Nature of Things: Columns

These newspaper columns were published in the North Coast Citizen Newspaper (and a few in Hipfish) from 2009 to 2011. They are arranged chronologically, from the first column written to the last. 

Coastal Dreams; Coastal Economy
Tricia Gates Brown {first appeared in North Coast Citizen Newspaper}
When I moved from the Willamette Valley to the north Oregon coast in 2004, it was a leap. I parachuted out of a life that no longer accommodated my soul, into a 10-month sojourn of dis-illusionment, dismantling, and radiant transformation in a tiny Oceanside, Oregon apartment overlooking the Pacific. The move began as a freefall. No one pushed me; I jumped. After those ten months in Oceanside, I moved to Cannon Beach, only to land—feet steadily on the ground—in the Miami River valley outside Nehalem in 2007.

Five years after becoming a coastal dweller, I know I am in good company. Many have come to the northOregon coast in similar fashion: hold your breath, leap, dust off and look around. Something about the place invites this. It beckons those who want a life of substance, of repose, of synergy with nature—a life difficult to cultivate in urban and suburban settings. We move to the coast seeking reflection and art. We long to pare down our material belongings, our external obligations, and to attend the things that build and mend the spirit. Ultimately, we believe this will change the world.

Then something gradually happens. Slowly our ambrosial Thoreauvian fantasies come face to face with a little reality called “The Coastal Economy.” Face it, fellow Walden-seekers, you know what I mean.

This perplexing imbrication—the shady overlap where our commitments to simplicity meet the realities of high cost of living, high rent and property values, lower paying jobs, high taxes, and an economy based largely on tourism, shopping, and second-home ownership—is the subject of this new column. Just as I am not alone in my reasons for moving here, I am certainly not alone in the challenges I confront as I strive to “live the life which [I have] imagined,” nor in the cognitive dissonance those challenges occasionally give rise to. In this column, entitled “The Nature of Things,” we’ll explore the dissonance together.

During the 10 months I lived in Oceanside, I listened to Thoreau’s Walden on audio-book while walking the beach. I let it soak into me and inspire me. In my opinion, the Conclusion of Walden is like sacred scripture, and I now read it at least once a year—the way some would read of the Bible.

This morning I read it again. “However mean your life is, meet it and live it,” Thoreau says. “…Cultivate poverty like a garden herb, like sage. Do not trouble yourself much to get new things, whether clothes or friends. Turn the old; return to them. …Sell your clothes and keep your thoughts.”

It was the time, the unclutteredness needed to “keep my thoughts” that most drew me to a new life. Not time to clutter my mind with more idle or egotistical ponderings, but quiet and space for my inner knowing and insight to surface. Each day my schedule allows time for a long, quiet walk amidst wild nature or an hour to sit and reflect, and each time the deep life and energy stir in me, I am reminded of why I chose the path I did. “…In proportion as [a person] simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex,” Thoreau also said. “…Solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness.” Whenever I re-read passages like this, my inner Amen-chorus starts to rouse. Living out the truths of these passages, however, can be easier said than done. Perhaps that’s my reason for choosing the subject of this column. Perhaps writing this column will keep me inspired. Perhaps it will keep me honest. At least it will remind me of this: Here on the north coast of Oregon, I am certainly not alone.


Making a Living
Tricia Gates Brown {first appeared in North Coast Citizen Newspaper}
There’s no avoiding it. Folks who move to the north coast of Oregon to devote themselves to a life of art, or literary pursuits, or nearness to nature, usually have to get a day job. This is true almost everywhere, of course, But in coastal communities, job pickings are about as slim as Dolly Parton’s midriff. The bell curve of job prospects swells in the arena of service-sector jobs, tapering slightly to the home building and maintenance arena, before taking a precipitous dive to accommodate a scattering of other professions. Which is to say: get out your hammer, your comfortable shoes, or in my case, your gardening gloves, and get to work.

Until recently, I fell into that “scattering” of other professions. I worked at a museum. But after deciding to pursue my landscape construction license and build a business with my spouse, I stepped away from the narrow lip of the bell in the direction of the service sector. Eventually I hope to combine artistic prowess with my passion for horticulture to design and build beautiful gardens for happy customers. In the nearer future, however, I’ll be pulling weeds in a neighborhood near you.

This new life direction elicited the following not-altogether-innocent comment from a friend, “Well, you’ll certainly be the best educated gardener in the country!” Her mild-mannered jab at my career choice didn’t come as a surprise. Years ago, it would have stung. But now I just think about all the bright coast-dwellers I know who have forsaken job titles and ladder-climbing in pursuit of something better. Here on the north coast I’ve met many well-educated and highly intelligent people who earn their living doing so called “unimpressive” jobs. In fact, that is one of the things I love about the north coast community.

Furthermore, the “best educated gardener” statement is simply not true. I have a hunch many well educated folks figure out the Zen-like pleasures of gardening, or farming, or building, or baking bread, and pitch it all to get near the earth or to put skilled hands to work. I’ve met some of these folks in our own back yard. Maybe the limitations of the coastal job market help us to abandon some of our status hang-ups, which is a blessing. And I’m guessing there are a number of men and women in the world with PhDs tucked under their belts—their gardening or tool belts, that is.

Since I believe the business of “making a living” should not get in the way of building a good life, I want to choose my job with this in mind. What makes a good life? For me, it involves fun, nourishment, a balance of activity and rest, and spiritual connection—whether that is with human beings, or plants, or the force that animates our universe. To me life seems too short to seek these things merely in my off time. I want the good life to include good living, and a good living to include the good life. When I find the elements of a good life in the midst of daily, gainful employment, it does not matter what status others attribute to my work. I may not impress people with a job title or an office decorated with lavishly framed degrees. But I will live a life that is impressive—that leaves a lasting, pleasing impression on me each day.


Living Rural, Living Green
Tricia Gates Brown {first appeared in North Coast Citizen Newspaper}
At this new-year, new-decade juncture, I find myself ruminating on a subject increasingly close to my heart: imperfection. Oh how the best of us have our contradictions! Not one manages to live perfectly our highest ideals, which is why, in my book, honestly and humility trump all other virtues.

Despite this inevitable fact of human experience, I prefer to remain uncomfortable with my own inconsistencies. I don’t flog myself over them, but I want to allow the occasional rub.

I felt it during recent news from Copenhagen—site of the 2009 climate-change summit. Around the same time, I listened to an interview with climate-change writer and activist Bill McKibben. As an expert on climate change educating people on the dour subject, McKibben manages to be so entertaining and inspiring I listened to his interview twice. He got me thinking.

I am especially aware, these days, of how much I and my family members drive because of my preference for rural living. Is this a familiar predicament for some of my readers? During non-winter months, my husband’s truck runs on veggie oil, but that means his winter fuel is the carbon-spewing diesel. My and my daughter’s cars run on plain old gas. If we’re to get from home to other obligations and destinations, we end up burning a fair amount of said fuels. Needless to say, this does not make us green.

After living in small-town or suburban neighborhoods most of my life, I feel upon reaching my present in-the-sticks location (ten minutes beyond Nehalem, halfway down Miami-Foley Road), like I’ve found my perfect habitat. At my house, the quiet is penetrating. Standing on my porch, I hear the rush of the creek across the street, and the occasional rumble of a log truck a few blocks away, but I hear little else—save the bird songs and the chirping of chipmunks. When I walk the areas around my home, I am surrounded by uncultivated green spaces, by wildness. I feel so at home in this wildness, that I put out roots and grow like a weed. For me, this is the life. …And yet.

I know the planet would be better off if people learned to live sustainably in clusters—whether urban or otherwise, and learned to stay put. Either that, or find non-carbon-emitting ways of transporting ourselves, which will not happen quickly.

By choosing to live remotely, driving hither and yon, I am not doing what is best for the planet. I do try to make up for this with practices that otherwise shrink my ecological footprint. For example, I’ve become an expert at consolidating trips so I can “stay put” as often as possible, I live simply, and I try to consume foods that haven’t racked up the miles. But the account nonetheless leans in a less-than-green direction, and it pinches my conscience.

I put this out there because I expect others in this far-flung coastal community feel the same discomfort. And many of us can’t afford to invest in a hybrid car any time soon. Not to get all Shakespearean, but there’s the rub!

I am glad to be part of a community where people are both conscientious, and honest about our contradictions. Maybe this will help us to do better each year, to find more and more ways to tip the scales of our lives in the green direction. In the meantime, I will keep breathing the common clean air where I live and trying to send it back out into the world in the form of honesty, humility, and peace. I won’t take it for granted.


Community of Miracles
Tricia Gates Brown {first appeared in North Coast Citizen Newspaper}
Whenever I describe north Tillamook County, the area where I live, I inevitably use the word “community-minded.” Perhaps there is something in the water that bolsters the sharing-helping reflex, or perhaps it is the common values of those who live here—values including neighborliness, stewardship, and interdependence. But when a need arises or a problem needs solving, people put their heads together. People step up. I think we do this because we want a certain quality of life. I don’t mean the “quality of life” measured by the dimensions of one’s television and the model of one’s car, but the kind measured by one’s friends, by having help in times of need, by having a life laden with meaning and purpose.

Last week I was made acutely aware of the potential power of communities stepping up, thanks to two young people: my fourteen-year-old nephew, Daniel, and a five-year-old girl named Yaire.

Last week I spent a day with my nephew Daniel at Shriners hospital for children, and was reminded of how much my extended family has benefited from the sharing and helping of others. Daniel—skinny and pale, red-headed and lion-hearted—was diagnosed with terminal brain and spinal cancer when he was six. Through a series of small graces and friendly leads, however, Daniel’s parents were led to the right alternative treatments and the right surgeons for his unique needs. Daniel survived. And he is cancer free.

Daniel’s recovery from terminal cancer, which shocked his doctors, is often called a “miracle.” I think it is a miracle: a miracle animated by the help and intervention of several hundred people. People gave Daniel’s parents good advice that led them toward effective medical interventions and alternative treatments, and to a doctor from India who had hope for Daniel. They taught them what Daniel’s body needed to become healthy. People gave money so that my sister and her husband could pay medical bills, keep their house, and have time to assist Daniel in his recovery. An unknown number of people focused their collective energies and prayers on healing and wellness for my nephew. And against all odds, he got well. That is what community is capable of.

Because Daniel’s ordeal happened in crucial growth years, he ended up with a very crooked spinal column. He is thus undergoing eight weeks of traction along with surgery to correct this, compliments of the Shriners. It is a challenging process. Imagine having a metal ring bolted to your head in several places and being constantly attached to a weight that pulls upward (eventually half your body weight). From the looks of it, it ain’t no picnic. Fortunately, Daniel is the bravest guy I know.

Now, for Yaire Martinez Mendez.

I met this five-year-old girl last week at a Spanish-language mass. It was at Our Lady of Victory (OLOV) Church in Seaside, Oregon. Yaire was recently diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. According to her doctor, there is “no hope.” I couldn’t help but think of my nephew. I wondered what sorts of treatments might be available to this girl if her parents had the means to pursue them. I wondered how her parents would make it through—financially, emotionally, and physically. Miss Mendez had two neat pony-tails that hung past her shoulders, and large, brown, unknowing eyes. She had a puffy pink coat and a square-shaped face that looked inquisitive, curious. I could not look at her and imagine how it felt to be her mother or father. That is unimaginable. But I do think about how this girl is a part of my community, and that it is my time to step up. She is a part of our community.

If you want to assist Yaire’s family with medical expenses, you can send a gift to the [details removed]. And in whatever way you choose, according to your personal tradition or practices, you can hold this little girl and her parents in the light. After all, that is why we are here.


The Key to Contentment
Tricia Gates Brown {first appeared in North Coast Citizen Newspaper}
Slave to fashion? No, I am probably not. I enjoyed emancipation from that particular bondage several years ago. But I do notice when the disapproving eye of the stylish looks upon me. And yes, it makes me a wee bit insecure.

In talking about a recent visit to Portland, a coastal friend made a comment that struck a familiar chord in me. She said that going into the big city, she feels like a real “country bumpkin”—what with all the high fashion and trendiness and luxurious digs. I assured this friend she is not alone. It is easy to feel oh-so-unstylish in the glare of slick advertisements and urban plumage. In the city, I certainly feel more like Elly May Clampett than Coco Chanel.

Lately, this human habit of comparing oneself has caught my attention—whether it be coastal people comparing our ways to big city ways, or on a personal level, comparing what I have with that of my peers. I notice myself doing this on a regular basis, to be honest. I noticed it, for example, when I recently visited the beautiful home of some retired friends for dinner.

You know when you visit a house much nicer than your own and come home with lenses somewhat askew? Suddenly your house looks a bit shabby at the fringes. Your beloved home you left just hours earlier suddenly feels like a rustic cabin, or a plain-jane little “cottage” (to employ a favorite local euphemism). This is the experience to which I refer. Am I right to assume we all know it? Don’t we all fight the flush of green on occasion? If a well-appointed home does not evoke it in you, perhaps camping gear does, or musical instruments, or a well-appointed garden.

Mere hours after returning home, fortunately, my lenses readjusted. I was able to look about my simple abode with a sense of deep gratitude once again. But the whole experience started me thinking about contentment. I was reminded of a little kernel of wisdom I do well to recall, as if the likes of Gandhi and Dorothy Day were chanting it to me from the beyond: the key to contentment is to compare one’s lot only with that of those less fortunate. Do this, and you will always be grateful.

This simple wisdom is not what’s commended to us on a daily basis, is it? Instead, we are told we can only grow and achieve success by measuring ourselves against those who have more than us (not to mention how this makes the economy grow!). Likewise, we are awash in advertising designed to manufacture discontent with what we have, and especially perhaps, with our appearances. The key to contentment, then, is to tune out these messages and look at all that we have through the eyes of those who either haven’t been so lucky, or who have been freed from the desires for such things (the most fortunate of all positions, according to Buddhist philosophy). I was thankful for this reminder.

Contentment should not be used as a guise for complacently, of course. There are times when we need to strive for something more conducive to our wholeness and health, whether in relationships, jobs, or living situations, and discontent can be the catalyst that causes us to make positive changes. But we all know we’re bombarded with messages urging discontent with things we cannot and need not change. Learning how to tell the difference takes practice.

I don’t know that I will ever overcome the “comparison” reflex completely. I will be relieved if I ever do. Contentment just feels nicer than comparison, don’t you think?


A Tale of Two Grocery Stores
Tricia Gates Brown {first appeared in North Coast Citizen Newspaper}
I am about to make a statement that may sound too obvious. Here goes: I love food. But it is true. Not, mind you, in the way that everyone loves food (it is, after all, essential to survival). I have an atypical fondness for food, the deep admiration of a lover. I sometimes sustain myself through a long day of studying or work by dreaming what I will cook at day’s end. In fact, teaching myself how to cook likely spared me years of therapy and unhappiness. Either that, or bankruptcy, as we all know what frequent restaurant dining will do to one’s checkbook. When I do get to eat out and I enjoy a spectacular meal, I will call it to mind for days—making the experience linger on and on so I can almost taste it.

Have I mentioned that I love food?

Suffice it to say, grocery shopping is not an effort I undergo lightly. I want to fill my bags with the most promising ingredients I can buy without breaking the bank, which in my case, has been historically rather fragile. Not only this, but I love browsing the food items I cannot even afford.

I recently paid a visit to the newly refurbished Safeway store up north and discovered that in addition to remodeling, they added a plethora of new items. I spent almost two hours traversing the aisles. I was especially taken with the new aisle dedicated to international cuisines—items imported from Greece,Sweden, and my favorite, Britain. I lived in Scotland for two years, and I cannot tell you how it warmed my heart to see digestive biscuits and treacle pudding at the local grocery store—whether or not I would buy them. I could almost hear the bagpipes droning in my ears (and yes, that is a good thing). Furthermore, I suspect that I am gluten-intolerant and the selection of gluten-free baking items was impressive. I may yet recover from the traumatic discovery I can likely not eat great pizza and carrot cake.

The luster of a big-city grocery selection tucked in our little neck of the woods was not lost on me. And yet, I will seldom shop there.

I do use the “big brand” grocery stores on a regular basis, especially when I have a long list of grocery needs and I’m passing through Tillamook. But the market I frequent most often? That would be the small family-owned grocery store five miles from my decidedly remote house: the Mohler Co-op. The Mohler store can never compete with the boutique grocery stores of the big city. Zupan’s, it is not. It does not carry a lot of fancy, rare food items, and it does not have a large organic produce section (though I do lobby for their adding organics). Yet the market has something that the big brand stores do not have. It is connected with my sense of home, and it and the people who work at the store are my neighbors. I love going into this market for several reasons. One, I get to see the people who live in my immediate area—mostly farmers and working-class families. Additionally, I know that by shopping there I am investing in my own far-flung rural “neighborhood”. I am helping keep a market in the neighborhood, and helping employ several of my neighbors who work there. But the main reason I go there, is that I feel I know the people. I almost always checkout with one of two cashiers who work at the store. They recognize me and I recognize them, and though we may not say much to one another, I feel a connection there. We smile at each other and chat about the weather, or how we are doing, and darn, it just feels good. There are times I pay a bit more for my groceries because I shop there, and there are times I cannot find an item I need. But it is worth it. Enormous selection and rock-bottom savings can come at a steep price. And once the things of greatest worth are gone—things like local jobs and neighborly connections, they are almost impossible to regain.

For this reason, I’ll do most of my shopping in my own neighborhood. I’ll forego the treacle pudding for the good old taste of home.


The Beauty of the Minus
Tricia Gates Brown {first appeared in North Coast Citizen Newspaper}
This column is an ode to the humble “minus,” to the essence of subtraction and all that it entails. The minus has gotten a bad rap, if you ask me. When something is taken away from, or made smaller, modern people tend to assume it’s been weakened and cheapened. An exemption certainly applies in American culture where waistlines are the topic of discussion, but let’s assume that’s the exception that proves the rule. On the whole, we Americans heavily favor addition. We use words like “growth,” “development,” and “progress,” to connote addition. And we like to see things grow.

On the other hand, we’ve long called the subtraction symbol “negative,” most obviously in math, and these days, attachment to the word “negative” does give the symbol the tiniest disadvantage. “Negativity” means “denial” and “prohibition,” and how fun is that? Who wants the little negative sign hanging around her party. Negativity conjures good feelings only if you happen to be watching The Office.

But the dear “minus” is really just about “less.” To subtract from is to make less, to make smaller, and every historic trend toward minimalism, whether in architecture, music, or literature has demonstrated how beautiful less can be. I’d take a William Carlos Williams poem over Lord Byron any old day. So often, less is more. Think of all the things you would prefer to have less of: less stress, fewer colds, less taxes to pay, fewer chores.

You could say life on the coast is a practice in subtraction—especially if you’ve come from a place far less rural. My daughter certainly characterizes our life here by way of what we have not… nothing to do, no cell service, no high-speed internet, yadda, yadda. Most teenagers probably feel the same. But many coast dwellers, like me, prefer the simplicity. We come to the coast to subtract from our lives things like strip malls, and traffic, and big-chain fast food restaurants.

Nowhere is it more true that “less is more” than when it comes to our schedules. Almost everyone I know longs for more “less” in their lives—more time when they have absolutely nothing they have to do, so they might fritter away the time doing whatever delights them. I wish I had more “less” in my life in order to walk about the garden, or the woods, for hours, simply holding a sweaty glass of sweet tea and admiring every little green shoot squiggling its way up into the world.

But the thing about minus is that something has to be lessened or taken away, and we cannot take away the essentials, since the toilet will not clean itself nor will the bills pay themselves. Thus, we generally have to take away something good. And that is the challenge. Our full lives are so full of good things—entertainment, volunteer work, relationships, social events—that in order to have the space and freedom we need, we have to subtract some of those good things.

To illustrate my point, I share an example from my own life. Last year, I gave up yoga class. Now, I loved my yoga class and enjoyed the people who attended. But since I live remotely, the event of attending yoga took about 2 ½ hours one night a week. Instead, I can do yoga at home, according to my own schedule, for shorter sessions, and have more beloved “space” in my weekly schedule. Thus, it was something I chose to subtract, and for me, the right decision. By subtracting this and other good things from my life, I have less, but ultimately, I have more. You follow?

If you were to pay homage to the minus, if you were to have more “less” in your life, what would you need to subtract?


Awaiting the Serendipities of Spring
Tricia Gates Brown {first appeared in North Coast Citizen Newspaper}
I am one who waits. Any day, he will return. Peonies stretch their cloven hooves toward the sky and ferns sprout a new season of questions. It should be soon, I gather. I read the signs.

I imagine him a blur across Mexico, land of half my heart, land where he goes to winter when autumn whispers “it is time.” Now, as spring dawns, he darts home, a jeweled flash, a buzz of metabolism unmatched among all species. His heart drumming the speed of light.

It will be evening. He will catch me sitting outside, minutes before I rise to boil rice for supper or to switch the porch light on as day unwinds. So suddenly will he come, I will whip my head around and say, Was that him?

Last summer, he staked out my woods, as aggressively territorial as all rufous hummingbirds are. And I was a part of the land, the planter of myriad cupping buds. At first he was merely comfortable, dropping in so close I could reach and stroke his ruby-sequined neck. Then flying past as I leaned in to garden, he would nearly graze my head, as if he did not see me, or he intended, perhaps, to flirt.

Was this an illusion? How often in life I had conjured love affairs out of nothing but air, out of the suggestive imagination of loneliness. But this? I could not say. As I sat on my porch, he adopted an intimate proximity, as if intentionally allowing me to study him—how his dead-level wings and pert tail gave him the appearance of a cliff diver hovering in effortless perfection, or how the pearlescent strokes on his belly and back reflected a galaxy of hues.

One day I stood watering, my hose casting a diffuse shower over newly planted moss, strawberries, bronze-leaved heuchera. He flew up to the stream, then quickly away—an advance not uncommon for this seemingly flirtatious friend. But then he returned. He hovered just on the perimeter of the garden-hose spray, until I held my hand still for him and watched him drink from the stream. Not once, but three times he flew away then returned for another sip, coming within twelve inches of my poised hand. It was undeniably real, a singular, intimate exchange between me and a creature normally reticent and wild, a creature weighing less than the rings on my hands.

Rufus hummingbirds live long for small creatures; eight years the longest hummingbird life on record. He could still be alive. He will, perhaps, remember my woods, return to them like a pilgrim. So I wait. When he comes back I will know him by his daring and affability. And I can’t help but hope he’ll know me.


Favorable Forays into Public Healthcare
Tricia Gates Brown {first appeared in North Coast Citizen Newspaper}
Before moving to the north coast, I lived for 17 years in a small town in the Willamette valley. While there, I got to know the local medical establishment rather intimately. I had a few surgeries (I’ll spare you the details), gave birth to my daughter, and resolved medical issues that had vexed me for decades. Despite my expansive experience with local doctors, I didn’t find one I liked and trusted until about 2002.
A couple of years later, as fate would have it, I moved.

Prior to my experience with Dr. Wonderful, who was genial, observant and conversational, doctors I’d had seemed rushed, unresponsive, and overly eager to prescribe medications and surgeries without delving into root causes of physical maladies. When real solutions were found, it’s because I ferreted them out for myself, experimenting with natural remedies that proved more effective and far-reaching than traditional methods of healthcare.

When I moved to the coast, leaving behind the doctor I respected—who was nearing retirement in any case, I lacked the gumption to embark on a new-doctor search. The first time I needed medical assistance, I trotted in to the Tillamook County Health Department (TCHD). Because I have private insurance and remit a co-pay for doctor visits, I didn’t visit the health department due to want of resources. The health department gets the same payment from me and my insurance that a private practice would get. I went to the health department merely because it was convenient.

Six years later, I continue to go. The TCHD clinic in Rockaway is now my doctor’s office of choice.

There are a variety of reasons I’ve not endeavored to find a regular medical doctor. Looming large among these reasons, however, is this: I hit the mother load at TCHC clinics. I have encountered not one, but several, excellent young practitioners who are respectful, attentive, and who seem genuinely concerned with root causes. Refreshing, to say the least! Most of the providers I’ve met at the health department, mainly nurse practitioners, are newbies fresh out of medical school. If you think this is a liability, think again. In my experience, these young people take an approach to health care that I have found lacking in more established doctors. They are open to combinations of natural and traditional approaches, they know how to listen, they are expert in their care, and they seem to have a certain joie de vivre in going about their work. I’ve often wondered why this is so. Are they simply less jaded and exhausted than some seasoned doctors? Perhaps. But I expect there is more to it than that. I imagine medical programs are training practitioners according to new ideas and methodologies. That is my hope, at least.

There are, of course, seasoned doctors just as refreshing as the nurse practitioners I’ve encountered at the health department, such as the near-retirement doctor I saw in the valley. In fact, I recently visited a terrific nurse practitioner at the health department who has served there for many years. The quality of care health workers provide is above all a product of their personalities and perspectives.

There is a drawback to seeing practitioners at the health department, and this has to do with relationships. Most of the doctors and nurse practitioners I’ve seen at TCHD were on a one-year contract. The fact is, providers at health departments do not always stay long. For this reason, the attractiveness of finding a regular medical practice and steady physician remains.

Amidst recent discussions about private and public healthcare, I have recalled my colorful medical history. Ultimately, I consider myself blessed. I’ve been fortunate enough to unravel personal medical mysteries and to encounter healthcare workers worthy of their titles. Public and nontraditional healthcare resources have been, for me, central to my good experiences.

With my health insurance premiums growing exponentially each year, I will be lucky to arrive at the magical date of 2014 without joining the ranks of the uninsured for the first time in my life. I pray this will not happen. But more and more I empathize with the millions in this country who cannot afford insurance and healthcare. Thank heavens practitioners like those I’ve encountered at the health department are available to everyone.


Vehicles of Enlightenment
Tricia Gates Brown {first appeared in North Coast Citizen Newspaper}
Want to journey toward enlightenment? Well, step into this PT Cruiser with me and take a ride.

If enlightenment means anything, it surely means coming to see things clearly. On the path to enlightenment, we shed one by one the lenses of distortion that keep us from awareness of what is. Take oneself, for example. As one progresses along the continuum of enlightenment, one’s illusions about oneself gradually lessen.

Therefore, things that cause us to discover the truth about ourselves are catalysts of enlightenment. Things like, say, PT Cruisers.

Thanks to the PT Cruiser, I have now shed one more illusion about myself: the illusion that I do not define myself by what I drive. Cars, I had liked to think, are tools we use, not symbols of identity and status. But this illusion bit the dust when, during a recent visit to my parent’s house, I had to run errands around my former hometown in my mom’s shiny PT Cruiser.

Before progressing further, I must beg the pardon of all PT Cruiser drivers in my readership. I admit that the image I subconsciously associated with your car was not one I favored for myself. Whilst jetting around town in my mom’s PT Cruiser, I had an acute desire to post a magnetic strip along the side of the door that read “My Mom’s Car—NOT MINE.” I pictured something akin to the “Student Driver” signs on vehicles manned by starry-eyed adolescents. My PT Cruiser associations include women with holiday-themed sweaters adorned with sequins and tiny bells, or men with matching Beavers hats, sweatshirts, and portable coffee mugs. I picture small dogs tucked under the arms of these couples (who, come to think of it, sound just like my parents). So strong was my aversion to being seen in the car—perhaps by an old friend or former professor—and so surprised was I by my reaction, that the whole experience became one wee step in the direction of enlightenment. Was I just another person who felt defined, negatively or positively, by what I drove? Boy, was I ever.

Now, I can see that my concern in driving Mom’s car had to do with judgments others might make about me based on the vehicle. Which were exactly the kinds of judgments I had made about owners of PT Cruisers!

As it turns out, I recently changed vehicles, exchanging the sedan I drove three years for a small gas-efficient pickup I can use for landscape and gardening work. The pickup I ended up buying appealed to me because it is mechanically sound, in good condition, and was available for a reasonable price. Sounds good, right? Well, the pickup also happens to have hot rod wheels and low-low-profile tires that make me the envy of every 18-year-old boy in the county. Not exactly my style. Nonetheless, the pickup was a good deal. Since the tires’ tread is well-worn, I’ll be obliged to buy normal tires for it soon (tough luck, I know). In the meantime, I’ll be the 40-year-old woman in the bright-blue truck that looks like it just rolled off the nearest high school parking lot. Are my little hot-rod tires carrying me inch by inch toward humility and enlightenment? Yes they are. Heavens, yes.


Small Things are all that Matter
Tricia Gates Brown {first appeared in North Coast Citizen Newspaper}
What makes a great life if not the interweaving of a million small threads? Small things add up. Small things matter. They are, in fact, the only things that matters. Since great accomplishments are nothing but the sum total of countless steps—steps that appear insignificant in themselves, one does well to mind the details. This is true for the discovery of a cure, an enlightened piano performance, the raising of healthy, well-adjusted children, the building of almost anything worthwhile, from a bench, to a baseball team, to a business. For everything.

Hence the trouble with fixing our sights on great accomplishments. We end up tripping over the details. A character in a story who claims she will “do great things someday,” is almost always a guaranteed failure—have you noticed? So fixated is she on the future glory, the bottom line, or the eventual outcome, that she tramples and trips over the small stuff. It is a waste of her time. Yet the cumulative total of a thousand neglected things, however diminutive at first glance, leads to tragedy. Things like telling small truths, showing kindness to people who lack power and influence, doing inglorious tasks while spreading equanimity, saying thank you, eating well, taking time to breath in and out with intention.

“We cannot do great things,” said Mother Teresa in her now famous quote. “We can only do small things with great love.” Not a bad one to remember.

My daughter is graduating from high school next month, and if she and her fellow graduates were to absorb one message as they cross the threshold from high school into post-high school life, I would have it be that. How many graduation speeches have exhorted graduating seniors to “go out and do great things”? Well, in the spirit of Mother Teresa, I would tell them: “do small things, one after another, and do them honestly and humbly, with love. Great things may very well happen if you do this, but don’t give it a second thought. Each and every small act you do: that is what matters.”

This concept came to mind last week as I was pulling weeds for a gardening client. Some of the weeds were less than a quarter of an inch tall, and I carefully pulled them up, roots attached, one after another. It does not get much smaller than this, does it folks? And I asked myself how I could do the smallest tasks of my job with “great love.” A few of my usual practices came to mind.

To begin with, I pay attention to how I position myself as I weed. I try to shift positions from one yoga-like stretch to another, in order to lessen tightening in my body and evenly distribute strain. And as in yoga practice, I try to breathe steadily. Second, I try to silently repeat a little mantra throughout my work hours, a spill-over from my non-work life. This is a practice I highly recommend, if only to banish the ear worm. Who wants the lyrics of “Oklahoma” looping through her head for an entire morning? Finally, I try to pay attention to the sounds around me—sometimes birds, sometimes waves, sometimes the brush of wind.

I do these practices to nourish myself as I work. But I started to wonder if this is my way of doing “small things with great love.” Perhaps in some unseen way I am infusing nourishment and love into my clients’ gardens. Who knows?

When I’ve finished weeding a garden, I do like to survey the broader accomplishment: a prim, beautiful garden. In the course of doing the work, however, I focus on one square foot of ground, the one directly in front of me, and then another. I pull one weed, and another weed, and repeat.

That is, after all, all that matters.


Only 14 Years Before I’m a Local
Tricia Gates Brown {first appeared in North Coast Citizen Newspaper}
One hears it takes twenty years to become a “local” in these parts. And alas, I cobble together my tenure. Having lived on the north coast just six years, I have plenty of time to bide. So be it. I harbor no plans to leave this enchanting, exacting environment I call home.

Yet novice that I am, I have never felt more affinity with my coastal neighbors than in the past six months. Since becoming a small business owner, that is—and at the onset of winter! Beginning last fall I joined my now husband in his business and came to experience first-hand what it is to make one’s proverbial bread and butter from scratch. Not for the faint of heart, I tell you. Good thing our coastal hearts are stalwart.

This is the land of the small business. A majority of the locals I know are either business owners, or have been at some point. This is surely due to the paucity of large businesses to work for, but also because we’re of that ilk. North coasters are, by and large, independent and trailblazing. We like to be our own bosses, thank you very much. We like to arrive when we want to arrive, take a day off when we want a day off, wear what suits our fancy. And so on. We are willing to work especially hard and forego the padded luxuries of benefits and the guaranteed paycheck for a bit more freedom. Sweet freedom.

And yet.

The appeal of getting a guaranteed paycheck whether if it is tourist season, gardening season, or the winter doldrums, endures—as does the appeal of walking out the door whilst leaving bills and tax preparations to the business owner. I understand why some choose this path. It carries its own brand of freedom.

That said, I think I’ll take well to small-business ownership and its rewards. I appreciate how business owners can actualize all facets of themselves in their businesses and determine the ethical tenor of their ventures. One can take one’s business in any direction the market can support—according to one’s particular passions, abilities, and work ethic. This suits my soul.

Recently a north coast working artist, a close personal friend, quipped that her primary goal in life is to never work a 9-to-5, 5-days-a-week job. She works as a freelance artist and holds two part time jobs and loves the variety and creative space her schedule allows. Spending most of each day in one place doing one job is what she wishes to avoid more than any other thing. Can you relate? I can, wholeheartedly. The thought of working for an employer 9-to-5, 40-hours-a-work honestly vaporizes my will to live. Another coastal friend, a successful small business owner, said her friends call her “unemployable” because she holds this same attitude.

Some might view this attitude toward work as a handicap. Here on the coast, it may be the essence of survival. Perhaps it even explains why we come in the first place. It certainly explains why so many coastal folks are freelancers and small business owners.

Just a few weeks from getting the landscaping license I’ve been working toward these past months, I’m on the cusp of a new small-business adventure—launching the business I co-own with my husband in a new direction. It is exciting. And like all good adventures, it elicits a healthy dose of reserve. So be it, I say. I am doing what I was made for. And I am in very good company.

Oh Fair Summer!
Tricia Gates Brown {first appeared in North Coast Citizen Newspaper}
It is the Thursday before Memorial Day, and after weeks of drizzle, summer has proffered an enticing preview. Oh fair summer! How you draw us out of doors on these golden-sky days. I am seduced by the aspen leaves that shimmy and twist like a flapper’s fringe, by the lilac bush swaying languorously in the wind, its rich blooms bobbing in step. I am stirred by the rise of a pigeon flock from my neighbor’s tall hemlock. All around me small birds trill and chirp and beckon. A bee colony whispers to me from my ancient cedar tree where it took up residence last July and decided to stay.

As a gardener and all around naturophile, I have come to revere summer above all seasons. In my melancholic adolescence, it was autumn. In my early adulthood, spring. Now, as year passes year, I am increasingly drawn to the warmth and vigor of summer. Here on the coast it is especially enticing. Summer infuses people with life.

In my rural neighborhood several families have marked their plots for a vegetable garden. The peripheries of these beds are neatly edged, the ground turned to a deep, inviting brown. The beds have been ready for weeks, yet it’s been too chilly and wet for planting. We all anxiously await the signal. Maybe this weekend. Maybe it is time. We do what we can. One man plants marigolds around his bed’s edges, my husband tucks hardy potatoes into our vegetable plot. Other’s mend the fences that discourage deer.

The product these gardens give us—healthy, freshly-picked veggies—are practically just a bonus compared with the pleasures of watching and tending the growth. The elegant forms of cucumber vines, the spiraling twines of peas and the myriad colors of beans, the smell of warm, voluptuous tomatoes. Vegetable gardening is a sensual feast I recommend to everyone.

If you don’t have an arable plot of earth, if you are unlearned in the gardening arts, or if you live on a shade-sheltered site not conducive to vegetable planting, you can seek a community garden. They are popping up all over. Though some have waiting lists, one can at least get on the list. Vegetable gardening is well worth the wait.

Two weekends past I visited the open house of Nehalem’s own Alder Creek Farm, nestled into the Nehalem Bay Estuary. The popular community garden at Alder Creek has such a waiting list, yet I expect their operation will grow larger each year, accommodating more people. On my small dead-end street, we’ve raised the idea of a “neighborhood garden”—another option to consider, if one has good neighbors as I do. With just an ounce of creativity, one can devise ways to tap one’s agrarian roots. If nothing else, one can plant tomato plants on pots on a patio. The most important thing is: plant something. Each year your skills as a grower will grow. If you harvest more than you can use, you can always donate to a food bank eager for fresh produce.

Whatever one’s level of skill, we live in a cornucopia of gardening and farming expertise. North Tillamook County is full of small farmers, organic gardening aficionados, and educators in all things agricultural. One does not need long arms to reach out and find a helpful soul with answers to gardening questions.

That said, I think it’s my time to sign off. It is a rare sunny day, and a tray of leggy sweet peas is calling my name!


Feeling Sluggish?
Tricia Gates Brown {first appeared in North Coast Citizen Newspaper}
You say the price of gold is soaring? Well, I will have none of it. Instead, give me miles of copper. Expansive stretches of copper. Copper from here to Carolina. In my ongoing fracas with slugs, I deem copper the most priceless of weapons, and metals. Slugs won’t cross it. If I had my druthers, I would surround my garden in a bulwark of copper.

Many things I love about living in deep woods as I do. But the ubiquity of slugs I would gladly revoke. Slugs pose a problem for many Oregon gardeners, but my place—with its trillion damp, sheltered nooks—is like slug Fort Knox. Come night I can almost hear the band warming up. I can picture the mucilaginous slug militia marching toward my garden, Battle Hymn of the Republic trolling faintly in the background.

This year I have mounted a defense, at the center of which is copper. I am also increasingly prone to slugocide, enacted with uncharacteristically violent abandon. I am, you must understand, a card-carrying pacifist, a believer in active nonviolence, and I love animals great and small. I believe animals have a special place in God’s heart and in the hereafter. But slugs? I believe slugs are impossible for gardeners to love, perhaps even for God.

Slugs bring out the Rambo in me. Lately I have taken to skewering them on rainy mornings, stabbing them through and plopping them in a 5-gallon bucket of salt water. I do this with glee. As I see them disemboweled the words “You slimy @#*$*%” usually run through my mind.

Of this, I am not proud.

Slugs were, however, at the heart of one romantic moment in my incipient marriage. It was early this spring, and the slug hoards were just arriving, already making quick work of my emerging plants—most notably a favorite blue delphinium. I was beginning to fret. Then one evening I looked out the window to see a flash of light in the garden. As I drew near the window, I realized it was my husband, walking about the garden with a head-lamp strapped to his head. He was surveying the flower beds for slugs and picking off the vermin with his bare hands, tossing them into a salty abyss.

Now that is a man who loves you, I thought to myself. That, my friends, is romance.

As a garden designer, I am tempted to make “slug-resistant plants” my guiding principle, the crux of my garden-design manifesto. Yet the slugs often take us by surprise. Remove the plants they love, and they may just settle for rosemary.

At the end of the day, I suppose I should not complain. I am, after all, a gardener in northwestern Oregon, of all places, where the season is long, the winters fairly mild, and pestilence relatively rare. On balance, we have it pretty good.

Does this mean I will stop complaining about slugs? Well, perhaps until tomorrow.

Bookmobile: Next Stop, Enchantment
Tricia Gates Brown {first appeared in North Coast Citizen Newspaper}
At rare times in our lives we enter and inhabit charmed places. Either by windfall or freefall, we end up in worlds that magically alter who we are and how we see our lives. Even if we inhabit those places for short periods, they permanently change us.
When I first moved to the Oregon Coast, I lived in such a place, both geographically and spiritually. The name of the geographical location was Oceanside. I moved to Oceanside because, as Thoreau said of his sojourn at Walden, “…I wished to live deliberately.” I pared down the details of my life so as to choose, for a spell, where to focus my attention the majority of each day, rather than have my days “frittered away by detail,” to again quote good friend Henry. My Oceanside life with my daughter, then twelve, was one of deliberate, sweeping simplicity that has spilled over into subsequent days.
One of the enchanting elements we encountered in Oceanside was the Tillamook County Bookmobile, still a fixture in my life. In Oceanside my daughter and I descended a precipitous hill to reach it; at the Foley Creek home we now inhabit, it comes practically to our door. In Oceanside, the Bookmobile arrived, for months, around the ambrosial hour of sunset. We would walk to where it stood parked, against a background of ocean and sky, feeling like the world had cracked open—a thunder egg revealing secrets of unspeakable beauty. We would return home, arms bursting with treasures, and spend hours raiding our trove—books, beautiful, blessed books.
To me, the Bookmobile embodies the essence of simplicity, which I would define as drawing nearer to what is essential and uncomplicated. This the Bookmobile makes possible. Somewhere a thoughtful mind and careful hand selects a bit of everything for the Bookmobile’s shelves, allowing patrons of the Bookmobile to find essentials without being bombarded by choices. How often do we need more than a smidgen of choice? A small selection of novels, books on cooking or knitting, children’s books, CDs. A smattering of magazines, newspapers, and guides. There is solace in the few. One can browse a whole section of the Bookmobile in two or three minutes, choose what suits, and have time to spare. If one needs a particular title from the broader library cooperative, one can request it, place a hold, and have it delivered. Delightfully uncomplicated, the Bookmobile.
I credit the Bookmobile for introducing me to audio-books, one of my favorite pleasures, and to French jazz. A few choice CDs from that library-on-wheels, and I am transported to worlds unknown, to far-east neighborhoods rimmed in walls of cobalt plaster, redolent with cumin and cardamom, to 19th century shires where I hear the clomping of horse hooves and the swish of crinoline, or to Paris cafes. To get there?  I step out my door; I check out a CD.
The Bookmobile also introduced me to Bruce—Bookmobile librarian extraordinaire. Bruce has a gift for conversation and the increasingly rare art of customer service. If I mention a particular interest to Bruce, books needed to indulge this interest magically appear on the bus the following week. Bruce is a bit like the Fairy Godmother, that way. With his full white beard, joviality, and hand-stitched tunics, he is a one-of-a-kind gift to our fair county.
If your life is in need of simplicity and you live along the route of the Bookmobile, you might do well to visit Bruce and his ship of new ideas. It is a Tillamook County gem.


Accidental Tourist
Tricia Gates Brown {first appeared in North Coast Citizen Newspaper}
And so it is summer. Nasturtiums and crocosmia have fully bloomed, lavender boils over with heady fragrance, and gigantic spools of cut hay dot fields around Tillamook County. When you go to town for groceries or a trip to the post office, you notice dozens of tourists strolling the sidewalks with bare legs sandy from the beach. Driving past the beach, you see them playing Frisbee, taking walks, or simply enjoying contiguous hours of rest on the sand. The tired huddled masses come to our shores to find solace. They gulp sea-laden air into their lungs. Their pace begins to drag like a busted muffler. They find rest here at our oceanside home.
And what about us? Yes, that is another story entirely. Indeed, it is summer … and our lives have never been so busy! Have you, like I, mused over this irony of coastal living?  Just when the weather turns and we are surrounded by tourists leisurely enjoying the slow pleasures of our surroundings, we are hard pressed to find time for a walk. So much work to be done!  So many out of town visitors!  Whether your industry is retail, construction, lodging, real estate, agriculture, or some other coastal industry, you find your summer days devoured by activity. We have to “make hay while the sun shines,” as old saying goes.
The other day I was installing a landscape on the north end of Cannon Beach and needed a certain tool. I rushed off to Cannon Beach’s new hardware store, forgetting how wise it would be to take Hwy 101 from the north end to midtown on a busy summer day. And wouldn’t you know, it took me a full twelve minutes to reach midtown! I am not complaining. My trip became an interesting study in the tourist population. It also reminded me of the incongruity between our summer pace and theirs.
I had to slow to a crawl so as not to hit several college-aged persons piling out of a van. They had on floppy fishing hats, khaki shorts and flip-flops, and carried brushed aluminum water bottles and backpacks. I waited at the corner of Second and Spruce for several parties to cross, including a 60-something man in a Hawaiian shirt with a small black poodle in the bend of his arm, holding the leash of a pug and trailing behind a woman holding several shopping bags a-brimming. I inched past the public parking on Spruce Street while drivers attempted to transmogrify their minivans into Mini Coopers in order to parallel park. I passed a woman in capris and trendy walking shoes presumably made from some newly patented material, pushing a baby carriage in front of a well-groomed man with a toddler in one arm, holding the hand of a five- or six-year-old with the other. Snapshots of the typical tourist, all. And you know?  I envied them their leisure. It was a beautiful summer day, perfect for sauntering, scouting for good food, and sitting on the beach.
On days when the temperature reaches past 70, I do my best to enjoy the gorgeous surroundings tourists flock to, the surroundings that are also my coastal home. Even if I am busy with traditionally indoor work, I try to get outside and relish them. I carry my laptop to a lawn chair and spend hours working in my outdoor office. I write, pay bills, catch up on emails. Whatever I can manage with a computer, one chair, and two hands.
After all, it is summer! And we all know it will not last.


Another Season of Surprise
Tricia Gates Brown {first appeared in North Coast Citizen Newspaper}
Already the air is chill come morning. A scrim of haze obscures the horizon at the break of these late summer days, and we are reminded of the shortness of seasons, the encroaching fall. The one thing that never changes is that nothing stays the same.
Last week I delivered my only child, my daughter, to college. The day marked a monumental shift of seasons in our lives and was a menagerie of sensations for both of us—excitement and pride mixed with sadness and a trace of anxiety. For the most part Madison is having a ball, I’m pleased to report. I am adapting more slowly, as if adjusting to a new pair of shoes. At times I barely notice a change then I’ll walk too fast or take a quick turn and suddenly, a dull pang.
In the week leading up to my daughter’s leaving, I was a mother hen with feathers in a bunch! Irrepressible domestic urges goaded me to cook enormous pots of soup and to randomly drop to my knees and scrub long-neglected corners of the house like the queen was expected for tea. One day I rearranged furniture in half the house while consuming insane amounts of milk, as if I expected to spontaneously begin lactating at any moment. Though I’m much happier with the room arrangement, I’m not as pleased with the pounds put on during the binge.
At times I’ve thought myself hard pressed because my daughter’s an only child and through part of her childhood, I was a single parent. As mother and daughter, we are uniquely close. Were there one or two kids to follow, I tell myself, I might be shooing her out the door to free up space. But really, I know the transition is difficult for everyone—no matter how full the nest. I also know Madison will return home several months a year, on holidays and summer break. During her last years of high school, she was fortunate enough to work at Wanda’s in Nehalem, and she has an open invitation to work at the diner whenever she is home!
When it came time to tell my daughter goodbye in the college parking lot, her eyes misted before mine. That was the switch that opened the flood gates. So many times she has cried in my arms as I have comforted her, from infancy to young adulthood. On occasion, I have been the one crying and comforted by her. On this day, we stood together feeling in equal measure the gravity of my departure from her, which was really her departure from me. She stood on the side of the road and waved to me till my truck drove out of sight.
The drive home was warm and clear. Sunset over the Willamette Valley was a sweep of yellow, sherbet pink and heather blue, dotted with rutty clouds, and I stopped to snap photos of an amber wheat field in the afterglow of dusk. The sun sets on one season only to give rise to another, I thought—to another season of rivaling splendor, ecstatic surprise.


How does Summer Linger? Let me Count the Ways.
Tricia Gates Brown {first appeared in North Coast Citizen Newspaper}
Tears from the depth of some divine despair
Rise in the heart, and gather to the eyes,
In looking on the happy Autumn-fields,
And thinking of the days that are no more.
~Alfred Lord Tennyson
Unlike Tennyson, I have not gazed on gilt Autumn fields with despair. No tears glaze my eyes, no taps troll in my heart as I ponder the days gone by. There will be none such for me. No, I am flat in denial of autumn.
Despite temperatures dipping below fifty, I refuse to light the first fire in my woodstove. Despite a conspicuous absence of red, I refuse to toss the tomatoes hanging like dainty green ornaments on my vines. Despite abundant September drizzle, I refuse to bring in the lawn chairs or to slip on the rain coat when I head out for a walk. Autumnal equinox has come and gone and the prospects of a summer-come-lately are thinning as fast as my vine maple. Still, I cannot bring myself to relinquish poor summer.
Many feel a similar resistance this year, no matter how we cherish the idea of autumn. Summer departed too quickly and left us in the lurch. One thing I know: if nature will not oblige, we must create our own heat, our own light.
This in mind, I started attending the free-form dance sessions held weekly at the Pine Grove Community Center (Manzanita Ecstatic Dance). Something about getting my groove on, twirling in a constellation of bright, spirited souls, illuminates my week. White sparkle lights shine on the walls of the community center, gorgeous tunes ebb and flow, and the space is transformed into a warm, incandescent haven against a backdrop of drizzly gray. If the weather is grim, I like to look out the windows as I dance, staring into the rain, and think how the warmth we create in that space will drift outward. I like to watch the wind and sideways rain from the dance floor and think how grateful I am to be in the joyful energy of that dance.
I also started acupuncture, weekly visits to the lovely Genevieve, acupuncturist of Cannon Beach, Oregon, whose treatments and tea have me humming Leonard Cohen and feeling a bit more luminous.
According to yin-yang philosophy, acupuncture is a considered a yang therapy. It moves from the exterior (yang) to the interior (yin). I am guessing dance is similarly “yang”. What we need is balance between the two forces, yet in fall and winter in the northwest, yin can tend to dominate. Traditionally, yin is dark, passive, and cold, whereas yang is light, active, and warm. In Chinese philosophy, yin and yang are the two sides inherent in everything; the opposites that make the whole and cannot exist apart from one another. Yet during the dark season we currently approach north of the equator, balance can take effort. We have to accommodate the yang whenever and wherever we can.
Though the roads I walk are edged with crisp, golden leaves, and though the spiders outside my window weave webs of lace that are stippled with morning dew, I still count the ways summer lingers.  And when it lingers no more, I will find new ways to create my own light. I will do so like my very life depends on it.


The Arc of the Universe Bends
Tricia Gates Brown {first appeared in North Coast Citizen Newspaper}
Another election cycle ends, and I find myself craving civility and silence. A hearty morsel of courtesy, drizzled with savory interpersonal respect. An intellectual climate where thoughts have space to rise, be fully baked, and then digested. Campaign rhetoric has always been grim, but with the ascendancy of television and politicized media, the angry, offending voices seem to have grown louder and more cacophonous. It is harder than ever to block them out. I do not have television, but unless one is cloistered away from all media, one will encounter the caustic discourse. It is plastered to people’s cars; it is visible on posters and in print. It is discussed at restaurants and grocery stores. It is part of the environment.
 I am not indifferent. I feel that stakes were extravagantly high this last election period. I felt it as an uncomfortable stirring in my gut. People standing across from me on opposite sides of the ideological divide seem to feel the same way. Stakes are high all around.
So when I am overcome by little flourishes of worry that sneak up like waves, and when I struggle to regain rightness of mind, I remind myself of the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. who eloquently stated, “The arc of the universe bends toward justice.” In other words, everything, ultimately, is moving toward wholeness, compassion, and love—toward justice. Words to live by, I remind myself. Words to cling to like a life vest.
Despite temporary shifts of fate where money, racial prejudice, and fear seem to triumph, the universe is wide and its arc, redemptive. Being politically and socially active—in a civil way—can do much good. But in the end, we simply have to bend with the universe, trusting it will move us toward compassion, trusting against all appearances. This is not a Pollyanna view of the world. It is the heart of every spiritual tradition.
I am also reminded that when we take the high road of compassion and justice, we are moving in the direction of the inevitable. In a rancorous political climate, it can be tempting to adopt a rancorous attitude and launch an offensive. It can start to seem more effective, more promising than civility. So when I begin to doubt the power of nonviolence and civility, I try to remember what MLK said, reminding myself of what I believe, at my core, to be true. The most effective pathway to change is to bend with the arc of the universe. Conversely, the most ineffective path is to push against this arc, adopting a posture of violence, duplicity, and domination. Those who invest themselves in these strategies may experience temporary victories throughout history, but they always end up failing. Those who bend with the universe in the direction of justice and love always end up winning. Truth prevails. Love prevails. At times, despite appearances.
For this reason, I am affirming anew my decision to stay out of the fray. This is easier said than done when I, for example, run into a person with a racist sign on his or her car that feels like an assault against my beliefs. Rancor can happen on the inside, without a word spoken. We have to choose against it on an emotional level as well as a social level. Thank heavens for role models like MLK who remind us.


Good Economics Begins at Home
Tricia Gates Brown {first appeared in North Coast Citizen Newspaper}
According to the ancient Greeks, I am an economist as, in all likelihood, are you. The Greek word “oikonomia” precursor to “economy” means “management of a household” and makes exquisite sense. The trading of goods takes place, first and foremost, on a household level. From there, it branches out to small communities, large communities, cities, states, countries. Yet every economic transaction begins and ends with individuals residing in households meeting their wants and needs. They say all politics is local, but the same can be said of economics. All economics is local.
Personal-scale economics has been on my mind this month as I’ve basked in the afterglow of several neighborly transactions. This past month I bought a Thanksgiving turkey from farmers in my rural neighborhood and a handmade Christmas wreath from a local nursery. I bought a Christmas tree from a friend. In each case, I interacted with the “merchants” of these products as real people, having conversations with them and learning about their lives.
During this past month, I also bought and sold a car. Few transactions are more fraught with baggage than that of buying and selling used cars (consider the archetypal used car salesman). Yet I felt genuinely blissful after interacting with Mr. Otis and Ms. Caroline, the older couple who bought my car, and with the retired neighbors who sold me theirs. In each case, I had a conversation with the couples, learning about their children and jobs, finding out where they came from and whether they like the northwest. I felt, at the end of each transaction, that I had shared a genuinely human interaction, a relationship.
Similarly, I met a beautiful couple in Astoria, owners of Astoria Screen Printing, who recently printed shirts for my and my husband’s landscaping business. The transaction brought me to their home (where the business is based) and we shared a brief conversation ranging from neurotic pets to extracurricular activities for high-schoolers to the experience of self-employment. Not only did I buy something from them, but I made two new friends.
Aside from these examples are the frequent exchanges with local stores who supply goods for our business and home, such as Manzanita Lumber. Each time I walk into Manzanita Lumber, I am confident the staff knows me and will do what they can to assist. It is as if they are partners in our business, helping us to do our job well.
Good economics is about meaningful personal exchange.
I couldn’t help but contrast these experiences with recent forays into global economics. After a virus got the best of my computer, I spent three days logging hours with customer support representatives around the world (many of those hours on hold). I was shunted from one department to another so frequently I got whiplash, and after hours on hold, was told by one representative after another to call another company. The low point came at the end of the computer triage when I lost my marbles and started sobbing to a well meaning yet feckless Indian representative who, alas, could not help me. “Is there anything else I can do for you?” he asked before ending the call.
Anything else? Are you kidding me?
At a time when economic relationships often lack relationship, it is important to remember that good economics begins close to home.


God Willing and the Creek Don’t Rise
Tricia Gates Brown {first appeared in North Coast Citizen Newspaper}
The saying “God willing and the creek don’t rise” keeps coming to mind. In part because I look outside my windows and see Foley Creek charging past, advancing into neighbors’ gardens; in part, because of national debates having nothing to do with weather.
Following the assassination attempt and killings in Arizona this month, talk is finally turning—in earnest—to the problem of violent rhetoric in American politics and American society. Whatever you think about the connection between the Arizona events and rhetoric in politics and media, the soul-searching is desperately needed. Violent speech can appear so innocuous, just another way for pundits and leaders to make their point over increasingly crowed airways, just another way to get attention and be noticed, if only by being offensive. But innocent, it is not. Is it relatively harmless?  Well, as they say, “God willing and the creek don’t rise.”
The problem is, the creek can rise astonishingly fast. National tides can turn so quickly citizens are left wondering what hit them.
The lead-up to the Third Reich probably seemed innocuous to many Germans in the decades before Hitler’s rise to power. Political rhetoricians made use of violent language and off-handedly scapegoated certain populations, blaming them for societal ills and economic pressures. But in the 1920s, the rhetorical atmosphere was not all that exceptional, not all that different from the atmosphere in our country today. And yet. In the nine years, just nine years, between the major avalanches of the Great Depression and Germany’s annexation of Austria in 1938, the German political tide turned hazardously in the direction of violent nationalism and genocide.
God willing and the creek don’t rise. Problem is, that creek can shoot up like a Roman candle. The factors leading to pre-WWII nationalism in Europe and elsewhere were fairly consistent. Principal among them were economic instability/hardship and violent, nationalistic discourse. It is no accident that Adolf Hitler’s ascendance, along with that of other nationalist despots, coincided with the economic events known as the Great
Depression and incubated in an atmosphere of violent rhetoric.
Fortunately, here in the US our economy seems, at the moment, to be stabilizing. But we have seen in the last five years how quickly economies can shift from good to bad, or from fair to bad, and with the national debt being what it is, our economy is perpetually unstable. If our country was seriously hurt economically or otherwise, could American patriotism devolve into a disastrous form of nationalism? We are setting the stage if we allow violent, nationalistic speech and sentiment to become pervasive in our public discourse, and if we feed, rather than heal, the racism endemic to American society since Day One.
I want to be clear. I am not comparing America to Nazi Germany, comparing our government to the Third Reich, or comparing racism in America to the Holocaust. I am saying that and we need to look very soberly at any trends in our country that are similar to trends leading up to those events and institutions. Are we so much better than the Europeans who allowed such things to happen in their countries? Are we immune to the politic trends that have repeatedly bore devastating consequences historically? It is simply naïve for us to think that US nationalism and racism are more innocent than the early-20th-century German counterparts.
Americans need to wake up to the potential consequences of current rhetorical trends in media and politics. Fortunately, recent events have served, for some, as wake-up calls. We can make our society less susceptible to violent, devastating nationalism by working to create a strong culture and climate of respect, nonviolence, and tolerance. And yes, even love.


Accidental Exercise
Tricia Gates Brown {first appeared in North Coast Citizen Newspaper}
Call me old-fashioned, but I am drawn to accidental exercise, meaning exercise that happens accidentally when one is busy doing something else. It is “accidental” because the exercise is secondary to other purposes. Examples of this would be chopping wood, walking or biking to work and town, digging a ditch. My favorite accidental exercise arises from nature walks, the installation of garden plants, and most recently, from dance. I do these activities because I love to get out in nature, I enjoy gardening, and dancing makes me glad. Exercise is icing on the cake.
Doing exercise as an activity in and of itself has never held much appeal for me—and probably to my detriment. You will never see me frequent a gym (though exercise at the gym can be accidental if one goes for social purposes…and I can respect that). Doing exercise as an activity in and of itself is a phenomenon peculiar to modern people and to the gentry of old. The gentry were buffeted from physical work, thus accidental exercise, by the servants and slaves who did everything for them. Modern people like you and me are buffeted from physical labor by the machines that do everything for us.
This being the case, I was uniquely delighted to welcome dance back into my life this year after many years of absence. Though I was a frequent dancer as a teenager, I somehow lost the connection. For years I didn’t dance because I encountered few opportunities to dance, and frankly, I was afraid to stick my neck out. Now I find dance opportunities aplenty. More importantly, my inner dancer has re-emerged with gusto.
Thank heavens for that.
For me, dancing is like pinning stars to the underside of clouds. It is mixing the air of longing with the spark of joy to create a blaze of aliveness. I dance because it stirs in me things that in day-to-day life become stagnant, things like playfulness, deeply embedded passions, love for fellow human beings and for music, and connectedness with my body, with rhythm.
Incidentally, accidentally, a good session of dance is great exercise! And it wonderfully circulates chi energy, promoting good health.
There are many opportunities to explore dance in our area. I have become a regular at Manzanita Ecstatic Dance and at the once-a-month dance party at LUSH Wine Bar in Cannon Beach. The two experiences are quite different and allow me to explore various aspects of dance. The former is meditative and spiritual, while the latter is more about the music, its associations with special times of my life (disco—need I say more), and about the companionship shared on the dance floor with friends, strangers, and my spouse, who at LUSH takes to the dance floor with me.
I am working my way up to Latin dance lessons—hoping to learn the rumba, the cha-cha, the tango along with my husband. Overcoming his monumental shyness? That will be a challenge for another day!


Remembering Grandma
Tricia Gates Brown {first appeared in North Coast Citizen Newspaper}
Grandma had thinning hair dappled white and tin-can gray that she pulled back with tortoise-shell hair combs, and two false teeth, bottom, front, that she seldom wore in old age. She left them in the medicine cabinet for preservation, letting a gaping hole adorn the front of her smile. Penurious as a squirrel, she wanted to insure they would last. Grandma wore glasses, never a hint of makeup, and didn’t own a garment without some percentage of polyester. One leg was shorter than the other, a result of childhood polio, so she walked with a prodigious limp, letting her short leg swing forward and fall to the ground heavy as ink on white paper.
Grandma read books, played cards, watched sports, and waited for my visits, which were never as frequent as I intended. When I came she would inquire about my garden, about my new life at the beach, about my daughter—each question hot upon the last like a rifle’s report. I suspected she had, in my absence, compiled a mental list to squeeze in before I was, once again, away. Each month, or every other month, I saw her. I was a busy person. I visited my grandmother far more than most people my age. That is what I told myself.
The last time we sat together was a couple of weeks past my birthday. “Miss you always,” she had penned in my card, which didn’t break my heart at the time, but now breaks my heart for always. “It was sure nice to see you,” she said sweetly as I hugged her goodbye that last time. Six years ago, this spring.
For all her sweetness toward me, the second-oldest of her grandchildren, Grandma was prone to a slight acerbity, making her unpopular with other kin. Yet her uncouth and unpolished manner was part of what I loved in her. The unselfconsciousness that allowed her to say and do things without fanfare that most of us would find socially unacceptable. My fondest memories of Grandma were times she did something embarrassing, like pouring chips from the Mexican restaurant straight into her purse, or when she revealed to me previously undetected flaws in my body that she happened to notice, like when I entered her room wearing an above-the-knee skirt and she exclaimed with utter matter-of-factness, “Say, I never noticed you were knocked-kneed!”
Sometimes I think of Grandma when I see a sight she might have loved, the leaping of grasshoppers before me as I walk—one after another, like a procession. The glassy eyes of the neighbor horse when I feed him carrots from my hand. Birds foraging seeds in the garden outside my front window. I know she would love so much of what I love, so many of the people who have come into my life. She would love the colors I have painted on my walls and the books I am reading, my chorizo quiche. She would relish the sharing.
Redefining Success
Tricia Gates Brown {first appeared in North Coast Citizen Newspaper}
I’ve long been on the wrong side of “success.” I have smoothed my sheets, shaken my quilt and lay down on the soft bed of goodness that says “this is enough.” The success our culture esteems, with its requisite packed-tight-as-raisins scheduling, frantic audience and consumer seeking, and inevitable compromising of principles, holds little appeal. I could be gone tomorrow, next week. There is only today to nourish and savor. Work must be done, but not at the expense of what matters.
The word “nourish” does get at the heart of it. So much of what a life, a soul requires—truly requires in the way the body requires electrolytes, proteins and amino acids—takes time and precious nourishment. The fast-moving highway to success often requires a stop at the quick-mart for cheap substitutes for these necessities. Nourishment also strikes a chord because I relish doing the things that nourish myself and others. I enjoy these things so much I refuse to prioritize them away in order to become more “successful.” Things like baking and cooking healthy, delicious food; feeding and building deep one-on-one relationships; creating silences around me and space for reflection; relishing and creating beauty; daily stepping into the unfolding mystery of prayer; home-making a space marked by truth-telling in a society cuckolded by its caretakers and strip-mined of soul.
Nourishment and its cousin-word “nurturing” are generally associated with the realm of women, whether nurturing the body, the human spirit, or interrelationships between humans, humans and their bodies, or humans and the natural world. It is no accident, then, that a culture which fails to acknowledge the seminal importance of nourishment always elevates the status, the “successfulness”, of men over that of women.
Historically, some women and feminist movements have reacted to this by backing away from reverence for nourishment/nurturing, trying to play by the success-rules of a male-dominated society. This strategy strikes me as flawed. A truly feminist approach doesn’t ask women to adopt the persona traditionally associated with maleness. True feminism transforms society so that it accommodates and values with equality all the artful and necessary skills traditionally associated with femaleness. When such a world exists, ways of life that nourish and nurture will become the measure of success.
Bill McKibbon, in his new book Eaarth: Making a life on a tough new planet makes the case that, in the present and future wake of global climate change, our world is and will be one that is “contracting,” one that is getting “smaller and less centralized, to focus not on growth but on maintenance.” Our only hope, according to McKibbon, is in creating “societies and economies that can hunker down, concentrate on essentials, and create the type of community…that will allow us to weather trouble on an unprecedented scale.” He insists that “small” things like growing and preparing food, making things by hand, and nurturing bodies and relationships will become dramatically more important as times change. In other words, the quotidian things generally thought of as “women’s work,” will become the keys to survival, and certainly true success. I couldn’t agree more.
This demonstrates to me that these quiet arts of nourishment and nurturing have always been the true, sure path. If we are wise, we will return to them. We will return to them in reverence because the neglect of them has failed on a scale impossible to fathom. There is no better time than today.


Making the World a More Welcoming Place
Tricia Gates Brown {first appeared in North Coast Citizen Newspaper}
On a recent weekend of buttery blue sky and brisk temperatures, my husband I walked down Miami-Foley Road to pay my favorite neighbor horse a visit. It was a Sunday afternoon—no log trucks—and we took in the quietness of cashmere hills and the holy cows who reside on them.

About a half-mile from our house we noticed a young woman, twenty-ish, gathering redeemable cans along the side of the road. The girl’s mother was pulled onto the shoulder in an idling car that advanced farther up the road as the young woman advanced. Passing them, we said hello and made small-talk. I wondered about the women and the predicament that sent them scouting cans along this country highway on a chilly Sunday afternoon. I assumed it was not a happy predicament. I felt a crunch of sadness for them, but I continued on my way.

Several yards after passing them, I noticed my husband start to pick up cans. He gathered up six, giant-stepping over ditches to reach remote specimens, side-stepping down gravel embankments for others. Then he sat them on the edge of the road where they would be easily spotted by the young woman and easy to pick up. He was lightening her load. He picked up another armful as we went along, even ducking under barbed-wire to reach a field riddled with cans too remote for most folks to retrieve. Then he deposited his stash in a neat pile along the road’s edge, the way he had his last. He continued this way over a mile until I reached my horse, then proceeded farther up the road, still collecting, as I visited. When we were ready to head home, the young woman and her mother caught up to us and thanked him generously.

A few days after this incident, we visited an elderly friend of my husband who moved to a dementia unit last fall. He visits her 2-3 times a month. It was time for the residents to eat dinner and Gil stood outside the dining room waiting for his friend as a nursing-home resident in a wheelchair approached him thinking he was an orderly. “Are you going to help me?” she inquired brusquely and he replied, “Sure!” He ended up wheeling her to a table and getting her settled while I retrieved his friend. Throughout the meal, Gil assisted his new friend, Doris, letting her take his hand and hold it, which she was keen to do. When she struggled to eat, he retrieved a knife for her, cut her food into manageable pieces, and fed her. When she wanted more juice, he refilled her cup. He had never met the woman before in his life. She didn’t want him to leave, but he reassured her, “I will come back, don’t you worry. I will be back.” And I know that he will.

At one point, after learning his name was Gilbert, Doris became confused, thinking he was her estranged brother “Wilbur.” “I am just so happy to see you, Wilbur, she went on. I wondered if I would ever see you again. I am so happy you are here…” Reading the perplexed look on Gil’s face, I knew he was wrestling, wondering whether he should go along with her or set her straight. Eventually he corrected her, saying “I am Gilbert, not Wilbur. But I’m a new friend, and I will visit you again soon, okay?”

I learn many things from my husband: how to stake a newly planted tree, how to properly prune roses, how to say things like “Please pass the butter” in Spanish. But the most important lessons I learn from him are less technical. He teaches me to recognize opportunities for “random acts of kindness,” for which he has an internal state-of-the-art radar. This sort of kindness is so a part of his nature that he transcends characteristic shyness (the thing that usually holds me back) without thinking. And in so doing, he makes the world a more welcoming, healing, blessed place for perfect strangers—rich in the miring honey of goodness.


Land of milk … and honey? Part I
Tricia Gates Brown {first appeared in North Coast Citizen Newspaper}
Soon after moving to Foley Creek, I discovered my property was home to another family. Many families, perhaps, but most notable were the chipmunks. This rollicking brood resided in the centuries-old cedar just beyond my kitchen window, a graceful timber with a cavity fit for raising youngsters. Twice a year new babies were born to the family and after a short infancy, emerged from their nursery ala Thuja plicata. I could stand at my window and watch the antics of these toddlers still wet behind the ears. They played tag, hide-and-seek, and got in trouble with their mother all on the broad neck and shoulders of this cedar. Blissful entertainment for onlookers.
Imagine my disappointment, then, when this family was displaced, mercilessly and without eviction notice, by an enormous colony of bees. Never have I resented bees, despite being stung several times as a child. But on the spectrum of cuteness bees register several rungs below that of chipmunks. And they are no where near as entertaining. At first I hoped the bees were passing through, yet stay they did. Going on three years.
Despite how I miss the spectacle of chipmunks, however, I have now embraced the bees whole-heartedly. In fact, with all I have learned about bees in the past two years, I feel genuinely honored it is “my” old cedar tree that hosts them, and encourage more people to welcome bees or bee keeping into their lives. Tillamook  County is certainly a land of milk. Can we make it a land of milk and honey?
Bees are the most ancient of farmers. They have produced food since time immemorial, gathering nectar, mixing it with saliva, and voila! making glorious honey. Bees carry honey back to their hives and deposit it in the cell walls, adjusting the moisture with a flutter of their wings until the concoction is ideal for consumption.
Yet as impressive as this may be, honey-making is just one of the miraculous feats for which bees are responsible. The other is pollination—indispensable, thankless pollination—a task not just of honeybees, but of bees in general. Did you know that bees are responsible for pollinating one-third of the crops contributing to the US diet, and that bees are endangered? (Pause to consider the implications.)
For decades commercial bee populations have suffered from parasites, a problem typically addressed in the tradition of corporate agriculture using miticides. But mites have built up resistance to these chemicals, making all bees vulnerable to newly stoic strains of parasites. While work is being done to develop strains of honeybees resistant to mites, bees have suffered dramatic declines.
Habitat loss also plagues feral populations since bees require a large cavity (usually found in an old tree like the one by my house) at least 10 gallons in volume. Deforestation and land development have consequently devastated bees. A good tree is increasingly hard to find. Thus my change of heart regarding the new inhabitants of my cedar! The fair chipmunk family simply relocated to a nearby stump, but for bees, relocation is far from simple.
In Part II of “Land of milk, and honey?”, I will explore the health benefits of raw, natural honey, another reason to admire bees. In the meantime, keep enjoying your bee-pollinated food, and if it behooves you, whisper a word of thanksgiving for bees.


Land of milk … and honey? Part II
Tricia Gates Brown {first appeared in North Coast Citizen Newspaper}
Certain moments are serendipitous, like the moment I met the honey man. I was sitting with my nephew at Shriners Hospital, chatting about the ephemeral things kids chat about, when in he walked. A friend of my nephew dropping by for a visit, but also, the honey man—a man so passionate about his bee-keeping and so zealous about honey, that he carries with him a honey-tasting sachel, containing four plastic “honey bears” filled with varietals of honey he has harvested and a ziplock of plastic spoons. Had I not been sitting with my nephew at that moment, I may not have become so fanatical about honey. Yet there I was. And, what won me? In a word, meadowfoam.
Meadowfoam is a wildflower bees swoon over. It also creates a honey reminiscent of vanilla and roasted marshmallows, and not in the way a particular merlot is said to taste like “oak and raspberry” when it tastes like no such thing. On my word, meadowfoam honey tastes like roasted marshmallows. It is also valued highly and difficult to find. After my encounter with the honey man, I started looking into honey in hopes of finding meadowfoam, and in my wanderings happened upon pumpkin honey. This beautifully mild concoction rivals meadowfoam, tastes of caramel, and is more readily available.
I also learned of the nutritional benefits of honey.
Honey is nutritious in such a multi-faceted way it is considered a superfood. Yet not all honeys deserve equal praise. I buy “raw” honey whenever possible, meaning unfiltered (or lightly filtered) honey that has not been heated and pasteurized, which is most often available from small producers using natural, organic methods of bee-keeping. Raw honey is chock full of phytonutrients that are mostly destroyed in the methods of processing used by large-scale honey producers. These nutrients include enzymes that assist with digestion and other physiological processes, and that are found in varying degrees in many varietals of honey. Other of honey’s phytonutrients have cancer-preventing and anti-tumor properties, nutrients that are likewise eliminated by heavy-handed processing. Finally, good raw honey contains strains of “friendly bacteria,” lactobacilli and bifidobacteria, which play a crucial role in immunity and wellness.
This said, even 100% natural honey that is not raw, for example the kind found in nutrition sections of major supermarkets, has far-reaching nutritional benefits. Most significantly, it promotes healthy blood sugar control.
Honey contains a 1:1 ratio of fructose to glucose, which helps the liver to efficiently incorporate the sugars into glycogen. Glycogen supplies the brain with fuel during sleep and exercise. When glycogen stores are low, a process is set in motion that leads to impaired glucose metabolism and ultimately insulin resistance and diabetes. Unlike the refined sugars and starches, and high fructose corn syrup so prevalent in the American diet, honey actually improves the body’s ability to control blood sugar.
Honey also has powerful antibiotic and antioxidant functions and helps to boost immunity. For centuries people have used honey to treat wounds and burns because of its antiseptic and antibiotic properties. While raw, dark honey has the highest potency of antioxidants and flavonoids, all honey seems to have antiseptic properties.
I fell in love with honey before I knew these nutritional facts. Honey drew me in because it tastes sublime. But now that I’m well acquainted with honey, this many splendored thing, I am a zealous convert. I raise my spoon in a toast to honey.


Passing the Peace
Tricia Gates Brown {first appeared in North Coast Citizen Newspaper}
Eight years away and I have gone back to church. Not just once a week, but twice. My churches are an “ecstatic dance” group and a late-evening Spanish-language mass in Manzanita. What lured me back were the people and the communal sharing of spirit that, in my mind, defines church. My definition of church is formed in defiance of old norms. It fills the vacuum created by my conscious, if temporary, jettisoning of the institution and is as wide and rich as the spectrum of religion and ideology. It is a definition that allows me to share spiritual community, on some level, with almost anyone.
Institutions of all stripes can draw bold lines that exclude people, or elevate to supreme importance doctrines that divide. Yet spirit unifies—in spite of those who wish to meld it to their purposes, to stake a claim to it. The divine spirit in us all is identical and one can no more sculpt and contain it than wind. Spirit unifies, and thus rattles the bigoted religious as well as the bigoted non-religious (whose bigotry is often aimed at the religious). It unseats those who would use it as a tool to dominate. Spirit breathes life into everyone, even those so resistant to spirit, so dedicated to burying it that they seem to be holding their breath.
In truth, I tend to choke on the edges of religious creed. I carry into any religious
or spiritual experience more doubt than actual belief. Yet I can simultaneously honor the life-giving religious and spiritual creeds we humans have developed. A creed is nothing more than a system or formulation of core beliefs, and most of us have core beliefs. We may not recite them communally as creeds, and hopefully we do not use our core beliefs as weapons. Yet this doesn’t change the fact that we have them. When the hard angles of creed are used like sharp elbows, to shove people out, to define who is unwanted rather than to iterate vitalizing understandings, then I believe creeds can do more harm than good. Otherwise, they are formulations by groups of like-minded individuals that infuse life with meaning.
The pinnacle of the church experience for me is the connecting of spirit in myself and others. At Santa Catalina, I most experience this in the “passing of peace.” This is a moment in the service, characteristic of liturgical traditions, when people walk around the sanctuary and share “the peace,” shaking the hand of one person after another and saying “la paz.” With each passing of the peace, my spirit goes on a little mating mission, if you can pardon the earthiness of my analogy. The spirit in me looks into the smile of another, touches the radiant fingers of another, and connects with his or her spirit for a potent moment. One hand bony and fragile, another rough, another gentle and passive, almost limp, another childlike, tiny and sweaty and velveteen. Each hand, the portal to a soul.


Contemplating the Return
Tricia Gates Brown {first appeared in North Coast Citizen Newspaper}
It is a day of near 70 degree temperatures and I sit in a pond of sunlight, hopes rising for a birth out of winter’s dampness and gray. It is “holy Saturday” and I contemplate Easter. While many modern Christians understand the Easter events in terms of expiation for personal sin and a gateway to personal “salvation”, the Anabaptist and Quaker traditions have, along with others, viewed it differently. These traditions see Easter as part of a cosmic story that elevates nonviolent, self-giving love to the place of ultimate honor. According to this view, nonviolent love is the most essential characteristic of God/Spirit, and the events celebrated at Easter epitomize this. They set us on a new path. They show that resurrection, however one understands it, comes when we encounter violence, domination, ego, addiction, greed, and so forth, with self-giving love. This is what I believe.
It is also springtime and I marvel anew at the life bursting from fallow ground and brittle, slumbering twigs—the new growth as flawless and Edenic and as the peachy skin of an infant, holographic greens and buds clenched like the hands of two strangers. Each year we see life spring forth out of seasonal death. Why then is our hope so precarious? We are continuously reminded. So why is it hard to believe that equity and justice will triumph after the long winter of ecosystem destruction, the subjugating of the unprivileged, the slow killing of our spirits by material excess and distraction? I am reminded of Lao Tsu’s words telling us to look out at the world from hopeful memory, “Watch the turmoil of beings, but contemplate their return,” he wrote.
This Easter I am contemplating the return of our democracy. Something seems to have shifted so that money has the last word more than ever. The trend is set to continue after the Supreme Court decision in January 2010 removing a cap on the amount corporations can donate to political campaigns. Nowadays money often decides what messages people receive during election cycles, and thus can determine the outcomes of elections. Election-financing concerns often decide the voting tendencies of our leaders. Therefore, money largely writes policy in Washington and Salem, not the people. For now, this characterizes our so-called democracy. It is in turmoil, and so I try to observe it while also “contemplating its return.”
A fringe benefit of contemplation is that it influences action. Right action becomes a consequence of contemplation: action that is unforced, unlabored, un-manipulated. We contemplate the restoration and resurrection of dead and dying things and thus become hopeful, stimulating action. And how superior is action of any kind—political or personal—that is a consequence of hopeful contemplation rather than a reaction of anger, frustration, and vengeance?
Whether one has been celebrating the Easter season, the awakening of the land, or both, one can see that the cycles of death are always followed by life. The departing and the returning. The conquering and the rising. Again and again. Amen.


Ties that bind to hold them up
Tricia Gates Brown {first appeared in North Coast Citizen Newspaper}
This week I attended a quinceñera, the first I’ve attended for a young woman I know. For those unfamiliar with the tradition, a quinceñera is a grand fiesta given for a girl who has turned fifteen and made vows, at a special mass, to be a strong and loving woman. For a mental snapshot, imagine little girls in pinwheel-bright dresses playing crack the whip on strappy heels, little boys in three-piece black suits and white ties, shirttails sprung from their trousers as they dart through the room or knuckle-bump their elders. Old and young women and men attired primly in a hall decked out from the disco ball to the shiny dance floor. Folding chairs disguised by crisp white coverlets and bows of purple tulle. Tulle draped from the ceiling and across elaborately decorated reception tables donning a multi-tiered cake. Every white-clothed table in the hall is likewise draped and packed with eager guests. A catered dinner is served and drinks flow, all against a rousing salsa beat. The birthday girl, the “quinceñera,” performs a waltz and other choreographed numbers with half a dozen teenage boys she has selected for the honor (all dressed to the nines). And then, when the time has finally comes, guests rise like a flock of pigeons and dance to the wee hours of morn.
As someone who issued from a culture very different from the Latino, I couldn’t help mentally tallying the tab. My daughter “came of age” a few years ago, and let’s just say I didn’t slaughter the fatted calf. I probably made cupcakes and ordered pizza for her and her friends. At a quinceñera there are layers upon layers of expense—from professional photography, to food and drink, to clothing and professional hair styling, to live bands and DJs, to bridal-scale dresses, to party favors. The events require months of planning and copious resources. I had to stop and remind myself that this party was like no Anglo party I had attended. It was a product of a community tight-knit on a scale unfathomable by my own experiences. And its purpose was distinct to its cultural context, to honor the unique coming-of-age of women, because women are the spiritual backbone, the force of healing energy and heart for their communities.
Almost every aspect of a quinceñera is provided by close friends and family of the girl, who are affectionately titled “padrinos.” An intimately close friend or relative might provide a large item, such as photography and videography, while another friend might provide the girl’s slippers or a special photo album. A quinceñera party is an explosion of participation, generosity and friendship from several dozen people who contribute to make it possible. A non-Latino might look at such a party and wonder how parents pull it off. But the parents don’t pull it off. An entire community pulls it off. That is the distinction, a powerful distinction, that sets child-raising in Latino culture apart. It takes a village, a pueblo, and it goes without saying.
I am an onlooker at such events as quinceñeras. But I know enough about the local Latino community to know that relationships between families or between individuals in the community are often imperfect. Like all human communities, it holds its share of grudges, petty disputes, deep hurts, and delicate history. And yet.
And yet, when a family needs support to usher their child across the threshold of womanhood, when a baby is baptized, when a couple gets married, when someone is in need, people lay aside their differences and come together. They provide for each other. Personal rifts aside, everyone shares the same dance floor—parties to broken marriages, parties to broken business deals, parties to broken friendships, political differences, soured love. All because a girl went and turned fifteen. And it is, after all, about the children, the future generations, and the ties that bind us together to hold them up.


Revisiting Beauty
Tricia Gates Brown {first appeared in North Coast Citizen Newspaper}
I have reached the stage of life where I prefer not to be photographed. Ducking the camera’s gaze allows me to avoid the profound, disconcerting surprise that greets me upon seeing my image in photos. Who, I wonder upon seeing such images, is that woman with the little protruding Buddha belly? Who is that puffy-faced 40-something with features obscured like a wax sculpture left in a window on a hot afternoon? Oh! I moan. That plain-faced woman is me!
I have rarely invested much effort in primping. I’m more a wash-and-go girl than a glamour doll, a minimal wearer of makeup. Yet the decline of youthful beauty smarts more than I care to admit. Can’t imagine the pain it causes those highly invested in appearances. Almost makes my heart ache for the Hollywood starlets graced not with genetic perfection—almost, that is, but not quite. And no matter the prevailing sentiment in California, plastic surgery is no fountain of youth, unless one thinks young people resemble buxom inhabitants of Planet of the Apes, nor are the latest high-tech non-surgical beauty treatments that verge on the certifiably insane. A friend of mine recently found out her appearance-conscious sister was injecting pregnant-lady pee, the most recent beauty panacea. For real.
The saving grace is how the mantra of our mothers, “Beauty comes from within” begins to ring of crystalline truth by the age of forty. Though it may be harder to apply to ourselves, we certainly observe its veracity in others. When I think of beautiful people, my mind veers to several mature women and men I know personally who are so strong, kind, and sticky with depth and wisdom that they radiate. I think of my 40-something husband, with wrinkles and hair loss and a Yukon-sized heart. My mind doesn’t venture off to Hollywood or to examples of youthful perfection closer to home. Perhaps it helps that I rarely look at magazines or watch TV.
But not only does our vision for inner beauty become sharper as we grow older, so does our vision for beauty in nature and food, ironic humor and art, which require mature attentiveness and presence to fully apprehend. “There is a kind of joy that can only be felt after one has experienced a deep depression,” I recently heard someone say. And there is a kind of beauty that can only be seen after one’s innocence has been lost, after one has encountered with wide-open eyes the fragility of ecosystems and interpersonal relationships, the brokenness of our food, health and political systems. These often do not become fully apparent until one nears mid-life, and then they knock us over. After we stand up and dust off, we see stark beauty in contrast to mountains beheaded by mining companies, chemical-dusted grapes, sold-out politicians of every stripe, and carelessly mass-produced, cookie-cutter homes and toys and hats—and the beauty makes us weep.
Our ability to create beautiful things deepens as well with time. I don’t know a single artist or writer who would trade the skills they have now, at a riper age, for the skill-set of his or her dawn. Artful pursuits take time to master. Looking back on words I penned eight to ten years ago, I tend to cringe. I may have had more flawless skin, more refined facial features, and a better figure back in those days, but my writing was clunky and sentimental. I would much rather look squidgy and create beautiful words. I suspect fine-artist and musician friends feel similarly. There is a kind of beauty that can only be created when one has wracked up experience (which, I admit, some do at a younger age), and then there is always practice, practice, practice.


On Learning Compassion
Tricia Gates Brown {first appeared in North Coast Citizen Newspaper}
I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion. ~ Lao Tsu
When my daughter was three, she and I watched symphony concerts on public television in the tiny apartment we shared. Recognizing an interest in her at a young age, I decided to teach her about musical instruments so I would know what she was destined to play. At first it seemed fated to be the oboe, which she called the “elbow” and which likely piqued her interest because of the tiny reed resting on the lip of the player, magically creating a suede-edged note that soared over plateaus of string and brass. Yet it was the violin that won her. At three and a half, Madison was given her first, a quarter-size that looked more like a Christmas ornament than an actual instrument, and Suzuki lessons ensued. Since I was not a mother to subject her to hours of daily practice, as if grooming her for first chair on the Portland Youth Symphony, Madison didn’t progress past “Twinkle, Twinkle” for three and a half years. Her young playing sounded like feline mating cries, but we endured and she grew to love music.
While Madison was more music lover than performer, she enjoyed sharing music one-on-one. This willingness opened a door for Madison to play for a woman with advanced MS, a lady named Nancy, early 50s, who could not control her body from the neck down. She relied on a stream of therapists who visited her daily to manipulate inert muscles. One of Nancy’s therapists knew Madison’s teacher and knew how music softened Nancy’s muscles, so Madison was invited to visit and play for her once a week. By this time, 10-year-old Madison performed in a middle-school orchestra, played quite beautifully, and her music worked miracles for Nancy’s muscles, like good, healing medicine. This went on for a couple of years and the two became friends.
Nowadays college-student Madison is working as summer staff for a camp in an Idaho lake district, and last week lifeguarded for kids with muscular dystrophy—kids who live to an average age of 25, who cope with nearly incessant pain, and who deal with varying degrees of physical disability, from slight tremors to near-total paralysis. When I talked with Madison after a day of working with these young people, she told of their sense of wonder and appreciation for small things, like scooting along the sand into lapping tongues of water, or being swung in harnesses from centuries-old trees. The last day of the camp, the organizers threw the kids an elaborate “prom” with Hollywood-caliber decorations and fancy prom digs. That night Madison and fellow staff served the kids like waiters at a five-star restaurant, and at the dance hundreds of red balloons rained down from the ceiling. Through the storm, Madison noticed one boy, an eighteen-year-old who had, at camp, had the time of his life after weeks of declining health, and whose wheelchair was surrounded by a sea of red latex as he beamed with a look of elation she will never forget.
Madison called the night after these kids left camp to tell me that this boy, a year younger than her in age, had died on the drive home with his parents. Madison spoke of what a gift it had been to see him so happy that final week of his life, how much she had learned from observing him and the other MDA kids.
My daughter is not academically inclined (this, actually, a farcical understatement). She is temperamental, often irritable, and she doesn’t practice the violin ever. Hasn’t since mid-way through high school. But this I can say of Madison: she has learned voluminous compassion. She is humane, empathetic, and thoughtful. And really nothing, not one achievement or ambition, could make her mother more proud.


CSA: Connect with Something Amazing!
Tricia Gates Brown {first appeared in North Coast Citizen Newspaper}
In 2000 I lived in a suburb of Portland and signed up for “Organics to You,” a Portland program that delivers local farm-fresh produce to subscribing families. Every other week, I’d receive a box of such fragrant, vibrant, gorgeous produce that I thought I had died and awoken in Jamie Oliver’s kitchen. A year before this I had lived in rural Scotland, where produce is invariably packaged in plastic clamshells, comes in the washed-out colors of wedding mints, and is mealy as a McDonalds French fry. I had never been so happy to see a vegetable as I was upon the arrival of that box. When it included fresh basil I almost burst into arias. This, of course, was before the farmer’s market craze hit small towns.
From the organics-delivery experience, I graduated to community-gardening at a large organic farm in the Willamette Valley, where I, my daughter, and my then-husband would put in a few hours of work each month. In exchange, we could raid the farm’s produce stash at will, taking everything from chartreuse broccolini to cherry tomatoes—sweet as candy—to berries and tiny paisley eggplants. Not to mention bunches of red and yellow sunflowers and jewel-toned dahlias.
Since I moved to the coast in 2004, farmers markets have popped up one after the other. I now live in Nehalem and can visit a north-coast farmers market almost any day of the week! But making it to markets is often difficult, and there are times I arrive to find the produce booths sold-out. Most importantly, I have sorely missed the direct connection to a farm that I experienced as a community gardener.
That is, until this week! This week, my CSA share with Manzanita’s Revolution Gardens begins, and I’ve been counting the days.
“CSA” stands for Community-Supported Agriculture and is a way for individuals and families to buy memberships or “shares” in a local farm both to support the farm with early-season capitol, and to receive of its bounty. In the past I have shied away from CSAs because of the large outlay of money some require. But this year Revolution started a brilliant program by which members can participate by the season, either buying a full or half share. This means that vegetarian individuals, or non-vegetarian couples can get a half share in one 7-week season of the farm for just $115—which suits most budgets swimmingly. My two-person household has a half share in both the summer and fall garden seasons. Thus, I am set to enjoy fourteen weeks of fresh-picked local veggie splendor. Almost makes me giddy. The summer offerings will include peek-of-flavor-and-nutrient beans, broccoli, Spinach, cauliflower, carrots, beets, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, herbs, kale, greens, sweet onions, summer squash, tomatillos, potatoes, sweet peppers, radishes, chard, garlic, slicing tomatoes, and basil, rapturous basil.
Not that I mean to gloat.
I CSA and so can you. For a directory of CSAs and more information, visit A CSA, like home and community gardening, is a great way for parents to teach kids where food comes from, and the importance of cultivating organic soil and healthy environments. They also foster community food-security and build relationships between consumers and growers. It is the quintessential win-win!


Finding your bliss is good for everyone
Tricia Gates Brown {first appeared in North Coast Citizen Newspaper}
Every Thursday I trot down to the Nehalem Elementary field to hang out with a gaggle of beautiful kids dubbed the “Santa Catalina Soccer Club.” The provenance of this “club” is uncomplicated and organic, as worthwhile ventures tend to be. It was the idea of the kids of Santa Catalina (the Spanish-speaking congregation at St. Catherines of Alexandria in Manzanita that meets on Monday evenings). One day as kids bandied a soccer ball around the lawn, a boy said, “Hey, we want a soccer club!” and the stars aligned to grant his wish.
Really, the club began because of grown-up support, as well as willingness and help from St. Catherines. My husband, Gilberto Arciga, and Manzanita resident, Gabriel Casarez, do the coaching, and I bring refreshments and supplies, and generally entertain the younger siblings not old enough to play. But let me tell you: each of us grown-ups participates because it brings us fathoms of joy. I love these kids like no one’s business, like there is no place I would rather be on a Thursday evening than getting to know them and admiring their smiles. This same truth radiates from the coaches. In fact, that is how it is when we are called to something, it truly is “no one’s business” but our own. It is ours to do, and it will, in an entirely unique and fateful way, bring us matchless joy. It makes me think of a quote by Frederick Buechner, who wrote that vocation, or “calling,” is “the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
When I was young, I had a compulsion to save the world, and I tripped all over myself and others trying! I didn’t know to wait for the voice of calling, or how to follow it to the places where my heart’s gladness met a real-time need. Looking back I see a quixotic and delusional “heroine,” trudging her way into work for which she was neither gifted nor prepared, and utterly missing the point! It is a story of exuberance and ego that prefaces the life stories of many, and that is necessary in its own way. But real calling bears more resemblance to a mother-dog’s innate gathering and tending to her pups than to any Don Quixote adventure. Now I find that when I’m meant to make a unique contribution in the world, it comes to me almost unbidden, if I am open to it, and the map, the instructional-guide, is within me. Most importantly, it is mirthful. Calling bears no resemblance to the drudgery and sacrifices of my youthful efforts.
I witness this truth in many places in our own community, where there are several people meeting community/world needs in ways that fills them with palpable gladness. I see it in Farmer Ginger, in the check-out guy at Manzanita’s Little Apple Grocery who makes everyone laugh, in Bruce the bookmobile man, in hairdresser Jill and beach dancer Lisa, in newspaper diva Dinah Urell who creates Hipfish, in bookstore owner Watt with his prophetic writings and laid-back shopkeeper manner, and in architect and community organizer Tom Bender. The list goes on and on. We are fortunate that way.
In the second half of our hero-journeys we each find our way to joy, to our “bliss”, as Joseph Campbell called it. It is where we become useful to the world and not just to ourselves. And it simultaneously gives rise in us to euphoric gladness, despite the challenges of the work. That is the generosity of the universe.


Learning to loosen one’s grip
Tricia Gates Brown {first appeared in North Coast Citizen Newspaper}
I must be itching for travel, for I’ve been dreaming of Kansas. That is right, Kansas—not Maui, not Paris, but the vast meadows and arching sky of the heartland. Though this may sound wrong-headed, it isn’t. On Thursday, I’ll be driving my nineteen-year-old daughter to the airport, where she’ll board a plane headed for the fair Sunflower State and the college she will attend there, and where a part of my heart will attend her. Madison’s decision to follow close friends and head to Kansas was well thought out, but not what her mother would have preferred. I, naturally, would prefer she stay nearer by. Yet if parenting is about anything, it is not getting what we want much of the time—and thank God for that. If we are to grow up, we need a lot of practice at not getting what we want. It helps us loosen the death-grip of control we try to maintain in every arena of life, which tends to have an inverse effect on enjoyment.
I had this illustrated for me last week, during a creek walk, of all things. It was one of those tantalizingly gorgeous summer days, when Foley Creek shimmers like the crust of heaven and the light piercing the canopy of trees is so visible and edgy and dramatic you can reach out and embrace it. I’d spent the day ticking off items from a long to-do list that had me hunched and tense, breathing from the top of my lungs. I knew I needed to get out into the day, to baptize myself in the cool, healing flow of the creek, and to breathe deeply the outdoor air that can wrest me from a slump if anything can.
I strapped on my beach sandals, grabbed a sturdy walking stick and headed for the creek, which did not disappointment—not the impressionism of the water, not the boulders perched artfully on its shoreline amid cascades of green, not the trees stretching toward one another overhead. But as I took one slow step after another, progressing through the water carefully, so as not to fall on the slimy toss of rocks on the creek bottom, I found the heaviness in my chest was slow to release. Then, after about fifteen minutes of walking, I realized my hand was aching something fierce. I was clutching so tightly to my walking stick you would have thought I was ascending the North Face!  Here I’d been holding so tightly to that stick, when what I really needed to do was loosen up and trust my reflexes to take hold in the event I really slipped. Clutching to that stick was actually robbing me of the experience of relaxing into the creek. Once I noticed this, and once I loosened my grip, my breathing deepened. I had to sigh, realizing how like life this is, how we keep a strangle-hold on so many things, so many people, all our laughable little walking sticks.
My daughter, like many young and old people, is learning this for herself. And if she has to go to Kansas to learn it, such is life. I will be among the spirits beside her, along with her gone-from-sight Midwesterner grandparents, the spirit of the mighty Kansas wind, her enlivening courage. And of course, I am already planning a road trip.

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