May-June 2008

MY MOTHER IN LAW'S HAPPY FALL FROM GRACE

By Valerie Cooley

My mother in law was a good woman. She was Swiss-German, born in the U.S. but strongly imbued with the virtues of the old country. She wasn't a Julie Andrews type, though, frolicking in Alpine meadows throughout The Sound of Music. Her people didn't frolic. Neither did they scale jagged peaks to find edelweiss, nor yodel merrily back and forth across deep valleys. They milked their cows at precisely the same time every day and grew the flowers in their window boxes to precisely the same height. They were the stiff backbone of society, unable to stoop to crime, sloth, nonsense, or excessive merriment.

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March-April 2008

THINGS THAT GO BUMP IN THE NIGHT

By Valerie Cooley

I was a calm child, unmoved by Halloween monsters, scary camp songs, or my brother's attempts to terrify me. I'm calm as an adult, too, unafraid of dogs, thunder, or being alone. But I do enjoy the vicarious danger in mystery novels and I love the scary music in suspense movies. I think that my subconscious has decided that I'm a little too dull, though, and need a few realistic shivers now and again.

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January-February 2008

DANCING WITH THE DRAGON

Liberty Elyash: born May 6, 1919, died Oct 23, 2007

By Valerie Cooley

I saw Liberty for the first time at New Year’s Camp. He was a commanding figure, even across the wide room where he held a small group in thrall. He had a lithe, wiry frame, expressive gestures, and white hair that tossed wildly as he spoke. He made me think of Old Testament patriarchs and Macedonian kings. I was fascinated. “What is this man?” I wondered. “A storyteller? A magician?”

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November-December 2007

WEB-BERRIES

By VALERIE COOLEY

It’s late summer as I write this. At least I think it is. Maybe it’s early fall. My perception of the season depends less on the calendar and more on the relative abundance of blackberries and spiders. When I’m picking berries in the heat of the day, the spiders are out of sight, digesting their morning meals, and it’s clearly late summer. My fingers pick happily and my mind rambles over old cycling trips and all the times we stood on tip toe beside blackberry tangles to pluck the choicest berries. The sun is always hot in these memories, and it’s always summer, even though, in other, berry-free moods, I know there was occasionally rain, wind, and frosty mornings.

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September-October 2007

CONTRA DANCE:

ESSENCE OR ILLUSION?

By Valerie Cooley

When I was in 9th grade journalism, I wanted to work for Life Magazine when I grew up, traveling the world with nothing but a Leica and a battered typewriter. In 10th grade journalism I hated the teacher and changed my mind. I kept taking pictures, though, nothing brilliant but fun. That is, they were until I tried capturing the joys of contra dancing. I got hundreds of pictures of happy people in colorful, idiosyncratic clothing, engaged in earnest but incomprehensible chaos, but nothing to show my aunt in Ohio why it was fun. The only thing I ever caught that looked like exuberance was posed.

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July August 2007

TRUTH IS RELATIVE

(BUT NOT ONE OF MINE)

By Valerie Cooley

"Her name was Zoë," my mother said. "It rhymes with ‘Joey' and means ‘life'. So ironic for one who died so young."

I had just dug my favorite picture out of the pirate-chest trunk that harbored our oldest family photographs. It was a graceful scene of my great-grandmother's family in the garden of their home in Heppner, Oregon. All the women wore long gowns with long puffy sleeves made of summer-weight lawn. Their dark hair was piled high on their heads. Mother's grandmother, Nannie, was flanked by her daughters: soft, winsome Willetta and the handsome but stiff Mabel. Other relatives, male and female, looked pleasantly enough into the camera but one doe-eyed young beauty stood out.

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May-June 2007

The Skirling of the Bodhran

By Valerie Cooley

One night in January, when the houses were still decorated for Christmas and raindrops made little halos around the colored lights, I went to Tom McGrath's house for a Celtic Folk Fest committee meeting. It was a nice little house, one you might see on a Christmas card: a peaked, shingled roof, a huge, well-lit tree beaming through diamond-paned windows, and a sumptuous wreath on the door. The owner, the emcee from last year's Celtic fest, met us at the door like the lord of the manor, an imposing man whose presence somehow made the charming little house seem much grander than it had a moment before. We were steered graciously through the living room, past a stone fireplace laid with an ample fire, to a table in the dining room. It was a large room with a desk in the corner topped by a bookshelf. I missed the introductions as I scanned book titles. There were dictionaries, phone books, and a thesaurus. There was a Celtic section - history, place names, family names, genealogy, music, and costumes. What really caught my interest, though, was a row of bird books - field guides, life histories, and several on falconry. I wondered if he had ever hunted with a bird and if he'd seen my favorite new book on how to identify hawks too far away to see.

The chairperson gently guided me back to the group purpose, which was to finalize the concert program. I wasn't sure why I was there but I listened with mild interest. I perked up when they started discussing how the bagpiper should make his entrance: From the wings of the stage? From the back door, behind the audience? Tom was for the rear entrance.

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March-April 2007

SOUVENIRS, BLESS ‘EM!

By Valerie Cooley

 

This morning as I made coffee, a crack in the filter cone pinched my finger. I felt a stab of sadness more than pain. It would break soon and be replaced by a shiny new one with no attendant memories, no daily reminders of happy, long ago camping trips.


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January-February 2007

THE REALLY, TRULY COMMUNITY GARDEN

By Valerie Cooley

I never lifted a finger to help make our community garden happen but it happened anyway. After the weedy lot was dedicated – on Earth Day 2005 – individuals and businesses began donating money, topsoil, lumber, organic fertilizer, pipes, mulch, and tools. Not me, not a dime. By the time it opened for planting a year later, volunteers had donated thousand of hours of weeding, digging, moving dirt, building raised beds and fences, and laying pipe. Not me. Not a drop of sweat did I contribute. Still, because most of the people involved were fellow Master Gardeners, I took pride in the wonderland they had created.

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