Thursday, November 22, 2007

Pullman Holidays

The cold weather has brought with it the reliable introspection that comes with the fall season, and it seems as though the "resident" writers here at Warm Earth Writings have gotten some wind in our sails as a result. Ken Winward provides us with the first post in many months, just in time for the holidays. - Jana

It is cold here in the high desert and it’s about this time of year that I start to recall those holidays about 100 miles northeast of here. As I think about the holidays, I guess that, like most people, I think about how the holidays were when I was a child. I think believe the first impression of Christmas I have is riding in the back of my folks’ wood-paneled station wagon and seeing the garlands that were drawn across Grand Ave. in Pullman. This avenue runs the length of the town north and south. These garlands would run from telephone pole to telephone pole the whole width of the four-lane road. These strands started at Dissmore’s and would be spaced every hundred yards clear to the old Pufferbelly Depot. The garlands were made from a green plastic that was about a foot in diameter that looked like a large green pipe-cleaner. This plastic surrounded an anchor-line that attached in five points equally spaced on the cable that ran between the adjacent telephone poles. The garland hung from the 5 attachment points with a drape that made this decoration look quite festive, but the features of the garland that really brought the adornment together was a few large globes along the length of the garland with a showpiece of a large orange bell that hung right in the middle of the strand.

As a young child, I spent every trip down this part of that road looking up through the curved glass in the very back of my folks’ station wagon trying to get a glimpse of the clapper that must be inside that bell (as my 2, 3, and 4-year-old reasoning determined). I could never see it! When I couldn’t see this clapper I began to jump over the seats bolting window to window (long before seatbelt and car-seat laws) trying to get the glimpse up inside those bells as we passed under each strand. It must have been a site for cars following us. Even when my folks got the new Impala station wagon that had the high-wrapped glass on the windows, I couldn’t get that glimpse. I finally gave up on this quest and forgot about the clapper. The inability to get a glimpse of this clapper drove me nuts for years. Especially the year the city maintenance dept lost the pulley used to install this decoration. (There was a big article in the Pullman Herald that my folks read to me when I asked why these decorations had not been hung.) We did not get to enjoy these ornaments, and I did not get a chance to quell my clapper obsession for 24 months!

Later in life I was a garbage man for the local disposal company. It was Christmas-time and the college students and much of the other residents in Pullman were gone for the holiday. I was driving truck 15, a lovely example of a Heil front-loading truck coupled with a Peterbilt (yes, it’s spelled that way) chassis. I had long ago forgotten about my clapper-quest until I was on my way to dump the Cougar Country 6-yard dumpster and realized that the decorations were up and the truck I was driving was 12’ 4” tall and I had a built-in ladder on the side of the truck. Just before I got to Cougar Country, I feigned a maintenance issue with the truck. Stopping directly under one of the garlands I turned on the emergency flashers, set out my warning triangles, jacked up the cab to expose the engine to further bolster the ruse, then climbed the frozen metal ladder rungs welded to the side of the truck’s compacting box. As I climbed, all that excitement I felt as a youngster stirred up inside of me and my hands started to shake. I reached the top of the truck and carefully traversed the ice-laden metal on top of the compactor. I looked up into the bell…it was a light bulb. Well, duh. Of course it was. I think I knew this since the bells were lighted at night but still, what a let down. I stood there and stared then reached up inside of the bell and felt the bulb out of sheer disbelief. After “fixing” the truck and as I started to drive away, I felt an interesting sense of enlightenment from the experience. While there was no clapper as I had reasoned years ago, it became a moment of endowment. I had now touched something that 20 years before I never believed I would. Very few people get to have that specific experience. I feel lucky.

I miss Christmas in Pullman…I think my kids need to take a ride with me to my home town and view these garlands. I wonder if Bill will let me borrow a garbage truck. - Ken Winward

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

We've found our resident poet at Warm Earth Writings! Jeff Worthy surprised me with a sampling of the poems he's written about the Palouse, and, because poetry is best savored slowly, I'll post one here from time to time. Here's the first one that caught my eye. - Jana


I stand on a bluff, overlooking the fields of my home.
The grain waves to me as it has so often before.
Here, in this country, a person is never alone.
The voice of the land something you cannot ignore.

Tears swell in my eyes as I realize what must be done.
I am leaving today, life’s path having drawn me elsewhere.
I cannot return to my days as a boy in the sun,
Running unhindered through farmland and field without care.

Why must I do this? Why must life draw me away?
Everything that I am has been forged and shaped in this place.
Still, in my heart I know that I cannot stay.
Growth and change are inherent traits of our race.

As we grow older, we hear the world calling to us.
As birds hear the call of the wild from outside the nest.
That call must be answered despite our sadness and fuss;
And I hear mine, drawing me forth to the west

I now say farewell to the land and home of my youth.
Taking with me the pride I feel when I’m here.
I will always remember and honor the ultimate truth:
I am from the Palouse; a place I will always hold dear.

--Jeff Worthy

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The Palouse in Film

If you haven't been back to the Palouse in a while, or, *gasp* if you've never visited the area, check out the following films that were shot on the Palouse - some are feature films, some documentary, and all promise to be a feast for at least two of your senses.

Feature Films:


Friday, March 09, 2007

Pullman's Pull (Special Guest Post - Part III)

Here is the much anticipated final installment of "Pullman's Pull" by Jeff Worthy. Enjoy! - Jana

"...My final, most necessary reconnection comes on the last night I am home. I wait, as I did so many other nights when I was younger, until my parents are well asleep. I step out onto the front porch, the streetlight on the corner of my parent’s property casting shadows all about me, shadows into which I will soon blend. Across town on College Hill, two brilliant red eyes like those of a giant owl stare back at me knowingly; two of the four faces of Bryan Hall’s clock tower. It sings to me then, the same sixteen chime song it has sung since my childhood, followed by eleven bell tolls to mark the top of the hour. “It’s nice to be back,” I whisper in response. I then slip down across the yard and set out on my nocturnal journey through the deserted streets of Military Hill. There is one last place to visit, and something there I feel I must obtain.

Beside the tolls of the bell tower, there are so few sounds in Pullman at night, especially in the summer. In late August you can hear the rock music from Greek Row as it echoes across the valley from College Hill--but not this night. What traffic there is is minimal, and it is downtown or on the campus, not very audible from the residential streets surrounding me. Crickets here and there, a passing car every twenty minutes or so; a soft breeze rustling the branches of the trees; that’s about all you get.

As I move through the streets, I use as many back roads and off-road short cuts as I can. This is a sacred pilgrimage for me, not one to be shared. I need to be alone. I emerge from the shadows at the crest of Hall Drive, and then I see it--the Pullman Tower. Not the Bryan Hall clock tower, but the water tower--my tower.

It looms over the campus of Pullman High School on the city’s northwest edge, a giant alabaster cylinder guarding Pullman’s border. The name “pullman” is painted around its base, twice, in blue, lower case letters, the two “l”s stretching to its top on either side, where red airplane warning lights pulse like the eyes of a slowly blinking bat. On this night, the light of the full moon gives the tower an almost fluorescent glow. Does it know I am coming? Of course not; thoughts like that are just the romantic musings of a quiet and sentimental man who cherishes the bastions of peaceful solitude he frequents, past and present. I press on.

Ten minutes later, I stand at the tower’s base. “Hello, old friend,” I whisper. I toss a stone against its chipped surface, and the tower responds with its characteristic voice, a sort of laser-blastish sound straight out of “Star Wars” that echoes for several long seconds before fading back into introspective silence ( I don’t usually throw rocks at my old friends, but the tower’s okay with it; we have an understanding). To my dismay, I notice then that what at one time was the best sled run in the city, the hill sloping away to the tower’s east, is now a fully landscaped housing development! What a loss to the kids around here, I think, sitting down in the waist high grass overlooking P.H.S. I lay back, gazing up at the expanse of the galaxy above me, listening to the gentle rustling of the night breezes as they sweep through the grass all around. I breathe in and out slowly, luxuriously. My fingers dig into the ground beneath me, immersing themselves in the rich, fertile soil of the land from which they originally came. The Palouse and I are one, once more.

A warmth, a primal power then enters through my hands, slowly spreading through my body, renewing strength and spirit. It is the same power that drew me here, but where that was but a single, distant voice calling me home, I hear now the full chorus of this country in the voices of the wind, the fields, and the very land on which I lay. So--is this just my imagination? Is my brain just fantasizing about some strange enchantment straight out of the works of J.R.R. Tolkien? I don’t think so. A deep, spiritual connection with the land is certainly not unknown among many cultures of the world, and simply because I belong to an era in which this sensation seems to hold less sway, it doesn’t invalidate the fact that I feel this connection, where others who choose to distance themselves from it do not. It is their loss. Western culture is dominated by materialism and feelings of isolation and separateness. We are losing our connection with the land, considering ourselves to be separate from, and often superior to, nature. The arrogance and utter stupidity of this mindset frustrates me, and soon enough, we will all be paying the price. Enough of that for now, as I don’t need to step up on my global warming soapbox in this essay. As for the connectedness I feel, it is very real to me, and I welcome it.

I lay there in the shadow of the Tower for some time, my reluctance to leave as potent as the instinctive sense that originally brought me here. However, knowing I have a long drive the next day, I fight against the emotional stream working to hold me down and sit up, pulling my hands free from the soil. One of them holds more than the rich Earth that gives life to the crops of the Palouse; it held a stone. A two inch long, pockmarked piece of vesicular basalt, native to the region. I sweep away the larger, loose clumps of dirt from its surface, polishing it lightly with my fingers. It is unremarkable; irregular in shape, rough in texture, vastly different from the smooth, multicolored beach pebbles I had collected from the Semiahmoo Spit back in Blaine. A piece of my soul’s home, small pockets of native ground embedded in its surface. A gift to take with me; The Tower Stone, which to this day helps reestablish my connection to the Palouse when homesickness strikes.

I slip the stone into my pocket as I stand up, brush myself off, and turn to the East, looking out over Pullman High to the fields beyond... to Colfax... Washtucna... Othello... Vantage... and eventually my wife and children who wait for me in Birch Bay, where my life’s choices have led and keep me.

The question has of course crossed my mind: should I return to stay? So much of what I am is tied to the Palouse Country. It right to be here. It isn’t that easy, though. I am established in Blaine; we have created a life there. Whatcom County has special beauties of its own, no doubt imprinting themselves on my children as Pullman’s beauties and spirit did me. Can I deny them that sense of home...the only one they have ever known? Moving could prevent Blaine and Birch Bay from ever being able to pull them home; I could sever a spiritual link with the only land they have ever had the chance with which to connect, and for what? Pullman, to them, will mean nothing but the hot place in the East where Grandma and Grandpa live. Hopefully, I will be able to take them to the places where their ancestors, on my side, lay interred in the Palouse, teaching them of one half of their heritage when the time is right. But for them, a home the Palouse will never likely be. My wife would never leave the water anyway, the Snake River not easily replacing the Puget Sound.

I remember standing in this same place beneath the Tower the night before leaving for Blaine for the first time to settle there. That was 15 years ago. It was a bittersweet time. I looked forward to the new challenges and opportunities ahead, and wept for what I would be leaving behind. To this day, when Pullman the rolling hills swallow Pullman in my rearview mirror, I still weep. On reflection, this is good. The thought that one cannot truly appreciate something until it is lost occurs to me again as the home of my soul recedes in the distance. Would I revere the Palouse, and Pullman itself, near so much had I never come to know what it was like to be separated from them? Would the feeling of returning ever truly have been felt as strongly as it is today? Perhaps it is the loss of a place we love that truly brings that love to its greatest intensity. Can we ever go home again? Yes--so long as we never truly leave it in spirit. Always--always--return again. - Jeff Worthy

Friday, March 02, 2007

Pullman's Pull (Special Guest Post - Part II)

Here is Part II of Jeff Worthy's essay entitled, 'Pullman's Pull', which he wrote for his students as an example of how to write a descriptive essay. This portion of his essay got me thinking about how many Pullman natives have their own list of "must-see" stops when they return to town. Mine is nearly identical to Jeff's - especially since we both lived on the same street. Someday, I expect to run into him on Clifford Street, driving slowly, and taking in all that has changed, and all that is, thankfully, the same. - Jana

"...The landscape is changing now. Gently rolling hills, supporting ripening crops of wheat, barley, lentils, and Austrian peas undulate into the distance. Soft winds send ripples of movement through the as yet unharvested fields, the waves of a terrestrial sea. Shadows of passing clouds obscure the sun in patches, subduing the verdant greens and blazing golds, but only for brief moments as the fields flare back to life when the sunlight breaks through once more. I roll down the window a bit to let in the rich, earthy fragrances of the fields, another enticement in the pull’s arsenal.

Road signs begin to appear, with arrows pointing off down narrow roads that wind North into the hills, leading to the sequestered, friendly farm towns of the Palouse. Their names are so familiar, though in truth I have visited only one of them; one which holds an honored place in my memory. St. John, Washington.

St. John, to me, is the epitome of small town America, an America that is fading away. It was here I was assigned as a student teacher under the supervision of Mr. Bruce Holbert, and educator whose guidance was invaluable in the earliest days of my career. I have never again seen a school like SJ-EHS (the communities of St. John and Endicott consolidating their district). With only 90 students enrolled, they all know one another, so well in fact that they never even close their lockers. The “lockers” aren’t equipped with locks anyway! When teaching Senior English, the entirety of the Senior class sat before me in a classroom they did not even fill. I met people such as Dick Behrens, who served as Principal, Vice-Principal, Athletic Director, Head Football Coach, Head Track Coach, Health teacher, and the District Representative to the W.I.A.A. (Washington Interscholastic Activities Association). Think you’re busy? Try a day in his shoes. The students were kind, respectful, and eager to learn. Whenever I have a difficult day or even question my career choice, I recall my days at SJE, and remember how truly joyous this profession can be, and the kind of kids that keep me in it--like you.

State Route 26 ends in Colfax, the Whitman County seat. I’m sixteen miles from the source of the pull. I merge onto U.S. Route 195, which will see me nearly through to the end of my journey. Colfax has changed little over the years; some new businesses, and new signage on the old ones. I had interviewed at Colfax High School, home of the Bulldogs, three days prior to interviewing in Blaine. Had CHS offered me the job, I’d have taken it--no hesitation whatsoever. What ripples that decision might have sent through my life I cannot begin to imagine. Things would have been...different. How might it have altered the feelings I have for this country, or would it have? Can one miss what one never leaves behind? There is a saying we have: You never fully appreciate something until it is gone. Is leaving something you love behind you necessary to fully appreciate it? More on that later.

Nothing now stands between me and my destination save sixteen miles of windy country road. I cruise between the quilted hills, reminiscing about the first time I drove my fiancee Margot to Pullman. Being something of a “city girl,” Colfax kind of freaked her out a little; she wasn’t accustomed to towns of such small size and apparent isolation, or the lack of trees. As we drew closer to Pullman, with no further signs of larger scale civilization presenting themselves, the anxiety emanating from her side of the car was as palpable as Othello’s heat.

A final roadsign catches my eye, and I even consider turning left, despite the delay it would bring. Had I done so, I would have shortly come to Albion, population 880. It was here my grandmother lived when I was a child. The memories flash before me like a slide show: staring up at her sparkling ceiling as I spent the night, picking gooseberries and eating them raw, getting kicked in the jaw by the neighbor’s horse. She had moved to Pullman when I was in the third grade, selling the house in Albion, which made me sad. No more drives to her house, no more sleep overs. A life chapter had closed. I turn left onto State Route 270. I am but a minute away. The pull is gone now, replaced by a warm aura of welcome and fulfillment. “Welcome home,” the city whispers, moments before it comes into view. The road gently rises between two wheat-blanketed hills, and I can already see in my mind’s eye the vision that will open up before me once the hill is crested. I then begin to sing a song called “Return Again” from the Unitarian Universalist Hymnal which I have always felt fit this moment, this entire journey, exceptionally well:

Return again, return again, return to the home of your soul.
(Repeat line)
Return to who you are, return to what you are, return to where you are born
and reborn again.
(Repeat first line twice more)

It is a simple song. When I sing it, this is the moment I visualize--reaching the top of the final hill and seeing the home of my soul once again, still right there where it should be.

Pullman lies nestled in a shallow river valley, sprawling up onto four surrounding hills, each with its own name: Military Hill, Pioneer Hill, Sunnyside Hill, and College Hill. It is unique, this city. Surrounded on all sides by vast tracks of farmland, here sits a town of 26,000 people, 18,000 of which range in ages between 18 and 22. Despite this, people do live here; not all of them are temporary residents here to attend classes at Washington State University. Even though the city largely exists to serve the university, and would not exist without it, there is more to this special place than just W.S.U. When I tell someone I am from Pullman, the typical response is “Wow! I didn’t know people actually lived there.” Oh, they do. They thrive there, love it there--and when they leave it, it calls them frequently home.

Over the next several days of my visit, I make the necessary pilgrimages: to the house on Clifford street (now significantly remodeled) in which I was raised until I was eight; to Jefferson Elementary School (having been demolished and rebuilt since my day) where my formal education began; to Hobbs Field where I played my high school football for the Greyhounds; to the W.S.U. campus itself, transformed by new construction each time I visit; to Ferdinand’s for ice cream; and at least one visit to the Cougar Country Drive-In. Some thought the arrival of McDonald’s, Burger King, and Arby’s in Pullman would drive old Cougar Country under. Sorry, folks. They didn’t miss a beat. If you ever get the chance when passing through Pullman, visit the quaint little restaurant, and order a Cougar Special with onion rings and a chocolate shake. Tell me then you haven’t crossed over into the promised land..." - Jeff Worthy

( be continued. check back soon for the next post!)

Friday, February 23, 2007

Pullman's Pull (Special Guest Post - Part I)

In the past couple of weeks, I've been reconnecting with PHS grads in the quest to spread the word about our upcoming reunion. A common thread has been emerging in our communications, and that is how often people have mentioned that the Palouse seeped into their very souls and never let go, despite time and distance. The following guest post was written by Jeff Worthy, now known as "Mr. Worthy" to the high school english students that he teaches near the Canadian border in the northwest corner of our state. Jeff was a friend, classmate, and fellow Military Hill resident, from Jefferson Elementary through the Pullman High years. His story (which will be brought to you in a few installments) reminds us that people who have lived on the Palouse and have moved away are often afflicted by an acute case of homesickness that may well affect us for the rest of our lives. - Jana

It has often been said in conversations regarding one’s past or childhood that “you can’t go home again.” I disagree with this statement, inasmuch as it applies to me, and, I suspect, to many others. I not only can go home again, but I must. It is a matter of spiritual survival. And, fundamentally, though I have lived elsewhere in body for fifteen years, I never really left in spirit the land which helped shape who I am. This land is the “Inland Empire” of Washington State--the Palouse Country.

There is a force that exerts itself upon me should I begin to draw close to this unique and unspeakably beautiful land. I have dubbed the force “Pullman’s Pull.” Similar phenomena are not unprecedented in nature. Salmon return to the same streams, sea turtles to their beaches of origin. There are obvious differences between what drives these animals and what I intend to describe here. At the same time, though my purpose in returning home may differ from theirs, I would venture to claim that the need is felt with no less intensity. Join me now, on a voyage to the Palouse, shown through the senses of a native son.

Where Interstate 90 branches off into State Route 26 is where I first see the name “Pullman” on a roadsign. I have just crossed the Columbia River at Vantage, and the road turns east after a slight Southern jog. I do not yet feel “the pull;” there is a slight tingle of anticipation, a quickening of the heartbeat at seeing my hometown’s name mentioned for the first time after several hours of driving, but nothing more is felt at this time. This rocky scrubland surrounding me now is not the Palouse. The Columbia River Basin Project has managed to irrigate much of the land and has made farming it possible, patches of rich, emerald green visible among the flat, brown expanse between the Frenchman Hills to the North and Saddle Mountains to the South. My foot presses down on the accelerator; I want out of here.

Royal City passes by on my left, and once again, after having driven past it countless times in my life (never having stopped), I wonder how either word, “royal” or “city,” applies to it. Nice people, I’m sure. No doubt there is a power here not unlike the one that draws me on, calling to its own native children, wherever they may be. The road veers to the southeast, and I cross from Grant to Adams county. Othello is not far off. Run down, rusted out mobile homes lay scattered about on either side of the highway every few miles, sheltering what must be hardy folk who eke out an existence from the land and what their labors can draw from it. I wonder for an instant what it is that keeps them here in such a lonely and desolate place. My rational mind steps in soon enough, countering back with a sharp accusation. Who am I to judge them? They see beauty here--it is their home. Few people I have met raised in Whatcom County can wrap their brains around someone’s wanting to visit let alone live in where I am ultimately headed. I can’t explain it to them. Could these trailer-dwelling laborers make me see the love they have for their own simple existence? Would they give it up if they could? Would it give them up?

Time for gas. Othello is a decent sized town, though I’ll see only the outer fringe of convenience stores and restaurants established to cater to passers-through such as myself. I pull into the nearest mini-mart/gas station and open the car door, the blast of dry, dust-strangled air which greets my emergence being sufficient to make me sit back down for a second. I thank the engine for enduring the air conditioning, gird myself, and step back out into the blast furnace. I’m even in the shade.

As I fuel up the car, I can’t help but feel a little nervous about releasing an errant drop of gasoline into the transparent flames of air swirling all around me. The heat is so oppressive you can see it rising in blistering waves from the ebony pavement of the surrounding parking lots. Trucks of at least a dozen different sizes, colors, and purposes trundle by, further fouling the air with the acrid stench of exhaust. Each one is like a worker ant in service of the agricultural queen that sustains this region. The drivers are the trailer-dwellers, a lot of them; migrant farm workers working hard at the only trade they know, used to the heat, grime, and sweat that is their daily fare. Well, I’m not. Time to go. Topping off the tank, I climb back in the car, fire up the AC once more, and pull back onto the highway heading east. I hope the tires don’t melt before I reach the next bastion of civilization. The road ahead is long and straight, shimmering in the midday assault of the sun. It is an asphalt channel carved through flat farmland which reaches to the horizon in all directions. Far in the distance I can discern an occasional homestead or storage silo. What quiet, peaceful nights the people stationed in this vast frontier must enjoy. I romanticize a little, I admit. The farmer’s life, despite the crop, must be a very challenging one in many respects.

I cannot personally verify this from direct experience, save for the ten days I spent in the summer before my Sophomore year in high school bucking fifty pound hay bales as a brief but brutal summer job. There is no better motivation for getting a college education than hands on experience in the physical labor that comes with working in a hayfield. After one day, my biceps were cramping every time I flexed my arms, my feet and hands were blistered, and I seriously considered not going back. However, having been raised never to quit anything I started, I returned the next day, and by day three, I had hardened enough to see it through to the end. Ten thousand bales of hay we moved in ten days, the hay truck only able to hold one hundred at a time. Jeez. “That which does not kill us makes us stronger” right?

To spend your life in such a way would require being born into it, being surrounded by it day in and day out. It would then get in your blood and bones, and soon your soul. The farm’s “pull” would assert itself then, and leaving it behind forever would prove unconscionable. That’s just a theory, and I’m sure there are plenty of people who would fervently refute me. I’ll bet more than a few would nod and agree too.

Suddenly, I feel it take genuine hold--the pull has sensed the approach of one of its own, and like a lighthouse keeper who spies a ship at sea, it trains his light upon it to guide it in. I swiftly glide into the valley in which Washtucna is nestled, not even slowing down as I pass it by. I do, however, glance briefly to the southwest through the sleepy town, making a mental promise. Fourteen miles away is another small town called Kahlotus. Somewhere outside Kahlotus, in the center of a farmer’s wheat field, stands a tree. A photographer named John Clement, whose work I greatly admire, once captured that tree and field on film during or just following a storm, with a rainbow reaching down to the tree from the clouds above it. The photograph is called “Isolation’s Hope.” When I first saw that photograph in a book entitled Palouse Country: A Land and its People, I gasped aloud. It touched my spirit, capturing the very essence of my feelings toward this sacred land. One day, I promise myself, I will find that tree, sit beneath it, and just be, finding hope in isolation. - Jeff Worthy (end of Part I...check back soon for part II)

Monday, December 04, 2006

"Mais ou sont les neiges d'antan?" - Rabelais

Palouse November days always seem to start off with one toe testing the waters of winter. Gone are the cool days and crisp evenings of the energizing Septembers, when the transition from summer into fall brings an intense longing for football and all things academic. Last month’s delicious thoughts of pouring through bookstores and sopping up information in post-grad courses - the insatiable craving for knowledge and accomplishment and new possibilities, starts to fade to grey, and there’s an unsettled restlessness in the air.

In the Pullman Novembers of the late 70’s of my childhood, when the air was still and froze my ears and reddened the tip of my nose, and the novelty of a new school year had started to wear thin, I waited. Where was it? When would it finally get here? As it always happened, on one of those November days, as I was walking past the large windows in our living room, I'd catch a glimpse of something out of the corner of my eye. I’d take a few steps back to peer around the curtain and verify what I thought I just saw – could it be…? Holding my breath, I’d stare out at the evergreen tree in our front yard and look deeper, trying to focus on the foreground rather than the tree itself. And when I saw that white flakes were indeed falling past the contrast of the deep green branches of the tree, my heart would quicken - It was the first snowfall of the season - and I’d run for the phone.

My best friend, L, and I had an agreement because we waited - equally impatient in anticipation of the first snow - that whoever saw the snow falling first would immediately call the other and after bundling up in our winter coats, we'd meet each other "on the corner". We both lived on Clifford Street, her house was one down from the corner of Harrison, and mine was two houses up on the opposite side of the street. On the corner between us stood a streetlight, and there, in the first snowfall of the season, we'd look up and watch the snow fall softly and slowly past the warm glow of the light. We stood there dreaming of snowy season delights like making snowmen and snow angels, building snow forts at school, watching the wind build up the snow drifts in my backyard and wondering how high they’d get this year. As for L, I think she was also dreaming of sliding in her winter boots.

L's winter boots were really rubber boots – the kind that you would wear if you had to walk down a muddy road or wade through a stream in fall - with hardly any warm lining and soles so worn down after years of use by her older brothers and sisters, that they provided no traction at all. But, oh, those boots were the object of my envy. When L and I would walk to the school for class or to go sledding, she would take off running and slide for a good 7 feet on any attempt. My moon boots - fashionable as they were at the time - let me slide nowhere, and when I tried, I'd stop dead in my tracks, almost tripping over myself from the momentum. Of course, L's mother warned her against sliding in those boots which made me wonder why she would give her rubber winter boots to wear in the first place. They weren't warm and were worse than wearing tennis shoes on the snow.

L was a carefree spirit, much to her mother's dismay. She had energy, creativity, and an independent mind which her parents were always trying to stifle to keep up appearances at their church. Her mother would use a whistle to call her home from playing up the street and the sound of it always made me sad - as if she were trying to call in the dog instead of her daughter. But where L was unlucky in her freedoms, I considered her supremely lucky in the inappropriate winter gear department and I pined after those rubber boots. Out of her mother’s sight, L knew that she had an opportunity for fun with those boots and the temptation was too great, the result too enjoyable to resist so she did it anyway, despite her mother’s chidings. I can still see her now, carefree, smiling her Farrah Fawcett smile, and sliding all the way to school.

The period between November 1 and January 1 was 'true winter' in Pullman to me, even if it didn’t match what the calendar said. During this time, the snow would fall in its greatest amounts, and the expectations of the season were fulfilled. This was the period of time during which I didn't mind shoveling snow, bundling up to go outside, being cold, and taking slow, careful steps on the icy sidewalks. As I saw it, the wide feet that I’d been born with gave me only one advantage – while I’d watch other people slip and fall on the ice several times during the season, I had really good balance and could generally pull myself out of any near-disaster – even if it was on my last toe.

When I tired from hours of endless outdoor fun that the snow provided and came inside to thaw out next to the fireplace, I’d generally choose to sit on the sofa facing backwards, looking out through the windows at our large douglas fir, especially if it was an extra snowy day and all of my chores were done. There, I’d watch snow fall past the tree and accumulate on the branches, and sing along to ‘Love is the Answer’ by England Dan and John Ford Coley, coming from the radio across the room, while I stretched my feet toward the heat of the fire. It was here that I dreamed in still contemplation, as I watched the snow cover every house, yard, and car in the neighborhood in a clean, quiet blanket. Occasionally, a car would come around the corner and drive past the house - the sound muffled by the compacted snow on the road. Those who had chains on their tires kicked up snow behind them as they made their way up the street. Snow plows would rumble by as they scraped the roads, leaving berms of compacted snow at the edge of everyone's driveway - much to the dismay of those who had just shoveled a path from their cars to the street.

From my backwards perch on the sofa, I'd watch the neighbors shoveling their walks, puffs of shimmering snow blowing from the tops of cars and branches of the trees, Mrs. M in her kitchen across the street baking her famous homemade bread, the handsome mailman trustily making his way from house to house. For many years I had a schoolgirl crush on our mailman. I’m not sure if it was my love of receiving mail, or my love of our mailman, but he was rugged and had a kind face, and always smiled at me as I watched him put the mail in our mailbox at around 11am each and every day. After he’d pass by to the next house, I continued to sit, watching the frozen world outside my window from the warmth of our living room, dreaming of Christmas presents and snow days and conjuring up ways to convince my mom that I really needed a pair of rubber boots for the snow because they were imperative to the fulfillment of my wintertime soul.

I was thinking of my friend, L, the other day as I was sliding on a pair of rubber boots in preparation for my volunteer work in stream monitoring. With the cold whip of a late November wind in my face, I pulled on those boots and remembered my friend with the carefree spirit, looked up to the sky and searched, impatiently, for any sign of the first snowfall. - Jana

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Breathe In...Breathe Out

To my devoted readers - my apologies for the long delay in posting anything new. Since returning to work after maternity leave, the lack of sleep and extra time has reduced my willingness to put fingers to keyboard and brew up any memories - but the crisp fall air is slowly enticing them out and I hope to have a new posting up soon. Until then - check out the October 7 show of Prairie Home Companion, a rousing show, recorded live at the Beasley Coliseum in Pullman, filled with many anecdotes of the Palouse area. - Jana

Saturday, June 17, 2006

The Man with the Brown Cigarettes

Living in a small-ish town has its benefits - shorter lines at the movie theater, very short commutes to work, and the comfort of continuity. It also affords the opportunity to see the same people over and over again on a regular basis - which can be a positive thing, or a negative, depending on whether you mind stopping to talk to people in the grocery store. Pullman was a small town, and often times, you knew of nearly everyone's business - but the town was just large enough so that you didn't know everyone's name or where they lived or worked. You pretty much knew if someone was a farmer, or if they worked for the university, or what business they owned in town. But there were a few people that you saw on a regular basis who didn't fit the mold of any one occupation, and they kept you wondering.

I worked at the newly-opened Serv-a-Burger during the summer of 1987, leading up to my freshman year at WSU in my attempt to raise enough money for fall tuition, which I remember as being $933 a semester back then. Serv-a-Burger was located in what is now Tam's Place, a family restaurant where most locals have eaten a breakfast or two over the years. Behind the counter at Serv-a-Burger, I served up burgers and fishwiches, milkshakes and onion rings to a mixture of summer students, WSU staff and locals who came through each day, calling out "number 34, your order is ready" over the loudspeaker, and doing my best to keep the cooks from serving up beef patties that had fallen to the floor after a bad flip of the spatula.

Of all of the customers who came through the door that summer, I remember one man in particular. He came in every day at about the same time, would walk up to the counter and say, "coffee," without a smile or an inflection of his voice, no additional chit-chat, no comments about the nice weather we were having, just a barely audible, "coffee". I'd seen this man before, but unlike most other people in town, he was a mystery to me because I'd never heard a story about him, didn't know where he lived, and didn't know anyone that knew him. What I did know of him was that he walked everywhere he went - with his head slightly bent to the ground as if he didn't want anyone to look him in the eye, and slowly, with a steady pace, his hands in his pockets and a book tucked between his arm and his side. His face was always the same too - expressionless - and somewhat sad, so that I imagined him without any friends or anyone to talk to. It made me wonder where he worked, because surely, no one would hire a person if they didn't have anything to say and were so quiet. I became convinced that he worked for the university because he didn't own a business in town and no farmer would be walking around town every day in the summer, but what sort of job did he have at the university that would allow him to be so introverted and how on earth did he get through the interview?

He was probably in his 40's and wore some sort of muted polyester pants with a button-down shirt that always had a front pocket. In that pocket he carried a pack of long cigarettes - the kind that were wrapped in brown tobacco paper - I'd never seen anyone smoke cigarettes in brown tobacco paper, which made me wonder about him even more. The only word I ever heard this man say was, "coffee", and even that word didn't come out with any flair or interest. After a few weeks of his patronage, we learned that he wanted his coffee black and didn't want anything else to accompany it - no fries, no banana split, just the coffee. I imagined him being from the East Coast, where people tend to be less sociable and don't look anyone in the eye - but maybe he was just painfully shy. While he didn't seem like a mean man, I wondered how happy he was, not thinking that I could do anything about it except to have his coffee ready each day without asking him if he wanted "fries to go with that". He always paid in cash, so I never saw a check from the man that entire summer and never learned his name, or where he lived.

I saw him a few years ago when I was in town. Still walking, still wearing polyester and a button-down shirt, with a book under his arm and a pack of long brown cigarettes sticking out of his shirt pocket. I guess I'll never know what he does for a living or where he lives in town, but I have him to thank for reminding me that Pullman wasn't too small of a town, because there were still a few people that I didn't know. Here's to you, man with the brown cigarettes - I hope you're a happy man. - Jana

Friday, June 16, 2006

Go Greyhounds! (A special guest post)

The following post was written by Ken Winward. Ken was in my kindergarten class and in many of my classes throughout our 12 years in the Pullman School District. Because we always seemed to be placed in the same classes throughout the years, I considered him a reliable friend, and his presence was reassuring. He was the kind of person you knew would stick up for you if you needed it, or would take the time to listen if you needed someone to lend an ear. Ken was an excellent athlete in his high school years, and I remember him stopping me in the halls of PHS one day, to tell me that I should "lift" because I had the calves for it! Ken found my blog a few weeks back, and I asked him if he had a memory of Pullman to contribute, and, true to his passion for athletics, he submitted the following story... - Jana

Living in a college town such as Pullman gives a unique experience to a high school athlete. Even though Pullman is a small town (25,000 during the school year, 10,000 when the college is out for the summer) you can never be a “big fish in a small pond.” For instance, as a footballer, no matter how good a game you played on Friday, all of your heroic acts would be well over-shadowed by the Pac 10 game that was going to be played 18 short hours later on, on the very same field (i.e. Martin Stadium).

The air was crisp. Three hours before kick-off we met at the PHS football locker room right next to the practice field. We changed as a team. The sounds of taping the injured filled the cement and tile quarters. The visiting team changed in the adjacent, mirror image facility, imitating our pre-game rituals. Some of us dressed early and had time to spend in the pad room. This room is where tackling dummies and shields are kept. The mason who set the cinder-block walls lining the pad room did a fine job on the outside of the building. People who sat on the bleachers could look down and see beautifully smoothed mortar; but the inside was rough and bulging where the mortar set in grotesque stalactites hanging from the wall at each groove. We didn’t mind though. To get-up for the game, we would lay on the tackling pads, and we would share tapes and walkmans, listening to AC/DC, Beastie Boys, Scorpions, Ozzy and any other teen-testosterone generating music that was available in the late 80’s.

Big Coach B. would come and shake the clutch of us who were in the pad room. When he shook us, we knew to stow our electronics because it was time to get last-minute instructions before we left for Martin Stadium. PHS did not have a lit stadium in the 80’s. We played on the WSU Cougar astro-turf. This was big time for a small town varsity football player. As we left the high school locker room, the light smell of sweat and mildew would be replaced with the scent of burnt or burning wheat stubble that filled the air in the fall around the Palouse. The cool night air and scorched farmland filling your nose was electric. It was game time.

The trip to WSU’s stadium was about 2 miles door to tunnel. The bus trip was like riding to Moscow -- it took forever!

Mr. H would drive the bus. He was a permanent fixture on local or road trips. He volunteered almost always. I believe he was living what I live now as I embark on my fourth decade of life. He had that desire to feel that electricity that one only feels when being a part of this high school ritual. I long for it and desire it now. It harrows my essence after tasting it once and knowing I will never have it back again. Mr. H wanted to feel it too.

When we off-loaded from the bus, the smell of diesel exhaust faded, as we approached the tunnel. The eradicated stubble once again filled our noses. The sound of the gravelly-idle of the bus was also replaced with “that sound”. That sound of a small high school band tuning in a Division-1 stadium. It was like throwing a hand full of pebbles in a canyon and hearing the echo of the stones hit the floor of the hole, but those few pebbles would never quite fill the crater. It was beautiful.

The moon was now rising. The smoke covering the area filtered the light from the moon making it appear to be blood-red. One would think that such a sight would possibly shock a visiting team and their fans that came to Pullman for the game, but all the towns that made up the Frontier League saw the same effect on the moon where they came from. They were all farm towns. The only shock to the visitors came when they walked into the stadium and found the place could hold the total population of Pullman and then some.

As we would head down the dark tunnel (they didn’t turn on all the lights in the stadium for the high school games), it was like crossing the Styx. You were transformed going from the dark to the well-lit field; you were now different. It was a type of baptism. Nothing you had on your mind mattered that did not pertain to the performance you were about to attempt.

Once emerged from the tunnel, the sight was amazing. So many empty seats. A stadium built for 30,000+ seating only a couple hundred fans all on the southeast side, visitors and hometown folks seated together. I never quite knew why they all always sat on that side. Maybe it was to avoid the walk between narrow bleachers, or maybe it was the limited shelter the slightly overhanging press box provided in the off chance of rain. Whatever it was, it was lonely. Our coaches only let us set-up on the far side of the stadium, away from the crowd. With the fans that far away in such a large bowl, to say the least, it was a delayed positive feedback when a play went well.

And now came the sound of the band as their tuning ended and they began the national anthem. Hearing them play, their sound passing and coming back again after bouncing off the empty bleachers behind our sideline, was simply surreal. With the right tempo, the echoing would create a round effect. That was Pullman High School football.

I am 37 now. My wife is a high school teacher, and I have been a spectator to many a high school football game since the 80’s. The school she teaches at now has the same fight song melody as Pullman’s. When they fire-up the band here, for a second, I am snapped back to high school looking through a full cage face mask at the field I am about to take with my teammates. Today Pullman High School plays football at the school on Hobbs Field (it was our practice field and the JV and Frosh teams’ game field until they decided to light it in the late 90’s or so).

The games I played were memorable, just as they would be for any other high school team, but the uniqueness of playing in Martin Stadium is going to be one of the sweetest recollections I will have from my time in Pullman. - Ken Winward

Thanks for bringing us back to those fall Friday nights at Martin Stadium, Ken! Go Greyhounds!