A Family Dinner

10 September 2010

Friday


One of my sisters was visiting from Michigan (one and the same sister who wrote the guest post Small Town America for this forum) so we had the rare opportunity to go out together as a family: two of my sisters, my father, and myself. As we age and circumstances spread us further apart on the map (not least the mobility of labor demanded by an advanced industrialized economy), chances to get together become increasingly rare.

My father knew of an offbeat seafood restaurant in North Portland (near the University of Portland and across Lombard from the Eagles Lodge) that we decided to go to. It is an unlikely and unpromising looking restaurant, with diner-like Formica tables and upholstered chairs with a metal frame (this is a poor description; I hope you understand what I am attempting to describe because it is crucial to the atmosphere of the place), but the food was great. The menu was simple but the fish was done to perfection. I had halibut, one of us had tuna, and two of us had salmon, and all agreed on the quality of the fish.

One of my sisters remarked that if one were visiting the Oregon coast that this place would be busier, both because people seek out seafood on the coast and not least because people would expect (or at least be more likely to tolerate) the “funky” atmosphere of the place. I agreed with this, and went on to suggest that it would also be busier if the same meals were being served in downtown Portland in a brand new steel and glass structure.

In any case, while not exactly sleepy, we walked right in and sat down without a reservation and without a wait, and were served an excellent meal for a reasonable price. So if you’re looking for an enjoyable seafood dinner in Portland and you don’t want to go to one of the pricey places downtown (together with a pretentious attitude that no one in Portland is entitled to adopt, though many do so without entitlement), and you’re cool with a slightly “funky” atmosphere, then I heartily recommend that you dine at The Fishwife restaurant at 5328 N. Lombard Avenue. Bon appétit!

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September Moon

4 September 2010

Saturday


This is a photograph I took of the moon a couple of nights ago. My camera isn’t really up to taking a good clear shot of the moon, but I wanted to preserve at least the memory of the image, however imperfectly. The color of the moon struck me as unique, not the silvery white of the full moon at top dead center of the sky, and not yet the deep orange-red of a harvest moon hanging low on the horizon, but somewhere on the continuum between the two.

A photograph is often as much a mnemonic device as a record: we take photographs to remind us of ourselves as we were, momentarily, or of something we saw momentarily. The photograph then becomes a springboard to memory and a trigger for stories that can be told of the events leading up to the image, of the captured moment itself, or of what eventually followed. In recounting our stories we elaborate on the imperfect record, filling in its deficit and making good, to the extent that we can, its ellipses.

This particular photograph is simply about the moment stripped of any context, which is irrelevant anyway. I stood alone as I took the picture; no events of consequence either preceded or followed the image I hoped to capture simply for its pure sensual beauty. I have no memory connected with this image except for the beauty of this September moon.

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A Serious Loss

12 June 2010

Saturday


After an unusually wet and rainy spring, today began clear and sunny. It is a beautiful day, and getting quite warm. I decided to go for a walk. I parked at the North Creek trailhead at Tryon Park in the Portland area and walked for about and hour and twenty-five minutes. When I got back to my vehicle I discovered that my vehicle had been broken into and my things had been stolen.

Of course I know that I was incautious and careless, and I have paid dearly for it. Knowing that it was avoidable doesn’t make it less painful, but rather more painful. The financial loss from the theft is significant, but more significant is the loss of my computer with all my manuscripts on it, as well as notebooks of ideas.

While it has been said that one cannot kill ideas, and in fact Sarmiento used this as an epigraph for his Civilization and Barbarism (which I discussed in Civilization in the Wilderness), and moreover once an idea is in circulation nothing can be done to eliminate it, including burning the books that mention it, in another sense an idea can be a very fragile thing, easily lost and easily destroyed.

We work on our ideas gradually, building them up one sentence at a time, one paragraph after another. In time, we have a coherent manuscript that we can use to communicate the idea to others. Until the idea is communicated, it is dependent upon its corporeal embodiment, whether that embodiment takes the form of ink and paper or stored electronic data. Today I have lost both, and because I have lost them there are ideas that I will never recover.

The loss I feel most at the present moment is a very long blog post that I was writing first in my word processor, with the plan to copy it into a post only when it was substantially finished. I don’t have a second copy of this, so it is probably a total loss. I was working on responding to some of the responses that I got from my The Loss of Objecthood post. I had mentioned that I had a lot of good ideas while I was in Argentina, and these were among those ideas. Also lost were my recently purchased books about object oriented philosophy, which were with me because of the research I was doing for the above-mentioned post.

Of course I will attempt to reconstruct what I can of this manuscript, but, as I noted above, some things will be permanently lost. There is a story that when Carlyle was writing his book on the French Revolution he loaned the manuscript to John Stuart Mill, whose cleaning lady burned it. Carlyle wrote it over again. There is also the story of Bishop Berkeley, who lost the manuscript of the second volume of his Principles of Human Knowledge. Unlike Carlyle, he never rewrote it. I often wonder if that manuscript is sitting in a trunk in some attic, waiting to be found.

In any case, thought goes on, as life goes on, but the loss remains and cannot be wished away.

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Goslings

20 April 2010

Tuesday


Another sure sign of spring in the temperate zone of the northern hemisphere: I saw a newly enlarged family of geese today, with an even dozen goslings. The four adult geese present were, of course, highly protective, but I managed to get a few pictures. The goslings are always moving so it is difficult to get a count. I thought there were eleven when I was taking the pictures, but when I counted in the photo later I saw there were an even dozen. Do you suppose this is an outing of two couples and their combined goslings?

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Mistaken for a Kiwi

11 April 2010

Sunday


'Anyone can spot an lrishman or a Yorkshireman by his brogue... but I can place a man within six miles. I can place 'im within two miles in London. Sometimes within two streets.' Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady, a twentieth century adaptation of the Pygmalion theme.

While I was born in Portland and have lived my entire life in Oregon (most of it in and around Portland), I find it curious that people often guess me to be from somewhere else, specifically citing my accent. Last night when I stopped for gas (Oregon law requires that you wait for an attendant to fill the tank) the attendant asked me where I was from. I said that I was born in Portland, and he said he was going to guess that I was a Kiwi. That’s a first time I’ve heard that one, but I have been guessed to have been from the American south and other places as well. I sometimes wonder if the fact that my father speaks English as a second language, and that many if not most of the people I have known in my life speak English as a second language, has “rubbed off” on my own speech, giving my “accent” (such as it is) some indefinable (and perhaps non-locatable) character. Where is Henry Higgins when you need him?

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Note added 17 April 2010

Less than a week after being mistaken for a Kiwi at a gas station, yesterday I was again mistaken for a Kiwi by a bank teller. Interesting. I have never even set foot in New Zealand, but maybe it’s just the exoticism of an unidentifiable accent that attracts a distant guess.

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Thursday


Although it was a rainy and windy day in Portland, the signs of spring continue to reveal themselves. Above is a blossom from a plum tree.

Here is a pink blossom from an unidentified flowering tree. probably anyone with a minimal knowledge of botany could identify the species, which correctly indicates that I lack even a minimal knowledge of botany.

Above is a blossom from a pear tree. Fruit trees give us the beauty of their blossoms in the spring, and the delectable pleasure of their fruit in the fall. I think this is what is called a win-win situation.

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Monday


You know you’re a redneck if…

I am told that there is a comedian who says that, “You know you’re a redneck if you buy your clothes the same place you buy your feed.” If that is true, then I am the very definition of a redneck.

I had to drive to Oregon City today, which is still within the Portland metropolitan area, but outside my usual sphere of errands. On my infrequent trips to Oregon City I often stop to Coastal Farm and Ranch Supply (the only one I know of in the Portland area) for one of my infrequent shopping trips for clothes. While I walked around the store I thought of the joke and realized that my shopping expedition was an affirmation of my identity as a redneck. So be it.

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More Evidence of Spring

21 March 2010

Sunday


A single cherry blossom taken from a tree outside my office, further evidence that spring is upon us…

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Textures of Spring

19 March 2010

Friday


Although spring doesn’t “officially” begin until the vernal equinox tomorrow, the textures of spring are already pervasive throughout our temperate landscape. Some deciduous trees can be seen with the dead leaves still clinging to the branches months after the life has been sucked out of them and returned to the living heartwood of the tree. I believe that the leaves above are a species of oak. I collected them today from a spot near the Portland airport, plucking them one by one from a branch not yet showing any sign of new life.

I thought it would be a fun (and quick) project to scan some textures of spring rather than to photograph them, as I would usually do, but I quickly found out that it takes more patience to get a good scan of a still life than to get a reasonably good quality photograph. So I have settled for a less that satisfactory job of it, since I don’t want to spend the time right now on getting this right. But the idea of scanning these natural textures appeals to me, and I hope to come back to it. Every day I pass a paper birch tree, and i recently noticed that it was dropping large sheets of its bark. I picked up some of these to scan also. This is not much different than scanning a paper document since the exfoliated bark of a paper birch is very literally like paper, thin and fine like rice paper.

The outside of the paper birch (next but one above) displays a range of shades from bone white from where it is weathered, to greenish where some kind of growth is beginning, to the mellow shades of the interior where another layer of bark has been, until lately, covering this portion, so it still looks like the inside bark. Where the inside tone meets the outside tone one can see a line of dirt where particles were caught between the peeling layers of bark, like the dirt caught in the crotch of a tree. I once made the mistake of using a chain saw to cut directly into the crotch of a tree in order to cut limbs off, and the recently sharpened chain was instantly rendered ineffective, dulled by the collected grit grown into the bark at the lower point of the “V” between the truck and a branch growing sharply upward. The inside of paper birch bark (immediately above) has a warm yellowish-brown color.

Every spring I have noticed a bush planted for fencing or screening that always puts up bright red leaves in the early spring. As the year wears on the leaves turn to a glossy green. Above are the newly emerged leaves, still red, scanned at 150 dpi; below are the same leaves scanned at 300 dpi. No doubt a landscaper would immediately identify the kind of fencing shrub that I mean, but I’m pretty weak on botany so I don’t know what it is.

Below is the graceful monocotyledon leaf of a soon-to-bloom tulip. I scanned a close up of the leaf to get the texture and grain of the leaf itself, but this didn’t turn out well. This is the sort of thing that might be improved by experience and experiment.

The glory of the spring primarily resides in the colorful blooms that briefly, all-too-briefly, cover our trees (at least, many of our trees), like enormous collective flowers that loom over out heads. I should have gotten more samples to scan, but I worked with what I had. The result, again, could have been improved with more trials, but the imperfect image here presented, like the the bark above, already decaying and hosting other growth even while it was falling from the tree, stained by dirt and bleached by the weather, demonstrates the universal truth of sic gloria transit mundi for all sublunary thing. Even as the petals of the bloom still cling to the tree, they begin to wither and even to turn brown, tattered like the wings of an insect that has lived beyond its span of weeks.

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Further Signs of Spring

27 February 2010

Saturday


Driving through the industrial districts of Portland today I enjoyed the sight of many trees in bloom.

I found one bee going from flower to flower — a single bee with thousands upon thousands of flowers with nectar to harvest.

And already, even as they bloom, the tiny petals fall to the ground in masses and look like a new falling of snow.

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