Monthly Archives: May 2013

Julie Green’s “The Last Supper: 500 Plates”

I used a recent lunch hour to visit Marylhurst University, the latest stop for Julie Green’s installation, entitled “The Last Supper: 500 Plates,” which quietly protests the United States’ practice of capital punishment by commemorating final meal requests made by death-row inmates.

Green represents each inmate put to death by the government with one second-hand white plate on which she paints the meal that inmate requested. She has vowed to continue this meditation until capital punishment ceases to exist.

Walking into The Art Gym, Marylhurst’s gallery, I was taken aback at the sheer number. I know “500 Plates” is part of the title, but wow. On some walls, they were neatly organized in groups and on others they seemed to stretch from floor to 12-foot ceiling.

I have no idea how this photograph got on my phone

I have no idea how this photograph got on my phone

Over loudspeakers, I heard what I assumed was Julie Green’s voice reading from a list of meals: “Texas, 18 September 2001: Western omelette, fried potatoes, sliced tomato, pan sausage, three biscuits, white gravy, pitcher of vanilla milkshake, half a cantaloupe. Texas, 22 October, 2001: One bag of assorted Jolly Ranchers.”

The source of the audio turned out to also be a video. Someone placed one of the artist’s plates onto a black surface, square in the camera’s overhead frame. Green read the contents of the plate, and then the frame faded to black. Over and over. The presentation was brilliant, a disembodied hand placing each last meal before the viewer.

I had to wonder: “How did they decide what to ask for? How could they possibly finish their meal, or even eat at all? How long do they have to consume the meal?”

I was grateful I’d eaten lunch before going to the exhibit.

As Green points out in an interview, food is one of the few things people truly all have in common. Some of the inmates were limited by rules or statutes to certain types of food—in California they have to order “fast food;” in Texas they would get hamburger if they ordered steak. Some requested extravagances; some ordered the same meal being served in the prison; some refused food altogether.

Regardless of what the viewer feels about the idea of capital punishment; whatever these people had done to earn their fate; Green succeeds in humanizing them, one plate at a time.

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Sou’Wester!

Let me start by saying I do not recognize Oregon this spring. First, we had a couple nice days in April. Like, in the 70s. That happens sometimes; not a big deal. But we usually dive back into overcast misery. Not this year! While it has been snowing in my native Minnesota, in the Willamette Valley we’ve had weeks of unprecedented weather.

A recent weekend was outrageous. It was almost 90 in Portland. It was in the 80s on the coast! It’s never in the 80s on the coast. If you’re not familiar with it, the Oregon Coast is a place where people occasionally surf—in full-body wetsuits. The water temperature hovers in the 50s, or colder. It is a scenic gem, but not the Jersey Shore.

Last Sunday, when my husband Mike and I pulled onto the beach at Cape Kiwanda State Park around 3 in the afternoon, the thermometer in our car read 86 degrees. Cloudless sky. Outrageous.

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Doomsday global-warming theories aside, we were pretty thrilled about it

As the wind was huffing from the north, Mike parked the car perpendicular to the shoreline. We set up on the south side of the car: Beach chairs, cooler, wide-brimmed hats. We brought a blanket but since the wind was blowing loose sand in waves like you see in nature films of the Kalahari, it was better to be a couple inches off the ground. Every once in a while, the air would kick up a sandstorm—we would tuck in and wait for a few seconds.

The tide was out, so there was a vast expanse between the shoreline and the dry, loose sand. Everyone was parked more or less in a line, on the hard-packed sand furthest from the water. If you got too far into the soft sand it would be hard to get out without 4-wheel drive. Of course, that didn’t stop people trying. Every once in a while, someone felt a little saucy and purposely whipped around in that loose sand like Jim Rockford. I could hardly blame them; when else does one get to use a Jeep like a jeep? The beach seemed the perfect size to allow everyone to have their own space.

Our lil' slice of heaven ... about 20 minutes pre-Sou'wester

Our lil’ slice of heaven … about 20 minutes pre-Sou’wester

The part of the beach that allowed cars was about a mile long; we drove about halfway down to park. Many cars had gone all the way to the south end of the beach, which required fording some shallow streams. Bordering that end of the beach was Cape Kiwanda, about 1,000 feet high. It made a nice focal point to the scene, towering over the little cars clustered at its base. On its opposite slope was the inlet that houses Pacific City. Further out into the water, Haystack Rock ignored the wind, the crashing surf and everything else.

We ate a little lunch, walked down the beach and back, climbed a bluff to see what was up there (just a road), and sat in the sun. After a while, we got tired of the water being so far away and carried our chairs out to a rivulet that was coming in parallel to the shoreline. It filled and emptied as waves crashed nearby. This water, being in a shallow channel, wasn’t as cold. But still plenty cold. I had to pull my feet into the air occasionally to let them warm up.

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Any time the tide is out simply means it is going to start coming in again. As we ate our dinner, the little stream we’d had our chairs in became a river, and then disappeared altogether as the tide crested the small wall of sand that had created it. We’d also noticed a thin line of weather on the horizon. Clouds started piling up in the south.

“Look!” said Mike, who faced them. I turned to see that Pacific City was completely fogged in all of a sudden.

“That’s weird,” I said, and then noticed that fog was starting to pile up in front of the cape and Haystack Rock.

Then, it started reaching over Haystack like giant grey claws.

We gaped in awe; it was as though we were watching one of those fast-forward nature shots. The clouds moved at unreasonable speeds. The wind shifted and started coming from the south; the temperature dropped 20 degrees in an instant.

We wondered if this was how people behaved when Vesuvius erupted—simply staring at it coming, in slack-jawed disbelief. (Neither of us had the presence of mind to take a video …) Haystack was gone. The cars on the far end of the beach were invisible except for their headlights. We looked over and saw that the tide had surged; the water had turned steely and was blowing straight into the air. The egress of the cars on the south end of the beach was under water; they raced to cross at the most narrow point. A neighbor up the beach struggled to get his VW pop-top camper down before the wind ripped it off completely.

Mike ran to the driver’s side to close the windows. Sand stung my shins and face as I finally accepted that our beautiful day was over and this thing was coming our way—fast—and started folding up our chairs. The wind blew everything against the car, so we wrestled with our fold-up lawn chairs to get them into the trunk.

The whole thing happened in about three minutes. Easily the craziest non-human thing I’ve seen in real life.

We ducked into the car and laughed. It was so ridiculous! It had happened so quickly! But it had indeed happened. And we were not out of danger. The sun was gone; no sky, even—we were enveloped in this crazy storm. The ocean was blowing sideways; breaking in lopsided angles and surging ever closer to our car. All the hard sand was submerged; we had to bushwhack through the soft sand to get out.

As we pulled onto the highway, I checked the temperature. 61. A real, live Sou-wester had gotten us. I imagined experiencing that storm in a boat. Outrageous.

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Guest Post: Is Jackson Hole Rural?

My friend Meg grew up in Jackson, Wyoming, and then flew the coop as a young adult to become a world citizen, living in New York; Portland, Oregon; and San Francisco. She returned to her hometown a few years ago. I took advantage of my Get Your Pitchfork On! book tour to visit her last September.

We met when she lived in Portland because we’re both writers, and used to have epic walk-and-talks—we’d go up to Forest Park and cover miles while energetically debating current issues. We were excited last fall to get back to our old routine! One of the topics we considered was comparing “urban” and “rural.” I had referred to Jackson Hole as a rural place, and she demurred.

Hmm, a boardwalk ... rural?

Hmm, a boardwalk … rural?

“How do you define ‘rural’?” she asked. I thought it was an odd question—I mean, look around! Mountains. Livestock. Moose. However, I was asked twice more during my stint in front of the Valley Bookstore, hawking copies of GYPO and chatting with passers-by. “What do you mean when you say ‘rural’?”

My definition at the time related to population and proximity to an urban area. Jackson is a small, remote town. Isn’t that rural? To me, it has nothing to do with wealth/poverty or “sophistication.” But the question remains: What does “rural” mean, exactly? Here’s Meg’s take:

 

 

 

Is Jackson Hole Rural?

by Meg Daly

At the risk of sounding too relativistic, it depends on whom you ask?

Certainly my friends from unequivocally urban areas like West Hollywood or North Portland will encounter “rural” in all its cow-dotted, mega-cab-truck splendor. But many of us who live here espouse non-rural cultural values and interests one would expect to find in abundance on the funky streets of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. We zip around in Priuses or (gasp) on bikes, listen to Vampire Weekend, and read articles about gastronomy and modern design.

Setting aside definitions of rural and urban based solely on population density and open space, and looking instead at values and aesthetics, then Jackson Hole is actually a little Petri dish of urban and rural in constant state of tension. The town’s main industry is tourism, and in the summer that means millions of visitors from all backgrounds coming through to see “the last and best of the Old West.” In the winter, however, tourists flock to Jackson for world-class alpine skiing, and they want the luxe amenities they’ve come to expect in cosmopolitan settings.

I think it’s a sign of the urbanization of the world. Much like globalization, the landscape is being flattened so that the texture and personality of rural America becomes a commodity rather than a place or way of life. In recent years, my town has endured heated debates about planning and development of the few remaining open spaces. Opponents to development started a campaign called “Don’t Let the Hole Lose Its Soul.” Proponents speak to the need for affordable housing, with the pragmatic view that open spaces tend to get developed eventually so why not do it in a thoughtful way.

Our local debate raises questions about who gets to be the representative of a town’s “soul.” In a little mountain town like Jackson, with severe winters and a super-short growing season, people have only been living here year-round for a century. The town has changed in personality with every passing decade. Why shouldn’t Jackson Hole become a place where skateboarders and cowboys ride?

On our main drag, Broadway, the Jackson Hole Historical Museum (where you can view an exhibition like “Homesteading the Hole: Survival and Perseverance”) abuts Nikai Sushi (where you can sip a Lotus Flower Martini while noshing on a Big Kahuna roll). These kinds of juxtapositions exist all over Jackson Hole. I’m less concerned with whether Jackson qualifies as rural or urban, or whether we lose or protect our so-called soul. I see Jackson the way I think people have always seen it, for better or worse, as a new frontier. The challenge is to be pioneers on that frontier, and to create healthy, vibrant communities living in balance with nature.

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Gone Fishing

Sometimes you want a big party on your birthday, and sometimes you just want to get away from it all. This was one of the latter years for me, so my husband Mike and I drove up to Wallowa County, Oregon, to visit our friend Jon and get some R&R.

This is not Jon’s first appearance on this blog—I wrote about his fancy firewood bundles last summer in my value-added marketing post.

We arrived late Saturday. Tucked into a corner of our guest room was a work table laden with shiny streamers and baubles, tools and small drawers—a fly-tying station. Jon is an avid fisher—and why wouldn’t you be when you’re a short drive (country-short, at least) from dozens of pristine mountain rivers? He promised to take us to a friend’s ranch on the Imnaha on Sunday and give me a fly-fishing lesson. The last time I fished was in about 1978. I barely remember it.

The next morning, we packed a lunch, fishing gear and the dogs into the pickup and took off.

Getting to Imnaha is a commitment—it’s 45 minutes from Enterprise, nearly on the edge of the state. As we drove into the Wallowa Mountains, snow flew. I looked out the back; the dogs were unfazed by the crust they were acquiring. Mike and I looked at each other. This was going to be some chilly fishing! But by the time we passed between Inmaha’s two buildings we had dropped a couple thousand feet. The sky had cleared and the temperature had risen at least 15 degrees.

But we weren’t there yet. We turned north for about ten miles, following the Imnaha River, until we ran out of pavement. Then we drove another ten on gravel. This road twisted up and into the mountains, around blind hairpin turns that revealed incredible views of the Imnaha River valley. We were so remote that we came across two bighorn sheep in the road! The dogs had already shaken off their snow-jackets and ran from side to side in the cab, anxious to explore.

Eventually, we wound down to the river’s edge. Jagged peaks rose up all around the narrow, grassy river valley we were in. The Imnaha ran hard and fast, swollen with spring snowmelt. Jon jogged down to survey the water and returned to get the gear. I would have drowned in his hip waders, figuratively if not literally, so I fished from shore.

Scouting the bank

Scouting from the bank

What we were hoping to coax out of this cold, turgid river were steelhead. These rainbow trout act a bit like salmon—they swim hundreds of miles down the Imnaha, then the Snake, then the Columbia, all the way to the ocean, and then fight their way upstream all the way back a couple of years later to spawn and die. Jon works for a rafting outfitter and has documented a number of his catches. Did I mention that he is a great writer?

First Jon introduced me to the fishing gear. I had already declined the waders, but was totally fascinated by the little box of flies he’d tied.

“You’re basically trying to drop something into the water that looks like food,” Jon said. Fish look for sudden movement, and dark and light patterns. The nymphs had shiny bits to catch the light, and fuzzy bits that would clump in the water and look like little insect bodies. He said that pink was good during spawning season. “Mine are showy,” he said, pointing out the features of his nymphs.

This one was made with deer hair

This one was made with deer hair

Jon explained how the fly rod works, a different technology from a standard rod-and-reel. Of course, the rods themselves are much longer, to aid in casting. Instead of relying on lead weights to give the hook loft, the line itself has weight. And there are little weights that you can put on your hook, called “heads.” Even with a head on your hook, it doesn’t weigh much, which is why fly-fishers actually get in the water on a wide river. (Plus, it’s fun to stand in the middle of a river.)

Some of the differences are purely aesthetic—the floating, round ball attached to the line that you watch to see if it dips into the water? “A bobber!” I said, proud that I knew something. “A strike indicator,” Jon corrected, and then proceeded to call it a bobber anyway.

Next lesson: Where to cast. He explained that fish like to hang out in calm water that isn’t too shallow; they avoid the strong current and the edges. What we were looking for, he said, was “soft” water, called the “seam.” Looking out, I could see a place where the top of the water smoothed out for about 20 feet. The seam.

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The method of casting differs as well to accommodate the lighter bait and longer rod. The fly-fisher is nearly constantly in motion. Some people consider it an art form. Dry flies actually rest on the surface of the water to emulate flying insects landing. Even wet nymphs need to move often.

But Jon is a pragmatist; if there’s no need to do it fancy, don’t.

“Have you ever seen A River Runs Through It?” he asked me.

“No.”

“Good.”

Subsequently, I was not being taught to whip the line around in the air like a lariat.

As Jon explained the timing of pulling the nymph back for another cast, Mike, who was observing from further up the bank, yelled, “Your bobber!” While I had been looking downstream, following Jon’s illustration, a fish hit my fly. But the fish recognized the fly wasn’t food and, since I hadn’t pulled up to set the hook, spit it out.

I kept casting, trying to focus on my form. After a while, Jon joined me—and then his rod snapped in two.

Sad fisher man

Sad fisher man

Since I was the only one doing anything, I practiced my cast a few more times and then called it quits. We went back to the rig and ate lunch in the sun. The scenery was so spectacular that it was difficult to leave.

Picture, do the talking

Picture, do the talking

Jon was disappointed that we didn’t catch anything; I wasn’t. I completely understand the notion that going fishing can just be an excuse to be outside all day! It was exactly the kind of birthday I was hoping for.

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