City Crows

Dear Liza,

For such a big city, Portland has a large animal population.

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Bubbler Crow

We see this when the ‘dog parade’ heads from the neighborhoods to Laurelhurst Park for their evening walk. Cats greet us from sunny porches as we pass, and chickens talk amongst themselves when we go by Sunnyside School.

The squirrels, of course, have the best commutes ever, up trees and across power lines, chittering at everyone who will listen, but freezing on tree trunks to become invisible.

But by far the most vocal and numerous animals are the crows. Unlike their more reclusive cousins the ravens, crows thrive in close proximity with humans, and some even enjoy our company. And it’s not just people in general; studies show that crows remember certain humans, reacting positively to those who feed them and negatively to those they see as a threat.

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Queen of the Crows?

There is a lady who walks every day in Lone Fir Cemetery, bringing a large bag of dry cat food, just to feed the crows. She loves their attentions, and they love her, too! She is like the crow’s queen.

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Crow in the Artbar

The art in Portland reflects this affection (some might even say a fixation) with crows. This painting greeted us last week at The Artbar downtown.

And Laurelhurst hosts a fair few of the feathered fellows, as well.

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Laurelhurst Crow

I like having all these living critters in the neighborhood. Since I have fewer small people to talk with, crows and cats can be good conversation. Also, learning how critters get by and help the area (eating all that fallen fruit, for example) lets me see the neighborhood as an ecosystem rather than just a bunch of houses.

Love, Grandma Judy

Curiosities at the Cemetery

Dear Liza,

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Handmade Ouija board and pointer

People say that if you can laugh at yourself, you will never cease to be amused. That being said, most people don’t expect to get laughs at a cemetery. But Lone Fir is different.

Yesterday, after visiting the graves of the Parrott family, we found this: A handmade Ouija Board, complete with the little pointer for reading the “messages”, all made out of typing paper with a ballpoint pen. There are some scratch-outs, but mostly, it was a good job, considering the people who made it were probably kids. Both pieces were laying right by the grave of Elizabeth and William Saturley, who died in the 1870s.

This find took a slightly darker turn when I learned that “Zozo”and “Pazuzu” are the names of spirits or ancient gods. The two have nothing in common except for both being mentioned in the 1972 movie “The Exorcist” (which scared me senseless in high school).  I wonder if the Saturleys were relatives of the kids, or chosen at random.

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And speaking of random, we ran into this stone that says, in neat lettering, “Random Person.”. We can’t figure out if it was made as charity for an unknown person in an unmarked grave, or for someone with a sense of humor who wanted to remain anonymous.img_2309.jpg

Dale Jones and his wife Helen, who died in the 1990s, had several stones marking their graves. One, a highly polished bench. revealed their busy lives and sense of humor. “This wasn’t in my schedule book,” says a bench by Dale’s grave.

 

 

Like I have said before, cemeteries give perspective. It’s nice to know that even when facing our own ends, we can have this perspective and lighten everyone’s load a bit.

 

 

I hope this post was more funny than spooky. People are weird.

Love,

Grandma Judy

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Bench at the graves of Dale and Helen Jones

Real and Make Believe

Dear Liza,

Death gives us perspective.

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Make Believe

You and I have talked about Mr. John Steinbeck, how he was born in Salinas, lived a long and busy life, and then died, and is buried in the Garden of Memories. Knowing that there was a big part of the world that happened before us, and will be a long time after us, lets us see ourselves as a piece of the world.

This month at Barbara Kadden’s funeral, Death was right there with us, by her grave under the bright maple trees. It wasn’t dressed in a long black cloak, but silently standing up from its usual crouch in the dark corners of our minds, letting us see it clearly for a few hours.

And now it is Halloween, and pretend-Death is all around. Bony hands reach up from make believe graves in flower beds and grim reapers swing on sunny porches. They seem to say “See? It’s really okay. It’s all in fun.” IMG_0129.jpg

But the peaceful dead at Lone Fir, Home of Peace, Garden of Memories, and River View Cemeteries disagree. “Not in fun,” they say. “We really lived. Some of us for only a few months, some for over a hundred years, and then we died. Those we loved mourned us. It is not fun, but what is.”

I think people love Halloween because it lets us toy with Death. The Great Mystery becomes a costume to wear or a movie to watch, to make it small enough so it can be thought about safely. It is a way of thinking about the unthinkable.

And I’m okay with that.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Visiting the Dead People

Dear Liza,

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Lone Fir Cemetery in the afternoon light

This afternoon Auntie Bridgett and I went for a walk to the Lone Fir Cemetery. We got sad news earlier this week, that the wonderful “Tour of Untimely Departures”, a rare night time, storied tour through our lovely pioneer cemetery, would not be held this year. It takes too much staff and too many resources. I am so glad we went last year or we would have missed it forever!

So we went to say hello to the dead people during the daytime. It was before dinner, and the sun was low, but still bright. I showed Auntie Bridgett where the sweet chestnut tree is, and while we were admiring the squirrels’ good work at cleaning out every single prickly shell, an elderly oriental man came by, gathering the horse chestnuts. He said they are good boiled or cooked over the grill, but I am still not convinced.

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Giant spreading Chestnut tree

We wandered around, appreciating the stories the headstones tell. The art and symbols, some over 100 years old, are beautiful even in decay. Weeping willows show peaceful rest, a drape over a stone urn shows separation between the living and the dead. Clasped hands mean a final farewell.

There was a stone showing a couple, Doll and Elton Mack Phillips, with a charming line drawing of them between their names, with their “sunrise” and “sunset” dates. I would have liked to have known them, I think. They look like fun. img_0913.jpg

We saw a long narrow stone that had been there so long the letters were perfectly filled in with moss, but no dates or details. Just “Smallbone”. That will take some researching.

We saw the headstone of Victor Hugo O’Rourke, a cook in the 65th Regiment of the Coast Artillery Corps. He died in 1918. His name makes me think his mother was a French Literature teacher and his father an Irishman. But my imagination sometimes runs away with me.img_0925.jpg

And then this bronze marker caught our eye because it was so detailed and crowded with symbols. Mr. William Scott died in 1901 at the age of 46. According to his bronze marker, he was a Knight Templar. But the Knights Templar went inactive after most of them were massacred by Pope Clement V in 1312. On the other side of the marker was a large anchor and rope with a shield and the letters. A.O.U.W., which stand for The Ancient Order of United Workmen, a branch of the Masonic Organization. This man obviously had a full life and a community that must have mourned his passing.img_0926.jpg

 

As always, we came away from Lone Fir rested and with a sense of perspective that sometimes gets lost while staring at screens in research or learning to use new equipment. Knowing that we all will go someday allows us to see each day as a gift rather than a chore.

Love,

Grandma Judy

 

 

More Mosaics

Dear Liza,

As I walk around Portland, I see more beautiful mosaics. Maybe because the materials can be recycled things like broken dishes and tiles, or even bits of machinery, mosaics are a popular medium for public art. Also, these materials are strong enough to last outside, winter and summer, even through Portland’s wet and dry cycles.

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At The Children’s Museum

Some of them are group projects, like those outside the Buckman School or inside the Sunnyside School. These have an informal feeling and are very friendly. Looking at them, you can almost hear the kids and adults chatting and joking as they put the tiles in and get their hands goopy with grout.

At The Grotto

Other mosaics are extremely complex and delicate, showing real artistry in their design and execution. These beautiful works of art, out for everyone to enjoy, need to be respected and protected.

I give major credit to many of the local businesses and organizations for sponsoring the artists of these wonderful works. They make Portland not just weird, as the bumper sticker says, but more handmade, more personal, and more beautiful.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Recently repaired headstone at Lone Fir

Good things happening at Lone Fir

Dear Liza,

Yes, you remember correctly, Lone Fir is out local cemetery. So what good things could be happening there?

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Vandalized Headstone

Well, to start with, a unique headstone that had been vandalized has been repaired. Paul G. Lind, a young man who died in 2005, was a computer programmer and Scrabble fanatic. His family and friends remembered him by creating a beautifully unique headstone, decorated as if it were a Scrabble board, with words to describe him. By the time I saw the headstone last year, however, all the lovely tiles had been chipped off and stolen away by vandals. But now, it has been repaired and looks even better than the original.

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Repaired Scrabble Headstone

I stopped to chat with a happy young couple standing by one of the arbors, surrounded by Mylar helium balloons of animals…raccoons, a tyrannosaurus, a hedgehog, and the like. I had to ask, “What’s up?”

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Proposal with woodland creatures

“She proposed!” The young man shouted, holding up his left hand with a lovely ring.

His bride -to-be explained. “He always said his perfect wedding would be in the forest with just the animals around, and no people. But I like these people,” she gestured to all the headstones. “They don’t tell you what to do.” I am guessing they may return to celebrate their wedding…or maybe choose a more formal cemetery, like River View, across the Willamette.

The last new headstone I visited memorialized Andrew Brian Loomis, who was a local musician. He played drums with a band called The Dead Moon for 28 years, dying at the age of 54 of cancer. His stone is carved with his name and dates, and he is remembered as a cherished son, brother, uncle, cousin and friend, and the motto, “Life is good ‘sept the parts that suck.” The name of a local music and dance club, Dante’s, is included.IMG_9500.jpg

The grave has been recently decorated with crow feathers, a wine bottle, a ceramic dog, Mardi Gras beads, and other items that seem to tell of a life lived for music and fun. I am happy to know that his friends and loved ones, and even fans, still celebrate him.

And that’s what’s happening with the dead people!

Love,

Grandma Judy

 

 

 

Believe it or not…

Dear Liza,

I know it has been, and still is hot here, but fall is definitely on the way. This morning there is a slight chill in the air. Some leaves are starting to turn. Kids are shopping for school clothes.

And the chestnuts are getting big. Last year was my first year in chestnut country, so I was just fascinated by these armored, spiky, golf ball sized nuts. Bridgett and I marveled at them and, when they started falling, collected about 30 pounds of the smooth,  mahogany colored things. We loved their color, their impressive size, and their smooth surface, like polished wood. We had big plans.

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Part of last year’s lovely, but useless, chestnuts

We would enjoy their beauty, maybe even make ornaments out of them, then roast them and eat them! “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire” would be ours!!! Bwahahaha!

So we researched the best way to roast them, not having an open fire at our disposal. Hmmm. Turns out, there are two kinds of chestnuts….horse chestnuts, which you CAN’T eat because they are poisonous, and sweet chestnuts, which you CAN. The leaves and tree shape are the same. How to tell the difference? The differences in the wooden looking nut are slight and I was never sure which was which. I wasn’t willing to bet my health on it.

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Green hulls of sweet chestnuts

But the differences between both the flower and the green hulls that grow outside the woody part are very clear. The sweet chestnuts have flowers that are spiky, and green hulls that look like Muppets. The horse chestnuts’ flowers are rounded, and their hulls more like a medieval spiked mace. So this summer, we have made note of where each are growing.

Oddly, the poisonous kind are much more common. Whether it is a difference in disease resistance or just accidental, the people in charge of planting them, probably 50 years ago, planted a bunch of ‘conkers’ you can’t use. The only sweet chestnut tree we have found is near the entrance to the Lone Fir Cemetery. I walked by today and admired them, promising I would return when they fell.

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Green hulls of horse chestnuts

We still don’t have an open fire, but we have a lovely gas oven. We will adjust. And Nat King Cole will be playing.

Love,

Grandma Judy