elise vicariously fulfilled some of the wishes. She visited a gallery in Maine, complete with a burning pineapple, drank espresso in a cafe and attempted to go maple sugaring. She brought back Dunkin Donuts coffee to Sitka and offered it to the community.

The next step in making wishes come true: throwing a surprise techno dance in Sitka.

130417 Other AK Techno KCAW S

We used social media and a visit to KCAW, Raven Radio to announce the party. Then the station played three songs and we had a quick dance.

130417 Other AK techno elise S

Tecnho Dance Party at Old Harbor Books (Photo by Melissa Danville)

Tecnho Dance Party
at Old Harbor Books
(Photo by Melissa Danville)

We’re going to create a website that combines stories with the map.

The project is made possible in part, so far, by a grant from the Alaska State Council on the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts to artchange, inc and by local support ranging from the tip jar at the local soda fountain to donations from the Rotary, the Grind and the Greater Sitka Arts Council.

Our experiment in Sitka is a pilot. We want to take this project, map, stories and hijinks to other communities.

Words to Stand on: Oceans, Horses & Hunger

•May 2, 2013 • 1 Comment

130124 WSO Loreto letters 0717 sjpg

In December 2012 I started collecting what I call, “Words to Stand on.” Three to five words stating a concern, sharing something that is important to the person or couple with the letters, who is willing to let me snap some images. This concept or issue, I add when I invite people to take part, could be something we don’t talk about enough.

130124 WSO Maricruz y Martin -Ammors BW S762

I am releasing them intermittently.

130301n WSO Alexis 384 BWs

As we wandered away from Alaska this winter and into Baja, (and back again) social issues slipped into passions. What triggered this change? It might have been my tone, chance or the simple reality of traveling towards places with a bit more sun and light.

This is Jason, who loves the ocean and surfing. He’s a an amazing woodworker, a boatbuilder and cabinetmaker. Now he is combining his passions and designing and building hand crafted wooden surfboards.

130105 WSO Jason 694 BWs

We walked out to the beach near his house, in Port Orford, Oregon.

130105 WSO Jason (sign) 704 bwS

Jason live there with his wife, Nicole and his son Rowan. I wish I’d asked them to take part too, but it was a quick visit and I waited to the last moment. Nicole had been up all night at work in a medical lab. In the morning before she went to bed, we walked Rowan down the road to school.

130205  OR Nicole Rowan 610 BWs

I think Rowan would have done something with rocks or minerals or an image with his one of his Dad’s handmade swords. I’m not sure about Nicole, who makes beautiful art postcards and envelopes and has a uniquely joyful laugh that sticks with me even when I haven’t heard it for years.

Siamak is fascinated with animal behavior. He’s studied it all the way to a PhD in Anthropology with a focus on Evolution, Behavior, Ecology and Cognition. Here at home in Monterey, CA, there is evidence that he lives this passion too, with his collection of living and stuffed creatures.

130201 WSO Siamak Animals-450 - V 2BWjpg

As well,  Siamak eagerly shared his ideas, pulling out books and beckoning us to the laptop show us short videos with for example what crows and ravens will do to crack a nut. Watch here.   In this version, his partner Alexis, helps wrangle the four-legged models.

130201 WSO Siamak Animals-506bw

In Mulege, an oasis town in the Mexican state of Baja California Sur, we discovered another take on four legged critters. After crossing a tough stretch of post-hurricane road,  we found a restaurant in the sand. As we had a late breakfast by the beach, we learned a lot about the dreams and disappointments of the Yolanda, the sister of the woman managing the restaurant. When I asked her for some words, this is what came out:

130116 WSO-Mulege -Dogs 309 - V3

We did notice a lot of dogs wandering the beach.

Returning to the realm of social issues, in Big Sur we met Doc Mishler, a grizzled 70 year old cowboy crusader and cancer survivor. He is combining a deep concern over world hunger with a love of horses. He’s turned into a long journey. Doc told us his ride, on and off for the last decade,  across the U.S. of A with three horses. He sees himself as an ambassador of God, with a commandment.  “Every day fifty thousand children die of hunger and hunger-related illnesses.  This is unacceptable.  I ride for them.”

130131 WSo Doc 230 sv2 rev

Doc writes in his handout, “the money we and the churches spend frivolously belongs to the hungry child; the money we spend on WMD and war belong to the hungry children of the world.”

A final note for Mini Cooper fans.  These images were taken while traveling in and living out of our 2006 British Racing Green Cooper for six weeks.

7 Weeks, 7,000 Miles in a Mini Cooper from Alaska to Baja

•February 24, 2013 • 6 Comments

It started on a clear morning in August:

I was running a minute or so late. Living on an island with fourteen or so miles of paved road, I tend to leave about the time I need to be at a place.  Video gear loaded in the car, personal floatation device on top of the camera, tripod, sound. Heading for a  video shoot for a PBS documentary to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Alaska Marine Highway, our state ferry system.

I drove around the local roundabout in a rusting red Subaru Legacy wagon with mold growing around the edges of the windows and caught a glance of a perky green Mini Cooper with a for sale sign on it.  I like to bike and walk and have a rule, much like a New Year’s resolution, to drive four wheels when hauling people or gear and to walk or bike as much as I can. In the past, it tickled me when someone would stop and offer a ride because they didn’t think I owned a fossil fuel guzzling vehicle.

Along with a love of my legs and a trusty bicycle was a recurring thought that it would be fun to have a car that started when you turned the key. A set of wheels that didn’t  look ready to drive to the dump or to a demolition derby.

Hours later, after returning from the film shoot, I told Spencer about the Mini. Used cars in good shape with a decent price tag can go fast here.  In fact, when someone gets ready to leave this island town the questions on what they are keeping and what they are selling can come soon after they let out the news.  The Mini, keep in mind, was not just another Ford Ranger , Subaru Wagon or four doored bubble car dotted with dents.

We went to take a look. The Mini Cooper was still in front of the auto parts store with the sign telling us it was a 2006, very clean with a little over 50,000 miles. A lot of locals seemed to notice us. I got a text soon after we got there from a friend asking me if we were serious or just looking. That’s what happens here when you do something public like look at car on the side of the street on a dry summer evening.

Spencer knew about that other side of me, the side that wanted to have a little fun and turn the social justice button to mute or pause.

Sitka. Home

Sitka. Home

About 4 months later we were on the road. We drove the Mini Cooper on to the ferry and a few days later  hit the pavement  in Washington, then Oregon and California, into Baja and back again.  7 weeks: 5 437 miles in the car and about 2,000 miles more on the ferry from and to Alaska.

121225 Mini EF Paul B - V 2

Since we got the Mini Cooper and took it on the road, in some urban places, we blended in and spotted Minis –minus the lump on the roof with our camping gear-quite frequently. In other places, or when someone caught our license plate,  we generated  questions, smiles, and comments including:
“That’s not an Alaskan car.”
“That’s not a Baja car.”
“Not much room for a road trip.”
“That’s a city car.”

130117 Baja El Requeson Mini 368 - V 2

To read a commentary called “Bicycling in Rubber Boots,” written for an on-line magazine years ago, click here.

To see more images of the Mini Cooper on the road trip from Southeast Alaska to Loreto Baja,  click here.

On the road, we visited family and friends, camped in the woods and on the beach, stayed in roadside and waterside motels. We checked out a couple photo exhibits, hiked and drove down the coast in the rain. We consumed lemon meringue pie and onion rings on Christmas Day at the Palm Café, on 101 in Orick, California followed by Tex-Mex on Valencia Street in San Francisco and quesadillas that we made with fresh tomatoes and avocados by the Sea of Cortez.

121224 Orick CA pie 803

130125 Baja Quesadilla 781

We heard stories of barely getting by and stayed in motels where the empty rooms far outnumbered the full ones. In Baja, there were also far more Canadian tourists than ones from the U.S of A. Spencer described Baja as “empty.” We had a hunch, underscored by some worried comments we got about safety, that the decline in U.S. tourists was not just the economy, but a fear of drug cartels.

Tecate, Baja Californiaand a border wall with the U.S.

Tecate, Baja California
and a border wall with the U.S.

Back to California: there was a week going in and out of a convalescent home with a memorial service for Spencer’s sister.  The motorcycle from last year’s adventure we tried to sell, but didn’t.  Queries that didn’t turn into reality.

We wandered through malls, witnessed natural beauty, endured traffic and drug, guns and immigration checkpoints and stayed behind a gate in a 55 and an over RV park.  We petted and threw toys to dogs from Huskies to Chihuahua mixes.  The times we loaded and unloaded the car partially or totally are beyond count. We broke a wheel bearing on roads we should not have traveled.

Meant for a Mini Cooper?

Meant for a Mini Cooper?

Spencer, I ask, ” What will you remember?”

He replies, “Waffles,(because so many seemed to be offered to us on this trip), your cough, the Mini Cooper.” He is saving the long answers for others, I can tell.

130211 Jueau Waffles _202

As we traveled, Spencer was tickled to be able to witness the changes in trees. Spruce, hemlock, yellow cedar becoming red cedar. Then mighty fir trees, redwoods, tan oak, madrone, Oregon white oak changing to live oak. Royal Palms planted on boulevards. Then Sycamore, tumbleweeds, huge varieties of cacti, changing from lowlands to the mountains in southern California and Baja.

130106 Ventura Royal palms 514r

130127 Catvina Cactus 160

130127 Catavina Walk 148 - V2

He turns the question around, “You?”

“Camping at Big Sur and in Baja,” I reply.  “A stormy Christmas morning in a motel overlooking the  Oregon Coast.   The herons, grebes, pelicans, turkey vultures and egrets on the beach.   The Elephant Seals at Point Lobos.” He reminds me to add feeding the tuna with a fisheries biologist in Monterey, CA to the list.

121225 OR X-mas photo 422 - V2

130127 Baja Birds 077 -V2 - Version 4

130105 Point Lobos Elephant seals

030201 Monterey Fish 335

130104 Big Sur Sand 184

I pause and continue, “Lots of public time. Living out of a car. Laughing with cousins. Seeing kids growing up. Including the height checks to see how close they are getting to passing me.”

It was like a slide show on super speed. It was a Rolodex of family and friends.

Carl & Ramona

Carl & Ramona

Abel. Ida Cooks

Abel. Ida Cooks

Kyla Mae, Julie & Spencer

Kyla Mae, Julie & Spencer

Where are the lessons and epiphanies?

We filled the car tank 21 times and discovered our mileage was closer to 25 mpg in most situations rather than the 32 we hoped. Our Spanish is rustier than we’d like. Since we live in a temperate rainforest, days with out rain are deeply appreciated. As is being anonymous. Though I wondered if some kind of cover was blown when I noticed a woman repeatedly looking from the display of yogurts to me at Trader Joes’ in Bellingham. Just as I was starting to feel like someone in a witness protection with a blown cover, she came up to tell me she loved my hair.

Living on the road, with a small car, shopping gets old.

We’re home now and the lists are back. I didn’t blog much on the road, because we were on the move and visiting people so much–except a few entries to a photo series called “Words to Stand On,”

I look out the window: there is a bit of snowy slush on the ground and the Mini is parked. Inside the cat’s been purring a lot  and  it is time to stick a loaf of bread in the oven, but I’ll post because if I don’t do it the present will splatter paint time and memory.

Rustic Motel Bed

Words to Stand on: Water, Jesus, Ka’Ching!

•January 11, 2013 • Leave a Comment

One to three words to express what matters, to share a concern or issue. The photo series continues.

130101 Kyla animals 700

Here are some of draft images.

130105 Couple Paradise +270--- - Version 3


130108 WSO Gitesh Water 916 - V2 - Version 3

130108 WSO Gitesh Water 916 - V2 - Version 4

I have notes on scraps of paper and  ideas floating through my head to add words around the photographs. But there isn’t time.

130104-WSO Bill tech div-954 - Version 2

We (Spencer and I) are on the road in a used Mini Cooper traveling from Alaska to Baja and back. A maze of family and friends. Christmas on the Oregon coast.  New Year’s eve in Marin. Camping in Big Sur. Brainstorming and walking with anthropologists in Monterrey.  A memorial service in Rialto, CA.  Visiting a giant mall on Christmas eve to see what the experience would be like and surprising ourselves with the Indian food we found in the food court. Helping my brother-in-law organize his overstuffed corner in a convalescent home.

130110 WSO Carl  Jesus 888

These images are a mix of people we know and people I just met. I feel like a stalker at times: studying and observing people, hoping they don’t notice. I watch, ponder, torment myself and then approach them.

130009 WSO Ramona 756 - Version 2


More words. More editing to follow.

Words on the Road: Family, Carbon, Memory…

•December 31, 2012 • Leave a Comment

121224 WSO Reedsport Family Diane  293What’s important, what matters to you, what concerns you continued.

121224 WSO Reedsport Family 314 - BW 2

Economy Inn, Reedsport Oregon

Diane hesitated about being on camera, but not about what mattered to her. She reached for her most recent family photo, taken the day before. Meanwhile, her husband was talking motorcycles with Spencer so I asked him to join in. We were the only ones staying that night, Christmas eve, at the motel they manage.

121224 WSO Reedsport Or Wide 340 - BW

Highway 101 south of Port Orford Oregon

Prehistoric Gardens, created by sculptor E.V. Nelson

121224 WSO OR Carbon 353 - Version 2

121224 WSO Reedsport CU 375 - V2BW

The garden was closed, but you can see a few more replicas of extinct dinosaurs that we didn’t see–inside the gate on squidoo.

We travel on. Some days I don’t ask anyone to share a concern or tell me about what matters. Then I do.

121228 WSO Bolinas Abortion W 547

Bolinas, CA

Moments after I ask her to take part in what I call an “experiment,” Cricket tells me she knows exactly what her concern is.  She explains after I lower the camera that there are too many people on earth. We  could take better care of people if there were less of us. “Half” she says.

Next: Peter. He had the ‘o” in place. Letters all in a line.  Cricket, his wife, said, “let me change something.” She took the board, moved the “o” and handed the board back to Peter. The dog was not disturbed.

121228 WSO Bolina Memory 569