An Open Letter to Northwood Industries

We now have a new Airstream trailer sitting in the upper meadow. We haven’t been able to go camping for the last two years because it was so difficult for my wife to get in, out, and around in the Snow River. Between her Congestive Heart Failure, and back injury, making the four very tall steps up and into the coach was bordering on the impossible. The last time we went camping, I asked her to come out and sit with me by the fire, and she said she felt trapped.

Oh, so not good. Heart-crushing.

We needed a more-accessible trailer; and search, visit dealers, tour coaches, and look as I might for a Northwood or across-the-street-from-Northwood trailer, there just is not anything now in the lineup that’s workable for access. Not even close.

Widening the search, we began to look at other brands, beginning with cost-conscious decisions and moving up from there. I looked at a Bigfoot, and wow, everything was just perfect for access. Until I got to the bathroom. No room to move around, a little narrow entrance to the shower, all combining to make it a dangerous place for anyone needing disability access.

Meanwhile, we have decided to stop regretting the sale of our 2000 Arctic Fox 26J; remembering that at the time we felt it was getting tired, and we had wanted a trailer with a big back window so as to be able to enjoy the outdoors from inside. The Snow River was the result, and it has stopped being what we needed in a trailer.

I’ve now found that in the Airstream, and I don’t care what it costs. Her happiness and us being able to go camping again is paramount.

I wish Northwood could somehow read this (on their website, there is no way to contact them via email), because I want to leave them with some possible competitive advantages which would be useful in their business. I offer the following suggestions not as a gripe session, but in a positive manner of feedback in the hope of getting Management to listen to an ever-growing segment of our population.


Dear Northwood.

I regret to inform you that you have lost me as a Customer.

Not for any quality issue, but for simple ignorance of a growing segment of our population as us “Baby Boomers” age, become less capable, but still have the spirit within us that wants to get outdoors and go camping.

I have enjoyed my ownership of Northwood products for the last 18 years, and have been proud to have owned an Arctic Fox and a Snow River.

But I needed a replacement trailer which has better access for the impaired and disabled, and you do not offer anything. Not anything even close, although I did tour and research the entire line of your coaches, plus many, many others.

I submit that if you were to pay attention to this segment of our population, you would be handsomely rewarded in sales. Not everyone wants to have “bigger, longer, wider, taller, heavier”. There are those of us who are looking for a good-handling trailer that offers nice amenities (like the Fox line) but in a smaller, more efficient, footprint.

And that is the key: You are sacrificing efficiency; in looking for ‘the next big seller’, you are getting lazy in your designs.

May I suggest you dust off your Arctic Fox 26J plans from the 2000 era and take a good hard look at what those trailers provided:

  • Only two steps up into the coach
  • A nice, wide place to walk, everywhere – even around the bed
  • Accessible bathroom, with plenty of room around the toilet, and a shower that was easy to step into
  • A comfortable couch and dinette with chairs that you could set anywhere
  • Lots of nice, large windows
  • Only 8′ wide – making it easy to maneuver in tight spaces
  • Enough ground clearance for bad roads, not off-roading and fording three-foot-deep creeks, as all seem to be made for, now
  • Low to the ground and low center of gravity – this was the best-handling trailer I have ever towed, with the exception of the one I have just purchased.

Maybe you’re not old and creaky enough to appreciate the above, but I gently assert that someday you will be.

You likely have the plans and the jigs still available. The choice of what you do with them is up to you.

With deepest regrets at having to leave the Northwood family,
Steamguy

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Old Guy Stories – in other words: “Yarning”

I had breakfast with my best friend of all time a while ago; I’ve known him longer than I’ve known my wife. And we had fun swapping stories.

It occurred to me that while they won’t fill a book, these are things from the nineteen-fifties, -sixties, and -seventies that we’ll never see nor hear of again; and they really should be written down and shared.

They won’t be in any order, and I’ll add to this as I think of things. Just like any old-guy yarning.

Okay, away we go: Get a cup of coffee and pull up a chair at the table.

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When I was an Apprentice Mechanic, the “Service Station” that I worked at had a clientele ranging from the most disadvantaged to the well-to-do doctors, lawyers, and other professionals. We also made a good business of caring for antique cars. Our place was at the bottom of a big hill, a hill where all the “nicer” houses in town were built. The hospital was also up there, one block up, and two blocks over.

Doc Turner had two Cadillacs: his was a ’62, Cadillac Black of course, and a true Sedan de Ville – a two-door sedan, with those big, heavy doors. Hers was a ’66 Sedan de Ville, a blue 4-door with a white roof. I knew where he lived, so one afternoon he asked us to run his car back up to his place, and please park it in the garage; leave the keys on the back counter, the back door’s open. No problem, Doc. We’ll have her back in a couple hours.

Driving that car was like piloting the USS Saratoga – ye gods, it was HUGE. And of course any little push on the gas would bring that giant V8 to life, and the car would shoot forward. Doc even had a piece of foam glued to the front of the gas pedal to help in controlling it. Even so, the hills tamed it to a point where it was a pussycat crossing the flat streets. I got up to his place, and as I turned into the driveway, I saw that the garage was TINY. And it had her Cadillac in the left side of it!

Oh lordy, now what…? I did some careful looking, as that big car rumbled at idle. Would… it… fit?

I looked back and forth for a minute, the car idling. Well, it just might

I carefully eased forward. There was about an inch and a half clearance between the front right fender and the edge of the garage door, and about the same amount to her car, on my side.

My heart was in my mouth. I for SURE didn’t want to scrape up Doc’s beautiful black paint, and marking up her baby blue Caddy would pretty much guarantee that my name would be Mud for years to come.

I started to enter the garage, listening for sounds which would ensure my doom. A tortoise would have easily won a race with me, I was going so slowly.

The front fenders began to penetrate into the shadowy interior of the garage. Then what seemed like ten minutes later, the base of the windshield entered the shadows. All the while, there was just this little tiny bit of clearance, and so far I hadn’t hit, bumped, or scraped anything.

What seemed like another dozen minutes passed, and then somehow I had the car most of the way into the garage. I switched on the headlights to see exactly where the wall was, and began to ease into position.

It then occurred to me that I had no way to get out of the car.

I started to think about taking off my shoes and socks and how I’d climb out the window, then make my way backward, one foot on each car…

I then looked to my right, and noticed the side door of the garage was starting to line up with the passenger’s door. And that side door was open. …What’s more, it looked like if I parked the car just… right… the car door would line up with the outside door, and swing outward, into it.

Now I started to look back and forth between the front wall of the garage and the passenger door, judging the swing of it against where the car was starting to get close to the back wall of the garage.

I chose a spot to stop, set the parking brake, and switched off the engine. My heart slowed, and I started to breathe easier. The door looked like it lined up pretty good, and I figured I could move the car a little bit if my guess was off too far. I pulled the keys and slid across the seat to the passenger’s door. Moment-of-truth time. I carefully opened the passenger’s door, and it swung outward. Outward toward the side of the garage door’s frame. NO! I grabbed it just in time, stopping it just before it would have banged into the garage’s side-entry door framing.

I stepped out of the car, and had just enough space between the car and the wall to stand up, reach the passenger’s door, and close it, and then squeeze past the car to step out the door. Doc was a really tall, lanky kind of guy, what we used to call ‘a beanpole’. He had to be sixty or seventy, and was in marvelous shape. I figured that he could get back into the car pretty easily, with me parking it this way. But dang, I had to tell the boss about this before anything blew up on me.

I found the back door standing open, just as Doc had said; so I dropped the keys on the counter where they couldn’t be seen from outside, and began the hike back to the station. All the way back, I had plenty of time to think about how I’d parked that car, and lots of time to worry about the consequences.

As soon as I got back, I found the boss and told him I’d put the car into the garage, next to hers. His reaction wasn’t what I’d expected: “Good. You didn’t scratch either of them, did you?”

“No-no-no! But holey cow, it was a real sweat to get that car into the garage!” At that point, he began to chuckle. “Good for you. I figured it was time you got yourself a little character built… That garage was made for two ’39 Fords to fit side by side, and it’s some feat of driving that neither of those cars has not a single scratch on them after all these years. Can you imagine doing that every day? But I’d bet that’s how Doc Turner stays so fit! He has to do all those gymnastics every time he wants to get in and out of his car. So, did you see how it works for HER car?” I admitted that I was so scared that I’d done something wrong, that I forgot to look. “Well, with hers, it’s kind of the same thing. Her doors are a foot and a half shorter, so she just parks so that the door swings out against the side of the garage, and then she just steps right outside from the car. I don’t know what they would ever do if they forgot and locked either of those garage doors.”

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One afternoon, we’d finished up a restore-to-drivability service on a little Ford.

A 1955 Thunderbird: 22,000 miles. Original, unrestored, in that salmon pink color. (Yeah I know, but remember, it was the 50’s.) It really didn’t look like anything special, just another car that was twenty-some years old and that just sat most of the time. It was the early part of summer, and the owner was going to be driving it periodically again. And the car was perfect, exactly the way it came out of the Ford factory, every part original (well, except for replaceable stuff like the fan belt, wiper blades, and spark plugs).

Anyway, it was done, we didn’t want it just sitting there in the lot, and so it needed to be delivered. I spoke up first, and the boss relented.

“BUT!!” He spoke with great sternness, getting right in my face: “I will NOT give you the keys unless you promise one thing.”

Sure, name it.

“Every intersection, and I MEAN EVERY INTERSECTION, you STOP COMPLETELY and LOOK BOTH WAYS!!”

Ooookayyyy… and this is … why?

“Almost every one of these cars that’s been in a wreck, has been T-boned. It’s because you can’t see out of them, to see if anything’s coming to the side! NOW, PROMISE ME!!”

Yes, sir, I promise.

“WHAT are you promising? Tell me!”

That at EVERY intersection, I will stop and look both ways.

“NO! You will STOP COMPLETELY and look both ways! Say it!”

I will stop completely and look both ways.

“Do you PROMISE!?!”

Yes, I promise.

“All right then. Here’s the key.”

I went over to the little T-Bird and threw in a towel to sit on, then sat and carefully swung in, so as to not touch the door or the frame with my shoes. We were careful around all antiques in this manner; that’s one of the reasons we had a good business in them. Meanwhile, we’d done a good job here: she fired right up and that little V8 settled into a smooth idle.

I closed the door and sat up into driving position. Holey cow, NOW I saw what the boss meant. Although my head didn’t hit the inside of the roof, the front edge of it came to well below my eyes. I had to hunker down to see out the front. Carefully I eased the gear selector into Drive, looked around to clear the lot, and made for the side exit of the station. I stopped at the edge of the curb and looked both ways. Clear.

I eased onto the gas and began to ease my way out. I heard the boss yell, “Good job. That’s the way to do it. Now do them all like that!”

It was kind of cool, driving a little car like that, even though the wheel was huge in comparison with today’s cars that have power steering. This did not, and even so, it communicated the road surface nicely back through the wheel.

I made it to the top of the hill. Stopping completely, I checked both ways as I signalled for a right turn. Clear. I eased onto the gas and rolled forward.

Exactly one block.

Then I stopped again, and looked both ways. Clear. Satisfied, I rolled forward. This car was fun to drive; I bet it’d be a hoot on a country road.

But I remembered my solemn promise, and stopped completely at the next intersection, which again was exactly one block. And I looked both ways.

Onward I rolled, stopping at each and every intersection, remembering my promise.

Twelve blocks later, this was starting to get really tedious.

And repetitive.

But I’d made a promise, and dammit, I was going to keep it.

I stopped at the next intersection, and looked both ways. Again.

Clear. Or so I thought.

I was just about to take my foot off the brake, when something caught my eye from the left: it was a car… and not just any car; it was a great big old Buick, the kind made with about ten tons of iron, coming downhill REALLY fast.

The guy hadn’t seen me, because the T-bird was so low.

He zoomed through the intersection at what had to be a good 35 MPH in town (where are the cops when you need them…), with the speed boost from coming downhill for so long.

Then I realised, that if I’d started through the intersection, I would have been T-boned. And probably hurt really badly. Not to mention that it would have been my fault for really screwing up a customer’s antique.

NOW I was scared. I had about ten blocks to go.

There is no way to express the relief I felt when I finally pulled into the Customer’s garage, put the T-bird in Park, set the brake, and switched off the engine. I pulled the door down behind it, went to the house and hung the key in the secret spot by the back door; all as instructed.

Towel in hand, I began the walk back to the station. The shakes had finally quit by the time I walked in the garage; I found the boss and told him he was absolutely right. And why. (And I also knew that if any of our customers were around to witness this, that the story would get back to him sooner or later.)

To his credit, all he did was nod sagely.

 

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We had an important Customer who needed his ’63 Lincoln Continental 4-door (yes, the suicide doors) started. His wife was going to be driving it, and it wouldn’t turn over.

Three of us got into the service truck: the boss, the shop manager, and me. We had everything we needed to get it going, as that car tended to sit for long periods of time between being run.

We arrived at the house, a smaller, unassuming place, but with a big single garage. Inside slumbered the Lincoln.

The boss went to the door and got all the keys; I was standing by with a hand oiler (that’s the proper name for the trigger-pull oil can you hold in your hand), and gave both the lock and the handle a shot, holding a rag underneath to catch any drips.

The door screeched open, and I went to work on the track and rollers. Up and down twice, and it was silent.

Now the guys came in to get the car started. The boss opened the door, pulled on the headlights… and nothing. So the battery is indeed dead; so that’s where we start. He pulled on the latch to open the hood.

It’s important to note here that on those years of Lincolns, the hood opened from the back. That meant we all had to be careful about not bashing it on the ceiling as it opened, and because it couldn’t be opened all the way, that inhibited access to the battery. And the jump cables had to go across the fender. I brought in a cloth to cover the fender, then went back outside.

I stood there outside, biding my time as the guys got the battery hooked up to the Start-A-Car and made ready. A couple shots of gas down the carburetor throat, plus a few more to get gas into the fuel bowl, and they were ready to try it.

The shop manager stepped back, took the long cord from the Start-A-Car that ended in a control button on the end, and put his thumb on it; the Start-A-Car clacked loudly as the relay snapped over and fed about 80 amps to the battery. He gave the boss the thumbs-up.

The boss turned the key, and that big Lincoln engine  started to turn over, slowly at first, then picking up speed as oil got to the engine bearings… CHOW—-WOW—-WOW—-WOW—-WOW–WOW–WOW–WOW-WOW-WOWOWOWOWOWOWOW….

Nothing. The boss let off the key so the starter could cool for a minute. The shop manager let off the control button and the relay in the Start-A-Car snapped back with a loud THUMP.

Outside, I could see them both looking at their watches, waiting for about 45 seconds to go by. Then the clack and the thumbs-up again.

Again, the same drama with the starter growling; this time the shop manager gave a couple of shots of gas straight down the carb, as the top of the air cleaner had been left off for just this reason.

That big engine almost caught; it tried to clear its throat, but there wasn’t gas coming to the carb from the fuel pump yet. That gas tank was a long ways away.

A couple more shots of gas down the carb, and the engine caught and ran on its own, but it was really rough; it was going TUHHHHH–TUH-TUH-TUH—TUH-TUH-TUH-TUH….and then it began to hit on more and more cylinders. Finally it settled into a roar, and the boss let off the gas to let it slow down to the top step on the choke; to high idle. Meanwhile, I’m outside and I’ve moved upwind, because the Lincoln is smoking heavily. I saw the shop manager disconnect the Start-A-Car and begin to pack it up. He put the air cleaner cover back on, and spun the wingnut home to put it all back in place. Leaving the fender cloth in place, he came out of the garage with the Start-A-Car, and just as I was helping him put it back into the service truck, we saw…

The backup lights on the Lincoln came on.

The shop manager exclaimed, “What the hell…?”

The hood was still up.

We jumped out of the way as there came a tremendous CRASH, as the Lincoln’s hood caught on the garage door. That monster motor, even though it was still a bit sick, had plenty of guts to move that big car plenty fast from a standing stop.

The boss stopped, then drove forward into the garage enough to let us get the hood down somewhat. It was plain to see, even in the dim light of the garage, that things REALLY weren’t right with the front end of that Lincoln.

The boss backed the Lincoln out into the sunlight, and we could see that the whole front end of the car was about half ripped off. It was at about this time that the owner’s wife came out of the house, having heard the noise. Both the shop manager and I quietly stepped to the far side of the service truck; we knew what was coming, and this gal had a real temper. And we’d just screwed up her all-original Lincoln.

After the thunderstorm subsided, it was decided that the shop manager would drop me off at our service station so I could go back to work, then he’d meet the boss down at the local body shop and give him a ride back.

The story has yet another twist: the boss took his wife’s car over to where the Lincoln lived so the gal could have a quality ride for the weeks it would take to get the Lincoln fixed. Now, the boss’ wife was known for a less-than-sunny disposition, and we all knew she gave him hell every night for having to drive one of our station cars around for the duration of the repairs to the Lincoln. Our station cars were clean and everything worked okay, but they all were just on the edge of being ‘beaters’.

I never saw the Lincoln again, although I did have occasion to see the body shop manager from time to time. I learned that the damage to the Lincoln was something in the nature of $1,600; which would be probably about $12,000 today. But consider: that was at a 30% discount, because we did a lot of business with him. So the real nature of the damage would be about $15,000 today.

 

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Here’s a couple from when I was a kid. My folks loved going camping, and Dad saved up the money to buy a 12′ Aloha travel trailer; and we went so many places with it. My older brother quit going with us at some point; his loss…

The sleeping arrangements consisted of the pull-out couch across the back of the trailer, a hammock above it, and the de-luxe fold-down dinette in the front. I always thought that was the best spot.

We had a German Shorthair Pointer; her name was Maisie, and she was a good and quiet companion. One Sunday morning, my Dad was in the process of getting up: he’d swing his legs over the edge of the bed, then take whatever time it took to fully wake up. This particular morning, Maisie was anxious to go out, and from the front of the trailer, I could hear her anxious pacing – her toenails clicking back and forth – while she waited for Dad to get up and take her out.

Suddenly, my Dad lets out with a groaning expletive, let me just say it wasn’t “Jiminy Crickets”. This was the expletive he deserved for really bad situations. Mom instantly came awake and said with alarm in her voice, “What’s wrong?”

“The… dog… farted…!! Ohhhh…” Another long groan. “Oh, this one’s WORSE!!”

Mom and I instantly dissolved into giggles, and they got far worse when Dad said, “Dammit, it’s NOT funny!!” Both of us had to pull the covers over our heads, because although my Dad would never, ever, have struck either of us, he did have a bit of a temper when things went bad.

And my Mom seldom missed an opportunity to tweak on him…

Once, they were working together on our new house, and Dad hit his finger with the hammer. Of course, a number of expletives followed. (Huh, maybe that’s where I get it.)

Mom was right there anyway, and said to him, “You know how you can keep from hitting your finger with the hammer?”

“No, how?”

“Hold the hammer in both hands!!” Dropping what she was doing, she quickly ran away.

I still remember the glee in her eyes when she told me about it later that same day.

 

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We had one mechanic who was really good, although to look at him, you’d never know it: he was a hairy block of a guy; goofy and good-natured. John’s methods were unconventional, but he got good results.

I was working the front one afternoon, and John was doing a brake job on a great big Buick. The right rear drum was stuck on, and no amount of hammering would budge it. I came in from outside to see John holding onto the drum with both hands, then placing his feet on the body of the car, on either side of the wheel well. He was four feet off the ground.

Thinking, this isn’t going to end well, I answered the driveway bell and started back out.

Right then, that brake drum popped loose, and John’s superhuman effort propelled him backward… Right into the window from the shop to the front office.

The window exploded with a giant CRASH..

Broken glass and shop chalkboard and office display pieces flew everywhere.

We all came running at the sound, only to find John, unhurt, standing up and shaking glass out of his hair, saying, “Wow, I guess I made a mess! But I got that brake drum off!” And it was still in his hand.

John’s next check was quite a bit lighter.

 

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Another story about broken glass:

We had a plumber who was a good customer, and we maintained his truck; which was his ‘office’. Between calls, sometimes he’d come in and borrow our phone for a few minutes. But this afternoon, the phone rang and it was him – the brakes on his truck had quit working, could we fix it right away?

I took down the details of his truck, then went to the boss. “Of course! Tell him yes.”

Back at the phone, I got an arrival time, then hung up and checked with our local suppliers to see who had brake parts for his truck in stock. I hit pay dirt on the second call, then hopped in Old Red (one of our station cars and trucks, the ’49 Chevrolet Standard pickup) and off I went.

Meanwhile, the rest of the day went on pretty much as usual, except that it was a cold day and we had all the bay doors pulled down to keep in the meager amount of heat for the shop. These doors looked just like firehouse doors; they had six panes of glass across and eight high, with the bottom panel being painted wood (because if it was glass, we’d always have to be cleaning it).

The plumber called again; he was on his way.

We cleared the far left bay (the one with the heavy hoist) for him, and left the door down. I started watching out for him, while cleaning up from a different job.

Suddenly there he was out in the street, waiting to make the left turn and up into our lot. I saw him gun it – that was the way he always drove – and bump-de-bump, he was in the lot, and heading for the far bay.

Suddenly I saw his face go white and his knuckles on the steering wheel tighten to a death grip.

I yelled, “Clear the bay!! Run!! He can’t STOP!!” And we all flew from that bay.

I just made it around the front side of another car, and turned back to see him hit the door at about 10 MPH, all that mass of tools and stuff in his truck making it into a battering ram. There was a tremendous BOSHHHHH!!! as most of the glass panes in the door broke, and glass fell inside and out. The door, being made of flexible wood, was surprisingly unhurt.

The guy had been slammed into the steering wheel (remember, no seat belts then), but he was okay. And he had the presence of mind to shut the truck off and jam it into gear.

It took a few minutes to sweep up all the glass (he helped) and get his truck in.

We spotted him farther forward on the lift than normal, remembering an incident from before I worked there – The same kind of thing, a plumber, but with a little Dodge A100 van. The back was all full of tools and stuff, and when the guys took the front wheels off, it was enough weight loss that the van literally tipped backward and slid off the lift, landing vertically on its bumper. It was trapped between the hoist in the air, and that same garage door. A picture even made the paper at the time. They had to break several panes of glass in the door to allow a tow truck to slowly set the van down forward on the floor.

The day ended with the boss calling the insurance company, and me going down to the lumber yard to pick up several pieces of plywood to cover the openings in the door until the glass could be replaced.

Reflections

I have seen the world below
swaying in the wind
from the side of a 100′ telephone pole;

Flown gracefully over salt water, the boat and sails in full song,
a bone in her teeth,
and us laughing and shouting for joy like madmen.

Travelled near, not too far
but with a depth of immersion
and hearing the shout of Creation:
God is; GOD IS!!

I have sat on the dune tops, the noise in my head deafening;
the surf even louder, and absorbing the eternity of the scene,
and the depth of the simple lesson, “Be still and know that I am God.”

I have been in agony of spirit
for worry about the arthritis
which painfully
twists and
distorts
my hands;
to be reassured by Jesus the Carpenter,
who worked with tools passed on to him
by his earthly father:
“I do my best work with old tools.”

Young:
with a crewcut, riding a bike with a friend, us discussing the spring time change:
“it’s such and such a time now, but it’s really this time (an hour earlier).”

One particularly bad dream where
I’d dreamed I’d found my father
dead,
and tearfully crying out,
“Daddy… Daddy…”;
only to find the light in my little bedroom suddenly snapped on,
and my Dad right there, quietly accepting my arms
tight around his strong neck.

And they were there for my next step in life,
Mom and Dad sitting proudly as I gave and received vows
with the most important person in my life.

Learning how to be
a good husband;
stumbling a lot at it in the beginning,
but always being thankful to God for her seemingly infinite patience.

And together:
We have been to the top of Mount Constitution,
thrown a camp stove into a river because it was on fire;
dragged our tent trailer across part of a river
to camp on an island,
walked to the side of an incredibly vast overlook,
only to have our contact lenses fouled
by the heavily dusty updraft at the edge;
sailed on every class
of BC Ferry:
from Dogwood
to Queen of Cowichan,
to Spirit of Vancouver Island.

Had our arms around each other
as we watched salmon spawning in a creek,
shared many other adventures
all rich in memory
and still our depth of sharing in love increases.

Life is change, and we are changed by it;
Yet we change together with it.

And we
Live,
Laugh,
And love,
Together.

A Poignant Story in a Rain Shower

Up where I work, it’s a drier micro-climate. There always seems to be plenty of sun, wind, and nice days.

This afternoon, a squall rolled through.

The smell of rain on dry soils and sidewalks brought a memory back to me, powerfully. Being of a certain age, I seem to have a number of stories which need to be told. And this is one of them.

My Mom died of metastatic breast cancer, back in 1978. The cure was worse than the disease, then.

It was to be her last trip to the hospital, and my Dad of course was there to lock the house behind them, and then to follow them to the hospital.

You need to know that my Mom was a person of the outdoors. She loved camping, she loved the outdoors; if nothing more than to sit and watch Nature being Nature. She was an accomplished gardener, with the beds around each of our houses making all into showplaces. Color and texture, variety of height and presentation, those were abundant in the art she applied to living plants, both inside and out. She was one of the region’s premiere flower show judges, and to have her frequent flower arrangements in the house brought a touch of the genius of design with an eye to natural presentation, so very unlike some of the ‘flower arrangements’ available at flower shops.

A person of the outdoors. A person who enjoyed the look of Nature, and being out in Nature.

Because of her disease, she had been trapped in the house for some time, with some trips to the hospital. And now she was going to the hospital for the last time. The attendants tenderly placed her on the gurney, and gently rolled her out the front door, to exit the house that she and my Dad had built; going out the front door for the very last time.

And suddenly, it began to rain. Not a drizzle, not a deluge, but one of those rains which spot your clothes and give you wet polka-dots. The attendants said to her, “We’ll hurry, we’ll keep you from getting wet”.

“No, wait,” she said. “I want to feel the rain on my face.”

And so they stood for several minutes in the rain, those normally in-a-hurry ambulance attendants with my Mom; and my Dad standing patiently nearby. And my Mom got to feel the rain on her face for one last time.

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.

So I very seldom anymore complain about the rain.

Nor do I try too awfully hard to duck in out of it.

That Daily Challenge

 

Challenges are a part of life.
Sometimes it’s just
the act of getting up after pressing ‘snooze’ only once …
and sometimes
it’s soldiering on when
things hurt
and ache
and protest every move.

But the challenges call to us
begging us to meet them;
things we do, because we must.

Sometimes
these are great and spectacular things;
for instance, my (much younger) work colleagues have a different challenge: biking that trail, running those miles today…
and sometimes
the challenges are quieter, subtler;
but no less of an obstacle when seen from the right viewpoint:

one more day in defiance of the obstacles presented by aging,
helping another deliberately turn away from crossing into the despair of a chronic illness.

We are made for Hope;
we are made for answering
‘Yes’ to God,
the spark of life within us
unquenchable.

The call for each of us
is unique,
an encounter to be met
in the way that we are the one person who is equipped to meet it.

 

I still go out every night to heed that call;
out to read,
out to pray,
out to think,
out to be quiet
and know that He alone is God.

But sometimes I feel a reluctance;
the weather is harsh, inclement, cold wind-chill numbers;
I’m going to get cold and wet, and my arthritic fingers are going to hurt.
But I go.
For a few minutes, at least.
And after coming in, I reconcile myself to the sunroom
where it’s warmer and I can still feel a part of outside.
And I had a reward:
the warm indigo tones of an Alpenglow.

(I caught the colors in a way that shows how sometimes you have to fool the camera’s sensor).

But now I’m inside, my fingers are warmed up and working, and God is as just as present here as everywhere else. 

Acts 17:27-28:

27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’

Thankful to be working from home after a heavy snow

The last few days, we’ve had some little bit of snow; just enough to show an inch or two. Nothing to keep me from going to work.

But beginning yesterday morning, we got SNOW!! Thinking it would abate (like the rest has), I got in the car and went to work. After noon, my wife called to tell me that it was really beginning to pile up. “Oh? How much?” “About eight inches! And it’s still coming down like crazy!”

I made arrangements to work from home, and left as immediately as possible.

Good thing I did.

I commute via the Washington side of the Columbia Gorge, and although the crews do a valiant job of keeping the roads clear, it was obvious that they were beginning to fall behind. As I approached Mount Pleasant, (where the infamous Cape Horn overlook is located), I saw 40 cars in a long, slow-moving snake; all of them were following a number of semi-trucks that were going no more than 20 MPH.

I hadn’t wanted to drive Canyon Creek Road.

Most times of the year, it’s a beautiful, pleasant drive, especially in the fall; with all the big hardwood trees. But in winter, it shows a mean, nasty side: it’s narrow-shouldered, twisty, and dead-scary when it’s icy. The road drops off steeply on one side (into Canyon Creek), and there are NO guardrails. It doesn’t get any sunlight in the winter, and so if it gets icy, it stays that way. But the choice was to take another hour to get home, or drive it. So I turned up Salmon Falls Road on my way there, and saw that at least it didn’t look too bad. I began to relax a bit.

Turning onto Canyon Creek Road, it looked as good as Salmon Falls. So far, so good; maybe this will be okay after all…

Then I came round the corner which takes you into the deeper woods.

And the road disappeared.

There was about a foot of fresh snow, and no tire tracks from the ‘wanna-be-monster-trucks’ that are prevalent out this way. Nothing to guide me.

Two choices at this point: Turn around (risking going off into the canyon) or keep on. It was only about three miles to the main road at the other end of Canyon Creek, so I spoke a quick prayer for guidance, and settled back, settled down, and remembered all those country roads I drove in the fresh snow in times past. There are subtle signs in the landscape that will guide you, if you can be aware of them. This all came back to me in a moment of calmness, and so I carried onward.

And no, this is no time to be fiddling with the cellphone and trying to get a picture. If you want a simulation, look at a piece of paper on the long edge, and then bend it into a gentle S-shape. The upward flow of the S is the canyon wall continuing upward, the sort-of-flat portion of the S in front of you is about where the road should be; and the downward portion of the S is the bank falling into the canyon.

No guardrails.

There’s a certain quiet beauty in making the first tracks down a deserted country road. I relaxed into that, and kept my confidence in the car and in those abilities which I had been given and had practiced.

(Meanwhile, Subaru: this would be a great commercial for you guys.)

I eventually turned onto the main road from Canyon Creek Road; only a few more miles of driving the River Ravine and I’d be home. Meanwhile, I could tell that it was still snowing lightly, although the trees overhead were catching most of it. Once I came up out of the River Ravine and more onto the mountain where we live, I saw that I’d underestimated it: it was still snowing like mad.

Thank you Lord for getting me home safely. Glory to your name, Jehovah-Rohi…

And this morning I was up pretty much at first light to start working from home. Dara was happy to be out, frolicking in the deep snow. I could get an accurate gauge on the depth, then: Above her chest in the deep spots where it’d drifted (2′), and below her chest where the wind had scavenged it (18″). The “Dog-Gauge for snow depth” is pretty accurate, since it’s sampled from all over the meadow.

I grabbed a photo from the kitchen window, and I’ll attach it.

Back from the Hospital

My wonderful wife came home from the hospital a week ago. Thank you, Lord!

This intervening week has been a whirlwind of emotions and ‘stuff to get done’. I’m so glad to have her back; she was there for ten days.

But what put her there was an interactive combination of two things – her Congestive Heart Failure, and acute diverticulitis. The infection in her bowel made her weaker and weaker; it occurred and then worsened over a long period of time, quietly taking all her energy and thus the ability to do even the smallest things. The infection made her CHF worse, which in turn made the infection worse… but the symptoms came on so slowly and gradually that we just… did… not… notice.

What is less understood by many is that with CHF, you have to watch your weight closely – weighing every day. A sudden rise of two pounds overnight is cause for concern. And necessitates a temporary upward kick in the diuretics. So why is the water weight of concern? Because it is accumulated in the lungs, interfering with the ability to oxygenate blood. And thereby slowly suffocating the patient.

Meanwhile we are thankful that she’s better. She’s very slowly regaining strength in her legs, and is gradually doing a little bit more to help her conditioning every day.

We both thank everyone for their kind thoughts and prayers.

And we are so thankful for friends and church members who have brought by dinners, soup, and just been there for encouragement. Such things are heartening, both for their nourishment, and for lightening my load in caring.

Going forward, I’ve been seeing that smart-home items are actually improving, instead of just gaining ‘bling’ factor. I’ve invested in three items that will help: a video doorbell that has two-way audio (so she can talk to whomever might be at the door, from wherever in the house that she might be); an electronic deadbolt (so she can unlock the door for visitors and home-care folks); and an Amazon Echo (to interact with and control the two previous items). I hope to end the weekend with these all installed and working well.