Ilwaco Saturday Market: our favourite photos from 2010

This is a beautiful little slideshow of photos taken on the docks of Ilwaco, Washington, where I spent some very happy days in my childhood.

Our Ilwaco

Every Saturday from May through September, I take a walk down to the Saturday market to take photos for the Discover Ilwaco page on Facebook.  With a row of restaurants, art galleries and charter fishing companies on one side and a marina full of working and pleasure craft on the other, the market teems with photo opportunities. Perhaps I post too many photos….bu I like to give each vendor a frequent showcase and I’ve found that some regular readers especially like the weekly parade of dogs.

Here, winnowed out for you, are my very favourite non-dog-centric Saturday market photo from 2010.  The parade of dogs will get its own moment of glory in a later gallery, as will my favourite photos from 2011 (perhaps divided into two entries; I didn’t expect to end up with, out of 600 photos posted in 2010,  124  that I found irresistible because of the…

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Northwest winter


You are sick of listening to me moan and groan about the unseasonal weather, and climate change, and all such hippie tree-hugger liberal talk, I know.  So I will zip my lip and say no more.



(Rhode Island has hardly had any snow this winter so far, by the way.  Our winter has been positively balmy.  I walked downtown with no coat – just a sweater – the other day.  The grass is still pretty springy and fresh in most places around Providence, and I’ve seen things blooming.  In January.)



(Oops.  Zip the lip.  Sorry.)



This winter reminds me of the typical Northwest winter: cool, cloudy, dark, often foggy and rainy.  It’s the kind of winter that engenders “cabin fever”: you stay inside with your loved ones, waiting for spring, until you just can’t stand them any longer, and then you get out the shotgun.



Dark foggy weather doesn’t frighten me.  I grew up in the Northwest.  It’s nothin’.  By April, we’ll be tearing off our winter underwear and dancing among the daffodils.  For now –



Well, but still.  You have to make it through the darkness.



A few years ago, Partner and I were driving through rural Oregon.  It was midsummer, and the hills were covered with beautiful firs and pines, and the sky was wonderfully blue.  “I could live here,” Partner said.



“Yeah,” I said.  “I’m picturing this in mid-December.  You wouldn’t even be able to see those hills, the fog would be so thick.  It’d get light around ten in the morning, and dark again by four in the afternoon.  From November through mid-February.”



Partner regarded me mildly.  He has only ever seen the Northwest in summertime, and I think he has only ever seen it rain there once, one day in Portland.  He doesn’t really believe me.



But oh yes it’s true.



(Oh, did I mention that it’s snowing in Egypt this winter?  Yeah.  Oh, and they’re having a huge and extremely unseasonal windstorm – with hundred-mile-an-hour winds – on the central Oregon coast.)






(Enjoy the future, kids.  It’s gonna be a bumpy ride.)


Maryhill Museum



If you drive eastward along the Washington side of the Columbia River from Portland, you will encounter dramatic shifts of scenery.  The forested hills of Clark and Skamania county turn craggy as you pass through the Cascades, and the cliffs grow higher on either side of the river; then you see an odd shimmer in front of you – it never fails – and suddenly you pass from the damp greenery of Western Washington into the deserty hills of Eastern Washington. 



The cliffs in the gorge are spectacular.  One of the most spectacular places is Wishram Heights, which overlooks (more or less) a stretch on the Columbia which used to be a tumbling rapids called Celilo Falls.  The damming of the Columbia filled the waterfall, and it’s a lake now.  (Don’t be sad.  Someday the dams will fall, and Celilo Falls will still be there.)



A wealthy railroad man named Sam Hill loved this stretch of the riverside.  He built two things here: a replica of Stonehenge, and a huge rambling house, which he named after his wife Mary.  It is a windy lonely place now, and it must have been twenty times as lonely when Sam and Mary lived here.



The Stonehenge replica is no mere reproduction; it is a depiction of the original Stonehenge, with all of the stones in place.  Klickitat County, Washington (Partner calls it “Clicketyclack,” just to peeve me) made it their World War I memorial; my great-uncle Dewey Bromley is commemorated on one of the upright stones.  (Dewey died on a ship, either en route to the war or returning from it.)



The big house is now a museum, with a huge beautiful garden, and a state park attached.  Sam Hill knew Queen Marie of Romania quite well, and ended up (not quite sure how all this worked) with a whole bunch of Marie’s stuff – her memorabilia, her traveling throne, her portrait collection, gifts from her grandmother, Queen Victoria. 



Oh, and Sam knew Loie Fuller too.  And ended up with quite a few of her things. 



Have I mentioned that all of this Byzantine treasure is on display in a drafty old house in a remote corner of Washington state, visited by few? 



I think a lot of people drive along that highway, above those really amazing Columbia Gorge bluffs, and suddenly catch sight of that big house and that bizarre circle of standing stones, and think: Did I really just see that?



But once you’ve caught sight of it and had time to wonder about it , it’s gone.  You’re in the wilderness again.



This must be a metaphor for something.  Let me think.





The Pacific Northwest breeds life like you wouldn’t believe. I’ve already mentioned slugs. Also coniferous trees (when I took “Washington History” at Battle Ground High in 1971 – a required course, mind you! – it was 10% history and 90% tree recognition).



The Northwest also breeds mushrooms, toadstools, and puffballs.



All of them popped up everywhere, in all shapes and sizes. Puffballs were my favorites: smooth stemless white spheres connected to the ground by a stubby little root. When they’re growing, they’re full of what looks and feels like damp styrofoam; in death, they wither into little brown dry bladders that emit a smoky cloud of spores when you step on them. Fun! (Some people eat them. I had them served to me once. Meh.)



My mother grew up eating wild mushrooms. She had only one test for poisonous / safe: if it was a white mushroom, and if you could peel the skin off its head, it was okay to eat. These she called “French mushrooms.” I was mistrustful of this, as it seemed just a little too easy. Then there’s the silver-dime test: if you cook your mushrooms with a silver dime in the pot, and if the dime turns black, they’re poisonous. Two problems here: a) no more silver dimes; b) all it proves is that there’s something in the pot with sulfur in it. Lots of people must have died for nothing over this one.



You know I love Betty MacDonald. As a real Northwesterner, she wrote about mushrooms a lot. In “The Egg and I,” she writes about collecting wild mushrooms and comparing them to pictures in her field guide to determine if they were poisonous. This line, for me, is the best thing anyone ever wrote about mushrooms: “Maybe it was, and maybe it wasn’t, so I tossed it into the pot.”



In her lovely last book, “Onions in the Stew,” she writes about gathering yet more wild mushrooms, and trying (unsuccessfully) to get her family to eat them, and eating them herself just to show them how foolish they were being, and going (temporarily) blind as a result.



Mushrooms must be awfully good, if they make us go to such ridiculous lengths. It’s understandable that they would want to protect themselves from us.



But, for true mycological viciousness and perversity, nothing compares to the things I’ve seen here in Rhode Island. I suppose it stands to reason: this whole area was pretty much swampland for millennia, and a little rain brings all the old inhabitants back.



Including some of most peculiar fungi I’ve ever seen.



One variety looks like a rotten head of iceberg lettuce, with a gooey interior. It lies on the ground and stares at you like a big rotten pink-purple eyeball.



Some are airy little spotted toadstools that look adorable and just dare you to touch them.



And then there are the beauties you can see at the head of my blog today, which I spotted outside my office building the other day. They are red, and beastly, and very – well, suggestive. “Nature is perverse,” my colleague Cathleen said while we were pondering them. “It really makes you wonder what God was thinking about when he made them.”



I could not have said it better myself.




Cascadian Literature 101: Peg Bracken


I’m making it my business to talk up the writers of Cascadia. (I’m a Rhode Islander now, but I was born in Washington state, so I hold two passports.)



I do believe that most Cascadians are a little nuts. Maybe it’s the rain, or the volcanic activity. And Cascadian authors are almost entirely nuts.



So let us now speak of Peg Bracken, Idahoan by birth, Portlander as an adult, who wrote two of the peppiest books of advice I know: “The I Hate To Cook Book” and “The I Hate To Housekeep Book.”



Her recipes are useful.



Her suggestions are profitable.



Her tone is tired, irritable, long-suffering, and very funny.



She was an advertising writer. She assembled a cookbook for busy women (with the help of her friends), and tried to market it, and was told more than once that the book was “terrible.”



It was published at last, with illustrations by Hilary Knight (if you have read any of the “Eloise” books, you know his work), and was a great success.



The recipes are simple and serviceable and terse and funny. While something is cooking, for example, you may be instructed to “light a cigarette and stare sullenly into the sink.”



The assumption, you see, is that you are busy.



The assumption is that cooking, when you’re tired and/or in a rush, is no fun.



I love cooking. But good cooking takes time and effort. And when I come home with Partner in the evening, I do not want to make canard a l’orange. I make pasta. Or couscous and vegetables. Or tacos.



So I devour the recipes that Peg collected, and laugh, and am rueful that she’s no longer with us.



Let’s have one more slice of Hootenholler Whiskey Quick Bread in her memory.





Cascadian Literature 101: Betty MacDonald


One of my earliest memories is of lying on the couch and watching the movie version of “The Egg And I” on a black-and-white TV. Even as a kid I loved the dumbfounded look on Claudette Colbert’s face when she first sees the dumpy chicken farm that’s her new home.



Betty MacDonald, the zestily brilliant comic author behind “The Egg And I,” grew up in a genteel but highly eccentric Montana family. Her first husband, a jerk, dragged her to Washington’s Olympic Peninsula because he wanted to be a chicken farmer. Betty did not want to be a chicken farmer, but she went along with the gag. She cooked and canned and kept house and had kids, and was (as you might imagine) pretty unhappy there. She broke up with Mr. Chicken Farmer at last, lived with her mother and sister for a while, got tuberculosis, got better, remarried, and moved to an island in Puget Sound with her new husband and her two chicken-farm daughters.



She transformed that peculiar life into amazing hilarity.



“The Egg And I,” in which she describes her childhood and her first marriage, is her classic. Among other things, it gave the world Ma and Pa Kettle. Far from being the clodhoppers they became in the movies, the Kettles were pretty interesting; they had too many kids and not enough money, but they were also smart and endearing. (I’m partial to the scene in which Ma receives a Christmas gift from her citified sister: an oil painting of herself in a low-cut gown. “Look at us!” Ma sneers. “With our dinners as bare as a whore!” She hangs the painting in the outhouse. That scene didn’t make it into the movie.)



Later, Betty wrote up her stay in a Northwestern tuberculosis sanatorium. It’s a chilling book, which recounts the medieval methods being used to treat TB in the 1930s, but Betty manages to make it funny.



And that was her genius, really. She describes misfortune and illness in great detail, but she makes it funny. She’s like a mother making a bee-stung child laugh, to take the pain away.



Her last book, “Onions In The Stew,” about Marriage #2, is mellow and sweet. (My friend Apollonia, a big MacDonald fan, is especially fond of the handyman in “Onions” who misses work because he has “back door trouble.”)



Betty died a month before her fiftieth birthday, in 1958.



She is one of the pillars of Cascadian literature.



Children: find her books where you can. Ebay, used bookstores, whatever.



And someday soon I’ll tell you all about Peg Bracken.





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