Thursday, July 27, 2006

Scenes from Last Thursday

I'm too busy too blog, but I wasn't too busy to go to Last Thursday.

Surrounded By Guns and Blowtorches
What an amazing juxtaposition! A disembodied head (always a favorite theme with me), with a singularly arresting expression on its face, surrounded by pottery guns and blow torches. I actually walked back and asked the artist if she minded if I snapped a photo. She said, “Go right ahead.” I commented on the amazing juxtaposition and she said she hadn’t even noticed it. Then she asked me if I was the person who came by her house on Hawthorne and took some pictures of her chihuahuas. Nope. That wasn’t me.

Caterpillar with Ears
Thin and angry.

Stuff on a Blue Tarp
One of the great things about Last Thursday and that anyone can throw a tarp down on the sidewalk, set up business for the evening, and start raking in cash (in theory).

This is hands-down, without a doubt, absolutely the best thing I saw all evening. A filthy old hibachi reducing some WinCo hot dogs to crispy, charred carcinogeneity. One dollar please!

Monday, July 24, 2006

Home Sweat Home

The house looks really dirty to me—which I hate!—but it’s been too hot to vacuum. Too hot to sweep. The cut-off point for doing housework is 90 degrees and it was 92 in the house yesterday and 101 outside. Brutal. Thank you, black shingled roof and west-facing antique windows that do not open.

Luckily, my friend P and I escaped to Hagg Lake. She volunteered to drive since she wanted to bring one of her dogs. Risking rudeness, I asked if her car had A/C.* She hesitated for a moment and said that yes her car has A/C.

Alrighty, then. Out to Hagg Lake—more than an hour away—we go and P’s A/C isn’t really doing the trick. I suspected as much from her ungung-ho assurance about her car's A/C. It was bearable—just. Not her fault. At one point, we whizzed past a bank thermometer than said 108 degrees (somewhere near Hillsboro). Holy shite! I don't know if any air conditioner can cope with that. Anyway, it made me appreciate the lake all the more.

We hiked around the perimeter, periodically stopping to take a dip. The water was a little muddy, but it was the perfect temperature. I haven't gone swimming in a lake for about a decade, and I'd forgotten how heavenly it is. Plus, I got the chance to wear my fabulous new swim suit for the first time and it exceeded all expectations! Even wearing it wet underneath a dress wasn’t uncomfortable.

When I got home in the late afternoon, the house was like a sweat lodge except for the bedroom, which has a tiny window-unit air conditioner. That’s where I found B splayed out on the bed in his underpants.

I took a shower and then realized that there was some laundry that needed to be put away. Fantastic! A task that could be completed in the bedroom. Never in my life have I found putting laundry away so enjoyable. Shortly thereafter, we met up with some friends for dinner, and I insisted that we take our car, not theirs. I was not going to take any more chances with weak-ass or absent A/C.

That is why I will shortly be fleeing the premises with my laptop to work in the most arctic of coffee shops I can find.

*A couple of weeks ago a friend and I drove out to Hood River to pick cherries. He refused to turn on the A/C, because he claims it affects how his car (a Miata) accelerates, but I know for a fact it’s because the A/C uses a teensy bit more gas and my friend is incredibly and irksomely cheap. If he refused to turn on the A/C for environmental reasons, I could respect that, but it's not that. It's him being a cheap-ass. And it's not like he's got financial difficulties either; he's a doctor. A doctor and a freakin' miser!

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Silver Trash

Giant ass! I tried walking away from this tree, like, five times, but it kept luring me back. First, of all it is just freakin’ enormous for an urban tree.*

Second, look at the damage it hath wrought to the sidewalk!

And to a not-so-nearby driveway.

You can actually see a root pushing up through the concrete. It reminds me of the way those creepazoid tripods erupted from the streets in War of the Worlds.

The longer I inspected the humongo tree, the more freaked out I got. Turns out the thing is infested with something, too. Insects (maybe bees, but maybe something else) were swarming in and out of a wound about 20 feet over my head. Unsettling--especially since I couldn’t really tell what the swarmy bugs were. They seemed to be on high alert, making exploratory nosedives in the direction of my head, so I decided to move away from the infested tree.

Only to run into one of its brethren sporting this huge burl. It looks like it's pregnant with another tree!

The whole reason I stopped to take a look at the tree is because it is a silver maple, otherwise known as the bane of my father’s existence. My dad has four of these planted in his yard and according to him, they are “the trashiest tree on the planet.”** He says this even though he planted every last one of them himself. ***

They have proved to be nothing but trouble. In spring, they release zillions of helicopters that clog the gutters, where they sometimes sprout. Their roots slither out from the base of the tree, far and wide--above and below ground. They’ve ruined many a game of croquet, as balls carom off the exposed roots instead of rolling through the hoop as planned. About every other year, their roots invade the house’s sewage system and my dad has to call in the rotorooter guy, but it it’s only a temporary fix. You’d think that getting their roots pulverized might slow their growth just a wee bit, but apparently not.

I, too, despise silver maples. They have very little to recommend them. In addition to the demerits listed above, they are a big zero in the fall color department. And there are entirely too many of them. During the post-World War II building boom, silver maples were planted by the thousands in new housing developments across the U.S. They're fast and they’re cheap. Subdivision developers looooved them. Even when I was a kid, they were still being planted willy-nilly—as demonstrated by the monoculture in my dad's yard.

Of course, it gradually became clear—as is so often the case—that silver maples (AKA “car crushers” for their tendency to shed monster car-crushing limbs) are not all they are cracked up to be. Oops. Today’s urban foresters have some choice words for them, and, in fact, there is actually a ban in some cities on planting them.

Speaking of urban foresters. I would love to be an urban forester. I don’t know all the ins and outs of being an urban forester, but it speaks to me on some primal level. (I could write even more boring dendrological posts like this one if I was an urban forester. Wouldn’t that be a treat?)

Trees enhance a city so much, especially when there’s the wonderful diversity we have in Portland. You can really see the diversity come through with the succession of flowering dogwoods, cherries, and plums in spring, and again in fall, with all the vivid scarlets, russets, oranges, and golds. It makes me think that our urban foresters (and individual Portlanders, too) really know what they’re doing when it comes to planting trees.

I love, too, that we have so many stands of mature trees that arch majestically over streets, providing cool restful shade over a street. And, unlike many cities, we didn’t lose all our elms to Dutch elm disease. Again, props to the Urban Forestry Department, which must have taken extraordinary measures to keep the disease from destroying all our elms.

I remember seeing all the elms succumb in the town where I grew up--I'm sure no extraordinary measures were taken. It was a sad day for me, even though I was only a little kid, when the city came and cut down the two stately elms that graced our parking strip. And guess what they replaced them with?

OK. Not silver maples, but the next worst thing--rather trashy generic “hard” maples. Broomsticks they looked like when the city stuck them in the ground. And broomsticks they remained for a long time after that. I don’t remember any redeeming qualities about them. They’re bigger now, of course, but not better.

Don’t get me wrong, I do like maples, especially our native Pacific Northwest maples (vine maple and bigleaf maple), but the town I grew up in was so unenlightened. Instead of trying to see the loss of the elms as an opportunity for diversity, they just went ahead and replaced ever elm with a hard maple. Lame.

*The coffee cup at the base (which I, of course, did not leave there!) provides scale.

**I’m planning on sending these photos to my dad to give him something to be thankful for. At least his trees aren't this huge.

***Actually, there were six at one point, but one got struck by lightning and one was a victim of my dad’s very own Illinois Chainsaw Massacre.

Monday, July 17, 2006

As the Worm Flows

Yesterday, I found myself clambering hand over foot—for two miles—over these enormous, abrasive hunks of lava.

Worm Flows

It got old real fast. Never mind the fact that Mount St. Helens was looming right in front of me—heck, I was actually on the slopes of the ding-dong thing—I couldn’t really focus on the grandeur of it all, because I am too much of a chickenshit.

These boulders were the size of kitchen appliances and with every step I gingerly took, I envisioned myself losing my footing and careering to my doom at the bottom of the Worm Flows. There was no trail, just a series of widely spaced guideposts and cairns. The idea was to just make your way to the next one “hopping” or in my case—scrabbling—from one boulder to the next.

I had other things to fret about as well. There was the very real possibility that we wouldn’t be able to find the connecting trail that would make the loop trail we were trying to do possible. Here I am, finding that out mid-hike. You can’t tell I was fretting, but, trust me, I was. Note that the boulders seem to extend as far as the eye can see. So if we couldn’t find that connecting trail, then what? We’d have to backtrack over all those same treacherous boulder fields. As darkness fell and it grew cold. Were we prepared to spend the night camped on a Worm Flow? No we were not. Did I even have a jacket with me? No I did not. And weren’t we, after all, on a farking active volcano? Why, yes, we were. Was embarking on this hike without properly acquainting ourselves with the terrain perhaps not the most brilliant thing we’ve ever done in our lives? Yes.*

The irony here is that B and I had planned on an easy hike. B was feeling a little run down and sinusy, and I had a hankering to see Mt. Saint Helens up close. The June Lake loop seemed perfect. Five and a half miles; 1,000 feet of elevation gain. Nothing. The hike to June Lake was basically a stroll. Little kids and women in Keds were all making their way to the lake.

June Lake was lovely—a glassy mirror of green-ness with a waterfall spilling into it—but not enough of a challenge. Well, we asked for it. I don’t know how long it took us to cross the first 1.3 miles of lava fields. Maybe a week. We reached our second destination, a pair of falls** that B pronounced “cool,” but that he later downgraded to “not worth it” after having to cross nearly another mile of boulder fields on the last leg of the hike. Poor B. We when we reached that second field of boulders, B gamely climbed up to a high point, thinking he’d just have to climb a few more yards to get back to a “real trail,” but when he realized that there was, once again, no end in sight, I could hear real dismay in his voice. The kind of dismay Magellan might have felt somewhere in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The good thing was that, at that point, at least I knew we were on the connecting trail (such as it is), although I also knew it was going to be a bitch to have to pick our way across more blobs of lava. Crouching and crawling takes it out of you, I’m hear to tell ya.

Obviously, we made it back to the trailhead parking lot (at 7:45 PM—it took us more than 4 hours to hike 5.5 miles!), not too worse for the wear. Considering how many pumice boulders I clung to, by rights, the palms of my hands should be a lacerated, bloody pulp, but they’re totally fine. I have a scrape on one shin and on my shoulder. B skinned his knee (very minorly). We don’t even have any sore muscles today, surprisingly, given that we were definitely calling upon some of our lesser-used muscles (read: gluteals) to scramble across those endless fields.

Karaoke, by the way, proved to be way less scary and taxing than yesterday’s hike. I chose to do “We Will Rock You” by Queen, a suggestion given to me on Friday by my dental hygienist. She recommended it by telling me that (super square and unhip) “Dr. Ken,” my dentist, managed to pull that one off. Just to be on the safe side, I asked B to go up there with me. I acquitted myself quite respectably—since it doesn’t involve any actual singing. And I learned that no one need ever fear karaoke. Here’s why:

A) No one (OK, almost no one) else can sing in tune.
B) No one can hear you, because they’re all talking.
C) No one is listening anyway (not even the people in my own party! Hmmmf!)

That said, I don’t think I’ll ever again set foot in a karaoke bar. It just isn’t much fun. And the beer selection sucks!

*A qualified “yes.” I am normally very careful not to tackle something out of my comfort zone when hiking. People who do that die sometimes. No joke. But in my defense, I’ll say that my hiking book was a bit misleading about what crossing the boulder field would entail. I’ve crossed many a boulder field before that had a sort of a path trampled into it. No big deal. I assumed (and that was my mistake) that this would be no different.
** The falls are known as Chocolate Falls, so you can understand why we had to hike to them. They weren’t looking too much like chocolate milk yesterday, though, more like a trickle of reconstituted nonfat dry skim milk.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Navel Gazing with a Scanning Electron Microscope

Diana of Piffle did this day-in-the-life thing and then Diana of Diaphanous talked about it on her blog, and pointed me here. I guess originally it came from Paper Napkin. I thought it would be interesting (to me anyway) to find out what I get up to (if anything) all day long.

Here's today.

5:05 AM. Roll out of bed unable to sleep because of covert mosquito and/or spider attack during the night. I now have very itchy bites on every limb of my body. It’s a good two or three hours before I would normally get up. Rusty the kitty is, of course, alert and raring to start his day. He can’t believe his luck. I feed give him a hearty bowl of Friskies Sliced with Beef and Gravy. Yeah, that’s what it’s called. Not Sliced Beef with Gravy. Sliced [Unspecified] with Beef and Gravy.

5:27 AM Commute downstairs to my office. Feel slightly disgusted at the sight of the 12 or so books stacked on my desk and strewn around its perimeter where I left them when I knocked off work yesterday. What happened to my plan to put everything away at the end of the day? Sample titles: Made You Laugh: The Funniest Moments in Radio, Television, Stand-Up, and Movie Comedy; Classic Sitcoms; and The Official Dick Van Dyke Show Book. All work-related. I’m working on a fun project at the moment.

6:55 AM Download (with some trepidation) Windows Media Player (something I’ve been avoiding for years) and hope it doesn’t screw up my computer (a Mac). It has to be done. I need to watch a video clip from The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

7:00 AM. So far so good. Mary doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with “making the news in a more entertainingly way.” Hee, hee. I love that show. Time to pick some blueberries for breakfast.

9:15 AM. Take a short break to have a snack of some of the Lapin cherries I picked last Sunday at a family farm in Hood River. So good! Go outside to water some of the potted plants. The rain barrel has been partially recharged by yesterday’s unseasonal rain.

11:56 AM. Getting a lot done workwise, which is always gratifying. I’m going to head out to the grocery store. I don’t normally shop in the middle of the day, but I cannot live by fruit alone and that’s about all there is in the house. I might have to get a Vietnamese iced coffee as long as I’m out. And if I do, that will make it two days running that I’ve demonstrated absolutely no willpower at all. Buzzzzzzzzzzz!

1:36 PM. Back at my desk. With Vietnamese iced coffee. I stopped at a new Vietnamese restaurant—one where I am not known. The coffee’s less sweet, which if fine, but it’s not as strong. Not fine. Bad. It’s an unsettled day. Dramatic, frothy cumulonimbus clouds.

2:21 PM. Clean up furball hacked up by Rusty moments ago. Poor little guy. Or big guy, I should say, he weighs 20+ pounds.

2: 25 PM. I could do with a change of venue. It’s a nice(ish) day, which is to say it’s not broiling hot, so I’m going to take my laptop outside and work on the patio. The perks of being self-employed.

4:39 PM. Just finished a draft of the assignment I’ve been working on all week. Whooo hoo!!!!! Time flies when you’re being productive. Off now to get my hair cut and highlighted. It looks absolutely wretched, all faded out and shapeless. It's been eight weeks since it was last done. Blech!

6:28 PM. At the Salon. (Homage to LeLo.)

8:47 PM Have been back home for about 20 minutes. B says my hair looks nice. He's busy making granola. I'm ready to turn off the computer; do some knitting; listen to some of the Ricky Gervais, Steve Merchant, and Karl Pilkington (AKA the funniest man in Britain) podcasts; and laugh my arse off.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006


Dave Hill of Slade
Originally uploaded by Rozanne.
Last night during Sivasana in my yoga class—the time during which one is supposed to be lying there like a corpse with one’s mind totally blank—my mind was mulling over exactly what I am going to do come Saturday night when I will be expected to sing a song (or perhaps two or three) at a friend’s birthday party, which is being held in a karaoke bar.


I've made my feelings about karaoke clear before. Apart from the fact that I don't get karaoke, I don’t sing (maybe that's one reason I don't get it). Not in the shower, not in the car, not while I’m Cometing out the tub. I’m pretty sure the last time I sang in public was in 8th-grade chorus class. And even then it was with 20 other kids.

But if I don’t sing at this karaoke party, I’m going to look like a spoilsport and really disappoint my friend. She's informed me that she’s expecting some classic rock from me.

So I was thinking, what songs do I know the words to? Well, there’s “Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme” and “Suicide Is Painless" (AKA the theme song from M*A*S*H)--those, believe it or not, are what we sang in 8th-grade chorus.

Yeah, I know that in karaoke the lyrics are up on a screen for you, but I’d feel a lot more comfortable singing something I had memorized in its entirety. And I seriously don’t know if there are any songs that fit that requirement. But the best I could probably manage would be to recite random snatches from various tunes I've heard here and there througout my lifetime. For example:

And you’ll have to eat your lunch all by yourself.
Click bang, what a hang, your daddy just shot poor me.
From the Queen of England to the hounds of hell.
Girlfriend in a coma, I know, I know, it’s serious.
Here come the big black Mariah, here come the big black Ford.
Here I am, rotch you like a hurrycan.
I’ll live a lush life in some small dive. And there I’ll be, while I rot with the rest of those whose lives are lonely too.
I’m a king bee!
Just leave the ring on the rails for the wheels to nullify.
Little girl from Cherry Lane, how did you get so bold ? How did you know that golden rule?
Scaramouche, Scaramouche, will you do the Fandango?

Problem #1: I don’t know any songs all the way through except those two songs from 8th grade. No way could I hack the two-part harmony in "Parsley, Sage...." that. Plus, it's a round or something. And I doubt they would have “Suicide Is Painless” available. Plus, not really the sort of thing you want to belt out at someone’s birthday party.

Problem #2: I have about a three-note range. One of those songs that the singer just talks through would be perfect for me. Anyone know any songs like that? I can’t think of any at the moment except for the Rex Harrison songs in My Fair Lady. Again I doubt the karaoke place would have those.

Problem #3: I suffer from stage fright—even when I know what I’m doing. Since I don’t know what I’m doing, I’m likely to really choke. I can see myself listening to the opening bars of whatever I end up, seeing the lyrics flash on the screen, and either freezing up or croaking out the lyrics off key.

I know some people might suggest that I pound back 100 Mai Tais before taking the stage, but that would mean that I’d be in no condition to go hiking the next day and that is a sacrifice I’m not willing to make.

Look where we hiked last weekend!

Pond on McNeil Point Trail

Being able to hike to picture-postcard wilderness areas like this is the reason I live here, and the hiking season for alpine hikes is short so I’m not going to do any self-sabotage.

Still, I’m not looking forward to humiliation on the karaoke stage. I guess I just shouldn’t care. Just go up there and get it over with. The bar will probably be chock-a-block with people chain-smoking and waiting their own turn in the spotlight. They probably won’t even notice my dismal performance.

Whatever. Not worth spending any more time on. I should probably be combing through my CDs and iTunes looking for songs that I might possibly be able to sing and practicing them. Jeez!

Wednesday, July 05, 2006


Originally uploaded by Rozanne.
When I was about eight years old, one of my friends told me that your favorite color had to be the color of your birthstone. I was born in September so that makes my birthstone a sapphire and my favorite color ever since has been blue. Talk about the power of suggestion!

I am, therefore, extremely gratified that I seem to be making headway in turning one of my hydrangeas from pink to blue. You can do that by tinkering with the soil pH. My tinkering took the form of scattering a few handfuls (how scientific!) of elemental sulphur around the drip line of the bush last fall and working it haphazardly into the soil.

I then let the winter rains work their magic. Better gardening through chemistry. I know people are always saying that you can change the pH of the soil “naturally” by adding coffee grounds, eggshells, or rusty nails to the soil. Bunk! If you want to change the pH you’ve got to resort to chemicals.

I’ve been wanting blue hydrangeas ever since I first saw them in England more than 20 years ago, but I had to wait until we moved to the hydrangea-friendly climate of Portland, Oregon. One of the big selling points of our house (for me) was that it had a big ol' hydrangea bush next to it. I am not kidding--it was in my top-ten reasons to buy the house. The only problem was that I’d have to turn the thing blue. It was resolutely pink. I read all up on how to turn hydrangeas blue. I’m really am not a fan of chemicals but I’m also really not a fan of pink. I finally settled on using sulphur to acidify the soil—supposedly less environmentally drastic than aluminum sulphate.

Well, I’m still trying to get that thing blue. The hydrangea pictured above is a newbie that I planted last year. The old established one looks like this.


Pinker than ever--despite last fall's sulphur treatment!!!! What’s really weird is that in past years it has been a fence straddler, putting out mainly lavenderish blooms--unwilling to commit fully to either pink or blue. This year the overall effect is definitely pink. I guess I am going to have to perhaps follow the directions on the sulphur container, which are not at all easy to fathom. It’s all about applying so many pounds per square foot. In other words, they want me to do math. There’s no math in gardening! Chemistry (of the mad scientist variety), yes. Math, no. Of course, I don’t want to kill the thing by oversulphuring it, so I’m not sure what to do next.

In the meantime, there are other blue flowers in my garden to enjoy.

Salvia 'Black and Blue'

Like this Salvia guaranitica 'Black and Blue'. Sqawking, electric-blue parrot beaks!

Rozanne RozannaRama

Rozanne RozannaRama!

Geranium ‘Rozanne’ has got to be the best blue perennial in horicultural existence. It’s a hardy geranium, and it blooms prolifically from spring til fall—supposedly. That's a lie. I’ve seen them blooming in my otherwise bleak garden on Christmas day. There are other blue hardy geraniums (‘Johnson’s Blue’ and ‘Brookside’), but ‘Rozanne’ beats the pants off them. Double Bonus: It does great in partial shade and thrives on neglect.

I could do with even more blue, though. Some people have what is known as “white gardens”—gardens in which all the flowers are white. I think Elton John has one—maintained by a paid lackey, no doubt. I can’t see Sir Elton pottering around with a watering can and a sack of steer manure, can you?

I, however, would totally be into an all-blue garden (and I would happily tote my own steer manure [or similar]). It’s a bit tricky, though, because so many of the so-called blues are, in fact, lavender ("blue" bellflowers, for example). Even the exalted ‘Rozanne’ goes a little purpley in hot weather. There are some great true blues, though, that I don’t have and should get: Love in a Mist, Bachelor Buttons, and a low-growing blue thing I don’t know the name of that actually blooms in fall—a virtue in and of itself. I’ve also tried to grow the fabulous steely blue sea holly (Eryngium 'Sapphire Blue'), but alas I planted it too close to the edge of the lawn, and it succumbed to the ding-dong Tulip Decapitator who always goes a little berserk with his edger.

A moment of silence, please.

Monday, July 03, 2006

We Done Whupped the Yankees!

Originally uploaded by Rozanne.
OK. How bad is this? B and I went to a Civil War reenactment yesterday and—though I know that the South won—I never did find out which battle it was we were watching. That’s because I was so busy keeping an eye out for inaccuracies and anachronisms and trying to figure out just what this whole reenactment phenonmenon is about.

I’ve been fascinated by Civil War reenactments ever since I first heard about them. Apparently, there are two camps. The “button pissers,” the guys who are so maniacal about authenticity that they piss on the buttons of their uniforms to make them look suitably antique, and the “farbs,” the guys who think it’s perfectly OK to wear aviator sunglasses and hide a cooler full of Diet Pepsi behind a tree.

So there they were out on a big open field, scurrying about in their wool uniforms. And I do mean “scurrying.” There were some cavalry battalions but most of them were infantry and they’d emerge from behind a tree and scurry into position opposite another battalion. A guy with a bugle would rally them to action, an officer with a sword would slash at the air, and the battalions would take aim and fire at each other. It was all fairly primitive and chaotic--wars aren't fought this way anymore. I saw several very melodramatic “deaths,” involving much backward staggering that delayed the final keelover until the guy was in the shade of a large tree. Most of the "fatalities," however, were not within staggering distance of a tree, so their “corpses” baked in the brutal sun until the battle was over (20 minutes or so later) and they could get up and walk away.


The biggest surprise for me was that all the uniforms were different. An authentic detail, apparently. I might be wrong about this, but I think volunteer regiments (of which there were many) wore whatever the heck uniform they fancied. There were guys in plaid trousers, guys in green, in red, and in white. And there were these dashing and exotic fellows.


I saw them wandering about eating some watermelon after the battle, and I flagged them down to interrogate them about their uniforms. They were delighted to fill me in—after we moved into the shade. They had adopted the uniform of the 5th New York Volunteer Infantry, known as the Zouaves. The Zouaves were originally a North African tribe known for their fierceness. During the 19th century, French and American soldiers began copying their style of dress. Anyway, a number of these American Zouaves fought in the Civil War (mostly on the Union side). I don’t know how fierce they really were, but their uniform sure kicked ass. If you’re interested in this sort of thing, read more about the Zouaves here or here.

After the battle, we strolled around the encampments. I admit it--I was totally on the lookout for evidence of inauthenticity. Wristwatch—demerit! Basket of bananas—demerit! Factory-manufactured cigarette—demerit! Plastic water bottle—double demerits! Use a canteen, son!

Minor infractions, really, though. For the most part, I’d say the reenactors in the Northwest Civil War Council are pretty button pisserish. True, there were women fighting in the regiments (very inauthentic!), but I can’t fault them for that. If I were into Civil War reenactment, I’d much rather be out there on the battlefield than druding away washing dishes, dressed in a hoop skirt, a restrictive corset, and who knows how many layers of petticoats. I did see quite a number of women who are evidently into spending their vacations keeping a tent tidy. The tents were quite amazingly well appointed, too! I don’t know why I didn’t take any pictures of the tents and all they contained. Some of them had more furniture in them than I have in my house.

Most of them had cast-iron stoves and many had large tables with a full complement of chairs. Some had full-size beds covered in beautiful handmade quilts. That is a lot of stuff to schlep to an encampment and set up. It’s all made out of wood or iron, too, so it’s heavy and unwieldy. And then there were the china dishes; the cast-iron pots, pans, and utensils; dish racks and laundry racks. And big bundles of wood for the cooking fire.

All this got me to thinking. After a while I really had to wonder if all this obsessive attention to period detail only ensured that the reenactors got themselves farther and farther from having a truly “authentic” experience. I think for a lot of them they just tried to re-create their current lifestyle and standard of living using period-appropriate products. Paper plates aren’t authentic? OK. I’ll bring a full set of china dishes. Packaged cookies aren’t authentic? OK. I’ll bake some cookies beforehand and carry them to the encampment in a big, heavy glass jar. Sleeping bags aren’t authentic? OK. I’ll bring a handcrafted bed and a handmade quilt.

The majority of real Civil War soldiers probably slept on the ground in filthy, torn blankets and counted themselves lucky if they got a couple of maggot-infested biscuits to eat. Every single soldier would not have had his own stove. Nor would he have had a supply of watermelons and cookies. Back in the 1860s people couldn't drive SUVs from battle to battle. They had horses, but it would have been absurd to load them down with frivolities and luxuries when they needed to haul ammunition and battlefield supplies.

So whatever it is that the reenactors are going for it’s not true authenticity. True authenticity would involve discomfort, deprivation, and death. Lots and lots of death--didn't the Civil War have more casualties than any other war ever? I’m not judging, but after a while it did strike me that what I was observing was a very modern phenomenon. Even 50 years ago, especially in the South, I’m sure people would have been outraged at the idea of trying to re-create such a painful era in American history—for entertainment.

I’m sure there are still people who feel that way, and I can totally understand their point of view. On the other hand, maybe these reenactments serve some purpose, but my impression is that it's just an opportunity to dress up and pretend (especially for the “civilians” who don't participate in the battles). There seems to be a fundamental disconnect. I wonder how many of them think about what it must have really been like to be in the path of one of Sherman's scorched earth campaigns. For starters, they'd better forget about all that watermelon.

Wow. The tone of this blog entry has certainly taken a turn. I don’t know what I’m going on about, really. I guess I’m just grappling with exactly what makes Civil War reenactors go to all the trouble of trying to replicate with painstaking accuracy (but not really) a moment in history. Hey, maybe I should have asked them! I know they would have been more than happy to answer any questions I might pose. ("So do you piss on your buttons?")

Seriously, that’s really why I went—not to see the battle but to see the people and to try to work out what it is that drew them to this hobby (or whatever it is) in the first place. It was foolish of me to think that I’d be able to suss that out without actually talking to them (this, by the way, is a mistake I make in all areas of my life, as I am forever trying to figure out stuff without having to approach strangers and ask for some of their precious time). And I had my chance, too, I somehow mustered the gumption to buttonhole those two Zouave dudes, but all I did was ask them about their uniforms. I have no insight into what made them “join up” or even why they chose to be Zouaves. And what made them choose to be Union soldiers instead of Confederate soldiers? Was there more to it than the chance to wear a turban and some billowing trousers? Now I’ll never know.