Life is a journey

Life is a journey and this is mine

I was born in Fern Hill. My folks didn’t have the 50 bucks up front
they needed for a hospital admission but Drs were still making house
calls. Actually, the doc showed up drunk and he tripped over the
threshold and fell on his face. My mother’s labor stopped and I was
born a week later with a different Dr. I came into this world a week
late and I have never caught up. Incidentally, at the hospital you
can pick out a baby from the nursery display case but if your have
your kids at home, you don’t get a choice.

I started school at Fernhill in a two room school house but we moved
to Portland when I was still in the first grade. My dad played
country-western music and we went to dances every weekend. My sister
stood on a chair when she sang, my mother worked behind the counter
selling coffee and hotdogs and I mostly just wandered around looking

We moved to Idaho when I was in the third grade and my folks had a
little country store. I worked the cash register and pumped gas and I
ended up with one of the best gas cap collections in the state. While
we were there, I went to a summer Bible School with the Mormons and we
retraced the Mormon Trail.

We moved back to Rainier when I was ten and that was the year that
West Rainier flooded out. The following year, we had a big earthquake
and the grade school probably came within a shake or two of collapsing
on us. I went to Sunday School and Church here and we used to fill
the church on Christmas and Easter. When I was in high school, we had
an hour right after lunch on Fridays to walk down the hill to the
church for a religious service. We also car pooled to Portland for
the Youth for Christ Revival meetings.

I went to the University of Oregon for half a year after high school
and then I joined the Navy. I went to Hospital Corps School
after bootcamp and then they assigned me to a polio ward in
Portsmouth, Va. After that, the Navy sent me to Radio Isotope Therapy
School in San Diego. Nuclear Medicine was in its infancy in 1957 and
there have been lots of changes since then and I had a front row seat
for most of them.

I worked at Good Sam in Portland, St Mary’s in San Francisco and
BessKaiser in Portland. I found the technology fascinating but the
biggest challenge for me was my interaction with the patients. They
came in with a lot on their minds and the first thing I had to do was
inject them with radioactive materials. My goal was to engage
patients as human beings while I did their studies.

My daughter went to work with me one day when she was 15 and she told
me that they must pay me for me for what I knew because they certainly
didn’t pay me for what I did. She said all I did was sit on my little
blue chair and talk to people. That worked for me and I chatted to my
patients about birds, flowers, books, movies, the sex life of the lace
wing flies or anything else that seemed appropriate at the time and
that eased the patients through the procedures.

My patients were gay and straight. bums and millionaires and religious
and non believers. The Good Lord doesn’t appear to show any
favoritism when it comes to illness and we all need a little kindness
and respect. One day the Hospital Chaplin came down to my lab and he
was quite serious. He told me that he was really very sorry to have
to tell me but someone had asked him to give me a compliment. I had
an AID’s patient who was in pretty tough shape. He wasn’t someone
that I would have wanted to start a conversation with on a bus but he
was my patient and so I plopped myself down on my little blue chair
and talked him through the procedure. His sister had appreciated that
I treated him like any other patient.

The Chaplin told me that he considered me to be the lay minister in my
area but I had never thought about it that way but actually, how we
interact with people may be the largest part of our ministry. I
didn’t preach or hand out leaflets but I made an effort to treat my
patients with respect and they knew that I cared. I made the effort,
but I think that over the long haul, I probably received more from my
patients than I gave.

My philosophy is reach out and help people when you can. It doesn’t
have be anything major. It may just be a smile or perhaps just taking
the time to listen and yes, you can try this at home. The Bible tells
us to “Love our neighbors as ourself”. Love and respect your
neighbors and your family and also respect yourself. Some of us
aren’t all that easy to love and we may have to work on it. If you
can make a difference in your neighbor’s life, you will probably will
end up with a nicer neighbors and so will they.

I started back to church here when I retired and returned to Rainier
and I think my mother probably conned me into it. She needed a ride
to church and I could sing in the choir and I went along with it. You
have become my church family and I accept and enjoy you as you are. I
could just as easily read the Bible at home and sing hymns along with
the TV but I attend church for the fellowship and of course, for the
insights provided by the pastor. You are not just my friends, you are
my anchor. Thank you and blessings to you all.

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My Perfect Day

My Perfect Day

My perfect day to me would be
A day with God beneath a tree,
To watch his animals work and play.
That, I could do for all the day.

A busy insect, the honey bee,
Is seen and studied by fools like me.
If only we had his tenacity
In place of our verbosity.

The grace and beauty of a tree
Few on this world did ever see.
A message from God, it seems to send;
Its calm and peace it does us lend.

To see the deer in its graceful might
I would gladly watch all the day that is light,
And to watch them feeding in the early morn
Makes me glad of the day I was born.

I love to find the violets blue
Yet still wet from the morning dew.
They look as though painted by a brush
And nearby sweetly sings the thrush.

In the brook I can see the trout
Among the crayfish that roam about.
Through the water they can speed,
But they only do it when there is need.

There’s the pretty little birds high in the sky
It is a wonder to me that they can fly.
They warble so sweetly in the early spring
And what a beautiful message their song brings

All these things and many more
Our grand old earth holds in her store,
And so with Nature I would go my way
And that to me is a perfect day.

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Clowns don’t know how to laugh and they have to depend on others to
laugh for them. They also don’t know how to cry and their tears fall
inside. When people laugh, it dries their tears. But when the
laughter stops, they drown.

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Christmas Past

Christmas Past

Holiday get-togethers were the cornerstone of maintaining family ties
when I was growing up. We gathered for all the major holidays:
Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, the 4th of July, Mother’s Day and of
course, the opening day of deer hunting season. My favorite was
always Christmas.

We lived only a couple miles from my dad’s folks and there was always
lots of excitement building up before the big day. Montgomery Wards &
Sears sent out Christmas catalogs every year and they were usually
pretty well worn out by the time Christmas rolled around. Actually, I
don’t remember getting any of the presents that I admired in the
catalog but that wasn’t really an expectation.

My grandparents lived on forty acres seven miles out of Rainier. When
the big day came, it was off to grandparents, up the well rutted
driveway that ran along side the barn lot, then around the big circle
to park the car in front of the woodshed. The old house was a
weathered board and batten structure roofed with hand split cedar
shakes and there was a big root cellar next to the porch.

We always entered through the kitchen and next to the door was a wash
stand with a basin and a bucket of water with a dipper. All of their
water was carried from a spring that was about a 100 yards away. Above
the wash stand was a mirror and granddad’s razor strap. Behind the
door there was a loaded 30 leaning up in the corner. The kitchen
stove was originally just wood but later on it was a combination of
wood and electric. A little fire in the morning heated the kitchen and
they cooked on it if the power was out. The counter next to the stove
was used as a work area and there was a big metal dishpan for washing
dishes. There was a pantry just off of the kitchen that they used as a
cool storage area.

We were generally met by our two maiden aunts who always showed up a
day or two ahead of time to help grandma get ready. We were generally
the first group to show up for our Christmas Eve celebration and my
uncle and his family would come along a little later. My third aunt
and the cousins who were my age were always the last ones in and we
generally had to wait dinner on them. They always had a car trouble
but fortunately for them, the car usually broke down near a tavern and
that gave them a warm place to hole-up while the car was being

There was a big wood stove in the living room and behind it was always
a box of mixed nuts. We cracked nuts on a block of wood with a hammer
and then tossed the shells in the stove. Grandma had a piano for as
long as I can remember and there was a writing table with a little
wooden penguin in the drawer that could wobble walk down an incline.
On top of the table was a candy dish with white and pink solid mints
and hoar hound candy.

Granddad always cut a Christmas tree from the nearby woods and my
aunts decorated it with bright lights, pretty bulbs, tinsel and
icicles. The best part of course, was the mound of presents under the

There was no smoking in grandma’s house and the men would go out to
the woodshed and stand around re-telling old hunting stories until
dinner was ready. Somebody would usually have a bottle of something
under their car seat and they would pass that around to keep their
throats from getting too dry.

We never had what I thought of as a dinner. What we had was what I
remember as a sumptuous feast. Ham, turkey, spuds and gravy, Jello
salad, candied sweet potatoes, coleslaw, fresh cranberry and orange
relish, pickled beets, green beans, olives and more. Then, there was
dessert. Grandma’s specialty was pies and we had to make some really
difficult choices with pecan, chocolate, lemon meringue, pumpkin,
apple and mincemeat pies on the table. The mincemeat was homemade from
venison out of the garden and she canned it in big fruit jars that
they stored in the root cellar under the house.

After dinner the adults liked to sit and talk over a cup of coffee but
of course us kids were anxious to get started with the presents.
Waiting for them to finish their story telling was always difficult
but eventually we would get to the main event. The kids got to hand
out the presents and then it was the excitement of opening them.
Granddad always watched the kids open their presents before he opened
his and then it was a contest between him and my dad as to who could
open their presents the slowest. We always got lots of nice presents.
They weren’t big or expensive but they were ours to take home.

When things settled down, grandma played Christmas Carols while we
stood around the piano, harmonizing as best we could. When we got
tired of that the adults would haul out their musical instruments and
they played and sang until well into the morning. The kids played
Parcheesi and caroms until we got tired and then dozed off on the
couch. Eventually the musicians (probably after several hours of
encouragement) would pack up their instruments and we would head home
to get a little sleep before Santa showed up.

Santa never brought a lot of fancy presents, but we always got
something. One year my folks were feeling a little pinched and they
cleaned up my sister’s doll that Santa had brought the year before,
put a new dress on it and a little rouge on the cheeks and gave it to
her again. They cleaned up the little car that they had given me and
repainted it, wrapped it up and put it back under the tree. Now that
was the ultimate in re-gifting but I wouldn’t begin to consider
trading my memories for all the fancy toys and gadgets that we now
have but if somebody were to surprise me by repainting my car, that
would still be an acceptable gift.

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Migration anxiety


There has always been something very mysterious about the geese flying high in the sky in their precision formations.  I don’t know where they are coming from or where they are going but they seem to have a strong sense of purpose.  Whenever I hear them honking, I always look up and scan the sky to see them.  I learned later in life that some of those geese are actually herons and cranes and if you listen carefully you will hear a kronk instead of a honk.  I recently saw a flock of eight or ten great blue herons fly over my house at tree top level with their legs extended behind them like big tuning forks.  Herons generally fly with a characteristic ease but in formation they appeared to be almost frantic and they were very vocal.  It is of interest that these big birds all migrate at about the same time.
I feel some sort of longing when I see them fly over.  It is a little bit like the feeling that I have when youngsters go off to college or away to boot camp.  Perhaps this was a signal to our ancestors to migrate to avoid the hazards of winter before we built warm houses and stocked our shelves with cans of food.  If this is the case, old traditions may be rekindled because now we see convoys of RV’s headed South following the birds to enjoy an endless summer.
I however, am not among them.  I enjoy Autumn with its cool crisp nights and warm days.  I like to see the ground fog hovering over the fields along the streams.  It is the time of year when it is nice to snuggle in my bed for just a little longer and to take long walks in the woods.  I enjoy the rustling swoosh, swoosh sound as I shuffle through the leaves and if I stop and listen very carefully I can hear the tic, tic, tic of the leaves falling as they collide with the branches and tree trunks.
There is something reassuring about the leaves changing color.  When the weather turns colder, the leaves no longer produce chlorophyll and when the green disappears we can see the underlying colors.  The cycle completes itself and it resolves itself into stillness and rest.  The plants that have bloomed and fruited become tattered and worn and the golden colors of autumn is their last hurrah before they make way for the new. There is a fierce kindness to nature but it allows us to rest after the frenzy of summer.  Meanwhile, an old man shuffles through the leaves as he follows the trail into the woods.
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The Loop around Steens

My first trip to Malheur was 35 years ago when I took a class called “Paiute Survival Skills”. We slept under a tree at headquarters the first night and then we pitched a tent by the Donner and Blitzen River. We identified and dug plants with edible bulbs and cooked them up for diner. I have returned on a regular basis and each time I have discovered something that I haven’t seen before.

This year we stayed in an old house trailer at the Malheur Field Statioin which provided us with basic comforts but you need to bring sleeping bags and towels from home. Our plan was to drive the big circle around the Steens and then back to the Field Station. We got a good look at a Short-eared Owl that was being harassed by Red-winged Blackbirds. The Owl lit on a light pole but the little birds chased away before we could take a picture. Short-eared Owl hunt during the day time and are often mistaken for hawks.

We saw some Avocets sitting on the roadway. They are wading birds that are just a little bigger than a seagull and they are black and white with a salmon colored head and neck. They had their young nearby and the adults faked a broken wing to lead us away from their chicks. This was the first time that I had observed their display.

Further down the road we saw some several Prickly Poppies blooming along the road and we stooped to take some pictures. The flowers are a couple inches in diameter and silky white. The road that we were traveling runs between the east side of Steens Mountain and the Alvord Desert. We saw a herd of pronghorns near landlocked Lake Alvord.

We saw a fair number of hawks on the power poles but one of them turned out to be a Merlin. Merlins (formerly pigeon hawks)are actually a small falcon and this was my first picture of one. Falcons have a dark streak extending from the eye and down the cheek Their smaller cousin, the brightly colored Kestrels (formerly sparrow hawk) are also falcons and they are commonly seen on the power line near open fields in northwest Oregon.

Fields is a good place to stop for gas and actually, it is the only place to stop for gas near the desert. They also have a little restaurant and they advertise what they call their world famous hamburgers and milkshakes. Their burgers are big and tasty and you need a spoon for the the milkshake. I ordered a burger with no fries. The full meal deal is too much food for me.

We headed back north from Fields and we turned off on the Domingo Pass Road into the Pueblo Mountains which are just south of the Steens. This is a road for vehicles with high clearance and it has been raining, forget it. Our goal was to find and photograph some Bruneau Mariposa Lilies. To find the flowers that you are looking for, you have to be in the right place at the right time and found lots of them.

We returned to the main road and then turned off to Caitlow Valley and drove north to French Glen. Larry drove up the road to Steens Mountain but we had to eventually turn around because the gate was locked. The had so much snow this year that they have delayed opening the road to the top. The snow melt has also caused flooding of the Donner and Blitzen River and the lakes at Malheur are a whole lot bigger this year.

We stayed another night and then we headed north to Burns. A breakfast of a McMuffin with egg, a yogurt with fruit and a senior coffee are a big luxury when you are on the road. .

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Paiute Survival Skills


My first trip to Malheur was in 1976 when I took a class at Portland State called Paiute Survival Skills.  We learned basic skills like flint knapping and tanning hides in the classroom and then travelled to Malheur for a fieldtrip.  Arrowheads are made by pressing the tip of an antler against a piece of obsideon.  Persistent pressure will cause it to fracture.  The flakes are sharper than razor blades and leather pads to protect your fingers are recommended.  Hides are softened by rubbing them with brains.  Its a bit messy but that’s the way they did it.
We stayed at the Refuge Directors house the first night and they served us blueberry hotcakes for breakfast.  We rolled out our sleeping bags under the trees and slept under the stars.  We were told not to put our bags under the tree where the Great Horned Owls roost because they regurgitate pellets containing the undigestable fur and bones left over from dinner.  There is a small museum at Headquarters that has specimens of the local birds on display.  The trees and water at headquarters create an oasis for migratory birds and they see a remarkable variety here.   
We collected and ate yampah, camas and bitterroot.  Yampah or biscuit root is in the carrot family and it is quite tasty.  Camas is cooked like a potato and it is very starchy.  David Douglas indicated in his journal that camas produces a fair amount of bowel gas.  Bitterroot is well named and the roots have to be peeled.  The natives dried the roots and cooked them when other foods were unavailable.  Lewis and Clark didn’t like bitterroot and they preferred dog.  The flowers on these plants are absolutely gorgeous and I prefer ramen.

Our instuctor showed us a cave in the rimrocks that had been partialy excavated.  They had examined half of it but but left the rest of it undisturbed for a later time after they develop better methods.  We were sworn to secracy as to the location but 45 years later, that isn’t reaally an issue.  We set up tents on the Donner and Blitzen River and one of the students built a wickiup out of willows.  Some of the boys drove into Burns to buy beer and cigarette papers.  It was a happy group and we went back to Portland with lots of good memories.
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Ruth’s Readers

Rainier book club Ruth’s Readers a hub of conversation for 15 years

Joan (pronounced Joann) Mason was enthusiastic about the October read, ‘Outliers: The Story of Success’ by Malcolm Gladwell. A retired teacher, Joan offered up several talking points that stemmed from her years spent as an instructor.
October 29, 2013 7:15 am • By Brenda Blevins McCorkle(0) Comments
“They had to appreciate that the values of the world we inhabit and the people we surround ourselves with have a profound effect on who we are.”

Malcolm Gladwell, from the book, “The Outliers”

Their personalities and opinions are as colorful and diverse as the paperback covers on a rack at Powells Books in Portland.

And yet, the members of Ruth’s Readers, a book club in Rainier, are drawn together once a month by their love of the written word. Here, they nestle like dog-eared pages into the fluffy wing chairs in a meeting room in the basement of Rainier United Methodist Church, exchanging ideas about their book of the month.

The group began 15 years ago when Ruth Kellar wanted to take part in a book club without having to travel far to do so. The retired Rainier teacher drew in friends, family and former students.

Joan (pronounced Joann) Mason, also a retired teacher, is the only remaining original member of the club.

“Except when I’ve been sick or out of town, I’ve attended every monthly meeting throughout the years,” Mason, 78, said. “I love the mental stimulation and the interaction with others in the group.”

After Ruth died in 2006, her son Marvin Kellar of Rainier took over as group leader.

“No one really wanted to take over her spot, so I said I’ll take it,” Marvin said.

John Markon/The Daily NewsBuy Now
South Carolina native and now Rainier resident John Stanley said he gained an immediate sense of community when he joined the book club.

They decided to keep the name of the group as Ruth’s Readers, as a tribute to the woman who formed it.

All community members are welcome to attend meetings, which are held at 7 p.m. the second Monday of each month at the church.

During a recent meeting, the club members discussed a book called “Outliers: The Story of Success” by Malcolm Gladwell. Marvin brought his laptop with him, armed with a synopsis of the tome and questions meant to spark conversation about the work — a nonfiction study of the elements of the lives of successful people.

Turns out, Marvin didn’t need the questions. The book is so intriguing to Joan, she opens with a story from her early teaching days.

When she was a new instructor, she struggled to keep her head above water. Teachers commonly grouped students according to their abilities, and Joan saw one of her students as ready to excel and put her in with other students like her.

She didn’t find out until the end of the school year, when the parents thanked her for working with the child, that such grouping had helped the girl to do better in school than she had ever done before.

John Markon/The Daily NewsBuy Now
Marvin Kellar, son of the founder of Ruth’s Readers, is the official facilitator for the group. Here he is shown at the club’s October meeting with his laptop, which is armed with a synopsis of that month’s book and questions to provoke discussion.

That taught the young teacher a lesson, Joan said.

“Kids will become what you perceive them to be,” she said.

The thought is palatable to the other members, but if it hadn’t been, there would have been no hesitation to speak up.

Rainier’s Walter Winchell, 78, said he joined the club in 2009 when the group was reading “Kitchen Table Wisdom” by Rachael Naomi Remen. He noted that there are certain books that the club would have to really think about before bringing them to the table.

“The toughest book I can imagine to discuss would be a political book and the different views that would cause,” he said.

Not that it would be a bad thing, said John Stanley, a South Carolina native now living in Rainier.

“We feel comfortable with someone having a contrasting opinion, and yet we enjoy the people involved as well,” he said.

“Walter and I have this thing, where he has as much right to be wrong as I do to be right,” Marvin chimed in.

Everyone chuckled.

Joan said it takes a certain type of personality to be able to take part in such discussions.

“If you are a judgemental person, you don’t easily do this. You have all these restrictions about who you can bear to be around, but if you’re accepting of other people’s points of view, you are a lot more open to having many more relationships of the type,” she said.

In 2006, The Daily News featured the group after the members had read 100 books.

Now at its 15th anniversary, club members have digested 180 books. They do so at a rate of one per month, and members choose books by consensus. In October, the group decided they would read a classic for November, “A Farewell to Arms” by Ernest Hemingway.

Marvin points out, though, that the goal is not to read as many books as possible.

“It’s the quality of the books and the quality of the people,” he said.

John said he experienced an “instant sense of community” after joining. Although he can’t remember when they moved to Rainier, it hasn’t been for long, he said.

“He belongs to Rainier, though, if not because of this group, then reinforced by this group,” Marvin said.

Elaine Davis — another member of 10 years who was not at the meeting — said during an email interview that being in Ruth’s Readers has helped promote not only reading but has established friendships that she might not otherwise have experienced.

“Being in my 70s and retired, I find Ruth’s Readers a very good way to keep connected with people of like interests,” she said.

One member, Rob Sturdevant, even commutes from Aloha, Ore., to come to the meetings, Marvin said.

Walter likens it to a family.

“We get together, and it’s like we haven’t been apart,” he said.

The meeting, John said, is much like the first part of “Outliers.”

At the very beginning, Gladwell writes about researchers finding a conclave of Italian immigrants who lived longer, had low rates of heart disease and were overhaul healthier than those living around them.

Doctors ruled out diet, exercise and other influences and eventually concluded the secret to their longevity was their social interaction within the community.

“The other thing that goes along with that … for that exact reason,” he said. “Is this little meeting the second Monday of every month is life-giving. We enjoy the people involved.”

Brenda McCorkle is part of the Community News team and writes features for The Daily News. Reach her at 360-577-2515 or

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Pal’s Shanty

I saw recently on the news that Pal’s Shanty on Sandy burned down.  I used to go there with Stephen.  It was boys night out and we would first go to Powell’s to paw through the books.  I bought a nice four volume set of Gibbon’s “Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire” and Stephen’s comment was that it would always look nice on my shelf. even if I never got around to reading it.  It is still on my shelf and it is in remarkable pristine condition.  After we squandered our book allowance, we went to Pal’s Shanty and had a bowl of clam chowder followed by a crab Louie which we washed down with a pitcher of beer.  His wife Cheryl went there with him just once and there was a fist fight in the bar and she never went back.  We would sit and sip our beer, settle the worlds problems and then totter on home.  Those days won’t come again but it’s nice to be able to visit them among my memories.

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Mima Mounds


The Mima Mounds Nature Preserve is located near the small community of LittlerockWashington, just southwest of Olympia.  The mounds are approximately six feet tall and thirty feet in diameter and they are found on the grasslands of the Puget Prairie.  They are composed of loam on gravel and are somewhat tear-shaped.  The nature preserve occupies an area of approximately one square mile but the mounds originally occurred over an area of about twenty square miles.  Similar mounds have been found in the other western states and in the midwest.  There are a number of theories as to how they were formed that range from giant gophers to glaciations.  Native Americans burned the prairie grasslands  on a regular basis but now they are being encroached upon by conifers.  Now they are doing controlled burns to preserve the prairie.

Mima Mounds is one of those areas that I have known about for some time but I never quite got around to checking it out but I had seen them from the train on a trip to Seattle.  It’s easy to find, take the Littlerock exit from I-5 and proceed west through Littlerock.  Turn right on Waddell Creek Road and turn left 0.3 miles past the Mima Mounds Natural Area Preserve.

There are no hosts here, but there is a kiosk with informational signboards and several viewing platforms that overlook the mounds.  Drifts of light blue camas, vivid blue-purple violets and bright yellow prairie buttercups bloom here in April and May.   There are about fifteen species of wildflowers, eighteen species of butterflies and a variety of songbirds.  You can walk the half mile paved trail through the mounds or hike an unpaved two mile trail around the perimeter.    

Bring your binoculars and a water bottle and enjoy the peace and quiet.  This is a magic place and you can walk the paths among mole hills as tall as your head but keep your eyes open.  You just might see some giant gophers working and solve the mystery of the Mima Mounds.

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