Wednesday Vignette – elevate!

Last night was the Interim Superintendent’s and several Directors’ very last School board meeting. Lists of accomplishments (real or perceived) were read, incompletes were noted, and thank yous were delivered. The reputation of the District, and the trust of the communities, are at an earned all-time low. By the time the next board meeting rolls around, there will be three new board members that I – and many others – hope will have the capacity and wherewithall to  steer this ship out of its turbulent, rocky past, and onto a continued journey of higher, more equitable purpose, benefitting the kids of Portland.

Our lofty hopes and aspirations may well be compared to the glory of a sunset, softening the festering muck and ragged edges of a District in turmoil. I think the new board will be a game changer…

Many times, I’ve wondered how it is possible that those in high positions lose track of what those still on the ground see. I hope, and have reasons to believe, this board will be different. The problems they face are varied and many, and the smaller ones often serve to distract from the larger ones, muddying the waters, and slowing real progress down.  I wish them luck in keeping their priorities straight through all the influences that will no doubt vie for their attention. A detached birdseye view renders obvious what it’s truly about – the needs of kids.

These lifts, silhouetted against the evening sky, came to symbolize the experience of the weary observer, and in my case, the armchair activist. The new board’s job is to elevate a jungle of edu-buzz words and platitudes to real action, and develop policies that divide resources equitably, and treats kids in different zip codes fairly. It is a HUGE task…

Let’s hope this new board will know how to stay on track, to recognize which tracks lead in the wrong direction, and to have the combined strength and courage to change paths when it needs to.

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Wednesday Vignette – stacked

fullsizeoutput_c74Idling behind this lumber truck at a red light the other day, I found the view quite hypnotic. I wondered what the numbers mean, and what the color markings signify. 40/5… maybe it indicates the parcel of land where the wood was cut? Or perhaps it has something to do with the dimensional bracket this wood belongs to? Who knows… all I know is that I really enjoyed the patterns created by the paint-spattered, circular cross sections of the logs, and their relative unevenness as compared to each other. Loved it, in fact!

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Wednesday Vignette – civility, color, and contrast

The MAX train murders in our fair city this past week has been on my mind – a lot. And, before that, an incidence of racist arson… I just don’t understand that kind of hatred. Portland is very fair, as in a lack-of-diversity kind of way. Oregon was the only state out of the 50 which had a black exclusion law written into its constitution. It’s statehood was created as a utopia for white people.

Interestingly, not much has changed. I’ll spare you my longwinded rants, but in short, it seems the two prevailing cultures in Oregon is either our own, homespun version of the Dixie flag-waving, gun-toting rednecks of the American South, or the non-confrontational, laid back, passive-aggressive hippie mentality that turns the other way. “It’s cool, man, it’s cool.” In the current political climate, intolerance is winning. This past Sunday, there was a “Freedom of Speech”-rally, organized by a bunch of Nazis. It’s both despicable, disheartening, and embarrassing.

So, this week, I want to make a case for the magnificient and far reaching benefits of diversity. In just about everything I can think of – art, design, food, music, what have you –  color and contrast make things BETTER – not worse. Without it, life would be bland, meh, vanilla. Differences enhance, engage, and elevate, and add spice to our melting pot. And it makes us all better. The two who died did not turn away. They defended that diversity, at a terrible cost. We ought to follow their example – take a stand against intolerance and hatred – whenever we see it. If enough people do, love and tolerance will prevail – even in lily-white Oregon. And, we will all be better for it.


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Wednesday Vignette – beyond the startle of the surprise…

I have always had the most intense snake phobia. Ridiculous, I know – I have been known to drop books and scream if I was surprised by a photo of a snake in it. If you are the same way, consider this your heads-up. This week’s vignette is about a snake. Not the dangerous kind, mind you, but still – it can creep you out. This one appeared sunning itself on one of the tables at the nursery. If I had been the one to discover it, this story would probably have been different. As it were, I had fair warning, and could steel myself. Preparedness is everything..

Some pretty spectacular markings on this garden variety Garter snake.

The sheer length of it, made us decide that it was probably a female. I learned they are usually larger than the males.

Trying to figure out if she should be scared of us, or just annoyed.

Feeling conflicted. “Should I stay, or should I go…?”

I shot some video too. The way she moved was so elegant, I was trying to get it on film. PETA may have to forgive me my vain attempt at getting her to do so, by tossing some gravel at her…

Here she has decided that she is done with me…

Our parting image. Trying to hide among the Clematis pots, she gives me a curious glance, if not somewhat resigned. As in “Why are you following me?” After this, I left her alone.

It may not seem like it, but this was a major milestone in my life. Granted, it was a harmless variety of snake of which presence I was pre-warned.  I’m both bigger, clumsier, and stronger than she is, but I have never before had the guts to be that close to a snake in the wild. At the end of the afternoon, she had become kind of a nursery mascot, and we named her Lucy.

Not sure how to explain this sudden change of behavior on my part. I have long rationalized all the benefits of snakes – rodent control, slug control, what have you, to no effect – I have still have always had that totally irrational fear of them. I wouldn’t say this incidence cured me of my phobia, but it was a major step on the way toward more rational behavior. (Peter Outlaw – you were there, and witnessed how calm and collected – albeit excited – I was.) Maybe I’m just getting older, and realizing that there are worse things to be scared of. As the news constantly remind me – hate, intolerance, pride, greed, and stupidity is where it’s at – not with the critters alive and well in our gardens. As an affirmation of Benevolence over Bullying, this is the kind of snake that I would much rather have in the Oval Office than the one that is there now.

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Wednesday Vignette – marvelous monocultures!

Drove through some of Oregon’s farmland this week, and saw some spectacular sights. Pulled over and stopped the car several times. You know how a drift of something has a greater visual impact than just one or two of the same plant? Well – amplified, it looks like this. These are drifts on steroids!

Loved the matrix-like structural caging of the hops fields. This is how beer grows! Would love to run around in there once the hops reaches some height. I bet you could film the next Harry Potter movie in there…

Stunning red Crimson clover fields colored other parts of the landscape. So beautiful – and as discovered upon closer inspection, much loved by bees.

No better way to tell the rolling contours of the land than following the lines of planted Mustard. At least, that’s what I think it is. 

These wide expanses of visual calm was a nice change from the chaotic clutter of my very own horticultural, experimental learning lab. Which, incidentally, I have NO time to work in. Dang – if I wasn’t such a plant whore, I would totally go mono!

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Wednesday Vignette – PHEW!

Not very exciting photos this week, but very happy ones! 😀 For anyone who has seen my Facebook feed lately, it has mostly been filled with local school election crud. Emotions and tensions have run high, a lot of outside money has flowed into some of the races. One of my favorite candidates was outspent 3:1 by Teach for America’s political sidekick organization LEE. And, though endorsed universally by local media, and the passing of the MUCH NEEDED $790 million school construction bond looked quite doubtful.

I expected a nail biter. Instead, to my astonishment, it was over very quickly. Around half an hour after the ballots closed, it was clear that voters had favored the most qualified candidates by large – even unsurmountable – margins. And, not only that. The bond passed!!! I could not be happier! Last night was a HUGE win for the kids of Portland Public Schools. Thank you, Portland – you came through! It feels like this will be a turning point for a very troubled district. Good things will come from this!

Suzanne Cohen, president of Portland Association of Teachers called it! “Rita – you WON!!!”

Hugs and cheers all around!

Did I say we were happy?

A staffer at Old Gold snapped this photo of us late night revelers right before they kindly kicked us out. Thank you, for that!

As if this photo doesn’t show it, last night proved that there is still beauty in the world. Phew!

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Wednesday Vignette – blissfully high

The other day, I trudged across the St John’s bridge to place some hard to remove political signs (for an upcoming school board election) and a MUCH needed school construction bond) in a highly visible spot, where traffic usually clogs up at least twice a day. It was a beautiful day, and a lovely walk. What I didn’t expect was the serenity I felt in seeing the world from that high up. All of the grit and grime of daily existence melted away, and everything below seemed sparkling clean and pure. Even the evidence of industry seemed tidy and neat, as it floated on the glittering surface of the water. I felt a detached, voyeuristic, solitary calm, similar to looking out of an airplane – except the sounds around me weren’t overpowered by the sound of engines. I relished my temporary separation from the sordid underbelly of reality for as long as it lasted. It really was quite marvelous. In a week, I can do it again – to take the signs down.


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