Celebrating Autumn’s Bounty at Cloud Mountain

Cloud Mountain Farm Center’s Fruit Festival celebrates the bounty of fall.

Fall was in full season at the Fruit Festival this past weekend at the Cloud Mountain Farm Center in Everson, a small town that lies right on the Canadian border.  Until a few years ago, the festival was known as the Harvest Festival and the place was a working farm and native plant nursery known as Cloud Mountain Farm.

My friends, Cheryl and Tom Thornton, owned and operated the farm for 33 years. Seven years ago, the farm was converted into a non-profit learning center dedicated to providing hands-on learning experiences to aspiring farmers, experienced farmers, and home gardeners, continuing the work the Thorntons have always done through the years.

A volunteer shows two youngsters how to press apples for cider.

The Thorntons still live at the farm but now they are joined everyday by as many as eight paid interns who participate in an eight-month educational program to learn the practices of good, sustainable farm techniques. They study plant propagation, tree fruit production, viticulture, market development, and vegetable production to prepare them to be farm owners, key farm employees or entrepreneurs and professionals involved in the agricultural industry or advocacy.

People from all over the region seek out Tom’s advice and expertise.

At the heart of it, of course, are my friends, Cheryl and Tom.  Cheryl handles most of the business and marketing side of the farm, as she has done for years.  Tom oversees the hands-on educational side, as he has done for years becoming one of, if not the apple expert in Washington state and maybe the region.  People from all over have brought their fruit and vegetable-growing questions to Tom and learned from his expertise through the hundreds of workshops he’s conducted for weekend gardeners and industry professionals.

My husband and I headed out to the farm yesterday morning, as we have done in many years past but not recently, to see what was going on. Although the day was cloudy (it is Cloud Mountain remember?) and chilly, the back field by the grape vines were already full of cars when we arrived shortly after it opened. Little kids were scampering down the road from the field to the festival area with their parents close behind.  Lines were already formed at the tasting tent where visitors could sample all the different types of apples, pears, cherries, grapes grown on the farm.

I stopped off first at the farm’s main barn to say ‘Hello’ to Cheryl, who was at the register checking out festival goers purchasing  five-pound bags of apples and pears. As she became busier, I wandered off to a hot-house where the band, Bridge, had begun to play.

The band, Bridge, entertained while festival goers sampled fruit.

Music has always been part of the festival and listening to Bridge reminded of the year that the band in which my sons and Thorntons’ daughter, Julia, performed at the festival. They were middle-schoolers at the time, all students of musician Ginny Snowe, a wonderful piano teacher who had put the band together in a summer music camp. The kids turned out to be so enthusiastic and good that they stayed together long after the camp to write music and play gigs at schools, festivals and other events.

While still middle schoolers, the band Switch played at Cloud Mountain’s Harvest Festival.

Known as Switch, their little band actually launched the music careers of some of the band members, including Julia who’s now a professional musical director and pianist; Jeff, who’s rapidly becoming one of the country’s best classical saxophonists and finishing up a PhD at the University of Michigan; and my son, Marshall, a drummer who’s plays professionally with several bands in Seattle one of them being, until recently the funk band, The Fabulous Party Boys.  (The band was a subject of another of my blog posts.)

Take a guess at the weight of the pumpkin and win a prize if you’re right.

Julia also grew pumpkins that she harvested each fall and sold at the festival to earn money for college. The pile of pumpkins is still there but Julia no longer grows them. Her sister, Cara, however, had brought her young daughters from Seattle for the day to help out and perhaps start another family tradition at the festival.

Sue swirls caramel onto an apple during the Fruit Festival.

As Bridge played, volunteers Sue and Burt Weber, twirled thick, yummy caramel around Cloud Mountain apples to hand to young customers. Cooks from Bellingham’s restaurant, Keenan’s, was serving up tasty snack dishes made from local products at the farm at another table. And another volunteer was answering questions and sharing material about the farm center at a third table.

I headed over to the tasting tent where Tom was slicing up pieces of pears for people. He handed me a slice of Rescue, a pair so named because, as he explained, a nursery grower near Vancouver, Washington (Buckley, WA. to be exact) found the species and saved the tree from being destroyed.  The fruit was sweet and buttery and nearly melted in my mouth.  Next, Tom gave me sample of the Seckel pear,that Tom said is considered native to Pennsylvania, maybe the only true American pears. It’s said to be named after a local farmer who found a “wild sapling” growing on a farm just outside Philadelphia late 1700’s, according to some accounts.  The small, reddish-brown pear has a creamy texture and a sweet taste.

Considered the only true American pear, the Seckel was found growing wild on a farm in Pennsylvania in the late 1700s.

My taste tests were interrupted by another pear sampler who had questions for Tom about her own pear trees. This is the kind of thing that happens to Tom all the time, no matter where he is because gardeners and growers locally know that he carries a wealth of agricultural information in his head.

I moved on to the cherry and grape tables before calling it a morning.  People were still arriving as we climbed back into our car with the carton of Cloud Mountain cider and a bag of  apples.  A visit to their farm is always special and welcome, but particularly went the Fall Fruit Festival is underway.  If you missed it this year, there will be another next year.  It’s a great way to start the season and to celebrate the beauty and bounty of this fabulous farm.

Experiencing Totality Totally Worth the Time and Effort

“Mom, it won’t be back in the same place for another 375 years,” my son, Tim, was telling me in a phone conversation just a few days before the August 21 solar eclipse. The significance of the astronomical event was punctuated by the urgency in his voice. “We’ve got to go see it.”

I had considered making the trip south to Oregon, where my cousins live in Albany, almost directly in the charted path of the solar eclipse and where totality would take place.  After all, how likely was I to be this near a total eclipse again in my lifetime? But the prediction of the traffic snarls, shortages of food, gas and water as well as my own work schedule caused me to abandon my plans. Tim convinced me otherwise and offered to fly from New York to join me.

An essential to watching the solar eclipse, protective glasses.

I kicked into last-minute planning mode; first contacting my Oregon family to ask if we could stay at their home, postponing appointments on my calendar, reading what was required to photograph it, picking up food to take along on the five-hour drive south and even asking my uncle to purchase ten gallons of gas for me in case the anticipated fuel shortages came true.

When Saturday arrived, I hit the road, stopping in Seattle to pick up my son at the airport then continued on towards Oregon. The drive was uneventful and we arrived that evening in time to take part in a ‘name that tune’ challenge with my cousins while sitting around the backyard fire pit at their home.

Scouting locations for the eclipse, we visited Buena Vista park, a picturesque setting but not the location we chose for our viewing experience.

Early Sunday morning, Tim and I went out to ‘scout’ locations that might be best to view the eclipse. Tim had already picked out on possible spots on the internet. We headed off, driving north on country roads from my cousin’s home.  A few minutes later, we passed by an open farm field where the horizon could be seen without any trees blocking the view (not an easy thing to find in Oregon).  We wanted to be able to see the horizon line because at the time of totality, it would appear like sunset all the way around.

We drove on to a little county park, Buena Vista Park, outside the tiny village of the same name.  The unincorporated town, as far as I could tell, exists primarily as a toll ferry point to cross the Willamette River.  A few campers were in the riverside park enjoying one of the last summer weekends. Although a very picturesque, clean and relaxing spot, not ideal for eclipse viewing due to the tree line on the opposite of the river.  We moved on.

Back on the country road, on our way to Independence, six miles away, we pulled into Hilltop Cemetery. It was empty of visitors except for a woman walking her dog and two men studying some of the older gravestones. The view was encouraging. True to its name, Hilltop Cemetery  was situated on a hill that overlooked the beautiful Willamette Valley that stretched below.  So far, this was the best vantage point we had seen.

Independence Oregon is a historic town with quaint structures such as this little church.

The cemetery, established in 1849, serves nearby Independence, a charming little town of almost 10,000 with a two-block storefront downtown built in the late 1800 and early 1900s. As we drove into town, it was obvious a surge of eclipse viewers were expected as entrances to parking lots, driveways, school grounds were blocked. A big sign with an arrow pointed to “Event Viewing.” We stopped just long enough for me to take a photo of a historic church.

After searching for one more spot, which we never found,  we agreed that Hilltop Cemetery would be our choice for Monday’s eclipse. It was directly in the path for totality. The next morning, we hopped back into the car, along with my other son, Marshall, and his friend Trevor, visiting from Los Angeles.

During the eclipse, my sons and friend study the effects on their shadows. You can see the unusual quality of the light that occurred. This photograph has not been color corrected or adjusted in any way.

The last total solar eclipse viewed from contiguous United States was on Feb. 26, 1979, according to NASA. The longest total solar eclipse of this century, lasting 6 minutes and 39 seconds, occurred on July 22, 2009 crossing Southern Asia and the South Pacific. Totality in our location would last nearly two minutes!

My sons and I with our eclipse glasses pose for a family photo at the eclipse.

The last time a solar eclipse passed the U.S. from coast to coast was on June 8, 1918 and it would be 2045 for it to happen again.  No wonder millions of Americans, like myself and my two sons, were so excited for the chance to see it.

As television’s CNN reported: “According to NASA, this is a ‘celestial coincidence,’ as the sun is about 400 times wider than the moon and about 400 times farther away. From certain vantage points on Earth, the moon will completely block the sun. This is called totality.” We were about to be lucky enough to witness it.

Some eclipse viewers brought their breakfast with them along with their camp chairs.

Hilltop Cemetery had come alive with people who, like us, tossed their blankets, set up camp chairs, laid out beach towels for the eclipse viewing.  I could set up my cameras in hopes of capturing images of what was likely to be a once-in-a-lifetime event for me. The atmosphere was festive. People had brought their kids, their cameras, their eclipse glasses, their breakfasts.

With everything in place and ready, we donned the eclipse glasses that Tim had purchased in New York. (Local outlets in Oregon and Washington had run out several days before.) The suspense built as the moon first kissed the edge of the bright sun. As it slowly progressed, more and more people tilted their heads up towards the sky. Their chatter became anticipatory and hushed. I made the first of my exposures using my film camera which didn’t require the special solar filter that any digital or electronic device did.

My two Nikons fitted with atop tripods with 300 mm lenses and shutter releases were ready to photograph the eclipse. Neither had the solar filter as it’s possible to photograph without during totality and film cameras do not require one.

Gradually, the dark shadow of the moon eased across the sun’s face.  As it did, the temperature became noticeably cooler. I retrieved my jacket from the car. Someone pointed to the two vultures that swirled overhead. We hoped it wasn’t an omen of things to come. The light took on an odd quality, almost grayish-yellow in color, as if the sun had been shrouded by heavy smoke from a large wildfire.  Our shadows looked oddly muted and ashen, softened by the vanishing light.

In my image of the solar eclipse’s totality you can see the reddish glow of the sun’s chromosphere.

And then–totality! A spontaneous cheer went up from the cemetery. People clapped for the moon’s performance. I snapped a few more photos both of the eclipse and the view from the cemetery. I expected to be thrown into total blackness but it more closely resembled twilight just before the sun’s last light disappears. A couple of stars twinkled in the darkened sky. The eclipse viewers gazed in wonder at what they were seeing. Then, it was over. The bright flash of light, known as the diamond ring effect,appeared as the moon began to retreat.

During totality, our surroundings looked like twilight with just a sliver of light across the distant horizon.

We stayed, as did most of those gathered, until the sun was once again fully revealed, as if people thought staying could prolong the moment. And what a moment it was. The eclipse was a reminder of nature’s power, something so extraordinary that people will travel hundreds of miles, some even thousands, put up with hours of clogged traffic on the journey back to experience two minutes worth of daylight turning into darkness.

The drive home that night took more than twice the time as usual. But I would do it again because it created a memory for me with my sons, family and friends that I will talk about for the rest of my life.

Fun at the Fair

I hadn’t planned to write a post today but then I remembered that the Northwest Washington Fair opens today in the little town of Lynden, just 15 miles north of Bellingham.  It’s a great little fair, not so big that you can’t get to all the things you want to see, do or eat in an afternoon or evening’s time, not so small that there’s not enough for everyone in the family.

The Northwest Washington Fair draws people young and old, big and small, like these two little brotherly cowpokes.

I wrote once before about the fair (Fair Enough) in 2013.  I have fond memories of taking my three sons there when they were young. In fact, we went to the fair even before we moved to Bellingham, as visitors from Los Angeles up for a summer vacation.

I didn’t make it to last summer’s fair but plan to be there this year with a friend with whom I’ve gone before. When I went two summers ago, it was with my cousin from Los Angeles and my niece from Kansas in town for a wedding. The fair just happened to coincide with the wedding dates so the three of us took an evening and headed up for some fair fun.

Among the popular exhibits are the handmade quilts.

The fair draws people from all over the North Puget Sound area, Lower Mainland B.C. in Canada and far-flung visitors, such as my family, here for vacation, family visits or events. Just the drive from Bellingham to Lynden sets the tone as I take a back road through the rolling farmland set against the majestic Mount Baker to the east. In the air are the rich, earthy smells wafting from the farms so that 20-some minutes later when you pull into the parking lot at the Lynden fairgrounds, you’re already in “fair mode.”

As night falls, the candy-colored lights of the carnival rights brighten the fairgrounds.

I like to go in the early evening and stay into the night to see the shift from the day crowd to the evening fairgoers, a lot of whom become young, high-school age couples as the night starts to set in and the multi-colored lights of the carnival begin to shine.

The beautiful horses at the fair are one of my favorite stops.

In the large barns too, where the livestock exhibits of cows, horses, goats, sheep and pigs are installed, the activity changes as the animals finish up their dinner then start to settle in for the night. Groups of young 4-H’ers sit on their camp chairs after feeding their entries to talk, laugh, share stories and answer questions from curious viewers. I especially love the horse barn where the mighty Percheron and Belgian equines tower over the humans strolling through. It’s humbling just to stand next to, but not too close, to these hefty beasts.

Then there’s the goats, another favorite stop for me. I love watching these mostly friendly little kids clamoring over one another, crowding out each other to check out the people trying to pet them or tussling over a leftover tidbit of food. I’m easily entertained by their playful interaction.

There’s nothing like BBQ hot and sizzling from the fire at the fair.

Don’t forget the food, things you really shouldn’t eat but always do at the fair:  gi-normous ice cream “moo-wiches” from the dairy women’s booth, corndogs smothered in relish and mustard sold by the Boy Scouts, meat that’s been slowly cooked over an open-pit from a local BBQ-cook or corn on the cob lathered in butter from the Young Life church group,

A baker squeezes whipped cream on the traditional tasty Dutch treat, poffertjes ,is one of the fair’s food highlights. B

And poffertjes!  As the town of Lynden was settled by Dutch pioneers, much of that heritage is still found there not only in their places of worship and traditions (they have an annual Christmas parade with Sinterklaus) but in the food.  Poffertjes is a delicious Dutch dessert that’s a puffy pancake sweetened with powder sugar. Fairgoers can sample one of these tasty treats but expect to wait in line as the bakery booth queue is always one of the longest at the fair.

I’ve not even mentioned all the crafts exhibits, or the small animals or the small stages of entertainment by largely local performers. Whew! There’s so much to do.  But if you plan your time well, you can usually manage to take it all in before wearily, but happily and well-fed, heading back to the car for the short ride home. I’ll be there this year, my camera in hand because it’s one of my favorite places to photograph  So if you  go, look for me. If you can’t make it this year, I hope you’ll set aside a trip to go another time because it truly is one of our country’s best summer traditions.

Fourths Full of Fireworks, Family and Friends

This morning was quiet when I awoke.  The stillness wouldn’t be that unusual for a holiday morning except for the fact that this was the Fourth of July, the U.S. day to celebrate its independence. When I was a kid, that meant starting the day off with a bang, literally, as my brother and I hopped out of our bed, threw on some clothes and raced outdoors to light what would be the first of many firecrackers that day.

My son, Marshall, ready to celebrate with his string of Black Cats.

Times have changed as setting off individual fireworks have been banned in many communities, such as my own, leaving it to the pro pyrotechnicians to provide a choreographed aerial night display. For the most part, it’s a good thing although I do miss seeing kids faces light up as they swirl the glowing wands of sparklers. And I loved the ground fountains that burst up with sizzling flares of color.

But the silence of the morning made me think of all those wonderful Fourth of July holidays past here in Bellingham.

A fireworks show on the front yard of our house.

I smiled remembering nights when my own middle-school aged sons gathered up their collection of fireworks, call us all out to the street in front of our home and set them off to their own choreographed show, complete with patriotic music blasted from a boom box that had been turned up to full volume.

Then there was the family barbeques at our friends’ home who lived then on a local lake.

The kids line up for hot dogs right off the grill.

Food was plentiful, with everyone bringing baked beans, deviled eggs, hot dogs and hamburgers, salads, pies, cookies and ice cream, all pretty much considered to be ‘traditional’ American Independence Day favorites.  Moms and Dads would talk and drink beer while we watched the kids leap off the end of the dock into the still chilly lake water. A few others would hop into the kayak and paddle a short distance out from the shore where they would still be within sight of parental eyes.

The kids take a break from swimming and kayaking to eat a Fourth of July picnic.

And then, of course, as night began to fall (nearly 10 p.m. here in the Pacific Northwest), the homemade fireworks show would start with the explosions from Roman candles being directed out over the water.  When it was over, we bundled up the leftovers and our sleepy-eyed kids and headed home.

Firing off the Roman candles from the dock.

Later, when our friends moved to a home on the bay, we did the same thing sitting on the beach, watching the sun sink as he dug into the delicious apple and cherry pies that had been baked especially for the occasion. Of course, we always had a fire going so that we could make s’mores–those wonderfully gooey treat of melted chocolate and toasted marshmallow squeezed between two layers of graham crackers. And the fire also kept us warm because Fourth of Julys here can be chilly, if not rainy.

A festive pie for the Fourth of July.

I recalled the more recent holidays when our sons, now grown, were not home to celebrate or, if they were, preferred to head off with friends to watch fireworks than join the ‘old folks.’ One memorable Fourth was spent out on a boat in the bay enjoying the company of friends from the annual summer music festival and viewing that night’s light show from the water. Quite an experience. Still another found us sitting nearly directly beneath the big blast over the harbor as we sat with another couple on the terrace of a shore side restaurant, savoring the food served up for the special evening while overhead the ‘bombs’ were bursting in air.

The Fourth of July on the boat in the bay gave us a spectacular view of the fireworks show that night.

More recently, we’ve headed over to a friend’s home late in the day for a potluck on their deck.  After dessert, we settle into one of their patio chairs, usually with a blanket close at hand, and wait and watch for the big fireworks spectacle, sponsored here for years by one of our local markets. They have an excellent vantage point from which we can see it all, including the show also being staged in nearby Blaine, just up the coast and the individual efforts from the Lummi Nation across the bay.

Happy Fourth of July. Long may our Star Spangled banner wave.

While the colorful aerial pyrotechnics are fun to watch, it’s mostly the company of the friends and family we are with that really make the evenings fun and memorable. It’s that feeling of fellowship, of sharing a special day with people special to you, some who you may only see on this day once a year. And that’s what I remember most about this holiday. I hope your Fourth of July is equally as memorable and as full of family and friends as it is of fireworks.

School Festival Created Halloween Fun & Family

A friend of mine was telling  me the other day that she was going to be the fortune-teller at the Halloween Festival at her son’s school.  I smiled and then recalled to her my own sons’ Halloween Festivals when they were in public elementary school in Los Angeles.

I had just come across some photos that I had taken at those festivals so they were fresh on my mind.  In fact, I’ve written about the festivals before. Here’s a link to take you there in case you missed it: http://wp.me/p2ohfO-4BE.

My friend, Pam, dressed as a 'friendly' clown and staffed the ghost castle game at the Calahan School Halloween Festival.
My friend, Pam, dressed as a ‘friendly’ clown and staffed the ghost castle game at the Calahan School Halloween Festival.

Ours wasn’t an elaborate festival but simple, old-fashioned fun with games handcrafted by parent volunteers that provided entertainment for the kids.  Many of them had been designed in coordination with the teachers (an amazingly talented bunch). In addition to the fun they provided, the games actually taught the kids something about chance and probability, physics, calculation or science. That aspect didn’t necessarily register on the kids, of course, but they still had to use some of the skills and thinking processes associated with those academic areas in order to play the games.

Games at the Halloween Festival were designed to teach the kids concepts such as chance and probability.
Games at the Halloween Festival were designed to teach the kids concepts such as chance and probability.

Parents too had a great time.  The festival, held on a Saturday before Halloween, drew families to the school to create a true sense of community within the larger Los Angeles school district, one of the largest, in fact, in the country. This served us well when the Northridge earthquake–measured at 6.4–rocked our school which was located near the epicenter of the quake. Although our school–Calahan Elementary–miraculously didn’t sustain the greatest damage, student enrollment dropped by nearly 100 overnight when families homes and businesses were destroyed or damaged so badly that they could no longer live and work in them.

Parents staffed the games at the school's Halloween Festival while the kids tested their skills.
Parents staffed the games at the school’s Halloween Festival while the kids tested their skills.

The Halloween Festival had built a true caring spirit for the school and families who were part of it. When those students disappeared from our school, their absence left a huge hole and psychologically difficult for the students who remained.  When the district then wanted to move two of our teachers because the school population had shrunk, the entire school rallied in an effort to prevent that action.  Our protests wound up as front page news of the Los Angeles Times and resulted in our teachers remaining at the school until things could be stabilized.

Principal Parade
The principal led the kids in a costume parade around the school grounds. Although he usually dressed in costume himself, this particular year he didn’t. Students still had a great time following him around the classroom and playground.

That kind of ‘togetherness’ is a lesson from which our country’s current political environment benefit.  Calahan had at least 18 different home languages with kids whose families came from all over the world.  The Halloween Festival, in particular, did more to break down any cultural, political or language barriers that existed between us because it took all of us parents, working together, to make it happen. Everyone had something to contribute and contribute they did.  Now, years later, students, teachers and parents keep in touch through our school group Facebook page or e-mail. And Calahan kids who have come after us, often ask to join just because they too have a fondness for the school. It truly was an exception in a district where schools were mostly detached from those who attended them and from each other.

I dressed as a witch on year and took photos of everyone who came in costume to Calahan's Halloween Festival.
I dressed as a witch on year and took photos of everyone who came in costume to Calahan’s Halloween Festival.

While Halloween is a scary holiday for some, for me and the kids who grew up at Calahan Elementary, it conjures up sweet memories of fun and family.  I hope it will do the same for my friend.

Crewing for TIME at ’84 Olympics

I wasn’t a kayaker in 1984. I had never sat in a kayak, never seen a kayak (except on TV), and didn’t know the first thing about paddling one. It wasn’t until I moved to the Pacific Northwest that I became a passionate paddler.

Likewise for rowing. Growing up in the Midwest, rowing just wasn’t the sport that it was on the coasts even though my youngest brother was on a crew team for Washburn University which had and still does have a respectable rowing team.  I never had the opportunity to watch a race firsthand.

Canoeing was something I may have tried once or twice as a kid on a lake with my Girl Scout troop or vacationing with my family somewhere. But I have little memory of it so the experience must not have been impressive.

The Olympic venue at Lake Casitas was a colorful place as you can see here in this photo of me walking through one of the main entrances.
The Olympic venue at Lake Casitas was a colorful place as you can see here in this photo of me walking through one of the main entrances.

Given my extensive background in each of these sports, I seemed the natural choice to be the reporter to cover those events for TIME Magazine when the 1984 Olympics came to Los Angeles. Once again, my home location then, on the north side of the San Fernando Valley, proved to be to my advantage. To me, this was plum assignment. I had to drive every day during the competition up to the Ojai Valley, about 90 minutes north, to Lake Casitas Lake where the kayaking, rowing and canoeing events were staged. The drive was relatively traffic free as I whizzed up the north side of the Valley and cut across to the 101 freeway to head on up towards Santa Barbara and Ojai.

Traffic during the ’84 Olympics was one of the big fear factors.  People were urged to work from home, to stagger their work hours if they had to go into the office, to take the time off and go to the Olympics in order to help minimize clogged freeways. In fact, many Angelenos left town, renting out their homes to Olympic ticket holders and cashing in on the demand for housing. So the dreaded deadlock on the freeways and city streets never materialized.  In fact, it was some of the fastest-flowing traffic that I could remember in all the years that I lived in that car-loving city.

Men compete in the kayak singles on Lake Casitas. The venue was like a 'mini-resort' to the athletes.
Men compete in the kayak singles on Lake Casitas. The venue was like a ‘mini-resort’ to the athletes.

The athletes competing in the Lake Casitas events were located in the Olympic Village in Santa Barbara. Initially, many of the teams complained that the distance between the Village and their venue was too far. But those concerns too soon vanished as people settled in and began to enjoy both the venue and the trip there.

As I wrote for TIME: “The site itself inspired festivity. Bright, Olympic pink roadside banners mark the two-lane highway as spectators near the north short venue. The spectator viewing area is bursting with vivid color. More than 31,000 annuals, marigold and petunias were trucked in and planted along with several sycamore and alder trees to create park-like setting. Spectators spread their blankets on a grassy knoll where they have apanoramic view of the 2,700 acre lake.”

The Swedish women's team give each other a big hug on the podium after receiving their gold medal for the 500 meter kayak doubles. Canada took silver and West Germany the bronze.
The Swedish women’s team give each other a big hug on the podium after receiving their gold medal for the 500 meter kayak doubles. Canada took silver and West Germany the bronze.

To the athletes, it was, as then Olympic rowing commissioner Barry Berkus put it: “almost like a resort.”  Because their primary quarters was located 28 miles away, a mini-village was created at the sight that overlooked the lake complete with a pool built especially for them.

The big names on the U.S. rowing team that everyone was pinning medal hopes upon were John Bigelow from Seattle. Bigelow’s chance for a medal chances was washed away by Finland’s powerful Pertti Karppinen but Brad Lewis from Los Angeles and his partner, Paul Enquist, also of Seattle, considered ‘dark horses’ surprised many by taking the gold in their doubles race. All three rowers figure prominently in journalist and author David Halberstam‘s masterful book about the ’84 men’s eight row team, “The Amateurs: the Story of Four Young Men and Their Quest for an Olympic Gold Medal.”   I recently read Halberstam’s book, right after having finished another good book about the sport, “The Boys in the Boat,” by Daniel James Brown. Both are excellent books, set in different time periods (Brown’s takes place before and up to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin) and detailing the drama behind the dream.

A member of the Australian women's coxed four rowing team shows off her bronze medal to an admirer.
A member of the Australian women’s coxed four rowing team shows off her bronze medal to an admirer.

But it was the women’s eight who  thrilled the crowd by taking the first gold medal in for the U.S. in that event. Champagne flowed. Fans cheered. Autographs were signed. As I overheard one observer say:  “How things have changed in rowing. They’re getting autographs. It used to be lucky to get anyone to come.”

Olympic team members signed autographs for the fans.
Olympic team members signed autographs for the fans.

Indeed, the sport of rowing has grown even more popular. In 1981-82, only 43 NCAA schools had women’s rowing teams. Today, that number has more than tripled to 143, including Western Washington University in Bellingham, where I live. Over the years, I’m proud to say that several members of the women’s Division II championship crew teams have worked with me as my studio assistant.

As for the ’84 Olympic teams, the U.S. took home eight medals tying with Romania, one of the only Eastern bloc countries to participate in those Summer Games.  In fact, the Romanians took home more gold medals in rowing than any other country. They also cleaned up collecting ‘gold’ onshore from spectators as they sold Romanian t-shirts and model wooden shells to earn money to buy and take back with them stereo sound components.

The Romanian crew team sold miniature wooden sculls to spectators to earn money for stereo equipment.
The Romanian crew team sold miniature wooden sculls to spectators to earn money for stereo equipment.

Lake Casitas is again vying for to be the venue for the Olympics in 2024 if Los Angeles is selected in what would be the 40th year reunion of the Olympic Games. If it’s successful, I might see you there!

 

 

Covering a ‘Hot’ Topic at ’84 Summer Olympics–Men’s Water Polo

American swimmer Michael Phelps is making a big splash at this year’s Olympic games but at the 1984 Olympics it was a water polo player named Terry Schroeder and the men’s Olympic water polo team who were catching the eye of fans, especially female fans.

Members of the 1984 U.S. Mens Waterpolo team await their turn in the pool.
Members of the 1984 U.S. Mens Water polo team await their turn in the pool.

That year, the men’s water polo team was anticipated to take the gold medal and I was assigned by TIME Magazine to cover their games.  The assignment had nothing to do with my knowledge of the sport, which was zero at the time, but everything to do with its proximity to where I lived.  I simply was closest to where the water polo events were being played, at Pepperdine University‘s pool in Malibu.

I had only to drive over Malibu Canyon Rd or Topanga Canyon Road from my home in the San Fernando Valley, drop down to the ocean side town and make my way to the pool that overlooked the Pacific Ocean. From my spot in the stands, I watched the men’s team battle it out each day while I got a good tan and enjoyed the view, both in the pool and beyond.

In the game against Yugoslavia, the U.S. team races towards its goal while being chased by their opponents in the dark caps.
In the game against Yugoslavia, the U.S. team races towards its goal while being chased by their opponents in the dark caps.

Water polo, which has grown in popularity in the U.S. since then, was largely dominated by European teams at the time. But the ‘84 American team played in a style that was said to be ‘revolutionizing’ the sport. As then coach Monte Nitzkowski explained to me, they borrowed a lot of their technique from American basketball and football to make their playing look “creative and instinctive.” That, plus the fact that they were fast and highly mobile, put their chances for winning the gold medal better than in any previous Olympic Games. (Sadly, Nitzkowski just died recently on July 28 at age 86.)

But while their athleticism was exciting, their physiques were, how to put it, well quite explicitly, ‘hot.’ The poster of the 16-man team posed poolside instantly sold out its first run of 10,000 with two additional printings equally as popular.  The team had to set up a special toll-free number just to handle the order requests. And the poster, along with my reporting about it, appeared in TIME’s People section of the magazine.

USA player Terry Schroeder is interviewed poolside by a member of the television media at the 1984 Olympic games.
USA player Terry Schroeder is interviewed poolside by a member of the television media at the 1984 Olympic games.

Sculptor Robert Graham, was also struck by the water polo players’ perfect  physiques. He selected one of them–Terry Schroeder–to pose for the giant sculpture of a headless male figure, very controversial at the time, that towered before the Los Angeles Coliseum, where the Opening and Closing Ceremonies took place. The model’s identity was to have been a secret, but somehow it was disclosed that Schroeder had been chosen.

Goalie Craig Wilson of the U.S. team leaps out of the water to stop an anticipated attempt at a goal by the Yugoslavian team. Wilson is considered to be the best goalie to have played the sport.
Goalie Craig Wilson of the U.S. team leaps out of the water to stop an anticipated attempt at a goal by the Yugoslavian team. Wilson is considered to be the best goalie to have played the sport.

Water polo‘s a fast game, one that demands an excellent backstroke, strong legs to propel the player up and out of the water with the ‘eggbeater’ kick in order to pass the ball to teammates and speed to out swim the opponents when attacking the goal.  I had to be a quick study to learn the basics of the game and understand the qualities that made the players so good. It helped that I was, and still am, a swimmer myself. Despite expectations, the 1984 team lost in the finals to Yugoslavia to capture the silver instead of the gold medal.

This year’s Olympics’ men’s water polo team didn’t make it through to the Quarter Finals but the women’s team (which didn’t exist in 1984) will be playing this week as they advanced in the competition.  Although a difficult game to watch on television as much of the action occurs underwater,  tune in and I think you too will discover how exciting the game is and just how strong and skilled the players must be.

Me, on the job, as a reporter for TIME Magazine's Los Angeles bureau covering the waterpolo competition at the 1984 Olympics.
Me, on the job, as a reporter for TIME Magazine’s Los Angeles bureau covering the water polo competition at the 1984 Olympics.

The 1984 mens team captured the imagination and eye of America’s Olympic fans across the country and no doubt, raised the awareness for the sport. And, I’m pleased to say, I watched it happen while reporting on them for the magazine.

 

 

Beautiful Music in My Own Backyard

Summers in the Puget Sound area, where I live, don’t officially start, weather-wise, until July 13, according to local meteorologists.  But in Bellingham, summers begin when the musicians from around the country arrive for the Bellingham Festival of Music.  That happened last week.

The Bellingham Festival of Music begins its summer season with a picnic for the musicians at the Bellingham Cruise Terminal.
The Bellingham Festival of Music begins its summer season with a picnic for the musicians at the Bellingham Cruise Terminal.

The Festival, now in its 23rd season from July 1-17, is one of the things that I look forward to every summer. In fact, the Festival is one of the amenities that attracted us and ultimately convinced us to move to Bellingham. It must be a draw for the musicians too as every summer, 44 musicians from major orchestras across the U.S. and Canada (plus additional players as needed) assemble here to play two weeks worth of some of the most beautiful music in the world.  We like to think that they are also playing in one of the most beautiful places in the world.

It all begins with a welcoming picnic for the musicians, conductor Micheal Palmer, the chorus members, sponsors and the families who host the musicians in their homes during their stay.  This year’s picnic took place at the Bellingham Cruise Terminal which offers a terrific view of the Bay and Bellingham. It’s an ideal spot for returning and new musicians to meet this year’s Festival board members, local sponsors and the home hosts.

Janet Lightner,co-owner of Boundary Bay Brewery, served brews with her sister, Vicki, at the Festival of Music picnic.
Janet Lightner, co-owner of Boundary Bay Brewery, served brews with her sister, Vicki, at the Festival of Music picnic.

The potluck picnic, provided by the Festival Board member and volunteers, is tasty and plentiful.  Following appetizers and drinks, with local prize-winning microbrewery Boundary Bay serving up some of its finest beers, the picnickers head off to the buffet table and dinner. Afterwards, this year’s Board Chair, Karen Berry, officially opened the season by introducing maestro Michael Palmer who, in turn, introduced this year’s team of musicians.

Thumbs Up
Festival musicians Marci Gurnow and Christian Colberg give the buffet table a thumbs up at the opening picnic for the Bellingham Festival of Music.

Section by section, starting with the first violins of course, the musicians took their turn at the podium to share with the evening’s guests their answers to the question: “What was your most embarrassing moment as a musician?” There were some great ones: insects falling onto instruments and being flung into the audience, missed cues, parts of bassoons falling out during performances, women’s undergarments landing on violin scrolls during a Tom Jones’ show, auditions that turned out well despite mishaps and being encouraged to pursue other professions.  It all made for some entertaining anecdotes.

Many of the Festival’s musicians have been coming to Bellingham for years.  They have become a ‘family’ in the sense that they know one another’s spouses and children, have forged long-lasting friendships with their home hosts and share in the joys and sadness of one another’s lives. Last summer, one of the musicians stayed beyond the Festival dates in order to have her wedding in Bellingham. This year, a group from the orchestra is throwing a baby shower for an expectant father who’s playing here while his wife, nearing her due date, remained at home.

Bellingham Fesitval of Music Chair Karen Berry welcomes the musicians and guests at the opening picnic.
Bellingham Festival of Music Chair Karen Berry welcomes the musicians and guests at the opening picnic.
Maestro MIchael Palmer takes the podium to introduce the Festival musicians.
Maestro MIchael Palmer takes the podium to introduce the Festival musicians.

This long-term bonding has, over the years, made the orchestra tighter when they play together onstage. At least that’s my belief having now gone to concerts for the past 20 years. Although together for only a short time, with rehearsals only days ahead of each concert, they meld into a solid sound.  I have often found myself astounded to be sitting in my own backyard–nearly literally as the concert hall at Western Washington University where they play is within walking distance–and listening to world-class performances.

Principal bassist from the Seattle Symphony Jordan Anderson shares his ‘most embarrassing moment’ at the Bellingham Festival of Music picnic.

For Festival goers, the concerts are a bargain with ticket prices topping at $45 for premiere seating in a small, intimate performance hall of just 650 seats. I recall the many years that I lived in Los Angeles and

was a subscriber to the L.A.Philharmonic. Travel time from our home was 45 minutes at least, depending upon traffic, bargain tickets were usually no less than $45 and in the top tiers of the 3,000 seat hall, plus parking costs and don’t forget money for the babysitter. Granted, I no longer need to pay a babysitter, but all the other costs of hearing live classical music and experiencing outstanding performances in as beautiful a natural setting as you’ll ever find make the Bellingham Festival of Music an incredible deal. Especially for us locals.

Donna Lively Clark from the Festival orchestra's viola section tells the picnic guests how much she enjoys the shopping when she comes to play.
Donna Lively Clark from the Festival orchestra’s viola section tells the picnic guests how much she enjoys the shopping when she comes to play.

If you don’t live in the immediate area, you can spend the week vacationing and enjoying the classical music concerts at night and any one number of activities during the day–strolling the art galleries and shops, tipping a few brews on the ‘Tap Trail,” hiking or biking on one of our many trails, playing golf on one of 22 courses here, fishing, kayaking or sailing on the Bay. I can’t think of a place I’d rather be.

 

A City Stops the Coal Train in its Tracks

June 10th marks a day of both great tragedy and great celebration in my small city of Bellingham, WA.  That’s because 17 years ago on that date, a pipeline carrying gasoline from a refinery north of the city and that runs through our Whatcom Falls Park, in the middle of the city, exploded.

The fireball that erupted when the Olympic Pipeline ruptured sent flames down the park’s stream burning everything in its path, including three boys, an 18-year-old who had just graduated from high school and who had gone to the park to fish and two 10-year-olds who were playing downstream in the water. 

Whatcom Falls Park is a popular place for locals and visitors alike in Bellingham where the pipeline exploded 16 years ago.
Whatcom Falls Park is a popular place for locals and visitors alike in Bellingham where the pipeline exploded 16 years ago.

I was just about to leave with my own 10-year-old at the time, for his baseball game in a school ball field located not far away from the park. As I was standing by my car, I suddenly saw a giant plume of thick, black smoke curl up in the sky and over the general area where we were headed.  Although I had no idea what was the cause, I recognized it as some kind of oil-related fire because I had seen one exactly like it when the pipeline ruptured and exploded near my home in Los Angeles as the Northridge earthquake in 1996, just three years previous.

Family members of two of the boys killed by the Olympic Pipeline explosion in Bellingham gather with Lummi Naton members for the unveiling of the 'healing' totem, carved and dedicated by the Lummi Nation in 2007.
Family members of two of the boys killed by the Olympic Pipeline explosion in Bellingham gather with Lummi Nation members for the unveiling of the ‘healing’ totem, carved and dedicated by the Lummi Nation in 2007.

I, like hundreds of other residents, instantly turned on our radio in hopes of learning what was happening. And I told my son that we were in no way going to the baseball field. The news was spotty and unconfirmed but one local caller to the station knew exactly what it was: a pipeline explosion in the park.

We learned later that was precisely what had occurred.  A faulty valve at a pumping station located 30 miles south failed to open. Workers, thinking it was yet again the faulty valve, overrode the controls to close the valve, causing the pressure in the pipeline to build and burst in the park.

My son, Matthew, says the day of the Bellingham pipeline explosion is a day he will never forget. Here he speaks at a 2012 public hearing on the coal train shipping terminal in Bellingham.
My son, Matthew, says the day of the Bellingham pipeline explosion is a day he will never forget. Here he speaks at a 2012 public hearing on the coal train shipping terminal in Bellingham.

My oldest son, Matthew, then 14, says he “remembers looking up to see the plume like it was yesterday. I’ll take that image to the grave.” As will many who were living here at the time. It was a day that awakened the residents of Bellingham to the potential dangers and disaster, both for the environment and in human life, that unmaintained and unrestricted pipelines carrying gasoline, trains transporting noxious coal and tanker trains loaded with flammable oil can have on a community. We learned that lesson long before the accidents that occurred in West Virginia, Quebec and most recently in nearby Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge just this month.

An estimated 2,000 people lined up in the rain to attend and speak at one of the first public hearings on the proposed coal train terminal.
Nearly 1,200 people lined up in the rain to attend and speak at one of the first public hearings on the proposed coal train terminal.

I have no doubt that it’s one reason why companies wanting to place a shipping terminal just 20 miles north of here in order to send coal to China encountered such strong opposition from local and state residents. Building the terminal would have meant that as many as 25 trains a day would have rolled from Wyoming, across the farms and ranches of Montana, Idaho and Eastern Washington, up the coast of Western Washington, through Bellingham along its waterfront and past neighborhoods with houses standing less than 100 feet from the rails. It would have meant that the fishing grounds, where the Lummi Nation people have harvested salmon for hundreds of years, would have been jeopardized and likely threatened all the sea life dwelling in that deep water area of the Salish Sea.

The salmon became a symbol for signs calling for the protection of the Salish Sea during rallies against proposed coal train terminal.
The salmon became a symbol for signs calling for the protection of the Salish Sea during rallies against proposed coal train terminal.

Five years ago, environmental writer and activist Bill McKibben spoke at rally at the Village Green to kick off the campaign against the coal trains. At that time, he told the crowd of approximately 1,000 that “Bellingham, by sheer accident of geography, is the front line in the global battle against the use of coal.”

Environmental writer and activist Bill McKibben makes a presentation at Western Washington University in 2014 during of several visits to Bellingham. McKibben was one of the first to acknowledge Bellingham's crucial role in the coal campaign.
Environmental writer and activist Bill McKibben makes a presentation at Western Washington University in 2014 during of several visits to Bellingham. McKibben was one of the first to acknowledge Bellingham’s crucial role in the coal campaign.

This past Friday, June 10, an estimated 1,000 people gathered again on the Village Green. But this time, they were there to celebrate the recent decision by the Army Corps of Engineers to uphold the Lummi Nation’s treaty rights and deny the permits required to build the coal terminal as well as the announcement by the state’s Department of Natural Resources that it had denied the land lease also required.

An estimated 1,000 people gathered on Saturday, June 10 to celebrate their victory over the coal shipping terminal.
An estimated 1,000 people gathered on Saturday, June 10 to celebrate their victory over the coal shipping terminal.

Some warn that the project is still alive until the local permit application at the county level is denied but those at the Village Green on Saturday were jubilant with these latest turn of events and what they hope will put an end to the coal terminal.

And those of us, who, like my son and myself, remember the June 10 of 17 years prior, also paid our respects for the event and lives lost that sparked the debate here and derailed the coal train terminal.

 

 

 

One on One with Beatle Paul

When I was kid, my parents often sat down on Sunday evenings to rest and relax watching their favorite television programs. For my dad, it was the Western about the Cartwright family, “Bonanza”. For my mom, it was the variety show hosted by the radio announcer turned TV personality, Ed Sullivan. My childhood favorite was “Lassie,” about the heroics of a talented and loving collie that aired earlier than my parents’ picks. Most of the time I didn’t care which of the two programs they watched as I liked both. Until February, 1964.

IMG_0961Bow
The Beatles take a bow after their performance onstage.

I had heard at school from some friends who had older siblings that Ed Sullivan was presenting a new music group that evening that had come all the way from England to appear on his program. Even though we lived in the heartland of the country, word about this new band had spread. My friends were very excited about it so I thought I must tune in to see what it was all about.

The channel was turned to the CBS affiliate. I sat down on the floor and scooted up close to the screen. The suspense was terrific.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” Sullivan announced in his “really big” distinctive voice, “The Beatles!”

The girls in the television audience went wild as the four-member rock band launched into the first of three songs: “All My Loving.” In the second half, they played two more including the one I remember best opening with the four beat introductory measures: “I Wanna Hold Your Hand.” A record 73 million watched that evening and the rest, as they say, is history.

I, like every other pre-teen and teenager then, was taken by this mop topped group from across the Atlantic. I liked the strong,driving beat of the music, I preferred their “British” sound to the saccharine tones of Perry Como, my Mother’s favorite popular singer, and I quickly learned the lyrics and the melodies. My parents were less enamored.

My Dad surprised me with the Beatles first album.
My Dad surprised me with the Beatles first album.

But when my Dad returned from his national photography convention that spring, he presented me with a gift that “all the kids in Chicago were buying,” according to the salesman. I nearly flipped when he took out of his bag and handed to me the record album: Meet the Beatles. It was my first long play record and certainly my very first rock music album. I still have it, the album cover shows years of love but the record still sounds great when you pop it onto a turntable.

I had already bought the special magazine about the Fab Four with a cover identical to that of the album. I read it cover to cover devouring the bits of info about the twenty-something Beatle members. Paul McCartney, the “romantic” of the group, became my favorite Beatle.

Beatle cards were collected like baseball cards by young fans such as myself.
Beatle cards were collected like baseball cards by young fans such as myself.

I collected Beatle cards. Each was the size of a baseball card, (which I also collected,) featured a photo of the band and was autographed by one of them. I practiced capitalizing my “G’s” like George Harrison’s and still write it that way today.

During the six short years the band toured in the United States, I never saw the Beatles in a live performance. Tickets were too expensive and they seldom performed anywhere near my small hometown in mid-America.  I finally got my chance recently when Paul McCartney performed his One on One concert in Vancouver B.C.  I was finally in the same room as Paul, along with nearly 16,000 other excited McCartney music fans.

McCartney charmed his fans at his One on One concert in Vancouver B.C.
McCartney charmed his fans at his One on One concert in Vancouver B.C.

Paul may be 73 now, but I was a teenager again as I took to my seat high above the arena stage. McCartney came out to the roar of his audience as he kicked off the evening with what was clearly a crowd favorite–“A Hard Day’s Night.” For the next two hours, the beloved former Beatle played a program filled with mostly familiar songs–including “Lady Madonna,” “Let It Be” and “We Can Work It Out”–from the Beatles and Wings, along with a couple newer tunes.  I and the crowd sang along with most of them. In between, while switching out bass guitars or moving from the guitar tot he piano, he told stories about the songs, about his band mates, about his life.

I never knew, for instance, that the beautiful ballad “Blackbird” was written in response to the Civil Rights movement.  Or that Beatle producer George Martin changed who sang the lead part because John Lennon couldn’t both sing and play the harmonica on the last line: “Whoa, love me do.”

Between songs, McCArtney told ancedotes about the Beatles and his bandmates.
Between songs, McCartney told anecdotes about the Beatles and his band mates.

Some performers who’ve been at it as long as McCartney has, resent singing the old hits. Not McCartney. He clearly enjoyed playing them for the audience and came back at after taking his final bow he returned for an encore (clearly programmed because of the choreographed pyrotechnics) for another 45 minutes.

I looked around at the audience who were waving their arms and singing to “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”.  The feeling was magical. Many, like me, were teenagers when the Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan, but it was a multi-generational group.  That a band together for only ten years could produce so much music that has become part of the popular culture is remarkable. I relished every minute of McCartney’s concert. Though those young Beatles stepped onto Sullivan’s stage more than 50 years ago, for me it was almost like seeing them for the first time, because in way I was.

The encore at McCartney's concert was a display of light and pyrotechnics.
The encore at McCartney’s concert was a display of light and pyrotechnics.