Sunday, May 18, 2008


I know the solstice isn't here yet—must wait for June 20 for that—but it has always made more sense to me to follow the cross-quarter days as season starters. Which means summer began May 1, will hit its height on the solstice (Midsummers Day), then gradually taper off till the first day of autumn (Lammas, around Aug. 1). Old Norse and Celtic agrarian, pagan roots here, which early Christian bishops worked hard at converting, by decree, into Christian celebrations. Wasn't that difficult to swap polytheism for the Trinity, a local fertility goddess for the Virgin Mary, the phallic tree for the wood of the Cross. Whatever. The truth is down there at the bottom of everything, composting for millennia, nourishing belief and faith and myth and hope, whatever form they take.

Solstices and cross-quarter days aside, here is how I know summer is imminent.
  • The butter tray, out on the kitchen counter, liquifies for the first time in 8 months. Time to store it in the fridge.
  • Garden hoses come out. Especially the one I snake around the perimeter of the backyard, that feeds the soaker hose for the raspberry row.
  • The solid brass 4-hose adapter gets screwed on to our (only) backyard spigot.
  • Vegetables (seedlings, at this point) and shrubs get assigned a watering cycle.
  • Lawn is mowed weekly, ought to be mowed twice weekly. (This is actually a springtime thing, not summer. In full-on summer, mowing like crazy becomes watering like crazy, that is if we want a green lawn.)
  • I begin scouting the neighborhood for free firewood for next winter.
  • Nighttime routine shifts from closing up the house, to opening it up: what exterior doors have lockable screens, we leave open all night.
  • Ceiling fans get turned on to a slow lazy speed, and stay on mostly from now till September.
  • Cruiser's white coat turns gray, and needs brushing before letting the beast—filthy from rolling ecstatically in the carport's dust—into the house. (To his credit, Cruzinski has learned how to Assume The Position for optimal brushing: rear feet on the grill's side counter, front feet up on the grill cover, so I can brush him down.)
  • Fireplace given an almost-final cleaning (although modest fires will still be needed to take out the morning or evening chill between now and July 1—on which date the hearth is given a terminal cleaning, and candles are arranged in it).
  • "Our" bats are looked for every evening at twilight. (A record five of them were seen a couple nights ago. Mama and litter?....)
So what are your rituals of approaching summer?

My five minutes with Donald Miller

Yes, the Donald Miller of Blue Like Jazz notoriety. The angsty evangelical who came of age spiritually in the Hawthorne district here in Portland.

He was the keynoter at the annual conference of the Evangelical Press Association conference (also here in Portland this year), at which I was not a keynoter, only a presenter of a couple workshops on writing and editing. I did not attend Miller’s rambling address (as those who did attend later described it), because I had already had my moment with Donald Miller.

It was a couple years ago that I heard about Anne Lamott coming to Powells for a reading and book signing. Her Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith had just been released. I was already a Lamott groupie, enchanted as I am by her subjects, her prose, her perspective, her dreads. So I arrived at Powells, locked up my bike along Couch St., went upstairs—and found the room SRO. Oh well, I thought, it’s not like I haven’t seen her, heard her read, enjoyed her commentary on herself, her son, faith, Dubya. So I headed for the coffee room.

A while later I packed up and started through the store for the exit and my bike—but via the reading room, where I figured the crowd would have thinned out and I could rest my eyes on Lamott for a moment. For some reason, her diminutive self is a restful object for my eyes. Sure enough, a mere half dozen devotees remained, patiently, in the book-signing line, so I planted myself on a stray chair at the back and just watched Lamott interact with her admirers. She looked fatigued, but was gracious to each person. Especially to the person she was listening to at the moment. Something about correspondence between publishers, and he was chagrinned about a misunderstanding, and she said Not at all, I was happy to get the advance copy, and although I’m a little tired, if you can wait a few minutes till I’m finished here, we can talk more.

So he turned from the table to wait, saw me sitting by myself at the back taking it all in, and as he walked toward me I realized that I knew this face: it was on the cover of Willamette Week, which had recently featured a profile of Donald Miller, whose Blue Like Jazz is conspicuously set in Portland.

He spoke first. “Are you with her?” he asked, his with clearly conveying partner, and his eyes confirming the intent of his question. Admiringly confirming, it seemed to me.

Stop, O Beating Heart. Me and Anne Lamott. Anne Lamott and I.

“No,” I said. I may have laughed, too. “Just watching.”

“Oh,” he said.

“So whatever possessed Thomas Nelson to publish your book?” I asked him. “It’s hardly your, um, typical evangelically approved book.”

“Dunno.” Donald Miller smiled a little smile. “They offered me the most money, and I had rent to pay.”

By then the final person in line had snagged Lamott’s signature on the title page of Plan B, and Miller told me See ya, and joined her at the table to resume where they had left off.

Why would I want to hear Donald Miller ramble when he has already asked me—personally, unambiguously, and admiringly—if I was with Anne Lamott?