Monthly Archives: January 2015

Big Wind

A Tree at St. Ed's

(photo of downed tree in St. Edward’s Park, Kenmore WA)

Sunday morning and I slowly wake to the sensation of being in a storm at sea. I’m in bed, not a boat, and not being tossed by waves. What haunts is the sound of wind moving through the evergreens that ring our property. The firs and cedars look to be three or four stories high and the gaps between them are filled in by scrappy alders, someday-queenly maples, and other upwardly-mobile deciduous trees. All along Catwhisker Road, you’ll find pockets of these combos—the year-round greens and their naked-in-winter comrades. Not to mention the fallen trunks, slowly rotting away. There’s a greenbelt behind our house, and it, too, is dense with the ever-living, the dormant, and the dead.

When the weather’s calm, I think of these big trees as our friends and sentinels. They give shade and shelter to untold numbers of birds, beetles and rodents. They’re solid and reassuring. If a drunk/texting teenager/upset woman/heart attack victim behind the wheel veered off Catwhisker Road and headed toward our house, the trees would put a firm stop to their trajectory. Which is good, because who wants to end up on the evening news with a video of a car’s rear end hanging out from what used to be our living room? (NOTE: this is on my internal list of Paranoid Possibilities which occasionally run through my head like background muzak.)

But when it’s windy, like this morning, the trees’ upper foliage amplifies the sound. The sentinel trees sway drunkenly and their trunks, which seem so solid, sometimes tilt at a worrisome angle. When it blows hard, I look around the property to see which tree seems most likely to surrender and crash to the ground. If one fell on our house while we were sleeping, would it crush us? (NOTE: this also is on my list of Paranoid Possibilities.)

The odds of this happening depend on how healthy the trees are. Apparently, an evergreen can look just fine on the outside but be rotting away on the inside, like Dorian Gray. Then a big wind comes along and topples it. Also, for such impressive upper-story growth, an evergreen has shallow roots. When the ground gets spongy with rain, the roots give way.

The wind has died and the skies are clearing. I’ll take Reba for a walk and see what debris has been scattered overnight. There’s always something—a gnarly tree limb frosted in moss, a bouquet of green needles, a carpet of rust-colored cedar needles. I walk the ring of evergreens and check out their trunks. They seem solid enough. I’ll take my chances and live with these beautiful monsters.

“Annie” or “Unbroken”?

Oakland on Christmas Day. Visiting my son, his wife and two boys. Family tradition sez we go to a movie on Christmas Day. (We’ve seen some very un-Christmas-y movies, like Oliver Stone’s “JFK”).

On our way to the theater, the adults were debating whether to see “Unbroken or “Into the Woods.” Nat, 10, spoke up. He had a say in what movies we saw, didn’t he? Adult silence. He made a pitch for “Annie.” More adult silence.

I sure didn’t want to see what looked like a saccharine, bombastic musical. Nat insisted it’d be a great, movie-going experience, but he couldn’t stir up enough excitement. I was trying to let him down gently, and to figure out another movie choice that we adults could tolerate. Then I realized: I was the grandma in this particular situation. Let son and his wife and her sister go see an adult movie. I’d go to “Annie,” and might not enjoy it, but it would be a chance to hang out with Nat and Gil. With no pressure from me, Hombre ditched the heavy movies and came along with us. Turns out he really liked Cameron Diaz as Miss Hannigan.

My writer-brain kept picking apart the “Annie” script – the actors deserved better. Especially Quvenzhané Wallis, who was down-to-earth, smart and compassionate as Annie. I liked the music, but wished they hadn’t auto-tuned it until it was all flat and bland. Mostly, it was long, and I kept glancing at Nat and Gil to see if they liked the movie.

They were mesmerized by the big screen. And that was the most enjoyable part of the movie for me. I remembered Nat and Gil’s dad when he was their age. He and his sister would come home from a movie and tell me the plot, blow by twisty blow. I marveled at their memory, their enthrallment with the story. And now, decades later, I enjoy Nat and Gil’s complete absorption in “Annie.”

When the movie ends, we wait in the lobby for the adults to emerge from “Unbroken.” My son, his wife and her sister look drained. Maybe I got the better deal on our Christmas Day movie.

Cat Whisker Road


My husband and I have lived on this busy road for almost 15 years. It’s now a two-lane road funneling commuters from Snohomish, East Bothell and Eastern suburbs into Seattle. Maples line the street, forming an canopy of shade over the road. In the fall, when the leaves turn wine and red, orange and yellow, drivers stop, park their cars, and get out to take photos.

Cat Whisker Road is a residential street lined with homes and apartment complexes. The speed limit is 35 miles per hour, but drivers barrel along faster than that during rush hour. Children and seniors live on this street, not to mention dogs and cats. Last summer, the road was four lanes. A bicyclist walking his bike in a cross walk was fatally struck by a pickup. Caleb, the bicyclist, was 16 when he died. The truck driver didn’t see him in the cross walk until it was too late.

Since his death, Caleb’s family has kept fresh flowers, artificial orchid leis, live plants, stuffed animals and love notes at the accident site. Shortly after the memorial, an old bike spray-painted white — a ghost bike — appeared. It’s still chained it to a maple trunk near the memorial.

The City of Kenmore, after years of ignoring the crazy traffic and poorly maintained sidewalks, hurriedly redesigned the traffic lanes. At the base of the road, off of Bothell Way (a major thoroughfare), the four lanes remain, but now they quickly merge to two lanes well before the walkway and busy intersection. The City installed yellow lights on the crosswalk that flash when a pedestrian presses a button to cross. Still, it’s a gamble for someone on foot to cross Cat Whisker. For a long stretch, there are no stop signs, so it’s easy for a driver to pick up speed without thinking.

When I walk my dog past Caleb’s memorial, I check it out to see if new plants and flowers have been added. It’s winter now, and the plastic flowers have faded. Caleb’s photo, nestled among the flowers, has faded a little, too. He must’ve been a cool kid. He has an open, genial expression, with clear skin and eyes.

We are in such a hurry to get from one place to another. At the same time, we’re bored with driving, and distract ourselves with radio, breakfast, putting on makeup, texting, and phone calls. I can’t imagine what it must feel like for the young man whose truck plowed into Caleb. How does your own life change after you’ve accidentally taken someone else’s?

Ghost Bike

Ghost Bike