Rick Shory

Offering a little something you might not otherwise have

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Air organ

Chris told me a story today, par-for-the-course of his abusive upbringing. How his father never gave one shred of support or validation to anything Chris did.

Chris was about age 12. He had self-taught himself to play piano, and was pretty good. His father, who had refused to pay for lessons, didn’t know any of this. There was a school recital, and Chris performed beautifully. The teacher came up to Chris’ father afterwards, gushing, “You must be so proud!”

Chris’ father was dumbfounded. All he could say was, “Thank you.”

“After that,” Chris told me, “For my next birthday, my dad bought me an air organ.”

“What’s that?”

“Oh, it was a toy,” he shook his head.

If you look it up online, you’ll see it’s true.

At first, I thought Chris had said “air guitar”. That’s about the size of it.


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Recipe: Chunky Toscan hummus

Get garbanzo beans (the traditional Toscan “cicer”). Soak them. Cook them till soft. Get raw garlic, a clove or two for every cup of beans. Traditionally, this would have been the wild Allium toscano, of the Toscan steppe, but you can use regular garlic if that’s all you can get.

Put the garlic cloves in a small pot with a lid you can hold tightly closed. With the lid on, shake the pot hard, up and down, for a minute or so. Magically, the skins will come loose. This is the traditional Toscan way of peeling garlic. Do not, under any circumstances, use garlic peeled in this manner for any recipe not strictly Toscan.

Grate the garlic into the cooked garbanzo beans. Mash up the beans, but only enough so they hold together. Leave some of the beans whole. Mix in about a quarter as much tahini, and about a tablespoon of lemon juice per cup. Enjoy!

The ancient Toscans eschewed the creamy-smooth type of hummus that has become universal in the modern US. Preparing meals in their native sylvan hills and glades, they mashed up the ingredients just enough so the mixture would stay on the “shibapu”, the traditional Toscan eating knife. That way they could get back to enjoying their pastoral Tuscan lifestyle, without food processors to clean up. Also, the noise of food processors would have attracted banditos.

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GMO smokescreen

Yesterday I went to the panel discussion and movie “Food Evolution”, about Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) issues.

Some say “yes”. Some say “no”. I say “smokescreen”.

There real issue is overpopulation. The agricultural details, like GMOs, organic farming, and local production, are waves on the shore. Population is the rising tide.

They say: We will have however many billion people by the year twenty-whatever. So we need GMOs (or not) to feed them. So. Now, say, it’s twenty-whatever, and the people are sitting around, happily eating their GMO crops (or not). Game over? No. That vast population will continue to overpopulate to the year 2100, 2200, or however long they can get away with it.

One of the panelists talked about India, where farmers pirated the BT cotton, and now production is up a big chunk of percent, and pesticides are down a big chunk of percent. It sounds like the numbers, if anybody was keeping the numbers, when the potato first came to Ireland. What’s going to happen when the insects are all resistant to BT (as is already happening) and the weeds all shrug off Roundup (as is already happening)? Just waves on the shore, at an ever higher tide line.

I got a key point about population from the subtext of the movie, “Like Water for Chocolate”. Romance aside, the family dynamic was that the matriarch pressured her youngest daughter to stay home as caregiver. Third world people are not dumb. They don’t have a whole lot of kids just to be contrary. In the desperate equation of their world, a whole lot of kids makes it more likely one will be around for parents’ old age. In a culture with no pension, retirement, or health care, it’s the available option. Overall, there gets to be more and more people, and the equation grows ever more desperate. This is just one of the intractable Catch-22s of population.

GMOs are going to come because some, like the Rainbow papaya, are just too good. Estimating by how these things usually go, I bet there will be one or two “gotcha”s, where some dire thing like mad cow disease will emerge, due to one particular GMO crop. And this will prove to the opponents it’s Armageddon. Until the general populace forgets about it, and life goes on.

Anyone considering getting into the GMO debate, on either side, should just skip it. Work on population issues instead. GMOs are fun because there are fingers to point, and laws to pass, and lots of theater. Overpopulation is no fun because, in the words of Pogo, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

man wearing eclipse glasses

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Eclipse, high desert

The eclipse was an exercise creative anxiety. Not the eclipse itself, but planning to go there, and not knowing what to expect. Gas shortages. An estimated million extra people visiting the state. Projections of the “biggest traffic event in Oregon history”. Not to mention, the weather.

Months before the eclipse, I looked at maps. The eclipse would be in the morning. West of the Cascades, August is usually good weather, but there can be morning fog. So I looked to the east side.

All across the interior West, the path of totality crossed remote roads, built for a handful of vehicles per minute. In normal circumstances, you would have no trouble going there, pulling off on the shoulder, and watching the show in the sky. But with a zillion other people who have the same idea, it could be a disaster. One breakdown, and everybody’s plans are for nothing. Even finding shoulder space could be a jumble. Every summer a flash mob congeals to watch Fourth-of-July fireworks over remote Lake Crowley, Hwy 395 north of Bishop, California. This was going to be a lot bigger than Fourth-of-July.

Most of the central Oregon high desert is rugged and mountainous, with only a spiderweb of roads There was one place, though, that stood out. North of one little town, the path of totality rolled across a V-shaped triangle of flat agricultural land, gridded with farm roads. Surely in there would be lots of space, and road shoulders. The little town, at the bottom point of the “V”, was named “Madras”.

So, it would be a matter of being there on that Monday morning. Maybe you could just get up early, and drive across the mountains. But again, a zillion other people with the same idea. Better to be there ahead of time.

Motel rooms in Madras sold out two years in advance. But Madras did a logical thing. They set up a campground a couple miles north, at the intersection of Highway 26, which forms the west side of the agricultural triangle, and a road going east into the triangle named “Dogwood Lane”. They called it “Solartown”. A bunch of us went in on five of these campsites. So that’s where I would be for the eclipse. On Google Maps, Solartown showed as an alfalfa field.

I tried to plan ahead. I reserved my rental car months in advance. When I picked it up, I stocked it with twelve gallons of water and ten gallons of gas. I colluded with Chris to carry food we could eat without cooking. I pictured the whole thing as a dry run for a natural disaster. No way to get anywhere. No way to get anything. No way to find out what’s going on.

Chris works nights, so with one thing and another we could not leave till at least Saturday. I kept checking the traffic. There were reports of jams in central Oregon. But, miraculously, the route to there seemed clear. I pictured everything becoming bumper-to-bumper on a moment’s notice. Again, whatever I might think of doing, everybody else might also. I considered driving over during the night, but the hundred miles over the mountain passes are nice scenery, not to be missed. We took a chance and slept the night, home in Portland. We got going about 7am on Sunday.

Heading out out of town, there was no significant traffic. Less even than a ski weekend! About halfway, on Mt. Hood, we relaxed and took a break at Timberline Lodge. Then on down the east side.

At Warm Springs, the air was full of smoke. Would it obscure the sun? But we continued on mile after mile. The smoke cleared out. The road stayed open. Only as we came to the agricultural triangle did the traffic get thick.

Right away, it was evident that, at least if money were no object, you could find a place to stay. Campgrounds and festivals were springing up all over. We plowed ahead down Highway 26, towards the intersection of Dogwood Lane.

The acres of tents and RVs came in view. But when we got there, the turn in to Dogwood Lane was blocked off, closed. Seriously closed. Barricades. National Guard. We rolled on south to the outskirts of Madras.

In hindsight it was obvious. Of course it would not make sense to have everybody turn in directly off the highway. Half the people turning would be making left turns. Instead, you’d come in from the east, through the grid of farm roads.

I won’t go into all the details, but it was a zoo. Cars were lined up stopped on the asphalt. Inching ahead a little every ten minutes. We got to know individual juniper trees and tumbleweeds. A guy driving from the other way slowed down to say you could get in quicker on this other route. Driving miles around, to try the other road. Getting lost. Getting directions from people in orange vests at the intersections. Finding out their directions were wrong. Maybe even they didn’t have current information.

Eventually, we were in a line of stopped traffic again, but at least the Solartown entrance was in the distance. We sat with the engine turned off most of the time. The sun was getting hot. People walked like refugees along the road shoulder. There were lots of bicycles. Bicycles would have been a good idea.

We inched along. We made the last turn. With stops and starts, we were getting close. I got out and walked ahead. The directions emailed from our co-campers a few days before didn’t seem to fit. Things change fast in Solartown. Sometimes I was able to reach people by phone. But the connection was bad, and kept dropping. I walked ahead.

A drone hovered over the creeping line of cars. A guy was talking into a microphone. “Are you the news?” I asked. They were doing a story on this, the traffic, the scene. That’s what it’s all about, I realized, the scene. No matter if we never get to the campsite, the eclipse will happen, and we’ll see it. But equally memorable is the scene.

Now we were in the thick of Solartown, not knowing quite where to go. Trucks rumbled past, sprinkling water to keep the dust down. Trucks rumbled past to pump out the porta-potties. There was the shower trailer, as per the directions, but now where do we go? I got through to someone by phone. Oh, we should have turned right. We convinced the cars behind us to back up till we could wedge through the intersection. Down this lane. Now go in here.

Finally, we were to the campsites. There was a parking space for us. Slip the car in. Turn off the engine. A lot of the guys there, I had known from California years ago. We had really only been stuck in traffic about three hours. Nineteen hours till the eclipse. I lay down under the shade canopy and caught up on sleep.

There were various things to do the rest of the day. One RV had a wall with displays and information about eclipses. People had telescopes with solar filters. Across the fence was the the alfalfa field from the aerial photo.

tent city across the alfalfa field

Tent city

Being as I am a behind-the-scenes kind of guy, I was impressed by some of the behind-the-scenes planning, namely the land prep. Someone had thought ahead. They used the agricultural technology as for planting wheat, and had drill-seeded the site with a turfgrass called “tall fescue”. How do I know what it was? I’m a grass botanist. In the supermarket you see strawberries. You know they’re strawberries, not raspberries, because you’ve worked with strawberries. It was a good choice. Tall fescue is rather coarse, but very tough.

There were mysterious bare-dirt swatches a couple feet wide curving through. On investigation, these suggested wheel tracks of center-pivot irrigation. This was desert land. The grass seed would not have grown without added water. The dirt tracks continued on into the carrot-seed field fenced off adjacent to the campground. There was the center-pivot pipe, parked out of the way.

To make it easy for people to see the campsite boundaries, they were tidily gridded off by foot-wide brown stripes in the grass. Similar with the driving lanes. What had browned the grass? At first I thought maybe heat-kill, but how would you do that? I talked to a turfgrass guy I met, and he pointed out some of the overspray stipple. They had used standard weed-spray technology, glyphosate, to “paint” the brown.

The “lawn” was a bit bumpy for bicycling, but fine for walking barefoot. Surely, most campers never gave it a thought. It was just there. But they would certainly have noticed if it were still an alfalfa field, or grain stubble. Every step would have been torture.

I was impressed by the farming artistry. If you want to grow wheat, you do this. If you want to grow carrots, you do that. If you want to grow a campground, you do like so. Tall fescue can be tricky to get a good stand of, but Solartown was fine. Probably two weeks after the eclipse, they were going to plow it all up and plant something else.

grid pattern of sun crescents cast by the holes in a colander

Sun crescents through a colander

Night came and we bedded down. Morning came, and the eclipse began. There was the first bite out of the corner of the sun. Guys played with the crescent-shaped sun images coming through tiny holes. The daylight didn’t seem a lot less bright, but the temperature started to feel cold. Chris asked for a sweater. By then we were about a quarter mile away in a farm field. “Sorry, you’re going to have to tough it out.”

people all facing the same angle, viewing the sun with the first bite out of the sun's disc

First bite out of the sun

people taking pictures of a man with the pattern of sun crescents across his face

Funny portraiture

people ranged across an agricultural field, waiting for totality

Sun worshippers

The darkness came on, and then there was totality. The land was dark, like night. But all around the horizon was a distant glow, like sunrise or sunset. If the usual figure of the sun is a shining face, totality is the face of the dark sleeping moon, ringed round with wild white Einstein hair of the solar corona.

man wearing eclipse glasses

Wear those glasses

As soon as light returned, “Bye, I’ve got to get Chris back for work tonight.” The campground was gridlock, but we made all the right choices. We cut through the farm roads to the east edge of the triangle, Highway 97. On the way, we could see Highway 26 a mile or so over to the west, a line of vehicles glittering in the returned sun, scarcely moving. An ambulance wailed as it worked up along side them. Oh, God forbid!

On the farm roads, scattered cars were parked along the shoulders. Sure enough, it looked like people had done exactly what I’d first thought of, drive in early that morning. Now, those day trippers were sitting in lawn chairs reading books, waiting for the tens of thousands of visitors ahead of them to get out of the way.

On our route, we were maybe two hours inching along the highway, then things opened out and it was fine. We drove over the scenic high plateaus east of the Deschutes River, got to Interstate 84 at The Dalles, and were home in Portland by 4 o’clock.

In the pre-eclipse anticipation, I recognized a long-forgotten feeling. It felt like High School days, when the world is full of lots of thing where you don’t know what to expect. Someone scoffed at High School being “the best years of our lives”. Yes, a lot’s awful, but it fills your sails. I’m going to put myself in more situations where I don’t know what to expect

three-bladed wind turbines standing in the desert hills

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United we stand

Chris and I were on vacation. We were driving up the Gorge, and pulled off for lunch at the Braggs exit. It was all truck stops and travel centers, lots of tourist on their way. This wide open desert land along the Columbia River was all scoured rock and yellow grass. It had little to offer in attractions, other than convenience.

We went into a restaurant, “Gloria’s”, and sat at the counter. It was typical, good, basic road food. I got one of the breakfast-all-day offerings. Chris tried pork chops and eggs.

I had recently read a book about the founding of Astoria, the first European settlement in the Northwest, at the mouth of the Columbia. Two parties had traveled there, one by sea and the other overland. The overland route was right by here.

The ocean voyage was by sailing ship, which the author brought out in details we do not usually think of. It would have been like a bunch of people cooped up in a space not much bigger than a commercial airliner, with equally no option to go anywhere else. Literally, for months. Bad food. Low water. Personality flares. We can scarcely imagine it.

The overland party had the benefit of the Lewis and Clark expedition’s records, from a few years before. However, hostilities with some native tribes had flared, so the Astor party branched off to look for a different route. They found what we now know as the Snake River. This flowed along westward in a promising way for some hundreds of mile, but the travelers had no way to know about Hells Canyon. After deaths, and destruction of their boats, the survivors limped down the Columbia, right by where these truck stops are now, to their destination.

The settlement struggled along for a year and some. Then a force of British ships arrived and took it over. The Americans had to make their way overland, back across the entire continent, as best they could. Again, right past where we were eating lunch.

The author speculated that many early pioneers suffered what we now call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, explaining for example the suicide of Meriwether Lewis a few years after the expedition.

So here we were, just about two hundred years later. We can drive in air conditioned comfort through the desert. The land is prosperous with wheat and fruit and wind turbines.

three-bladed wind turbines standing in the desert hills

wind turbines

How did we get from there to here? Yes, there were horrible injustices to the native peoples, and downright stupid policies that needlessly inflamed their wrath. There is still plenty of misery in the world. But a lot is working.

Chris had taken some pictures on his phone and wanted to text them to his sister. I didn’t much do texts, so I couldn’t help. But this big fat guy sitting on the other side of Chris started showing how. The guy looked to me like a gamer nerd, someone I wouldn’t expect to care about anybody but himself. But here he was, taking the time to help out this little black guy, with the sputtery cellphone connection. He suggested, with the low bandwidth, to only text one photo at a time.

Our waitress had a careworn face, but a kindly smile. A Mexican guy sat down at the counter and started puzzling over the menu. When he began to order, our waitress raised a finger, just a moment. She went in back and returned with one of the other staff, a Hispanic woman. Through this interpreter, our waitress, went back and forth over the menu. I have just enough Spanish I could make out, “… you can get bacon, OR sausage, OR ham…” She made sure our Mexican customer got just what he wanted.

This is who we really are, I thought. We help each other out. The news is full of brutalities and shootings. Sure. But they are, really, very few. That’s why they make the news. Instead, this is who we really are. We work together. The upcoming divisive election would have us believe we’re at civil war. But this is who we really are. One people, just making it all work, together.

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A little radioactivity

I’m going to have radioactivity in the house. Not often. But you keep track if you ever feel bad, and we’ll try to correspond it with when I had radioactivity in the house.

Sometimes late at night, I just need to give myself a radiation treatment. Burn off a wart, or something. I’m sure nobody in the house will mind these little experiments I’m doing on them. This way we’ll know for sure if radioactive dust in the house is ever a problem.

And we’ll have clear communication.

As clear as you can over something so loaded!

 After the talk on “just a little smoking, in the house”.

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Psychic vs. Knowlege

I was talking to my psychic friend, who I fictionalized as “Deva” in previous posts (here and etc.). As I’d said, from knowing her, I came to quietly see that psychic is a real thing, although of course there is also a huge amount of hype and fakery about it in the world.

This time, I was asking her what it’s like to be able to read people. She laughed and explained it took her a long time to understand that other people couldn’t.

“Well,” she said, “I look at someone, and I fall in love with them. That’s just something I do. Then, impressions start to emerge. Some things are obvious. Like, as soon as Chris walked in, I knew he was a good person. But I pick up the high points, the turning points. Like I might say to someone, ‘So, tell me about what happened with your teacher, and the peanut butter sandwich, when you were in the third grade?’ And they’ll say, ‘How did you know about that?'”.

I asked, “So, is it a matter of emptying yourself, so your own stuff doesn’t get in the way? Or knowing your own stuff so well you can compensate for it?”

“Both,” she answered. “As I stay with it, more and more images emerge about a person. Finally, it can be almost like watching a movie about them.”

It gave me a lot to think about. I am anything but empty. I am full to the brim, in learned knowledge. The maturation in my life has been curbing myself, so as not to spew it out indiscriminately. Rather, I now wait for people ask. But it’s always what I bring to the situation; learned information.

I worry that I come across as a pedant, or a know-it-all. But I have got feedback that people like it. On a hike, they can ask me if what kind of tree that is, and I can say whether it’s a limber pine or a whitebark pine, or if I can’t tell why I can’t tell, and what you would need to be able to tell.

At my best, I weave a safety net of knowledge. People feel secure. They sense that nothing bad is going to happen because — this guy knows. He knows what to watch out for. He knows what’s poisonous and what’s not. He knows how to fix things. He knows how to keep bad things from going wrong in the first place.

But now I think, what would it be like to be some other way? To just fall in love with everyone I see? And, without knowing, let myself know all about them?